Saturday, March 14, 2009

 

Herriman Saturday

Sunday, July 14 1907 -- Latest news from the ring world is that Tommy Burns, undisputed American heavyweight champion says "I will fight any man in the world." That naturally leads to the question of whether that 'any man' includes Jack Johnson. Burns will in fact fight Johnson, but it won't happen for a year and a half yet.

Regarding the cartoon's take on the disparate heights of the fighters, it really was a David and Goliath match-up; Johnson was 6 feet tall, Burns was 5' 7".


Sunday, July 14 1907 -- And speaking of David and Goliath ... County assessor Benjamin Ward, taking the David role, faces an LA Board of Supervisors who are in the pockets of local corporations. Seems Ward is trying to tax local big business and neither the corporations, nor their buddies on the board, like the idea one bit. Assessor Ward makes his case before the board despite being denied the legal counsel of the D.A., while a phalanx of corporate lawyers is arrayed against him.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

 

1974 Comics Council Panel Discussion

HOW TO GIVE COMICS MORE CLASS - a Panel Discussion

Conducted at the fall meeting of the Newspaper Comics Council at the Museum of Cartoon Art in Greenwich Connecticut on October 10, 1974 - reprinted from The Press, a publication of the Greater Buffalo Press.

[Comment from Allan -- this was a meandering discussion, very little of which ended up having anything to do with giving comics more class (whatever that's supposed to mean). It does, however, provide an interesting look at the business side of comics. This is a pretty long piece, so I'll give you time to read it (in other words, I'm buying myself a few days off). No new post until Saturday.]

This panel discussion was moderated by Vice Chairman Dan Poole, feature editor of the Washington Star-News, and the participants were:

Jack Kling, marketing director, Topps Chewing Gum Co.
Bill Baker, assistant managing editor, Detroit Free Press
Dik Browne, author of Hagar the Hor­rible, co-author of Hi & Lois
Jack Koessler, president, Greater Buffalo Press
Bill McGehee, vice president, Publishers-Hall Syndicate
Bob Reed, president, Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate

The printed program titled the symposium "How to Give Comics Some Class." At the executive meeting the previous day, however, Joe D 'Angelo, general manager of King Features Syndicate, remarked: 'I wouldn't have said 'How to Give Comics SOME Class'; I'd have said 'How to Give Comics MORE Class." He was right, of course, and that's why we've used his title instead of the one printed in the program. The discussion was too long and repetitious to print here in its entirety.

What follows, therefore, is a condensation of a transcript of a tape recording which, unfortunately, was unintelligible in places and had some gaps as well. If you detect any errors or omissions, please blame them on that "sinister force" that sometimes gets possession of tape recordings.

POOLE: We did have a little problem with the title of our panel, and it may or may not be proper to change it — judge that after we're through. The idea came about, though, through a letter Alfred Andriola wrote to Chuck Kline. It is entirely fitting because we are in the Museum of Comic Art. It was partic­ularly fitting that we have Phil Love tell us about where the comics have been, their truly glorious past, and also fitting that Rick Marschall told us about where they are now as an art form in galleries.

KLING: I'm meant to be the semi-heavy here, I guess. As Al said earlier, making money is part of the business; in fact, the most important part. I'm going to try to avoid being too crass at the start, but I think that later on we'll talk about some of the numbers problems the comics have in the eyes of an advertiser like myself. I should add that Topps chewing gum is probably one of the great potential users of comics as an advertising vehicle — if I could solve some of my problems. When Dan called me and said, "Would you like to be on the panel?" I said, "Why not?"—ego inflator and all that sort of stuff. Then I said to myself, "What do I know about comics — not as a bus­iness but as a personal experience?"

I lived all my life around New York City, and I can give you my viewpoint as a boy and as a parent. When I grew up in New Jersey, my father brought home three papers, the New York Daily News, the Tribune and the Journal-American. They all had comics, and it was a race to get to read the comics and the sports pages. It's obvious, by the way, that two of those papers are no longer with us. And now I switched to the New York Times, so that it was a ritual for me as a kid growing up and the most important part of Sunday.

I look at my two sons and daughter, and their Sunday morning, and it's the idiot box at 8:30 with cartoons. They have been weaned on television. We have the Sunday Times at home — because it's the paper to have in Westport, Conn. You wouldn't get the Daily News de­livered on Sunday up there; that would be shocking, So the kids are watching TV and I'm reading the Times, and the kids aren't saying, "Daddy, Daddy, where are the comics?" And they're not saying, "The neighbors' kids are reading the comics, why can t we?" Comics have been wholly missed by the last genera­tion of kids, from my experience, and you've got to say I'm a guy who makes decisions on what we use to advertise our product, and I've been really born with television as a way to sell childrens products. You've got to show me how comics can — not compete with television, that's an unfair assignment — but how can your Sunday comics complement television as an advertising vehicle?

I really don't have a great deal of informa­tion laid on my doorstep as an advertiser by persons from your syndicates or your comic brokering firms, or whatever you might use. I don't get the great wealth of research that I get from TV networks, independent studies, mag­azine studies. I can bring you a stack of books that high, including that X percent of kids watch this show and they like these kind of products. They can show me a wealth of defi­nite quantitative data that I should be adver­tising on TV. I don't have that for Sunday comics. I asked my agency's media director what kind of data he had, and it was pretty sketchy. I think you've got a product that needs promotion. I don't feel that my kids would really get involved right now in comics, as I see them. Maybe these comics need to be more interesting to get my 9-year-old son in­volved in a relevant problem — maybe an ecology twist. I can think of a lot of things you've got to do to promote them both to the consumer, who is my kid, and to me, the advertiser.

I don't mean to be a prophet of gloom. I think there is vitality in the medium. I think Lewis Engman at FCC may make it even more vital. He is attacking TV's kid advertising — that should be a big help to you people. I think we are ready to be convinced to use comics, but you've got to help me some.

POOLE: I saw you scribbling away, Bill. Would you like to comment — not just on that, but on any other question?

McGEHEE: Just one question. What kind of gum is Topps?

KLING: Oh, I'm sorry. Bazooka bubble gum, primarily.

McGEHEE: Don't you wrap it very often in a cartoon?

KLING: Yes, it's wrapped in a Bazooka Joe cartoon. We're in the cartoon business, very much so. We identify with cartoons.

McGEHEE: I'm sure Mr. Wrigley appreci­ates your cooperation.

KLING: He's also in TV, I might add.

McGEHEE: Probably one of the most difficult things about selling advertising in comics sections is that so much of it is sold in New York City, where so many papers have gone the way of the wild goose. At least from the Midwest, it seems that many buyers can't see across the Hudson. They obviously are not ex­posed to the kind of situation you were in your childhood, or that families are in Little Rock, Phoenix or Chicago. With 140 million people reading the Sunday comics, he would seem to me that advertisers should know that the mar­ket is there.

KLING: Well, I don't think advertisers feel that comics are not read. We try to sell bubble gum, for example, and it's important to me to know that I can sell bubble gum more effectively in your comic section at three times the cost of a half-minute commercial, or that I can better promote my Bazooka T-shirt by offering it for two bucks and ten wrappers than I can, say, in television as the most obvious competi­tive medium, and I need some support in that area.

McGEHEE: You mention your own chil­dren. When I call on an editor and he wants to have his children look at a comic I may be sell­ing, I have to consider that the worst survey possible. My children probably are older than yours, but it's interesting that the first thing they read seriously is the Wrigley ad on the bottom of the front page; then they read the comics fairly carefully, largely because that's where the bread and butter come from. On a two-household survey, may I say that Wrigley apparently is successful?

KLING: Wrigley spends $30 million in TV every year to advertise their gum, and very ef­fectively. And they use the comics to supple­ment their television advertising. It's like billboards — an added dimension. Topps and Bazooka cannot afford — or it's hard to justify — an inefficient medium when our budget is a lot smaller than Wrigley's. You've got to show me how comics can complement my TV effort, which I've got to consider my most effective device. I'd like to hear some talk about the comic-strip product itself. I believe that if the kids are involved in the comics they're read­ing, they are going to be more involved in my advertising. And I'm not convinced that your product is that involving with kids, ages 6 to 12.

BAKER: Let me carry that out and be another kind of devil's advocate. We can't really answer some of your problem, because most of us are not promotion people; we are editors and so forth. But we need to see that those things are answered. As far as the atmosphere and the climate within the comics section, I have some of that same feeling. I know that our comics section is the best-read section of the paper; readership scores are very high, advertising scores are very high. But I have some feeling that comics are a little tireder than they were, let's say during the war years, when they were a very vital involve­ment for us. Sometimes I think I'm just think­ing back to my childhood, but reading all the great anthologies that are now appearing, stories had more of that quality of "The Perils of Pauline," really grabbed hold and made you wonder what was going to happen tomorrow to the hero. I feel more lethargy in a lot of stories. Story strips seem to be a lot less popular these days, and I wonder whether that is mainly be­cause they don't have some excitement that I recall them having 25 or 30 years ago, and that they would then better compete with television.

One of the things mentioned that struck home with me had to do with involvement. Again, too, I think a lot of the comics, both gags and continuities, are holdovers from earlier times — and they're good holdovers, that's why they're still here — but they do tend to have more to do with earlier lifestyles. Some of the newer gag strips and continuities have a fantasy quality which isn't really con­nected with the way we live now. My family spends as much time in the shopping centers as I spent on the street corner when I was little, and the shopping center is not a market place in many comic strips or panels these days. There's a different kind of life on tele­vision — shopping centers, driving cars — that we aren't responding to in a specific way. This kind of involvement, the kind of life we're living now and the things we're doing, I don't think are being attended to as quickly and forcefully as they should be in the comic area.

MOLLY BETHEL: I have been a teacher of children's art classes in a city center for many years. Every year I see many children trying to learn to draw from the comics, children who were brought up in an urban setting, and this would indicate to me that these children are certainly reading the comics and looking up to them as a model, or else they would not be try­ing to learn to draw from them.

KLING: Are there any recent studies that might discuss how kids perceive the comics, how they relate to them?

JOHN SAUNDERS: When your agency feeds all the demographics to you, these obviously come out of Nielsen and NRB. Who supports Nielsen and NRB?

KLING: How do you mean?

SAUNDERS: Don't the agencies support them financially?

KLING: I think you have to take their fig­ures. I'm not going to defend Nielsen and NRB.

SAUNDERS: What I'm trying to get at - you're asking for information. Shouldn't your agency be able to get it?

KLING: Well, I have a pile in my briefcase. Some of it goes back ten years, but there wasn't that big a pile from the comic strip people.

POOLE: The purpose of this panel is not just to discuss advertising, but advertising ob­viously comes up as a very large part of the survival of comics in the sense that at some point down the line publishers take a look at the cost of the comics, and then if the comics can be self-supporting, or even semi-self-supporting, there's more likelihood of their being continued than if they're thought of just as a circulation builder.

CHUCK KLINE: I think Bill Baker, in what he said about changing lifestyles, put his finger on the real problem. Our statistics prove that the 6-to-12 bracket is the TV bracket. You talked about your father buying three papers, bringing the comics sections home and reading them to the kids. Nobody does that anymore. They stick the baby in the highchair and stick him in front of the boob tube, and that's it. And it's that way until the child gets to read proficiently. Our best audience, where the readership is the highest, is from 12 to 20 and on up to middle age, and this is where we sell most of our advertising. Before TV, P&G would spend $2 million with Metro to sell laun­dry soap, and all they wanted was the house­wife, because the old man didn't care what his shirts were washed with, and neither did the kids, so they would spend two million bucks with us to reach one-quarter of the family, or less. This was true with dentrifices, with cook­ing, everything. Our real loss came with the TV coaxial cable in 1953. In my company alone, we were carrying $13 million worth of advertising; a couple of million dollars were in cigarettes, a couple of million dollars with P&G alone.

The big classifications were General Mills, General Foods, cereal companies, Ralston Purina, who were also spending millions of dollars for kids, but the kids had the comics for entertainment. When the coaxial cable went across the United States and TV became na­tional, it had much the same asset value as we have in comics. It had demonstration tech­nique, it had color, but in addition it had sound. Big companies took corporate positions like General Foods, who said to Battle Creek, their cereal company, "You're going to under­write a portion of our commitment for prime time on television." Those men didn't even have a chance to place their business; they were told, "You're going to pick up 20 percent of this budget on cereal and we'll pick up 20 percent on flour and 20 percent on jelly" — and that was how those big commitments were made. They took it away from us overnight. We were carrying about $14 million worth of comics advertising. In the early '50's, and through the war years, we were sold out. We sold 15 ads in a 16-page section. By '53 these corporate decisions were made, and two mil­lion bucks for P&G went right into TV, two million bucks for General Foods and other food advertisers went right into TV. Our business went from 13 to 11 to 9 to 7 to 2 to 1.5 million dollars in '62. But we've come back to $5 mil­lion. We're on our way back, but it's not chew­ing gum — except for Wrigley. And what you say about Wrigley is very true. They supple­ment their TV with their strips on a continuity operation in comics. And they've said to us, "Now look, we're spending a million dollars on Metro alone. We would like to have you buy our feature, because it gets a higher reader­ship, according to our statistics, than a lot of your editorial features sold by the syndicates. Now how would you like to pay for our fea­ture?" Well, we're not about to.

However, our big audience is adults. Only 18 percent of our total circulation is children. That means 82 percent of our audience is adults. So I would think that you're doing the right thing. Because bubble gum is not what kids from 12 to 90 years old do — except a few of us. But Westport also is the worst place in the world to live and not buy television, be­cause there are eight or nine people selling TV in the New York area and there are probably ten active salesmen selling comics across the country.

KLING: I think you're making this part of where I live, but —

KLINE: I'm not embarrassed about this, but I think I understand it. Now who is buying, on top of their regular program? Wrigley's. And what are they doing it on? Whammo. Whammo is a Wrigley gum, but they don't ad­mit it. Yet they're pushing up comics all over the country on Whammo and taking a second spot for their prime product. So here are an­swers to your position — and I respect you for this, I think maybe I'd do the same thing, because with advertising for kids 6 to 12 you can get the right time, and reach more of those children that you're introducing it to, so I can't quarrel with you. I'd like to have your busi­ness, and maybe you'll get bigger and can supplement your business —

KLING: Look, I spent eight years with Gen­eral Foods, and no one really came to sell us comics for adults, and maybe, you missed an opportunity, maybe your people have thought you're a kids' medium. If you can convince somebody you are an adult medium, maybe you can turn it the other way.

KLINE: I'd like to have a buck for every ad­vertising man who has said to me and a nickel for every one who has said to every one of our salesmen, "Look, you got all the kids — we know that — but we are selling serious mer­chandise, and we want adults." But actually, remember what I said, 82 percent of our audi­ence is adults and 18 percent is kids. What they're wrong about is that statistics we have do not support kid readership. They support adult readership. You'll never get accurate statistics on what those kids do, but we all know that with little children, you put them in a chair in front of the TV and that's their edu­cation because of lifestyles mothers have developed for their children.

TONI MENDEZ: One of the major prob­lems in the schools today for the young chil­dren is the reading problem. Years ago, when three or two comics were given to you at a very early age, you learned to read. One of the suc­cessful projects of the Newspaper Comics Council is the readership in the classrooms and the other material that teachers are turning to because the problem is not only on the level of the elementary school; the problem is also on the high school level, where the children do not know how to read — actually do not know how to read — and part of the reason is that, at a very early age in your home and many other homes, you sit the child in front of the tele­vision set, and that's the end of it. So, from the point of view of business as well as from the point of view of the best medium for a child, I think that comics should become part of the household.

KLING: I think what you're saying is the product has a reason for being and can be used productively, and no one disputes that. I think if the subject is how to get more class in the comics, we have almost avoided that issue in the last half-hour. I really don't want to talk a whole lot about efficiency in numbers. I'd rather get back to the product itself and how to make it more relevant.

ALFRED ANDRIOLA: You have a point, but I think it misses the crux of what we want to talk about. Maybe we have been editing the Sunday comics for the wrong readers. Maybe we have not been editing them for older, more adult readers. What can we do to make them more interesting to the older people, the ones who have learned how to read?

JOHN DIRKS: I think it may be against the old money-making principle, but certainly for class, to return to the old comics sections, which were pure, which were not sprinkled with ads. I think there should be a much greater appeal to the adult reader. In other words, put the ads in the color section, but,place them separately, so that when you pick up the thing, you're not stopped as you go from one article to the next.

KLINE: That, I think would be an improve­ment, but I'd lose a lot of money.

BROWNE: I was once involved in the ship­wreck called PM. It was a very classy idea. I didn't talk before this because I was really in­vited here as an expert on class. Remember PM? It was a great idea, you know, no adver­tising in the thing. Instead of advertising, it had a critique, it would say like "Ladies' drawers at Bloomingdale's this week, very good buy, go down there." That way, there wouldn't be any control by the advertiser, and you'd get a nice, clean product. Well, every journalism student knows what happened to PM. We found out one thing — people like ad­vertising, they really do. Cartoonists and edi­torial writers and a lot of other people think they're a pain in the neck because they're stealing space from them. But I found this my­self, in my dotage — I really read the paper for ads. I think they add excitement. Maybe this is because I grew up in the period when ads — you know, "I, Roger Wilco, Will Save You." I think there was a type of advertising art that came out of — am I correct on this, Chuck? - that actually came out of the comics section. They developed their own advertising art form, clearly effective, had tremendous pull for them and gave a lot of excitement to the thing.

KLINE: Johnstone & Cushing produced more ads in comics sections than anybody else. TV stole the technique that was exclusive for comics, namely story-telling by panels, dem­onstrations. I met girl, I loved girl, I had bad breath, I lost her; how do you get out of that? Well, this is the TV continuity; it emulates, but it has prime time, it has color, and it has voice. It has gone one step further.

BROWNE: A lot of the arguments that are given by the TV advertisers — was it Mr. Burns, the one advertising agency that down­graded cartoons?

He down­graded by saying it's childish, it's cheap, and everything. Now this is from a man who is dumping millions of dollars into TV. I think it would be tough if you put him before a Senate committee and made him justify that he's in­vesting his money on a cultural level — you know, that doesn't hold water. The numbers game I leave up to better-qualified men, and surveys are beyond me, but I think that the generation of teenagers — I don't know little kids anymore, but teen-agers I know a little bit about, and the 20-year-olds I do, and this certainly is a graphic-conscious generation. Maybe Johnny never learned how to read, but he knows cartoons. They not only read them, they wear the things — the T-shirt craze and all the rest of it. I don't know about Westport — it's a strange community, they had a black market in the Daily News. They say, "I only read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs." But all these guys, when they lived in Iowa, this wasn't true. So there's a small credibility gap there. Everybody is in communications, so it's a very tough place, really, to take a poll. You don't really get a fair shake up there. But we're living in an age when the most success­ful cartoonists that ever lived are living today — Charlie Schulz, Mort Walker; Blondie is still going. These are fantastic successes; there wasn't anything like this 30 years ago. It's really a question, I think, of advertising realiz­ing that there is a fantastic market here, wait­ing to be exploited. I don't think there's any­thing wrong — it can always be improved, I'm getting older and realize that lettering should be bigger, it should be simpler, I'm sorry to see story strips downgraded because, in some way, they bind a section. You know, they at­tract the reader who has to come back everyday, every week, because he doesn't want to lose that continuity. I'm sorry to see their space restricted as much as it is, but those are technical things and I leave them to other experts.

POOLE: Jack, do you have any comments on what you think of the future of Sunday comics?

KOESSLER: Well, I hope they're around or I won't be eating very regularly. We feel, naturally, that we're doing the best job we can do. We're not always happy with our consist­ency, but we do produce about 100 million four-page units a week in five different loca­tions, so consistency gets a little difficult when, you try to handle those kinds of numbers. We, I'm sorry to say, since our last fall meeting, have taken two gigantic steps backward. And that is the passionate demand of the publish­ers for quarter-pages. That's a personal opin­ion. And then the unfortunate newsprint short­age that forced us to a lighter-weight sheet, which is less receptive to ink, shows through more generally is not the way we should have been going. We should have been going in the other direction and having a better sheet of pa­per. Now that's altogether possible, but then you get down to the very difficult problem of cost. I haven't seen — and don't believe any­one in our company has ever had — a genuine request from the guy who's paying the bill, from the publisher, from the owner, for better quality. Now we're on the horns of a dilemma. We think we are best preserving this art form by keeping its cost as low as it possibly can be — not trying to make the best-looking product we can produce. Amen.

KLINE: I had an experience with a publish­er. A publisher of a big newspaper said, "If you'll stop selling those goddam ads, I can get rid of the comics section. It costs us $200,000 a year to provide an 8-page comics section and we're getting a few hundred thousand dollars back in advertising, which we consider is a win because it helps reduce our burden of com­ics." "Well," I said, "I understand what you're talking about, but I don't think you've got the guts to throw your comics section out, because you started your comics section many years ago, or your father or grandfather did, to gain readers, and you subsidized them by your circulation department. You started a rotogra­vure magazine, which you subsidized, to get readers. Now that you've learned you can get some ads, you expect that to be all profit. It can't be, because they're the most expensive parts of your Sunday newspaper. They're never going to pay for themselves.

KOESSLER: A while ago you said 15 ads in 16 pages. I can remember 16 ads in 16 pages, and they were putting them right on the front page. That was Indianapolis in 1952 or '53. They were spoiled rotten.

KLINE: However, I do know that publish­ers now are not as upset about the cost, be­cause they've cut their sections to eight pages and six pages where there used to be 16 pages average. Where they had a 16-page section with 15 ads, the publisher still had to support the section because of third-pages, and now, with sixth-pages, with two-thirds page editor­ial, a 6- or 8-page section with three or four ads is saving the publisher more money than a 16-page section with 15 ads, because it's the only part of the paper you guys support with more editorial than you have advertising. So it's a funny combination of facts. In the meantime, they've tried to keep as many features alive as they can by reducing the size of the features so that you have something for everybody. That makes it harder to read, that's where the bi­focals come in. That's where the reproduction goes bad, because you're jamming too much on that paper. You talk about the horns of a dilemma — there are all kinds of horns. But they're not going to throw that comics section out. And we're going to have new features, we're getting new features, better features, more exciting features, and we're overcoming, in part, some of our problems.

KOESSLER: Well, I know my statements were terribly negative. I don't mean to give the impression that any time there's a genuine de­sire to upgrade this section in terms of repro­duction we're not ready to pitch in and do the best we can. But we can't do it for less money, or even the same money that they're now paying.

KLINE: One of the great tributes to the Greater Buffalo Press is that you have made comics across the United States better. Their reproduction is better as you average it out be­cause you're doing 70 percent of the non-captive printing of comics right now. It used to be that every publisher had a color press and he banged out comics that looked like hell. And you specialized in comics, you built the best mousetrap, and you got these guys around be­cause you could do more for them for less, and that raised the whole standard.

RALPH BREM: What's Buffalo doing for the publishers? Are you doing any experi­ments in papers and inks and stuff like this, anything to bring costs down?

KOESSLER: No, there's nothing — the pa­per costs so much and the ink costs so much, and it isn't going down. You're down to the lowest base grade paper that's available. There isn't a cheaper piece of paper that you can print anything on.

CHARLES FINETTE: I'm glad there are no publishers here, because what I'm going to say — and I've talked to literally hundreds of pub­lishers — is they add a nickel or a dime to that Sunday paper because they put out a comics section, and that's great. And if you multiply $300,000 that it cost them by their circulation, and add a nickel to it, they're making money on their Sunday section. But the owners got a little greedy, because that section is now run­ ning two, three or four years and they've for­gotten they're getting that extra nickel. It's like watering the old whiskey bottle. Take a lit­tle Scotch out of the bottle, add the water and you can't tell the difference. Take more out, add a little more water, you can tell the differ­ence. You get to about the fifth or sixth time you take a drink and put water in it and the Scotch starts to get weak. And now the pub­lisher says, "What can you do to save more money?"

POOLE: Bob Reed, do you have a solution to all this?

REED: I don't have any solution. I just think that, in comparison with Saturday and Sunday morning TV, the comics have a hell of a lot of creativity and talent, and I think that one of the jobs of syndicates and editors is to continue to add to that talent pool and build that creativity and make comics sections as valuable as they possibly can, so that publish­ers will stop cutting back on size and eventu­ally realize the potency we have and the talent we have collectively here doing graphic art, humor and story strips.

KLING: I'd like to build on what Bob said. It's dead right. I think we must get back to the product and how to make it more valuable. I think one of the things the country has a prob­lem with these days is that the family is break­ing apart. I've got a theory that if you can find ways to bring families back together, you've got a commercial concept. What I'm wonder­ing is if comics have looked at ways to bring the father and the son and the mother and the daughter and the families back together again — I don't mean LaGuardia reading them on the radio, I mean activities. I'll give you an ex­ample. Dixie cups was a plain old cup that you put water and juice in. Then they made riddle cups. A very simple concept; the parent read the question and the child tried to guess the riddle. Interaction. Eminently successful con­cept with a number of variations. Have the comics thought about adding sections or, in fact, adding subjects to their strips that really involve the families together? Little games? It sounds like gimmicks, but it's really not gimmicks. Stories inside stories. Bring the family back together again reading comics with a purpose. Give them more value. Play it up in the schools as well. Have you talked to schools about referring kids to the comics be­cause, in fact, what's in there is more than comics, it's added things like ecology, more meaningful, relevant subject matter? I think that can do a lot to improve involvement and ultimate commercialability.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The next voice is so faint that only a portion of its message is intelligible.)

CARL SCHMIDT: Metro underwrote with the newspapers a national study that shows that children do read comics, and they do read them as a part of the family unit. I think that, in tribute to the men in the room here, we really have a classy medium, with all due re­spect to what has happened to newsprint, etc., because what we sell in comics as salesmen is the mirror of life, and that is what you gentle­men, you creators, have, and this is a strong selling point for us. So if life isn't very classy today, maybe we ought to take a look at life as a whole. Actually, I think there is an awful lot of class in comics in spite of the stumbling blocks that we have.

RICHARD MARSCHALL: Speaking again about class, I take issue with one thing Dik Browne said about the most successful car­toonists living today. That may be so in terms of salary. But I'm talking about looking at cartoonists as celebrities. You know, back in the old days Ham Fisher and Bud Fisher and DeBeck and all those people were real celebri­ties. They were written about in the gossip col­umns, but the gossip columns are anachro­nisms today. But maybe the comics section it­self is an anachronism. And if you're talking about class, maybe this is something that should be exploited. When Hearst and Pulitzer introduced the comics section, it was some­thing new.

There's no law that says comics have to be printed as newsprint sections forever. Maybe today the answer is what the Europeans are doing — integrating color comics in maga­zines. Perhaps things might come alive if Parade magazine and such supplements would offer comics. And as far as that goes, perhaps the syndicates are the worst offenders. During the recent newsprint scare, when the papers started demanding daily comics in three col­umns, if all the syndicates had said that four columns was the smallest we would draw, what would papers have done? They might have dropped some comics, but they wouldn't have dropped them all. You're looking for quantity, not quality, yet talking about class. You know, an industry that constantly compromises is a classic compromise victim.

KOESSLER: I might say I have one criti­cism of artists. They are notorious — except for this group of men that seem to support this effort here — they spend damn little time pro­moting their own product and getting into the public eye and appearing more often where their product is displayed. We are fortunate in Buffalo to have two competing comic products; most cities don't. And we seldom see an artist come as the guest of the newspaper and spend his own money and his own time to promote his own product.

BAKER: That's a problem with we editors too. We don't think promotionally, maybe, the way we should. And we don't press our promotion people, perhaps, the way we should into thinking about this possibility.

ANDRIOLA: Bill, who makes the decision about which comic appears as a sixth page and which appears as a third page? Is that your job on the newspaper? I bought a comics section last week — not yours — which just looked atrocious. It had two story-strips down to a sixth page adjacent to each other and Fred Bassett across the top, which was just a repetition of the dog standing in profile. It was even ugly to look at, let alone try to read.

BAKER: I'm making a lot of those kind of mistakes right now. I think it's partly because, I hope mostly because of the great transition that's taking place. I don't know how to use quarter-pages yet; I don't know which ones work, and some don't, and I've found that out to my great regret on Sunday morning. But some do work, and some do better than others. I think this is something that editors and syndi­cates and artists really do need to give atten­tion to. This is a different part of class, but it's an important part. I'm hoping that with some of the techniques that Jack's company is get­ting into operation, we'll be able to be more sensitive in our layouts and come up with pages that are more attractive and use the right comics in the right combinations. We're really in a jungle right now. It's a new form for us. I know I make enormous mistakes, and I'm conscious of the fact that I'd better learn.

MRS. JOHN DIRKS: Having been for over 25 years the wife of a cartoonist and the daugh­ter-in-law of a very famous cartoonist, I think, apropos of what Dik Browne said and the gen­tleman next to him, and what Rick Marschall said the other day at our house, I think one of the upgrading features should be some sort of push to make cartoonists respectable in the eyes of the large public who generally think of those funny little men who write all those fun­ny little cartoons we read on Sunday and throw away with the fish. Isn't there some way that television programs and magazine sections of large newspapers could somehow make us all in a class with the great ones?

BROWNE: That's going to have to come from the cartoonists themselves. Believe it or not, they're a retiring group. That's why they're cartoonists. They're afraid to go out and face the real world, so they hide in cellars. But it should come, I think, from the syndi­cates. I think that would be the logical place. King is very good, but the effort varies from syndicate to syndicate.

BOB COWLES: We create feature stories about all of our comics. The newspapers should be as interested in promoting their features and the artists as they are in promot­ing TV personalities.

POOLE: That's a good point: But I think, really, a lot of good points have been made today. I don't know whether we've come up with a lot of answers, but maybe we've come up with a lot of questions that you'd like to think about more.

Comments:
Fascinating stuff from all those involved in that long-ago panel. Loved the fact that Dik Browne, an old advertising cartoonist, was ready to speak his mind. I found Mrs. Dirks' participation interesting too. She may have been a lovely woman, I don't know, but in her remarks as "the wife of a cartoonist and the daughter-in-law of a VERY famous cartoonist" (emphasis mine), she reminded me of Margaret Dumont, the rich old matron in the Marx Bros. movies.
 
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

 

News of Yore 1949: Elmo Gets A Pink Slip



Debbie Replaces Elmo

(E&P, 1/15/49)

Cecil Jensen, more than 20 years an editorial cartoonist, finds himself with a different strip to do than the one he originally planned in Oct. 1946 for the Register & Tribune Syndicate.

"Elmo," the strip he has been drawing, features a saucy little girl character that has stolen the lead part.

The strip will be released by R&T on Jan. 30 as "Debbie." Elmo and his love affairs move into the dim background. The strip is currently running as "Elmo & Debbie," but will get a complete face-lifting when Debbie takes over.

Jensen operates from a studio in the Chicago Daily News, for whom he did editorial cartoons since 1928 before beginning the comic strip. Publisher John Knight of the News was persuaded to let him go to comic strip creation only on the promise that he would continue with one editorial cartoon, weekly.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

 

Obscurity of the Day: The Wonder-Girl's Diary

Gustav Michelson was a wonderful and prolific illustrator/cartoonist who made his name in New York first at Pulitzer's World in the late oughts, then in the teens with Hearst. Michelson's primary job was to illustrate news articles and features, but he did dabble in comic strips once in awhile. His strips were usually drawn from a feminine perspective, often echoing the type of material we tend to think of as the domain of Nell Brinkley and Annette Bradshaw, both on staff at Hearst in the same era.

The Wonder-Girl's Diary was Michelson't first comic strip work at Hearst, executed shortly after he switched over from the World. As far as I know from the index done by others, it did not run on Michelson's home turf at the New York American. I can only report that it ran sporadically in Hearst's LA Examiner from March 11 to May 28 1909.

Michelson went on to greater fame in the art world, first as a movie poster artist in the 1920s, then fine art for the rest of his life. Michelson died in 1964.

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Comments:
This is uncannily similar to the character known as "Different With Boys", played by Arabella Weir in the British comedy series The Fast Show (retitled Brilliant! for the US). In fact, the words in the last frame could almost be from a Fast Show script.

From the Fast Show character guide at answers.com:

Different With Boys, who acts in harsh and professional, "no-nonsense" way in front of female friends and colleagues but transforms into a giggling, ditzy, stereotypical "bimbo" whenever she is introduced to a man.
 
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Sunday, March 08, 2009

 

Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics


Jim Ivey's new book, Graphic Shorthand, is available from Lulu.com for $19.95 plus shipping, or you can order direct from Ivey for $25 postpaid. Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. The book is 128 pages, coil-bound. Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

Also still available, Jim Ivey's career retrospective Cartoons I Liked, available on Lulu.com or direct from Jim Ivey for $20 postpaid. When ordered from Ivey direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

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