Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Short Conversation with Cartoonist Ron Ferdinand (Dennis the Menace)

“Any smart person who is making humor his profession is out of his mind if he doesn’t depend on good assistants. I can sleep at night without torturing myself.” — Hank Ketcham, May 24, 1999       
by John Adcock

HANK KETCHAM saw his first Dennis comic strip appear in newspapers on March 12, 1951, a series still extant 65 years on. Today Marcus Hamilton draws the dailies and Ron Ferdinand the Sundays. What follows is a short conversation I recently had with affable cartoonist Ron Ferdinand, born in Manhattan in 1951, about his background.

Q. First, could you tell me a little about your background before Dennis? Did you have an education in visual arts or any previous employment in the cartooning field?
I attended the School of Visual Arts in the early 70s. Before that, I went to Catholic elementary school and High School where there were ZERO art classes. After SVA, I did a year at The Art Students League studying anatomy with Gustav Rehberger.
Q. Tell me how and when you became an assistant to Hank Ketcham and — if you recall the name — who was the assistant you were replacing? Was Marcus Hamilton already employed in the writing of Dennis the Menace? Did you assist on dailies and Sundays? Who writes the daily and Sunday these days, Marcus Hamilton still?
In 1980, I read an interview with Hank in CARTOONIST PROFILES where he mentioned that he was looking for a couple of assistants to help produce DENNIS. I sent him a few sketches of the characters, which he liked enough to start a correspondence for a few months where he sent me a few gags to rough out and ink. He then flew me out to Monterey (I lived in Queens) for two weeks after which he offered me a job. I worked on the MARVEL comic for a year with two other folks (Karen Matchette and Brian Lum). Bob Bugg was doing the Sundays in Connecticut. Hank had invested in a studio and asked Bob to relocate. Bob was well established in Connecticut with grandchildren nearby and didn’t want to move to California. Hank then put Karen Matchette and myself on the Sundays after he decided to discontinue the comic. Marcus didn’t come on board until ’94 as an artist. You may be thinking of Fred Toole, who was Hank’s writer on the comic books.
Q. When Hank Ketcham (1920-2001) retired in 1994 he gave an interview to a newspaper saying that, although he drew the strip, he hired comedy writers for ideas, ‘otherwise, you settle for mediocrity — or you burn yourself out…’ This may have been in part a reference to Fred Toole. Did all of Ketcham’s assistants submit gags for approval or were they solicited from outside sources?
Hank’s writers were outside sources. He did want the artists to be good editors and sometimes had us pick some gags and defend our choices.
Q. You started employment with Hank in 1980. How long did it take before you began to see your inks in print?
Actually, I started in September ’81. I came in on Marvel comic #5 or #6. There were 12 in all. I started on the Sundays in ’82. This was when, as I said, Bob Bugg had decided not to relocate to California. My first Sundays probably appeared in early ’83. I’m not too sure, but Bob had been several months ahead. Hank would give me a daily to do every now and then but he had designated me as a Sunday artist. There was also a bit of merchandising work going on which we helped on.
Q. When I was a kid, all of the Canadian newspapers carried a colored comic section on Saturdays — today there are none that I’m aware of. Sunday comics these days appear to have more of a presence on the web. Do you find yourself spending much more time promoting Dennis through social media and personal appearances?
Well, where I live, in upstate New York, the Sunday Dennis is available in three local papers. I recently did a presentation to a 3rd grade class, most of whom probably weren’t familiar with Dennis. The week before I spoke, the teacher prepped the class with YouTube vids of the Dennis cartoons, comic books and newspaper clippings of the Sundays. By the time I got there, the kids were so pumped for Dennis they were jumping out of their seats. I surmise from this that, given even a minimum amount of exposure, he could hold his own against most of today’s competition. There’s such a wealth of Dennis history in all mediums that, when it comes down to it, Dennis the Menace really has few equals.
Dennis the Menace daily and Sunday strips HERE.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Induction of the Sycophant

by John Adcock

“We are getting to the roots of one of the contributing causes of juvenile delinquency when we study the influence of comic books. You cannot understand present-day juvenile delinquency if you do not take into account the pathogenic and pathoplastic influence of the comic books.” — Dr. Frederick Wertham, M.D., speaking at 1948 symposium on The Psychopathology of Comic Books

THE SCENE is set in the early 1950s, Cold War America, where a virus is spreading across the country infecting the nation’s children with sexual perversion, suicidal epidemics and murderous impulses. Dr. Wertham, children’s psychiatrist, “fueled with a youthful vigor that bordered on constant rage,” takes a wrecking ball to the comic book industry, laying waste to the livelihood of greedy publishers and hapless cartoonists alike. This might seem like a familiar story to fans of comic books but East Village author Tiger Moody posits an alternate history of the well-worn tale with savage black humor and a brutal disregard for the tender feelings of the reader. Shock follows explosive shock in a merciless rendering of events shot through with tenderness and horror.

Dr. Wertham painted by Moody.
THE NOVEL is a short one so I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, suffice to say the politically incorrect characters include: overworked hero Jack Coal, cartoonist-creator of Elastic Man, who is suffering testicular problems from fears of job redundancy; his stuttering pal Bert Meskin; shop-boss Will Meiser; a flashy up and comer, Wallace Good, accompanied by an ever-present guitar; Millard Gaines, a rye and Benzedrine-besotted publisher; and Zach Kirby, a hack who dreams of doing headier stuff; names which will ring a bell with anyone at all knowledgeable of US funny book history.

On a personal note, by the time I reached the third page I had a smile on my face which never left me until I had reached the last page of Induction of the Sycophant. In between I was seized by eruptions of groans, raised eyebrows, snickers, involuntary guffaws and uncontrollable laughter. The fact the book has been only sporadically reviewed in the media seems nothing short of criminal.

AUTHOR Tiger Moody was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and raised in Trenton New Jersey. He has worked as a fry cook, tattoo artist, bouncer, zine artist and janitor. His previous book was Heart of Brass, published by United Crud in 2015. Moody also wrote the introduction to I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, also from Kicks Books, 2015.

Moody personally describes his pulp novel Sycophant of the Innocent as a “little love-letter to despair, Benzedrine and horseflies.”  Moody himself painted both the portrait of Dr. Wertham gracing the back cover and the front cover illustration. The little boy on the cover is Lester, a character in the book, with a skull ring for a crown. The interior is illustrated with 46 chapter header panels from public domain comics.

Induction of the Sycophant by Tiger Moody, Foreward by Lenny Kaye, 254 pp., Kicks Books, NY, 2015. Available from Amazon or HERE.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mell Lazarus (1927-2016)

Mell Lazarus, cartoonist, writer and creator of the syndicated comic strips Momma and Miss Peach, died Tuesday morning, May 24, 2016 in Southern California. He turned eighty-nine earlier this month. Miss Peach was begun February 4, 1957 and ended in 2002. Momma was begun October 26, 1970 and is ongoing.

The National Cartoonists Society pays tribute HERE.

Washington Post HERE.

New York Times HERE.

Mell Lazarus cartooning legend HERE.

Addio a Mell Lazarus HERE.

Mark Evanier HERE.

R.C. Harvey HERE.

Tom Richmond HERE.

Comics Reporter HERE.

The Beat HERE.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

‘Now Listen Mabel’ — by Herriman

“I still think that George is one of the best sporting artists in the world, and can’t understand why he doesn’t do that sort of thing.” Tad Dorgan letter to Tom McNamara, ca. 1924   

GEORGE HERRIMAN’s comic strip Now Listen Mabel began in January 1919 and ran until December 1919. These samples are likely from a second circulation and all were published in the month of January 1920. Pretty Mabel Millarky was wooed by Jimmie Doozinberry who had a rival large number of suitors including Doodal McDoodil and the entire small town police and fire departments.

Mabel and George Herriman
Herriman’s childhood sweetheart was Mabel Bridge, who he married in 1902, just after he had relocated from Los Angeles to New York. One of his daughters was also named Mabel and was known as “Toodles” or “Toots.”

[16] Los Angeles Evening Herald, September 30, 1912

Monday, May 9, 2016

Bugs, Art & Sorrow

[1] Cover by Tim Eckhorst
TIM ECKHORST studied communication design and editorial design at the Muthesius Kunsthochschule Kiel. He is a graphic designer in Kiel and Blumenthal. In 2012 he published a biography of Rudolph Dirks. He now has prepared a biography of Rudolph’s brother, Gus Dirks, who drew the comic strip Bugville Life, and died very young. The biography is titled Gus Dirks; Käfer, Kunst & Kummer — which translates into Gus Dirks — Bugs, Art & Sorrow. It will be released by Ch. A. Bachmann Verlag.  

[2] Gus Dirks; Käfer, Kunst & Kummer
TRIBUTE COMICS. In addition, Eckhorst has started a Gus Dirks tribute comic. Comic-artists from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands drew their homage to Gus Dirks and his creations. The result is the comic book Pure Fruit #11; Gus Dirks Remixed. A book of which 10,000 copies were printed, and those will be distributed for free in German comic book shops. All made possible because the publication contains some ads. 
[3] Bugville comic by Jens Rassmus 
The comic-book will also be published online on May 14th. It can be found HERE. A comic-release-event will be held in Heide (Schleswig-Holstein), the small German town where the Dirks brothers were born, next week.

[4] Bugville comic by Tim Eckhorst

Friday, May 6, 2016

Molly and the Bear

“Holding a book of my own comic strips has been a long-standing dream for me, second only to having a successfully syndicated newspaper strip.”  Bob Scott

by John Adcock

WEB COMICS are a new and relatively undocumented evolution of the comic strip. Independent web comics — and flash animation — made their debut with the onset of the home computer. Newspaper syndicates were quick to move online with new and established properties, pushed by ongoing newspaper closures that decimated traditional avenues of employment for print cartoonists. The decline in newspaper comics is probably irreversible at this point, but web comics do have advantages in that comic strip artists can build a respectable number of readers through social media promotions, and issue regular book collections in a more traditional manner.

A FEW DAYS AGO the mailman (my hero) delivered to my doorstep Disney artist Bob Scott’s Molly and the Bear hardcover book. A book collection of the best of his heart-warming, laugh inducing syndicated web comic series about an 11 year old girl and a 900 pound scaredy-cat bear. Bear, fearing hunters in the forest, entered Molly’s house through an open window and took up residence on the sofa. Bear was quick to win the hearts of Molly and her Mom. But for Dad it was too much having an uninvited houseguest hibernating on the couch, emptying the fridge and alienating his wife’s affections. 

BOB SCOTT was born in Detroit. Michigan and never had any other goal than to work as a cartoonist in emulation of Dennis the Menace, Pogo and the Saturday morning cartoons. He graduated from the California Institute of the Arts and worked over thirty years in the animation industry. In the 80s, fresh out of Cal Arts, Scott co-penciled the U.S. Acres strip for artist Jim Davis. Molly and the Bear was born in 1997 and has been a syndicated web comic since 2010. He prepares Molly the old-fashioned way writing his own gags and drawing with Indian ink on bristol board.

BOOKS ARE still quite popular. You can take Molly and the Bear to bed, read it in the bath, scribble in the margins, crayola the panels, or try your hand at copying Bob Scott’s animated characters. Molly and the Bear is published in shiny hardcover by Cameron+Company with 256 pages of high resolution b&w strips and more. The section titled Behind the Ink shows charming sketches of the main characters and charts the progress of one strip from rough thumbnail through blue-pencil to finished work. Plus a Forword by Brett Koth, creator of Diamond Lil. Available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Read the latest episode of Molly and the Bear in the New York Daily News HERE.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Romancing the Bushrangers


[1] Ironclad Ned Kelly.

We have no hesitation in saying that the life of Ned Kelly, the Ironclad Bushranger, is as disgraceful and disgusting a production as has ever been printed. Lord Campbell’s Act recognized the moral mischief which might be done by publications which offend against common decency, and provided for the condign punishment of the scoundrels who write print and sell them — they are, as the annals of the police courts prove every day, direct incentives to murder and robbery… “Penny Dreadfuls,” in Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Nov 26, 1881

The Otago Witness reports that the Salvation Army in Dunedin recently held a “novel-burning night,” which attracted a large army to the fortress. In the center of the ring on a bier were placed “yellowbacks” of all kinds, ranging from “Bluecap the Bushranger” to some of Besant’s works. Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, NSW, March 30, 1894

THE FIRST PENNY NUMBER of Ned Kelly, the Ironclad Australian Bushranger was published in the month of July, 1881, by the London Novelette Company. By November the penny numbers had “attained an immense circulation.” The subsequent collection of bound penny numbers was preceded with fake quotes of praise from the Times, the Telegraph and the Press. Other bound copies survived published by Alfred J. Isaacs and General Publishing Company. All three publishers seem to have been one and the same. The author of the serial was unnamed but an unlikely subtitle reveals its text is written “by one of his captors.” What follows is Kelly’s encounter with the celebrated Spanish dancer Lola Montez when he has stopped her stagecoach on a moonlit night —

“Lola Montez, Countess of Lansfeldt,” said he, “your destiny is to become the wife of Ned Kelly, the King of the Australian bush. The parson shall marry us at once, and then I’ll take you right away to your future home in the mountain ranges. What do you say to my plan, countess?”
“That I haven’t so much as seen your face. How can I tell whether I shall like you? I have shown you mine; ‘tis but fair that I should behold yours in return.”
“Well I don’t know but what it is.” And the bushranger dropped his reins on his horse’s neck, and raised his ponderous iron head-dress.
Hardly had he done so, however, when the beautiful woman (we have her portrait before us whilst we write) pulled a small pistol from within her sleeve and fired it point-blank at the bushranger’s face, accompanying the action with the contemptuous remark —
“Where seven men sit panic-stricken before a single villain, ‘tis time for a woman to show what she can do.”
Unfortunately the beautiful specimen of the sex in question had not done nearly so much as she intended.
The little bullet from her almost toy weapon, instead of penetrating the bushranger’s brain, had only shorn off a portion of his left ear.

RUBBER-FACED BURGLAR. Another improbable character was introduced later in the text — Charles Peace, the rubber-faced British burglar. The author of Ned Kelly was James Skipp Borlase (1839-1902), who used the pen name J.J.G. Bradley in a series of penny dreadfuls published by Hogarth House in the 1880s. Borlase had already narrated his own supposed experiences with criminals, gold diggers and aborigines in his first nonfiction collection, The Night Fossickers and other Australian Tales of Perils and Adventure (London: Warne, 1867), and had supplied serials for several Australian bush papers. He’d left Australia in the 70s, bound for England via America, after writing some of the outback’s formative 
detective fiction.

[2] Town and Country Journal, July 10, 1880.

DEATH MASK. Ned Kelly was hanged on November 11, 1880. The authorities, probably under the influence of criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, took his death mask for posterity. The death mask was later brought out for show at the Institute of Anatomy, Canberra, in September 1951. On April 12, 1929, at the old prison grounds workmen with a steam-shovel unearthed a gruesome discovery, the skeleton of Ned Kelly.

The bones, which were remarkably well-preserved, were taken by workmen to be kept as mementos. Mr. H. Lee, a contractor, of Richmond, secured the skull. There was a complete set of teeth in the upper jaw but morbid souvenir hunters removed most of them. — The Western Mail, April 18, 1927
J.P. Quaine, an antiquarian bookseller of South Yarra, Melbourne, Australia, wrote to penny dreadful collector Barry Ono that

The crowd fought amongst themselves like hungry dogs over the bones of the fifty years buried outlaw. They burned them up with the steam shovel during alterations to the old Melbourne jail, also Deeming’s body. The latter was scrambled for by women, above all! I must confess that Australians are a race of bloody savages.

[3] Hogarth House Edition 1880s.
BEFORE NED KELLY. James Skipp Borlase had written an early bushranger romance In London, as J.J.G. Bradley. Bluecap the Bushranger; or, the Australian Dick Turpin commenced in Charles Fox’s The Boys’ Standard, Vol. 1, No. 25, published in April 1876 as “Written by a retired Victorian Trooper.” Bluecap the Bushranger; or, the Australian Dick Turpin was reissued in 11 penny numbers by Hogarth House in the 1880s. Short as this penny dreadful was it would prove to be popular fare and was still circulating, described as a yellow back in Australia in 1895.

Like Ned Kelly, Bluecap or Blue Cap — an alias for Robert Cotterell — was a real person, a hunted bushranger captured at Humbug Creek in November 1867. Bluecap and a companion, astride stolen horses, had robbed a Chinese man at gunpoint for a measly two or three pounds and a pocket-handkerchief. He was sentenced to 10 years “on the roads.” The police constables called him “Bluey.” There was a second Blue Cap, several years later, but it was Cottrell, the original Bluecap, who was in the newspapers while Borlase was residing in Melbourne. No matter, Borlase dispensed with the facts and fashioned a thrilling and violent highwayman romance that was both funny and horrible to read.

He wore on his head a cap of bright blue cloth, fitting close like a skull-cap, and with two long lappels that fastened under his chin. From the summit of this cap stood erect a dozen or so of bright crimson and blue feathers, to a height of nearly a yard. It was easy to be seen that they consisted of the entire tail of a blue mountain macaw.
This singular head-dress covered the whole of his shaven skull, and gave him a half-Indian, half Morisco, and wholly savage and demon-like appearance.
“I have been tailoring as well as plundering,” he said with a laugh. This old cap, made to keep a traveler’s ears warm in a colder climate than this, will give me a name, and in return I will give it a name. Henceforth I am known, and known only, as
Within a month or two Australian mothers shall hush their brats to sleep with the terror of that name.

[4] The Boys of New York, 1876, courtesy Joe Rainone.
Norman Munro reprinted Bluecap the Bushranger; or, the Australian Dick Turpin shortly afterwards in the American story paper The Boys of New York, beginning in Volume 2, No. 60. October 9, 1876. His serials in the weekly proved so popular that J.G. Bradley (who was J.G.G. Bradley at Hogarth House in London) became a house name for American authors of an endless variety of serials, some good and some indifferent.

AFTERWORD. I once came across a book called Stirring Tales of Colonial Adventure; A Book for Boys by Skipp Borlase with illustrations by Lancelot Speed, F. Warne, London, New York, 1894. It was another version of The Night Fossickers, where Borlase claims to have known many convicts and criminals, and enjoyed their company. It identified Skipp Borlase as author of Daring Deeds, Tales of the Bush, Yackandandah Station and The Mysteries of Melbourne. On January 27, 1870, The Mysteries of Melbourne began circulation as a newspaper serial by “Kelp.” You can view Chapter one HERE.

[5] London: Alfred J. Isaacs Edition, 1881.

Read Bluecap the Bushranger; or, the Australian Dick Turpin HERE.

Read Ned Kelly, the Ironclad Australian BushrangerHERE.

NOTE: The two links above which were live at the time of posting (April 17, 2016) appear to now be available only by subscription. See HERE.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Operation Blonde, a comic strip no one ever heard of

JACK O’BRIEN. Early this spring I discovered that Sgt. Jack O’Brien, a cartoonist I have admired for a long, long time, drew a comic strip called Operation Blonde for AFPS. These samples appeared in the The Fort Hood Sentinel, a post newspaper published at the army base in Fort Hood, Texas, between May 28, 1953 and July 8, 1960. It lasted a long period of time for a comic strip no one ever heard of. Operation Blonde is a title evocative of the popular spy novels of the 50s-60s. From the army O’Brien went on to draw the Harvey Sad Sack comic books, and freelanced as a slick gag cartoonist for the mildly risqué 25¢ cartoon digests. 

[1] Feb 6, 1959
O’Brien was last heard of in 1970 when his home and a printing shop were raided by New Jersey police and an arrest warrant was issued for the cartoonist on obscenity charges. Police seized 8 truckloads of pornographic literature, printing machines, photographic equipment and mailing lists. The outcome does not seem to have been recorded in newspaper archives. Newspapers at the time referred to him as the artist on the syndicated Sad Sack comic strip although he may have only been assisting Fred Rhoads. 

[2] May 28, 1953
[3] Aug 21, 1958
[4] Dec 10, 1953
[5] Dec 19, 1958
[6] Jan 15, 1960
[7] July 10, 1958
[8] May 29, 1959
[9] May 29, 1959
[10] May 29, 1959
[11] May 29, 1959
[12] May 29, 1959
[13] May 29, 1959
[14] May 29, 1959
[15] May 29, 1959
[16] Aug 11, 1955
[17] July 8, 1960

EARLIER O’BRIEN. I previously posted about this brilliant gag cartoonist who signed himself O’Brien HERE, HERE and HERE. Animation Resources has more on him HERE.