Sunday, July 25, 2021

KENT STATE wins an Eisner!

KENT STATE won an Eisner Award, for Best Reality-based Book. This is the big one, and I'm over the moon about it.
Disclosure: that's not the actual trophy. Haven't received it yet. I'm using an old Eisner here as a prop. Full disclosure: I fell asleep! It was a remote ceremony because of the plague, Pacific Time, and I dozed off and awoke with a start at 2 am. Only then did I see the first congratulatory texts. Classic. My big moment and zzzzzz.
Honestly, my first reaction was relief. I can’t make a better book than this one. It was a daunting challenge that took four hard years and left me completely spent. I wanted this win bad, I freely admit.
This Eisner, yeah, this one is special. As fond as I am of my TRASHED Eisner, for Best Lettering— In fact, I’m using that Eisner as a prop, since obviously, I won’t get the 2021 trophy for a bit— THIS Eisner is in one of the major categories, one of the big boys, the award FUN HOME and MARCH won, and it was a KILLER list of nominees. Absolutely brutal. Stone-cold classics all:
by Frank "Big Black" Smith, Jared Reinmuth, and Améziane (Archaia/BOOM!)
by Gene Luen Yang 
(First Second/Macmillan)
by Mme Caroline and Julie Dachez, translation by Edward Gauvin 
(Oni Press)
by Joe Sacco 
(Metropolitan/Henry Holt)
by Tian Veasna, translation by Helge Dascher 
(Drawn & Quarterly)

To win against such formidable competition, with a book that has been an obsession and a labor of love for a long time, is beyond gratifying.
It’s a bit anticlimactic, too. I’m typing this on my couch, instead of whooping it up at Comicon. You only get so many of these moments in life, and this cursed plague has snatched this one away, as it has stolen so much else. It is what it is. My first Eisner Award win was such an amazing experience. I just basked in it. I’m thankful I had that experience, because I’m thinking of it now.

Above: giving my acceptance speech at the 2016 Eisner Awards ceremony.
I’d like to thank my beloved editor Charlie Kochman, who enthusiastically jumped on this project the moment I pitched it. Pam Notarantonio provided beautiful art direction. Chad Beckerman did the color on the cover, which I love. Maya Bradford, my publicist, faced daunting challenges in the weirdest year of book promotion ever. And all my colleagues at Abrams who made this book better, through wave after wave of copyediting and fact checking, to last minute tinkers and tweaks. I am SO grateful to you all.
My lovely wife Sheryl played a crucial role, first as a “comics widow” who gamely held the house together during that final year of me locked in my studio for long hours. She also whipped the footnotes into shape. How many comics authors can boast of a Pulitzer winner serving as a personal copy editor? Sheryl cried when she read the first draft. I knew I was onto something at that moment.
I’d like to especially thank the Students of 1970. Thank you for sharing your stories with such honesty. Thank you for so enthusiastically embracing this project. You are an inspiration. You were in 1970, for courageously standing up to forces of the state, and paying a bitter price for doing so. You’re still an inspiration, looking back on decades of activism and productive lives well lived.

Above: Canfora (L) in 1970, behind the tree that took the bullet meant for him,
and the Alan I knew (R).

Last Fall, we lost longtime activist Alan Canfora, one of the nine students who were shot and wounded on that fateful day. Alan could be a tough customer, and did not suffer fools. He was an invaluable resource and I’m deeply in his debt. Honestly, I have no idea what he thought of the book! I sent him a copy, but his health was failing and I never heard back. What an indomitable force he was, and we are lesser for his passing.
Most of all, I’d like to thank Bill, Sandy, Allison and Jeff, murdered on May 4, 1970. This is their story, and I felt them nearby throughout the four years it took to make this book. Getting to “know” them, through their friends and classmates, was a joy and an honor. Jeff, in particular, was always at my elbow. He was a young guy looking for his path in life and having a great time while doing so, much as I was at that age. I feel him now, as I write this.

Above: a newly-surfaced photo of Jeff, a week before he was murdered on May 4.

And finally, this one is for you, Mom. As many of you know, I lost her last Fall to Covid. One of my favorite memories of her was when my 4th grade teacher was fed up with me drawing in class during her lessons. She’d take away my notebook. I’d draw on my desk. She’d scold me for drawing on my desk. I’d draw on my pants! Finally, she summoned my mother to discuss this problem. After a long monologue detailing my crimes, with me slumped glumly in a chair, my mother shrugged. “So? Let him draw. He’s still listening.” My teacher could only stammer in disbelief. My mother would have none of it. She knew that drawing comics was like breathing or eating to me.
“Just let him draw.”
Thanks for always letting me draw, Ma. I miss you.

Friday, July 9, 2021

A "politicized" Captain America? Sorry, rightwingers, this is nothing new.

Here's a recent Twitter thread that I'm archiving here.

So out of nowhere, FoxNews had a segment on the latest storyline in Captain America, which they apparently find too "woke."

They wheeled in some unknown rightwing "comedian," whose name I have already forgotten and is not worth looking up, as a guest to comment on this outrage. Like all rightwing comedians, he was completely unfunny, and launched into an extended rant about how the diabolical Libs at Marvel have changed HIS Capt. America into something unrecognizable with this "recent politicization." Gone is our patriotic ass-kicker and in his place is a lefty do-gooder.

“It’s so sad when Captain America is like Captain Woke or Captain Propaganda… I’m done with Captain America. He’s dead!" Then conservo-bore superdude actor Dean Cain jumped in, babbled something about "kissing the dirt" every time he returned to American soil, babbled some more about Cap, then admitted he hadn't read the new storyline and was only recounting what he heard on FoxNews. Needless to say, Twitter was not kind.

The big problem here is that Cap has ALWAYS been political.
This is a character who PUNCHED HITLER IN THE FACE on the cover of his debut issue in 1941... 80 FRIGGIN' YEARS AGO!!
In March 1941, when Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created this cover, America was not yet at war with Germany. Pearl Harbor was nine months away and the country was divided over whether to go to war or stay out. In fact, there was a sizable number of Nazi sympathizers here in the US who greatly admired Hitler and Nazism. The German American Bund held big rallies in New York City (you've no doubt seen the film footage). Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford were both great admirers, and, history has revealed, collaborators of Adolf (and were also both  raging antisemites and white supremacists).

So the stunning cover of Cap #1 was, in fact, a powerful political cartoon by a pair of Jewish kids from New York, maybe THE most influential political cartoon of WW2... and it was aimed at America's youth!

It's obvious neither of these FoxNews nitwits know shit about Cap's history. But I do.

Here's the first issue I read (above), when I was 10 in 1970. In it Cap goes on TV to preach tolerance, and is attacked by Nazi Baron Zemo's supergoons in an attempt to silence him. Note also the use of "Up Against the Wall!" as the title, the favorite battlecry of leftist protestors in 1970. Yeah, nothing political there, 51 years ago.

In reality, almost every issue of Cap from 1969 to 1975 dealt with some political issue. Stan was getting heat from the college audiences to which he often spoke (See Abraham Riesman's Stan Lee biography for details). Stan chose Cap as the title to make "relevant," a full year before DC did so to Green Lantern/ Green Arrow, to much greater acclaim. 

Need more proof? Here's (above) the 2nd Cap I bought (in a Whitman back-issue 3-pack!), where Cap wades into a campus protest. This issue is from 1969, when the nation teetered on mass insurrection and near civil war.

The 3rd issue of Cap I bought featured a giant robot who tried to demolish NYC's ghetto (Harlem or the South Bronx) to "free the oppressed." He is cheered on by African-American residents of the slum. Turns out was all a diabolical scheme by AIM to start a race war. Apparently, AIM later formed the Boogaloo Boys, who've been trying to do the same at BLM uprisings recently!

Horrors! Here's all kind of "woke" dialogue, FoxNews! From 50 years ago.
Shall I go on? Oh, why not...

A few issues later, Leila Taylor (above) is introduced. She's described as a "militant," and is obviously a Black Panther. Not exactly an uncontroversial storyline in 1972, at the height of the bloody FBI war on black nationalism.

Then in #143, Cap finds himself in the middle of a fullblown black uprising, with a club-wielding African-american throng facing off against NYPD. Turns out it's all a plot by the Red Skull, yet another Nazi. This story is a real head-shaker, but yeah, no politics here.

Then there's THIS storyline from 1972 (above)! The real Cap faces off against the commie-hating Cap of the 1950s (the real Cap was frozen in ice, remember? Even amateur Marvel fans who only watch the films know THAT). Fake Cap is revealed as a far-right, white-supremacist creep! Let's call him Capt. MAGA. 

What do y'all think of THIS one, FoxNews??

Let's jump back to 1954 (above) and the Cap that had to be retrofitted into the Seventies character history. In the Fifties, he apparently joined up with Joe McCarthy and Roy Coen and became a rightwing avenger. FoxNews WOULD approve of this era, but it was certainly a political one, further blowing holes in their current complaint.

Oh hey, let's not forget in 1974, Cap rejects nationalism and "America first" and throws away his Capt. America identity to become Nomad, the Man Without a Country.

Haha. Wonder what FoxNews would make of THIS dialogue?

And then there's Bicentennial Battles, a late Kirby masterpiece, where Jack ruminates on what it means to be an American, in ways FoxNews would NOT approve. You remember Jack Kirby, right, FoxNews? He's the guy who co-created the character back in 1941.

GASP! Cap is teaching Critical Race Theory to kid comics readers of 1976! Alert Sean Hannity! Dispatch the Oath-Keepers!
All this is just from MY years of superdude readership. So outside of 80 FUCKING YEARS of stories, yes, Capt. America has NEVER been politicized.
I hate people who don't know shit about comics.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

A fun milestone for KENT STATE

I was informed today that KENT STATE is the top-selling book in the entire 39-year history of Macs Backs, my indie bookstore HQ here in Cleveland that has been handling all my mailorder signed copies.

Their inventory software only goes to 999, and KENT STATE blew right past that number some time ago. "You flipped the odometer," I was told.
In fact, my pals from Macs just picked up 5 boxes of signed copies this morning. If you want one, the order link is below. All come with nifty title page sketches like this one here. With this batch I drew all protestors. Previous batches I drew Guardsmen. If you have a preference, I'm sure Macs can accommodate you.
Macs has been a real lifesaver, what with my long book tour going up in a puff of COVID, and all signings and cons cancelled. And I'm happy I could funnel sales their way, during a pretty challenging time for them, too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Kent State and Comics, a look back. Part 3

Of all the political cartoons about the Kent State Massacre that I've found, this one (above) is head and shoulders above the rest. It's from National Lampoon, the great satire mag of the Seventies, October 1973. It appeared just three years after the events of May 4, 1970, and when the pitched political battles over the shootings were still being hotly contested. The indicted 25 students (and one faculty member) had their cases abandoned by state prosecutors in late 1971. The six Guardsmen who the FBI identified as shooting into the crowd of students would be indicted and put on trial in 1974, and were quickly exonerated when charges were thrown out of court. So this satire falls right in the middle of all this.

It's not terribly well drawn, but is brutally hilarious. It was conceived by writers Marc Rubin and Chris Miller (who later co-wrote Animal House) and drawn by Francis Hollidge, a pseudonym of veteran comics artist Frank Springer.  Frank took over for Jim Steranko on Marvel's Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. 
Guess Frank felt he needed to use a fake name, to avoid trouble.

The Kent State piece is a comic book ad that spoofs the cheap Army Playsets that were always advertised in comic books. There were sets for World War 2, the Revolutionary War, the Roman legion, etc. 

The Kent State ad ran on the inside cover of a larger spoof comic book, G. Gordon Liddy, Agent of CREEP, a highlight of this issue of NatLamp. CREEP was Nixon's infamous Committee to Re-elect the President... and creeps they were, being responsible for a long list of illegal "dirty tricks," as well as the bungled Watergate break-in, which was blowing up in 1973 and would bring down Nixon less than a year later. That operation was led by Liddy, who was uncooperative and unrepentant. He was sentenced to 20 years (commuted by Jimmy Carter, for some reason).  he was released after 4 1/2 years in the pen, the last of the seven convicted Watergate conspirators to be freed.

The best part of the satire is the Kent State ad. That one packs a wallop! So much so, I've never shared it on social media. Too many of the Students of 1970 follow me there. I think this piece would hit WAY to close to home for them, but... man!... as a political cartoon, it's absolutely great.


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

A Kent State artifact, a yearbook like no other

This is a copy of the 1971 Kent State yearbook, The Chestnut Burr. It's the edition that documents the events of May 4, 1970. A crucial piece of source material for me.

It's a remarkable book, and the only university publication that documented the tragedy. Immediately after the massacre, the university was closed, and all students were ordered to be off campus (and, in fact, across the city limits!) by 5 pm or face arrest. This order also closed the Daily Kent Stater, the school newspaper, which had been been closely following the escalating protests at Kent. Since the Stater only published Tuesday through Friday, it didn't publish a word of its reporting on the unrest, which began Friday afternoon. 

As a result, all the on-the-ground reporting, all the incredible photos, had no place to be published! The Ohio governor effectively muzzled The Kent Stater. Some of the photos found their way to mainstream publications, be it the wire services or magazines like Life and Time, but much of it would have never seen the light of day, if not for the yearbook.

Above: the Guard moves on students, driving them up Blanket Hill, even though most weren't protestors at all, merely kids on their way to and from class who stopped to watch. This contingent of soldiers are the ones who inexplicably opened fire. Note the man in the bottom right, following the Guard as they move up Blanket Hill and taking photos. That is the student FBI informer, Terry Norman, whose full role on that day is still unknown.

Above: included in the yearbook is a flexidisc, with "The Sounds of May 4." On it are various news reports from that tragic day and the events that preceded it.

Above: the events of Friday, May 1, that kicked off the conflict on campus. Students burying a copy of the Constitution (left page) is the opening scene in my book. On the right is one of the few photos from the riot on Water Street that night. There just weren't many photogs present, and, of course, no cellphone images or video as we have today. The photo technology of the day made shooting at night, with harsh lighting conditions, and from a distance, damn near impossible. It's hard to understand, for those who didn't shoot photos in the film era, how challenging (and expensive!) that technology was, compared to the super-computer cellphone cameras we all have now.

Above: the tense events of May 3, when Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes arrives on campus and grandstands for his base. His fiery, table-pounding press conference ratcheted paranoia up to a fever pitch.

Above: the Guardsman with flowers in his gun barrel, which Allison Krause immortalized, a few minutes after this photo was taken, with "Flowers are better than bullets!"

Above: The grim carnage. Has any other yearbook in American history included such images? I doubt it. Student photog John Filo's iconic photo of Mary Ann Vecchio wailing over Jeff Miller's body (top center) won him the Pulitzer Prize. It's curiously downplayed in this layout.

Above: the understated cover of the yearbook.

Above: the rest of the yearbook offers a positively bizarre contrast of typical college events. Here's a spread on Kent State's rotten 3-7 football team, as if anyone cares.

Above: even more bizarre are the requisite photos of Greek life. Here the ladies of Delta Zeta beam for the camera, as if the massacre documented a few dozen pages previous hadn't happened at all.

Above: the men of Phi Gamma Delta, posing proudly in their frathouse rec room, with their bar glasses neatly displayed, is a real eye-roller, too. At least they had the sense to not pose hoisting full beer mugs!

Above: the yearbook ends with a reprint of the complete investigative report that ran in the Akron Beacon Journal three weeks after the massacre. The ABJ won a Pulitzer prize for its breaking news coverage of May 4. 

This special report was produced by a Knight-Ridder Newspapers team working out of the Beacon newsroom. Knight-Ridder was the parent company of the ABJ, Akron press baron John Knight being the owner of both the ABJ and of Knight-Ridder.  The team was  mostly reporters and editors from the Detroit Free Press, another Knight-Ridder paper, although they relied heavily on the Beacon reporting. They were not exactly welcomed with open arms in the Akron newsroom, where staff felt they were elbowing in on the Beacon's story, but it's an excellent report. It ran in all Knight-Ridder papers, a dozen or so, on May 23, 1970. It was a Pulitzer finalist. 

The special report was met with fury by Akron readers, because it blows holes in most of the National Guard's excuses for opening fire on a parking lot full of students, most of whom were not protestors. Jack Knight later joked that this report cost him $1 million in lost subscriptions and advertising. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Kent State and Comics, a look back. Part 2

Continuing my examination of how student protests were depicted in mainstream comics during the Kent State Era, here’s two examples from DC Comics, Flash #185 and Teen Titans #31.

The Flash has a pub date of February 1969, just before the mass campus unrest in the Spring of that year, including the events at Kent State that led directly to the Guard moving in to crush dissent a year later. The Titans has a pub date of February 1971, so it was on the stands in Fall 1970, just six months after the Kent State Massacre. So what we have here is an interesting before/after Kent State comparison.

On both covers, student protestors are depicted as a violent mob, using a predictable image of the hero getting whacked with a “Make Peace, Not War” sign. How many times did rightwing political cartoonists use THAT tired gag? The editorial leadership at DC Comics in 1969 was pretty reactionary. Some, like the infamous Mort Weisinger, loathed 1960s youth and submarined any attempt to portray them sympathetically!

DC was also notorious for dreaming up provocative covers FIRST, then writing a story to play off the cover. Usually this resulted in a pretty shitty book, and Flash #185 is certainly an example of that. The story? It has nothing to do with student antiwar protests at all!  Instead, it’s a goofball tale of aliens stealing the Earth’s tallest buildings, including the Eiffel Tower! It’s total nonsense. Written by comics veteran Frank Robbins, too, who penned many classic Batman stories in this era. This one is a real turd. Oh well.

Since antiwar protestors are present only on the cover, so let’s file this one under WTF.

Teen Titans #31 is also a crazy book, but at least the cover is related to the story. The Titans visit a college, where an evil university president is forcing students to undergo brain operations to make them compliant and thus control campus unrest.

No. really.

This story, however, portrays students as innocent victims, and the authorities as the bad guys! This is the first time THAT happened in a mainstream comic book. Over at Marvel, Stan Lee always made his stories about student protests politically ambivalent. Students were well-intentioned, the authorities were reasonable, why can’t we all get along blah blah.

There was no way in hell DC would have allowed this book to see print a year earlier, but a lot had changed in the space of 12 months at DC. Old conservatives like Weisinger retired (or were shoved out the door). Publisher Carmine Infantino cleaned house. A big influx of young creators was brought in, with a desire to tell stories that mattered to them. Is Titans #31 a reaction to Kent State and the mass campus unrest of Spring 1970? Sure seems that way.

The author of Titans #31 is Steve Skeates, one of youngest DC writers, only 28 here. The Titans were one of DC’s “relevant” titles, tailored to appeal to progressive youth. Skeates also wrote Aquaman at this time, who became an environmental crusader, and Hawk & Dove, a wacky concept about the country’s political divide. He wrote a lot for DC’s wonderful gothic horror line and then became one of Warren’s busiest writers in the 1970s, penning dozens of stories in Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella, before burning out and leaving the biz.

In any case, this is a pretty daring story to put on the spinner rack at the height of Nixonian paranoia about the student left.

"Just what parents would want us to do"... lobotmizing their children! Honestly, that sentiment probably wasn't that outlandish in 1970!

This dialogue is chilling, because "outside agitators" were cited by Ohio Gov. Rhodes as one of the reasons for sending in the Guard to crush protests at Kent State. It was a common theme by reactionaries. A large secret cabal of "professional radicals" was going from campus to campus, stirring up the otherwise docile local youth, and creating chaos. It's spooky seeing this stuff filter down into pop culture, knowing how deadly serious it was in real life.

This (above) is very much still a question. After Trump and the past several years, I fear a large segment of the population IS that easily subverted. Prescient stuff from 50 years ago.

Note, however, that the plot in all these comics stories I’ve been examining is always the same, no matter the publisher, Marvel or DC. It’s never a portrayal of legitimate protest over the Vietnam War. It’s always misguided students being manipulated, or mind controlled, by insidious villains. Over and over comic book writers use that cheap plot device, because God knows no student in 1970 could have a REAL beef with the government, right?

Friday, July 2, 2021

Kent State and Comics, a look back. Part 1

I'm fascinated by how the Kent State Massacre, and student antiwar protests in general, were dealt with in comics back in 1969 and 70. 

Today I'll look at the political cartoonists. The Kent State Massacre happened on Monday, May 4, giving cartoonists ample time to weigh in that week. I was surprised by what I found. Very few did! I scoured newspaper archives online looking for examples and found very little. I guess this event was too hot a topic. The first reaction, after all, from mainstream, middle-aged America is that "we should have shot MORE." In a Gallup Poll a week after the Massacre, almost 70% blamed the students for being shot, and not the soldiers who shot them. I suspect newspaper editors were keenly aware of this sentiment, and a majority probably shared that view, and warned their cartoonists to back off.

But I did find a few examples. Let's start with one that appeared in The Cleveland Press the day after the Massacre. Cleveland is a mere 38 miles from Kent and the student body was full of Cleveland kids. This cartoon is by longtime cartoonist Bill Roberts, age 56 in 1970. He was right-of-center on most issues,  in keeping with the politics of the big afternoon daily. The Press, like most afternoon papers, was a "working man's paper." It certainly wasn't psycho rightwing, like media is today. Perhaps "traditional" would be a more apt description. Certainly, the paper was no fan of student radicals, or of the Woodstock Generation in general. If 20somethings were written about at all in 1970, it was dismissively, or with outright mockery. 

This cartoon, well, doesn't really say anything at all. Yes, students are dead and, yes, that's a tragedy. The problem with the Kent State story, of course, is that it unfolded piecemeal over those first few weeks, and a lot of the official statements and assertions were either wrong or outright lies. The first 20 statements by Guard leadership, for example, were all lies, as they desperately tried to cover up their crime. Pretty tough to draw a cartoon about something when you have no clue what actually happened.

Here's one from Pat Oliphant, one of the "new breed" of political cartoonists who transformed the genre, and moved it away from the dry, humorless cartoons of old pros like Roberts. Having said that, this is not one of Oliphant's better efforts. What exactly is happening here? The SDS Radical is pulling on the Cheese of Anarchy. What exactly IS the Cheese of Anarchy and why would SDS want such a foodstuff? They're about to get clobbered, but wouldn't the mousetrap be enough? Why is there a spiked iron ball attached to it? I suspect just so Oliphant had a place to write "reaction." 

Ray Osrin of the Cleveland Plain Dealer penned this one (below). Again, it says nothing, but even the most reactionary subscriber has little to object to here. Kent State was the most divisive event of the 1970, a year that was abysmal all around, one of the worst years we've ever had. In Ohio, that divisiveness over Kent State was amplified many fold. This, after all, happened in our back yard. For example, the Akron Beacon Journal (which didn't have a political cartoonist in 1970) won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Massacre. But readers were so incensed that the Beacon refuted many of the Guard's lies, that subscribers cancelled in droves!

The point being, cartoonists in these parts had to tread very softly.

Below is a cartoon by Cy Hungerford of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hungerford was 82 years old in 1970!  Dude was born in the 19th century! As you can tell, he was no fan of the whippersnappers on campuses. This one is a total piece of shit. We've got Death, dressed from the waist down as a Guardsmen, and from the waist up as a student protestor, running onto the Kent State campus.


This one reads, and looks, like ol' Cy scrawled it out in 5 minutes, which is probably exactly what happened.

Wish I had a clearer copy of this one, by the great Bill Mauldin. This is from a few months after the Massacre, when a state grand jury issued indictments. It was convened as a kangaroo court by Ohio Gov. Rhodes, the Nixonian strongman who was most to blame for what happened at Kent State. The judge was a Rhodes ally, the prosecutors were, too. In the end, the grand jury cleared all the soldiers who fired, and their officers, and completely exonerated Rhodes, and instead indicted the students who were shot! It was a travesty. All of the indictments were eventually abandoned by prosecutors. 

Mauldin cuts right to the heart of it. Heavily-armed soldiers shot and killed students who were armed only with words.

Below is a cartoon by Mike Peters, the renowned cartoonist of the Dayton Daily News. Peters was never one of the more savage political cartoonists and this one is fairly typical of his work. UN Observers sent in to keep the parties separated, just as they were in Northern Ireland in 1970, at the peak of The Troubles there. Peters isn't far off equating what was happening in 1970 America to civil war. We were on the knife's edge of that.  

Another Ohio cartoonist, and another old-timer, L.D. Warren, penned this one for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Well, he's certainly making a statement here, placing the blame squarely on "violent" student protestors. The problem was, of course, that the protestors on May 4 were peaceful. It was the Guard that was violent. The 400 protestors on the Commons that day were merely chanting, as was their right of free assembly in a public space on a public university that was open. The Guard gassed them, and marched on them with bayonets and batons, beat anyone who didn't move fast enough, and then shot them.

Details, details, right L.D.?

Cincy was a pretty conservative place in 1970. I'm sure the readers nodded their approval at this one.

And finally, here's one from Don Wright, the great multi-Pulitzer-winning cartoonist for The Miami News. He's working from the relative safety of sleepy South Florida, true, but at last here's a powerful cartoon. This appeared on Wednesday, May 6, two days after the Massacre. As I wrote, much was still unknown, but Wright astutely zeroes in on what WAS known: the students were unarmed and the Guard killed them without justification.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

A rare Kent State artifact


Here’s an original art score I just acquired.

This is a political cartoon about the Kent State Massacre, from 1970!

It’s by Newton Pratt, the longtime cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee. Pratt was 69 and just one year from retirement when he penned this one. Pratt was a well-regarded cartoonist of the Herblock School, as you can see. Vertical format, lots of crayon, lots of labels.

This cartoon is blasting the Ohio State Grand Jury verdict of October 16, 1970, just five months after the massacre. Gov. James Rhodes, the man most responsible for the tragic debacle, convened a kangaroo court to “investigate” the shootings, and bury it. Rhodes installed a staunch ally as judge, and allies as prosecutors. The grand jury was convened in the rural county where Kent State is located, thus ensuring a jury pool of conservative locals with strong animosity against students in general, and student protestors in particular. Attempts to move the jury to a neutral county were quashed. Rhodes’ judge and prosecutors also made sure that the governor was not brought to the stand.

After several months of secret testimony (all reportedly destroyed by order of the judge after the rulings) the grand jury exonerated all the Guard officers and the Guardsmen who shot at students. Instead, the jury indicted 25 protestors who were shot AT, including most of the wounded students! It was an utter travesty.

This was Rhodes rebuttal to the Scranton Report that was issued in September, which placed blame for the massacre squarely on Rhodes’ decisions and on Guard leadership. The Scranton Commission was convened by Nixon to investigate the campus unrest of Spring 1970, specifically the slaughter at Kent State and Jackson State. Rhodes was furious at this political betrayal by Nixon and the FBI. Rhodes had been one of Nixon’s earliest supporters, and was a big reason Tricky Dick won Ohio in the 1968 election. But Rhodes was to be term-limited out of power at the end of 1970, so he was of no further value to Nixon, and Tricky threw him under the bus to distract from his own machinations against the Antiwar Movement. Classic Nixon! Rhodes officially rejected the Scranton Report, and his Grand Jury provided him cover to slink out of office… and to be reelected four years later!

The Kent 25, as they became known, faced decades in prison on a plethora of state felonies. This scathing cartoon asks the question, why didn’t Ohio indict the murdered students, too?

By Fall 1971, the state’s cases fell apart. A couple students plea-bargained their felony charges down to simple misdemeanors, a small fine and no jail time. A student who took his case to trial was exonerated. At that point, prosecutors DROPPED all felony charges against the remaining protestors and abandoned the indictments! Clearly, they didn’t want witnesses called to testify under oath, especially Rhodes and Guard brass, because THIS testimony would be public record, not sealed and destroyed like the grand jury testimony. Rhodes was also out of power by Fall 1971, and his Democrat successor had no interest in Jimbo’s vendettas or ass-covering.

A lot of political cartoonists are lost to time, theirs being the comics genre with the shortest shelf life. Here’s the only bio info I could find on Pratt. He was a native of Sacramento, born to Irish immigrant parents. He dropped out of school at age 10 and began working, eventually becoming a draftsman for the state Division of Highways. At the Sacramento Bee, Pratt worked at a variety of jobs including messenger, office boy, and copy boy. Walter Jones, the head editor for the newspaper, eventually hired Pratt as the main editorial cartoonist in 1938. His work was reprinted by the New York Times and Washington Post, which brought Pratt national acclaim. In the 1950s, Pratt was one of the first editorial cartoonists to take on Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist hysteria. By the time Pratt retired in 1971, he had produced roughly 7500 cartoons. He was a 3-time Pulitzer finalist.

This cartoon was made with pen & ink and black crayon. It’s drawn on coquille board, aka stipple board. The paper has tiny bumps, so when you drag a crayon across it creates that dotted shading. The whole thing can then be sized and shot as straight line art, but it has the effect of a halftone, without losing the strong, deep blacks. It was perfect for the ghastly reproduction of newspapers in the 1930s and 1940s. A guy who mastered this stuff could work fast, another benefit. It was definitely a dated look by 1970. The new generation of political cartoonists embraced then-modern art techniques, especially Zipatone dot screens and Craftint paper. Old-timers like Pratt were called “grease pencillers,” because of the stipple board technique.

I tried it a couple times when I joined the Plain Dealer in 1986. That was such a retro paper, 25 years behind the technological curve, and the supply storeroom in the art dept. was packed with vintage art supplies. My attempts failed miserably! There was a definite learning curve, and it wasn’t worth the effort.

Craftint here in Cleveland, who specialized in cartoon and comics art supplies, manufactured this stuff until the 1970s, then sold it to another outfit who produced it as Duoshade paper. There’s no stamp on the back to indicate it's Craftint, unfortunately.

This was a real find, being the author of KENT STATE. Believe it or not, there were not a lot of political cartoons, that I could find, about the Kent State Massacre in 1970. It was just TOO hot a topic. Cartoonists shied away for it, or, more likely, were ordered by their editors to do so. I was thrilled to stumble across this original.