Monday, June 30, 2008

BEATVILLE U.S.A. by George Mandel

Can you grok a whole book of beatnik cartoons? If you're hip to that, then BEATVILLE U.S.A. is the book for you.

Author/cartoonist George Mandel writes about the beat generation in 6 small essays interspersed between his own cartoons. The book is copyright 1961 by Mr. Mandel.

Above is a wordless 8-panel cartoon that is confident and successful. I kept looking at the compositions, the postures, and illustrative folds in clothing and really admiring Mr. Mandel's draftsmanship. Look at the fellow's legs and arms: angled this way and that, as he preps to look oh so beatnik casual cool.

The way our title characters lean up against the tree or stand in the doorway; there's a bad posture, knobby shouldered, slack-jawed look to these fellows. Even if their clothes change, you can always spot them. Mandel is very good about staying on the beatnik model.

Espresso, wheat germ and Mary Jane was the way of life. I like the happy smile on the woman in the workplace, in the left hand cartoon. And the choice to show her part of the way up, out of her chair, and turning to the rest of the office, is a naturalistic and nicely human touch. Isn't it strange to see an office environment without a computer monitor on every desk?

Was there ever a time in NYC when a guy would walk around with a "I Cash Clothes" bowler hat? Again, I like the posture of the 2 beatniks on the left. Even their knees have wobbly, gravity-stricken posture.

For some reason the "There Is No Zen!" cartoon struck me as wonderfully funny. The only nitpick I have with the book is the use of initial caps in all the gag lines, something I've never seen before or since in gag cartooning. I don't think it's Mandel's doing. My guess is that it was a decision made by an out of touch with gag cartoons editor.

I really did not have high hopes for this book when I first saw it. How many cartoons, after all, can you do about beatniks? "Congratulate Me -- It's a Cat!," with our young beatnik dad holding his beret in reverence over his heart, as he walks down the steps where his pals are splayed, has a wonderful sense of humor about this moment of passage. This is another good cartoon by the good writer George Mandel.

And I forgot that barber shops were once way back before men began going to salons and spas -- barber shops were where you could go and chew over the events of the day.

Mandel wrote a number of books, but was never as famous as his good friend Joseph Heller.


Jack Ruttan said...

These are much hipper than I thought they'd be.

pulp said...

I've been looking for this book since I stood reading it at the spinner rack in the neighborhood grocery store when I was ten years old. It made a profound impression on me. The disparaging humor passed right by me. I only knew that those were my people.

By the time I was old enough to move to Greenwich Village or San Francisco, so-called beatniks had been replaced by so-called hippies, which culture I readily joined. I never really succeeded as a radical flower child, being more of a moody, artistic, and restless beat without a peer group.

I'd love to have a copy of the book.

Mike Lynch said...

Hi Pulp -- I found some copies of BEATVILLE U.S.A. via

Unknown said...

This guy is my great uncle and a great man, thanks for posting his work.