Start with some housekeeping: The other day I updated a blog posting late in the day, after I finally tracked down a Harvey Kurtzman/Will Elder Mad Magazine parody of "Archie."
Here's the entire feature, which Mark Jackson pointed out in the comments was originally in Mad #27, the April, 1956 issue and which I found in "Mad For Keeps" from 1958:
Now let's leap forward to the present day, because Comics Beat has posted an interview with Jen Sorensen which is worth reading.
As an editor, I cringe a little at the fact that the interview appears to have sat on the shelf for a time: While the headline mentions Sorensen's finalist placement in the Pulitzers and the extracts from her cartoons that illustrate it are up-to-date, the Pulitzer isn't discussed in the interview itself and, at one point, the interviewer says (of Trump), "It’s unfair to judge the next four years by the first week."
But it's well worth reading, not only because Sorensen continues to rise in prominence -- she's also up for a Reuben -- but because in the interview she traces her own history of comics-making which provides an insider perspective on a critical span between the days of an active print medium and the current rebirth or at least resuscitation of the form.
That's not out of date, nor is this observation, which echoes my opinion that Trump is so easy a target that editorial cartoonists need to put more, not less, effort into depicting him:
There are ludicrous characters and you can make fun of Trump and these ridiculous nominees, but at the same time I don’t want to normalize him. I find myself not even wanting to draw him. I mean, I do and I will, but I don’t want to treat him like any other President. I’ve been struggling with that. How to be humorous at a time when things are just very serious.
She's right, and I'm seeing too many altie cartoonists who simply draw "I Hate Trump" cartoons that amount to preaching to the choir.
It's not a bad thing to keep the choir motivated, but it takes a much more thoughtful touch to draw cartoons that might nudge someone off the fence.
State of the Art Form
However, I'm finding some flailing there, which is neither surprising nor new: There has always been more bad stuff than good stuff in any medium, and so, as nonfiction cartoons gain ascendancy, there are bound to be more of them which aren't very good.
Where my patience is running thin is with memoirs that don't contain a lot of insight and nonfiction reportage where it seems more time was spent on the art than on the research.
I'm still bitter about a graphic biography I bought for $17.99 which told me -- through flat, minimalist art -- nothing I couldn't have found from the subject's Wikipedia entry.
I'm also not crazy about memoirs about ordinary people to whom nothing happens. It's as if "That Seventies Show" were written by Jean-Paul Sartre.
I don't demand that every memoir be "Maus" and every reporting piece be Joe Sacco-level journalism, but those formats are becoming extremely popular and so, as said, there's bound to be a lot of disappointing work out there.
In "If It Looks Like A Duck," Barry Deutsch remembers a gig as a costumed character at a grocery store and what it revealed about people's assumptions.
It's a textbook example of how a simple memoir of an ordinary life can be illuminating.
I'm sure he's had all sorts of experience besides his days as a duck, but with this snapshot, Deutsch picks a particular moment that illuminates something that matters.
The moment itself, the gig as a duck, is inconsequential. But you don't need death or explosions for a moment to matter, and, in fact, those great overwhelming things can obscure the meaning.
In both "Maus" and in Sacco's work, the power is in showing a microcosmic, individual response to overwhelming action.
It's easy to say "And the whole world blew up," but putting the reader in one particular pair of shoes, together with the realization of how many pairs of shoes were involved, is art. Even Sacco's giant portrait of the Battle of the Somme is pictures of individuals.
That's also the power of "Red Badge of Courage" or "War and Peace."
To put it in musical format, one criticism of "Eve of Destruction" at the time was that listing everything wrong in the world is numbing and pointless.
Compare that to Janis Ian's contemporaneous "Society's Child" in which a young white girl tells her black boyfriend that she can't deal with the external pressures anymore.
It's one piece of one issue, and it doesn't take place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge but in a little girl's home and school. But it's the right piece, delivered in the right tone, and it doesn't propose, or require, an answer.
More than anything else -- and what distinguishes it from the poor-pitiful-me memoirs -- is that she knows that her mother, her teachers, her classmates are wrong, she knows the right thing to do and she also knows that she hasn't got the guts to do what's right.
It's not self-loathing, but it's also not self-justifying.
Deutsch isn't operating on that level -- Ian's piece, after all, is a landmark and a classic -- but he similarly lays out all the unfair, inappropriate externals without a lot of moralizing or a lot of self-pity.
Good stuff. I wish I were seeing more like it.
And maybe sometimes once in a great long while something like this: