Monday, April 28, 2014

Punk Rock & Trailer Parks Item-of-the-Month: FM Radio Daze

I've been pondering the whole Classic Rock format lately. Why? My 14-year-old daughter always switches on one of the three local classic rock stations when we're in the car, because she doesn't like my "weird" music on the college stations. It's strange enough to have a teenager listen to the music of my era, now some 40 years in the rear-view mirror, but even more than that, I find the whole construct of classic rock to be, well, ... bizarre. 

It seems to be a playlist right out of mainstream 1980: lots of arena rock staples. But why 1980? Why not a playlist culled from, say, 1975? Or 1972? Who decides these things? What curious marketing formula came up with this playlist? Why does it endure, virtually identical, in every city in the land?

It's not even an accurate copy of Seventies rock radio. The formula cuts out 75 percent of the rock radio playlist from my day. There's absolutely no punk or new wave, even the pop hits, which did worm their way ocassionally into the FM playlist back then. Classic rock has lots of Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Floyd (always fucking Pink Floyd, then and now, Floyd, Floyd, Floyd), but rock radio in the Seventies also constantly played the Beatles and the Stones and the Who. You didn't hear a lot of the Airplane or the Dead. That shit belonged to the previous generation. Curiously, they still played Janis and Crosby, Stills and Nash, though. Not a lot of Doors then, which, of course, classic rock does play now. I ponder this purely out of curiosity, not because I particularly care. I'd like to know the thinking that goes into the classic rock formula. What marketing logarithm spit this thing out? 

Here in Ohio, the rock radio format was invented and perfected by one station, the legendary WMMS, aka The Buzzard. On the flip side, punk rock was created here, too! Arena rock bombast vs. DIY punk. By the end of the Seventies, these two great musical forces slammed together in a cultural train wreck that left the industry in shambles and essentially spelled the end of rock-n-roll as a major force.

WMMS dominated the airwaves like no other had ever done in a single market and became the voice of an entire generation. For Otto, living in a fictional small town outside Akron, WMMS would have been his default station, as it was for every kid. In the Seventies, if you were between the ages of 13 and 30 and lived in the northern half of Ohio, you listened to WMMS, which was known simply as MMS or The Buzzard. You covered your car in MMS stickers, you wore a lucky Buzzard concert shirt to every stadium show, and you peeled out of the school parking lot with MMS blasting from the car stereo as you pumped your fist out the window. It was the station that ruled the hearts and minds of teenagers and twenty-somethings, and ruled the airwaves. 

In 1970, it was an insignificant freeform rock station on the seldom-listened-to FM band, owned by a loathsome Cleveland radio entrepeneur who was infamous for his cheapskate  rule and unpleasant personality. The DJs programmed their own shows. One would put on a King Crimson LP, then pass out in the control room and let the entire side play. Another stripped and did his show in the nude, because the owner wouldn't spring for an air conditioned studio. But just five years later, it was the most powerful rock radio station in the country, thanks to a young station manager, John Gorman, with a vision and a genius for promotion. Under his direction, WMMS became a behemoth that broke then-unknown acts like Springsteen and Rush, could sell out an arena show in 10 minutes and turned a failing Rustbelt town into a rock-n-roll market whose passion was unparalleled.

WMMS was a promotional juggernaut. Radio in the US has never seen a station like this, before or since, mainly thanks to Gorman. He did more than transform an obscure FM station into a behemoth, he made MMS the personality of a youthful Ohio.

He plastered the city with billboards, filled record stores with MMS paraphernalia, all starring the goofy cartoon Buzzard (a nearby National Park is renowned for its native buzzards, that's where it came from), carted a giant inflatable Buzzard to every stadium show the station promoted. Wherever there was rock music, WMMS was there, in force. In the days when Cleveland (even more than it is now) was known as the Mistake on the Lake and was mocked by Johnny Carson every night, MMS was the delusional cheerleader of Cleveland that single-handedly turned a battered factory town into the "Rock-n-Roll Capital of the Universe!" CLEVELAND ROCKS became the bellowed response to any and all who put us down. All thanks to MMS.

I remember MMS somewhat fondly. It was, after all, the soundtrack of my youth. During my long afternoons in art class, MMS played on the stereo. It is indelibly entwined with my memory of my scholastic art career, as I was bent over a board scribbling out comix and weird cartoons of Dahmer.

I also grew to loath the station. Its playlist was, of course, horrible. Fist-pumping arena rock anthems for stoner morons and party girls. If punk rock was a middle finger to the rock-n-roll establishment, MMS was the house organ of that establishment.

You couldn't be a kid and not listen to MMS. You woke up to Jeff and Flash in the morning, telling stupid stoner jokes, you cranked it in the school parking lot at lunch while hanging out in your van and sneaking a bowl, you blared it as you cruised over lonely country roads in the evening. Unless, of course, you were a weirdo nerd who liked this new punk rock shit. Then you were crap out of luck. 

For a station that trumpeted how awesome rock-n-roll in Cleveland was, WMMS totally ignored all the seminal punk bands that crawled out of the Cuyahoga River ooze in the Seventies. You never heard Devo or the Dead Boys on MMS. The Cramps? No way. Pere Ubu? Oh please. The one exception was Rocket From the Tombs, who somehow scored a live Coffeebreak Concert in 1974. The sonic monster of punk playing on MMS at LUNCHTIME? How the hell did THAT happen? This was when MMS usually offered an Eagles Rock Block or a Twofer Tuesday from Heart! This unexplainable choice proved to be a huge boon to music fans, since it's the only professional recording that exists of RFTT! Naturally, MMS never played them again.

I, of course, was in high school in the late Seventies, one of that WMMS generation. As my interest in punk rock grew, my connection to the mainstream youth culture that was around me grew smaller and smaller. In some bullshit romantic way, that sounds cool, the solitary outsider, but in truth, it really sucked. 

The people in charge of rock radio, you see, hated punk. Right from the start, programmers and DJs regarded it as some kind of threat, a bunch of unbathed twerps with stupid hair who couldn't play their instruments and were impugning the integrity of true artists like Emerson, Lake and Palmer. That's no surprise since these guys were all in their Forties by then, and digging the fame and success that came from playing ball with the music industry. No one wanted some snotty punk kids fucking up the money pipeline. 

DJ Kid Leo.

I remember when the Pistols Anarchy in the UK single first came out in 1976. The Pistols were already making headlines for their antics, even though they were only a live band. They were being held up as an example of the "Can you believe these kids today? Society is doomed!" thing by mainstream media who were too square to get the point. MMS' star drive-time DJ, Kid Leo (who looked like a stereotypical record company weasel with a greased-back pompadour) got ahold of a copy before anyone else in the states. I dunno, maybe MMS flew someone over to London to get the damn thing as it came off the stamping press. I happened to be listening in my Vega the day the played it. They'd been building it up all day. I was really amped to hear it, since I'd never heard the Pistols at that point. So Leo starts playing it, then pauses it to rant about how lousy it is. Plays some more. Another rant. This goes on for the whole track! I was screaming at the radio in outrage. The Leo takes it off, assures listeners they'll never hear something that awful again, proclaims "let's hear some REAL rock-n-roll" and puts on Journey or something. Arrrrgh. 

In End of the Century, Danny Green, manager of the Ramones describes the attitude of rock-n-roll radio stations like MMS in the Seventies as punk began to surge:

"And when (punk rock) records went around to radio stations, intuitively, they'd say, what do I know about them? They're trouble. If we play their record, we'll probably have to have them here and they'll throw up on the console and wreck the studio and... don't play the record! It's easy! Don't play the record!!"

It went even deeper than that. There were record stores that wouldn't carry punk records, because they'd, I dunno, infect the "real" rock records or turn off their loyal clientele, as if the very presence of Rocket to Russia would cause Springsteen fans to flee from the store. And, quite honestly, the vast percentage of teenage listeners did indeed share this animosity toward punk rock! My contemporaries would react violently to any and all punk music. I know it sounds absolutely crazy. That first Devo single, the cover of the Stones' Satisfaction, would send your average rock-n-roll butthead into a rage! I don't know if it was the music itself, or what the did to one of the great standards of rock, or what. But playing that song in the wrong company was like taking a dump on a Bible in front of a Catholic School football team. 

So radio was a no go for us. At home, we could listen to our records, but what could we do for tunes on the go, in the car or at the beach or hanging out? Remember, this was before the internet, before iPods, hell we didn't even have Walkmans! College radio hadn't started up yet, either. The only option, if you weren't listening to terrestrial radio and its nauseating diet of Skynnrd and Thin Lizzy, was... the cassette tape. It was the latest recording technology. The record companies hated it, because they wanted kids shelling out $7 for an LP, not borrowing a buddy's records and making a mixtape. In fact, the only way blank tapes were allowed to be sold in the US was with a surcharge tacked on the price that went to the record companies to compensate them for "stealing" their music. Buy a blank cassette today and you'll still pay that surcharge!

That's what punk rock was: a couple hundred hipsters in every city sharing cassettes with each other.  I still have a soft spot for cassettes because of that. It was part of the punk aesthetic. The punk mix tape replaced the radio. It was the first crack in the stranglehold terrestrial radio had on music. For the first time, kids had an option to the bullshit that was coming over the air. 

Just a decade later, rock radio was done.

John Gorman wrote an excellent book about  WMMS. It was a surprisingly enjoyable read. The accompanying website is even better, full of clips and recordings. A glimpse of a time when FM Rock Radio ruled the world. HERE

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conservo-blogger tees off on My Friend Dahmer!

Here's a first. A rightwing blogger weighs in on MFD

Surprise! She doesn't like it.

The blogger in question is a housewife and blogger from suburban Chicago. Her grand cause is public libraries, particularly her local branch. She has been waging war on this poor institution for several years, specifically because it, like virtually all public libraries, doesn't have filters on its public computers, so pedophiles can use them to view child porn. Really. Not that anyone is doing that, there's just the possibility that they can. This has become a total obsession with this homeschooler mommy. She's also one of those book-yanking buffoons who believes all objectionable tomes should be removed from the shelves.

She has peppered her local library with Freedom of Information requests, has a Facebook fan page where she logs her complaints and the library's many "crimes", gets in arguments with library board members at meetings, confronts librarians on the job and tapes their exchanges with her phone, pulls objectionable books off the shelves and rants about them, and makes a general nuisance of herself, all with an air of holier-than-thou pomposity and a  toothy grin. It's all the usual things gadflies do. Seems like every town has at least one.Those poor librarians must cringe when she stomps through the front entrance every day.

She weighs in here on MFD. Why? From her statements in the video she posted on Youtube, it's mainly because the American Library Assoc. gave MFD an Alex Award, which honors the best books for teen readers every year. Right in her wheelhouse and her suspicions (and hackles) are immediately raised. Librarians love it and it's a book about a serial killer. It must be objectionable and inappropriate, right?

She starts off by stating how much she dislikes graphic novels. Nothing like dropping those preconceptions, honey! She also hates my art. "This guy's artwork just grosses me out."  

She admonishes her "audience" (which appears to be her co-blogger and a kid, very likely her own, who sends in questions) because they don't know who Dahmer is, then proceeds to give a laundry list of factually incorrect statements about his life and crimes! She even manages to work in that Darwinism is to blame for Dahmer's spree! Holy crap, what a maroon.

Among the highlights:

She places blame on ME for Dahmer's crimes, because I didn't intervene when I was 16. "If (Derf) had been more aware of his role in society, perhaps he could have saved a bunch of people from being sliced up and eaten. Don't think he's a great guy. I think he's a jerk"

Oh. OK. Apparently, she missed the major theme of the book, about indifference and culpability, and the brutal honesty that I employ to discuss these issues. The overall tone of regret that infuses the book also sails right past her. Not surprisingly, our conservo-blogger here is not the most perceptive of readers. 

She also worries that teenagers who read this book could be turned into roadkill loving pervs!  "What kind of kid is reading this? What if it's someone who is dealing with this kind of issue? What it it's a kid who didn't think he'd be sexually turned on by killing animals and then gets a look at this and thinks, oh, that might be fun!"

Now, THAT'S a new one! Comix turning kids into pervs. Calling Dr. Werthem!

In the end, she grudgingly confesses it's not the outrageous book about murder and necrophilia she obviously hoped it would be when she plucked it off the shelf. 

"It's a sad one, but I see how it could start a good conversation. So I'm not gonna give this one a total thumbs down. It's not terrible."

I debated it, but I won't post the video. I'm not giving her the hits, because I'm guessing she doesn't get many.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

France Spring Tour 2014!

Thurs., May 1 
Signing, all day
Arras, France 

Fri., May 2
Signing, 5 pm
Librairie Super Héros
175 rue St. Martin, Paris

Sat., May 3
Signing, 11am to 1 pm
Folie d'Encre bookstore

Sat., May 3
Signing, 4 to 6 pm
Comics and Records
76 rue Charlot, Paris

Tues., May 6
Signing, Noon to 6 pm
Le Migou bookstore

Weds. May 7
Talk and signing, 6:30 pm
L'Usage du Monde bookstore
32 rue de la Jonquière

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Derf daily strip that never was

Here's an artifact I've never shown before. These are sample strips from a proposed daily comic strip that I shopped around 26 years ago, in 1988! 

I didn't even have a name for it, but the basic premise was a chunk of food is left too long in the back of the fridge and comes to life. Hilarity and strange doings ensue.

If you wanted to submit a comic strip to the syndicates in those days, there was a very specific process. Violate it, and your stuff was immediately hurled into the dumpster. There were only five or so syndicates. They controlled every daily comic page in the land. That, of course, was the problem and those pages were full of lame dreck like Blondie and Andy Capp that were drawn by dead guys. Or rather, by the original creator's kid or longtime assistant, who had learned to copy the dead creator's style. Corpse strips, we call them. There was almost no room for new work. So a creator submitted six weeks of dailies. No phone calls! Syndicates received hundreds of proposals a year and picked maybe two.

These are some of my sample strips. Fairly lame, but daily strips were already crap then (and soon to get far, far worse). The syndicates wanted easily-marketed strips that fit a certain niche: a strip for new parents, a strip for single moms, a strip for one-legged retirees, etc. They seldom took a strip that was just funny and weird and didn't have that hook. I wasn't interested in something like that at all, but thought this concept, a young urban couple and a creature with merchandising potential, would be enough of a gimmick to generate interest. My plan was, I'll get my foot in the door and then make it into what I want, work in some cranky satire, maybe some politics. Yeah, I was pretty naive and that would have been an ugly battle with corporate marketing suits. But generate interest it did. Universal Press wrote me back (no phone calls!) and requested six more weeks of dailies.

I spent a couple weeks cranking those out and mailed them in (no phone calls!). Then waited. Months passed, two, three, four. No phone calls!! Then I got the boilerplate letter: thumbs down.

Man, what a fucking scam! I do THREE MONTHS of strips for free and for naught? And then get blown off by letter? Screw that! This was the only daily strip proposal I would do.  

Luckily during that four-month wait I experimented with freeform cartoons, which would eventually become The City. I had so much fun with those, and I liked what I produced so much, there was no way I wanted to waste time with a lowbrow daily strip for squares like this one.

So this is nothing but a curiosity, one I thought I'd share. You can see hints of The City here in the drawing style. This is a lot cleaner and... ahem... unchallenging. Daily strips were a lot smaller than weekly strips then, so accommodations had to be made. And of course, a corporate daily in Buttfuck, South Dakota doesn't want some scary underground drawing.

If you think the main character looks like Dilbert, and he sort of does, Dilbert didn't debut until 1989, a year LATER. So there.

Thank GOD Universal Press didn't buy this! I would have sucked into the sweatshop hell of cranking out seven strips a week. Brrrr.

Here's some of the proposal. It had a little more storyline continuity than appears here.

Carl Sagan dies at 62, while Pat Robertson lives on and on and on.

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

― Carl Sagan

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Things I dig: Marvelmania's awesome posters

Back in 1969, Marvel unveiled its new a fan club, Marvelmania International. It replaced the first one, The Merry Marvel Marching Society, which was in operation from 1966. Marvelmania was a fan club in name only. It was really a mail order firm that purchased merchandising rights from Marvel, not a fan club. It was a sleazy operation from the get go and one of the great little-known tales of the Bronze Age. 

The mastermind of Marvelmania, the mysterious and elusive Don Wallace, was a 40-year-old former Marine judo instructor who had owned a number of low-end manufacturing companies in Los Angeles. His link to comics is unknown. Perhaps he just saw an opportunity. He made a sales pitch to Marvel owner Martin Goodman to start a "fan club" that Marvel wouldn't have to operate. It would be a separate company  Wallace would do it all. Marvel would get its cut and have none of the hassle. Goodman green-lighted it, happy to shut down the company-operated Merry Marvel Marching Society and offload the fan club shit on an outside operation. This is long before Disney and $1 billion movies and corporate tie-ins. Marvel was a shoe-string operation in 1969. The MMMS was entirely run by Marvel's secretary, Flo Steinberg, who had just left for another job. Wallace hired neophytes (but fanzine veterans) Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman as editorial staff to produce Marvelmania Magazine and rented a warehouse in Culver City for the mail order stuff. He made big promises of financial windfalls to creators like Kirby and Steranko and coaxed original work out of them, and assembled an impressive catalog of posters, decals and other Marvel paraphernalia. These wares were pushed in every Marvel mag throughout 1970 and 1971, along with the usual breathless accolades and "Face Front!" cheers from Stan Lee on the Bullpen Bulletins page.

Marvelmania offered 11 original posters during its short life, and they're all classics.

The first two poster sets were offered at the same time, each costing $2, including postage. The printing was nice, although the paper was pretty thin. Each poster was 2' x 3'. The above Set B was the best, featuring three original Kirby drawings that were both penciled and inked by Jack. Kirby never inked his own work, so these are rare indeed. He obviously felt Marvelmania was going to be a big revenue stream for him. Rounding out the set was, inexplicably, the Black Knight, credited to Howard Purcell, although it looks more like John Buscema. Why a minor character, who didn't even have his own title, along with Marvel's big stars? Who knows. Clearly a filler piece, but the three Kirby ones were well worth the two bucks. Even 1970 bucks.

Set A was a beaut, too. Steranko's Cap was the big draw here, although Kirby's Dr. Doom is my personal favorite of all these. Look at that composition. Doom was featured in his own book at this point, the dual-feature Astonishing Tales, so it made sense Marvel was pushing him. The Trimpe Hulk and Romita Spidey are actually based on Kirby posters that Jack drew for Marvelmania. For reasons unknown, these were never used. I'm guessing because Trimpe and Romita were the regular artists on these books. Kirby couldn't have been happy about having them redrawn, even if that was par for the course at Marvel! 

Here's the original Kirby Spidey. Note the Kirbyesque robots, which Romita swapped out for Doc Ock and the Goblin. Color was added many years later for The Kirby Collector magazine. The rap on Jack was that he was incapable of drawing Spider-man, a charge frequently foisted by Stan Lee, who probably had his own selfish reasons for stating that, as he usually did. It's not the greatest Spidey, but it's not bad. I, for one, would have loved to see Kirby draw an issue of Spider-man. He never got that chance.

Jack's Hulk original above. Now what's the deal having Trimpe re-draw this? I love Herb's Hulk, don't get me wrong, but, unlike Romita, he wasn't one of Marvel's star artists. That just seems like a real slap in the face. No wonder Jack was plotting his departure to DC!

Here's Jack inspecting the first round of posters. Since the Spidey was never printed, this must be a color proof, or perhaps the original color stat.

I had all these posters, which makes me the rarest of young Marvelmania members: a kid who actually received what he paid for! The orders were raining in but Marvelmania's Wallace filled very few of them. $4 was big money to me then, since I could only coax $1 out of the Old Man for mowing the lawn, and he didn't approve of me "wasting" money on comic books. If I had lost that dough, all I would have gotten was a lecture from the Old Man.

A third set of posters in 1971 were all by Steranko, then the hottest creator in comics. It was his swan song. He was about to give up comic books altogether for publishing and illustration. Typically, he went out with a bang with this b&w poster set. 

The Cap poster, with a slightly different design, was offered in the earlier Set A, in full color, but apparently none of these four were ever produced. Versions of the originals have popped up since. The Hulk drawing was later used as a cover for FOOM Magazine, part of the Marvel fan club that rose from Marvelmania's ashes, which Steranko himself ran!

Plenty of orders were taken for the Steranko set, including my hard-earned $1.50. By this time, Marvel was being peppered with complaints of merchandise never received. It became a total clusterfuck and suddenly Goodman had a far bigger headache than the old MMMS fan club. And since Marvelmania was on the other coast, there was no way to reel in the operation. It crashed and burned quickly. Creators, who had not gotten the promised compensation, cut off Marvelmania. Sherman quit in disgust, and Evanier soon followed, but grabbed Kirby's original art for the posters on the way out, along with a large stack of Kirby original pages from his Marvel mags, and returned them to Jack. A grateful Kirby hired them both to be his assistants. After but two years, the postal scam that was Marvelmania International was done. 

Ronin Ro in his book Tales to Astonish, describes the ugly end of Marvelmania:

Soon, creditors came after (Don Wallace). The sheriff shut him down, and the police sat there and took the funds as they came in the door. Employees who left work on a Friday arrived on Monday to find (Wallace) had cleaned the place out and disappeared.

Wallace would never materialize again.  No one knows what happened to him.

Marvel quickly yanked the Marvelmania ads from its books, but unfortunately the three-month lead time resulted in more fans being bilked even after Marvel pulled the plug. Naturally, the skinflint owner Goodman had no intention of refunding all the ripped off fans. There wasn't even an official  apology! All that signaled the end of Marvelmania was this item on the Bullpen Bulletins page in December 1971:

SPECIAL NOTICE: Just as this issue went to press, we learned that Marvelmania International, the club which has been advertising in our pages for some months, has been officially disbanded. No more memberships or orders should be sent to Marvelmania.

All that remains are the original posters, six issues of Marvelmania Magazine and a few other items. My copies of the posters disappeared long ago. Eleven year olds aren't known for the archival tendencies. I'd love to re-acquire a few of them, especially the Kirby ones. Anyone have any to trade in exchange for original art, drop me a line.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The media is being extra stupid this week

First, with the story of PETA and Dahmer's boyhood home. About a week ago, PETA announced it was planning to purchase the house where Jeff committed his first murder, and turn it into a Vegan restaurant. 

The house has been for sale for years.

Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, sent a letter last Friday to the real estate agent who has listed the Bath Township house for sale. In the letter, she proposed making the house a vegan restaurant “to respond to the past with something positive.” 

Newkirk compared the way animals are slaughtered, processed and consumed to the way Dahmer treated his victims.

“We are always looking for ways to draw attention to the violence inherent in the production of meat, eggs, and milk — which involve processes that would shock all but the most hard-hearted person,” Newkirk wrote. “Dahmer’s old house gives us a way to evoke sympathy for these victims and to suggest that a life-affirming diet can change everything.”

The story went viral. 

Problem was, not a single reporter bothered to check with Bath Township officials. If they had, they would have quickly ascertained this was just another publicity stunt by PETA, an organization that specializes in stunts.

Dahmer's house is in a sleepy rural-suburban neighborhood zoned residential. There is NO fucking way a zoning variance would EVER be granted for such a thing. The neighbors would go on the warpath. Especially if PETA was involved, since Bath is solidly country-club Republican. Additionally, that part of town doesn't have water and sewer. Dahmer's house has a well and a septic tank. Can't have a restaurant without water and sewer. And finally, the driveway has room for maybe four cars tops. Since the house is shoehorned onto a lot on a steep hill, there's no way to expand that.

Yesterday, PETA admitted it was all a lie. One phone call is all it would have taken. But so much easier to just re-blog. 

The second viral non-story is the Death of Archie.

Archie Comics announced that the iconic checker-headed teen will be killed off in July, in the final issue of Life With Archie.

How terrible! Is nothing sacred? 

Another bullshit publicity stunt.

Life With Archie is a title set in the "future," where various possible Archie storylines unfold. It's like Lost with it's ridiculous "flash sideways" storylines. None of the various future Archies are the real Archie, and present day Archie will live on in all the other titles. His "death" won't count. But this story has also gone viral, thanks to media who have no clue how mainstream comic book companies operate these days, killing off characters willy nilly in annual summer blockbuster events. Hell, it's not even original. It's totally cliche in the comic book world, and every fan recognizes it for what it is. 

 However,  I've no doubt the issue will be the top-selling Archie comic book in years, which isn't saying much, considering the latest Life With Archie sales figures show the Dec. issue  sold a scant 2,200 copies.  But, hey,good for Archie execs for the PR coup. 

Btw if you want a truly good Archie Comics title to read, I highly recommend The Fox by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid.

Monday, April 7, 2014

De-chiefing Wahoo, part 2

So. It appears I may bear a good measure of blame for the inexplicable continued existence of the Cleveland Indians racist mascot, Chief Wahoo! Because of cartoons like this one. Inside info has just come my way that sheds new light on what went down at a pivotal moment in the Chief's history. Read on.

Back in 1993, the Indians were readying themselves to move to their new ballpark, leaving behind the cavernous dump by the lake, crumbling Municipal Stadium. The plan was to retire Chief Wahoo when they made the move across downtown. A hissy fit by the Indians owner over my cartoons changed those plans. 

Billionaire creeps Dave and Dick Jacobs

The owner was shopping center billionaire Dick Jacobs. He and his brother David had purchased the moribund franchise in 1986, off a dead guy. No lie. The previous owner, Francis O'Neill had croaked in 1983 and the team had been owned by his "estate" for three years. Only in Cleveland, as we are fond of saying here. The Jacobs Bros. were one of the rival billionaire clans of Cleveland, all of whom schemed and fought each other to run the city and gain the primo spot in front of the public trough where hundreds of millions in public funds waited to be devoured. The brothers were riding high in the late Eighties, because the then mayor was an ally, a rare Republican in heavily Democratic Cleveland. The brothers milked Mayor (later Governor, then Senator) George Voinovich for every public dollar and sweetheart deal they could. They sucked the town dry. With the new ballpark, it was the usual cat-and-mouse. The Jacobs threatened to move the team unless the taxpayers funded a new baseball-only ballpark. Voinovich and the daily Plain Dealer beat the drums in support. The county-wide tax issue passed by a hair in 1990. Brother Dave didn't live to see the new park. He kicked the bucket in 1993, a year before it opened.

Dickie boy loved Chief Wahoo. Jacobs was the most loathsome strain of one-percenter, a hard-line free market commando (except for socialist funding of stadiums, of course, and huge tax abatements for all his shopping mall projects). He didn't give a shit about anybody, and certainly not Injuns. There were no Injuns in Cleveland! Just pesky blacks who wouldn't vote for his tax abatements. 

For years the Indians had downplayed Wahoo. When Jacobs bought the team in 1986, the Chief was quietly fading away, much like the Cleveland Browns mascot, the Brownie, had a generation earlier. 

The most prominent use of Wahoo was the rusting neon sign atop the old Stadium. This familiar 28-foot-high landmark went up on the roof in 1962. He loomed over the Shoreway, flickering on and off, depending on how attentive the maintenance staff was to his needs, like a grinning lighthouse Beacon. By the end, he didn't light up at all, and was streaked with soot stains and pockmarked with rust. The Indians uniforms still had the leering visage of their bright-red jigaboo on the sleeve, but the cap featured only a 'C'. There were plenty of Wahoo souvenirs, but the Chief was steadily diminishing, as was the team itself, with a steady string of epically bad 100-loss seasons. Nobody really gave a shit about Wahoo because nobody gave a shit about the hapless Indians. They were never on national TV. They didn't come within 20 games of the playoffs. In fact, they were usually 30 games back by the All-star break! They were ignored by Sports Illustrated and the other big sports media. The team barely existed at all. Outside of Cleveland, most Ohioans were Reds fans.

Jacobs vowed to "revitalize" the franchise when he bought it. One of those measures was to embrace Indians history, even though the team hadn't won a title since 1948 and had been the worst team in baseball for the past 25 years. To accomplish this, Jacobs plastered the retro Chief on any and everything.

Hall of Famer Phil Niekro models the Indians new look in 1986. The Chief is featured
on the cap for the first time and remain there until this season.

Idiot baseball fans loved this pandering to "tradition," even if that tradition was a total fabrication. But there were some who strongly objected. Suddenly, Native American protestors, led by late activist Russell Means, started picketing opening day. That had never happened before and it got lots of coverage. Jacobs stewed. This was not part of the plan. 

Several locals also hammered away at Wahoo. One was the late Daniel Thompson, then recently named Cleveland's poet laureate and one of the central forces in the burgeoning arts scene. He often joined the protests.

Flyer passed out by poet laureate Daniel Thompson at a
Indians home opener.

The other local.... was me.

I began taking potshots at Wahoo when I joined the weekly paper, The Edition in 1990. I was pretty much the only media figure in town to do so. All the others, from radio to TV to the daily columnists and political cartoonist had no problem at all with the Chief. I and The Edition were the only media who were calling out the Indians for their racist cartoon character. Hard as it is to believe, Wahoo had never been subjected to cartoon satire until I started doing it. Hell, just a few years earlier, the Plain Dealer had an old-time sports cartoonist who drew the Chief every day for the paper! He'd been doing this since the Fifties. If the Indians lost that day, he'd draw Wahoo with a black eye and a broken feather and little stars spinning around his head. If they won, which didn't happen very often, he'd be running around with a big grin yelling "Woo! Woo! Wooo!" Seriously! They were that horrendous.

Remember now, it was a very different time in 1993. There was no internet, no smartphones or iPads. Cable tv was growing fast, but was only about 13 years old and hardly all pervasive. Newspapers still had some muscle, even struggling weekly rags. Stacks of Editions were all over downtown. People read it and its content created a buzz. I drew several anti-Wahoo covers in the early Nineties and Jacobs couldn't help but see them as he stalked from his limo to his office. Cleveland is a big city, but it's movers and shakers act like it's a small town. They are infamously thin-skinned, especially our Lords of Professional Sports.

These cartoons hit the streets of Cleveland like hand grenades and images like the ones above  sent Jacobs and his sycophants into a rage. The response was crazy! An Indians exec called the paper, chewed out a staffer and canceled the paper's press credentials! This kind of outside-the-box criticism simply wasn't done in Cleveland back then, and certainly not from the timid, lapdog local media. The Edition was an altogether new breed. It's what made the weekly genre so great, for a while anyways. No one else was doing work like this around here, I'm proud to say, and The City in these early days was the talk of the town, in the way a local comic strip just can't be anymore. 

This Wahoo strip up top was one of the most popular and controversial ones I've ever drawn. I still get comments about it, two decades later!  Chief Jemima? Guess that one hit way to close to home! And Wahoo Mapplethorpe, back when the controversial gay photographer was public enemy #1 to Moral Majority cretins like Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms, was even worse! Mapplethorpe had been all over the news in Ohio, thanks to the police raid in Cincinnati that confiscated an exhibit of his gay S&M photos and the subsequent obscenity trial. The great cultural divide we now enjoy was just starting to form its great fissure. This was long, LONG before the current gay rights movement. Back in the early Nineties, fags were fags to mainstream America. Jacobs did not appreciate his treasured mascot being coupled with Mapplethorpe.

The offensive cartoon mascot made even more offensive. I take great pride in that, as a satirist. And it worked! But... the result wasn't what I hoped for.

A yellowing copy of the Wahoo strip, in the restroom of a
local bookstore. I discovered it there 15 years after the strip ran
in the paper. It had been hanging there ever since. That's the
greatest honor a cartoonist can have, friends.

Jacobs responded to this criticism like you'd expect a pampered billionaire to respond. He threw a temper tantrum. Nobody told this plutocrat what to do! Not the mayor, not the voters and certainly not some fucking poet and a guy who draws funnies! The comment below was messaged me after my recent Facebook thread about Wahoo. It comes from a guy who was an editor at a suburban paper back then:

"Dick Jacobs was ready to retire Chief Wahoo when the Indians made the move to Jacobs Field. But he was getting so much shit from a few critics, that he said, fuck 'em, and kept the Chief out of spite! Derf ... so YOU'RE the one ..."

I had no clue this was all going down. I knew the Indians were angry about my cartoons, and at anyone pissing on the carefully-orchestrated lovefest for the new park. I had no idea how enraged. 

In a Shakespearean twist, The Edition folded in the Spring of 1993, just as the final season at Muniipal Stadium got underway. I tried to shop my strip to a rival paper, a lowbrow but very profitable music rag, and met with one of the editors and showed him a portfolio of strips, including the Wahoo one, thinking local content would be the big attraction. Wrong.  

"Oh, the Indians were really  pissed off about this one," he told me, as he held it up.

So even he heard about the blowback! I can't believe I never pieced this all together before. 

"The Indians give us a free field box. Man. I don't know what I'd do without those seats!he said, as his lips pursed and brow furrowed, obviously running a mental checklist of all the freebies my cartoons could potentially cost him.  

Needless to say, I ended the meeting right there with this pillar of journalism ethics.

Eventually, a worthy descendant to The Edition emerged and I found a home for my strip there, but The Cleveland Free Times, didn't start publishing until that October, after the Indians last seasoning Muni Stadium concluded. So Jacobs had the whole season to cool off. He didn't. What a fucking baby.

Wahoo made the move to the new ballpark. Because a billionaire was pouting over a few protestors and a couple cartoons. When Jacobs Field opened in April 1994, that grinning red abomination was everywhere. He's been the appallingly racist face of the franchise ever since.

And get this, I was a season ticket holder in 1994! Hey, I love baseball. I just hate Wahoo. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. I asked Russell Means that very question back then at another opening day protest, and he smiled, thanked me for the support and said it was ok to like baseball.