Welcome to the webbed and wired edition of R&R, aristotle. We’ll be doing the same sort of song and dance here as we do in print: reviewing the latest comics and cartoon-related books and ranting about trends and abuses and unfathomable foolishnesses. Each installment will stay here for about four weeks, with a new one coming in just about every other week or so. If you don’t have the time to ponder every punctuation mark in this deathless prose and merely want to see what might be there that would interest you, we suggest you scroll down the page looking for the bold-face type that heralds the notables who reside herein this week. So here we go with Opus 400 and a reprise of Opus 399a (Bunny Bonus):
Opus 400 (February 1, 2020): With this posting, our 400th, we have arrived at a big, fat round number towards which we’ve been trending for over 20 years. But it’s never been a goal. We’ve never been aiming for it. We just kept plugging along until we finally arrived at it, a milestone. And we pass it just as we embark upon another year, 2020, a fresh beginning with the dawn of a new decade.
Or does Opus 400 come at the end of a decade? At year’s end, all the media were celebrating the end of a decade as 2019 drew to a close.
But decades don’t end with number nines; they end with zeroes. The first decade is numbered 1 to 10. A decade.
So the end of 2019 does not mark the end of a decade, popular commentators to the contrary notwithstanding (and no matter what various of the ensuing reports claim). We won’t get to the end of a decade until a year from now. At the same time, we’ll start off on a new decade with 2021.
Meanwhile, here at Rancid Raves, we mark the end of the fourth 100 postings. But other than being a nice round number (with the persistence it signals), Opus 400 is no different than the 399 postings that preceded it. We offer this time the same array of reviews and news that has always inspired us to continue.
Our major focus this time is on the cartoons of The New Yorker. In one essay, we look at the revived Cartoon Issue, returning after nine silent years, and compare it to its predecessor which debuted in 1997; the other essay discusses the present cartoon editor, Emma Allen, her lack of preparation for her role and the kinds of cartoons she favors and how that is destroying the last bastion of single-panel cartooning in the country. We also review more than half-a-dozen books, including a couple of disgraceful graphic novels.
In order to assist you in wading through all this plethora, we’re listing Opus 400's contents below so you can pick and choose which items you want to spend time on. Here’s what’s here, by department, in order, beginning with the news of the day—:
NOUS R US
Decade’s Top Five Censored Comicbooks
Politics in Comicbooks
Biggest News of the Year: Children’s Graphic Novels
Fake Graphic Novels
Person of the Decade
Comic Parody of the Constitution
Teaching Comics in Schools and Colleges
Far Side on the Web At Last
Is the Fabled Skippy Fight Over?
Abe Martin Recognition
Jerry Craft Wins Newbery
Nancy Drew Dead?
No Best of the West Award this Year
Wordless Book Celebrates the Daily Newspaper
ODDS & ADDENDA
Non Sequitur Restored, Jim Morin Retires
Yellow Kid Comicbook
Dogpatch To Be Sold
Deputy Sheriff Hulk
Historic Persons in New Graphic Novels Series
Women’s Stories in Graphic Novels
Graphic Novel Library from IDW and Smithsonian
THE NEW YORKER’S CARTOON ISSUE
A Return After Nine Years
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Antics and Idiocies of the White House Buffoon
The Mock in Democracy
THE FROTH ESTATE
Trump’s Attack on the Press
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
What’s Odd and Vulgar in the Funnies
ACCRETION OF INTENTION DEPARTMENT
Books In Need of Good Reviews
Mauldin’s Willie & Joe: The World War II Years
RANCID RAVES GALLERY
Wonder Woman, Popeye
Short Reviews & Coming Attractions
Barney Google for President
The Complete Pogo, Volume 6
Longer & Opinionated
Mac Raboy: Master of the Comics
“A Very Stable Genius” @realDonaldTrump
The Art of Nothing: Patrick McDonnell and Mutts
Emma Allen and the Deterioration of the New Yorker Cartoon
GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW
The Mueller Report
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
Yearly Report: For the Record
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
If Not of A Lifetime
“Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.”—Kurt Vonnegut
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 in the same spirit, here’s—:
Chatter matters, so let’s keep talking about comics.
And our customary reminder: when you get to the $ubscriber/Associate Section (perusal of which is restricted to paid subscribers), 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—:
NOUS R US
Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits
THE DECADE’S TOP FIVE CENSORED COMICS
By Patricia Mastricolo at Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF)
As 2019 came to a close, we looked back at the past decade of comics censorship. In the last ten years [2010-2019], comics have experienced a meteoric rise in popularity, unprecedented inclusion in schools, and a subsequent increase of censorship attempts.
A look at the annual lists produced by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom of the most frequently challenged and banned books demonstrates this well. Before 2010 it was rare for a comic to appear on the list, but since then, the quantity of challenges and bans to comics have consistently climbed, due in part to their increased inclusion in academic settings. With more challenges comes more opportunities for CBLDF to fight for free expression and the inclusion of these important graphic novels. So take a look at these five comics that not only changed the medium, but continue to demonstrate the importance of free expression on a regular basis.
Two of CBLDF’s brightest victories this year both involve Alison Bechdel’s game-changing graphic memoir Fun Home, and the state of New Jersey. Following 2018’s very public challenge to Fun Home in New Jersey, two more high schools quietly removed the comic from their library shelves without following proper policies. CBLDF and National Coalition Against Censorship went to bat immediately for the important memoir, and eventually the schools relented and returned it to the shelves.
Then, a lawsuit was brought against school district employees in Watchung Hills about the inclusion of Bechdel’s Fun Home exactly a year after the graphic memoir had been retained in 2018, in spite of parental challenges to the comic. ...
Earlier this year, Nonprofit Books to Prisoners (B2P) released a list on Twitter highlighting the vast illogical nightmare that was the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) log of censored books. The list demonstrated that for decades KDOC has been infringing on the First Amendment rights of its inmates by arbitrarily limiting their access to the “marketplace of ideas.”
Michelle Dillon, an organizer at Books to Prisoners tweeted the list, calling the list “unbelievable” and pointing to the fact that Kansas has 10,000 incarcerated individuals, and more than 7,000 books have been banned. Among them is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons critical darling, Watchmen.
In 2017, Fun Home and Art Spiegelman’s Maus were both listed in a widely circulated piece advocating against comics in classrooms as they “advance political agendas.” This article came from a think tank and was published in a popular conservative paper, and press like this often effects teachers inclusion of comics in curriculum, causing a pervasive type of self-censorship that is almost impossible to combat.
Maus had popped up a couple years earlier in 2015, when, despite a lack of formal complaints, several major bookstore chains in Russia began pulling Maus off shelves and internet sites because of the swastika on the cover. According to a then-recent law, all Nazi propaganda was forbidden from being displayed in retail shops, including on the cover of a book whose overall message is completely anti-Nazi.
It came as a shock to many that the book would become the victim of a law designed to separate modern Russia from the history of Nazism inflicted upon the world during World War II. Spiegelman spoke out about the larger implications of these reactionary efforts to purge a portion of Russian history from the consumer marketplace:
“I don’t think Maus was the intended target for this, obviously. But I think [the law] had an intentional effect of squelching freedom of expression in Russia. The whole goal seems to make anybody in the expression business skittish …
“A tip of the hat for Victory Day and a middle finger for trying to squelch expression.”
ON JUNE 2015, Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man was one of four graphic novels that a 20-year-old college student and her parents said should be “eradicated from the system” at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California. After completing an English course on graphic novels, Tara Shultz publicly raised objections to Persepolis, Fun Home, Y: The Last Man Vol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House as “pornography” and “garbage,” saying that Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett “should have stood up the first day of class and warned us.”
Crafton Hills administrators responded with a strong statement in support of academic freedom, although President Cheryl Marshall did note that future syllabi for the graphic novel course will include a disclaimer “so students have a better understanding of the course content.” CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship to protest this attack on academic freedom, and the district backed away from the proposed disclaimer plan.
The previous year, marked Brian K.Vaughan’s and Fiona Staples’ epic sci-fi adventure Saga’s first year on the ALA’s 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books. In 2012, Saga was released and it became immediately apparent that this comic was redefining genres and comics with each monthly installment. It’s over-arching themes of diversity, inclusion, family, and love resonated with new and veteran comics fans alike. With the immediate critical success, it is no wonder it quickly became one of the most challenged comics in just two years.
One of the first years a comic appeared on the American Library Association’s List of Most Frequently Banned and Challenged Books, in 2013, out of 307 challenges recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, comics series Bone by Jeff Smith ranked 10th for political viewpoint, racism, violence. Smith responded to this by saying:
“I learned this weekend that Bone has been challenged on the basis of ‘political viewpoint, racism and violence.’ I have no idea what book these people read. After fielding these and other charges for a while now, I’m starting to think such outrageous accusations (really, racism?) say more about the people who make them than about the books themselves.”
This wasn’t the first controversy Bone faced. In 2012 Bone was relocated from a Texas elementary school to a junior high school in the same district because of another “unsuited for age group” complaint.
Finally in 2013 it was challenged twice more in Texas schools, at Colleyville Elementary School in Colleyville and Whitley Road Elementary in Watauga. In the latter case the unidentified complainant said that Vol. 2, The Great Cow Race, was “politically, racially, or socially offensive,” while the parent in Colleyville complained of “violence or horror” in the entire series. Both school districts reviewed the books and opted to keep them where they were.
POLITICS IN COMICBOOKS
The past year has shown a pattern of writers giving overt voice to their political opinions through superhero comics, or for controversies where they were prevented from doing so says Tom Speelman at polygon.com. Marvel and DC, the most visible publishers, are at the center of the ideological debate. Based on the decision-making, the two companies appear to have distinct approaches to talking politics in their paperbacks.
In DC’s Lois Lane No.1, our heroine at a press conference faces off with a Trumpian press secretary and mostly wins. Says Speelman: “What all this says to me is that, when it comes to certain creators and certain books, DC Comics is happy to allow political subtext become text. This sits in contrast to Marvel Comics.”
Twice in 2019, Marvel found itself embroiled in political controversies. The first came last August, when Maus author and Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman went public with the news that his introduction to a limited edition hardcover of Golden Age Marvel comics published by the Folio Society was refused because he made a snide remark likening the Red Skull to the Orange Skull (see Opus 386B).
That same month, in the lead up to Marvel Comics No.1000, Marvel altered the work of Mark Waid, a long-time writer for the publisher. Waid had characterized American values as a little shy of satisfactory execution (see Opus 398) but still functional.
Controversy over “politics in comics” — or lack thereof — isn’t a new phenomenon by any means, Speelman goes on. For one memorable example, in 2009’s Action Comics No.900, DC film screenwriter David S. Goyer had Superman renounce his American citizenship. After being admonished by the US government for joining in a nonviolent protest in Iran, given that he is, to them, a symbol of American policy, the Man of Steel said that “Truth, justice and the American Way [...] it’s not enough anymore.”
And this wasn’t Goyer turning Superman into a political figure: the character has been that way since the very beginning. In the first issue of Action Comics, published in 1938, Superman beats up a wife-beater, saves an innocent woman from execution, and forces a corrupt senator to confess that he’d stirred up a South American war because he was in bed with the arms industry.
But DC isn’t alone in taking political stances despite Speelman’s seeming contention that it is. Yes, Marvel hesitated over Spiegelman’s Orange Skull and Waid’s poetic view. But Marvel isn’t always hesitant.
If we return to1961 and the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics with Fantastic Four No.1 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, we encounter a flashback to the origins of the superteam in which Ben Grimm angrily points out to Reed Richards that he has no idea what the cosmic rays of space could do to them. To which Sue Storm melodramatically replies, “Ben, we’ve got to take that chance ... unless we want the Commies to beat us to it!”
Comics have always gone there, both DC and Marvel.
Balking at a few political references in the name of preserving corporate standards sits in contrast to the history of superhero comics, an industry that came to life thanks to two Jewish kids from Cleveland in the ’30s. When the Big Two lean into the political aspects of their creation instead of running away, says Speelman, “we all benefit.”
BIGGEST NEWS OF THE YEAR: CHILDREN’S GRAPHIC NOVELS
And —Person of the Decade
From the Beat—:
● Biggest Story of 2019: The massive explosion in children’s graphic novels across the book publishing industry
● What will be the biggest story in comics in 2020? The trade war with China, and how it affects the massive explosion in children’s graphic novels across the book publishing industry
● The Beat’s Person or Comic of the Decade: Tom Spurgeon
● The Person of the Year: While Spurgeon was much on the minds of people, 2019 was without a shred of a hint of a doubt the year of the kids comic, and no one triumphed like Dav Pilkey, who had not one but TWO behemoth sellers.
Pilkey had a year that only a tiny handful of authors at their very peak could match. Dog Man: Fetch 22 had a five million copy first printing, and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few weeks; his previous book, Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls – which only came out in August – has sold more than a million copies, according to Bookscan and was the third-biggest selling book of any kind in 2019. Since its debut, the eight Dog Man books have sold more than 26 million copies, and have excited kids reading like nothing else happening. Pilkey was also named Publishers Weekly’s Person of the Year, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
● Two syndicated comic strips have retired so their creators can write children’s books. After a little more than 14 years, Norm Feuti ended his comic strip, Retail. The final installment will run on Sunday, February 23, 2020. Feuti plans to pursue a slightly different career creating children’s books. Must be something magic (or tragic) about 14 years: Terri Libenson bid her strip, The Pajama Diaries, farewell on January 4 after a run of similar length. She will focus on her series Emmie & Friends for middle grade readers.
But Not All Graphic Novels Are Graphic Novels
The invention of graphic novels as a genre has made comicbooks respectable. But in the dash to cash in on this new publishing opportunity, publishers are producing lots of fake “graphic novels” that are an offense to the medium. ... To find why so many are “fake” and to read about the death of Nancy Drew, the sale of Al Capp’s Dogpatch, what Wonder Woman is up to lately, and how The New Yorker’s new cartoon editor is defacing the magazine with her peculiar choices, and to read reviews of a half dozen good books—and more, much more— Click Here
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