Saturday, December 28, 2013

Another newsroom falls.

This is the newsroom of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, being dismantled last week. The remaining staff, which was reduced by 30 percent when corporate HQ changed the paper to a 3-days-a-week publication, is moving to smaller digs in a rented space elsewhere. You can read all about this HERE if you care to. Most of the Plain Dealer Building is to be rented out to other businesses. The newsroom here will be the home of a digital-first media company that Corporate HQ is counting on to be the future of journalism. Here's one of their stories; help a staffer name her cat.


I worked at the Plain Dealer at one time, as an art director and back-up political cartoonist. It wasn't in the building above. That's only about 15 years old, built at great expense! It was in the old building, where several thousand people worked. The place teemed with life. Pressman covered in ink were in the basement. Teamsters massed outside in the loading dock. The newsroom had probably 400 people working there. 

I really try not to blog about the sad state of newspapers often, because it's so incredibly depressing to me, and newspaper bankruptcies, fire sales and closings are coming so fast these days that it would soon become monotonous. Besides, I know none of you care that much. You're reading a blog, after all, not a newspaper.

But I've been a newspaperman most of my life. Reading the paper was a big part of my daily routine. It's where I first discovered comix. It was the old cliche scenario: the young twerp spread out on the living room floor with the Sunday Comics section before him, reading every one. Even Dondi. I formed my own neighborhood newspaper. Wrote every article (top story: Backderf kid has street's largest Hot Wheels collection) and filled it, of course, with comix.  I worked on the school paper in high school. Then for The Lantern at Ohio State, where I attended on a journalism scholarship, and launched my career. By that time, I read five or six papers a day. 

I'm not a newspaperman any more. Papers have no use for me or what I do. That's ok. Given their sorry state, to be blunt, I've outgrown them.  But I still lament their passing. We're losing something important here. In a few years, when you get all your news from Nancy Grace rants and Buzzfeed slideshows, you'll understand what.

About half of The Lantern newsroom, 1981. Yep, those are typewriters. We were on
the cusp of the digital revolution, which, to be honest, sucked most of the
vitality out of newspapers.  They lost their soul when thundering typewriters 
were silenced.

Young cartoonist twerp (right) in The Evening Times newsroom, 1985.

Cartoon for the Plain Dealer, 1987.

Staff of the Akron beacon Journal in 1988, just before they won another Pulitzer.
This is about half the newsroom, not including those who were out on
assignment or the large night staff.

Someone reading the Cleveland Edition, 1990. Yeah. people used to read newspapers. In public!

I helped start this paper in 1993, and was its visual personality for seven years,
until it was sold to a cutthroat corporate media company and I bailed.

I was looking over my newspaper resume the other day. Here it is, from beginning to end, in the space of 30 years. These are just my base papers. The total number of newspapers my work has run in tops 200 easy. Most of them aren't in any better shape than the ones below.

The Evening Times– merged with the morning Palm Beach Post and was closed.

The Palm Beach Post– corporate owners laid off or bought out half the staff, sold the press and rents out half the building.

Cleveland Plain Dealer– see above. 

Cleveland Edition– went bankrupt and closed.

Akron Beacon Journal– staff has been cut by 3/4s, press is being sold and is looking to rent the building.

Cleveland Free Times– merged with a competing weekly and was closed.

Cleveland Scene– has just been sold for the 4th time in 15 years, staff has been cut to a handful and circulation has been slashed from 100,000 to 20,000. 

That list pretty much sums up what's become of the industry, no? Glad I'm no longer a newspaperman, that's for damn sure. But it makes me very, very sad nonetheless.

When PR&TP was released, Cleveland Scene did a cover story about it. Two years later
a new regime cut me loose. It was the start of my graphic novel career and the end of
my newspaper one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Al Goldstein and Screw magazine.

Al Goldstein, the insane, combative, perverse, legendary publisher of Screw Magazine has died at age 77.

Why should you care? Well, you probably don't, but Goldstein played a role in comix history. He was one of the porno-warriors of the Sexual Revolution. He was a finger, usually a middle finger, to the eye of "respectable" America. By his count, he was arrested over 20 times. In the Seventies, in particular, he took free expression about as far as it could be dragged. He was the Lenny Bruce of publishing, and ever bit as volatile and self-destructive. Hugh Hefner thought he was scum. Larry Flynt got more publicity. Both attained far greater wealth. But Goldstein was the real deal and Screw was his masterpiece. A weekly newsprint tabloid that covered any and all things sex. It was the sleazy extreme of porn, found only behind the swinging "Adults Only" doors in newsstands. It was hardcore XXX with a brain, but still sporting a boner. 

Screw's manifesto was “We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex.” It's a promise he kept. It's not as if I was a fan of the mag, or admire Goldstein in any way. I just have a grudging appreciation for someone who takes an unpopular, even dangerous, stand. Whether he believed he was pursuing a greater good, or was simply a sleazy pervert wrapping himself in the Bill of Rights, or was just plain nuts, is beside the point. 

The NY Times writes of Goldstein "Apart from Screw, Mr. Goldstein’s most notorious creation was Al Goldstein himself, a cartoonishly vituperative amalgam of borscht belt comic, free-range social critic and sex-obsessed loser who seemed to embody a moment in New York City’s cultural history: the sleaze and decay of Times Square in the 1960s and ‘70s. A bundle of insatiable neuroses and appetites (he once weighed around 350 pounds), Mr. Goldstein used and abused the bully pulpit of his magazine and, later, his late-night public-access cable show, “Midnight Blue,” to curse his countless enemies, among them the Nixon administration, an Italian restaurant that omitted garlic from its spaghetti sauce, himself and, most troubling to his defenders, his own family."

Goldstein closed Screw in 2003 after publishing over 1,000 issues, declaring the internet had bankrupted him. He spent the rest of his life in and out of Bellvue, sometimes homeless. To the surprise of no one, he essentially rotted away. It's the price a social revolutionary usually pays.

From a comix standpoint, however, he was one of the good guys. Screw covers featured a who's who of underground comix: Spain Rodiguez, Danny Hellman, Kim Deitch, Wally Wood, Paul Kirchner, even Robert Crumb. Goldstein, unlike Hefner, a failed cartoonist who meddled constantly with cartoonists' work (he made Harvey Kurtzman miserable), was reportedly great to work for. He'd print anything and his checks always arrived promptly. You'd be surprised how often the latter wasn't the case, even with "legit" publications. In truth, he didn't give a shit about the covers. But he had the sense to hire art directors who did. At the very least, he appreciated that the covers sold his magazine. That's more than most publishers.

One of his art directors, Steven Heller,  recalls  in the NY Times what it was like to work for Goldstein.

Cartoonist Danny Hellman has put together a great blog of Screw covers.

I never tried to land a Screw assignment. Certainly my stuff wouldn't have been much interest in the Eighties, when I was struggling to find my style and voice, but I could have made an attempt in the Nineties. I wish I had. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas from 1985!

A couple things about this piece. 1. what a rotten cartoon! 2. This is a drawing of my "office" which was in the basement of the newspaper building where I was employed at the time, in an unused corner near a giant, antique stat camera that hadn't been used in 20 years.

Since I was the first (and only) cartoonist The Evening Times in West Palm Beach, FL, ever had, no one had a place for me to work when I was hired. So I got an empty desk in the art dept, which serviced both the morning and afternoon papers, both owned by the same conglomerate. The artists drew mostly the morning paper, since The Evening Times was dying, like all p.m. dailies.

All the artists at that time were bible-clutchers. Real lobotomized-by-Jesus types. One in particular insisted on playing Christian talk radio all… fucking… day... long. Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, Pat Robertson, some low-end ranters who were even worse! One day, two of them got in a heated argument about some issue, and began yelling scripture to each other. It went on all day! Young and stupid as I was, and never having encountered anything like this before, it never dawned on me to complain to HR. My pleas to turn to a music station, even elevator muzak, were rebuffed. The fucker refused to listen with headphones. ALL had to hear the word! Finally I could stand no more and one evening after everyone left, I dragged my board down to the bowels of the building into what would charitably be described as a "storage area." A better description would be "a giant pile of discarded shit." Rolls of newsprint, drums of unknown chemicals, bundles of 5-year-old papers.... and me. I shoved away some debris to make room near the one electrical outlet (pictured here).

It was peaceful down there. Just me and the Palmetto bugs, giant brown cockroaches who outnumber human Floridians about 10,000 to 1, who would ocassionally sprint across my drawing table. I'd stab them with my exacto knife. Some critter, presumably a rat, ate my lunch one day when I was at a meeting.

Eventually, turnover being what it was at the low-paying paper, most of the artists moved on, save the most lobotomized one. The new hires were as horrified at the aural assault as I was, and they too fled down into my sanctuary. We all drew while listening to punk rock and jazz and reveled in our hedonistic ways. Soon only the bible-clutcher was left in the actual art department. One board and an empty room! Then some manager finally figured out what was going on, probably yelling "Where the fuck all are the artists?", ordered the radio turned off and everyone back to their department. But I got to stay in the basement.

Devout artist quit shortly after. He stopped speaking to me after I moved out! Guess he was hoping to convert me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kids, It Still Sucks.

The only interest I ever had in Rock Hall inductions was that Kiss hilariously was blown off, year after year. Because you know the loathsome Gene Simmons wanted it SO bad. 

Then the Hall instituted fan voting this year to decide these things, so I knew the delusional, middle-aged Kiss Army would rectify this great "injustice" and sure enough that's what happened. Kiss in a landslide. Now we get to see Simmons pontificating from the dias, hamburger grease oozing out of every orifice.  

Oh. And Kiss still sucks. Epically hard. Here they are battling the Bugaloos and Sigmund Seamonster in the classic Kiss vs. the Phantom of the Park. This scene should play in continuous loop behind them as they make their acceptance speeches.

The rest of this list is one of the lamest ever, even by Rock Hall standards. Nirvana, sure, although I was never much of a fan. Hall & Oates are the kings of earworm soul schlock and responsible for some of the vilest songs that polluted the radiowaves in the early 80s. Peter Gabriel is an overrated bore, even by prog rock standards. He's proof that EVERYone gets into the Rock Hall eventually. Isn't it bad enough that genesis is already there? You want prog represented, then Yes and Rick Wakeman in his wizard hat are a far worthier choice! Or really go long and induct Hawkwind! Linda Rondstadt? Great pipes. Sang mostly cover tunes. Fail. Cat Stevens? Are you fucking kidding me? At least there's no disco acts this year. Oops. Except for Kiss! Who can forget their disco classic I Was Made For Lovin' You? What? You have?  

The best we can hope for is that fists fly between Frehley, Criss, Stanley and Simmons. There hasn't been a good onstage blow-up since Elvis Costello flipped off Bruce Moore. Instead they'll probably announce their 35th reunion tour.

I would however, be totally behind inducting Mini Kiss. 

Why do I care? Well, I don't really. Except here in the Cleve, we're inundated with this shit every year, so I allow myself a robust annual bitch.

End of rant. Now I can go back to totally ignoring the Rock Hall.

Oh. And Kiss still sucks.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oh dear God...

…check out this photo of a newsstand in 1942, especially the comic book racks on the left and right! It blows up, so hit your enlarge key.

To hell with the Action Pants (below). For Christmas I want a TARDIS, a coffee can full of 1940 dimes and a couple big-ass shopping bags!

On my Xmas List!

My Action Zone craves some Action Pants!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Punk Rock & Trailer Parks Item-of-the-Month

Cheetah Chrome shows you how to play Sonic Reducer. Now how friggin cool is THAT?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Good PBS Piece on Yours Truly

This was originally done for the Cleveland PBS affiliate, right when My Friend Dahmer debuted in March 2012. In fact, much of the interview was conducted in the William Busta Gallery in downtown Cleveland, where I held the official book launch, in conjunction with a gallery show that featured original pages, sketches and artifacts. It was a great show. Seems like a million years ago!

But the interview has now popped up in an arts show for the Las vegas PBS affiliate, who thoughtfully posted it on Youtube, so I can share it with you here. It's one of the better interviews I filmed, I think. The creepy music is a little melodramatic, but otherwise they did a nice job with it. You get a glimpse of the attic studio where I created this book, too.

My bit starts at the 18:00 mark.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ted Rall censored by Daily Kos

Colleague and pal Ted Rall was censored by Daily Kos. Because of the way he draws Obama. You read that correctly. For the way he DRAWS Obama. After he posted a cartoon last week, this warning appeared:

"Your depiction of Barack Obama is intolerable. Being critical of Obama, even ferociously so, is not the problem. Through British and American history, blacks have been subjected to racist depiction of themselves as monkeys and apes. No excuse is acceptable for replicating that history now, no matter what your intent. If it happens again, your posting privileges will be suspended."

For the record, I don't believe Ted is in any way a racist, and don't find his caricature of Obama to be racist. Here it is below, next to a random white guy.

As you can see, Ted's Obama is pretty much the way Ted draws EVERYone. But the editors at Kos publicly shamed him for making Obama look like what they thought was "an ape". The warning itself reeks of bullshit. Lecturing a political cartoonist on the history of cartoons, then making a point of stating, hey, it has nothing to do with the content so don't dare accuse us of that! 

The real issue, I've no doubt, is that (far) lefty Ted is highly critical of the prez and his policies and the rabid Obama supporters who make up much of the Kos readership wanted him gone. The editors cowtowed to their complaints and hit Ted with the "racist" label to cover their own editorial pusillanimity. They pulled this stunt just before the Thanksgiving holiday so there'd be no media coverage. Political cartoons are a dying genre. This is why.

Ted was not a paid contributor to Kos. Instead, he posted his strips for free in the Kos feed, to see what kind of reaction he would get and to drive traffic to his own site. He writes that his strip always generated some of the most comments in any given day. Kos has a weird rating system. They call it "self moderating." But Ted cartoons always generated a lively debate, as good political cartoons are supposed to, but so rarely do anymore as the genre wheezes its last. I believe what really went down here was a witch hunt by a herd of pro-Obamites to remove Ted from the site by any means possible. So they pulled out the race card and piled on the liberal white guilt, and the editors buckled.

Ted  then posted this "fuck you" article on Daily Kos, which sent the commenters into an outraged frenzy. I've no doubt that was Ted's intent. He loves a good fight. One wrote "Ted crossed the line, in the same way the Danish cartoonists and Salman Rushdie did."

That's the attitude of these nitwits? That fatwahs are OK, especially if they come from a place of serene progressive goodness? My god.

Full disclosure: I was told by a Kos insider back when comix were first brought on board that my strip was also deemed "unworthy." Markos Moulitsas didn't like it. I've no problem with that, and Moulitsas is at least the real deal who believes in the politics of his site, unlike that hypocritical hag Arriana Huffington. Ted also didn't make the cut. There's no hard feeling on my part. I'm essentially done as a strip cartoonist now that I'm Mr. Bigshot Graphic Novelist. I continue with The City more as a weekly creative exercise than anything.

There's nothing worse than liberals on a PC vendetta. Rightwingers rant and rave, and may issue a death threat or two, but outraged liberals' first demand ALWAYS is that the offending material be removed. I've run into this a few times, no where near as much as Ted.

Ted is, by his own admission, not the most skilled artist in the political cartooning field. His caricatures are barely that. I describe his style as "Brutalism." But it works for him. A Rall cartoon is immediately identified, unlike 90 percent of political cartoons, which look as if they've been drawn by the same hand. I, too, was a Brutalist for a large stretch of my career, especially in the Nineties during my alt-weekly heyday. My style was even more extreme, all popping eyeballs and contorted features. I've re-thought that stylistic position and now, quite frankly, view it as a huge mistake on my part. It's no coincidence that when I moved to a straightforward (some would say "boring") art style, when I began making graphic novels, that my career took off. Of course, it could also be that my books are far superior to my strips, and I was foolishly toiling in the wrong genre all along. But I believe by making comix so purposely ugly, you give people, especially the "gatekeepers" in media, an easy excuse to reject you. Better to draw like an Archie comic or Family Circus and fill it with evil humor! Ted's brutalist caricature of Obama led to this nonsense. Had he drawn the prez in a classic caricature style, they couldn't have attacked him this way. When I draw Obama now, it's the most boring caricature I can manage. 

But Ted has won a couple RFK Awards and has been a Pulitzer finalist. He served as president of the Assoc. of American Editorial Cartoonists and, during his tenure, rightly addressed the appalling amount of swiping and plagiarism and hack work being produced by the membership. None of that matters to the Kos horde who, judging by their comments, are too intellectual to read cartoons anyways. Which leaves them free to censor them.

No one wins here. Kos readers will be happy Ted's offending cartoons are gone and they can return to languidly reading nothing but pro-Obama doggerel. That only increases the media political chasm we have in this country, a vast yawning expanse where the left and right yell insults at each other across the void. Ted, for his part, moves on, but is painted as a racist and ten years from now this ancient Kos brouhaha will still pop up on Google searches, probably very near the top since Kos has mastered manipulation of search engines.

The editors of Daily Kos should be ashamed of themselves.