My dirty car

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I’ve gotta start washing my car. As I left my condo building the other day, our maintenance man who was watering the plants with the hose asked me if I wanted him to wash down the car because it was dirty. Then later in the day I was at the mechanic and he said that I don’t take very much care of the car. The car runs perfectly and I always have it serviced and have things repaired, I just don’t wash it. Then he offered to buy it, this is the second time in my life that a mechanic offered to buy my car. I sold one to my mechanic years ago, this one I’m not ready to part with yet.

I’m too lazy to wash the car myself, for a few bucks, someone else will do it, so why not? This guy Jerry comes to our building and washes the cars. I usually wait for him to come to the building to do someone else’s car, so when I see him, I ask him to get to my car next and it’s done right away. If I call him to come over, he takes hours to get here and I end up sitting around all day waiting for him to arrive.

The car wash I loved to go to in the past is now a condo, so that’s out.

Funny thing, when I first moved into the condo here about 16 years ago, the day I moved in, the neighbor who parks right next to me was washing his car and I noticed he was always washing his car. I guess it was therapeutic for him, he loved to wash the car.

A few months later, he said to me, “Don’t you notice how clean your car is?” I said, “Yes, why?” He said, “Because “I’ve been washing it every time I wash my own! I couldn’t stand how dirty it was!” I was shocked. I told him I thought it got clean from the rain. We don’t get much rain and I park underground, but I thought the times I was out and about driving in the rain, it washed the car.

He got insulted. I don’t think he ever washed my car again after that.

Darrin Bell, pumping out comics and winning the Pulitzer in the process

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I recently wrote a story on Joseph Pulitzer, and then my next story, interestingly enough, is on a brand new Pulitzer Prize winner.

darrin-bellEarlier this week, cartoonist Darrin Bell (left) won the Pulitzer Prize for his political cartoons, he also does a daily comics strip called Candorville, which incorporates another comics strip which he produced for many years, called Rudy Park.

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TOM: Congrats on winning the Pulitzer prize! How did you find out?

DARRIN: Thank you. My editor at the Washington Post Writers Group called me at my home in California and told me. They flew me out to DC a couple days later so I could be in the Post newsroom during the announcement.

TOM: You do (or did) three comics – two comic strips and an editorial cartoon. I see you combined the two comic strips – Candorville and Rudy Park. How did that come about?

DARRIN: My syndicate realized Candorville and Rudy Park didn’t share any clients, and since I’d already done several crossovers between the two series, they suggested I combine them.

TOM: I also heard you draw story boards for films and tv?

DARRIN: I got a call out of the blue back in 2012 asking me if I knew how to draw storyboards. Coincidentally I’d taken a class in storyboarding just for fun a few months earlier, so I said sure, and ended up storyboarding a sci-fi pilot for Anthony Zuiker (CSI). I added my name and portfolio to a bunch of job sites, and then answered inquiries. I only accept jobs when I’m far enough ahead on my work, or if they’re flexible with their deadlines.

TOM: What is your schedule like when you were doing two strips along with the political cartoons and story boards? Did you work on Rudy Park one day and then the next Candorville, etc?

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A recent Darrin Bell political cartoon. Image courtesy King Features Syndicate

DARRIN: Rudy Monday’s, Candorville Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings, editorial cartoons Wednesday afternoon and the rest of the week, New Yorker submissions whenever I was awake enough after putting the kids to bed.

TOM: Do you work digitally or old school pen and ink?

DARRIN: Digitally. It’s the only possible way to get that much work done. When I worked with paper and ink, I would spend an entire weekday just cleaning cartoons up, scanning them in and getting them ready to color. An entire day.

TOM: What is your studio or work place like?

DARRIN: Quiet office space with red brick walls and ornate windows, one block from a river.

TOM: Favorite scifi tv show or movie?

DARRIN: Babylon 5, a show that chronicles the struggle against new authoritarian governments on earth and throughout the galaxy. The show’s far more relevant now than it was in the Nineties, when it first aired.

TOM: As for comics, which ones influenced you growing up?

DARRIN: X-Men and Spider-Man, mostly.

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Candorville by Darrin Bell, courtesy GoComics.com

TOM: Other than those, which comic strip would you like to crawl into, current or past, and spend the day?

DARRIN: Buck Rogers. Or the Star Trek comic strip from the 80s.

TOM: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

DARRIN: I’d stop whatever cataclysm destroyed ancient civilizations all around the world 13,000 years ago (probably causing all the great flood myths and destroying Atlantis). That worldwide destruction forced the survivors to start all over, almost as if an advanced civilization was returned to the Stone Age. We’d be 13,000 years more advanced than we are now. There’s a good chance we’d also be 13,000 years wiser.

TOM: Thanks, Darrin, and congratulations again on the Pulitzer!

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Pulitzer and The World

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Images via Library of Congress

pulitzerI saw a great documentary on Joseph Pulitzer (left) the other night which of course was a lot about the New York World, which he published from 1860 until his death in 1911, after that his sons ran the paper (into the ground) and then in 1931, it merged with the New York Telegram to become the World-Telegram and then years later, in 1950, became the World-Telegram and Sun. You can see the Pulitzer documentary in full at PBS’s American Masters here. The story is great along with the images of the old newspapers and offices and of course, old black and white movies of street scenes and society at the time.

What was interesting about The World was that it seemed to have everything, especially on Sundays. It would print dress patterns, color comics, cut outs that kids could play with and had stories that were not breaking news, but features. Pulitzer and his staff would seek out human interest stories, which was a first for its time. He also designed interesting layouts and pages which were completely different than what was standard at the time – rows and rows of columns.

The World was one of the first newspapers to run comic strips and it started with the Yellow Kid which was stolen by Hearst his New York Journal (later the Journal-American).

One interesting item the documentary talks about was timing. When Pulitzer began publishing The World, New Yorkers started taking public transportation more often and the newspapers at the time were a perfect diversion on city transit.

I always loved old photos of the World building down on Park Row, across from city Hall. It’s gone as of 1955, and I found out from the Pulitzer documentary that it was due to Robert Moses, who seemed to destroy a lot of NYC in the name of progress, including the demise of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to which my father has not forgiven him to this day. Moses demolished the World and Times to build another ramp for the Brooklyn Bridge.

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These clocks can still be seen on the Sun Building today at 280 Broadway.

The Sun building was next door, but eventually moved to 280 Broadway, on the other side of City Hall,  where the is still today. Clocks on each corner show the name – “The Sun – It shines for all.” The Sun came back in the early 2000s but is only online now.

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Beautiful newspaper row.

The New York Tribune building was demolished in 1966 and is now Pace University.

The New York Times building at 41 Park Row is still there today. People mistakenly have claimed over the years that it was demolished for the Brooklyn Bridge entrance, too, but that is not the case. It is also part of Pace University today.

Of course, one of my favorites was the Herald, up on Herald Square, which is now an ugly box building housing Santander Bank and CVS, catty corner to Macy’s.

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The New York Herald.

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Outside the Tribune Building.

The World Newspaper

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‘Dunce” comic strip is in a class all its own

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

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Jens K at work. (Photo by Agnese Zile)

jensJens K. Styve is the creator of Dunce, a delightful Norwegian comic strip he created in 2016. What attracts you first are the drawings, each strip is a work of art; add the comic writing and quality to that, and you have an award-winning comic strip. (photo by Nicolas Tourrenc).
TOM: Is Dunce you? Why the name Dunce for the title character?

JENS: Whenever I’ve done anything autobiographical, it’s been me drawn with that pointy Dunce-cap. I think it’s all about that voice in your head, the self-evaluating critic. The voice that, each time you do more or less anything, goes “You idiot, why did you do that? Why did you say that? Write that? Draw that? Look, now you’ve made a mess.” I think this voice is pure biology, every human seem to be their own worst critic. You should probably check with a biologist, but I assume it’s how we all made it this far. I guess my inner voice is also a sarcastic, satirical writer that can add some fiction and transform these expressions into comics. When I started doing a daily strip with the pointy-hat character, the title Dunce sort of gave itself.

TOM: What is Dunce’s name? He has a son, what about a wife, I don’t remember ever seeing her.

JENS: The main character’s name is Jens K, maybe with a tiny reference to another resentful literary character (Kafka’s Josef K.). The son is named Gustav, I haven’t really figured out yet if the characters should have other names in English, I guess it’s part of the concept that this is actually in the far north of Norway, far above the polar circle. Gustav obviously has (or at least has had) a mother, many readers ask about her, but that part of the story isn’t told (yet).

TOM: Your drawing style is beautiful, is it digital, do you use pen and ink?

JENS: In 2014, I came back from a 14 year long hiatus from comics. Actually I thought I had quit for good, with my steady job as a graphic designer. I did miss making comics, I guess what I missed most was working offline and analogue, with old fashioned tools like brushes, nibs, good paper and the meditative “flow” of drawing. So I returned. I decided to do a daily strip, just for myself. My days were packed, but I found that if I got up insanely early, I could sketch and ink a complete strip each day before going to work. These were self-published in small zines, and this eventually turned into my Dunce strip. The whole point then, was to do this without using any computers. After a year or so, my strip won several competitions and ended up running in Norwegian magazines and newspapers. After doing maybe 150 strips on paper, I bought an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, curious (and a bit skeptical) if these gadgets could recreate my analogue and “inky” style. One of the really good brush-makers for Procreate (Georg von Westphalen) came by and offered to make a brush pack based on my style. That did it, I switched to iPad.

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TOM: What does your studio/workspace look like?

JENS: Since I went full time comic artist in October 2017, I’ve been working at home. I have a separate room for work, but when I have the house for myself, I move around. My dog Brego (who is introduced in the strip, and often seems to be stealing the show) keeps me company, when I move to another place to draw, he finds another place to sleep. Kitchen is for writing, I have a good chair by the large window for sketching, and I do the inking in my office. All my nibs and brushes are there, in close vicinity, and although I do most work on the iPad now, I try to keep them active. Ink on the hands, and those random accidents that can’t be undone, is still what gives the best “flow”.

TOM: Dunce is run in newspapers in Norway and that area of the world. What is the schedule like is it run daily? How far ahead do you have to have the strips in?

JENS: It is running daily, and has been doing that more or less non stop since January 2017. That means I have to produce at least five new strips every week. There has been times (up to quite recently) when I’ve been so far behind that I handed in the next day’s strip at 12 every day. That is not at all recommended. I’ve now been able to build up a buffer of around four weeks. Also, I now try to make six or seven strips weekly, so that I can have a vacation one day, or even be able to get sick.

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TOM: I’ve read various quotes comparing your work to others but I don’t see it, I think you are totally unique. But who are your comic/cartoon influences?

JENS: My influences are pretty widespread, and they also change a lot. Some people mention Quentin Blake and Ralph Steadman, I admit those two have been great inspirations. I grew up loving French and Belgian comics like Asterix and Franquin, in the 90s I was hooked on Fantagraphics stuff (Hate, Eightball etc), and strips like Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes have always been with me. Lately I’ve been looking into manga comics, working quite hard to find something to get hooked on. I’ve found a few gems, last one was The Girl From The Other Side, which I think everyone should read. Another artist who’s books I keep close these days is the Italian cartoonist Gipi.

TOM: What was the first thing you would seriously draw? I mean, I would draw Fred Flintstone, I always remember as a young child doing that. Did you draw a character or have a favorite subject at a young age?

JENS: Ah, I remember copying Beetle Bailey in very early years. I was maybe 12 when I decided I wanted to become a comic artist. My theory was that I had to draw every day, so that’s what I did. Much of the daily grind at that time was copying whatever I could find. Some comics were almost impossible to copy, and those were often the ones I liked most. I think I was early aware of the mystical quality in a line/stroke and how some drawing styles had more of a “soul.” Early on, I found it hard to do comics, because I was more into drawing than writing. In my recent comics hiatus I wrote and published two novels, so that was pretty much turned around in time.

TOM: What famous artist, dead or alive, would you want to paint your portrait?

JENS: I think Quentin Blake could do a good one, probably also Richard Thompson. Those would probably be ink drawings. If I was to be painted in oil, it could maybe be by Australian comic artist Ashley Wood. Or Norwegian Edvard Munch, he would have painted me as some sort of devious villain.

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TOM: Who is your favorite super hero?

JENS: Ouch, I don’t mean to be cocky, but I’ve never been enthusiastic about any superhero comic (or superhero movie). Guess my reply just has to be «blank» on this one.

TOM: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

JENS: I would have started doing this Dunce-strip in 1995, when all newspaper editors were happy and positive people with an optimistic outlook for the future.

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Jens K at work with Brego nearby. (Photo by Agnese Zile)

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Finding obscure comic strips

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I’ve been reading Allan Holtz’s “Strippers Guide” blog since it started in 2005, I believe. I love it because it’s all about thing I love – comic strips – old, historical comic strips. Alan is a comic strip historian and author of “American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide,” a book I own.

Each day, Allan (shown here) and contributor Alex Jay, talk about old comic strips on the blog with plenty of wonderful images of the strips. Many I never heard of and quite a few bring back memories. I had the opportunity to interview Allan recently for Ten With Tom.

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Allan at right, with his wife Media and cartoonist Jim Ivey at Jim’s 90th birthday party.

TOM: I love old comic strips and newspapers and enjoy the Strippers Guide blog, what made you come up with the idea of the blog?

ALLAN: I was about to begin shopping my book, “American Newspaper Comics – An Encyclopedic Reference Guide,” around to publishers. I’d spent over twenty years researching the book, and my name was somewhat known in the comic strip collecting world, but I felt that it would be helpful if I had wider name recognition. In 2007, when I started the Stripper’s Guide site, blogs were the hot new thing on the web. I figured that if I posted regularly about comic strips, with some eye candy in the form of nicely restored old comics, it might help my cause.

Well, it didn’t really help at all with publishers; I ended up having the book accepted by the University of Michigan Press primarily because another author vouched for me. However, I found that the daily regimen of writing short essays, and scanning and restoring the comics, was just what the doctor ordered to stimulate my desire to continue my research work. I also thrive on the feedback I receive from comic strip fans and historians.

TOM: Why Stripper’s Guide? I know what strippers are in the newspaper business, but what made you use that for the name?

ALLAN: I was trying to come up with a catchy title for the blog, and I figured that anyone with an ounce of curiosity would be intrigued by a site that calls itself Stripper’s Guide. Comic strip fans have occasionally called themselves strippers long before I came along, so I don’t get any points for originality. Over the years I’ve fielded my fair share of comments from site visitors who were hoping to find something very different. But maybe I turned a few of them into comic strip fans!

I wanted to call my book Stripper’s Guide as well, but the folks at University of Michigan Press very sweetly told me that there was no way in hell they would publish a book with that title. I still think we could have sold more copies, though …

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Detective Riley, an obscure comic strip from the 1930s

TOM: I love the obscure comics, what you post as “Obscurity of the Day.” How do you find those? I know of some old comics I’ve been trying to find and I can’t find them.

ALLAN: Decades of research have yielded a practically never-ending supply of comic strips I can discuss for “Obscurity of the Day.” The real trick is getting the samples to show. Since microfilm photocopies and online newspaper archive images are rarely of decent quality, I have to find original newspapers that print these rarities, from which I make high-resolution scans and then do additional restoration work.

There is a lively trade in old newspaper comic strips. I haunt eBay constantly, always looking for oddball and obscure material, whether in the form of clipped comic strips, complete newspapers, or even newspaper bound volumes discarded by libraries. My collection is pretty vast and I’m always looking for more.

As to the subject of finding dimly remembered old comic strips, I get asked about them a lot. I’ve become a regular Sherlock Holmes when it comes to identifying dimly recalled comic strips from the past. Between a vague description (sometimes as little as “it had a funny looking kid in it”), a general idea of when they remember reading it, and the newspaper they saw it in, I can usually come up with the answer.

TOM: Do you draw? Have you ever created a comic strip yourself?

ALLAN: I’m good at quite a few things, but drawing is definitely not one of them. Unlike the old saying, though, I can in fact draw straight lines. It’s those darn curved ones that are completely beyond me. I think that may be a part of my fascination with comic strips — the ability to boil a story down to a few deftly arranged pen lines never loses its magic for me.

I did actually create a comic strip, though. I used to work in the software industry, and my company had a monthly newsletter. Just for kicks I came up with a sort of a Dilbert-y comic strip for it. At first I tried to populate it with stick figures, but it was incomprehensibly bad. So I drew a closed office door, and had all the dialog emanating from the other side. After submitting two of those, the newsletter was cancelled. I fear it was my fault.

TOM: You are the author of “American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide.” I have owned that book for many years. How did that come about to begin with?

ALLAN: When I first got seriously interested in newspaper comics and wanted to read about their history, I was frustrated by the quality and lack of depth in the references available then. It seemed like everybody talked endlessly about a standard litany of high profile classic comics — Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, Little Nemo and so on — but when they ventured beyond those strips the information was generally spotty, and often just plain wrong.

So I set out to gather all the basic information about every US newspaper comics and panel — their running dates, creators, formats, and so on. I felt that a comprehensive reference was needed as a jumping off point for researchers who want to go into more depth. I had no idea when I started that I was embarking on a project that would take a lifetime!

The book was originally published in 2011 and I’ve continued researching ever since, so I’ve got lots of new information to share. I’m very proud of the original book, but I’m hoping there’s a way to bring out the 2nd edition at a much lower price. I want comics enthusiasts to be able to buy a copy without feeling that they need to live on bread and water for a month to afford it.

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A late 1970s strip, The Captain’s Gig, by Virgil Partch

TOM: What comic strip from today or the past would you like to crawl into and spend the day?

ALLAN: Wow, that’s a great question. My first instinct is to say I’d like to be Jiggs from Bringing Up Father. He’s obscenely rich, lives in rococo splendor, and moves through an Art Deco world drawn by the great George McManus. But then I remember that Jiggs regularly gets beaned by Maggie, his harridan wife. Maybe not so great after all.

I could have a wild day as Little Nemo, Buck Rogers or Captain Easy, but I’m enough of a homebody, used to my creature comforts,to take a pass on that.

No, I guess my choice is Dagwood from Blondie. He has a job where he gets away with murder, naps on the couch, and eats the most stupendous sandwiches without ever gaining an ounce. And who doesn’t have a crush on Blondie, whose personality, figure and lovely face put us imperfect real humans to shame.

TOM: Have you met many famous cartoonists? Which ones impressed you the most?

ALLAN: Cartoonists are the celebrity superstars of my world, and I’m sufficiently in awe of them to be a bit shy. I confess that I’ve been in the same room with some of my ink-slinging heroes and sometimes not gotten up the gumption to introduce myself. Which is pretty stupid, because cartoonists are cooped up in their studios so much that when they do get out in public, they tend to be very friendly and giving of their time.

I’d have to say that the cartoonist who impressed me most was still the very first one I met, at a comic book convention in Orlando. Wayne Boring had been the artist on Superman (both comic books and the newspaper strip) in the 1950s and ’60s. By the time I met him he was retired, and I was a snot-nosed 12-year old who saw the gray-haired fellow as a god.

I got up the nerve to approach him with a copy of one of the last Superman comic books he worked on. Much to my amazement, he was not only friendly but sat with me for about five minutes, paging through the comic book and reminiscing about working on it. He even asked me questions, which seemed impossibly congenial. I’ll never forget it.

TOM: Now that Bloom County is back, which of these classics would you like to see come back, too: The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes or Pogo. Please choose just one.

ALLAN: Well, they are all classics, but if I could only have one back, it would by Gary Larson’s The Far Side. I’ve always had a particular affinity for slightly subversive and off-kilter humor (my current favorite strip is Zippy the Pinhead). Although Larson said he ended the panel because he felt his well was running dry, I’m betting that after the long layoff his creative juices have been revitalized and he could have another great run.

TOM: Do you attend comic cons? Which one do you like or prefer?

ALLAN: Comic conventions are about comic books, not newspaper strips, so I’d be a fish out of water. As a kid, when I was more into comic books, Jim Ivey‘s annual OrlandoCon was the highlight of my year. OrlandoCons were great because Ivey invited all these amazing cartoonists he knew, most of whom were newspaper comic strip artists and editorial cartoonists. Meeting these people opened my eyes that comic books were not the sum total of cartooning by a long shot.

From what I understand, nowadays most comic conventions are more about adaptations of comics for movies and television than they are about actual comic books, so I’d be doubly out of my element.

TOM: When you were a kid, what newspapers did you see/read the comics in? What is your earliest memory of reading comics?

ALLAN: I lived in Montreal as a kid, so I fondly recall the strips that ran in the Montreal Star. I especially remember Jasper, which was a comic strip distributed only in Canada. It was about a bear who lived in Jasper National Park in Alberta Canada. I guess that would qualify as an Obscurity of the Day on Stripper’s Guide now!

What really doomed me to a life of loving comic strips, though, was when my dad was doing some plumbing repair under our house and he came out of the crawlspace with an old newspaper he’d found wrapped around a pipe. It was a copy of the Sunday comics from a Montreal Gazette of the early 1940s. This 10-year-old kid had never seen such large, beautifully colored glorious comics. They were a powerful revelation to me, who was used to comic strips printed muddily and on the scale of a postage stamp in current newspapers. I must have read that old comics section a hundred times, and I guess that sealed my destiny.

TOM: Thank you Allan!

Herriman

A 1909 strip by George Herriman.

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The instruments of rock stars

I’m looking forward to a new exhibit opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC – it’s called “Play It Loud.” It features instruments played by famous people from famous songs. This video above is CBS Sunday Morning’s story on the exhibit.

Electric guitars, drums and amplifiers are featured. Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano is there, so is Keith Moon’s drum set and Chuck Berry’s Gibson guitar that he played Johnny B. Goode on, which still includes the traveling tags on the guitar case. There is John Lennon’s 12-string Rickenbacker and the drum set Ringo used on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame coordinated the exhibit and will present approximately 130 instruments alongside posters and costumes.

The exhibit runs from April 8 to October 1, 2019.

This video below is Don Felder playing Hotel California at the Met on his original double neck guitar.