LEARNING TO CARTOON… AND OTHER THINGS

Watch KC pull a rabbit out of his hat!

Watch KC pull a rabbit out of his hat!


A KC COLUMN By KC Carlson

By way of explanation — since last week’s column, I binge-read about 40 or 50 recent comics and hurt my brain, enough that I literally don’t remember anything at all about them less than a week later. So that’s a thing… (and possibly a future column).

We are finally getting the flood-damaged carpeting in the basement replaced, which is pretty much taking up what’s left of my brain anyway, because of the prep required to completely empty this very much constantly lived-in room that includes not only my office and its two desks (one for each computer), but the house’s main entertainment center (aka big TV) and all the accoutrements that go with that — cable modem, Blu-ray player, TiVo, laserdisc player.…

Also here are four bookshelves containing Johanna’s classic DVD collection (which includes much of the TCM Archives) and books on comic history (more of these on the second floor), film, TV, animation, Walt Disney, and professional wrestling. Because we are eclectic.

In addition, the basement has enough furniture in it to comfortably seat six, a mini fridge, tables and TV trays of various sizes, an apparently dead photocopier, and about 30 ubiquitous white boxes which currently hold the books that normally live on the bookshelves.

All of this has to be out of here by Thursday (tomorrow) morning by 8am so the carpet folk can do their magic!

I have pencilled in Friday for being totally unconscious.

So, NO column this week. Thank you and Good Night!

(cue The Bullwinkle Show exit music…)

WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT!

Roger (the swine) has informed me that if I want to get “paid” for this column, I need to actually write one. So let’s talk about…

KC holding his 50-year-old, beat-up copy of the book.

KC holding his 50-year-old, beat-up copy of the book.


LEARNING TO CARTOON by SYD HOFF

First published in MCMLXVI (which is, let’s see… M plus C, carry the X, and divide by VI… ) which I calculate out to be 1966…? I received it as a gift/bribe from my parents after they abandoned me at Grandma Lil’s for most of a week while they drove from Rockford, IL, to Watkins Glen, NY, to see some sort of car race. (They were both members of the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), which means that even if we didn’t understand each other’s interests, we were all still fans at heart.)

While they were in Watkins Glen, they stopped at a place called The Cartoon Studio and bought me a hardcover book called Learning to Cartoon by cartoonist Syd Hoff. Hoff has a simply fascinating personal history as a politically active artist, writer, and editor. It’s much too detailed and interesting for me to summarize here, so I direct you to his Wikipedia page to check out his long service to the cartoony arts. (He lived to be 91 years old and passed away in 2004.)

A quick glance at his cartoon work puts him into the “keep it simple, stupid” school of cartooning. That makes it easy to relegate him to the “simple and bland” school, but that would be poor criticism. In reality, he did know what he was doing. Most of his audience were young children who adored his books for them — especially the 1958 Danny and the Dinosaur which sold over 10 million copies and was translated into over a dozen languages.

He also had an incredible body of political cartoons under the pseudonym A. Redfield. Those led to him being questioned by the FBI in 1952 for possible Communist Party association, although he was never formally charged, nor blacklisted.

An interior page of illustrations/ideas by Syd Hoff.

An interior page of illustrations/ideas by Syd Hoff.


Learning to Cartoon is quite the interesting book. Hoff’s actual “teaching” of the cartoon arts is pretty rudimentary, with very few actual pencil-to-paper instructions. He’s obviously a “learn by example” guy, as the book is packed with hundreds of illustrations by dozens of his peers in the industry. Examples are included of work by superstar artists like Charles M. Schulz, Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Bill Maudlin, Herblock, Chester Gould, Chic Young, Dale Messick, Mort Walker, Dik Browne, and even DC Comics’s ubiquitous cartoonist Henry Boltinoff (brother of long-time DC editor Murray). This present-of-that-era work elbows up to the classic early greats like Rube Goldberg, Milt Gross, Harry Hershfield, Bud Fisher, Tad, Frederick Burr Opper, and many more.

It was quite the education to take all of that in. And perhaps not the lesson that Hoff was trying to teach. Or was it?

SAVING THE BREAST PARTS FOR LAST!

A cartoon from Playboy by John Dempsey prominently presented in Learning To Cartoon.

A cartoon from Playboy by John Dempsey prominently presented in Learning To Cartoon.


Chapter Three: Figures was quite the eye-opener for this 10-year-old, as it is filled with not only classic cartoon work from both The New Yorker and Playboy but lots of nudes as well. Yes, obviously my parents never bothered to CRACK OPEN Learning to Cartoon before buying it for me, because there are literally dozens and dozens of naked people in this book… and at least twice as many naked boobies! I was 10. Yay!?!

Is it any wonder I managed to save this book for over 50 years? Mostly so I could tell this story, that’s why!!

My parents regularly handed down to me hardcover volumes of the Best of the New Yorker Cartoons, as well as collections of work by cartoonist Virgil Parch (better known by his signature of ViP). Parch’s “adult” work wasn’t so much about the nudity (although…), but actually more about rampant alcoholism and surrealistic depression. Of course, he also had a popular side career illustrating children’s books. (I sense a theme…) As a kid, I did enjoy his adult drawings, if not the subject material itself, which I obviously did not fully understand for years to come.

Typical cartoon idea by Virgil Partch (VIP) from his book Bottle Fatigue

Typical cartoon idea by Virgil Partch (VIP) from his book Bottle Fatigue


This is what passed for parenting in my house. These books were part of my passing into an adult world. A very weird and strange way of passing, but ultimately very indicative of the constant confusion I ultimately encountered while transversing all of the crazy ins and outs of the Direct Market comic book industry for the past 50-some years. I’m only writing about it today, because I didn’t have a topic this week and, pressed for time, went into my library thinking “What is the oldest book about comics that I own?” This is it. I think I mostly turned out all right.

_________________________________________

KC CARLSON has said enough this week. Although he should point out that he has many older books, by publication date, about comic strips and comic book history. However, Learning to Cartoon was chronologically the very first one he was given. Amazingly, while researching this book on the internet, he discovered that the book is still listed on some “Great Art Books for Children” lists. Has no one actually opened this book and looked at its content?

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. More funny next time. Promise.

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