Keeping up with the Lexicon

​What do you call a movie that’s based on a common american phrase………


 that itself is based on a WW1 – era comic strip?


“Jones-ception”? 

Advertisements

The “Phantom” Predescessor

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 4.23.19 PM

You may not have read this comic but if you grew up in the US before 2000, I bet you’ve come across it while looking for Garfield in the newspaper. Lee Falk’s The Phantom predates Superman by 3 years and set the standards for many tropes we associate with the Man of Steel.

I would provide a full retrospect but YouTuber Midnight’s Edge has that covered.

 

Buster and Bart: A Century Apart

In 1899, comic artist RF Outcault created The Yellow Kid, a working class ethnic child who pulled cons, for the Hearst papers. Not long after that series ended, Outcault followed up with a similarly ill-behaved rich WASP named Buster Brown.

There was no concrete evidence of Outcault’s intentions with the strip. The fact that he was forced to create the series due to reader backlash to his Yellow Kid series suggests otherwise. I’m certain under the humor directed to an upper class audience, there also lies a hidden mockery of said audiences’ values and behavior.

One strip comes to mind when, as the title says, Buster decides to throw himself a surprise party and Mrs. Brown is greeted at the door by gift-bearing tykes.

BusterBrown_surprisePartyCRPD

It’s natural to assume Mrs. Brown would just tell the children to go home, right? Wrong. Instead, she invites them in and quietly rushes her servants to order party refreshments as soon as possible without the guests noticing.

Let’s not be mistaken. Buster Brown has pulled some pretty bad pranks for a boy of his era: Cutting a girl’s hair. Tricking a strange man into walking in on his mother in a changing room on the beach. Faking his own death.

 

Yes, you heard the last one right.
BB_fakeDeath1 BBfakedeath2

However, the “surprise party” prank pisses his mother off so much that by the second to last panel she threatens to send him to a reform school, her most serious threat in the whole series.

Do you know what they would do to pretty faces like yours?

Now, from the modern perspective, only two trains of thought generate from this story: “Buster’s mother is an idiot” or maybe “priorities of the rich were different back then.” A nearly century old comic strip is bound to create values dissonance for 21st century readers, and does so often. This strip in particular, however, does not seem so foreign in time. Here’s why:

 

Simpsons_pool1

MARGE: “Bart, are ALL these children friends of yours?

BART: “Friends and well-wishers. Yes”

 

It would take the passage of that very century for another similar situation on a 1994 episode of The Simpsons  where the eponymous family gets a pool. Every kid in town gets wind of the news and it’s not long before the Simpson’s house is flooded with swim-suited children. One scene that has always caught my attention (and funny bone) involves Marge questioning Bart about his unusually large circle of friends, including a trio of boys who look too old to be in high school walking by as they address Marge by another name and greeting another kid in the kitchen as Bart.

Back in real life, if your mother was anything like mine, she’d never let any kid I invited over into the house unless she knew that kid’s parents personally. To see Buster’s mother frantically accommodating a spontaneous children’s party may seem silly to our modern eyes, but to be honest not much has changed. The mediums are different, the socioeconomic statuses of the families are different. There’s no argument that Buster Brown’s family would have a much different set of values than the Simpsons (the latter family has a much more equal relationship with the ethnic whites and blacks than the former, after all). It seems however, that the mothers of both mediums remind us that regardless of class and time, there will always be that one dimwitted mother who goes against common sense when it comes to her children’s affairs. Timeless.

“I look like Buster Brown……whomever that is.”

In Defense of Franklin

Status

image

*Edited 12/24 to correct Hank Ketcham’s Name*

Lately, I found myself once again in a social media debate that long tires me: “Charles Shultz is a racist.”

Why does this tire me? Well, the only backup people have for this claim is a) an inaccurate anecdote from a comedian, either Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, and b) a screenshot taken out of context. People seem to want to assume malicious intent of the man without knowing the whole story.

image

The scene that make Tumblr kids cry

First of all, the screenshot in question is from the animated Thanksgiving special, from which Shultz had little input. Second, Those animated adaptions are the only exposure to anything Peanuts most people have. Third, Franklin is a product of the 1960s, yet he and the image he features in is being judged by the values of 2015 and pop culture osmosis. Very few have actually seen Franklin Armstrong in the comic let alone know his character history and Shultz’ well-documented reasons for creating him. If they want to criticize the character or his creator, some research would be appreciated.

A Little Backstory

Franklin Armstrong was created in 1968 at the insistence of a schoolteacher, Harriet Glickman, who felt the strip needed to keep up with the newly integrated society. Shultz was hesitant to do so at first for fear of unintentionally insulting his black friends and colleagues. In the end he went through with the suggestion.

In Franklin’s introductory strip, he meets Charlie Brown on the beach. The two exchange stories about their families and themselves, allowing a bit of humanity for Franklin in doing so.

Sequential strips reveal the backstory and personality Shultz invested for Franklin. We see which members of the gang we prefers to socialize with (Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Chuck) and whom he chooses to keep a distance (oh, Lucy).

Where Shultz Went Wrong

So he gave Franklin personality. Do I believe Shultz to be a saint?

Hell no.

image

Minnesota’s already got the “saint” part covered.

As Shultz anticipated, Franklin’s interactions often had questionable intentions seen by 1960s standards. Too often, Its Patty who provides the equality lecture to Franklin, never the other way around.

image

image

The hell?

In other panels, he’s seen off to the side of the group. But, again, this is the result of a white artist who doesn’t get input from the people he’s trying to represent. But Shultz did admit to being fearful of making such mistakes. In comparison, Shulz received criticisms for petty details such as having Franklin sit in front of Patty in the class but ignored them. I doubt the producers of the Animated Specials shared his feelings, leading to more unfortunate moments.

And as dubious as that is, Shultz still did a better job. Take this comparison: a few years later, Hank Ketcham of Dennis The Menace tried to ape Shultz’ success by drawing his own race relations cartoon. To call it an epic fail is putting it lightly:

image

The Paula Deen of Cartoonists

Does that mean Franklin stands the test of time? Well, not anymore. The character was well needed to get media to include more minorities in their stories. However, overuse of this characterization by media up into the 1990s lead to the classic “token” black kid who has nothing more to his personality than a love for sports. Due to this development in media representation, Franklin is now lumped in with the archetype he unintentionally influenced.

To Be Frank

If anyone should have a problem with Franklin, it should be the sad fact that he’s becoming as outdated in 2015 as Ketcham’s blackface creature was in the 1970s. Nonetheless, Shultz did a noble thing for a middle aged white man in the 1960s. He fought criticisms to bring blacks on equal footing with whites. If anyone actually expected Shultz to straight up see the world with black people’s eyes and predict the future, then I say those people are reaching.

Cartooning in Columbus (Ohio)

image

courtesy of Watch Tom Draw

Last week my friend Tom of Watch Tom Draw had a chance to visit the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum during his trip to Columbus. Named for the city’s most famous newspaper cartoonist, it houses one of many cartoon archives in the US and housed right on the campus of Ohio State University. Among the original works archived includes panels by R.F. Outcault (Buster Brown) Windsor McKay (Little Nemo in Slumberland) and Will Eisner (The Spirit) among many other gems.

If you ever find yourself near the Ohio State area and looking for something to see, I wouldn’t overlook it.

Link:
http://cartoons.osu.edu/

Giving Props to Vintage Strips

I recall the day I was gifted a book of stamps commemorating classic comic strips, I became fascinated with vintage comic strips, specifically those pre-dating 1930:

Popeye, Krazy Kat, Little Orphan Annie, Toonerville Trolley, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Buster Brown, Katzenjammer Kids.

1995 US Commemorative Stamps_Comic Strip Classics

Yep, these were the stamps.

Like spiritual descendants Peanuts and Garfield, most of these series were available at the time in printed anthologies. Others I found scattered online.  I loved seeing how much the comics reflected the values of the times then as they do now. Of course, many of these strips show their age by the second page (hey, that rhymed!), Thankfully, required notes in the back of the books explain the jokes that get lost to a modern reader.

These being American comics, I anticipated that racial/ethnic jokes would rear their awkward head, but I accepted that. I couldn’t be angry at jokes made 70 to 100 years ago. (I prefer to reserve that energy for Family Guy episodes and lazy comedians). Aside from that, there were moments in the strips that reminded you to be thankful your great grandparents survived those times.

Buster Brown_Smallpox

We all had that friend with smallpox. Right?……..Right?

Once I get passed the values dissonance, I saw what great imagination these artists used when they essentially had very little foundation to work with. They didn’t limit themselves (only the paper editors did). Once you look across time and see the human experience, you began to enjoy them. These strips are important historical pieces as they are good entertainment.

Frank Cho’s “humor” Seems Very Familiar

I had to see what everyone was so angry about regarding Frank Cho’s “joke” cover for SpiderGwen/Spiderman/Harley Quinn\whatever.

image

A lot of people are angry, but I cant really say I’m offended…..or surprised. Frank Cho’s humor in these covers are pretty reminiscent of what he did in his early comic series Liberty Meadows.

image

I hate being critical towards one of the artists that influenced me, but what I really enjoyed about Cho’s first official series was his stylistic combination of classic-style characters interacting with cartoony  animals in the vein of “Bone”. Now that he works for Marvel, from my perspective, all of his stylistic interpretations of (mostly) female characters look like rehashings of his Liberty Meadows regulars Brandy and Jen. As I looked at the covers in question, I couldn’t help but notice how much of a resemblance Gwen bore to Jen (seen “tormenting” Dean the Pig in the above image.)

I can’t read his mind, but perhaps he was trying to inject that old “Liberty Meadows” humor in his current line of work……only for it to backfire. When I first met him at a panel at HeroesCon 2013, a discussion was held on the risks of exhibiting such humor to the uninitiated. Superhero comics seem to have no place for underground shock humor……..except Deadpool, perhaps.

Life Before Superman: Ask your Grandparents

KidsComics1930s

Reading comics on the front porch: a tradition for 80 years.

My Grandmother is 93 years old (b. 1920), meaning that she was 18 when Action Comics #1 debuted on newsstands : She represents a hidden transition: the last of a generation that remember a time before superheroes or comics in book form, like those who remember life before television, computers, or sliced bread. Once her generation is gone, so do the perspectives that inadvertently remind us of how deeply comics have become integrated in our culture since their time.

If I’m not mistaken, Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee is only two years younger than my Grandma (born 1922). He was about my grandmother’s age when he received his first job in the comic book industry. We have Mr. Lee’s memory on the world before Superman for historical purposes, but what about the average person? The ones who bought Mr. Lee’s work, or those who dismissed it as “kid’s stuff”? Sadly, by the time I realized this my grandmother was already in the depths of dementia. Not all is lost, since I do recall how she used to respond to my own comics and I can always ask my mother how she used to react to my uncle’s collection.

People have Interviewed World War II veterans and (in the 1930s) former slaves for archives, but what about the first generation of comic book readers and the people they interacted with? They are grandparents, friends, neighbors, co-workers, someone we know in one way or another. Whom in their “funny magazines” did they consider their “superman” before there was one?
1930sComics_2

Kreator’s Blokked Nite

                                         

It never occurred to me how easy it was to draw George Herriman’s Krazy Kat until a very late -almost morning-night of creator’s block. I need to have more moments like these.