Category Archives: Newspapers

Comics Studies: Tad Dorgan and the American Experience

City Life, panel excerpt, by Tad Dorgan, circa 1921.

Look, I will be the first to admit that it might seem a bit morbid to invest too much time on cartoonists from a bygone era. For serious cartoonists, sure, it can be part of learning the craft. But is it really just nerdy excess? Well, no. The case can definitely be made that there are some very interesting stories to tell from the heyday of the comic strip, which reigned for much of the first half of the last century. These cartoonists have long since become ghosts and yet still attract interest. You can rest a lot of that interest on the lanky frame of Tad Dorgan, considered for a time to be a bona fide American celebrity cartoonist a hundred years ago.

Tad Dorgan

Tad Dorgan (April 29, 1877 – May 2, 1929) is not a household name anymore but devoted specialized fans still exist and for good reason. The key is his quirky humor and his unusual use of language. He invented slang that we still use today and take for granted. For example, we might call someone a “dumbbell.” We still know what a “hard-boiled” crime novel is. Even the youngest amongst us might slip into ancient slang and say, “For crying out loud!” And, if you’re feeling stylish, you may observe some guy’s swagger as the posing by a “drugstore cowboy.”

Judge Rummy comic strip, by Tad Dorgan, (November 11, 1920).

Let’s take a closer look at a sample from Tad Dorgan’s comic strip, Judge Rummy (1910-1922), considered his most famous work in comics.

Judge Rummy, panel 1.

In the above first panel, we have two urban animal characters, apparently humanoid dogs in suits and hats. This is outside a courthouse. Of course, right next to sports and the crime beat, court proceedings have always been a reliable source for news and spectacle. One character is a friend to our main character, Judge Rummy. They speak in slang. There is some spare background drawing. Their attention is focused on some trouble up ahead. The judge thinks someone is about to “do the Dutch,” slang for committing suicide

Judge Rummy, panel 2.

Quick transition to the trouble, now in full view. More liberal use of slang or creative use of language. The judge’s one-word reaction: “Insipid!!” This new character seems to be in distress and might be on the verge of killing himself with poison but it’s none too clear if he’s really in danger.

Judge Rummy, panel 3.

In this magical state, anything is possible so the reader quickly accepts the narrative. The man in distress is just one quick step from becoming comic relief. He’s actually worried about having just gotten married.

Judge Rummy, panel 4.

Finally, all bets are off, and whatever absurd and surreal resolution is fair game. The man in distress begins to contemplate how easily he can slip from marriage to divorce. The judge and his friend do the classic sight gag: flip and down to the ground, feet firmly up in the air. Their collective response makes as much sense as anything else and actually has a very modern tone: “That wins the carving set,” referring to some typical media campaign in a newspaper or on the radio. Overall, the drawings are charming if not especially remarkable. This piece is clearly meant to be a quick read and appreciated for satisfying the public’s sense of humor of that era. Basically, a good day at the office for Dorgan. With the passage of time, the whole thing takes on an added eerie layer of beauty not necessarily ever intended by the cartoonist. Based upon my own lifelong experience as a cartoonist, my conclusion is that this piece was seen as a job strategically well done: good composition and pacing; funny and clever exchange between characters; the artwork serves its purpose. Tad Dorgan was most interested in being a humorist with his writing ending up being of prime importance. It’s a common situation for cartoonist-writers and it absolutely happens to this very day. With that in mind, Tad Dorgan’s quirky humor takes on a lot more relevance. While our inclination is to lump Dorgan in with musty old newspapers already on a steady path to extinction, his efficient use of art in the service of his sly humor can be seen as utterly cutting-edge! Just ask Matt Groening or Lynda Barry.

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Filed under Comics, Humor, Newspapers

Village Voice Moves From Print to Digital

A Village Voice newspaper stand lays on the ground next to garbage in New York City’s East Village on Tuesday. The Village Voice, one of the oldest and best-known alternative weeklies in the U.S., announced that it will no longer publish a print edition.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

One of those youthful memories that drifts up for me at various times is seeing a pile of issues of The Village Voice at a friend’s apartment. He liked going through them. Like me, he loved reading and writing. And, if you were serious about writing, you kept up with such publications on a regular basis. Before the internet, The Village Voice was one of those portals that gave you a taste of certain literary trends and urban happenings. It was fun to pore over the pages and even to simply handle this object made of paper, this symbolic series of messages from that bright big city, New York City, the epicenter of all things media and culture. If you aimed to be hip, wanted a ticket to the subculture, you read (and can still read!) The Village Voice. This publication means a lot of things to many people. For me, it was primarily a writer’s magazine. But no longer can you read new print issues, only digital moving forward.

Now, the end has come to that particular experience. The Village Voice has ceased its free print version, a staple of New York City life and urban life beyond. Well, the end occurred a long while back but this is the definitive end: absolutely no more paper copies! Is this really news? I’m not sure that it is as this transition from print to digital has been steadily going on for years. Just like typewriters and phone booths became extinct, so too will all print newspapers bite the dust.

For some steadfast followers of pop culture, they would like to claim some greater significance to the death of the print version of The Village Voice. To be sure, it does seem to be heart-breaking. But, let’s get a grip. All content moving forward is now digital and that’s great. Digital archives are a breeze compared to microfiche or, God forbid, musty old stacks of actual crumbling newsprint. There’s a reason that newspapers have always been printed on the cheapest paper imaginable. They were only meant to be read on the day, or week, they were published and subsequently used for practical purposes like wrapping fish.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know there are plenty of nerds among us, and I count myself within this group, that can’t help but want to get all sentimental about such things as newspapers. Well, resist that urge. Unless you have more than ample space, say an attic, you don’t want to have a bunch of old copies of this or that newspaper or magazine providing little more than clutter. When was the last time you cracked open that classic issue of Life magazine? Never, right? It’s hard not to be a packrat.

Final print issue of The Village Voice

The practical concern over the shift from print to digital is about the various features in the print version surviving the transition. What about the columnists? And what about the cartoonists? Well, what about them? If a content provider is creating compelling content, then that content is going to find an audience, and it will survive the great transition.

For those of you who did not grow up with newspapers, you’re probably wondering what the big fuss is over. Newspapers, just like magazines, used to be far more powerful and influential. People took far more notice of them and relied upon them. Eyes lingered longer on the text, the photographs, the illustrations, and the comic strips! To this day, I have a memory of a distinctive caricature on the front page of The New York Observer. It was 1976, and I was a precocious tween. The cover featured Sen. Hubert Humphrey. It may have been an illustration by Levine. And the headline asked, “Will He Run?”

The bittersweet fact is that we’re saying goodbye to another link with history. Even as a kid, looking at the cover illustration of Humphrey, I knew that it reeked of the past. Humphrey’s image was being rehabilitated. This was before my time but I knew he was part of the Vietnam War, part of a past that we were steadily coming to terms with. Humphrey was part of the discredited past. Jimmy Carter was part of the future. Seeing that newspaper, holding it, reading it, I could tell there was something slow and quaint about this whole format, acting as much as a portal to the present as to the past.

Village Voice, April 10-16, 2013 issue

The bittersweet fact is that we are currently experiencing the long goodbye to all print publications. And they won’t go without a fight. For some oddball reason, the print version of Newsweek rose from the dead. It will finally die off soon enough. The publications that are least financially stable will drop out of the print game even sooner. The alt-weeklies, which many of us cherished in our youth, will concede to only being digital. For example, here in Seattle, both The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly already behave very much as digital entities with their weekly print versions mostly serving as a place to highlight the features that appeared on their respective websites that previous week.

Getting back to the features that used to have a secure home in print: the creators of observation pieces and comics should follow their heart as best they can if they can’t follow their wallet. Start a blog. In the age of newspapers, you had to tap dance, beg, and plead to join the party. Those days are over! To all you heavy sentimentalists, don’t forget, we are well into a new century. Dry off those tears. The Village Voice is still alive in the format for a new age. The print version was your dad’s Village Voice. Sorry, but we can only move forward.

One last thing, be sure to actually read, and support, The Village Voice. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it can only survive on sentiment. Visit and support The Village Voice right here.

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Filed under Alt-Weeklies, Comics, Culture, Newspapers, pop culture, The Village Voice

Is It a Brave New World?

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thousands of people gather at Republique square.

Thousands of people gather at Republique square, 11 January 2015.Photo: Associated Press

Is it a brave new world since the attack on Charlie Hebdo? The short answer is Yes and No. As the Jan. 11 Paris anti-terrorism rallies made clear, people choose not to live in fear. No, we will not live in fear. That is the universal gut reaction and what inspired such a massive outpouring of expression.

Then you add world leaders getting involved, taking a prominent spot at the rallies, and things get very calculated. Still, it was what it was: a moment. The deadly Jan. 7 terrorist attack on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo inspired the biggest march in France’s history with at least 3.7 million people participating.

Then you add a multitude of talking heads and assorted pundits and you sift through that for a while. Some comments were fueled by unchecked outrage. Some comments were motivated by an ax to grind. Some comments were made by perhaps the unheroic wishing to be part of something that seemed heroic. And so on down the line. Pretty tiresome but also human.

But have we entered into something new? Yes, in the sense that Charlie Hebdo is now part of the hive mind. For now, for a very long time to come, we will consider and discuss what happened at Charlie Hebdo and its fallout.

There can be no universal consensus, no universal support, for the content in Charlie Hebdo. That is part of its appeal. It’s regular print run of 60,000 has risen to, at last count, 7 million. It is freedom of expression that inspires many of its supporters, many who are totally new readers to the paper. Jump in, feet first, when it comes to freedom of expression, they say. The fact remains that Charlie Hebdo is more than willing to cross a line into questionable and volatile terrain. It is out of any significant frame of reference for many of these new readers. It is only fair, and decent, to stop and think, no matter what the paper’s intentions, who is ultimately being hurt, offended, marginalized, targeted, turned into an Other, for the sake of some alignment with freedom of expression. Things, even seemingly innocent jokes, have ways of taking on lives of their own.

Ultimately, freedom of expression must win out. South Park must exist. Charlie Hebdo must exist. Any paper, any website, any street corner prophet, has a right to expression. But it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to feel obligated to join in and legitimize any and all content. In the spirit of attempting to make sense of events, there is a new site focused on dissecting Charlie Hebdo which may prove helpful. You can find it here. Learning more about Charlie Hebdo is good, in and of itself, whether or not you agree with its content.

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Filed under Charlie Hebdo, Editorial Cartoons, France, Newspapers

Whitney Matheson Completes a 15-Year Run with USA Today

Whitney-Matheson-Pop-Candy-Meetup-2011

A routine that was so essential to so many of us out there has come to an end. Whitney Matheson completes a 15-year run of Pop Candy, the pop culture blog at USA Today.

We will all miss Whitney Matheson at Pop Candy at USA Today but, of course, when one door closes, another door opens. September 3 was her last day as she was laid off from her post that she had held for 15 years. Of course, fans have been caught by surprise and are showing their support at Whitney’s Twitter.

Here is one from the archives: A CNN iReport put together by Jennifer Daydreamer and yours truly, this is an impromptu interview with James Sime, owner of Isotope, The Comic Book Lounge, that segued into an impromptu interview with Whitney Matheson. The discussion here involves the state of comics, which is always evolving, and how they coexist with Hollywood. This is from 2010, the year that “Scott Pilgrim” and “The Walking Dead” were big winners at the Eisner Awards at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Whitney hosted some awesome Pop Candy meetups through the years. Well, perhaps there will be something similar in the future.

Good luck to you, Whitney! We look forward to future observations and excellent writing! You are one of the best!

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comic-Con 2010, Comics, Entertainment, Hollywood, Isotope Comics, James Sime, Jennifer Daydreamer, Journalism, Media, movies, Newspapers, Pop Candy, pop culture, Television, Whitney Matheson

Review: ALL MY GHOSTS by Jeremy Massie

All-My-Ghosts-Massie-Alterna-Comics

For a relatively young country, the United States holds a tremendous amount of history, with much of it leading back to Ole Virginny. “All My Ghosts,” a new comic from Alterna Comics, is set in a small town in Virginia, rife with history, and ghosts. Our main character is Joe Hale, the editor and owner of The Wise Progress. This is likely a nod to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Given that this story takes place in Wise, a small college town up near the Appalachian Mountains, I believe I’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a nice quirky setting that adds some extra flavor.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, History, Journalism, mystery, Newspapers