Saturday, April 14, 2018

New to My Comic Book Collection

Today's installment of Sketchback Saturday takes the form of a book report.

A few months ago, I pre-ordered Bill Sanders's forthcoming retrospective of his editorial cartooning career. I have both of the books published while he was the cartoonist for The Milwaukee Journal. Head for the Oval Room deals primarily the Nixon administration, some of which is also repeated in The Sanders Book. The latter book includes cartoons not only about the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, but about Wisconsin and Milwaukee issues as well.

I'm looking forward to receiving the new book, which promises cartoons from his retiree years, but also examples of Sanders's early career with Stars and Stripes, The Greensboro Daily News, and The Kansas City Star. Given how different in style his Milwaukee cartoons are from his earlier work, it should be interesting to see how that evolution took place.
"How Much Are We Really Involved Here" by Bill Sanders in Greensboro Daily News, ca. March, 1962
When I pre-ordered Against the Grain, I browsed around amazon.com to see if there was anything else I'd be interested in, finding Jim Morin's 2016 collection from his 40+ years with The Miami Herald. I've long been fascinated by his distinctive cross-hatch style, which I'd describe as David Levine meets "Ding" Darling.
One of the more intriguing facets of Morin's book is how the date of publication influenced his choice of cartoons. In particular, there are a handful of cartoons about Donald Trump's brief campaign in 1999 for the presidential nomination of H. Ross Perot's Reform Party. Editorial cartoon books take up two and a half shelves of my bookcase, and although three or four of those books deal specifically with the year 1999, Jim Morin's World is the first book I've seen to devote any ink to Trump's short-lived flirtation with presidential politics that year.

I have to say that I barely took any notice of Candidate Trump at the time, myself; my editors at Q Syndicate, the Milwaukee Business Journal, and the Racine Journal Times probably wouldn't have been interested in cartoons about him anyway. Had Jim Morin published his book a year earlier, I suspect none of his Donald Trump cartoons would have made the cut for this book, so it's fortuitous that he had a chance to dig up his material about a nearly forgotten episode from when current president first dipped his toes into political waters.
"Looks Like His Last Trip to Moscow Just Backfired" by Jim Morin in Miami Herald, June, 1985.
As another example of how the date of publication influences choice of material, the above cartoon is not in Morin's book. I'm not advocating for this particular cartoon, merely noting that it might have been included if this were a book about the Reagan years, since Nicaragua was a BFD in the 1980s. The Iran-Contra scandal, which hinged in part on a White House scheme to circumvent Congress to send arms to right-wing guerrillas in the Central American country, threatened to bring down the Reagan administration, but rates only two cartoons in this book. Nowadays, we only hear about Nicaragua when it gets hit by an earthquake or hurricane, so it's of less interest today.

Besides, there was so much else going on in the 1980s, even without a president tweeting all his brain farts every morning. If anyone is still publishing editorial cartoon memoirs thirty years from now, there will be an awful lot that seems of tremendous import today that will end up on the cutting room floor tomorrow.


Another cartooning memoir recent to my collection is The First and Only Book of Sack (only available from the Star Tribune and currently only on back order) by Steve Sack, featuring the best of his cartoons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 1981 to 2017. It's too bad that he didn't also include his older cartoons for The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, such as the one below. Mr. Sack is not a packrat, however, and it's extremely unlikely that foraging through his Indiana cartoons would have turned up any early drawings of Mike Pence, who, after all, was still in college at the time.
"Jump!" by Steve Sack in Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August, 1980
From a cartoonist's standpoint, one of the joys of this book is to watch how Sack has adapted his style to evolving technologies. Sack has been an early adopter of computerized drawing techniques, ditching the extensive pen and ink crosshatching of his early work in favor of a succession of various media: charcoal, sharpie, watercolor, digital tablet, and iPad. Through it all remains a distinctive touch unlike that of anyone else in the biz.

Due to its publication date, Sack's book includes a handful of cartoons about Senator Al Franken (who also wrote the first of the book's four forewords) and one of Garrison Keillor, but none which reflect either man's #TimesUp fall from grace. The Keillor cartoon is especially unintentionally ironic, depicting the Prairie Home Companion host hiding out from a horde of sex-crazed women. The original context of the cartoon was that Keillor had been named one of Playgirl's Sexiest Men Alive in 1986. (Sack observes that one of the other men on that year's list was Donald Trump).

Such is the risk in any collection of topical writing; editorial cartoons almost always have an ephemeral quality to them. (Just check out any cartoon about Herbert Hoover before October, 1929.) I don't imagine that Sack's book is on back order because he's slipping in some hasty updates, because he'd just have to do it again in a matter of months.

We'll just have to wait until The First and Only Book's sequel.

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