Tag Archives: Humor

Bill Griffith Interview: Talking About Nancy and THREE ROCKS

Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller, The Man Who Created Nancy. Bill Griffith. Abrams. New York. 272 pp. $24.99

❗Bill Griffith Talks About Nancy Comics: THREE ROCKS Help Explain it All❗

It goes without saying that Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy is a highly influential comic strip. It is beyond iconic. That is the starting point. Bill Griffith, known for his own legendary comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead, runs with one of comics scholars favorite subjects and reaches great heights with his new graphic novel, Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller, The Man Who Created Nancy (Abrams, available as of 29 August 2023). Mr. Griffith doesn’t have to come out and say he was “influenced” by Nancy. I can see how Nancy makes it way into Zippy in subtle and uncanny ways. One thing to keep in mind about Bill Griffith is that he came into cartooning through the back door of fine art painting and is more ready to speak about artistic influence via painting masters like Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper. However, at the end of the day, it’s Bill Griffith who is uniquely qualified to talk about the often misunderstood Nancy phenomenon.

The curious case of Aunt Fritzi.

Griffith chatted with me about how his Zippy character is a surreal entity operating in the real world. If Zippy were frolicking in his own surreal world, that would be too much of a good thing. “The two would cancel each other out!” Griffith is quick to point out. But I’ll come back to that. The point is that Bill Griffith knows his stuff and he was compelled to set the record straight on one of the most celebrated, and enigmatic, cartoonists to grace the page.

Bill Griffith and me.

I was in New York and arranged to meet with Bill Griffith to discuss his new book. I took a train to Connecticut, reading an advance copy of Bill’s new book, and then, just as a ferocious summer rain had struck, I was picked up from the station by the master cartoonist himself. Conversation was easy and relaxed. Something led to talk about life in downtown New York. I mentioned the concrete steps to an Airbnb that were more painful to climb that one might expect. Bill readily agreed and it reminded him of concrete steps he had to confront himself. At one point, Bill talked about his wife, the cartoonist Diane Noomin, who passed away about one year ago. Bill created a comic book in her honor, The Buildings Are Barking. I was there to focus on the Bushmiller book. After what seemed like endless winding roads, with torrential rain casting foreboding shadows, we reached the studio which looked to me like a idyllic cottage out of Lord of the Rings.

The paper airplane incident.

From my hotel window back in Manhattan, I had a glorious view of the Empire State Building with the Chrysler Building in the background. I couldn’t help but think of the many vivid scenes in Three Rocks that depict moments in Ernie Bushmiller’s career, like the time he rented office space in the Chrysler Building with some other cartoonists. The guys were throwing paper airplanes out the window and one of them actually managed to hit a police officer, over a thousand feet below, who promptly unfolded the plane to discover the owner of the stationary. What could have been an awkward situation was quickly resolved after the cartoonists created cartoons for the awestruck officer. It is these moments that are the book’s lifeblood: cartoonists as superstars strutting about and giving the public what they want.

“Life is a messy affair. Very little of it is under our control. But not for Ernie Bushmiller. All he needed was a fence, a tree, a sidewalk . . . and three rocks.”

— from the Preface to Three Rocks by Bill Griffith

The origins of THREE ROCKS.

Ernie Bushmiller not only gave the public what they wanted but, like George Herriman and Winsor McCay, elevated the medium, taking it in new directions. Did Bushmiller always know where he was going as he blazed new trails? Maybe and maybe not: at least, it is certain, Bushmiller knew he was onto something. It was during our interview that Bill laid out in one observation much of what is going on in this book. It was during a visit to a Bushmiller comic art show at the Cartoon Art Museum in Rye Brook, New York, in 1990. This was a museum run by Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker. “It was in Rye Brook that I saw a sculptural display of the Three Rocks, perfectly hemispherical, and made out of fiberglass looking like they just came out of a Nancy strip. They were plopped onto a perfect square of Astro Turf, and all under glass. I lusted after them. The idea that the Three Rocks had this totemic power never left me. Following this visit, I did many Zippy strips in which Zippy encounters and speaks with the Three Rocks. So, I’d say this experience planted the idea of a book devoted to Ernie Bushmiller in my fevered brain, to await further inspiration a few decades later.”

A Zippy the Pinhead comic strip on The Three Rocks.

Griffith goes on to share that, like many kids, he was devoted to comics. “I did read the Sunday newspaper Nancy page as a 5-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, not so much for the characters or the gags, but because the lettering was so easy to read–and didn’t contain any punctuation. You could say Nancy helped me to learn how to read.” And here we go deeper. Nancy was all about “reading.” Once it fully blossomed, it was not just a comic strip. Ultimately, Nancy is a comic strip about comic strips. If that concept seems too contemporary for something dating back to 1922, this graphic novel clears all of that up. The notion that something is “meta” is not exactly new; nor is something being “surreal” a new idea. At the time, what Bushmiller developed with Nancy was revolutionary and, as fans will tell you, at its best, it is timeless and golden. Nancy was, and still is, the gold standard in comics.

Pursuit of perfection, of pure comics.

Griffith takes the reader on a magical mystery tour, beautifully juggling the need to entertain with the need to explain. Essentially, Griffith’s book is a work of comics about another work of comics that is about comics. A seemingly perfect cerebral cul-de-sac worthy of the best rants from Zippy the Pinhead. Ah, but there is plenty of method to this madness–that’s the whole point. This is the story of an exceptionally ambitious cartoonist who kept paring down and refining to the point where he basically reached the essence of comics. In later years, this pursuit of perfection would drive his assistants to the brink. That’s what is going on here. Nancy became the perfect model for what can be done in the comics medium. And all that follows refers back to Nancy.

Nancy collides with the real world.

Nancy comic strip, early 1960s.

Griffith begins with a process to demystify, to reveal the nuts and bolts of the cartoonist’s trade, and the never-ending challenge to connect with the reader. “When someone goes to a museum to see a Picasso and they don’t understand it, they don’t blame the painter. But when they don’t understand a comic strip, they do blame the cartoonist because people feel it’s the job of the cartoonist to make it an easy delivery. Zippy never did that. I always asked my readers to meet me halfway. Bushmiller is a great example of someone whose career follows the whole phenomena of comics in America. When he took over the Fritzi comic strip in 1925, he was 19 years-old. There had been 25 years of comics before that. But the cartoonists that were in the bullpen, acting as Ernie’s mentors at The New York World, they went back to the early 1900s.

Young Ernie learns his trade at the New York World, circa 1919.

There’s a scene in my book with Ernie, circa 1919, who is a copy boy and is eager to learn. One cartoonist befriends him and gives him the task of erasing his pencil marks. It’s a symbolic moment that I depict. He quickly picked up his skills. Very quickly, he began to take on more responsibilities like blacking in areas and even lettering. He learned by doing. Once he got past the gatekeeper at the newspaper, he started to advance. The ideas for the comic strips, that had to come from within him. All I can figure out is that, and I see it in my own students, is that some people speak the language of comics and some don’t. The ones that do speak the language, that’s because they like reading and like looking at comics from an early age. They become fluent in it, even if they can’t quite yet articulate a complex version of it–but they have the vocabulary and the structure because they’ve absorbed it from reading a lot of comics.”

Ernie Bushmiller and Reginald Marsh.

Ultimately, Griffith returns to the process to remystify, such is the power of art and of comics at its best. Imagine three artists lined up for comparison: Reginald Marsh, Edward Hopper, and Ernie Bushmiller. Griffith makes the case for including Bushmiller along with two of America’s greatest painters. The connection is the New York art world, the circles involved with learning how to draw and such things. Bushmiller went to the same art school attended by Hopper and so he absorbed similar sensibilities. In fact, Bushmiller and Marsh shared some time together as they both drew from life at burlesque shows. Griffith points out that the Sunday full pages devoted to Nancy had some extra space at the top, just in case the newspaper needed it, and it was here that Bushmiller would include pure art, little vignettes of Nancy, and it held that same charge of stillness that Griffith enjoyed in Hopper paintings.

The stillness of Hopper.

Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead, as a surrealist entity, is plenty of wacky fun. However, as Art Spiegelman pointed out to Griffith early in the development of Zippy, the idea of being in an elevator with Zippy was disturbing at best let alone for any longer duration. Zippy‘s zany humor needed a foil, which led to Griffith bringing in a new character, Griffy, an alter ego, who could act as a straight man and corral all the chaos. Zippy and Griffy would become a team, like the comedy act of Abbot and Costello. It is these sort of artistic choices that ultimately led to the world of Zippy just as a similar process of artistic choices ultimately led to the world of Nancy. It is all these choices, involving paring down elements and refining text, that leads to the best work. If for no other reason, Three Rocks is a must-read as a fun textbook on the art of comics. Lucky for readers, it is that and more: a rollicking behind-the-scenes journey into the creative spirit; and a way to get some answers to the meaning of life.

My interview with Bill Griffith is now one of my most cherished experiences coming from my comics journalism. It was delightful and magical. We chatted and then I began to record and finally I did some video. So, this video is brief but brings home a lot of what led to this very special book. In the end, any creative work worth its salt comes back to the creator. Griffith found a way, or discovered a process, that invited him to have Nancy refer back to everything.

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BUILDINGS ARE BARKING: Diane Noomin Remembered in Comics Tribute by Bill Griffith

The Buildings Are Barking: Diane Noomin, in Memoriam. By Bill Griffith.

Seattle: F.U. Press, Fantagraphics,  2023. 23pp, $7.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

We are nearly a year now since the passing of Diane Newman, who took on the comics moniker “Diane Noomin” as she began to publish her work in the Bay Area-centered world of Underground Comix in the 1970s. This is, then, a tribute booklet, but singular, in the way no one except her husband Bill Griffith could conceive and draw. As far as I can recall, no homage from a comics spouse has ever achieved this conceptual depth or intensity. It is a remarkable miniature, with a surprising depth that will please but fail to surprise the regular readers of Griffith, a master of the self-reflection that is also mass-culture-reflection.

The Buildings Are Barking might be compared, if comparisons are possible, to the many pages of Robert Crumb’s Biblical-adaptation Genesis in which Aline Kominsky Crumb’s physical self appears and reappears as the women of ancient Hebrew lore. Real-life Aline had a couple of decades ahead.

Within the last year or so, the artists of Underground Comix lore have been disappearing in haste: Justin Green, Jay Lynch, and Aline Kominsky-Crumb, to name only the most widely known. Spain Rodriguez and Harvey Pekar (not artist but writer/editor and self-publisher) passed a decade earlier, signalling how easily even the memories of a unique and vital development in comic art might slip away.

Griffith has seized the moment,  rather taken his time to seize the moment, perhaps as a yohrtseit (symbolic Jewish commemoration on an anniversary) to Diane and her ambiguously and also unambiguously Jewish identity. Urged on by Ko-Ko the Clown—Max Fleischer’s magical animated creation of the 1920s—Griffith gets around within a few pages to telling us about Diane Newman’s alter-ego, Didi Glitz, the soul of her comix or comics work. A teenage inhabitant of Canarsie of the 1950s, Didi had all the appealing/repellent qualities of adolescence seizing onto popular culture as a means of identity. Bouffant hairdos, garish clothes, garish crushes on boys (sometimes goys), clique-obsessions among girlfriends, above all a need for expression, no matter how embarrassing to the objective viewer.

Griffith (let’s call him Griffy here, as Diane did) enjoys his rumination on life in San Francisco of the 1970s-80s, perhaps not really the “idyllic city…before the Dotcom boom,” but idyllic for them and for many artists. Always badly overpriced, losing its architectural beauty decade by decade, their San Francisco was still arguably (with New Orleans) the most beautiful of American urbanscapes. Here, at any rate, Griffith and Newman moved past earlier long-term relationships to grasp each other, marrying in 1980. From there on, and no doubt connected to their mutual grasp of the varied icons of popular culture seen as “history” (her poodle pin collection, his vintage diner photos), they sunk or rose into each other.

Bill Griffith has famously been producing the near-daily strip Zippy the Pinhead since the middle of those San Francisco days, while Diane became part of a subset of women comics artists who ruthlessly delved into their lives and psyches. She aspired to draw a comic about her parents’ secret (and very Jewish) connections with the Communist Party in the McCarthy Era, but she didn’t live long enough. Griffith has found his own way to produce real history-based comic works as Zippy stumbles through time and space. In other words, and laughs aside, they were both serious artists.

The Buildings Are Barking is deeply personal in ways that this reviewer cannot describe adequately, and to which the reader is advised to proceed intuitively, that is, following Griffith’s own shifting moods of consciousness. At the end, we are with  Ko-Ko the Clown again. Ko-Ko always expressed a grimness behind the jaunty exterior: there is a bit of a Grim Reaper about him.

What any serious artist (or writer) leaves behind is the effort at expression, brilliant or less than brilliant but a striving with purpose. Griffith has captured Diane Noomin aka Newman, and thereby captured himself as well.

Paul Buhle’s latest comic is an adaptation of W.E.B. Du Bois’s classic Souls of Black Folk, by artist Paul Peart Smith (Rutgers University Press).

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Nudism Comes to Connecticut comics review

Unashamed Comic Nudes!

Nudism Comes to Connecticut. By Susan Chade and Jon Buller. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 175pp, $30.

Nudism (many prefer “naturism”) is more familiar than most Americans can now imagine. The omnipresent rural skinny-dipping probably did not draw much upon a rich and varied European (or other) nudist traditions among the respectable classes as well as others. Communitarian groups in the US developed a nudist ideology of sorts, as far back as the 1890s, but memories of Walt Whitman and even Benjamin Franklin “air bathing” had likely been forgotten by the time the Greenwich Village fashionable set disrobed in Cape Cod summers of the 1910s.

Nudism Comes to Connecticut, written and drawn by a veteran children’s book team, offers a convincing historical experience of free thinking Yankees during the 1930s. They make creative use of a real text, Frances and Mason Merrill’s Nudism Come to America (1932), a volume itself no doubt reflecting the free-spirited, short-skirted 1920s Flapper Era.

Somewhere around Lyme, Connecticut, not far from Manhattan by train,  a Hungarian immigrant hatches a plan for rural land use. A few years earlier,  an American diplomat unhappy at his job in Budapest shared with a friend some of the current German magazines extolling nudism’s many healthful benefits. Back home in the US in 1915, the American and his wife, a native Estonian, take over a defunct hotel in a pleasant landscape, near an underused lake.

Here, somewhat embroidered fiction really does more or less coincide with fact. The idea of “cooperative colonies,” guests and residents doing most of the maintenance and in turn owning shares in the property, was very much alive in the European middle classes of the pre-fascism days, and even philanthropically extended, for periods of the summer, to groups of urban slum dwellers. Before Stalin’s rise to power, a nudist culture of Russian “Proletcult” also seemed to take hold: it was considered especially good for workers to get naked in the countryside, when possible. By the later 1920s, these experiences even gained a pedigree of American scholarly interest.

No surprise, then, that out in the Connecticut woods, not far from a lake, a “cabin colony” sprung up, built on loans and the wishful thinking that it might pay for itself. Takers seem to enjoy themselves thoroughly, even with husbands and wives understandably nervous about their own mates in the buff. As in real life nudism, nude  versions of barely competitive games like volleyball seem to be the mandatory accompaniment to swimming. The comic portrayals of nudes here are tasteful and charming, if not quite realistic to sagging flesh.

The community thrives for a while, never quite overcoming the resentment and hostility of some neighbors, and then runs into the economic collapse of the economy in the Depression. The quasi-utopian adventure ends. As the author/artist team concludes, “most of this actually happened.” (p.173).

It is a footnote, perhaps not so far from this realistic comic, that by the 1960s, bohemian-minded American readers of Bertold Brecht, Georg Luckacs and Wilhelm Reich would draw the conclusion that nudism had to be, was indeed inevitably, political. The bohemian-radical tradition had already been revived after the Second World War in other parts of the world including both Germanies. Although this detail has been largely forgotten, the East Germans, the most proportionally nudist population in the world, actually resisted Russian edicts and took pleasure where they could under a repressive regime. Just as amazing, the bureaucratic class joined them.

Spending their summers on the Cape, American veterans of antiracist and antiwar activism staged dramatic nude-ins at the National Seashore during the middle 1970s. This political action would lead to decades of lobbying politicians for more “free beaches,” an idea that has come, gone and perhaps come again in parts of the US. Today’s nudists should enjoy the innocence of Nudism Comes to Connecticut, so deftly defying the hostility of religious conservatives and  lawmakers right up to the present. “Naturism” seems to have escaped comic art otherwise, save for a few brief, wry commentaries in underground comix. Perhaps the subject has only been waiting for its comic art re-creation.

Paul Buhle

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B. is Dying (#5) by Tom Hart comics review

B. is Dying (#5). by Tom Hart. Sequential Artists Workshop. 2023. 24 pp. $8.

Tom Hart’s new comics series is about a man dying in a ditch. Well, ostensibly so. Yeah, there’s a lot more to it than that. Tom Hart’s work looks incredibly alive as if it is being created as he’s thinking it. But the end result, the actual content, has been refined in a million different ways. So, come take a look at one of the most alive comics about dying, or any subject.

Tom Hart speaks to the utter disconnection we all must confront as human beings. It’s an existential crisis on a personal and global level, even a cosmic one. The focus here is on the planet and how we interact with it. As a cartoonist, Hart gives it his all to express his dismay and heart-felt desire to find some answers. The reader is led on a journey atop the crust of Mother Earth. What does that mean? It’s a perfect metaphor for how we usually interact with nature, all superficial, never digging deeper.

With a gentle nudge, Hart gets me to thinking about how we routinely take our environment for granted: we exploit it, endanger it and rape it. We are more prone to tear it apart than we are to try to understand what we call home. How can we ever ignore our own home? And yet we do. This comic expresses the collective nightmare we are all having, whether we choose to accept it or deny it. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re all afraid. Hart leans into that fear with his comics: direct and simple, but not so simple, more elegant-simple. Ah, yes, Tom Hart, the master of the elegant-simple.

I appreciate these comics on many levels, not the least of which is on an entertainment level. I’m thinking of how I cherish any time I spend viewing the work of Buster Keaton or, say, Peter Sellers at their soulful best. I can only imagine what Peter or Buster would have done if they appeared in a Tom Hart comic.

There’s the main character to Tom’s story, a lanky Everyman with hair sticking straight up. He is self-aware enough to know that he’s merely walking on the crust of the Earth. If only all of us could reach that point! It troubles him. It frightens him. It gives him nightmares. He dreams that he’s a helpless/hapless parakeet somehow let loose from the home he’s known as a pet and sprung free into the wild. He is out of his element. He is clueless. He has no real notion of how to interact with nature, just like–you guessed it–the average human being.

Tom Hart’s Everyman is just self-aware enough to know that something’s wrong. He thinks he may have come from a great place but has lost his way. It’s all too easy to lose one’s way, especially if you’re on such an uncertain path. This is not new. This has been going on for a very long time, for as long as there have been humans. Tom Hart has been at his comics-making craft for a long time too, for decades. Tom even makes a reference in the introduction to this issue to a recurring theme in his comics of a lone man in a vague landscape in an existential crisis.  Tom’s experiments have led to masterful award-winning work year after year. And one thing is clear: Tom Hart has not lost his way. In fact, Tom has many followers who wish to create comics every bit as good as his comics. Learn more about Tom and his Sequential Artists Workshop where you too can learn the fine, subtle and rewarding art of making comics.

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Maximus Blade (#1) comic book review

Cover art by Franco Bevilacqua

Maximus Blade #1. w. Chris Warren a. Ken Lavin Chris Warren Media. $4.99

The first issue of a comic book, especially from an independent publisher, can be a very exciting thing and Maximus Blade does not disappoint. The writing is crisp and crackling with urgency and humor. The art is spot on, transporting the reader through time and space with a cast of engaging unlikely heroes up against a truly motley crew of villainous baddies.

Maximus Blade, a sentinel on a mission.

Our story takes places way into the future, 2480, enough to make my head spin. But that’s part of the fun, of course. Time enough for all sorts of mayhem to have happened leaving good ole planet Earth a mere shell of its former self. Time enough for the upper class to have gone even higher, all the way to an outpost on Earth’s moon. Everyone else stays behind back on Earth which has devolved into a Mad Max wasteland.

“When” the hell am I?

Despite all the dystopia, there is hope, or at least it seems that way. There’s no shortage of possibilities to this comic. Meet Steve, a guy from our own present who had it all, only to be swept up by a time portal. Meet Penelope, a member of the super elite who lives on the moon but not anymore. And meet Maximus Blade, the result of some heavy genetic mutations and not much for words. Between the three of them, you’ve got everything you need to keep the adventures rolling along quite nicely.

Maximus Blade and Steve.

My favorite scene in this issue is probably the first scene between Maximus Blade and Steve, who is no slouch back where he comes from but is totally out of his depth in the distant future he’s been teleported into. Maximus, in the few words he grunts, makes it pretty clear he needs a tech guy and fast. Steve hesitates, but not for long. Just as Maximus is walking away for good, abandoning the “stupid kid” to certain death, Steve chimes in to say he’s actually the best tech guy ever. It’s a funny moment and pivotal to what happens next. I’m not sure why Maximus was so easily convinced but maybe we’ll find out in the next issue. For now, Max, Steve and Penelope are up to their eyeballs in death-defying adventure. This comic does a fine job with balancing action and humor leaving the reader wanting more. Not bad at all for a first issue.

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Johnny Carson Farewell Show: May 22, 1992

I remember well Johnny Carson’s final show on The Tonight Show. I fondly recall the show having a mellow yet spontaneous vibe to it. I happen to have been watching it with a pal of mine and he said that Johnny should have been doing more casual and “unplugged” type of shows all along. In fact, I believe he actually did let loose more often than some may think. Of course, all in all, Johnny kept to the brand he created and it came natural to him. He was definitely the cool cat for a cool medium.

I notice a lot of mention being made today of this farewell show, May 22, 1992, but the first-ever show, October 1, 1962, is just as worthy of celebrating. It was mentioned on the final show and for good reason. It was still the dawn of television. We went in laughing only to wake up a few days later to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16-29, 1962). There was no particular reverence placed on this new show as demonstrated by the fact there is no preserved video of the first few years. For the first few years, the network was still relying on recording on kinescope which was of poor quality and not particularly archival. That’s why you only have photo stills in the above example to document the first broadcast.

On that first broadcast, Johnny quipped that he had already been knighted as the new king of late-night television (a nod to the out-going Jack Parr) but he was okay with settling for the title of prince. After a monumental 30-year run on the show, it was undisputed that Johnny was king. It is reported that he conducted around 22,000 interviews and was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in U.S. television history. It is no mistake to say that Johnny Carson ruled TV, set the gold standard for late-night, and, oddly enough, remains something of an enigma. Such is the life of a king. Set the gold standard, he did. You see the influence everywhere on late-night.

The Larry Sanders Show

It was Garry Shandling’s The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998), his satirical version of The Tonight Show, that best articulates the delicate balance, the lonely existence, of being known by all while also being understood by few. Garry Shandling would have known as he was set to take over The Tonight Show when the time came but he turned it down. He preferred to do his take on the show for HBO. I can’t help but think of both men when I see the work of each and maybe that’s a testament to the uncanny quality of what both men had to bring to television.

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Dean Haspiel Talks Comics and COVID COP

Dean Haspiel is one of the great cartoonists, both as an artist and writer. You may know him from Billy Dogma or The Red Hook on Webtoon. We enjoyed a spirited comix talk and got to connect the dots on his intriguing new comic book series, Covid Cop. If you’re familiar with Dean’s work, then you know he leans into surreal and satirical work. Please refer to my recent review. We discuss the exciting and evolving ecosystem of independent cartoonists and how Dean is bringing his comics to you, the reader. You can always find him at his Substack and he’ll connect directly with you on purchasing his work.
Once you dive in, you’ll see that this is a fully-realized dystopian world, one that allows us to entertain some distance from a pandemic we are still processing. When we go through such a big event crisis, we turn to great storytelling. Thusly, we can rely upon Dean Haspiel to provide an intoxicating mix of levity and pathos. And there’s even a romance to be found embedded within this work!
What is Covid Cop about? In Haspiel’s dystopian story, Covid is beyond being unstoppable and the government concludes the only solution is to eliminate humans. We follow one lone police officer, Lincoln Bio, as he resists his marching orders and seeks another path out of hell. That is the cut-and-dry description. There’s plenty going on, including how Lincoln manages to survive and what motivates him to somehow rise above all the muck and mire. Did you know that the pandemic is officially over with? Well, until it returns in some other noteworthy variant. Alright kids, there is no chance that Covid Cop is going to go gentle into the night.

People who know me personally, from this blog, or from my comics, know that I enjoy offbeat humor and exploring a topic down to as fine a distillation as possible. That’s not idle crowing at all. It’s just part of what I do. Anyway, Dean and I engage in a bit of that in this conversation. I think we really hit our stride discussing the phrase, “knows where the bodies are buried.” The phrase is what I used to describe Dean to a friend. And, oddly enough, the phrase appears on the first panel of his new comic, Covid Cop!
So, who “knows where the bodies are buried?” The art of conversation is such that it’s easy to lose the thread unless you’re willing to make adjustments along the way. I had meant to segue into something else when I brought up this curious phrase but we proceeded down an interesting, and entertaining, line of thought. What makes for a good conversation? Keep to an agile and nimble mind. Work at it and just be a good egg. A confluence of factors leads to becoming a good cartoonist or cook or conversationalist. You don’t even need to be a “talker,” per se, but it helps. So, I invite you to check out our conversation.

Dean Haspiel’s THE RED HOOK

Dean Haspiel’s BILLY DOGMA

The main point is that we had a good talk. We discuss the creative process at length and that alone is worthwhile. If you’re an indie creator, I’m sure there will be some food for thought. We cover such topics as how to jump start a project and regain your creative flow as well as share some tips and tricks on what it’s like to get your work out into the world.

Seek out Dean Haspiel:
Find him at various events, including the upcoming Awesome Con in DC (June 16-18, 2023). Awesome Con’s Film Festival will include Dean’s short film, THERE IS NO TRY as well as a short film by Dean creative cohort Whitney Matheson, CONTINUITY ERRORS. Great to see these films in a theater!

THERE IS NO TRY by Dean Haspiel

Connect directly with Dean here. Keep up with him on Instagram here. And keep up with him on Twitter here.

Long Live Covid Cop!

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BLAB! comics anthology (2023) review

Cover: art by Ryan Heshka

BLAB! Editor: Monte Beauchamp, Dark Horse Books, pp 112, $19.99

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

BLAB!, a creation of the pleasingly twisted mind of Monte Beauchamp and his artists, has been around for quite some time. In fact, the first two issues (1986–87) were published by Beauchamp’s own imprint, Monte Comix. A genius at low-brow art anthologies, Beauchamp began this venture back in the transition or ditch between underground comix and alternative (what might later be called “art”) comics. But art, for Beauchamp, of an almost inexplicable kind.

The title has bounced from his own personal operation, Monte Comix, to Kitchen Sink Press to Fantagraphics and Last Gasp to Dark Horse, where it has become, for reasons known only to Beauchamp, “Blab World!” It was always a planet by itself, and the suspiciously camp rocket-firing goddess on the cover, by Hershka, is clearly interplanetary proof.

Excerpt from “The Death of Comics,” by Noah Van Sciver

Oh, yes, there is some truly understandable stuff here, a lot of it pages by Noah Van Sciver, at 38, the book’s youngest contributor. Louis Wain, a mad artist of cat images in  Victorian Age Britain,  could be a precursive Beauchamp, obsessed with images until he loses his mind. Van Sciver comes back again with a whopper, “The Death of Comics,” aka the story of the best-selling Crime Does Not Pay series. The genius money-making series created by leftwing publisher Ralph Gleason, it encompassed the noir sentiment of the later, disillusioned 1940s as the dreams of antifascist democracy melted into individualism and war-wounded minds that could not be healed.

Excerpt from “The Death of Comics,” by Noah Van Sciver

Van Sciver focuses in on the lives of the Crime Does Not Pay artists, and in particular the genius of graphic sex-and-sadism, Charles Biro. His triumph leads him and the rest of comics into the hands of would-be censors and especially best-selling author Dr. Frederick Wertham. It’s a familiar story to comics devotees, and involves a wider plot of horror comics, MAD’s publisher William M. Gaines, and Congressional hearings that mirrored the hearings held on the purported Communist threat,with near-identical warnings of dangerous Jews poisoning the minds of young Christians. Van Sciver allows himself only a glimpse of the larger picture, because he is following Biro to his own private doom.

Excerpt from “The Death of Comics,” by Noah Van Sciver

A considerable amount of the rest of BLAB! takes us to other strange places in the pulp past, comic book back pages of the 1940s-50s selling miracle hair-replacement liquids, pocket-size miniature monkeys, and other far-fetched hustles aimed at young (or low-capacity) minds. Or to the pulp treatments of great apes, “discovered” only in the mid-19th century, treated as fantastic King Kong types with their hands around near-nude (white) women, or as a link to the link of the “missing link” to the human race, a link that has never been found.  Beauchamp is asking the unasked question, why the obsession, and answering not in prose but by throwing the question back at the reader. Another section offers pages and pages of 19th century attacks on Catholicism, the dangerous threat to everything truly American. Great flying saucer illustrations by Ryan Heshka take us back to the late 1940s and 1950s, the golden era of interplanetary visitations and expectations.

There’s more: Heshka and Beauchamp’s story on Superman’s inventors Siegel and Schuster, taken from Beauchamp’s own anthology Masterful Marks (on great comic artists) is wonderfully weird. He has created no iconic comic figures, neither prompted the empire of capital in comics or been cheated out of it, but he is so much a part of the history, one way or another, that one can hardly tell the larger story without him.

Paul Buhle’s latest comic is an adaptation of W.E.B. Du Bois’s classic Souls of Black Folk, by artist Paul Peart Smith (Rutgers University Press).

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SIFF: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MARRIAGE by Signe Baumane

Signe Baumane is a significant animator, right up there with Bill Plympton. I’m so happy to see her film at Seattle International Film Festival this year. And, if you are in Seattle, you must go! Details on this funny and frank flick follow including how to seek it out in Seattle:

My Love Affair With Marriage uses music and science to examine the biological chemistry of love and gender, as well as the societal pressures on an individual to conform to social mores.

Go to the official movie website here.

Seattle International Film Festival takes place Thu, May 11, 2023 thru Sun, May 21, 2023.

My Love Affair With Marriage at SIFF takes place May 20th and May 21st. Details are right here.

A battle between Zelma’s prefrontal cortex and her nucleus accumbens.

Signe Baumane’s work has been accepted in over 300 film festivals around the world and received many awards. She was also awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017.

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Pop Culture Super Sleuth: Episode 1

This is the first installment of . . .  Pop Culture Super Sleuth . . .

“I’ve been a blogger for almost as long as I’ve been a cartoonist. And then I became a pop culture super sleuth . . . “

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I’m building up steam on this new project. And maybe a little shy. You’ll have to tell me what you think. The character isn’t necessarily me, per se, but a sort of alter ego. It’s fun and it’s all possible in the wonderful world of comics. Am I right? You betcha, I’m right!

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Filed under Barefoot, Comics, Feet, Henry Chamberlain, pop culture, Webcomics