Friday, April 22, 2016

Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! introduced artists..then closed shop

A couple of weeks ago I showed some work Mad creator/satirist/cartoonist/editor Harvey Kurtzman had done for Playboy in the 1960s. While listed as editor of Help! Kurtzman was also doing “Little Annie Fanny” for Hefner in Playboy.

The last two issues of Help!, numbers 25 and 26, from 1965, have historic contents because of the early appearances of artists like Gilbert Shelton (“Wonder Warthog”) and R. Crumb (Zap Comix). Both artists went on to fame in underground comix. The last issue also featured an artist, Terry Gilliam, who went on to fame by moving to England and becoming part of the Monty Python troupe.

Crumb’s observations on Bulgaria are wryly humorous. By using straight-faced captions for his sketches, he shows the dichotomy of the Communist Party line of the worker's paradise, and the reality of how tough life was for the citizens in that era.

Help! #25, 1965:

Both Shelton and Terry Gilliam, with writer Dave Crossley, satirize the then-current Civil Rights movement in the South. In retrospect, they might border on tastelessness, but what they did for sure was name names. Crossley and Gilliam go after the Ku Klux Klan, and Shelton’s strip names Mississippi as a state with entrenched racism. I believe the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists, is mostly obsolete and superfluous in 2016, but racism still exists.

Help! #25:

Help! #26, 1965:

I have wondered since buying these issues of Help! off the newsstands, and then to my disappointment having the title disappear, if Kurtzman’s work at Playboy contributed to the end of Help!. “Little Annie Fanny” is labor intensive. In the age of Photoshop where images can be manipulated by software, it is hard to understand how such artistry as Kurtzman, his friend and coworker Will Elder, and other artists as assistants at times, could produce something so epic. Kurtzman did the scripts as rough drawings, and then worked them to perfection on sheets of overlays, which artist Will Elder followed. Elder was known for his uncanny ability to duplicate the work of other artists, and in this particular strip from January, 1967, shows his multiple talents by duplicating the work of the pop artists of the era. All of it is colored with watercolors. If you look close you see Popeye, the Phantom, Krazy Kat, all done in loving detail. That is, if you can tear your eyes away from the nubile Annie. Artist Russ Heath is credited for assisting on the artwork.

Playboy January, 1967:

All of the artwork above is from the Internet Archive, and is copyright by respective copyright holders.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Harvey Kurtzman, Playboy

Harvey Kurtzman was just 68 when he died in 1993. It seems impossible he has been gone for over 20 years because he created so much, and made such an impression on me that I am still reveling in the work he did in the second half of the twentieth century.

Kurtzman created Mad(1) in 1952, after working in the comic book industry for a few years. During his Mad years he created a lasting legacy of satire. Mad is still with us. Unfortunately, he was not always financially well-rewarded for that gift of laughter. He worked hard, going from magazines to an original paperback book, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book, to more magazines, including Playboy. Harvey had created and done a very slick satire magazine called Trump in 1956 for Playboy publisher, Hugh Hefner. It lasted two issues.(2) Harvey also did Humbug magazine, which was printed on the cheap pulp paper by the comic book company, Charlton, and lasted 11 issues in 1957-58. The presentation was cheap, but the contents are priceless. It has been collected into a deluxe slip-cased two-volume set by Fantagraphics.(3) In 1960 he began editing magazines for publisher James Warren, including the first issue of Wildest Westerns, and then 25 issues of Help!(4)

In the early sixties Harvey, with his friend Will Elder, went to work for Playboy doing a lavishly illustrated comic satire, “Little Annie Fanny,” which featured funny stories of current events, but mainly SEX.(5) After all, this is Playboy we are talking about.

Here is one by Harvey and Will (with an assist from artist Russ Heath). It is from December, 1964, and Annie Fanny is a very sexy astronaut.

While editing Help! Kurtzman started using a form of comics with photographs. He called it fumetti, after the term used in Italy for comics. While at Playboy he was able to make at least a couple of fumetto, including this funny satire of Antonioni’s Blow-Up. It features a young Michael J. Pollard (“C.W. Moss” in Bonnie and Clyde from the year before), and a whole stable of statuesque, booby Playmates. Kurtzman is listed as Director, but knowing how Harvey worked, I think he probably did it all out with his meticulous storyboards and layouts. Kurtzman put a lot of sweat into his work, but what he did always came out polished and never looks labored over.

I got these two stories from issues of Playboy available at the Internet Archive. 

Copyright © 1964, 1968 HMH Publishing Co., Inc

(1) Atlantic Monthly article on Kurtzman.

(2) Trump; The Complete Collection will be published in June in hardcover. It is available from

(3) Also available from Amazon, the slip-cover, hardbound volumes of Humbug.

(4) Here is Help! #3, posted by Hairy Green Eyeball.

(5) And never forget, the complete Little Annie Fanny archives are available in Fantagraphics editions sold by Amazon. Out of print and pricy, alas. I hope someone will reprint them at some point.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Al Jaffee of MAD...the oldest living comic book artist

With the political scene looking like a long and very bad Saturday Night Live sketch, it is no wonder I have turned to my other love (other than complaining about politicians, that is): old comics, comic strips, cartooning, satire, and Mad magazine.

Al Jaffee, who began drawing comics in 1941, has gotten some recognition from the Guiness Book of World Records for his longevity as a cartoonist. I have loved Jaffee’s work since first seeing it in 1957 in Humbug, a small Mad-like magazine done by top-notch cartoonists, and edited by Harvey Kurtzman, who created Mad.

 Al Jaffee by Drew Friedman.

Humbug didn’t last long, and after it folded Jaffee went to Mad publisher, William M. Gaines to show his work. Gaines took out his copies of Humbug and said, “Show me your stuff,” and it got Jaffee hired. He is still at Mad, doing his famous fold-ins, among other assignments. I am including one of my favorites of Jaffee’s, the long-running feature, “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” This is funny, and it always makes me laugh. It is pure snark. And I love snark.

All scans Copyright 2016 E C Publications, Inc.

 At Jaffee’s 95th birthday celebration Sam Viviano, Mad's art director, presented Jaffee with the framed original art for the first two pages of the story you just read.

Jaffee is not only an artist/writer, he also writes for other artists. We go back to 1960 for this funny article, “The Parent from 21-60” from Mad #59, published in 1960. It is drawn by one of the greatest comic artists of all, Wallace Wood.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Donald Trump, a gift to cartoonists and satirists

I haven’t been doing posts about Donald Trump. By the time I can get around to writing about something outrageous he said, he has said something else.

The Republican Party has tied itself into knots worrying Trump will actually get the nomination and be their candidate for President. Yep, they’re scared! Many citizens are speaking out against the candidate, calling him boorish and uninformed, rude and insulting. Yep, he’s all those! Obviously it is what his rabid supporters like. He is one of them.

One group who must be shouting hosannas and hallelujahs for Trump are cartoonists and satirists, who have been having a wonderful time with caricatures of Trump. Who could ask for anything more, when for an editorial cartoonist the subject is a caricature of himself. Trump has a startling appearance: a cloud of sprayed, gelled and colored hair, prissy lips, orange spray tan, and of course, the notorious short fingers. Cartoonists must wake up each morning to Christmas. Trump is indeed a gift for them.

I have collected some cartoons just from the past couple of weeks. The news cycles being what they are these cartoons are probably outdated, and in a couple of years may seem quaint, when either Citizen Trump has returned to his reality TV program, or President Trump is sitting in the White House wondering why it is taking so long to build a fence between the U.S. and Mexico.

Patrick Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune

(There is an inside local joke here.. Just as Jews call non-Jews gentiles, Mormons call non-Mormons gentiles. The joke is that a Mormon is calling Bernie Sanders, who is a Jew, a gentile.)

F. Harper, The Week news magazine:

Signe Wilkinson, The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Steve Sack, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Glenn McCoy, Belleville News-Democrat:

Ruben Bolling, “Tom the Dancing Bug”:

Jim Siergey, from a Facebook posting:

Mark Fredrickson, Mad Magazine:

Derf Backderf, Facebook posting:

Homage to Spain Rodriguez’ “Trashman” underground comix strip.

Anonymous, Photoshop portrait: