Milk & Books

Above: A drawing of Harvey Milk that I drew in 1986 for openly gay New York City Council candidate David Rothenberg, who was referencing Milk’s iconic role in gay activism in one of his campaign ads.

Milk: A Good Flick
(or do I need to tell you that?)

Thanks to friends with sneaky access to an industry screener of Milk, a movie of great interest to my set that hasn’t made it to North Berkshire County yet, Eddie and I got to watch this film at home over the weekend. Yes, Sean Penn‘s portrayal of the martyred Harvey Milk is as flawless and charismatic as you’re heard, and as best I can tell (allowing for the multiplicity of old memories that get activated and personal emotional buttons that get pushed) the Gus Van Sant movie is one of the most successfully realized portraits of an important historic figure you’ll ever see.

Of course, as a gay man who vividly remembers being punched in the gut one day in 1978 by news of Milk’s assassination, I can hardly claim to be viewing this film dispassionately. But for what it’s worth, my 1978 tears returned in full force before the film ended.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to Sean Penn the hot-tempered brawler who used to punch photographers in the face for breakfast while he was married to Madonna? Somewhere along the line this seemingly out-of-control lout (who on his worst days, it has to be said, was never less than brilliantly talented) turned into a Hollywood great whose commitment to political ideas outside of the Hollywood cocoon along with ever-maturing acting and directing skills make him that show-business rarity: a grown-up worth emulating.

Fume! Sputter! Snarl!

Don’t Get Taught Art This Way! As So Many People Do is a quirky little 252-page screed by Theodore L. Shaw, a guy who really had a hair up his butt about art criticism back in the 1960s.

This nuance-free book somehow found its way into my bookcase decades ago and has lurked there ever since as an example of passion untrammeled. If I had ever indulged in lofty public discourses about the relative merits of art pieces aiming at "greatness," I wouldn’t want to be cornered at a cocktail party by this guy.

Too Hot for the Dailies

Newspapers are (supposedly) fine with their editorial cartoons being controversial, but they have their limits. Read founder David Wallis‘s compilation Killed Cartoons to see a set of drawings that editors axed because they crossed some line or other. Then decide whether you feel cozily protected by their decisions or whether America’s media gatekeepers are too lily-livered for their own (or the citizenry’s) good.

Below: The late Doug Marlette‘s rejected take on capital punishment

New from the late Will Eisner

Happily, the W. W. Norton publishing house seems bent on getting everything Eisner did in his hugely productive post-Spirit years back into print under a unified "Will Eisner Library" umbrella. Don’t let on that you notice; they might stop. Just buy everything.

Below: Just a few of the numerous "Will Eisner Library" titles.

Will Eisner died before completing Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative, but with the blessing of his heirs this work-in- progress was subsequently completed by underground comix veteran Peter Poplaski, whose attention to the notes Eisner left behind when he died in 2005 keeps the master’s voice ever present on the page.

For all the knowledge and experience that underlies any words Eisner wrote about cartooning in the several instructional books he produced, it’s his pictures that say what most needs to be said. Aspiring cartoonists will observe that Eisner could put more dynamism into a drawing of a guy trudging through snow than most comics artist could put into a titanic, Metropolis-destroying fist-fight between muscle-bound superbeings who wouldn’t know how to trudge if their lives depended on it.

And if they’re smart, they’ll spend time studying his pictures and figuring out how the hell Eisner did that!

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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2 Responses to Milk & Books



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  2. Peter Dudek says:

    Always wanted to checkout that book, saw an ad for it in an old copy of Art News.