Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: Guindon

I imagine I'm far from the first person to say this, but just in case I herewith present the Holtz Prime Directive of Newspaper Comics Success:

Thou Shalt Not be a Success by Being Smarter than your Audience

It pains me to say it, but it's true. The exceptions are rare -- in fact I can only come up with two -- Pogo and maybe The Far Side. And I'm not sure about the latter. I suspect a lot of people liked it because Larsen drew cows funny.

Of course I don't mean that as a cartoonist you can't be a brilliant writer. Charles Schulz was brilliant, but he knew how to talk on his audience's level. But if Aunt Sally in Topeka is mystified by your gags you are in deep trouble. Oh sure, you can carve out a niche. Two very smart strips currently running that immediately come to mind are Zippy the Pinhead and The Dinette Set. But how many papers run them? And how often do they come in dead last in those newspaper polls to which Aunt Sally faithfully responds?

Well, Guindon is a prime example of brilliant writing that shot so far over Aunt Sally's head she didn't even hear the sonic boom when it passed.  A tiny cadre of newspaper editors ran the feature, which was self-titled by Richard Guindon. It was a brilliant daily morsel of surrealist mind-candy that on its best days (of which there were plenty) would have had Salvador Dali horking Corn Flakes out his nose at the breakfast table.
Richard Guindon was on staff at the Minneapolis Tribune when he first came up with the series. He'd been there since 1968, but the Guindon cartoon in its formal guise apparently didn't begin until sometime in 1974. At the Trib the series ran 3-4 times per week. In July 1978 the feature was picked up by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and it became a daily cartoon. In 1981 Guindon moved from the Minneapolis paper to the Detroit Free Press, and his syndicator changed to Field Enterprises. The syndication continued until 1985, never appearing in more than a handful of papers, ending its syndication with the successor syndicate to Field, News America Syndicate. Supposedly the cartoon then ran locally in the Detroit Free Press for awhile, perhaps ending in 1987, but I've not yet been able to verify that. For awhile in 1983 Guindon also did a panel titled Carp, but it may just be a part of the overall Guindon series. His wiki bio claims that there was also a Carp comic strip late in the 80s -- I haven't seen any examples of that.

If all this history of the feature seems pretty vague, it doesn't help that Guindon himself is notoriously reticent about giving a straight answer about his history. I have every one of the Guindon reprint books, in most of which he offers a bio of some sort, and yet he's hard to pin down about specifics. Of course, for pure pleasure all his books are highly recommended, even if you can't get a straight answer out of the guy. Go find the following Right Now:

Cartoons by Guindon (Quick Fox, 1980)
Guindon (Minneapolis Tribune, 1978)
Michigan So Far (Detroit Free Press, 1991)
Together Again (Andrews-McMeel, 1986)
The World According to Carp (Andrews-McMeel, 1983)

EDIT: Since this post ran I have determined that Guindon's panel (or sometimes strip) ran in the Detroit Free Press until October 2 2005.


My parents both came out of Minnesota, and they and the folks back home seemed to regard Guindon as almost a private Minnesotan joke. Never felt mystified as I sometimes was by Larson -- maybe it wasn't so much an intellectual thing as a Minnesota mindset (ice fishing, giant mosquitos, serious little boys who want a filing cabinet for Christmas...). Felt slightly betrayed when he went to Detroit.

One detail that did puzzle me: I could understand the guys with one bicycle clip on their pants, but not the teddy bear dangling from the belt like some sort of emergency device.
I remember the first time I ever saw a Guindon one-panel comic and thought, "Ok, here's something new."

I believe he was the first of the single-panel absurdist artists to to show up in a newspaper instead of a magazine. *Then* came 'The Far Side' and the rest.
He wasn't obscure in Minnesota. His comic was extremely popular. Then he left.
Some Guindon strips have stuck in my head for 30 years or so. Including:

"Carpenters turning fish boards into fish sticks."


"Things to do in case of nuclear war #8: Go to a movie."
Somewhere in my house, I have my favorite Guindon comic from my university days in the early 80's.

Two shopping carts are stuck together. The words are: It must be mating season.

I still love his humor. -Kim
I just saw him as a guest on an old 1983 episode of the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson reading the captions of his enlarged and mounted cartoons while previous guest (a young Robert Blake) and Ed McMahon looked on.
I think the comment about a "Minnesota mindset" may be true. One of my favorite Guindon cartoons was "Why are so many small towns named after water towers?" and a lot of people I've met from outside the Midwest don't seem to get it.

LIke the above example and others mentioned here, his cartoons often didn't need a picture, e.g. "You can make as many copies of carp as you want, because carp aren't copyrighted."

By the way I believe his cartoons first appeared in the Minnesota Daily, the U of M campus newspaper.

I enjoyed his comics in the boulder paper when I was in high school in the 80s. Bought a couple of his books which got lost in boxes in my moms house, only recently thought about him again and couldn’t remember his name for several weeks. Tried googling half a dozen of his caption lines from memory and didn’t come up with a single hit—he’s one of the only things I was really into back in the day and thought was obscure which doesn’t turn out to have an avid online following now.
Funny, I think that might point to a miscalculation in your piece above: he really was aiming right at the audience depicted in his panels. It’s more the rest of us don’t appreciate how out there regular midwestern folk are...
Googling Guindon captions is hard, indeed.

I was trying to find the cartoon -- I think it was Guindon's -- captioned something like "Remote controls for traffic lights were a great idea -- until every motorist got one."
My favorite cartoon was with two people standing next to a sign saying "Not responsible for lost or stolen articles" and one says "No one person is responsible, we all share the blame"
I don't even know why I found that so funny
His first book ends with a cartoon of an older couple walking, and the woman is saying, “I not only don’t understand other cartoons—I don’t understand this one.” I wonder if he based that one on reader feedback. :)

Guindon really lost me with the whole “carp” fixation. It just wasn’t funny, and he stuck with it for ages, probably hoping for better ideas to come along and they just didn’t. It happens with a lot of comedians, musicians and writers who burn through their creative fuel early on and when they run dry, they just turn weird.
Wish I could find the one where people are sitting around randomly on stools in a gymnasium. Caption is "park board sponsored ice fishing practice"
As a Michigan expat, I also view Guindon as a bit of an inside joke that I was lucky enough to experience. Pretty formative reading for six-year-old me!
Two of my favorites are people carrying a ladder away from a sign reading “Welcome to Detroit,” with a tacked on poster beneath continuing the thought: “A great place to buy a wig.”
And a group of people, pants rolled up, standing in a lake, with little “ooph” speech bubbles rising from the water, captioned “Fish kicking,” and signed “Guindon, who doesn’t understand this cartoon.”
Guindon did wonderful work in Minnesota. He was a staff illustrator on the newspaper, so his income didn't depend on sales to newspapers. He actually starter in the 50s on the campus paper of the University of Minnesota doing a panel character called Hugger Mugger. He then went the Feiffer route for The Realist in New York City before returning to Minnesota. Besides the panel cartoon, he did regular illustrations for stories in the Minneapolis Tribune. Exhibitions of his originals were quite popular in town and sold for decent prices, yet no one outside of the Twin Cities (at the time) really cared about owning one. He had a studio fire that destroyed all his files and most of his original from the Detroit era.
"One problem with the barter method is getting the carp into the cash register."
I miss the Guindon panels we used toget from the Detroit Freep. I suspect that the general Michigan mindset does account for much of our ability to identify with his acute perception of our understanding of his genious. One of his panels that seems particularly prescient shows, the foreman of a Chinese factory crew reading an order sheet to his crew saying, "It's from America -- says 'Send more stuff.'"
When catching a carp remember to bring it into the body
The catching a carp and remember to bring it into the body has stuck with me since I first saw in The Detroit Free Press
The Guindon Carp comics ran in the San Francisco Chronicle when I was at Fresno State from ‘81-‘84 . His humor helped me survive along with great friends and teachers!
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