for 11 May 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Hooked On Crank
A whole essay on crank cartoonists who vent their spleen on major subcategories of humanity... and not one line for Diane DiMassa?
Nope. Not one line. This is the hall of fame we're talking about
Karen, and while DiMassa's "Hothead Paisan" puts her squarely into the
crank category, it's definitely a seniority system. Certainly there's
lots of cranks out there: Joe Matt, Trina Robbins, and Ivan Brunetti
are all bright prospects for the hall. Why, Suck's own Peter Bagge is
hall bound for sure (see his last Suck piece on Seattle) but Hothead
DiMassa's just a young punk (literally and figuratively) compared to
the likes of Hot Lead Gould and the Old Crumbola. She's on her way,
though, as the opening blurb to her web site indicates:
Yep, sounds just like the young Chester Gould, doesn't it? Pure rage
I enjoyed your take on comics cranks. If you've not seen it, you should know about a mag called The Imp, the creator of which I've totally forgotten. Each issue analyzes a different comics creator Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and, the reason you should check it out, Jack Chick. The Imp covers Chick and his worldview exhaustively, with fascinating, horrifying detail and lots of fair-use illustrations. After reading it, I had horrifying dreams in Chick drawings and symbolism.
It's probably at your local comics shop. If not, I'd be happy to pick up a copy and send it. It's that good.
Levi Stahl, Chicago
First, I love The Imp and have plugged it on Suck in the past. Much of the Chick information in my essay comes from Dan Raeburn's monograph on Chick. I hear he's got another Imp he wants to get out this summer and I know he's been writing for The Baffler, too.
I'm sorry, but where were the superheroes in Ditko's "Black Kiss"? Sure, there are transsexuals, Satanists, incest, gang rape, necrophilia, and lots of other "immoral" behavior, but no muscle-bound oafs in tights.
For that matter, no one ridicules another's immorality, either. EVERYONE in "Black Kiss" is immoral, from the "hero" private eye who fucks his own niece to the transsexual's cop boyfriend who doesn't mind the absence of one usable hole. (There are others, after all...)
And Dave Sim had a lot of anti-Feminist rhetoric in the pages of "Cerebus" long before issue 265. The Cirinists (feminist fundamentalists) are far more oppressive than any other governing power in the book, and they seized power around issue 100. 165 months of anti-Feminism doesn't qualify him as a crank, but 16 pages does?
I think you guys are reaching for topics.
No need to apologize, especially since "Black Kiss" was not Ditko's comic but Howard Chaykin's.
As for Sim, working the Cirinists into one of his leviathan storylines wouldn't necessarily make him as a crank. But fifteen pages of prose that drones on endlessly about his celibacy, women eavesdropping on him, theories of women as "emotion based" creatures, women leading the Civil Rights Movement astray certainly does. What's all that got to do with his aardvark? It's his comic, he can do what he likes (which is why my basic premise on why cranks like comics) but he certainly qualifies as a crank.
Blecht Kiss Bert
I just spend a bunch of time out of my life to read Sim's Tangents yesterday (at work! life is good...), and now I got to read a Suck piece about how big a crank he is. Which makes me feel better, since that was exactly the word I'd used to describe him to my girlfriend last night. What amazes me about the man is that very occasionally in Tangents, you can almost see a worthwhile point glimmer, and then it's buried under a bunch of emotional pointless prose. The central idiocy of the rant that it is written so emotionally while decrying "emotion based beings" as being a lower form of life shines through and proves Sim's crankiness. I've known the guy was a kook since #186 the infamous Reads book but I've continued to read his work. It's too bad I feel kind of guilty about giving the guy my money. Anyway, great work.
Yep, I'd have called Sim's "Tangents" a rant or a screed, but those words sound like the guy's all worked up and passionate. Yet Sim's essay (worked up as he no doubt is) is a slo-motion wade through mud. Of all the cranks I wrote about, he's the most inarticulate, which is weird for a guy who obviously has such big vocabulary. And doubly so for a guy who has a real talent for complex and innovative page layouts, which requires you to think things through. Maybe it's just the subject of women, uh, I mean, "feminists," that get him so emotional, I mean, "logical."
I enjoyed your piece. I like all your pieces. But you left out one of my favorite comic cranks, Milt Canniff, of "Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon". I grew up in an Air Force family during the fifties, so I enjoyed the factual howlers, just as any doctor's kid would like "Rex Morgan, MD". Canniff had a healthy dose of "that's what's wrong with kids these days" (not to mention a relationship with his tomboy niece(?) Poteet at least as questionable as Bruce Wayne's with his "ward"). These elements were combined with a powerful White Man's Burden/Manifest Destiny foreign policy. Most entertaining, however, were cultural stereotypes, especially Asians, that nobody could print in a mass-market publication today. Caniff had particularly bought into the contemporary Hollywood convention that foreigners when speaking to other foreigners on their home turf in their native languages still spoke in virtually indecipherable accents and used incredibly awkward pidgin constructs. I remember one Viet Cong saying to another guy coming into camp something like, "Hark! What obtains?"
Michael Jennison, Washington DC
Well, here's my thing about Caniff while you're right, he did push a political point of view, he was writing a strip about the American military. Like Capp in his heyday or Garry Trudeau today, these strips are meant to have a point of view. Had Caniff been doing a strip about a private detective who kept battling Viet Cong and such, I'd agree with you. I don't call him a crank because how could Steve Canyon, US Air Force pilot, not be involved in Vietnam? And how could that not take on political contexts? Whereas, in "Little Orphan Annie," you had to wonder eventually why this comic about an orphan kid was so involved in Daddy's business theories about labor and FDR.
For Caniff's critics, the fact that Canyon was there at all meant Caniff was gung-ho for that war. I interviewed Caniff in the mid-80s and he told me he never actually felt all that comfortable with the USA in Vietnam (although he did support our troops there). He was actually raising questions in "Steve Canyon" about our involvement in Korea while that war was being fought. Still, he told me, Canyon was a soldier and did his job and that was that. Most of his stories use places like Vietnam as a backdrop for his characters. Like Bob Hope's idea of political humor (another Ohio Republican, btw) it's not so much about scoring political points as getting laughs, or in Caniff's case, telling a story.
As for the ethnic stuff, yeah, Caniff definitely showed some classic small town provincialism there. I remember one mid-80s storyline with Canyon in the Middle East and the term "towel heads" being tossed around. Too bad, especially for a guy who liked sending his characters off to foreign countries all the time. Maybe Caniff should have spent some more time in the real world himself.
As for Caniff's use of incomprehensible pidgin English, well, Dave Sim is still using it to write about women, if you miss it.
Thanks for writing,
Col. Bert Blecht
"Although he never did quite reconcile how a strip about self-reliance always relied on a billionaire to bail Annie out of trouble."
Those with the best backers always cry loudest for self-reliance.
"...it always shifted back to how dumb the kids were, not how wrong they were."
It always does. Most people just think everyone else is wrong, especially when they know they themselves are wrong. It is always more convenient and self-gratifying to discount the opposition as flat-out wrong than to engage in debate. And that's why I do it.
I can't really agree that Crumb and McCay are true cranks. Part of being a crank, one would think, is that you yourself believe that your are correct or have some sort of truth to impart. Crumb is anything but. He readily admits he is a lunatic and would probably be the first to ban his own books given half a chance.
McCay's work was brilliant even the best psychedelic work in the 1960's can't touch his drug-induced fantastical images but why was he a crank? Did everything he draw point to some sort of religions or political position? His work seems about as positionless as could be at the time, even with the occasional big-lipped sambo in the background.
I didn't say McCay was a crank. I wrote quite the opposite. Was McCay's stuff drug induced? I just assumed he had an imagination.
As for Crumb, you're restating my opinion of him. Like Gould and Gray, Crumb created cartoon worlds starring, among others, Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, to express a lot of his opinions. But when it came down to the most personal expressions, the kind that bubble up in Gray and Gould and Chick and seem so out of place, Crumb created the biographical-essay comic. These are the comics where Crumb draws himself speaking directly to us, telling us over and over again (a classic crank habit) about his love of big butted wimmen and loathing of modern pop culture. It's as if Crumb looked at the Goulds and Grays and realized the kind of obsessive personality type it takes to create this stuff and then used that image to portray himself. By adding the actual cartoonist to the mix, Crumb pushed the whole thing to another level. Crumb knows he's not being fair or reasonable, but that doesn't mean he feels any different. Crumb makes himself more palatable, as Capp did, by being funny. It doesn't mean he's any less cranky. Crumb is willing to do what Gray and Chick could never do, which is admit that he might be wrong. Or, that he is definitely wrong, but that he just can't help himself. He knows, unlike the others, that this isn't just plain ol' common sense, but in many cases, simple obsession and compulsion. I doubt it ever crossed Chester Gould's mind that shooting down a criminal was at all questionable. And I'm sure it never did that his desire to do so had more to do with his hysterical fear of them than a rational law and order response.
Hit & Run 05.3.01
...... ummmm ... screed? Johnny Got His Gun? Oh --- my dear child.
Maybe if I could magically make myself 11 years old again, Johnny Got His Gun might seem as artful and profound as it did in my pre-pubescence. But it seems to me the book isn't even a particularly good specimen of Trumbo's skills as a propagandist. While key fictions from both Exodus and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo have achieved wide popular acceptance, nobody believes quadriplegic veterans dream of playing canasta with Jesus.
I tell you, I'm not Tchong's enemy and I have read his work with varying levels of appreciation and enjoyment for years. But he's not on my Xmas card list.
A few years ago, I chaired the second Thunder Lizard Productions Web Advertising conference in early 1998. This conference was designed to be in opposition to Jupiter's shmoozfest by offering concrete advice and real numbers. Tchong was scheduled to give a "Show Me the Numbers" session as he had in the previous year.
All the speakers signed contracts promising materials for a show binder by a certain date. All the speakers delivered with a couple of exceptions who were brought into line. Tchong is the only remaining holdout. I call and email him. He promises and promises. He swears. He finally delivers something around the very last deadline I forget if we get it into the binder.
A few weeks later, he says to the CEO of the event, "I want to kill Glenn." The CEO's reply, nicely enough was (he says), "Because he made you do what you promised to?"
This sums the guy up nicely, I think.
(Also, I was promised a $1,000 bonus if all speakers had material in the binder. So the jerk was going to cost me a cool thou because he wasn't organized enough.)
The next year, they had eMarketer speak, and those guys gave a blowout presentation that was truly useful, as they showed *everybody's* numbers and explained rationales, rather than quoting a single analyst or study.
Glenn Fleishman, Unsolicited Pundit
The key to this anecdote is whether Tchong was getting paid for this appearance. If not, we must count ourselves on his side. They make you go through an incredible amount of crapola when you do these conferences submitting bios, getting them slides, setting up your parking and you have to do it all through these officious little assistants. And all so you have the privilege of giving a free speech and schmoozing a bunch of losers just like yourself. If they weren't paying Tchong for it, you can't blame him for keeping you on the hook.