Friday, August 23, 2019

Early Darwyn Cooke Comics from Music Express

by BK Munn

Cartoonist Darwyn Cooke (1962-2016) got his start in the Toronto magazine world back in 1984 when he was hired as the art director for Music Express. He did all the design, graphics and even some photography for that magazine, and its sister mag Metallion, until he left to work for one of Canada’s biggest fashion magazines, Flare, in 1988. Looking at these issues of Music Express, you can see how Cooke was applying a retro mid-century design sense to its pages in a style that nevertheless still retains a very hip 1980s feel. The pages from this 1985 issue are crammed with Cooke’s spot illustrations and there is even a house ad done in the form of a comic strip. This is some of Cooke’s earliest published comics. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Cracked in Canada

by BK Munn

Way back in 1994, Cracked Magazine went Canuck-crazy with a special variant edition lampooning Canadian culture, a shameless pandering that only the geniuses behind a bargain-basement version of MAD Magazine could have conceived of (although there was a French-Canadian version of MAD produced by the gang behind Croc around the same period that ran for a few years). Beginning with the cover, instead of the Beavis and Butthead parody U.S. audiences were treated to, the Canadian version boasts a John Severin-drawn hockey punch-up featuring what appears to be legendary Toronto Maple Leafs brawler Doug Gilmour. The rest of the issue is dotted with a smattering of Canadian-themed features, including a generic Don Martin gag with a Newfoundland setting randomly inserted in the title.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The First Talking Cartoon Cat?

by BK Munn

Woodcut by unknown artist from frontispiece to The Excellent and Renowned HISTORY of the Famous Sir Richard Whittington, Three Times Lord-Mayor of the Honourable City of London (1690). This is a relatively “late” retelling of the story of Dick Whittington and his Cat, from a widely-circulated London chapbook. I love that this woodcut has the cat speaking in an early form of comic strip word balloon. These types of emanata are usually called “phylacteries" by art and comics historians, after the scroll-like ribbons of text and speech that first appeared in medieval manuscript illuminations. I wonder how many other early “talking cat” images are out there? There were many similar chapbooks devoted to Aesop’s Fables, plays, ballads, various fairy tales, nursery rhymes, morality tales, etc. Is there a Puss in Boots, witch’s familiar, or some other talking cat with a similar phylactery in a book or painting that pre-dates this one?

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Clowes Shut-Ups

This weekend’s antique market find: some Dan Clowes “shut-ups” from Cracked Digest #4, 1987.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Rudolph Dirks Anticipates the Group of Seven

by BK Munn

Rudolph Dirks took the characters of his Katzenjammer Kids strip around the world many times before they more or less settled down on a tropical island, and one of their earliest adventures was a search for the North Pole. As part of this epic 1907 quest, the trio of The Captain, Hans and Fritz travelled through the arctic, battling polar bears and meeting other northern inhabitants, including racist caricatures of Inuit people who speak in gibberish. The Captain, like Dirks himself, just wants to travel and paint pictures, but is constantly pranked by the kids. In the sequence below, he likens the painting of a pine tree to poetry, echoing Robert Service’s "The Pines” and presaging both Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem “Trees” (“I think that I shall never see/a poem lovely as a tree...”) and the paintings of Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven, notably Thompson’s “The Jack Pine”. Dirks was a fellow traveller of The Ashcan School of painters and was one of the cartoonists who exhibited in the Armoury Show of 1913.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cracked Magazine Party Pix: December 1988 (Clowes,Bagge, Altergott, Severin, Martin)

 It’s a Cracked Magazine cocktail party, from Cracked #241, December 1988. The magazine was at that time under the editorship of Mort Todd and featured Todd and Dan Clowes’ Uggly Family strip, as well as contributions from Weirdo editor and Neat Stuff/Hate creator Peter Bagge. Doofus creator Rick Altergott was a regular as well. These guys comprised the “kids’ table” at this memorable meeting of the minds that also featured all-time greats like John Severin, Don Martin, Don Orehek, Bill Wray, and many more. Great to see photos of these past and future giants in a casual, but work-related setting!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Dr. Strange-George Costanza Connection: From Master of the Mystic Arts to Master of His Domain

by BK Munn

There's an interesting echo of the origin of Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange in one of the more famous episodes of Seinfeld, 1993’s “The Puffy Shirt”. In the episode, written by Larry David, sad sack George rockets to the top of the hand model game, but just as he feels his life is turning around, his brief career is cut short when his hubris is rewarded with inevitable destiny in the form of a carelessly-placed clothes iron.

George’s vanity is reminiscent of that displayed by high-flying surgeon Stephen Strange, who destroys his precious hands in a car accident and subsequently wanders the world searching for a cure that can restore his skill and dexterity, until he eventually winds up at the hidden Himalyan monastary of the Ancient One who trains him in the mystic arts.

George’s doom is foreshadowed by the tale of a hand model whose story is eerily similar to Stephen Strange’s and also contains a callback to another famous Seinfeld ep, “The Contest”. At his first (and last) photo shoot, George learns of the mysterious “Ray McKigney” who had “the most exquisite hands you've ever seen.” 

As the unnamed hand model agent tells it, McKigney fell victim to self-love:

MAN: Tragic story, I'm afraid. He could've had any woman in the world.. but none could match the beauty of his own hand.. and that became his one true love..
(Long pause)
GEORGE: You mean, uh..?
MAN: Yes. he was not.. master of his domain.
GEORGE: (Makes a gesture saying he understands. The man nods) But how.. uh..?
MAN: (Quick, to the point) The muscles.. became so strained with.. overuse, that eventually the hand locked into a deformed position, and he was left with nothing but a claw. (Holds hand up, displaying a claw-like shape) He traveled the world seeking a cure.. acupuncturists.. herbalists.. swamis.. nothing helped. Towards the end, his hands became so frozen the was unable to manipulate utensils, (Visibly disgusted by this last part) and was dependent on Cub Scouts to feed him. I hadn’t seen another pair of hands like Ray McKigney's.. until today. You are his successor. (George looks down at his hands) I.. only hope you have a little more self-control.
GEORGE: (Smiling to himself) You don't have to worry about me. (Nodding, gloating) I won a contest.

The egotistical Ayn Randian superman who is humbled and must painfully learn the lessons of true heroism is a Marvel Comics mainstay, from Peter Parker to Tony Stark to Dr. Strange, and the story of a a professional man who suffers the loss of his hands must have had a special resonance for a cartoonist, but the Stephen Strange/Ray McKigney story has other precedents in popular culture. “The Hands of Orlac” is a 1923 silent film that popularized the medieval legend of The Hand of Glory --the disembodied body part of a dead criminal endowed with magical powers. In the film, a concert pianist loses his hands in an accident and has the hands of a murderer grafted on by an experimental surgeon. The film was remade many times, with two versions appearing just before the origin of Dr. Strange was published in Strange Tales #115 in 1963:  1960's “The Hands of Orlac” (with Mel Ferrer as Orlac and Christopher Lee as the magician “Nero”), and 1962’s “Hands of a Stranger”. It’s entirely possible that Ditko and/or his editor Stan Lee saw or read some version of this story before penning the Dr. Strange story. The film was even remade by Oliver Stone in 1981 as “The Hand”, with Michael Caine as a cartoonist (!) who loses his drawing hand in a car accident, only to have the hand return to haunt him as a murderous appendage. The cartoonist’s art in the film was supplied by real-life Marvel veteran Barry Windsor-Smith. Did Larry David encounter any of these iterations before concocting his tale of the masturbating hand model? Who can say...