On the Road and Off Again

Above: Professor David Bordelon introduces a roomful of his OCC students to yours truly, after which it’s all up to me and my laptop.

The Ocean County College students, teachers, and administrators I met during my trip to the Garden State ten days ago couldn’t have been more attentive and interesting during my Powerpoint slideshow and afterwards. This is the kind of thing that makes authors view traveling around as worthwhile.

Having Eddie along for the lengthy drive made it feel as much like a family excursion as a professional speaking engagement, and it’s thanks to Eddie that I have some snapshots to share with you instead of my usual embarrassed excuses for having forgotten to take my camera out of its travel case. He also served as my "roadie" by making sure that my computer, notes, and technical peripheral were taken care of while I chatted with audience members and signed copies of Stuck Rubber Baby, which had been assigned reading for some of the students in advance of my talk.

Some Correspondence
About That New SRB Cover Art
with mon ami en France, François Peneaud

FRANÇOIS: The new Stuck Rubber Baby cover [See my previous blog entry or the smaller version of the same artwork below. —H.C.] is so different from the previous one. I wonder what motivated that choice? It seems to me that, instead of emphasizing the connectedness of all the characters, as did the first cover, this one shows a main character all alone, remembering bits of his past (he does look older on the cover), with the silhouettes looking a bit like ghosts lost in, well, the fog of memory. Interesting choice, to say the least.

HOWARD: Well, one wants to have a distinctly different cover if one is going to redo a book’s cover at all.

And actually, even back in 1995 I was drawn to the images of Toland meditating alone at Bluerabbit Lake (pages 146-147 in the book) as a good emblem for the story as a whole. Even though the book has all of the civil rights activism stuff in it, the unifying theme is Toland trying to find out who he is and learning to be honest with himself.

As you can see by visiting this old feature showing how the 1995 cover came to be, my first thought even then was to suggest the book’s duality by juxtaposing the conflicted yearning represented by the "imaginary children" playing on the lake’s surface with an ominous Klan rally in the sky. While Joan Hilty, who is serving as the editor for next-year’s Vertigo re-issue, understood my inclination to use the Bluerabbit Lake image as a jumping-off place, she and her colleagues at DC Comics thought that adding on a Klan rally in the sky, as I had suggested in 1995, was probably trying to cover too much ground. Also, they feared that featuring the unexplained children might be overly confusing to potential readers who hadn’t yet read the story. They were probably right about that.

Above: Me in booksigning mode after my slideshow.

Professor David Bordelon of the OCC Department of English and Literature, who doesn’t seem to have a personal web site I can link to, had been my main contact person since he first emailed me back in February to ask if I would visit the campus as part of the department’s Visiting Writers Series. Once I had set foot on the grounds he introduced me to his colleague, author Jayanti Tamm, and later on, over lunch, to a tableful of most interesting fellow faculty members.

Below: Me pausing for a quick farewell snapshot alongside Professor Bordelon in the OCC parking lot before Eddie and I hit the road back to North Adams.

So we batted around alternative ways of adapting the Bluerabbit Lake images for this purpose.Substituting other characters from the book for the children was Joan’s idea, and I warmed to that variation when I thought of portraying those characters in silhouette (thus retaining some of the mystery and poetry of the original silhouetted children) and substituting mist for the water’s surface.

This way we still have the otherworldliness of the first image even as we allude to several of the other individuals in the story who play a big role in Toland’s evolution.

Alison Bechdel , who is writing a new introduction to the book, also mentioned via email that she thinks Toland looks older in this new drawing. That wasn’t intentional on my part, particularly, but since the whole book is framed as a "memory play," there’s something appropriate about suggesting that Toland is reviewing the silhouetted characters from the vantage point of one who is looking back on a story that has already happened — if not from quite as large a passage of time as in the book itself.

FRANÇOIS: Thanks for the explanations about the cover. I’d forgotten that first project for the old cover with the children and Toland. You should post something like that on your blog, it’s interesting for your readers.

In fact, showing on the cover Toland at an age between his young and old selves does add some resonance to the story, I think. If there was something I regretted in the book, it was that the older self didn’t have much grounding, he was mostly/only a narrator. So, this shows Toland at yet another point in his life, and makes him more real for the readers, I think.

And While Ms. Bechdel Is On My Mind…

…Thanks, Alison, for plugging From Headrack to Claude so entertainingly in your September 18 blog entry!

Who else but my comics-creating colleague and pal Stephen R. Bissette, who teamed up with John Totleben in the mid-1980s to bring Alan Moore’s distinctive incarnation of Swamp Thing to life in the pages of a DC Comics series by that name?

Steve’s ongoing fascination with large and threatening forms of non-human life were subsequently manifested in Tyrant, his gone-but-not-forgotten comic book saga of the 1990s that forever raised the bar when it comes to the exploration of dinosaur life from egghood onward.

Steve, being a Vermonter himself (and an instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction), knows whereof he draws when it comes to disturbing life forms that may set one’s spider-senses a-tingling if one stays out too late in the Vermont forests on a moonless night.

So for those of you who have been putting off your Halloween gift-shopping until the last minute, could there be a better Halloween stocking-stuffer than The Vermont Monster Guide? Remember, just because the Citri-Bissette book under discussion limits itself to a geographically specific population doesn’t mean that creatures from the Green Mountain State or their cousins from other states don’t occasionally vacation in your neck of the woods. Won’t they be surprised when they peek in your window on Halloween night and discover that their existence has now been fearlessly documented for all to see!

And won’t they be pissed!

Mad Man

I discovered Mad when I was fourteen, which is pretty much the perfect age to make that discovery. I can still vividly remember the cover of the particular issue that grabbed my eyeballs that day from a Birmingham magazine rack, even though I haven’t laid eyes on it since my collection of Mads was lost decades ago during an unfortunate garage sale of items that had been cluttering up my mother’s basement. (As you can see, I have even been able to locate the cover in question, which was #37 in the series and which sported typically wonderful cover art by Norman Mingo, online at Doug Gilford’s Mad Cover Site.)

It Came From Vermont!

Let’s say you’re an author named Joseph A. Citro who is described as a "respected monster hunter" by the publisher (University Press of New England) of your new book. And let’s say you’re in need of an expert depicter of monsters to decorate your new book about the subset of scary creatures who have reportedly been making the wilds of Vermont extra-creepy during the last few million years. Who’re ya gonna call?

Cover design by Cayetano Garza Jr. and Stephen
R. Bissette

©2009 by Stephen
R. Bissette

At the time Mad was being edited by Al Feldstein, and I thought it was about as funny as any magazine could ever expect to be.

Then a high school classmate of mine said, "You think Mad is funny now? You should see what it was like back when Harvey Kurtzman was editing it!"

(There was no missing the reverential tone Charlie used in speaking the name Harvey Kurtzman.)

Several of us Indian Springs kids were guests at Charlie’s home that day, preparing to eat the Thanksgiving dinner his mom would be serving soon, so it was easy for Charlie to usher me up to his bedroom and open a filing cabinet drawer in his bedroom that contained his prized collection of Mads, going all the way back to #1.

And without intending any disrespect for Al Feldstein, I have to say that the reason for Charlie’s special reverence for Mad‘s founding editor swiftly became obvious.

Many’s the time I fantasized about it in my youth, but it was not to be.

From then on I followed Kurtzman’s work through the succession of similarly inventive, if never as commercially successful, satirical magazines (Trump; Humbug; Help!) that he founded and edited after a dispute with Mad‘s publisher, William M. Gaines, led him to depart from Gaines’s realm.

Once I had moved to New York and I had gotten a foothold in professional cartooning, I found myself rubbing elbows with Kurtzman periodically at conventions and other industry gatherings, but we never became close. That wasn’t true of my principal underground comix enabler Denis Kitchen, who represented Kurtzman’s creative projects to publishers while the man was alive and has overseen the man’s artistic legacy in the years since Kurtzman’s death—in the process all but becoming a member of the Kurtzman family.

From Kurtzman’s high school drawings to the Little Annie Fanny strips he and longtime collaborator Will Elder contributed to Playboy, the book is a marvelous tour and an implicit indictment of a culture that, despite Kurtzman’s huge impact on satire in the second half of the 20th century and beyond, never fully gave the man his due.

A Tangential Postscript:
"What—Me In Mad?"

Given those circumstances, it’s not surprising that Denis has been entrusted with the mission of bringing fresh attention to the long arc of Kurtzman’s career via The Art of Harvey Kurtzman, a book co-authored by Denis and historian Paul Buhle that lovingly devotes 242 pages to telling you more than you ever thought you’d be privileged to know about a man who still continues to inspire new generations of cartoonists and humorists.

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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3 Responses to On the Road and Off Again

  1. Pingback: From Headrack to Clawboy « Loose Cruse: The Blog

  2. Pingback: Here We Go Again! « Loose Cruse: The Blog

  3. The new SRB cover is quite beautiful.