Opus 302 (November 10, 2012). Herewith, a blast on the triumphant trumpet as we celebrate the re-election of Bronco Bama, the myopia of the Republicons (who fail to discern the judgement of the American people in their rejection of Mitt Romney), and the current viability of Playboy (plus a review of the Playboy Covers tome), one of the last two bastions of American magazine cartooning. Here’s what’s here, in order, by department—:
The Obama Boom: Re-Election
Daily Felltoon Commentary
Newspaper Comics Page Vigil
NOUS R US
Disney Buys Lucasfilms; More Star Wars
Sandy Eggo Comic-Con Stays in San Diego Some More
Family Circus Monument
The Superman Wars
Annual Rancid Raves Report
Our Motto: It takes all kinds. Live and let live.
Wear glasses if you need ’em.
But it’s hard to live by this axiom in the Age of Tea Baggers,
so we’ve added another motto:.
Seven days without comics makes one weak.
(You can’t have too many mottos.)
And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—:
THE OBAMA BOOM
Including a Little Snide Snark on the Side
WHEN BARACK OBAMA WAS FIRST ELECTED to the presidency four years ago, an American dream was revived—the dream, that childish conviction, that anybody could become president. Surely if a black man in racist America, the child of a broken home, could achieve the White House, anybody could. Had he been defeated in his bid to be re-elected on November 6, that dream would falter: Was it true? Or had that other election four years ago been a fluke? But he was re-elected. The other election was no fluke. Hope is still alive, and the dream lives on.
AND HERE, A FEW CAREFULLY CHOSEN WORDS from Shaw Peirce’s cogent post-Election Daily Commentary at the DailyFelltoon (editoonist Paul Fell’s website): The overall story of the election may seem like an oversimplification—one we're certain that many in the political media will be hashing over the rest of the week—but it actually broke down very simply. In short, if you were already rich, white, old, male, and conservative, you probably voted for Romney and the Republicans. Virtually everyone else voted for President Obama and the Democratic candidates, to some degree.
This shouldn't surprise anyone either. While the Republicans did keep control of the House, the Democrats kept—and strengthened—their control of the Senate. In both the House and Senate, Democrats broadened the demographic nature of their coalition. In fact, this is now the first time in history that the House Democratic caucus has white males as a minority. Our nation is maturing, changing, and growing. The future of America is as a melting pot—as it's always been. That at least one of our two major political parties continues to embrace this most fundamentally American idea remains music to our ears.
NEWS ANALYSIS (The Borowitz Report)—“One day after the costliest Presidential election in U.S. history, Americans awoke to the ugly realization that the nation had spent $2.5 billion with absolutely nothing to show for it.”
Rancid Raves amplifies: Barack Obama is still Prez, the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm still controls the House of Representatives, and the DonkeyDem still controls the Senate. In short, everything’s the same. We spent $2.5 billion and got nothing for it.
But meaningless political campaigning is, among other things, the American Way, as Borowitz continues, quoting the perhaps spurious Tracy Klugian, President of the Negative Advertising Association of America.“When people complain about how expensive these political campaigns are, they’re forgetting about the millions of Americans who are employed making negative ads,” Klugian offers. “Say what you will about lies, vitriol and character assassination, they’re job creators,” he pointed out.
In fact, Klugian says, America’s costly and interminable campaigns are the nation’s most reliable source of employment: “They gave a completely unskilled person like Mitt Romney a steady job for eight years.”
Acknowledging that the $2.5 billion spent this year was a “tidy sum,” Klugian says, “if we took all the money we spend on political ads and used it to educate our children and feed the poor, we wouldn’t be America.”
The numbers added up and told the story: Bronco Bama won the popular vote and the electoral vote. Again.
It was an election the GOP should have won. All year long, we’ve heard the gaseous class saying that no sitting Prez ever won re-election with unemployment as high as it is now. So why did the Republicons lose? And who lost—the Republicons or Romney?
Both. Romney talked about leadership but did nothing except pander to the extremities of the party—bigots and zealots. Pandering is not leading. And the party focused on too narrow a demographic—white male evangelicals and the advocates of small nearly nonexistent government. Tea-bagging anarchists.
At FoxNews, the Right Wingnuts professed amazement that their man lost. Really? This is the guy who alienated Hispanics and all other racial minorities (Obama was, from the start, despised by the GOP as an African American in the White House, and Romney did nothing to disperse the racist aura, tolerating Donald Trump’s demand to see Obama’s birth certificate, f’instance), this is the guy who turned off the entire female population of the country—and they’re surprised he couldn’t get enough votes to win? Amazing.
That’s what happens when you are eager to believe your own bullshit. As Jon Stewart said, the GOP loss was not a slaughter: it was an auto-erotic asphyxiation.
And now the Prez faces the same recalcitrant GOP. John Boehner (pronounced Boehner) is already saying, as he has before, that he’s willing to work with the Prez. But he never does: his idea of working with Obama is that he gets his way, and the Prez gives in. The day after the election, Boehner came on tv, coast to coast, and outlined his plan, which, he said (with a straight face) incorporated Obama’s balanced formula. Obama hopes to achieve some fiscal solution by balancing spending cuts against new revenue, taxes on the wealthy, chiefly. Boehner’s version of this balancing act is to get new revenue by (a) reforming the tax code which will (b) revive the economy from which ( c) we’ll then get more revenue via the usual taxes.
As you can see, that’s the same old stone wall up against which Obama has been butting his head for four years. No change there.
And Mitch McConnell, while retreating slightly from the crude animosity of his belligerent “our main objective is to see that Obama is a one-term Prez,” is still obdurate: he says it’s now up Obama to come up with some legislation that the Republicon-controlled House will approve.
Give me a break. This is “working together”?
Some of the so-called “news” media call these overtures “conciliatory gestures” that are to be taken as signals that the GOP is willing to reach a long-deferred compromise with the Prez. Maybe, maybe not. Sounds all too familiar to me, though.
But at least the dream is revived.
PERSIFLAGE AND FURBELOWS
Undecided voters, research has shown, don’t follow the news and don’t watch debates, said Timothy Egan at NYTimes.com. They are chronic ditherers, the sort of idiots who “panic at ‘paper or plastic?’ in the supermarket, backing up the checkout line.” Yet upon them “rests the future of the republic.”
On FoxNews’s election night coverage, Megyn Kelly was sitting next to Karl Rove just after Fox had called Ohio for Obama, and Rove kept insisting that, no, it wasn’t over yet—there were still uncounted ballots out there that could swing it to Romney. Kelly had had enough. She looked at Rove and said: “Are you just saying that to make yourself feel better or is this somehow real.”
The Poison Pen Brigade
Post-election day editoons are usually pretty bland: the winners exult, and the losers bemoan. Cheering and complaining prevail. Taylor Jones at the upper left in the adjacent visual aid is fairly typical of this year’s joyous crop—except that Jones manages a symbolic explanation for Obama’s victory by making the Prez’s teeth in the shape of Ohio. Nice idea and effectively done. But not accurate: by the time Ohio was declared for Obama, he’d already accumulated more than the necessary 270 electoral votes from other states that swung his way. And none of them were Florida.
OBAMA HAD WON WITHOUT FLORIDA!
Florida has, at last—after three election cycles—become irrelevant.
No one anymore NEEDS Florida in order to win! (Jon Stewart)
Next on the clock, David Fitzsimmons gets in a lick beyond simple victorious exuberance: the 47 Fitz conveniently alleges Obama won by reminds us of all the U.S. citizens that Romney announced that he would ignore. All those women, racial minorities, and up-and-coming youngsters. In short, the people that won it for Obama. The 47% indeed.
I didn’t see many cartoons about voter suppression on the Web. But Chris Britt’s visual metaphor tells the truth here, reminding us that messing with voter regulations occurred only in states where the Republicons were in power. That tells the tale. The drive to eliminate voter fraud began many decades ago: as soon as minority-voter registration surged in the civil rights era, the white male power brokers started sweating. And most of those, over the last 25-30 years, have been Republicons. So emerged the election strategy of the GOP: if the constituency to which you appeal (rich white folks) isn’t numerous enough to elect a Prez, then deprive those who would vote for someone else of their vote. This is math everyone understands.
At the lower right, we give the last word (for now) to Rick McKee, whose image brings us back from the post-election euphoria: we’re poised, already, to begin the next contest. The cracking egg is just right. A seemingly innocuous birth taking place just after a horrific battle. Next? Chris Christie. Hilary Clinton. Paul Ryan? It never ends, kimo sabe.
But before we leave, here’s one more way to celebrate the inexplicable political profundities of post-Election analyses with a picture. The one at your elbow is autobiographical— I saw this self-same "poster" on the wall of a bookstore in Buena Vista, Colorado, four years ago. And it's still true.
MOTS & QUOTES
“I’m most happy with the characters,” said Richard Thompson, speaking retrospectively about his discontinued strip, Cul de Sac; “—how they got away from my conscious control and seemed to have a life somewhere off the page. I feel like I was a witness and chronicler of their lives and exploits, and I think I did them justice. Though I’ll bet Alice wishes I’d drawn her prettier and Pete wishes I hadn’t drawn him at all.”
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping
THE POLITICAL SHENANIGANS of a national Election seldom get noticed on the funnies pages except in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury. But this year, Dean Young, son and steward of Blondie’s creator Chic, decided about six months ago that he’d run Dagwood for Prez. Explained Young: "Because everybody is having such conflicted opinions about the presidential candidates this year, we thought we'd have some fun in the comic strip and have Dagwood run for president. As we all know, the road to the White House can be very bumpy and, in his typical bumbling fashion, Dagwood takes a rather convoluted route."
But Dagwood started late—just six days before Election Day—forfeiting the chance at some satirical opportunities. At least he missed out being compared to a chair, said USA Today’s Brian Truitt.
As you can see from the three strips we’ve culled from the Bumstead Run, Dagwood didn’t get elected. The entire adventure was conducted in the usual safe whitebread suburban tradition of the strip. Nice but not astounding in any way. But by way of heaping humiliation on grief, we’re also posting at the bottom of the accompanying visual aid a strip in which Dagwood’s name is the subject of ridicule. What is the origin of that goofy moniker anyhow?
Not many other strips took notice of Election Day, but at Baldo, Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos did, as we can see hereabouts in the top exhibit.Below that, a somewhat more biting comment on the same phenomenon, thanks to editoonist Mike Luckovich.
NOUS R US
Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits
Disney bought Lucasfilm and immediately announced that a new Star Wars trilogy will be made despite George Lucas’ saying the saga was fini. The new film, working title “Episode 7,” will be released in 2015. Lucas will serve as creative consultant on the series, which will be prolonged at the rate of one every couple years, ad infinitum..
A couple years ago, the San Diego Comic-Con International considered moving to Los Angeles or Anaheim because the Convention Center in the place of its birth was too small for the burgeoning mob. Then, based upon the expansion planned for the Center, it was decided to stay in San Diego (which was eager to keep the Con because it generates about $68 million spread throughout the local economy). But apparently that decision was reconsidered recently when the expansion plan went into court with questions about the legality of financing plans. But then the Comic-Con management had yet another thought and agreed to stay in town through 2016. (I hope the “thought” was prompted by some sort of financial concession the city and/or hotels would make to the Con and its attendees.) The contested part of the financing plan, according to Tony Perry via herocomplex.latimes.com, is that it “allows local hoteliers, rather than voters, to decide wether to increase the room tax to gather funds for [the expansion]; under the plan, the hoteliers get a slice of the revenue for promotional purposes, a novel and legally questionable tactic.” Next summer’s Con is July 18-21.
Bill Keane, creator of the newspaper strip/panel cartoon Family Circus, was a resident of Paradise Valley, Arizona for over 50 years. And now the town is about to erect a statue in his honor. The 9x7 foot bronze monument, designed by Keane’s sons Glen (lately of Disney Studios) and Jeff (who continues Family Circus), will depict characters from the comic. It’s due to be unveiled in November next year.
Mad is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a book, Totally MAD: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity, with a foreword co-written by Stephen Colbert. The book includes a collection representing many of Mad's most beloved features: Spy vs. Spy. "The Lighter Side of _____, “ "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions," parodic posters of Nixon and Clinton, and such movie spoofs as "Saturday Night Feeble," "The Oddfather" and "Bored of the Rings." Says Mad editor John Ficarra: "Totally MAD is for older readers. This is clearly a nostalgia trip, and, hopefully, they'll be transported back to their bedrooms or their cousin's basement.”
Incidentally, I’ve never figured out why the name of the magazine is always in CAPS. MAD. Not Mad. Why is that? The title on the cover of the magazine is always in capital letters—but so is the title of every other comic book and magazine in captivity. Why does Mad get special treatment? Because of Neuman?
Read and Relish
ARTHUR OCHS SULZBERGER, publisher of the New York Times, which has been a family operation since it was bought in 1892 by Shulzberger’s grandfather, Adolph S. Ochs, died September 29; he was 86. He was called Punch, a nickname he earned by being the fourth, and last-born, of his father’s children. The first three children were all girls—Marian, Ruth, and Judith, called Judy. But the line of succession in such families went through males, not females, so when Arthur was born, his father was more than usually happy. “He enjoyed writing light verse,” reported the New York Times’ Clyde Haberman, “and he celebrated this birth with an illustrated book describing the boy as having ‘come to play the Punch to Judy’s endless show.’ The nickname stuck.”
Quotes and Mots
“How much do we know, really, about facts?”—Bill Maher
Woody Allen in 46 years as a director hasn’t changed his belief that there’s only one way to handle the horror of mortality: distraction. Watch a basketball game, play the clarinet, read comics.
“I’ve learned one thing—people who know the least seem to know it the loudest.”—Al Capp
The plight of the nation’s trail blazing skin magazine in the age of Internet’s universally available porn is not nearly as pretty as the barenekidwimmin on its pages. First, even before Web nudes seduced readers away, the laddie mags flooded the newsstands, and suddenly Playboy found itself competing with pretty girls who were not naked. To meet the competition, publisher/founder/editor Hugh Hefner converted the opening pages of Playboy to the sort of scattershot content approach employed by the laddies—short paragraph articles and lots of graphics. Just the sort of thing that works on a readership with short attention spans. Elsewhere inside, Playboy was but a shadow of its former self—many fewer pages than in its heyday of the 1970s.
Hef cut back pages and, even, cartoons, albeit just proportionately. (Cartoons being our chief interest in Playboy—oh, yeah: we never read the articles—and the reason we dwell every now and then on the what’s happening therein; Playboy is one of the last two magazine bastions of magazine cartooning—The New Yorker is the other one—and so we’ve diligently tracked its cartoon content for the last several years.) The most recent issues, October and November, each offer 6 full page color cartoons and 8 or 9 smaller cartoons in the back of the book. That’s about the same as it’s been in recent years; not as numerous as 40 years ago, but still, holding their own.
Other evidences of budget consciousness include the inauguration of the occasional “double issue”—a ruse (the double issues were not twice the size of the normal issue; so Playboy saved the cost of producing an issue of the magazine and the postage for mailing it to its subscribers)—and reprint features, “classics” from the halcyon days of yore. The latter have usually taken the form of a two-page spread celebrating of the work of “classic cartoonists”; in the October issue, it’s Gahan Wilson whose gruesome comedy is spotlighted.
Playboy has always been scrupulous about paying its cartoonists when their work is reprinted (whether in the magazine or elsewhere), but they probably don’t get as much for reprints as they did for the initial publication, so these fetes of seeming adulation doubtless save the magazine money while preserving the famed aura of its cartoons.
In the same issue, we are also treated to a reprint of a 1967 interview with Fidel Castro.
THE OCTOBER ISSUE includes yet another sign of shrinking budget: it reports that Playboy has closed its New York and Chicago offices, “consolidating operations in a single building on the West Coast.” Hef put a happy spin on this cost-cutting development: “We have been spread out for many years in several cities, and it’s nice to bring everybody together in one place.” Nice, yes; and cheaper, without question.
Accompanying this announcement is a photograph of Hef and his 20-year-old son Cooper with two bunnies. Cooper is one of two Hefner scion produced through his famously hyped union with the glacial beauty, Kimberly Conrad, a Playmate whom he married in 1989 and divorced in 2010. Cooper’s older brother (by a year) Marston was, last February, the target of some legal scrutiny: his girlfriend Claire Sinclair, a former Playmate with whom he had been living for a year or so, got a restraining order to keep him away from her long enough that she could move out of the apartment they were sharing, according to dailymail.co.uk.
Marston, whose attitude about women is, as he said, “fucked up” (“I’ve been around hot women all my life, so the average high school girl doesn’t do it for me,” he told dailymail), was accused of kicking and punching Sinclair during a quarrel they were having. He was arrested and released on $20,000 bond.
Cooper seems the less excitable of the duo. And he may inherit his father’s empire. Insider.com reports that father and son have been discussing the magazine and how it can be made more attractive to the present young would-be stud generation. Cooper’s older sister, Christy Hefner, Hef’s daughter by his first wife, ran Playboy Enterprises, which owned the magazine and other ancillary operations, for a couple decades, leaving, finally, a year or so ago.
The October Playboy, in what might be yet another cost-reduction effort, also features a 10-page photographic “romantic retrospective” of Hef’s girlfriends, all of whom (unless I miss my guess) were, at one time or another, Playmates in the magazine. The photos are culled from back issues or files of unused photos so the spread probably saved some money. But who really wants to see a parade of the naked beauties who’ve pleasured the publisher over the years? What’s Hef trying to do—make us all jealous?
And were all these toothsome wenches actually Hef’s “girlfriends”? Or were they, each one, in the course of their appearance in the magazine, merely his plaything of the month? I can’t believe that Janet Pilgrim (not her real name)—who was a secretary at the Playboy offices and graduated to Playmate in 1955 (helping considerably to foster the transmorgrification myth of the girl-next-door cum delectable love object)—was actually a girlfriend of the publisher in those nascent years. Did they have a fling? Before or after she was center-folded?
Given Hef’s self-proclaimed legendary appetite, I suppose all the Playmates depicted here as “girlfriends” wandered in and out of his bedroom before they’d served the magazine’s other purpose—to stoke readers’ imaginations about vicarious sexual escapades. By the time we get to the “girlfriends” of recent years, some of them stars of the tv series “The Girls Next Door,” we know we’re looking at harem girls, not girlfriends.
Accompanying this connoisseur’s gal-ery (so to speak) is a effusively gushing assessment of the lifestyle and loves of the world’s most famous sybarite mogul, who, reporter Bill Zehme dutifully tells us, is just a sentimental romantic forever in quest of the romance he never had as a schoolboy. He is, of course, still that adolescent, leaping from one infatuation to the next, constantly falling in “love” (not “lust at first sight,” Zehme assures us).
More than once, Hef has described his life as a movie in which, as one of his secretaries is quoted as saying, “he would see a girl across a crowded room, their eyes would meet, violins would start to play, and he would feel that pit-a-pat.” The toothsome Karen Christy, whom he bedded in Chicago one night while bedding Barbi Benton in California the next, was, Hef rhapsodizes, “a voluptuous, baby-faced blonde from Texas who had stepped right out of my erotic, pre-code Busby Berkeley Hollywood dreams from boyhood.”
“Hef,” Zehme says, “excels at being his own best casting director,” and he never cast any but young lovelies, never straying “far from the tender-blossom demographic.”
In his later years, Hef began assembling groups of girlfriends. “I went to the multiple-girlfriend arrangement,” he explains, “because a large number of them can’t hurt you as much as one can.” Thus, Zehme intones, “revolving platoons would become the status quo.”
Hef summarizes: “It wasn’t difficult to figure out that the most successful sex object I’d created was me. It was a role I was very comfortable playing. I have build here what could be viewed as a perpetual woman machine.”
Does he mean he’s a womanizing machine? Or is the “woman machine” the harem concept of girlfriend he’s concocted?
Well, sure. We all, every one of us males in the throes of arrested development, need to know Hef’s lifestyle in order to aspire to it. And Hef, eager to please, parades his conquests before us in this 10-page gloat.
Being (what do you expect?) jealous, I was preparing to run off at the mouth a little more about the obvious conceit and dubious propriety of old men dragging their histories out for what they egotistically presume is the enjoyment of their ostensible fans when I realized that I’ve been doing exactly the same thing for the last year or so. And I’ve just done it again, even more self-indulgently, in this month’s Hindsight, which concerns itself with my aesthetic theories of cartooning and what cartoon souvenirs I’ve been able to salvage from the compost pile of my aborted career as a cartoonist.
Really. What conceit. What towering egomania. Just as Hef dangles before us photos of the young women he’s made into sex toys—in effect, boasting of his prowess and his desirability—I parade before you pictures of my lewd cartoon ladies, as undressed as any Playmate. The difference, not that it matters, is that Hef’s playthings are flesh (oh, what fleshiness) and blood, but mine are merely ink and paper dolls.
Still, overwhelmed by the irony, I let Hefner off with ne’er a discouraging word.
BUT THE OCTOBER ISSUE of the magazine is scarcely the only indulgence Hef has been regaling us with lately. For the last decade, we’re been periodically accosted by a succession of “anniversary” publications. The Playboy Book . 50 Years of Cartoons. The Playmate Book. The Photographs. This year, it’s Playboy’s Greatest Covers (which, considering the magazine’s playful attitude about covers, I’d expect to be more scintillatingly entitled—like Uncovering: Playboy’s Greatest Covers, f’instance).
Its 310 9x11-inch pages are ample enough to give generous full-page display to well over 150 covers, plus dozens more at somewhat smaller sizes. Grouped chronologically and sub-divided by theme (travel, redheads, legs, psychedelic, football season, exercise, jazz, Femlin, celebrities), the covers are, surprisingly, clever designs with a pronounced sense of humor rather than erotic with a glistening aura of perspiration, the former most evident in the ways the rabbit emblem is hidden in plain sight, distracting us, momentarily, from the lusciousness of the femme embonpoint on display.
Each theme (and there are many more of them than my list suggests) is accompanied by a short essay discussing the concept or the design problem or, sometimes, the model. Beginning with the magazine’s first cover, the one reigned over by Marilyn Monroe (with a cartoon naked woman by VIP in the corner), the book concludes with the July 2011 cover of Hef’s “runaway bride,” Crystal Harris, the harem girl who left Hef at the altar (but has since returned to the seraglio).
Various thematic undercurrents eddy through the essays. Discussing the June 1967 cover, Damon Brown, who wrote all the text (except for the Introduction by Pamela Anderson), says: “It is worth noting that the bust size of cover models seems to increase from the 1950s to the 1960s, and grows substantially in the 1970s and beyond. Mainstream breast enlargements are an obvious reason, but bustier women were also indicative of changing tastes at Playboy.”
Boobs may have been bigger in the 1980s, but neither the magazine nor its covers were as racy then as they had been because “it knew it couldn’t out-sex or out-shock competitors like Hustler and Penthouse.” Perhaps. But by the 1990s, the pressure to meet the competition of the laddie mags had resulted in tamer laddie-like covers—like that of the October “Election Issue” that appears in our visual aid a few paragraphs ago. (The table of contents, being inside the magazine and away from the casually roving eyes of children touring the newsstand, is somewhat more daring, as the two we’ve included with the October cover reveal, but even the football player with the blue background is as demurely posed as the wimmin in the laddie mags.)
Meanwhile, as Playboy was pacesetting by going pubic inside in the 1970s, its covers slowly tested the inclinations of censors by uncovering more and more of the models’ breasts. The first blatant female nudity on the cover might have been that of a fake woman: the unadorned Femlin appeared as a ceramic nude on the May 1963 cover. But eighteen months later, for the annual round-up of Playmates, the January 1964 cover included some nudes among those in the picture frames on the Rabbit Bachelor’s wall. The previous year’s round-up issue demurely kept nipples covered; in 1964, they peeped into view.
But it was in the 1970s that nipples came into their own, Brown recounts: “Back of the envelope calculations reveal that there wee more nipples shown on Playboy covers in the 1970s than in the 1980s and 1990s combined.” The January 1976 issue had “Happy New Year” on the cover in giant letters, each letter (there are exactly 12 of them, one for each month) accompanied by a thoroughly naked and nippled model.
The chronological discipline of the volume permits us to watch tastes change over the years—the tastes of the editors as well as that of their readers. Among the indications of the former is the way the Rabbit Bachelor is portrayed. At first, he appeared as a fuzzy collage, a cartoonish rodent visage with pointy ears—“a humanized bunny that no one could completely identify with so, in a sense, everyone could relate to.” But this fabrication always stuck me as just too cute and not at all in the sophisticated pre-coital mode of the rest of the periodical. By the mid-1960s, fuzzy-face had been completely dethroned, and the persona of the animal kingdom’s sexual celebrant was represented on every cover by the rabbit head emblem, a much more satisfactory concoction.
Only a few Playboy covers have featured cartoons, our ostensible subject here at Rancid Raves and therefore the excuse for this meandering detour. Marge Simpson was on November 2009's cover; the Femlin, a drawing not a ceramic figure, on August 1960; and girls by Playboy cartoonists John Dempsey, Richard Taylor, Erich Sokol, Alberto Vargas, Claude Smith, E. Sims Campbell and Eldon Dedini surround the fuzzy Rabbit bachelor on August’s cover the next year. The near misses (pun unintended but relished) include a model on November 1988 wearing the red gown of Jessica Rabbit from the partly animated film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”; another model opening her shirt to display Supergirl’s costume on August 1981; and, most ingenious of all, yet another model whose otherwise naked epidermis is painted to represented the spangled uniform of Wonder Woman on February 2008.
Having now returned to our subject and hence restored it, we can, with ne’er a blush, depart the Playboy premises. And so we do.
THE SUPERMAN WARS
FOR SOME YEARS NOW, we—the fan press and fandom at large—have stood on the sidelines, cheering on the Siegels and Shusters and Simons in their pursuit of “justice” in the form of gigantic financial compensation from corporations that have profited hugely from characters the claimants or their relatives created years ago. The Siegel heirs were successful in 2008 in gaining 50% ownership of the Superman copyright; Warner Bros and DC Comics are nonetheless appealing. The Shuster heirs were not successful: the same judge that had ruled in the Siegel case recently found against the Shusters in 2012.; the Shusters are appealing. Joe Simon lost his most recent claim to Captain America (filed in 1999, apparently not involving his co-creator Jack Kirby, who was, by then, deceased).
And now come Al Feldstein and the heirs of Harvey Kurtzman, claiming ownership of copyrights for material developed for EC Comics. Feldstein, who, as the still living creator of the material in question, has, in my view, the best claim, says he’s already reached a settlement with the William C. Gaines Agency that owns all the EC properties at issue.
All these claims are rooted in a single sense of aggrievement: the creators (and their relatives) feel inadequately compensated for creations that subsequently reaped millions for the corporations to which the creators had sold their creations. Siegel and Shuster provide the classic case: Jerry Siegel and his artist buddy Joe Shuster sold Superman to a comic book publisher in 1937 for $130; Superman, however, turned out to be worth much more than that, becoming the flagship creation for the entire comic book industry. Then the Copyright Law of 1976 and its 1992 revision created the opportunity to do something to assuage that sense of injustice.
The revised Copyright Law extended the term that a copyright applied—the latest extension preventing Mickey Mouse from falling into public domain, probably forever; but more important, the revision provided that creators could reclaim their copyrights whenever they came up for renewal by the current (usually corporate) copyright owner. As The Comics Journal’s Michael Dean put it: “The law was intended to address the fact that, over the years, the terms of copyrights have been extended again and again, giving them a value far beyond the compensation originally paid to authors/creators.”
“The justification,” adds Robert Stanley Martin at hoodedutilitarian.com, “is that the author couldn't have known the future value of what he or she had sold, so he or she should have a certain amount of time [later on, when and if an increase in value became evident] to exploit that at the current owner's expense.”
The popular view in fandom is that Siegel and Shuster, just out of their teens, were hapless victims of corporate greed and the current owners of Superman should pay. But after reviewing the “compensation history” of the Superman case, Martin doesn’t agree:
“Siegel and Shuster earned the 2012 equivalent of at least $5 million from Superman during the character's first decade. They would have earned a great deal more if they hadn't filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to regain the property in 1947. (I've read the court filings and the preceding contracts. Almost all of the non-speculative grievances were over things they clearly had no claim to, such as money from Batman. The speculative grievances—namely being shorted for monies owed—were determined groundless.) The cumulative income of Siegel, Shuster, and their heirs from a 1975 pension agreement with DC has been the 2012 equivalent of over $6 million. That's altogether more than $11 million between the two parties in today's dollars, and the Shusters alone would have stood to make at least an additional $2 million had they not chosen to pursue the partial copyright termination that resulted in the most recent verdict.”
Martin continues: “Siegel and Shuster sold Superman outright in 1938. There is no evidence of bad faith in the transaction. For the equivalent today of about $2,500, DC bought a comics feature that no other publisher was interested in. When the commercial potential of the property became apparent, the company voluntarily increased its contractual obligations to the creators. Siegel and Shuster were allowed to participate in the expanded publishing opportunities, and they were given a percentage of the non-publishing licensing revenue. They were extremely well paid before they burned their bridges with a largely senseless lawsuit in 1947 and 1948.”
Although they lost the suit, they received a lump-sum settlement in an amount that ought to have lasted them the rest of their lives. But it didn’t. Subsequently, “the two suffered economically,” Martin says, “but it's becoming increasingly clear that they were akin to the lottery jackpot winners who quickly end up in bankruptcy court. Judging from the paper trail of exhibits in the various cases, as well as Larry Tye's recent book Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero, they were financially irresponsible people who squandered a truly enviable amount of money. (Shuster in particular was quite the spendthrift.)” He doesn’t see how DC should be held accountable for that.
Still, due to publicity generated around the time of the first Superman movie, Siegel and Shuster, aided and abetted by Neal Adams and many comic book creators of the time, “were able to negotiate a new settlement in 1975, and they enjoyed a handsome pension afterward.” Shuster died in 1992, and Siegel in 1996. After that, their heirs began maneuvering to better themselves by reaping the rewards they thought their forebears were entitled to.
The Siegels filed to claim 50% ownership of the Superman copyright in 1997; the court found in their favor in 2008, as I mentioned. The Shusters filed in 2003 but lost. The decisions in both cases are being appealed.
In both instances, the bone of contention lies in agreements reached earlier between the Siegels/Shusters and Warner/DC by which the claimants gave up their rights to the copyright in exchange for higher royalties and other benefits. In the 2001 Siegel case, the judge ruled that the agreement was never formally reached, hence the Siegels won their latest claim. But in the 1992 Shuster case, the same judge found that Shuster’s sister and brother reached agreement with Warner/DC “when they agreed to accept higher royalties ($25,000 per year, for the rest of the sister’s life) plus payment of Joe Shuster’s estate debts.” They had, thereby, lost their claim to part ownership of the copyright.
Other complications have surfaced—notably, the allegation that papers vital to the Siegel claim were stolen from their lawyer’s office. But I don’t want to wander off into that swamp.
Joe Simon, incidentally, reached a settlement with Marvel in 1969; then decided that the amount wasn’t enough and renewed his effort in 1999. In neither case do I remember Jack Kirby, Captain America’s co-creator, having a stake. If memory serves, Kirby had signed away his rights to Captain America much earlier. That may be beside the point: Simon, in autobiographies, produced a drawing which he claimed established him as the principal creator of the star-spangled super patriot. I think the drawing looks too finished to be the germinating sketch; but what do I know?
I know very little beyond what I’ve just written. But I feel that the claims of heirs to the presumed legal rights of their ancestors are somewhat irregular. They may be legal, but I’m not sure they’re moral. The heirs have no role in the creation they hinge their claims upon. Copyright has always been intended to protect the rights (and claims to compensation) of the creator, not his heirs and assigns forever and ever amen.
By the same logic that the Siegels/Shusters/Kurtzmans follow in claiming rights to copyright, as Martin points out, “DC Comics could reclaim all extant copies of Action Comics No.1. The company sold them for pennies back in 1938; they couldn't possibly have predicted that copies would eventually change hands for up to a million dollars apiece. Or should the Siegel and Shuster heirs have the right to reclaim those, too?”
I think Feldstein has a rightful claim: he’s the creator of the material at issue. For the rest? Not so much. Yes, there’s something inherently unfair about the meager compensation Siegel and Shuster initially accepted for the first Superman story. But I think Warner/DC made that up to them—if not through the lump sum settlement of 1948, then surely through the pension the company set up for the pair in 1975. The creators were taken care of; it was up to them to take care of their relatives and heirs.
Similarly, the Kurtzmans. I love Kurtzman’s work and revere his obvious genius. And through his war stories and Mad creations, he may be the most influential cartoonist in American history after Walt Disney. But I don’t think his heirs are entitled to hold the copyright in order to make money on the material he created. If the Gaines Agency has settled with Feldstein, perhaps they’ll settle with the Kurtzmans, too. In a spirit of fairness, not because they are legally obliged to do so.
Despite all the foregoing folderol, I’m not convinced I’m right. Why shouldn’t someone be permitted to will to his children the benefits of his creative endeavors while he was alive? Everyone of us wants to “take care” of ours children in a manner like this. So why not? Because the children didn’t do the creating.
If you hold the view that creators can sell their rights (and who else is entitled to?), then to whom can they sell them? Corporations? And if creators can sell their rights, why can’t they bequeath them? Maybe creators should not be permitted to sell their rights—only to rent them, so to speak. But, by the same token, not to bequeath them either. Everyone gets what he/she’s entitled to as the fruit of their individual labors; no one gets to live off the achievement of others. After a creator’s death, his creation falls into public domain. (Or ascends thereto.)
That’s my train of thought so far—as often off the rails as on them. Maybe more later.
Fascinating Footnit. For even more comics news, consult these other four sites: Mark Evanier’s povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com, Tom Spurgeon’s comicsreporter.com, and Michael Cavna at voices.washingtonpost.com./comic-riffs . For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.
FOR THE RECORD: The Rancid Raves Annual Report
Just so the vital information rehearsed below is never lost in the Internet ether, here it is—for the record—our hare-raising Annual Report. In our ninth year as a paid-subscription online magazine, from November 2011 through October 2012, we posted a total of 575 pages of Rancid Raves (averaging 48 pages a month), plus 84 pages of Hindsight (an average of 7 pages a month, virtually the same as last year’s totals). R&R was not quite up to previous years’ records, but we’ve been intentionally cutting back in the conviction that no one has the time or inclination to read over 50 pages a month at one or two sittings. We plan to continue this self-mutilation until we are averaging 20-25 pages a month in R&R, plus Hindsight. Regardless, we can still, this year (and probably forever henceforth), trumpet our accomplishment: what other magazine generates 55 pages of comics-related (mostly) news and reviews and in-depth articles every month for a mere $1.32 a month?
We (Jeremy Lambros, R&R webmaster, and I) produced 16 opuses of Rants & Raves in the last twelve months and posted 10 Hindsight (history and biography) articles. In the aggregate, that’s about the same as erstwhile, albeit somewhat fewer individual postings than in some previous years, but we’re still within sight of the terms of our contract with subscribers: our treaty specifies approximately bi-weekly issues of R&R, and although we did that only four times out of twelve, but we posted something at least twice a month—at least one R&R and one Hindsight—for 11 months. And, as noted above, the total pages compare favorably with previous years. Still a big bargain, aristotle.
Resolve to the contrary notwithstanding, I still have not managed to curb my tongue sufficiently to reduce output to about 20 pages per opus, the original target. With R&R, however, I did manage it for the last five months. If I reach my goal for the next year, I’ll crank out one or two R&Rs every month (at about 20 pages each) plus a Hindsight, one or the other landing in your inbox every other week. Or so. Still, I humbly submit, a bargain at a mere $1.32 a month.
If you’re not a $ubscribing Associate, here’s some of what you’ve missed last year:
eye witness reports of San Diego Comic-Con, the Reubens Weekend of the National Cartoonists Society, the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, and the big success of Denver’s first comic-con. We also reported that: Bud Plant gave up his decades-old mail order business last summer, a gay wedding took place in an Archie comic book (not to mention other symptoms of an intruding reality—Occupy Riverdale, breast cancer, to name two); Nancy Silberkleit, Archie’s co-publisher, was banned from the offices for making sexist remarks (that I interpret as satirical); Nicole Hollander’s retiring Sylvia from print; and the various attempts at suppressing cartoonists around the world (Zunar in Malaysia won his freedom and his books were returned, but freedom of speech is still iffy; Iranian cartoonists were sentenced to 25 lashes; Syrian cartoonist got his hands broken for drawing cartoons critical of Assad.) In newspaper funnies, Trudeau arranges for the rape of an unknown woman in a doctor’s office, Mike Lester launches a new comic strip—the only new comic strip of the year; Andy Capp sobers up; Cul de Sac ends because its creator; Richard Thompson, has Parkinsons; and the seduction of Luann; .
We also regularly (nearly every posting) review the current crop of political cartoons and, almost as frequently, some of the first issues of comic books. We did a long essay on the dubious plan at DC to issue prequels to Alan Moore’s Watchmen; then we reviewed the books when they came out and found them, most of them, stellar performances. We also took a look at many of DC’s New 52 titles, but liked only a few. We did other longish analytical pieces on plagiarism, Playboy’s cartoon count (again this opus), casualties among editoonists (the ranks now shrunken to about 55 full-time staff cartoonists; there were 101 in May 2008), Paul Krassner and Outrageous Iconoclasm, The New Yorker’s so-called “cartoon issue”; the end of Life in Hell; the midnight massacre at a Batmovie; and Islamic hooliganism.
And we did career-appreciation obits for Ronald Searle, Jerry Robinson, Joe Simon, Jan Berenstain, Shelly Moldoff, Rex Babin, Moebius, Fran Matera, Al Ross, Ray Bradbury (and the Comic-Con), LeRoy Neiman (and the Femlin), Jim Unger, Joe Kubert, Mark Swayze, Maurice Sendak, Tony DeZuniga, Ernie Chan, and Paul Gringle.
We reviewed books, too, great heaps of them, including: African-American Classics, Dr. Seuss & Co. Go To War, Cartoon Marriage: Adventures in Love and Matrimony (by The New Yorker’s Cartooning Couple, Liza Donnelly and Michael Maslin); I Thought You Would Be Funnier (Shannon Wheeler), What I Hate From A to Z (Roz Chast); Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon (comic book) The Complete Series, Volume One; Milton Caniff’s Male Call: The Complete Newspaper Strips, 1942-1946; AND—:
Setting the Standard: Comics by Alex Toth, 1952-1954; Alex Toth: Last Chance; Genius Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth; The Quality Companion; Will Eisner Conversations,Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes; De: Tales: Stories from Urban Brazil (Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba); Brenda Starr reprint; Bruce Timm’s Naughty and Nice Girls; Barney Google, AND—:
Hark! A Vagrant, Comics and the U.S. South (Scholarly Essays); Nancy Is Happy; Stan Lee’s Secrets Behind the Comics (a reprint of a classic); The Complete Peanuts: 1983-1984; A Parent’s Guide to Kids’ Comics; Allan Holtz’s Encyclopedic American Newspaper Comics Guide (a monumental achievement); Health Care Reform (a sort of graphic novel explication of the program); Sunday Funnies; Best of the Three Stooges Comic Books; Adventures Into the Unknown: Pre-code Horror Anthology; two volumes of reprints of Crime Does Not Pay, Issues 1-4 and Crime Does Not Pay Archives, Volume 2: Issues 26-29; AND—:
Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers; Drawn Together (the Crumbs’ Opus);
Superman Versus the Ku Klux Clan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate; Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero; The Art of Amanda Conner; The Sincerest Form of Parody (imitators of Mad in the 1950s); Bloom County, The Complete Library: Volume One, 1980-1982; Action! Mystery! Thrills! Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age; Odds & Ends from R. Crumb; and the spectacular Naked Cartoonists (self-caricatures of cartooners in the nude).
We also took a look at a few graphic novels: Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand; The Sign of Four Adapted; The Revolutionary Icon: Che; Stripperella; Nuts: A Graphic Novel (Gahan Wilson); The Adventures of Herge (in graphic novel form).
And in the Hindsight department, our long-form essay/historical section, last year we rehearsed and celebrated the histories and artistries of the “real” Captain Easy, John Severin, Hal Foster (Tarzan and Prince Valiant), George Price and magazine cartooning, and Blondie. And I indulged myself with several autobiographical ventures, describing my career as a magazine gag cartoonist and my comic strip creation (Fiddlefoot) and comic book character (Zero Hero) as well as my development of a theory of comics art (It’s Not My Fault).
So that’s what you’ve been missing if you’re not paying our paltry subscription fee. It’s never too late to join up, kimo sabe.
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