December 31, 2014:
December 25, 2014:
December 16, 2014:
December 10, 2014:
December 5, 2014:
December 31, 2014:
...from a comic book that would have just become eligible for Medicare if it were a person. This is the cover of the February 1950 issue of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics, published 65 years ago this month, and I wish I could be sure who drew it.
Like other Dell gag covers of this vintage, there are aspects of it that can seem just a little odd if you think about them (which is usually not a good idea). Is it plausible that Bugs, a party animal if there ever was one, has taken to his bed on New Year's Eve, while his (presumably) drunken friends yell at him through an open window? Well, maybe he's sick; but then that would make his friends even more inconsiderate, wouldn't it? And is that blonde babe supposed to be Mary Jane? She doesn't look like a little girl to me! Her buddy Sniffles—how did he get so big? And where the heck is Henery Hawk?
Enough of this metaphysical speculation. May you enjoy the new year more than you did the old one.
From Peter Hale: It is curious that despite his frequent appearances inside the comic Henery Hawk never appeared on the cover (as far as I can see), not even as a cameo head indicating inside content. Perhaps the editor was ornithophobic! (I know some people don't like birds' beaks, finding them scarily vicious.)
[Posted January 13, 2015]
From Brian Roberts: The way I read it, it’s noon on Jan. 1 and Bugs is sleeping off his hangover from partying on the Eve. And apparently he partied so hard he never made it home, because his burrow surely doesn’t have a side window. It happened to me on 1/1/65. Woke up on my host’s couch, naked with no memory of most of the night before. I quickly dressed and left without asking what happened. Still don’t know. Don’t want to know.
MB replies: A plausible scenario, except that the sky outside the window is pitch black.
[Posted February 5, 2015]
December 25, 2014:
|The front cover of Santa Claus Funnies Four Color Comic No. 128 (1946), drawn by Moe Gollub.|
Morris "Moe" Gollub (1910-84) was an artist for Western Printing's Dell comic books in the last half of the 1940s, one of Oskar Lebeck's stalwarts. After Lebeck left Western, Gollub continued to draw and paint for other editors at Western throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He was one of the few Jewish artists who drew for Western, but his most characteristic and endearing work was for a Christmas title, Santa Claus Funnies. "Santa and the Angel," the cover feature in the 1946 issue, written by Lebeck and illustrated by Gollub, had an exceptionally long life for a such a story in the '40s: it was reprinted three years later in a comic book bearing the story's title, and again in a twenty-five-cent comic book, A Christmas Treasury, in 1954. Even when Gollub was illustrating adventure stories, as he often did, he brought to them warmth and even tenderness that set them apart from the run of comics stories. He drew animals correctly, as an artist who understood their anatomy, but he also drew them with an intense sympathy revealed in delicate modeling.
Gollub was a native of St. Louis. He started at the Disney studio in January 1937 and worked as a layout and story-sketch artist, notably on Bambi. He took part the 1941 strike, was laid off after the strike ended, and joined the navy early in 1942. When he left the service, he arranged to be discharged at New York, and he quickly found work at Western with the help of former Disney friends like Walt Kelly and Dan Noonan.
He was back in Hollywood animation, working in layout at Hanna-Barbera, when Milt Gray and I interviewed him at the Sheraton Universal Hotel's coffee shop in 1976. He said that by the late 1950s he was ready to return to “the animation business. It was really Noonan who got me going there. He had seen that things were going from bad to worse in much of comics at that time; they had taken a big nose-dive. I was getting covers to do at that time”—masterful paintings for the covers of Dell comic books like Tarzan—“and nothing much but covers. They were extremely difficult to do; I didn’t have a fraction of the money coming in for the effort that was involved. They wanted the covers so much they didn’t want me to spend time on anything else, but they weren’t paying a commensurate amount of money. So I kind of sneaked out, and checked out the West Coast, and got a few misleading encouragements from [former Disney colleagues] Art Babbitt and Ade Woolery and one or two others.”
Gollub moved back to Los Angeles in 1960 but continued to paint covers for Western until the early 1970s, when Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. ended its long association with Western and moved the Tarzan titles to DC. He was president of the cartoonists' union by the summer of 1982, when he led a strike against runaway production that ended in a humiliating defeat for the union. That episode is described in scalding detail by Steve Hulett in Mouse in Transition, serialized on Cartoon Brew and recently published as a book by Theme Park Press. It was not Gollub's finest hour..
I write about Gollub at some length in my new book Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books, but I couldn't locate a suitable photo of him for the book. I still don't have one, but Bob Barrett, who probably knows more about Gollub's comics work than anyone else, has turned up a 1935 photo of the young Gollub, from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Bob writes: "The caption refers to his joining the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) where he was assigned to Custer State Park in South Dakota, to Camp Pine Lake, which was in sight of Mount Rushmore. He created wildlife paintings for display in the newly constructed Custer State Park Museum."
Gollub died on December 30, 1984, so next Tuesday will be the thirtieth anniversary of his death. A good day, like Christmas day, to remember a very special comic-book artist.
From Robert Barrett: From my point of view you couldn't have written a better or more appropriate Christmas Day post. It's always nice to see Moe Gollub remembered. He painted covers and drew interiors for so many of Western's comic books that it is a shame that he is almost forgotten today except for a few "old fogies" like myself; and even then mostly for his Tarzan and Turok covers. Your assessment of his art was very astute and accurate and he put more time, effort and thought into his work than the remuneration he received might have called for. But that was the kind of man he was, always giving his best. And you could always tell that he really loved what he did, even when he would remark that it was just a job!
[Posted December 26, 2014]
December 16, 2014:
I went to the post office this morning to mail a few dozen copies of Funnybooks to people who helped make it a reality in one way or another, from granting copyright clearances to reviewing the manuscript to providing important information, or a combination thereof. The book's sales via amazon.com seem to be proceeding smoothly, and it has already picked up a few positive reviews. So far no one has pointed out any grievous errors, knock on wood. Although corrections haven't yet been necessary, I've been adding a few new facts to my page devoted to corrections, clarifications, etc., most recently some specifics about Oskar Lebeck's post-Western Printing career; that page is at this link.
No doubt Funnybooks will inspire a modest backlash, at least, from people who think that this or that cartoonist or writer should be represented in the book or mentioned at greater length. In some cases such gripes may be justified. I like Gil Turner as a cartoonist, for instance, but it wasn't until the book was at the printer that I finally thought of a good way to acknowledge his best work. If more of Turner's stories had approached the quality of his "Li'l Bad Wolf" in the May 1949 Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, in which the Big Bad Wolf disguises himself as himself, to very humorous effect, it would have been much easier to squeeze him into the book; but most of the stories that he drew and presumably wrote are much more conventional. That quite likely was the fault of his editors as much as or more than the fault of Turner himself, but there's no denying that most of his "Li'l Bad Wolf" stories aren't remotely comparable to Carl Barks's best, in particular.
|Gil Turner at his best, with the Big Bad Wolf costumed as another version of himself for a school play (Li'l Wolf thinks his disguised father is actually a cat named Clarence). I've lifted these panels from Thad Komorowski's review of Funnybooks on The Comics Journal's website.|
I've had messages from readers who are particularly happy that I've been able to reconstruct the history of the Dell/Western Printing comic books in much greater and more accurate detail than before. Some readers may wonder just why that reconstruction was so difficult. Surely, it may occur to such readers, many of the relevant records must have survived, and there must be multiple corporate archives that can be consulted. As to why that's really not the case where Western Printing is concerned, I can do no better than quote Robin Snyder, the last editor hired for Western's comic books. He was there when Western closed down its comics in 1984:
I walked in on the day management pulled the plug on the Comics Division and was horrified to find several dumpsters on the floor. Each was filled to the brim with comics, hard bound books, film, records, accountings, paintings, payment books and more. The management that had no use for comics and coloring books had no use for the history of the company.
That sounds all too familiar to me. I worked for a business magazine with a more than 75-year history, until it was shut down abruptly in 1999. What followed over the next couple of weeks was massive destruction, as filing cabinets were emptied with very little regard for what was in them. Some people on the staff were so industrious that even uncashed checks went into the trash. In my own case, I made every effort to salvage material that had a comics/animation connection, like my files for stories on people like Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez, but most of my research files headed straight for the dumpster. That was no tragedy. You can find copies of Nation's Business on eBay, but I doubt that anyone is collecting it even for the sake of my interviews with Sam Walton and Dick Clark and other such business luminaries. The comic books have retained their value much better. But the proprietors' underlying attitude, that their publications were wholly dispensable, was certainly the same in both cases.
Speaking of Robin Snyder, his monthly newsletter The Comics ("the original first-person history," as he calls it, established in 1990) was a valuable resource for me, one that I can wholeheartedly recommend. There is no predicting the contents of any given issue, but almost always there are letters from comic-book veterans, typically illuminating aspects of the business that I wasn't aware of. A year's subscription is $30 from Robin Snyder, 3745 Canterbury Lane, #81, Bellingham WA 98225-1186.
And to close on a book-related side note: In other postings this year, I've expressed my disappointment with, among other things, the price of Funnybooks. The list price is $35, the discounted price on amazon.com is only 10 percent less. The New York Times noted recently, in an absorbing piece (at least it seems that way to me, as an author), that (1) amazon.com's discounts have been shrinking, and (2) book prices have probably been rising more rapidly than prices in general, particularly when the books in questions are out of the mainstream, as Funnybooks certainly is. No good news there, but at least Funnybooks has lots of company.
December 9, 2014:
So why was my new book, Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books, shown on the Web as published on "Black Friday," November 28, even though it was nowhere to be found (as a printed book) for days after that? It took some yelling and table-pounding—I'm speaking metaphorically, of course—but the answer finally emerged from University of California Press. Most important, the Press corrected the mistake that was keeping the book out of buyers' hands.
In the later stages of my work on the book, I corrected the page proofs and prepared the index faster than anyone expected. That is why the book could be printed by Halloween, instead of by Thanksgiving. With Funnybooks sprinting off the presses, the publisher moved the publication date up a month. The problem was, whoever was responsible for putting books into retailers' warehouses didn't get the message. So, when November 28 rolled around, retailers had to tell purchasers that the book had not yet been released, which as far as they were concerned was absolutely true.
I relayed to the Press some of the complaints I was getting, along with complaints of my own, and after a few days matters were finally set to rights. "Amazon Prime" advance purchasers will get Funnybooks next Tuesday, or maybe sooner than that, and other advance purchasers will get their copies over the following few days—comfortably before Christmas, in other words. I'm still waiting for a box of author's copies to arrive, and when it does I'll start mailing about two dozen complimentary copies to people who helped me with the book.
There will be no making up the lost two and a half weeks of potential Christmas sales, of course, but I've resolved not to grumble about such things after today. The book is a reality, even if somewhat delayed, and it has turned out very well. There's plenty for me to feel happy about, and I hope my readers will feel the same.
December 5, 2014:
The John Stanley Little Lulu cover above, from the October 1949 issue, came to mind a few days ago when all the trees in my neighborhood seemed to give a sigh and dump all their remaining leaves at once. Stanley continued to draw the Little Lulu covers even as he surrendered the execution of the stories to Irving Tripp and Charles Hedinger. Those covers, drawn with such assurance, and with perfect command of the limited expressive vocabulary the design of the Lulu characters permitted, are one of the great unsung comic-book pleasures. If there can be exhibits devoted to Norman Rockwell's printed Saturday Evening Post covers, why not an exhibit of John Stanley covers?
And speaking of Stanley...he is of course one of the principal characters in my new book Funnybooks. It was officially "released" a week ago, but so far only as an ebook, even though printed copies have existed for more than a month. I still don't know why printed copies are not yet available. In the meantime, I am trying to keep my temper and my tongue in check.
There appears to be a growing backlog of advance orders, stimulated in part by a great plug by Amid Amidi on Cartoon Brew. If you plan to order the book, but just haven't gotten around to it, I'm guessing that it would help to free the book from its warehouse prison if you ordered it now through this amazon.com link.
From Brent Swanson: I wonder if Stanley's cover was inspired by this Maxfield Parrish painting/cover? The similar composition hints of parody. According to Alma Gilbert (Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks), it was completed for the October, 1936 issue of Collier's, and was the artist's final magazine cover illustration. I got to see the painting as I tagged along with a Gilbert-led tour of a traveling Parrish exhibition several years ago.
MB replies: I saw that highly enjoyable Parrish exhibition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in 2006. Stanley was undoubtedly familiar with Parrish's work, since everyone was, back in the 1920s and '30s, and a connection doesn't seem that farfetched to me, even though Parrish and Stanley were very different as artists.
[Posted December 6, 2014]
From Garry Apgar: Clearly, you left no leaf unturned in your investigation into that publication snafu involving Funnybooks. That said, if only Little Lulu and Tubby had had more of a rakish expression on their faces you might have solved the mystery even sooner.
[Posted December 11, 2014]
Many of you will recall the 1985 Disney animated feature The Black Cauldron, a last gasp of the Ron Miller era before the studio fell into the hands of Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. I recently got this message about it:
My name is Brian Martin, and I'm from Chicago. I have been a huge Disney fan all my life, and I need your help. I started a Facebook page and petition that are part of a campaign to get Disney to release their forgotten animated film, The Black Cauldron fully uncut on Blu-Ray for its 30th anniversary next year. From what I understand, 12 minutes of completed animation and music were cut from the movie by Jeffrey Katzenberg soon before its premiere. Producer Joe Hale and his wife Beverly have already given me their approvals by signing the petition I started, signing another petition started in early November by someone else in Ohio, and writing some messages on my Facebook page. They told me the uncut master negative should be somewhere in the Disney archives. If you are interested, please go to these links to sign the two petitions, like my page, and share them with others!
I can't claim to be a fan of the film or the Lloyd Alexander novels on which it is based, but if you are either, or both, or you simply don't like the idea of a film's being subjected to that kind of mutilation, these are the links to the pages that Brian mentions: