Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Chester Gould on the Value of Persistence

Chester Gould created Dick Tracy, which debuted way back on October 4, 1931. It wasn't the first comic strip he created. I have read that he tried out about a hundred ideas for comic strips, all of them unsuccessful. Why he did this -- kept on pitching idea after idea -- ? Even he isn't absolutely sure.

Here's Chester Gould from Guideposts Magazine, writing way back in 1976, about the value of persisting. He would retire from Dick Tracy the following year, handing it off to his assistant Rick Fletcher and writer Max Allan Collins. The strip continues today with the team of writer Mike Curtis and Joe Staton handling the art chores.

Chester Gould on the Value of Persistence
Quite often friends or fans who follow my comic strip ask me how Dick Tracy came into being. To answer that, I have to go back a long way, to the days of the Depression when a frustrated and unsuccessful young cartoonist sat up late one night before his easel in his very modest home in Chicago, Illinois.

It was 1931, the Prohibition era, and organized crime in Chicago was at its height. Almost every day there were stories of gang “rides” and mob takeovers. It often seemed to me that the forces of good were powerless against this onslaught.

At that point in my life my best efforts to become a successful cartoonist seemed to be standing still. I was making a living as an ad illustrator for the Chicago Daily News. But ambitions die hard—and mine wasn’t dead by a long sight.

On that particular evening, my wife Edna and our daughter had gone to bed. On the couch lay the daily paper where I had thrown it in disgust and frustration—its headlines screamed of another crime massacre. A spring night breeze whispered at the window, and as I sat there leaning back from the drawing board, my mind grappled with the situation.

Who could solve this crime problem? Sherlock Holmes certainly could, I thought. I smiled as my mind drifted back to my boyhood hero. What would he look like today? I wondered. As I thought, my hand automatically began sketching. Yes, he’d be a sharp-looking young man. Instead of a deerslayer hat, a snap-brim fedora. There. The pencil continued—the face: a firm square jaw showing determination; the aquiline nose of a searcher; now the eyes, sharp, analytical.

Suddenly there he was on paper, keen visage staring across the page. A name? Ah, being a detective, he’d be a tracer. That’s it—Plain-Clothes Tracy! Now to put him to work! As enthusiasm flooded me, my pencil sketched furiously.

I did not hear the clock strike the hours—one—two—three—as my hero came to life. There he is crawling over a rooftop on the trail of Big Boy and his gang! He leans over a skylight, trying to catch the words of the gang as they plan their next takeover. Tracy moves closer … Oh no! Crash! He falls through the skylight.

Strip after strip of daily panels seemed to fly off my easel.

As I inked in the final panel of the last strip, daylight filled the sky outside the porch window.

At breakfast I excitedly showed the strips to Edna. She studied them for a moment, then handed them back to me. “It will go.” she gasped. “You’ve got it!”

Artist friends did not agree. “You’re going too far, Gould,” they warned. “This has never been done before in comics.” Editors at the Daily News where I worked said they were “atrocious and impossible.”

I looked at them again. True, a continuing realistic adventure story had never been done before, but there was one newspaper publisher in New York who might just possibly see something in my hero. Without much hope, I packed the five strips and put them in the mail. Months went by—and I forgot about them.

My desire to be a cartoonist went far back into my childhood in Pawnee, Oklahoma, where my father worked for the Pawnee Courier Dispatch. One day he found me sketching on bits of copy paper I had fished from the newspaper’s baskets. “Chester,” he said, “there’s a county Democratic convention going on at the courthouse. How about going over there and drawing some cartoons of some of those people?”

Full of enthusiasm, I rushed over, did my work and proudly took it back to Dad who taped the sketches in the front-office window under the caption: “Convention cartoons by C. Gould.” I stood inside the window and watched the people stop, look and chuckle. “That’s what I’ll be,” I vowed. “A cartoonist!”

In later years, Dad, who thought all artists inevitably starved, suggested law as a more stable profession, and I dutifully attended Oklahoma A & M. However, I felt that I had been given a talent to entertain people with my drawings. And so, at age 21, I headed for Chicago with $50 and a bag full of cartoon ideas.

My target was Captain Joseph Medill Patterson, co-publisher of the Chicago Tribune, who had the reputation for having an uncanny knowledge of what the public wanted. Thanks to him, readers were already laughing over Gasoline Alley, The Gumps and Harold Teen.

But he wasn’t interested in what I had to offer. Undaunted, I attended Northwestern University’s night school and held minor art jobs with various Chicago newspapers and studios. In the meantime I continued to barrage Captain Patterson with ideas. There was never any response.

However, I remembered someone saying that great things are accomplished not so much by strength as by perseverance. And so I decided to keep trying.

Even when Captain Patterson moved East to publish the New York Daily News, I kept mailing him ideas. Where I got my persistence, I don’t know. Maybe it came from my grandfather, a United Brethren preacher, who rode circuit on the plains, fighting storms and blizzards. Dad, superintendent of our Sunday school, kept up the family tradition, and I remembered him saying again and again, “Don’t give up.” He’d pick up his old leather-bound Bible and read from Psalms. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in His way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand.” (Psalm 37: 23-24)

Through all my failures I did have a feeling that God was there upholding me. That’s why I worked on, and why I mailed my Plain-Clothes Tracy strips to Captain Patterson in New York.

On August 13, 1931, I was working on a rug account, finishing in the details to show the rug’s fibers, when the phone rang. It was Edna.

“A wire came for you,” she said. “It’s from Captain Patterson. Do you want me to read it?”

My brain began to go numb. “Please!”

“Your Plain-Clothes Tracy has possibilities. Would like to see you when I go to Chicago next. Please call Tribune office Monday about noon for an appointment.”

Cold sweat broke out on my brow as I hung up the phone. But the following week, wearing a new suit, shoes and hat, I walked into Mr. Patterson’s office at the Tribune. An Army man, tall and erect, he was dressed with his usual informality—open shirt, coatless, scuffed Army boots.

Holding my comic strips in his hand, he paced thoughtfully around his office. I watched him closely. This was the man who had said, “We want to reach the man on the street.”

Finally he said, “ ‘Plain-Clothes’ is too long. How about a shorter word for detective, like, ‘Dick’?”

By this time I had learned that often a dispassionate outsider can improve your best ideas.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Okay, Dick Tracy it will be. Have two weeks of daily strips ready by the first.”

And so it began.

From the start, people predicted the strip would run out of ideas. But I found that the Lord makes each day new. He causes the seasons to change. And if we keep alive to His world by staying alert and allowing our minds to roam through its many wonderful possibilities, new ideas always come up.

One morning while driving to work from my farm in Woodstock, Illinois, I passed abandoned gravel pits that abound in this area. As I looked, I noticed a little shack in the bottom of one cavernous pit. Hansel and Gretel thoughts of my childhood rose and I chuckled. What would happen, I wondered, if one climbed down and found a witchlike creature living there?

As my mind played with the idea, a toothless old hag materialized and a name came to me—Gravel Gertie. She turned out to be a new Dick Tracy character who later married the old reprobate B.O. Plenty, and out of ugliness came their beautiful golden-haired child—Sparkle Plenty.

Today, Dick Tracy has been proving that crime does not pay for 44 years, and he is now seen by millions of readers in hundreds of newspapers around the world.

We reach a lot of youngsters and if we can simply plant in their minds that one reaps what one sows, and that good will always overcome evil, then Dick Tracy will continue doing his job.

Now, at age 75, I hope to keep working as long as the Lord allows me. Every morning at the breakfast table, Edna and I give thanks for our blessings and the chance to do what we’re supposed to do.
Dick Tracy, I’m sure, would join us in that.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Some Jack Markow Cartoons


 Jack Markow (1905-1983) was the go-to cartoonist for a lot of people who wanted to cartoon. He was born in the UK, but moved to NYC when he was just two years old. He was, like so many of us, known as "the kid who draws" at Louis D. Brandeis High School. He got a job doing layouts and art at the Fleishmann Yeast Company, and attended the Art Students League. 

He was known for his gag cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post and New Yorker and many other markets. He was a columnist for Writer's Digest and Cartoonist Profiles magazine. He was one of the first members of the faculty of the School of Visual Arts. He taught magazine cartooning there. 

He was also a painter and a graphic artist. He was part of group shows at NYC museums and had three one-man shows. His lithographs are in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum, the New Jersey State Museum, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and others. 

In 1972, he was awarded a prize at Montreal's International Cartoon Show, and in 1979 he won the Gag Cartoon Division Award from the National Cartoonists Society.

Jack Markow also churned out many how-to-cartoon books. I got one when I was a kid, and read it over and over. Many have read his books and he is still well known to a lot of cartoonists. 

Here's a small selection of his originals.

"It's got everything you could ask for in a car -- steering wheel, tires, clutch, brake, headlights --."

"Every time he tries to eat those tiny sandwiches, he bites his fingers."

"I'll just have a hamburger. Tell them to grind up a filet mignon!"

"And, oh yes -- the cigarette lighter hasn't been working properly."

"The doctor told Charlie he simply has to slow down."

"The crook had blond hair, blue eyee, a bulbous nose, a wart on his .... [the rest of this is cut off]"

A few ink sketches:

Friday, August 07, 2020

Video: Al Franken Drawing a Map of the United States from Memory

 There's no way I could draw this!

Al Franken draws the United States map from memory. This is an impressive feat and I was mesmerized watching it. I mean, the map of America is embedded in our skulls. We know if it doesn't "look right." And Mr. Franken can make it look right in a couple of minutes with a blank sheet of paper and a Sharpie.


Thursday, August 06, 2020

From the Dick Buchanan Files: Cartoon Clip Favorites 1947 - 1969

Once in a while, just for a moment, we need a break from our day ....

Oh, what am I saying?

ALL THE TIME I want a break from my day! And Dick Buchanan has just the thing: fifteen of his favorite gag cartoons from the golden age of magazine cartoons which were pulled and scanned fro his Grand Cartoon Clip File located in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village. Thank you, Dick, for helping us laugh, and thanks!


(1947 – 1969)

Here once again is a collection of vintage gag cartoons haphazardly from clipped from the pages of the great national magazines of the past and carefully arranged in random order for the amusement of one and all. Take a look . . .

1. CLYDE LAMB. 1000 Jokes Magazine Winter, 1954.

2. JOHN RUGE. True Magazine April, 1966.

3. WALT WETTERBERG. Collier’s April 29, 1955.

4. DAN McCORMICK. The Saturday Evening Post September 12, 1953.

5. IRV ROIR. Collier’s January 26, 1952.

6. STAN HUNT. The Saturday Evening Post April 6, 1957.

7. SIDNEY HARRIS. True Magazine February, 1964.

8. HARRY MACE. The Saturday Evening Post December 11. 1954.

9. LEO SALKIN. American Legion Magazine February, 1947.

10. CHON DAY. This Week Magazine February 10, 1952.

11. ORLANDO BUSINO. Argosy Magazine October, 1964.
12. REAMER KELLER. The Saturday Evening Post July 17, 1948.

13. JOHN GALLAGHER. The Saturday Evening Post November 7, 1953.

14. GARDNER REA. Collier’s August 5, 1955.

15. DICK OLDDEN. True Magazine December, 1969.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

'I am being silenced over white feelings from a gag comic': Black comic artist on her work being pulled from newspapers

NBC News has picked up the story of "Six Chix" comic strip creator Bianca Xunise's anti-mask/Black Lives Matter cartoon being pulled from some papers:

"Tea Fougner, editorial director at King Features, the comic strip’s syndicate, confirmed to NBC News that angry responses to the strip resulted in some newspapers dropping 'Six Chix' from publication entirely. 
"While the company is not allowed to share the names of its clients, Fougner said, an apology was printed at an undisclosed newspaper in the comic’s usual spot later in the week."

"'I am not apologizing for this comic and this censorship,' Xunise said. 'I am being silenced over white feelings from a gag comic. This is a complete step back in the wrong direction.'

"'The editors at whatever newspaper it lands at should’ve read the comics and flagged it if they got offended,' Xunise said. 'I’m just an artist; that’s your job.'"

Video: Finding Funny in a Screwed Up World: A Conversation with New Yorker Cartoonists Bob Eckstein, Edward Koren, Teresa Burns Parkhurst and Michael Shaw

Via the Norman Rockwell Museum:

Recorded: Tuesday, July 28, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. 

Could you use a good laugh? We thought so. Join us for a lively conversation about the role of humor in challenging times with four really funny New Yorker cartoonists. Bob Eckstein, Ed Koren, Teresa Burns Parkhurst, and Michael Shaw will share the Zoom screen live. They’ll tell us stories about working for The New Yorker and will show us some of their most memorable cartoons. You’ll have a chance to be part of the fun, too. Register for this Pay-What-You-Will event.

Bob Eckstein is a New York Times bestseller, award-winning illustrator and the world’s leading snowman expert (The Illustrated History of the Snowman). He teaches at NYU and has two new books coming out: The Elements of Stress and All’s Fair in Love & War by the World’s Greatest Cartoonists.

Edward Koren has been a contributor to the New Yorker for close to 6 decades, and his illustrations have appeared in a wide range of magazines and books. He has published several collections of work, and books for children as well. He lives in Vermont, and has been a long term member of his town’s fire department.

Teresa Burns Parkhurst is a cartoonist whose drawings appear in The New Yorker, MAD, and other publications, and on greeting cards. The artist notes: “I am very good at finding the funny and drawing it on paper. And coloring it in. And deadlines. And taking art direction without crying real hard.”

Michael Shaw’s curious cartoons have appeared in The New Yorker since 1999. They’ve also made appearances in The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, Prospect, and online at weeklyhumorist.com. They’ve also been seen on cocktail napkins, assorted textbooks, ABC news, an episode of Sixty Minutes and MSNBC’s now moribund Ronan Farrow Daily when his “blank cartoon” with a caption to “enjoy it responsibly” was shared by thousands upon thousands of people following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Shaw’s current day-job is as a Story-Telling Specialist and Wizard of Light Bulb Moments at The University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.

Norman Rockwell Museum is sincerely grateful to these caring artists who have generously donated their time to support the Museum through this program. If you are able to contribute in any way, your gift is appreciated. https://www.nrm.org/donate

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The Garden As of Early August 2020

Here's another one of those biweekly reports on how the garden is growing.

First: some life and death drama.

What happens when a bee and a big ol' garden spider have a fight? Above is a photo from just before sunset. 

Answer: they both lose. This photo was taken the next morning. Their lifeless bodies have fallen down.

OK, off to the vegetables:

The new raised bed are doing great.

When the tomatoes go from green to red, we will be overrun.

The zucchini has been attacked by squash borers, little worms that burrow inside the plant and eat and eat. I've cut a number of them out, but it still looks like most of these are goners. 

Cucumber madness.

And now, some flowers:


The Garden As of July 15, 2020
The Garden As of July 1, 2020
The Garden As of June 15, 2020The Garden As of Early June 2020
The Garden As of Mid-May 2020

Monday, August 03, 2020

Nate Powell: Making a Living as a Graphic Novelist

This post from January 2019 has been getting a lot of traffic, and it's worth looking at again. It's a breakdown of what a graphic novelist, at the top of his game, earns for a book. As you can see, $30,000 doesn't go as far as it used to.


Nate Powell has posted about the money he gets for creating a graphic novel.

Background: If you know graphic novels, then you know that Nate Powell has been doing them for a while and he is a well known, award-winning graphic novelist.

My friend Brian Fies, also an award winning graphic novelist and writer, first showed me the graphic below.

Brian is a pal (buy his book A FIRE STORY, from Abrams). I know Nate Powell by reputation. That's Nate's handwriting there, below, breaking down for us that he has to live on $6,375.00 for over a year while working on his latest graphic novel. He doesn't get the rest until afterward.

Brian Fies breaks this down. Here's Brian:

Graphic novelist Nate Powell posted this sobering breakdown about the finances of being published. As I just commented to a friend, these aren't entry-level numbers; these are "Nate Powell who is in the top 5% of successful working graphic novelists" numbers. Beginners wouldn't have it even this good.

A quick primer: an "advance" is money a publisher pays an author up-front, meant to cover some expenses while the book is being written. It is an "advance against royalties," which means you don't start receiving royalties (a percentage of sales) until your advance has been earned back--e.g., in Nate's $30,000 example, the author wouldn't get paid again until the royalties they were due hit $30,001. Some books never earn back their advances, so that's all the money their authors ever receive.

In my understanding, a $30K advance is very generous in the graphic novel world. Much more common is no advance at all.

Without getting too specific, Nate's analysis looks right to me. My numbers would be different, and I don't have an agent, but the bottom line is that creating a graphic novel is a long, difficult thing to do, and on a dollar-per-hour basis 97% of graphic novelists earn waaaay less than minimum wage.

I don't think you do it for the money (unless you're naive or stupid). You do it because you have a story to tell that nobody else in the world can. You do it because it's fun and fulfilling. You do it because you have to. You hope your story connects with enough readers that maybe you earn a few bucks and get a chance to tell more stories. Hoping that your story will find enough readers to make you rich (or even middle-classish) is just a lottery player's fantasy. It also happens from time to time.


Comicsbeat: Graphic novelist quits making graphic novels after trying to live on $10k/year for three years

Faith Erin Hicks on the Economics of Graphic Novels