Today’s Comic Strip

February 19, 2016
M&M:13-BlogCopyright © 2016 Jim Sizemore.

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Return of the Moose

April 10, 2013

When Bob Weber, creator of the classic comic strip “Moose Miller” (re-titled “Moose & Molly” since 1998), visited Baltimore about ten years ago, he called and invited me to dine with him at the Denny’s out on Ritchie Highway. Bob, born and raised in South Baltimore, has for many years lived in Westport, Connecticut. We hadn’t talked for at least ten years, hadn’t seen each other for over twenty, but I wasn’t 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 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 about 1995.

During the period I was able to help keep “Moose Miller” in Baltimore. My reasoning 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. (If you know them, let me know.)

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 comics. 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 may be the only remaining syndicated comic strip that depicts 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 when he does get 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.

This is an edited re-post from May 28, 2008
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore

Krazy Kat

February 23, 2011

Until I came upon the Bill Watterson essay, below, I had planned to write one myself about the brilliant George Herriman comic strip, Krazy Kat. But I now know I can’t compete, so I’ve decided to filch the whole thing and present it to you here as-is. (Hope they don’t sue me.) P. S. Get The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat book (see link below)  and view the amazing — and oh so juicy — drawings of George Herriman in all their graphic glory. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks — and more’s the pity.

In Which We Read With Awe And We Read With Wonder

From the introduction to The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat

A Few Thoughts on Krazy Kat

by BILL WATTERSON

As a cartoonist, I read Krazy Kat with awe and wonder. Krazy Kat is such a pure and completely realized personal vision that the strip’s inner mechanism is ultimately as unknowable as George Herriman. Nevertheless, I marvel at how this fanciful world could be so forcefully imagined and brought to paper with such immediacy. THIS is how good a comic strip can be.

Interestingly, Krazy Kat gains its momentum less from the personalities of its characters than from their obsessions. Ignatz Mouse demonstrates his contempt for Krazy by throwing bricks at her; Krazy reinterprets the bricks as signs of love; and Offissa Pupp is obliged by duty (and regard for Krazy) to thwart and punish Ignatz’s “sin,” thereby interefering with a process that’s satisfying to everyone for all the wrong reasons. Some 30 years of strips were wrung out of that amalgam of cross-purposes. The action can be read as a metaphor for love or politics, or just enjoyed for its lunatic inner logic and physical comedy.

Despite the predictability of the characters’ proclivities, the the strip never sinks into formula or routine. Often the actual brick tossing is only anticipated. The simple plot is endlessly renewed through constant innovation, pace manipulations, unexpected results, and most of all, the quiet charm of each story’s presentation. The magic of the strip is not so much in what it says, but in how it says it. It’s a more subtle kind of cartooning than we have today.

To the bewilderment of many readers, there are few endings in Krazy Kat that qualify as “punchlines.” Instead, it’s the temperament of the writing and drawing throughout the strip that is the joke. If you don’t think it’s funny that a strip should have an intermission drawing, or that a character would refer to his tail as a “caudal appendage,” you’re reading the wrong strip, and it’s your loss.

Quirky, individual, and uncompromised, Krazy Kat is one of the very few comic strips that takes full advantage of its medium. There are some things a comic strip can do that no other medium, not even animation, can touch, and Krazy Kat is a virtual essay on comic strip essence.

In their headlong rush for the “gag,” most cartoonists run right past the countless treasures Herriman uncovered simply by taking his time to explore the freedom of his medium. The self-consciously baroque narrations and monologues (“From the kwaint konfines of the kalabozo del kondado de Kokonino — Officer ‘Pup’ gives answer”) show that words can be funny in themselves, just as drawings can. The sky turns from black to white to zigzags and plaids simply because, in a comic strip, it CAN. No other cartoonist ever approached his blank sheet of paper with so much affection for all its possibilities.

The scratchy drawings delight me no end. They have the honesty and directness of sketches. So many of today’s strips are slick and polished, the inevitable result of assistants trying to develop a mechanical style that can be continued indefinitely. The drawings in Krazy Kat are whimsical, idiosyncratic, and filled with personality. The bold design of the Sunday strips neatly compliments the flat expanses of color or black, and the wonderful hatching brings character to the otherwise posterish approach.

Nothing in Krazy Kat had a supporting role, least of all the Arizona desert setting. Mountains are striped. Mesas are spotted. Trees grow in pots. The horizon is a low wall that characters climb over. Panels are framed by theater curtains and stage spotlights. Monument Valley monoliths are drawn to look more like their names. The moon is a melon wedge, suspended upside down. And virtually every panel features a different landscape, even if the characters don’t move. The land is more than a backdrop. It is a character in the story, and the strip is “about” that landscape as much as it is about the animals who populate it.

As the artwork is poetic, so is the writing. With the possible exception of Pogo, no other strip derives so much of its charm from its verbiage. Krazy Kat‘s unique “texture” comes in large part through the conglomeration of peculiar spellings and punctuations, dialects, interminglings of Spanish, phonetic renderings, and alliterations. Krazy Kat‘s Coconino County not only had a look; it had a sound as well. Slightly foreign, but uncontrived, it was an extraordinary and full world.

Darn few comic strips challenge their readers anymore. The comics have become big business, and they play it safe. They shamelessly pander to the results of reader surveys, and are produced by virtual factories, ready-made for the inevitable t-shirts, dolls, greeting cards, and television specials. Licensing is where the money is, and we seem to have forgotten that a comic strip can be something more than a launchpad for a glut of derivative products. When the comic strip is not exploited, the medium can be a vehicle for beautiful artwork and serious, intelligent expression.

Krazy Kat was drawn well over half a century ago, and yet it’s a much more sophisticated use of the comic strip medium than anything we cartoonists are doing today. Of course, a 1930s Sunday Krazy filled the entire newspaper page, whereas editors today usually cram at least four strips in the same amount of space. This reduction of size greatly limits what can be drawn and written and still remain legible, and it goes a long way toward explaining the comics’ devolution.

Even so, the whiteness of paper is still vast, uncharted territory, ripe for exploration. There are plenty of exotic lands for a cartoonist to map, if he or she will leave the well-worn paths and strike off for the wilds of the imagination. Krazy Kat is like no other comic strip before or after it. We are richer for Herriman’s integrity and vision.

Krazy Kat was not very successful as a commercial venture, but it was something better. It was art.

Bill Watterson is the creator of Calvin & Hobbes.



The Adventures of Morton

August 8, 2008

Click the image for a larger view. To purchase reprint rights for this comic strip, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My email address is: jimscartoons@aol.com Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


The Adventures of Morton

July 25, 2008

Click the image for a larger view. To purchase reprint rights for this comic strip, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My email address is: jimscartoons@aol.com Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


The Adventures of Morton

July 11, 2008

Click the image for a larger view. To purchase reprint rights for this comic strip, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My email address is: jimscartoons@aol.com Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


The Adventures of Morton

June 26, 2008

Click the image for a larger view. To purchase reprint rights for this comic strip, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My email address is: jimscartoons@aol.com Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.