Saturday, June 24, 2017

Elements of Surprise, Part I

Stunback Saturday today presents an excerpt from Summerfield Baldwin's scholarly treatise on the topic of the Elements of Surprise in Cartoon, from the July, 1917 issue of Cartoons Magazine, the foremost academic journal of comicologists in its day.  Take it away, Mr. Baldwin:
Carlisle, I believe, is responsible for the statement that "it is in and through symbols that man, consciously or unconsciously, lives, works, and has his being; those ages, moreover, are accounted the noblest which can best recognize symbolical worth, and prize it the highest." No more appropriate motto could be inscribed over the gate to a cartoonists' hall of fame, for it is by means of symbols that the cartoonist has most of all contrived to charm and amuse the generation to which he has come.

. . .

By definition, the art of the cartoonist is to parody fact without imitating it. But parody obviously requires representation, and the solution of this complex and partly self-contradictory problem lies in the symbol. The symbol represents without copying. Hence, to construct an effective parody, one must first invent such symbols as are at once intrinsically humorous and instantly recognizable. The cartoonist has perforce adopted this solution into his æsthetic creed, and, presumably, before he undertakes to create a new comic character, he compiles from his own imagination, and (to a certain extent) from the imaginations of his fellow-artists, an exhaustive dictionary of the symbols necessary to portray his pen-child's reactions upon the highly artificial life it is destined to lead.
"Mutt and Jeff" by Bud Fisher
One of the first entries in this dictionary is unquestionably labeled Surprise. For a good part of the humorous effect of a strip of comics is due to a dénouement in which one of the protagonists is astonished by the word or deed of the other. ... [I]n at least half of the cartoonist's work, the appeal is made by the shock caused by the impertinent, unintelligent, or witty remark, or by some method of a more physical nature. There is, consequently, a tremendous need for a good collection of surprise symbols.

. . . 

The oldest and best known hyperbolical symbol of surprise is the exaggeration of quite an ordinary start into a complete back-somersault. Mr. Voight employs this method considerably in his Mr. Petey series.
"Mr. Petey" by C.A. Voigt
Thus in one of the strips before me, Petey Dink and Henrietta are in their bathing suits (they wintered at Palm Beach, you know); they are posing (so they suppose) for a society photographer. When this courteous young gentleman comes up and asks them to move a little, so that he can photograph the couple behind them, the blow to their self-esteem so shocks them that they immediately back-somersault themselves out of the picture.

The effect of the stout nether extremities of Henrietta is, as you can imagine, deliciously indiscreet. Mr. Voigt apparently funks trying to do the facial expression of surprise, for in most of the astonishment pictures of his that I have seen, he arranges the composition so that the back-somersault carries the faces out of the range of his pen.

The natural temptation of the easy-going but hard-worked comic page cartoonist is ultimately to eliminate the rather complex apparatus of a back-somersault by so cutting off his picture that only the feet and lower legs of the surprised character are visible. Consequently, within recent years, this device has become one of the most common of the symbols of astonishment. 
"Baron Bean" by George Herriman
Probably Tad was the first to employ it. The feet of the Judge, projecting above his official desk, when a sally of some petty criminal or pretty jury woman has upset his judicial dignity, have enough irreverence for law about them to satisfy our suppressed wish (as Doctor Freud would say) to commit contempt of court. Then, too, the desk furnished an excellent excuse for hiding the rest of the Judge's person.

It had a similar value in Mr. Hoban's Jerry on the Job, when the job consisted of being a jack-of-all-trades around a railroad station. Many a lunch-counter customer has by some unintended witticism thrown Jerry off his balance, and eliminated all but the disproportionately large feet of that youth from the picture.
"Jerry on the Job" by Walter Hoban
Jerry, as you know, has been guarding a railroad lately (military business, by the by, has been creeping into the comic section very rapidly) and one day, one Private Matters' idiotic excuse for neglect of orders caused Jerry utterly to lose his equilibrium and to fall flat on the station platform. This particular symbol of surprise was quite a pleasant surprise in itself, especially as with the hyperbole there was coupled a slightly altered arbitrary device for indicating Jerry's state of mind. The usual cloud was present, but instead of the customary star, or question mark, or exclamation point, there was a small, thick black cross, inexpressibly mournful in its connotation. But I am anticipating.
And here, having already exhausted the attention span of the average internet surfer, Stunback Saturday must take a break. We will continue the with the wisdom of Summerfield Baldwin in half a fortnight at this very same juncture.

Next week: Hold onto your hats, gentelemen!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hashtag Iron Stache

There was a flurry of internet interest in liberal/progressive circles earlier this week in the announcement of a declared candidate for the Democratic nomination to run against Congressman and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Randy Bryce isn't the first candidate to announce in the 2018 race; there is also David Yankovich and Charlie Breit on the Democratic side, and returning Tea Partisan Paul Nehlen to challenge Ryan on the Republican side.

Yankovich was the first Democrat to announce candidacy for the seat, but has only very recently moved to Wisconsin's First Congressional District from his home state of Ohio, so I think it's unlikely that he has much support here. Breit, who lives in Pleasant Prairie, is a member of Forward Kenosha, and Bryce is a longtime union activist from Caledonia, so the race for the nomination is probably between the two of them. (But see postscript below.)

Iron worker Bryce, who tweets under the hashtag "Iron Stache," has run for school board, State Assembly, and State Senate, but never successfully. He stood no chance in the 2014 State Senate race, given the Republicans' redrawing of district lines in 2011, but he came in a distant second in the primary for the 2012 Assembly race (the unopposed Republican received more than three times the combined total of the two Democrats' votes), and also fell short in the ten-way 2013 school board primary.

He was ejected from the Senate chamber in Madison in 2015 for yelling that Wisconsin was "turning into a banana republic." He told the press that he had planned to testify against a so-called right-to-work bill, but when Senate leaders prematurely shut the meeting down, shouting was the only option he had left.

He wasn't the only person to get hauled out of the State Capitol since the Republican putsch of 2010, but that, and his very emotional inaugural campaign ad did help him raise $100,000 in the first day of his congressional candidacy. My own Facebook feed included some progressives and liberals who Ain't From Around Here talking about contributing to his campaign; we'll see how long that lasts.

Because Ryan can raise $100,000 over brunch.

P.S.: Janesville School Board Vice President Cathy Myers has now become the third Democrat in the race. Janesville is on the opposite end of CD-1 from where I live, so I don't know anything about her; but that is Ryan's hometown, and she has the endorsement of her State Senator.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Q Toon: Irony in the Fire

Paul Berge
Q Syndicate
✒Jun 22, 2017

As risky as it was to draw a cartoon on Sunday featuring Steve Scalise (R-LA), the Congressman and House Majority Whip who was shot in the hip while practicing for a GOP-vs.-Democrat baseball game, the point of this week's cartoon is to highlight the role of Capitol police officer Crystal Griner.
Griner, an out and married lesbian, may even have been the one who fatally shot the failed assassin, James T. Hodgkinson.
Law-enforcement officials didn’t say who fired the fatal shot, but witness Jeff Flake, a Republican senator from Arizona, said it was Griner who took down the shooter, James Hodgkinson.
Flake later visited both officers in the local hospital where they were being treated, and said he “thanked them for saving my life.” ...
[Rep. Rodney] Davis (R-Ill.), who was at bat when the shooting began, said, "They're the ones that saved countless innocent lives and they're the heroes of today."
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), who was also at the practice, pointed out that they fought against superior firepower, because the shooter had a rifle and they had only pistols.
"But for their heroism there's no question that there would have been much more carnage, no doubt about it, because no one else there was armed and this shooter was not only active but he was really unloading so many shots," said the congressman, still in his baseball clothes at Capitol Hill hours later.
Griner was, of course, one of three officers who defended the congressmen's lives, but her status is worth pointing out, given Mr. Scalise's record (and that of Republicans generally) against marriage equality for same-sex couples. According to, Scalise 

  • Authored constitutional amendment to protect marriage. (May 2008)
  • Voted to amend Constitution to define traditional marriage. (Jun 2008)
  • Voted to protect anti-same-sex marriage opinions as free speech. (Sep 2013)
  • Voted that any State definition of marriage supersedes federal gay marriage. (Feb 2014)
  • Voted NO on enforcing against anti-gay hate crimes. (Apr 2009)
Now, as far as comparing himself to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke is concerned, this refers to a remark reported by Stephanie Grace, a Louisiana political reporter and columnist:
“He was explaining his politics and we were in this getting-to-know-each-other stage,” Ms. Grace said. “He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage."
Now, I'm not from Louisiana, but David Duke has popped up on the national scene repeatedly since being elected to the Louisiana statehouse in 1989. I'm left wondering what, if anything, there is about racist bigot David Duke that is not baggage. Benito Mussolini at least made the trains run on time; what good has Duke ever done?

I acknowledged at the top of this post that drawing a cartoon about a victim of violence that levels the even slightest degree of criticism his way is rather dicey. (Now that Mr. Scalise has been upgraded to "fair" condition, I'm going to say that perhaps makes him fair game.) But some have tried to blame this shooting on editorial cartoons that have been critical of Republicans.

The Facebook "likes" of the gunman, a Bernie Sanders volunteer left disgruntled by last year's election, included a number of nationally published editorial cartoons, notably one by Stuart Carlson in 2015 about Scalise's speech to a white supremacist group in 2002.

Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles was also shared on Facebook by Mr. Hodgkinson, and has responded to criticism that his cartoons critical of Republicans and the Trump administration are somehow to blame for Mr. Hodgkinson's shooting spree — a criticism coming from people who have suddenly developed amnesia about their own rhetoric over past eight years.
[A]s to the question of incitement of violence, let’s indeed look at that. I am opposed to violence in just about every instance. But there are those who specifically define gun ownership as a tool of violence intended for potential use against the government. I have written here before about the dangers of this line of thinking. And it is not an isolated phenomenon, as it has been championed by a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Those words have consequences. Some less mainstream presidential candidates like former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) have echoed it, while 2010 Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) raised eyebrows when she floated “Second Amendment remedies” to protect against an out-of-control government.
Clay Jones adds to the list Donald Trump's suggestion to gun advocates that they take care of Hillary Clinton if she were to win the election: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” And who can possibly count the number of right-wing AM radio and internet blowhards, NRA spokesmen and drunk uncles who have spewed the same incendiary Second Amendment Solution idiocy?

So now they're shocked, shocked! that someone outside their bubble was listening, too?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Clean-up in Aisle 17

I couldn't quite hit on a theme for Scattershot Saturday this week.

I considered several topics; today is the 45th anniversary of the discovery of the Committee to Reelect the President's break-in of Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, so I could have rustled up some cartoons of that event... but that stuff is a little recent for the scope of this blog.

Instead, here's a photo I took of the Watergate Hotel when I was on a school visit to Washington D.C. in 1974.

And another one with my finger in front of the lens.

Seeing as it's Fathers' Eve, I looked for some century-old cartoons about Fathers' Day, but came up dry. Overlooking Fathers' Day is apparently nothing new, and you'll probably find one or two tried and true jokes about how Dad gets short shrift compared to Mom in tomorrow's funny papers. Just don't expect to find any fancy restaurants open for Fathers' Day brunch.

So what I've decided to do is go back and expand on a couple of cartoons from last week. For example, the panel excerpted from Ray N. Handy's 1917 travelogue of his hometown, Duluth, came from this two-page spread.
from "Cities Beautiful 8: Duluth" by Ray N. Handy in Cartoons Magazine, July, 1917
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Since I only presented the top half of Frank O. King's The Rectangle last week, here's the bottom half.
From The Rectangle by Frank O. King, in Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1917
And, for good measure, his Rectangle from 100 years ago today:
from The Rectangle by Frank O. King, in Chicago Tribune, June 17, 1917
ibid, again
Coming back to that school trip to D.C., here's, a photo I took of a display about cartoons that was at the Smithsonian Institution during that trip. I have never been back to that part of the Smithsonian since then, so I don't know whether this is a permanent exhibit, and if so, whether they've updated it to include, say, Tom Toles or Ann Telnaes.

You'd think they'd want to include some animated gifs by now.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Q Toon: Putin The Issue to Rest

Meanwhile, at another Russian investigation...

Paul Berge
Q Syndicate
✍Jun 14, 2017

With all that has been going on in the U.S. of A. lately, it's easy to lose track of what's been going on elsewhere on the planet. This week's cartoon is a reminder that the Chechen government continues its pogrom of gay men. European heads of state have spoken out against the arrest, torture, and murders of gay men in the majority Islamic republic; a few who have escaped from Russia have been granted asylum in Lithuania and Germany. But,
[I]nternational condemnation of the atrocities has not translated into concrete assistance for Chechnya’s at risk and terrified gay men. So far, we only know of a handful of individuals who have been granted asylum in safe countries. According to the Russian LGBT Network, there are about 40 individuals currently in hiding in Russia, desperately trying to flee the country.
Staying in any part of Russia is unsafe. Former detainees remain within easy reach of the Chechen authorities and there is a high risk of honour killings – there are cases where LGBT people have been followed to other regions and attacked by their relatives.
Novaya Gazeta broke the original story in March, and as of late May, they report that while the arrests seem to have stopped, many of those arrested remain in custody, and 26 men have been killed.

In response to international pressure, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in May to launch an investigation into the matter. Whether that investigation will have any effect on the Chechen government, whose dictatorial leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, continues to deny the very existence of gay men in his country,
“Chechen society does not have this phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation. For thousands of years the people have lived by other rules, prescribed by God,” [Kadyrov] told Russian journalists.
So far, the Russian investigation hasn't turned up much. At the site of the prison camp where the gay men were reported to be held, investigators allegedly found only a demolished building covered by debris.