Friday, May 17, 2019

Comic Shorthand – The Melee

by Jimmy Swinnerton 
encounter between a dog and a bad mans

another encounter between a dog and a bad mans

encounter between a dog and an artist

encounter between a cat, a dog and a bad mans

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The World’s Greatest Comics Festival, Lucca  

[1] Sergio Aragones prepares his morning cappuccino

by Rick Marschall

I have been to Europe more than 60 times, a good percentage of those trips centered around comics festivals, salons, and symposiums. That I often planned trips to coincide, or, more often, I was an invited guest as speaker, juror, or exhibitor (not exhibitionist) made for very nice icing on the cake. I often took a week or two extra, since I was given freedom to choose the dates for the flights they booked… and this Intentional Tourist checked many boxes in cultural, musical, and sight-seeing categories.

It started somewhere, besides connecting dots of interest in comics and a Wanderlust. The major American cons, of course. But I have attended many international comics festivals including Angoulême; ExpoCartoon in Rome; Erlangen in Germany; and in Prague, London, and Brussels. A speaking tour for the US Information Service of the State Department. At many I was the American representative of festivals, sharing presentations or exhibitions; bringing American cartoonists and fans (more than 125 to Angoulême one year – whoosh!); and waving the flag at roundtables.

[2] Bonvi and Victor de la Fuente greet each other

But the earliest for me, my most attended, and most fondly remembered, is Lucca.

The Festival began in the Ligurian Italian town of Bordighera, beautifully nestled on the French Mediterranean border. It was the convention to which Al Capp was invited, and ultimately made a LIFE Magazine cover story out of the challenge of finding it. It moved the next year to Lucca, a Medieval Tuscan town situated roughly equidistant from Florence and Pisa. It has remained there ever since, surviving budget crises and politics; a biennial schedule; an osmosis-like split with ExpoCartoon in Rome; revival as Lucca Cartoons and Games.

[3] Moebius – Jean Giraud – on a chill October morning

For many years I was the American representative, succeeding Maurice Horn and David Pascal; often sitting on the International Jury. 

Of those days I can share much that will be interest to readers (maybe decade-by-decade here in A Crowded Life sometime) about those guests and those awards (plucking a couple myself) and those debates and those lectures and those side-trips and those restaurants… and those friends. It got so that I anticipated every Lucca largely because the cartoonists, the “experts” from all over the world, and special fans, formed the core of a true family reunion for me. 

[4] John Prentice, Mordillo, and de la Fuente looking over a Rip Kirby reprint book.

The “community,” now since dispersed or expired, felt the same way. Conventions endure, but “Luccas” are no more. In the golden days of Lucca, crowds would fill the Opera Theatre to listen to lectures about the most obscure aspects of comics history and theory; and once upon a time there were no costume events or laser-fencing on the streets. Readers will know what I mean.

For this column I will share some photographs from the first couple of Luccas I attended, and some sketches that were drawn… often late at night, at the bar of the Hotel Napoleon (built as the Hotel Mussolini in the 1930s) or the lobby of the Universo. Talking (as best we could), sketching, laughing, drinking, Hugo Pratt playing the guitar and singing… but there I go. More stories later. Here, visual memories.


The first Lucca I attended was 1978. I was still editor at Marvel (I convinced Stan Lee to send me and scout for talent for EPIC). Harry North, the British cartoonist for MAD, said he would do a sketch if he could take my book to his room overnight. Here is what met me at breakfast –

Harry North sketch

Jaroslav Horak, cartoonist of the James Bond strip

Hugo Pratt’s classic Corto Maltese

The great Guillermo Mordillo, Argentine cartoonist


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Comic Science Investigation #1


by Chris Beneke

     COMIC EXPERIMENT. American comics of the early 1900s were rich with experimenters and experimentation. Within a decade or so, and certainly by the close of World War I, if not before, this experimentation had given way to a formula, based on strong characters and what-came-to-be-called sequentialism.

     Here’s how Sidney Smith began Old Doc Yak in The Chicago Tribune in February 1912, with Yak’s kicking his way through a miniaturized front page:

In my recollection of my first encounter with this strip, it was somewhat different: A single panel on the paper’s actual front page. The historical record does not seem to bear out this memory; this first installment seems to have been on an interior page.

     Chicago readers of the sports page of Hearst’s competing Chicago Examiner would have recognized Smith’s anthropomorphized goat (or goat-o-morphized man) as Buck Nix.

Chicago Examiner, August 9, 1908

The Buck Nix dailies in Blackbeard’s Smithsonian newspaper comics collection remain a highlight of that book. On my one visit to Blackbeard’s San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, seeing more Buck Nix was a top request: the Smithsonian seems to have presented the most interesting episodes, however.
     Smith’s goat predated his Examiner run: The goat had been a comic commentator in Smith’s editorial work for The Toledo News-Bee as early as 1907, some of which are collected in Yankee Boodle Army [HERE], published in that year and reprinted in 1928. Like so many other comic characters, Nix/Yak just grew.

The Toledo News-Bee, September 30, 1907

     In the 1912 Chicago Tribune, during his first week, Old Doc Yak used the tools and plans that Smith had drawn for him to expand his space, but an even more powerful tool, one specific to comics, balloons, enabled Yak to act seemingly independently of creator Smith. Balloons opened the words and thoughts of comics characters to direct reader observation, free of a creator’s traditional literary tools, like narration or explanation; balloons freed comic characters, at least seemingly , of a creator’s control. [Read HERE at Barnacle Press]

Chicago Tribune, April 24, 1912

     By week’s end, on Saturday, the strip had unfurled to occupy the page’s full width. The animal neighbors sharing this panorama with Yak would be featured in later dailies.

Chicago Tribune, unknown month and day, 1918
     A color Old Doc Yak Sunday page, usually centered around his car, followed a month later.
Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1918

     Old Doc Yak had built the space that would be his home for the next five years. Through Yak, creator Smith claimed his own regular space in the daily newspaper, a space that would outlast Yak, thanks to Smith’s later, more popular feature, The Gumps.

Film Daily, Nov 26, 1923

     Even the most disinterested newspaper reader that first week would have noticed the strip’s expansion from day to day. This novel debut might have attracted readers to the new feature.

Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1933

     Bud Fisher had begun the first daily comic strip, A. Mutt, in 1907, only five years before Smith’s inaugural Old Doc Yak stunt. Smith’s stunt might have seemed incomprehensible to that earlier audience. That Smith dared, and apparently gathered and kept his audience, shows how quickly those 1912 comics readers had developed expectations of what a comic is (or can or should be): One or more recurring characters performing in a series of panels, separated by borders, and “speaking” through balloons.

     Strong characters had been instrumental in popularizing and sustaining comics features since the Yellow Kid, a diminutive waif who addressed the audience through “speech” scrawled on his nightshirt, made the overcrowded Hogan’s Alley, a full-page single panel, a popular weekly destination, and his creator, Richard F. Outcault, thanks largely to merchandising the Kid’s image outside the Alley, wealthy.

     Audience expectations about a comics’ content and form, already in 1912, were also understood by publishers and creators, eager to attract the most readers and fans and perhaps partake in the success that Outcault and his papers had enjoyed. In the 1910s, daily strips would depend on the popularity of such recurring, recognizable figures. Daily features in the 1920s and 1930s would develop more insistent hooks: continuing stories that required a reader’s daily attention.

     Smith’s 1912 self-conscious playfulness about his medium, equating a physical space on a newspaper page with a comic character’s home, was revisited in 1917, five years later: Yak’s bear landlord evicts Yak and son Yutch to ready the space for The Gumps.

     This gag repeats again in 1919, two years later, when the Gumps take possession of Old Doc Yak’s car (and his 348 license plate) and assume occupancy of the Sunday page. The Gumps would henceforth rule both spaces, and make that car an even more famous comic icon. A car-less Yak eventually reappeared in a Sunday topper strip.

Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1911

     The editor, of course, ruled every space on every page, though he was seemingly invisible (or hiding?) and, unlike a paper’s comic characters, faceless

Chicago Tribune, Mar 9, 1912

     With Old Doc Yak’s 1912 debut in The Chicago Tribune, Smith plays off his readers’ expectations of sequentiality, then a novelty, but rapidly establishing its dominance within the American comics medium. Hogan’s Alley had debuted only 17 years before and the regular use of balloons, begun by Opper or Dirks, was only a decade or so old. Captions under comics panels had persisted for much of the 20th century’s first decade; The New Yorker sophisticates have still not given up this holdover from 19th century illustrated humor. 

Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1912

     The comic formula that Sidney Smith gently mocked in Old Doc Yak’s debut week, one or more strong characters contained in sequential panels, became the formula that made American comics a mass medium for the next two decades or more. Later, talking films and radio would put a huge dent in comics’ dominance of American storytelling media.

This formula yielded the formulaic, a bad enough outcome, but, worse, as comics became equated with sequentialism, the understanding of comics, past and present, became hobbled, let us hope not permanently.

     Today’s lesson: Comics take up space

Chicago Examiner, July 19, 1908


Non-sequential tendencies, despite being ignored, unnamed, or glossed over, persist within comics. Some early American comics more boldly exhibit such non-sequential tendencies and a few comics from this experimental era seem wholly non-sequential. 

Comic Science considers the visible, not the invisible. These early American non-sequential comics will be examined in subsequent essays: They will not be dismissed as “non-comics.”

Comic Science asserts that the better comics of tomorrow will be built upon non-sequential principles, and with non-sequential practices. Subsequent Comic Science investigations into early American comic strips and pages will elucidate these principles and practices.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Art from Crowded Sketchbooks 

by Rick Marschall

I have been text-heavy in this space over the past several installments, so I will be merciful and be art-heavy today; or whatever its polar opposite is.

In a “crowded life” in the comics and cartoon worlds, I have been blessed to meet many cartoonists beginning in second grade of school (mine, not theirs). Some blossomed into lifelong friendships; some were one-time visits, especially with pioneers who were active in the 1890s.

I was a “fanboy” just enough to ask for sketches or inscriptions on original art. Often I was not, however – when I chose not to appear to be the fanboy I was – and regrets, I’ve had some.

However, I will share some here, and sporadically, providing a taste of the behind-the-scenes world when cartoonists wanted to strut their graphic stuff… or hastily reduced their characters to the simplest lines… or might have wondered if something like the internet would be invented, and share their sketches!



Saturday, May 4, 2019

Sunday with Jimmy Swinnerton –

 Jimmy - He Earns a Reward! 

 Chicago Examiner 

 August 6, 1911 


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 Al Capp’s Own Crowded Life and Family 

 by Rick Marschall 

I knew Al Capp better through the conservative movement, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, than through cartooning. Nevertheless this Crowded Life I chronicle led me to interact in several ways and various times with him.

I also knew his brother Elliot Caplin, about whom not enough has been written in comics histories. Elliot was quiet, taciturn to the extreme; seldom registering emotion, forever with a pipe clenched between his teeth. He let his writing do the talking – Elliot, always anonymously, scripted a dozen or so strips through the decades.

… maybe more; some he co-created; some he scripted; some (like Broom-Hilda) he lived in a zone between plating a seed and “packaging” a syndicate presentation. Among the strips with his plots and dialog, or with various aspects of his fingerprints: Dr. Bobbs; Peter Scratch; Adam Ames; The Heart of Juliet Jones; Big Ben Bolt; Abbie an’ Slats; Long Sam; On Stage; Encyclopedia Brown; Best Seller Showcase; Dark Shadows; Buz Sawyer; post-Gray Little Orphan Annie; and others. More than Allen Saunders and Nick Dallis combined.

There was a third Capp brother, Jerry. For a while he handled business affairs for Al, but the L’il Abner creator largely considered Jerry a hanger-on, and for most of his career he hung around Elliot. Elliot himself was the quiet center of an active business career beyond his writing. He was on the staff of Judge magazine (“I put them to bed for good,” he dead-panned) and then was an editor of Parent’s Magazine. He parlayed his experience and Al’s success into Toby Press, named for his third child. It was a comic-book publisher mostly handling Li’l Abner titles.

A fourth Capp I knew, also. When I joined the staff of the Connecticut Herald out of college, as cartoonist and editor, there was an old fellow who shuffled through all the rooms every morning, dispensing lollipops to every desk. He had been with the paper since forever, I was told; probably since the 1930s in its glory days as The Bridgeport Herald. He was a pleasant old relic of the sales staff, and when, after a week or two, I became a recipient of Harry Resnick’s morning lollipops, I knew I had arrived.

Hesch Resnick had served as Al Capp’s agent when, as Alfred G Caplin, he proposed the L’il Abner strip to syndicates. It was Resnick’s advice to reject King Features’ meddling in the strip’s premise, and accept an offer from the smaller United Feature Syndicate.

It is not generally known that Elliot’s birth name was Elia Abner Caplin; so Li’l Abner was an in-joke from its inception. Al would refer to Eliot – never without his trademark wheezy laugh – as “that lovable idiot Elliot,” but affectionately. The pair had supreme admiration for each other. (Jerry became a Capp, legally.)

As I said, I knew Al Capp during the period when he multi-tasked, diverting attention from his strip to politics. Claiming he never changed his famously liberal stances that infused Abner for years, it was the leftward stampede in American politics that made him seem like a conservative.

Whatever. Almost overnight, as he lampooned hippies and limousine liberals in his strip, he found himself a favorite of William F Buckley; a guest on Firing Line and late-night talk shows; a newspaper columnist; and a speaker on the college circuit. Like Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro of our day, he was picketed and the object of protests. Allegations that he propositioned “co-eds,” as female students were then called, severely damaged his celebrity.

The recent issue of Hogan’s Alley has a first-person account of Capp’s lecherous advances (“amorous” is finally an inappropriate term in these cases); and there were other similar claims, most famously by Goldie Hawn from days before her own celebrity. Capp’s celebrity, but more importantly his credibility, was damaged.

The article has a sidebar reproducing a column by Jack Anderson, a prominent political writer of the day, about Capp’s peccadillo described by the writer. Another serendipitous connection (a "Crowded life," after all). I was Anderson’s editor for a while, believe it or not. Personal and political animosity fueled many of his “scoops.” His former boss, then partner, on the “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column was Drew Pearson, who observed, and skewered, everything from his far-left perch.

Capp mercilessly lambasted Pearson (for many years a fellow liberal) in Li’l Abner. One time I asked Pearson about the bad feelings, and he would not confirm that when Pearson himself created (and thereafter "edited," but credited as a writer) the newspaper-reporter strip Hap Hooper for Capp's own syndicate, United, its hero was spoken of internally as a serious-world Li'l Abner type. A hillbilly who stumbled into situations. Capp was livid, even after the premise was somewhat revised – and the incident became one on a list of grievances Capp held against his syndicate for years.

It would not have been above, or beneath, Jack Anderson to be joyful in “exposing” the claims against Capp for his own “exposing” events. By the way, one of Anderson’s legmen in those days was Brit Hume, before ABC News’ White House beat, and as Fox News Channel’s Senior Analyst. Times have changed.

[Speaking of exposing, I have received many inquiries about me and Hogan’s Alley, prompted by my essays for Yesterday’s Papers and the announcement of Nemo Magazine’s imminent revival. Formally, I have not left Hogan’s Alley and in fact am on track to deliver an article for publication. I founded, or co-founded, the magazine, named it, invited the Art Director David Folkman to join the team; and I retain an equal-ownership position with Editor Tom Heintjes. Nevertheless this latest issue sees my name dropped from every category in the staff boxes. When Dorothy McGreal invited me to write for her excellent World of Comic Art, she specified that I should feel free to write elsewhere. After writing several articles for Cartoonist PROfiles, Editor Jud Hurd kindly blessed my writing elsewhere, and said his door was always open. The foregoing might answer the questions of some people, even if not mine.]

Back to Capp: Previous to the assault allegations, he had been discussed as a candidate against Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy… but all that collapsed.

So did his health and his leg. As a boy in New Haven, Al Capp was run over by a street car, and forever limped noticeably and bravely, and a bit awkwardly, on a wooden prosthesis for the rest of his life. In rare appearances toward the end, even at cartoonists’ events, he was “handled” by Eliot, helping Al walk and deflecting conversations, even from well-wishers.   

Back in cartooning’s turf, I acquired items from his crowded studio (organizational chaos must have run in the family: Elliot’s office in Manhattan was smaller than most people’s utility closets – but he never could lay his hands on proof sheets of his collaborations with, say, Lou Fine, Ken Bald, and Neal Adams – he knew how to pick ‘em!) and I conducted Al Capp’s last interview.

Some day, here, I will tell more of my interview, conducted after he very publicly retired Li’l Abner (“It simply is time for a fresh, new talent, to take my space”). Al was miserable. He had difficultly reaching the living room and settling in an easy chair; he complained of his emphysema – but chain-smoked (“It’s simple; I can give these up or stop breathing,” between drags). He complained, I tentatively recall, of diabetes. A joy for him, during that afternoon, was the presence of his granddaughter, a reporter for the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger. Tragically the following week she was killed by a car when she crossed a street.

He shared a lot with me that day. As I said, we’ll dive deeper in A Crowded Life, but I remember that he disputed the length of time Frank Frazetta assisted on Abner. And the wonderful answer to my question about the greatest humorists: he said the great American comic writers were all named Sol and Nat, representative of the anonymous radio-show staffers of the 1930s. He drew a terrific self-caricature for me that afternoon in Cambridge, looking as jolly as, sadly, he was not.

Al and Elliot liked the interview I conducted (published first in Cartoonist PROfiles) and wanted me to ghost-write Al Capp’s autobiography. So did Don Hudder, a friend who was Editor of Simon and Schuster. Tony Gardner, Al’s nephew and then agent, got involved, and eventually my modest fee was too high, and the book was published, “by” Al Capp. It was, frankly, a pastiche of my annotated interview in many places; and four-fifths strip reprints… from the recent past. The Best of Li’l Abner, which it was not; and scarcely claiming to be an autobiography. I still have Hudder’s letter apologizing for the slight and affirming that I could have made a good treatment even better.

I the meantime, it was, of course, a privilege to know and work with Al Capp – in two spheres of Crowded Lives, his and mine.



Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Great Debate –

Nassua, NY Newsday, 1971: At the station, (radio DJ Al) Doud goes into a studio to tape a segment of his show. His guest is Richard Schickel, movie critic for Life magazine, who wrote a book on Walt Disney a couple of years ago. His other guest is a cartoonist named Al Kilgore (Bullwinkle) who hates the book Schickel wrote on Walt Disney a couple of years ago. Kilgore has a copy of the book with about 800 markers in it noting the parts he wants to argue about. “It’s well-written,” says Kilgore as the taping gets under way, “but it’s the most vicious character assassination I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s hyperbole,” says Schickel. “Look, why are you making this semi-hysterical attack?”
Kilgore calls Schickel “Mr. Snide.” Schickel says, “This is preposterous.” The debate is not on the highest level. Schickel gets quite upset. Finally he stands up. “I’m not gonna take this,” he says. “Take your show and stuff it.” He walks out of the studio.
Doud turns to the microphone. “I’d like to say a word about Shop-Rite Supermarkets,” he says...
– Freak, By Lewis Grossberger


Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Paris Is Burning

by Rick Marschall

Caran d'Ache

I will take a little detour this week. These columns are largely personal – the running title gives me away – but I intend to present a fairly comprehensive, and behind-the-scenes, history of comics of the past 50 years or so.

This week, as Easter might distract us, properly so; and with the images of Notre Dame still seared in our minds, I will stroll down a largely pictorial lane.

I have been to Paris at least two dozen times, and visited Notre Dame at least half those times. Alone, as art historian and as gawking tourist; with family and with special friends; alone for concerts and worship. My pied-à-terre is the Hotel Esmeralda, directly across the Seine.

It is impossible not to love Paris. Comics historian Pierre Couperie wrote a book about Paris through the ages (it was published in America too, by George Braziller), each double-spread with a map of the village-turned-metropolis, surrounded by historical facts and data. On one visit he took me around Paris, held up old prints of certain sites – from the precise vantage-point where we stood, and related some history for me and my video camera.

Many friends, all related to comics, in the city. Nicole Lambert, who created the incomparable color strip Les Triplets (the cute upper-class tykes) for Madame Figaro… and animated cartoons, apparel, games, etc. Former model in the US, a wonderful friend back in her native France. I will profile her soon here.

Yves Rasquin ran the amazing comic shops called Album. His shop near my hotel was always my meeting place, and in 1991, when I was the American rep for the Angouleme Festival – arranging events in Paris, Angouleme, and Paris again for more than 125 cartoonists from the US – Yves hosted a memorable reception in his shop.

Pierre Couperie, who was a professor in Paris, has since died. So, too, and too young, Annie Baron-Carvais, student of comics and friend of cartoonists from the world over.

And so forth. Restaurants, concert venues, museums, parks. Concerts – performances of Fau’s Requiem; the Bach organ cycle over weeks on the city’s many church organs. Memories… none more precious than Notre Dame; incomparable. I cried, literally, as I watched on European TV channels the unholy holocaust. Personally, I believe the cause is yet to be learned; and I pray the restoration is just that – and not a further secularized Lego-built theme park.

Gee, I promised a brief and pictorial stroll. Too late for brief; but I will present some images now. Not strips or cartoons. I have complete runs of L’Assiette au Beurre and other French graphics/ cartoon journals… but they mostly are anti-clerical. Not for this week.

I also have a complete run of Figaro Illustré, 1892-1911 its glory days as an oversized, full color deluxe magazine of graphics, fiction, and art. In its amazing pages are special issues devoted to the new aeroplanes and automobiles; other cities like Rome and Berlin; historical themes, and holidays. In its pages, too, are works, much of them original for the magazine, by Mucha; Toulouse-Lautrec; Monet; Caran d’Ache; poster pioneer Jules Cheret; JOB; even the Americans E N Blue and Hy Mayer.

The volumes are too monstrous and heavy to try for the scan bed, so I took some photos of covers and spreads to share this week. A time when France, and the world, was more innocent; when artists celebrated more than their own dark sides; when Impressionism and Art Nouveau excited artists and public alike. Click twice to enlarge these. Please forgive the distortions of the camera.

And breathe a Vive la France while we can.

Claude Monet

Conquest of the Air

E N Blue

Hiver - Winter

Jules Cheret


les Fleurs


The Storm

Toulouse Lautrec

Toulouse Lautrec