Today’s Gag

May 31, 2008

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


BOB WEBER—God I love that man!

May 30, 2008

The above title was applied by my old pal Jacquie Roland to her delightful anecdote, below. Her comment/memoir was triggered by my recent “Return of the Moose” post about Bob Weber’s classic “Moose Miller” comic strip, but in my own little “comedy-of-errors” blog world her words somehow became attached to the wrong post, disconnected, out of context, hidden away where folks were unlikely to see it. The story she tells is way too good to miss (including the Mad Magazine’s Sergio Aragones teaser at the end), so I asked Jacquie to allow me to publish it straight out. She agreed. And, also with her permission, I’ve illustrated Jacquie’s tale with a few “dress up” photographs I made of her back in the day. I like to think that her outfit and makeup in these images serve as a visual metaphor for how she may have felt that day in the streets and elevators of the Big Apple. (Click on the color thumbnails for larger views.)

The Big Day

Because of Bob I got my first paying gig as a commercial artist. I was a young “Balti-moron” living in Canton. I had moved there from Dundalk, another garden spot of the city. I had managed to get a cartoon or so published, and joined the Magazine Cartoonist’s Guild in New York. ( There was a world of effort behind that sentence.)

To tell the truth, going to NYC on my own was terrifying, but I was determined, and on one Wednesday “Look day”, in my cutest outfit, I traipsed on up to New York, cartoon markets in the morning . . . and a MCG meeting after noon . . . Most of the magazines where I wanted to show, were in kind of grungy neighborhoods. Half of the folks on the street looked either homeless, or drunk or both. (I admit to being nervous as a cat.) . . . In any case, I soon realized that the editors weren’t the only ones who were “seeing” me. Everywhere I went, I began to notice a REALLY big guy . . . and after a few times, I could see that he was “stalking” me. He began to frighten me so badly, that I told an editor about him . . . I didn’t want to call the cops, because I didn’t want to miss my MCG meeting . . . but I was terrified . . . The editor gave me good advice . . . he said that the city was full of wackos, but since the guy hadn’t tried to approach me, the best thing to do was . . . not make eye contact, and if he tried to get me alone, say . . . jump on an elevator with me or something . . . to shriek my guts out . . . Sounded like a plan. At my next appointment, I had just gotten on the elevator, when out of nowhere, this HUGE hand shot between the doors . . . and THE GUY jumped on . . . it only took me seconds to give one of the best impersonations of Maria Callas I had in me. I don’t know who was more upset . . . me or the guy . . . I jumped out . . . The elevator doors closed & I fled to the safety of The Magazine Cartoonist’s Guild meeting . . . Whew!! When I got there, amid the general hubbub of the pre-meeting Meet & Greet I was telling my tale of horror. There weren’t many women cartoonists in those days, and I was more than flustered and soaked up their concern like a sponge… I was safe. They would take care of me. All around me were these great guys, laughing & telling jokes . . . it was heaven. Behind me another group came in, they were very boisterous, and one of the guys in my group said that it must have been a day for crazies out there… that Bob Weber had gotten on an elevator where some crazy broad lost it and started screaming . . . Yup! When I turned around, and we recognized one another we both screamed “YOU!!!!”

Turns out that my “stalker” was just another cartoonist, being seen by the same editors I was seeing, on “LOOK DAY.”

Despite that unfortunate meeting, Bob & I became friends, and when I needed a job reference, Bob was kind enough to give me one . . . and because everyone in Baltimore knew MOOSE . . . I got the job. Bob is a really nice guy . . . a GREAT, BIG, NICE GUY.

(I may have embellished the above story a little bit, but that’s the way I remember it . . . kind of like that time that Sergio Aragones nibbled on my neck and I swooned . . . actually I fell to the floor . . . but that’s another day, another cartoonist, and another story.) Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


What, HIM Worry?

May 29, 2008

The above poster for Rick Parker’s cartoon art exhibit and studio tour Sunday, June 1, reminds me—in a very positive creepy way—of someone I saw a lot of back in the 1950s. He appeared just about every week on a magazine cover and I was always one of the first kids in line at the corner candy store to get my copy, fresh off the press—or out of the crypt, or wherever. Perhaps you know the old friend I’m talking about. If you’re anywhere near South Orange this Sunday don’t miss Rick’s show—it promises to be scary cool and very funny.


Return of the Moose

May 28, 2008

Bob Weber, creator of the classic comic strip “Moose Miller” (titled “Moose & Molly” since 1998), visited Baltimore recently and invited me to dine with him at the Bob Evans establishment out on Ritchie Highway, eight miles south of South Baltimore, the neighborhood where Bob was born and raised. It’s also where I spent the happiest five or six years of my youth. In fact, I moved back to South Baltimore in 2003, which is proof, I guess, that you can go home again. Bob, on the other hand, lives and works in Westport, Connecticut and calls his adopted home “Westpork.” Until he called I hadn’t talked to him for at least ten years, hadn’t seen him for over twenty, but I wasn’t at all surprised to hear from him. You see, Bob sort of owes me—or at least I think he thinks he does.

Our connection goes back to at least June 27, 1986, when I wrote the following note to the Features Editor of the Baltimore Sunday Sun: “I’m a big fan of comic strips—have been all my life—and I especially love some that appear daily in the Evening Sun: “Peanuts,” “Andy Capp,” “B.C.,” and, more recently, “Zippy,” “Calvin & Hobbes,” and “Moose Miller.” However, it’s very disappointing to follow these features each day of the week and then not be able to enjoy them in color on Sunday. I refer to “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Moose,” my two very special favorites, which have so far been missing from the Sunday pages. Can this situation be corrected?”

That was the first of several letters I wrote, over the span of a few years, to insure that “Moose Miller” got some respect in the Sunday comics section, and to help see to it that the feature was reinstated once it had been dropped from the funny pages altogether—which, if memory serves, happened three times, with the third strike turning out to be terminal. Sadly, “Moose” has not run in Bob Weber’s hometown paper since, I believe, 1995.

During the period I was able to help keep “Moose Miller” in Baltimore my arguments for the strip emphasized the local angle, the fact that the characters referred often to Baltimore landmarks such as “Sparrows Point Shipyards” “Curtis Bay” and “Pratt Street,” and used the names of local people in the balloons, mine included. Here’s a memory jogger for Balti-morons, as we like to call ourselves. In the strip below “Bill Buxton” refers to the Baltimore Sun fishing writer Bill Burton; “Vince Baggy” was the beloved local sports columnist Vince Bagli; and announcer Stu Kerr plays himself, a real announcer for a real local TV station; and me, Jim Sizemore. Along with Vince Baggy I’m the “written by” guy. For some reason Bob didn’t, or couldn’t, come up with nicknames for Stu Kerr and me. (There are also three names in the strips I was unable to I.D. See the end of this post for more about that.)

But I believe the strongest points I made in favor of the strip were aesthetic and social. The gag writing is excellent, words and images working together to create the humor, a characteristic always present in the best visual/written humor. The visual appeal of “Moose” is the result of strong composition and the use of simple shapes to define human and animal characters, places, and things, as in the “Nancy,” “Henry,” and “Snuffy Smith” mold, all of which, like “Moose Miller,” read well visually when reproduced at very small sizes. That’s important these days with the shrinking space given to comics features. The strip above is an excellent example of Bob’s astute way with dramatic visual composition—it couldn’t be simpler, or bolder, or better. In my opinion “Moose Miller” was (and is, since it’s still running) a unique work at once fluid, funny and very lively—and it’s an example of very good graphic design. And finally, the strip has social value. It is one of the very few remaining syndicated comic strips that depict the day-to-day humorous conflicts of working class family life. These are simple comic characters but they have real lives and real jobs. Well, except for Moose—but at least he makes an effort to find work, he just can’t seem to hold on to it.

The way I see it, Bob repaid my small efforts on behalf of “Moose Miller” many times over with his friendship—intermittent but always fun—plus the pleasure the feature gave me when it ran locally and I could read it every day, including Sunday. (Not to mention the sliver of immortality having my name appear in it from time to time.) Bob, being a humble South Baltimore guy, doesn’t realize I’d happily settle for that. Well, a bit more than that. I would like Bob to show up in Baltimore more often so we can stroll around the old neighborhood and gab about the misty days of yesteryear. But it’s O.K. with me if he never again feels he has to spend big bucks on me at fancy restaurants. After all, guys like us have simple tastes.

Help the Blogger Plea

If you know the identities of these folks—”Johnny Walker,” “Andy Thomas,” and “Don Puff”—all mentioned in the comic strips above, please use the comment space below to clue me in. I’ll be forever grateful.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Today’s Gag

May 27, 2008

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Today’s Pic

May 26, 2008

January 16, 1977

In this photograph my old friend Jacquie Roland (cartoonist, artist, actress, writer, etc.), on the right, is feeding lines to local actor Joe Cimino, who played the title character of “Zorba” in the Baltimore Spotlighter’s Theater production of that Broadway musical. Jacquie is the person I have to thank for introducing me to Baltimore community theater. In this case, she also introduced me to the Zorba director, who was kind enough to allow me to photograph his rehearsal process as part of my research into the mysteries of theatrical production. At the time I was teaching myself—with the help of a bunch of books, museum visits, and one pro friend—to produce photographic images, so this was an opportunity to combine two of my top interests. Technical note: the “starburst” effect of the light between Joe and Jacquie is pure photographic artifice, created with a filter which screws onto the camera lens. The clear glass filter has an inlaid grid of thin wires which creates the flare effect by, I assume, bending the light rays. The amount of flare can be adjusted by simply rotating the filter a bit this way or that. In the image above it appears that I had the filter set for the greatest possible dramatic effect. This smaller image is an example of a shot made during the same rehearsals but on a different day and without the filter. Except for the lively (and sexy) acting of Joe Cimino and Audrey Herman, Spotlighter’s founder, this image lacks sparkle, huh? Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


BAD ACTORS

May 26, 2008

Part Two

My cousin Phyllis Jean Cline (that’s her birth name, I can’t bring myself to use her married one), was murdered by her husband in a fit of anger on Halloween Eve, 1971 in the kitchen of their tiny frame house in the mountains of Virginia. Several of their kids, costumed and waiting to be taken “trick-or-treating,” witnessed the murder. That amateur killer’s weapon of choice was a “Savage .300” deer hunting rifle. Phyllis Jean was my favorite cousin, and on the day of her death I realized that we weren’t just close friends, but that I loved her. We were born two weeks apart, and as we got older I came to think of her as a female version of myself, my soul twin. During the summers of our childhood, when I visited Virginia from Baltimore, we spent days and weeks together. After many years of abuse by my father, my mother decided that she had to leave him before he killed her. I was shipped south to live with my grandmother, who took in many of her stray grandchildren and had raised Phyllis Jean from birth. Phyllis’ mother, my mother’s sister, was a pretty party girl, too busy jumping from bed to bed to take care of her own bastard fruit.

Phyllis Jean had country-girl good looks and reddish hair and freckles. She had a wonderful smile and was a tomboy who loved to climb trees and play touch football with me. When school began, our grandmother paid me ten cents a day to keep an eye on Phyllis back and forth on the big yellow bus, my job being to make sure she didn’t mess with boys on the long rear seat. I took the money and spent it on candy and let Phyllis Jean and the boys do as they pleased. There are many stories from my long relationship with Phyllis Jean, enough to fill a novel I suppose, especially when I consider that the last chapter would describe a crazy husband killing her when she was still a vivacious young woman. I wanted to write about how unfair that was, and how the sudden knowledge that she was gone shook me up like a character in an Elvis song.

When I finally did attempt a novel about Phyllis’ murder I got nowhere. Then, because I had minor success writing short dialogue-heavy articles for a local newspaper and a few magazines, as well as the captions for my published cartoons, I reasoned that I could use any skill I had for dialogue to try to write a play. Despite my initial ignorance of all things theatrical I somehow managed to become an amateur playwright with five full-length plays to my credit between 1985 and 1999, three of which were produced in the Baltimore Playwrights’ Festival. Whenever the subject of my writing comes up (mostly when I bring it up), I say (with false modesty) that I’ve written five bad plays, each with a scene or two—or a line here and there—that are pretty good. Given the chance to rewrite and stage them, I claim, they’d come out much better.

In my first play writing attempt I avoided the subject of Phyllis Jean’s murder and decided instead to make the play about community theater, pure and simple. To be honest, at that time, I felt disdain for amateur theatrics—I had the idea it was mostly bad most of the time, but I now mark that attitude up to the arrogance of youth. At the time, though, I selfishly realized that writing about the subculture of community theater—good or bad—was an ideal way to learn about how plays are created and produced and, at the same time, teach myself how to write one. As serendipity would have it, a good friend and coworker had connections that opened doors for me into that world.

Local Talent, the first play I wrote, in July, 1986, was the second one produced. It was a comedy-drama in three acts and I still think it’s pretty good for a first effort, despite what I now know to be its overreaching concept and execution. Some critics thought it was, at best, “uneven,” and, like many first time efforts, much too long. The play was about a group of amateur players staging an amateur production of a play written by an amateur playwright (write what you know, they say). Local Talent took place in a bar (a cliché setting) where the cast met each night after rehearsals. It was about love and lust and trying to make “art,” and how we can never really understand the primal emotions that drive us in any endeavor, including the creative process. So it was a mystery of sorts, too, about the mystery of how creative work gets done and the conflicts that occur when strong-willed people gather to collaborate. All the ensuing hubbub would drive my story.

That first effort was anything but simple. I tried to make the play as “arty” and “postmodern” as possible, so that it “referred” to itself at every opportunity. It was full of symbols, literary and theatrical allusions, and in-jokes. When the characters talk about the play they have in production, they’re talking about the play we (the audience) are watching. The whole second act takes place “in the character’s minds,” and employed every theatrical cliché I could think of. Even the concept (play-within-a-play, etc.) was a theatrical cliché. Local Talent, I now realize, was too ambitious for a novice to attempt—but, bad or good—creating it had a lot to teach me about play writing and theatrical production. While writing and staging Local Talent I even developed my own “dramatic arc.” I came to realize how ignorant I was about the talent, effort, and love community theater people were willing to devote to the craft, and to each other. I began the project an amateur theater snob and finished an admirer (and respecter) of the dedication and skill involved in what I’ve come to call “present-tense” art—live theater, amateur and professional.

Flashback

Our father isn’t home. He had come in earlier, a bit drunk, but with enough of his Friday pay left to take our mother shopping for groceries. So this is a good week. While they’re gone, and with my two older brothers in charge, we tear up the living room rough-housing. I’m nine and and my younger brother is seven. My older brothers—ringleaders who should know better—are eleven and thirteen. In the ruckus the radio on-off knob gets busted. That’s the only thing we can’t fix. Everything else—the tipped over chairs, the torn-down curtains, the sofa and chair cushions on the floor—we clean all that up before our parents return. Our father is drunker now and wants to listen to music on the radio. We had hoped he would just doze off, as usual, but instead he tries to turn on the radio and discovers the broken knob. He goes into an instant rage. In order to punish us all at the same time, our father makes us strip off our clothes and herds us naked and shivering into the tin shower stall where he has us cornered like cattle. He swings his belt as we rotate around the small space under the barely warm water, trying to get away from the slashing leather. Me and my younger brother are crying. My older brothers are laughing because they muscle we two smaller ones up front to absorb more of the punishment. For some reason our father becomes angrier and adjusts the water to cold only. Then, finally, after several more minutes of terror, his arm is tired and he’s done. Later that same evening at supper our father becomes angry at our mother and—for no reason that I can remember—slaps her, then throws his plate of spaghetti across the kitchen. The red splatter and sliding noodles create a complex and rather pretty design on the wall.

Part three of Bad Actors will be posted next Monday. Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


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