Monday, December 13, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Bottom's

Cartoonist Bill Lee was one of the crop of excellent new gag cartoonists to come out of the 1970s, a time when cartoons about battling spouses and family pets were giving way to more esoteric, avant-garde material. Lee honed his skills in underground comics, then at magazines like Penthouse, Omni and National Lampoon. His signature style, which looks like a handful of bits of string tossed casually on a drawing board, is instantly recognizeable.

Over the years Lee tried his hand repeatedly at newspaper syndication with the Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News Syndicate, never with much success. His outre cartoons just didn't seem to be what newspaper readers wanted with their morning coffee, or rather what newspaper editors think they wanted. Frankly Lee's syndicated work is not nearly up to the level of his magazine cartoons anyway. Either the pressures of a daily deadline were too much for Lee, or he tried to dumb down his gags to appeal to the masses. Whichever was the case, his newspaper work tends to be sorta meh with occasional flashes of the Lee brilliance.

Bottom's, his second feature for CTNYNS, was a daily panel set loosely, very loosely, in a restaurant. The sketchily defined cast includes the bartender, a fellow named Bottom who sports a clownish bow tie, waitress-actress Jenny and Ralph the cat. Although the gags are often set in the restaurant, Lee has no problem with abandoning this locale in search of gags. The humor is sometimes bizarre in the best Bill Lee tradition (a school of sharks 'swim' in the floor of the restaurant in one gag), sometimes political (a headless man runs for vice-president), and on off days disappointingly conventional (see "Nice Serve" above).

The panel ran from 1984-85 but I don't have anything like definite start and end dates for this rarely seen feature. The syndicate advertising folder for the feature begins with the week of October 15 1984, but I suspect that might not be the first week, perhaps by a couple months. I have no idea how far the feature got into 1985.


Another Chicago Tribune feature that didn't run in the home paper.
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