Chillin’ With B.J. in the 1980s

Bazooka Joe Gets Booked

As some of you know, I contributed cartoons to a variety of bubble gum-related novelties produced by The Topps Company in Brooklyn back in the 1970s and ’80s. Along with stickers and trading cards depicting assorted licensed characters, I drew a few dozen installments of the famous Bazooka Joe series of miniature comic strips that were printed on waxy paper and packaged with the company’s chewing gum.

I didn’t create the characters (that legacy belongs to Wesley Morse, who launched the series under the guidance of Topps Product Development head Woody Gelman decades before I entered the picture); and other people wrote the gags that I was assigned to illustrate. But I did have the honor in 1983 of providing re-designs of the characters that ushered them from their longstanding status as tykes into rock-‘n-roll-loving adolescence.

Because of that I have a passing presence in Bazooka Joe ands His Gang, the newly-published and lavishly illustrated book that chronicles the full life of the series from its creation in the 1950s to its widely-noted exit from the stage last year.

Above: Mort’s temporary turtleneck makeover (as manifested in 1983 on the left and after the neckline’s1988 restoration on the right).

When Charles Kochman, who edited the book for Abrams Comic Arts, asked if I could recount an anecdote from my Bazooka Joe days for the book, what came to mind was the tale of a mutating turtleneck. To quote myself:

When I was asked by Len Brown at Topps in 1983… to re-conceive Bazooka Joe as a teenager and provide him with a new teen “gang,” the only holdover from the earlier tykes who had served as his supporting cast was the weird sidekick who wore a turtleneck pulled up to his eyes.

Len and Art Spiegelman, who was consulting for Topps at the time, thought the ultra-lengthy turtleneck was a bit (in fact, was literally) over-the-top, though. So for my first series of strips the sweater’s collar was brought down below the Mort’s chin where one would think a sweater’s neckline should be.

Apparently this change disturbed some unnamed traditionalists, however. So when I was hired to draw a second batch of strips in 1988, the turtleneck was restored to its original position just under Mort’s eyes.

Interesting historical perspectives are provided, alongside hundreds of reprinted strips and drawings, by way of essays by Jay Lynch, R. Sikoryak, Bhob Stewart, Morse’s son and daughter-in-law and others, including the guy who hired me, Topps’ former Creative Editor Len Brown.

The book is bound to catch your eye in bookstores, being cleverly designed to simulate an oversized package of Topps gum — right down to the faint image of printed matter showing through from the other side of the "wrapper." If you take the time to remove the dust jacket you’ll discover that this mock-cheesy effect is an illusion, though, since there’s nothing at all actually printed on the back of that paper. Deft touch.

You’ll also notice that the color of the book’s hard cover matches the color of bubble gum exactly.

Make Way For Molly

Molly the Black Lab has been with us for several months now, so it’s past time for me to add a page about her to the "Stuff About Me" section of my web site. I corrected that oversight this week, which means that Molly has now been officially certified as the newest Family Dog in the Cruse-Sedarbaum household.

Meanwhile, you folks who were fond of our previous two dogs shouldn’t feel that your memories are being slighted, though. Their spirits are being kept alive with legacy pages for each of them. Just click on "Remembering Foxy" and "Remembering Lulu" to remind yourselves how lucky Eddie and I have been in the canine department.

A Little Barefootz on YouTube

Most of the Barefootz episodes that I re-drew for my 2001 webcomic experiment Barefootz: The Web Incarnation were adaptations of my comic strips from the ’70s that have been collected in my last book The Other Sides of Howard Cruse.

But a few of the webcomic episodes were created expressly for online viewing — like "The Persistence of Long-Term Memory," which I recently adapted for viewing on YouTube, just for fun.

Solomita’s Back

I’ve touted his books before and I’ll do it again: Back in December my pal Stephen Solomita added another of his riveting tales of blood, lust, and New York City atmospherics to his already impressive lineup of rip-roaring urban police procedurals.

This newest title is Dancer in the Flames, and it introduces us to Boots Littlewood, a baseball-obsessed detective who’s unfazed by murderous doings but gets pissed when anyone uses blasphemous epithets around him, he being a devoted Catholic boy at heart. As hard-boiled, two-fisted investigators go, he’s admittedly an outlier in the realm of noir, but he knows how to get the job done entertainingly, as does Mr. Solomita.

Me on Twitter

Sheer curiosity over what the fuss was about led me recently to set aside my longstanding reluctance and launch a Twitter account.

Once I did so, a number of nice people signed up to "follow" me, which fills me with guilt because I think I’ve "tweeted" maybe a dozen times since then — "then" being January 27, three-and-a-half months ago. This threatens to keep me awake at night. I feel like I’m failing in my duty to be entertaining, tweet-wise.

There’s a vocabulary of terms like "hash-tags" and "re-tweets" that no one has yet explained to me. Frankly I’m afraid to ask, because if I understand the jargon I’ll start feeling compelled to make use of it and that’ll jack my Twitter obligations up to a new level. Meanwhile, I quickly discovered that constraining my communications with the world by the use of no more than 124 characters hobbles my native verbosity to an uncomfortable degree.

There’s no way around it: I’m basically a Twitter-wuss. But hey, maybe I’ll tweet something about this blog entry. That’ll up my participation score to thirteen.

Q&A-ed With The Best

I was complimented when author/blogger Shane Bugbee‘s expressed an interest in tossing questions at me about my viewpoints as a cartoonist first nurtured by the 1970s underground comix movement. My responses can be found in my installment of the interesting "Underground Art Q&A" series he has been running for a while at the CCTRC (Creative Class Trumps Ruling Class) web site.

A side benefit of submitting to Shane’s friendly interrogation was getting to bask in the reflected glory of a raft of the other creative iconoclasts who participated in his inquiry, including a familiar fellow from my generation named R. Crumb.

Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my two self-published books.
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Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
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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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