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Archive for the ‘Satire’ Category

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics (Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle, Abrams ComicArts, $40) 

In his introduction to this groundbreaking book, comedian/writer Harry Shearer declares: “Without Harvey Kurtzman, there would have been no Saturday Night Live. What a horrible thing to say about him, but it’s true. . . . OK, this might be better. Without Harvey Kurtzman, there would have been no Simpsons.”

All hyperbole aside, there is much truth in this statement, and, like many other influential artists, Harvey Kurtzman seldom receives the credit he is due for shaping much of what we know as satire in postwar America. As the creator of MAD magazine, Kurtzman had many roles: artist, editor, writer, and ringleader. He nurtured the burgeoning underground comics movement, and his paperback comic novel, The Jungle Book, may have well been the first graphic novel, appearing years before Will Eisner’s Contract with God, which is usually considered the original graphic novel. He gave Gloria Steinem her first job in publishing. He brought John Cleese and Terry Gilliam together and was responsible for publishing some of Robert Crumb’s earliest work. And without Kurtzman’s other, more adult magazines, Humbug, Trump and Help, there very well might not have been a National Lampoon or Spy.

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is the first large-scale retrospective of Harvey Kurtzman’s work, written by Denis Kitchen, a legend in underground comics in his own right, and scholar Paul Buhle. It traverses his stunning career, outlining how much of an impact his life and work had not only in the comics industry, but on pop culture itself. The book itself is a striking example high production aesthetic, an amazing compendium of Kurtzman’s personal drawings, comic strips, layouts and comic “essays” he did for magazines like Esquire.

Chapters cover the major parts of his life, pre and post MAD, giving just as much credence and attention to those periods as the MAD years. And what the book does remarkably well is show what an amazing cartoonist he was in his own right, standing toe to toe with the other amazing roster of artists that surrounded him. Will Elder, Jack Davis and Wally Wood were amazing draftsman’s to be sure, but it was Kurtzman’s ability to capture a mood, or a sense of movement, of weight in just a few strokes of the pen or pencil that is evident in every drawing presented in the book. Animator John K has often sited Kurtzman’s drawing skills on his blog, dissecting not only Kurtzman’s use of the Line of Action but his canny ability to layout a page, giving story and art equal time in terms of overall impact.

The book pays a greahelp_cover_25t deal of attention to Harvey Kurtzman’s process, which could be fairly intricate (often times Kurtzman would write and layout pages, much to the chagrin of some artists who were working for him). Many of his initial thumbnails and final layouts of pages are presented, along with the finished product.  

There is a long chapter covering much of Kurtzman’s earliest work for EC, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. The book reprints in full (one of several complete reprintings) the classic story “Corpse on the Imjin!” which not only displays Kurtzman’s uniquely human storytelling, but his amazing artistic skills. Much more stylized than any other artists on the EC war comics roster, his illustrations were boldly inked, and superbly designed, the impact much greater then a hyper-realistic interpretation.

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman reprints many comics from various projects, often times in their entirety. There is the famous “Superduperman” from MAD, illustrated by Wally Wood, a never before seen proof of a 3-D  spoof comic, and probably, most striking of all, a section that reprints a page from a little Annie Fannie story, complete with preproductions all of the vellum overlays (using actual vellum) that Kurtzman produced for his partner—the amazing Will Elder—to work from. These reprints are often the highlights of the book, as they are sometimes the original proofs, accompanied by the original layouts and contextualized with detailed background on how each was designed and developed.

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The Trump, Humbug and Help, years are also covered in depth, with many of the covers reprinted as well as often time hilarious promotional photos of the people involved in their creation.

Long on amazing art, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is sometimes lacking in it’s overview of the man himself. A few years back Fantagrpahics released a fanatastic book as part of their library series, Harvey Kurtzman: TCJ Library Vol. 7  in which every major interview that appeared in the Comics Journal—along with other famous interviews in other magazines—were reprinted in their entirety. The interviews often time give a bit more depth and background than The Art of Harvey Kurtzman provides. And like The Art of, Harvey Kurtzman: TCJ Library Vol. 7 , includes a wealth of stunning visual material, some of which is not covered in The Art of.

In many ways The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics  is almost years too late. The fact that it took this long for an edition like this to emerge,  is just another example of an artist only receiving credit for their groundbreaking achievements after they are dead. On the other hand, it is wonderful that there is finally a book like this that catalogues all of Harvey Kurtzman’s amazing achievements, hopefully inspiring a new generation of cartoonists who many have never even heard his name before.

  

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COLUMBUS: Well, here we are. India.
ADVISOR 1: I’d never thought we would make it!
COLUMBUS: Speak for yourself lowly Advisor number one. I never had any doubts. Even with that nasty outbreak of plague at the beginning of the journey that wiped out half the crew. Or that rather poorly timed spreading of gonorrhea directly following, I was always sure that we would make England proud.
ADVISOR 2: Spain.
COLUMBUS: Whatever.
ADVISOR 1: I’m sorry Senior Columbus for disagreeing with you. Unlike Advisor number two, I know that I am not worthy to lick your feet.
ADVISOR 2: Bite me.
ADVISOR 1: Go jump off the end of the Earth!
COLUMBUS: Gentlemen, Gentlemen. You’re both equally worthless so there is no need to fight. Now, I hear India’s got some great take out…
ADVISOR 1: Actually, that’s China I believe.
COLUMBUS: What about China?
ADVISOR 1: The take out sir.
COLUMBUS: Chinese take out? Who said anything about Chinese take out? If I wanted Chinese take out we would have gone to China wouldn’t we? Well, like they say, when in India do as the Indians do. Captain Stumpy? Where is Captain Stumpy? I bet he knows a good take out joint in the area.
CAPTAIN STUMPY: Right hear Senior Columbus. Senior, if I may, I would appreciate it if you addressed me by my actual name, Captain Limbsintact.
COLUMBUS: But look at you Captain Stumpy, you’ve got no arms or legs! You’re just a torso and a head. Captain Stumpy is a little more fitting, wouldn’t you say?
CAPTAIN STUMPY: Well, it’s just that it’s so mean, considering my current situation and all.
COLUMBUS: Captain Stumpy, I have a paper cut on my left index finger. Swabby, the deck hand, he has a hangnail. We all have our lots in life, our own particular burdens, but you don’t see us complaining do you? It’s no ones fault you’re like this, it’s just life.
CAPTAIN STUMPY: But you were the one blew off my arms and legs!
COLUMBUS: Who knew that cannon was loaded? I mean, it’s so hard to tell sometimes!
CAPTAIN STUMPY: On two separate occasions?!? First my legs and then my arms?
COLUMBUS: All right, that’s enough! I will not have dissention in the ranks! Captain Stumpy, at dawn you walk the plank!
ADVISOR 3: Sir, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. I’ve been doing some calculating over the past several months and, well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re anywhere near India…
COLUMBUS: Ha! And just where do you think we are lowly Advisor three? Your mom’s house?
ADVISOR 1: HAHAHAHAHAHAH! Your mom’s house! That’s a good one!
COLUMBUS: HAHAHAHAHA!
ADVISOR 3: Well, I don’t know exactly. But it’s definitely not India.
COLUMBUS: Advisor number one.
ADVISOR 1: Yes, Senior!
COLUMBUS: Take a memo.
ADVISOR 1: As you wish…
COLUMBUS: Kill Advisor three in the most painful manner imaginable. The rack, the iron maiden, drawn and quartered, whatever. Just make sure it hurts. A lot.
ADVISOR 3:  Jeez, dude, can’t you give me a break?
COLUMBUS: That’s Sir Dude to you, and no, I can’t. What kind of leader would I be if I didn’t set an example by killing an insolent advisor once and while? Huh? I’ll tell you what kind. (Pause) Just as soon as I make sure I have the best seat possible for your execution.
ADVISOR 3: Great…
COLUMBUS: Fantastic! In the meantime, Advisor number two, where do you think one might procure some voluptuous Indian females so that we can spread our many and varied diseases to this land as well?
ADVISOR 2: I’m sure we can find out quickly enough. I’ll send out a tweet!
COLUMBUS: Splendid! Don’t forget to mention that I am looking really ripped these days and that all the fly girls need to get on my jammy. Now, I need a good marketing slogan for this voyage. Something memorable. Ingeniously simple. Like that one from the 3rd installment of the Crusades.
ADVISOR 2: You mean, “Screw this, I’m going home.”
COLUMBUS: Precisely. If I remember correctly that marketing campaign caught on even faster than the one from Easter, “Jesus is back and He’s pissed”. Now, think! This is what I pay you people for!
ADVISOR 2: How about, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
COLUMBUS: What? You’re serious? Are you trying to kill me with your lameness? Are you? Because that’s what you’re doing with that puke you call a slogan. I am puking now! If the Pope were here he’d be puking Pope puke all over the place because he had just heard the lamest thing in all of Christendom! How about this…. “Christopher Columbus: that guy rocks!”
ADVISOR 1: Yes, yes, I love the sound of it! It’s very late 1400s.
ADVISOR 2: Yeah, you would love it, you suck up!
ADVISOR 1: I should have eaten you on the ship when I had the chance!
ADVISOR 2: Filthy cannibal!
ADVISOR 1: I’ll kill you!
COLUMBOUS: Both of you: shut your faces! Advisor three! Advisor three!
ADVISOR 3: Yes, your explorivness!
COLUMBUS: Since you are the only one of my top advisors not currently annoying the hell out of me, I resend the execution I had planned for you: stoning followed by beheading with a small, dull paring knife. You are now Advisor number one. Advisor number one you are number two and Advisor number two you are now number three and subsequently will be killed.
ADVISOR 1: (formally Advisor 3) Yes!
ADVISOR 2: (formally Advisor 1) What-ever!
ADVISOR 3: (formally Advisor 2) This blows big time!
COLUMBUS: Now that we’ve dispensed with that unpleasantness, Advisor one, fetch me my gorilla suit.

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The following is a satirical piece I did several years back, before people were twittering all over the place, and monkeys had yet to be fused to the back of carnival midgets; when all we cared about was finding those pesky WMDs. 

 

Well, I guess we all have egg on our faces, some more than others. It’s clear to me now that the probability of Waldo ever being found is fairly slim. The Waldo Inspection Team and I naively assumed that finding this particular “white whale” would be a reasonably simple task. The red and white striped hat and shirt, and those glasses- they’re such a dead give away. I mean, he dresses like a moron! He’s got no fashion sense whatsoever and he looks like a cross between Harry Potter and a barber pole. Or a candy cane. Personally, I thought he would stick out like a sore thumb.

 

I’m not sure who’s to blame for this failure. Surely not the White House. They were merely acting on the information that those in the intelligence community were feeding them. For example, one report stated that he had, “been spotted at an Ozzy Osbourne concert” while another claimed that he was, “at a nude beach in Italy” and still another declared, “I think I just saw him coming out of the White House’s 3rd floor Presidential toilet.” The information was all over the map, literally.

 

Some of the responsibility for this whole mess falls to the Waldo Inspection Team. I was convinced that crazy bastard would eventually turn up somewhere. You can hide out only so long before some upstanding citizen turns you in for a fat reward. However, most of the culpability should rest squarely on the shoulders of the analysts in the CIA. Faulty intelligence was being recycled through that joint like a blocked-up sewer line. And just between you, me and those six TV cameras, they don’t know their heads from their asses most of the time.

 

Surprisingly, even with all of the misleading intelligence, we did come across many other subjects of interest that were thought to be MIA. Jimmy Hoffa for instance. He’s a cabaret dancer in Paris, currently in a musical version of Baudelaire’s “The Flowers of Evil”. And FYI, he’s got a great pair of legs.

 

We helped the 1960’s locate its virginity; it was stashed away in Abbie Hoffman’s tool shed behind his house, along with a stockpile of books from the New York Public Library. I guess it’s always the last place you look.

 

We informed U2’s Bono that we had finallyfound what he was looking for, which was, incidentally, himself, the Inner Bono, not the Outer Bono, the one who wares those big, goofy fly-looking glasses and the leather pants and certainly not the singing, political grandstanding extrovert that everyone knows, but the shy kid from a small town in Ireland, the one with big dreams of owning his own Mr. Potato Head factory and the simple wish not to be confused with the guy who married Cher.

 

In addition, we recently discovered Janet Jackson’s breast-covering-thingies in the dumpster outside of her dressing room at the Super Bowl. Boy, she must have felt silly going on stage without those!

 

Indeed, the Waldo Inspection Team recovered many missing items; wallets, misplaced childhood pets, mustaches from 70’s cop shows, and several million ball point pens, but, unfortunately, no Waldo. As it stands now, there’s a strong likelihood that there never was any Waldo to begin with, and that we made a serious lapse in judgment believing those intelligence reports. And if you cannot rely on accurate intelligence, then you might as well pack up the barbecue and the all the weenies and go home because who knows what could happen out there. It could piss cats and dogs and crap bricks and then where would the American public be without the portable tarp that is the intelligence community? Anyhow, I felt it was best that I resign from my post and return to the private sector where there are no Waldos to dog my existence.

 

Oh, and you might be interested to know that our investigation also turned up the left black dress sock that one of our team members, Joe, lost in 1978. Apparently, at the time he thought his then long term girlfriend, Brenda, had hid it from him in retaliation for a prank he pulled on her involving a rattle snake. According to Joe, he “completely lost it and proceeded to throw a chair through a window, tell her it was over, pack his bags and leave”. What a loon that guy is! Anyhow, we found it, along with many other lost socks in a black hole near the edge of our galaxy. So, Brenda, if you’re watching, on behalf of Joe, he apologizes for any misunderstanding and will send you some money for the broken window.

 

 

Previously unpublished

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Harvey Kurtzman was not only the founder and editor of Mad magazine (as well as Help!, Humbug and Trump), a master of American satire, but he was also an amazing cartoonist in his own right. He had great instinct for composition and layout (he always did the layouts for his artists). A newly launched site, The Little World of Harvey Kurtzman, is devoted to some amazing covers as well interior pages from a bevy of magazines he helped produce. Some of the pages he art directed on, some he wrote and illustrated. Along with quotes from Kurtzman himself as well as critics and other artiist, this site is a great resource for any Kurtzman fan. Check it out here:

And don’t miss out on the blog, Those Fabouloius Fiftes which has been publishing pages from Help! as well as a bulk of work that Kurtzman did for magazines like Madison Avenue Magazine.

And if that wasn’t enough, this winter, Fantagraphics will finally be publishing all 11 issues of Humbug in a two volume slipcase hardcover set. This is not to be missed by fans of Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and Al Jaffe. Fantagraphics is going to great lengths to reproduce the art from those issues. Check out those lengths here. Hey, I said lengths again.

Meanwhile, here are a few pages from Harvey Kurtzman’s outstanding magazine work, including the likes of Esquire and Madison Avenue Magazine.

 

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In a previous post I refereed to the existence of a Werehobo, a creature so fascinating I have devoted a portion of my time that would have otherwise gone to buying Harry Potter fan art on EBay, to tracking this intriguing creature. Although Wikipedia has seperate entries for Werewolves and Hobos, it has nothing for the elusive Werehobo (those misinformed, sexless bastards at Wikipedia will stop at nothing to exclude the wonderful Werehobo!).

So where does the WereHobo fit into the greater lexicon of urban myths and or legends? Is it like the Bigfoot, possibly real according to some hippie-loving, tree-fucking nut-jobs in the northwest, or more like the Fiji Mermaid, begun in the collective imagination as a beautiful siren of the deep, but soon revealed as the corpse of a monkey sewn to the corpse of a chipmunk sewn to the corpse of FDR. Maybe not so beautiful, but intriguing nonetheless.

Once thought to be merely the figment of the rambling imagination of Sloppy One-Eyed Joe, a Hobo from the Baltimore area who was once named King of the Hoboes by Hobos and Boxcar Monthlymagazine, Werehobos have actually been seen by several people, some of whom hear voices other than the ones in their heads. The documentation of these sightings is mixed at best, however. Most is written on toilet paper or, in one case, on the back flap of the hardback edition of Rich Little’s scathing autobiography, “I Am Me But Not Me: A Life In Hollywood Without Myself”.

I have seen photographic evidence of the WereHobo, although, frankly, it’s hard to tell the difference between an actual Hobo and a WereHobo. The WereHobo begins as a normal, employable member of society. Then, at the sight of the full moon, they transform into a full-fledged Hobo, running amok, shaking their fists and collecting tin cans, all of which is slightly dissapointing, I must confess, as I was expecting to see a cross between a hobo and werewolf. You know more like Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character but with lots of hair and a prepensaty for going out on moonlit nights and biting people on the ass, then asking for directions to the nearest “Hooverville”. 

 

 

So, yes it’s true, while I have never seen a Werehobo in person, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s like the tree falling in the forest: does it make a sound? Or just because Bill O’Riley is usually sans a giant seething ass-face in public, doesn’t mean that at night, in the lonely confines of his fortified underground bunker that he peels away his fake face to reveal an ass-face whereupon he proceeds to lick his gaping maw/rectum over and over again, telling himself in the mirror to “Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!”, while a Barry Goldwater speech from 1964 loops endlessly on his bunker’s wide-screen.

So it would seem that I am at a standstill in regards to “outing” an actual Werehobo. But I tell you this: I will not let the Werehobo slip into the not-so-loving embrace of footnoted hell! If something as asinine as the Chupacabra can be recognized by half-witted Cryptozoology  community at large, then why not the Werehobo? While not at sexy as the Yeti, the Werehobo still has an allure; a somewhat stinky, conniving, thieving allure, but an allure non-the-less. Like Phyllis Diller, but with pants made from a potato sack and sans that wonderful, bourbon-soaked voice.

Stay-tuned for Part Two of this investigative feature, “Werehobo: Fact, Fiction or Potential Canasta Partner”, wherein I board a cruise ship for chain-smoking retirees, “The Floating Bypass”, in hopes of tracking a Werehobo that allegedlystowed away on the ship. Could this same Werehobo be behind the mysterious pool of urination always found on the shuffle board area just after the ship’s famous Morning Jog In Velvet Track Suits Around the Aloha Deck? Could he be the one stealing all of the cocktail shrimp from the all-you-can-eat buffet? Find out! Soon! Seriously!

 

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Le Mutton Dyke- A refined combination of the VanDyke and Mutton Chops which brings an air of aristocracy to any occasion involving fraud and or philandering. Also good for pistols at dawn.

The Lincoln Memorial- This beast of a fake beard is also referred to as the Abe-Face Sandwich in certain regions of Arkansas. The curious amalgamation of Lincoln’s famous face-do and the rustic flair of the Handlebar Mustache will trick your quarry into thinking you’re some other guy following them in a crummy rented car while taking photos with a telephoto lens. We’ve all heard about the “out-of-work” porn actor look, but what about the “former-US-president-shot-by-Booth-ending-up-in-biker-hell” look?

The Neck Blanket (AKA Neck Swaddler or Cthulhu s Nest)- This type of facial hair is less helpful as a disguise and more about hiding overly large Adams apples or rampant goiters.

Old Tymmy Villain- Need to tie a screaming woman to a train track and have no idea what kind of facial air to sport? Cliché? Yes. Appropriate for outings in the country? Double yes.

The Hemingway– This is a variation on the Santa Claus, trimmer, closer to the face with tighter curls, also know as “wisps” or “cute little fanciful man hairs”. This look would be marvelous for traveling up the Amazon, lion taming or participating in the Spanish Civil War as a foreign correspondent/ belligerent drunkard.

Mike’s Hair Lounge– The look sported by famous hand model, Mike Dubois between the years 1960 and 1971. A more streamlined variation on the standard goatee, Mike’s Hair Lounge is a red velvet jacket in a sea of rented tuxes.    

Mike’s Hair Lounge’s Retarded Brother- In this version of Mike’s Hair Lounge half of the beard is missing.

Revenge of Mike’s Hair Lounge’s Retarded Brother– This version of Mike’s Hair Lounge’s Retarded Brother is completely invisible.

The Floridian- A swath of hair that juts proudly from the chin of the wearer into the Atlantic Ocean of one’s personal space. No hanging chads here, just morsels of undigested food stuff.

The Muskrat- Unlike the Bigfoot In Love or the Lonely Sandinistan Rebel, the Muskrat cannot be used to fight evil but only for mischief (be sure to read the label on this one as any deviation from said usage will result in electro-shock and or long term bladder issues) much like real muskrats who are known as the Assholes of the Animal Kingdom.

 

 

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Dateline Hollywood U.S.A. (AKA MagicTowne): Will Ferrell will star in yet another pseudo-sports movie, this time an animated feature called Spleens of Glory, in which he’ll play a cartoon spleen named Charlie who must win back his son’s affections by participating in a shuffle board tournament in a giant rectum. Jack Black will also star as Will Ferrell’s off-beat sidekick, Jerry Jerkface, another spleen with limited musical talent but a knack for being a complete asshole. Jim Carrey and Steve Carell will have supporting roles as a couple of gun-toting fart clouds.

When asked why he keeps doing these inane movies, Ferrell answered only by bursting into a mélange of characters from that touchstone of pop culture annoyance, Saturday Night Live, after which he jumped through a second-story window, screaming that his career was “out the window”, whatever that meant.

Spleens of Glory will be going up against some stiff competition this summer, in the form of Pixar’s latest cute-extravaganza, Sammy’s Giant Balls a movie about two irregularly-sized cartoon bowling balls who go on a cross-country journey in search of the man who created them, an ex-circus clown/muskrat porn star named Sammy. Jim Carrey and Steve Carell star as the two loveable bowling balls and Jack Black stars as Sammy, the clown with limited musical talent but a knack for being a complete asshole.

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