Saturday, January 21, 2012

Al Capp's sex scandals

Brit Hume remembered the conversation that took place on 1971 between cartoonist Al Capp and reporter Jack Anderson as follows:
Angered over rumors of impropriety, Anderson allegedly confronted Al Capp, a conservative political cartoonist and radio host, whose lectures at universities across the country gave him easy access to female students. 
As Hume described it, Anderson, a devout Mormon with nine children - including a college-age daughter - questioned Capp about these activities. 
Capp's response to Anderson was a pleading, "You know how these college babes are," which turned to panic when he saw Anderson's face turn red with rage. 
"After that, the world never heard very much from Capp again," Hume said.

Jack Anderson's 1971 investigation about Al Capp being asked to leave the University of Alabama in February 1968 (where he was invited as a lecturer) after being accused of making "indecent advances" to four college students in the space of a few days is available in Google News. The complete article follows:

22 Apr 1971
Jack Anderson
Al Capp Hustled Off U Of A Campus After Coeds Charge He Made Indecent Advances
WASHINGTON - Al Capp, the famed cartoonist and caustic critic of college students, was shown out of town by University of Alabama police a few years ago after he allegedly made indecent advances toward several coeds. 
The incident, hushed up for three years by the university administration, is both ironic and significant. For Capp's scathing denunciations of college students and their morals have made him one of the most controversial commentators of the day. 
He now has a syndicated newspaper column and his broadcast commentaries are heard on some 200 radio stations. He was even approached to run for the Senate. But his principal forum has been the campus where some of his biting remarks have become famous. 
In a widely quoted speech at Princeton, for example, Capp said: "Princeton has sunk to a moral level that a chimpanzee can live with, but only a chimpanzee. It has become a combination playpen and pigpen because it disregards the inferiority of the college student to every other class." 
"President Nixon," Capp has said, "showed angelic restraint when he called students bums." On another occasion, he said: "Colleges today are filled with Fagin professors who don't teach... They just corrupt." 
Although Capp denies any misconduct and says he cannot remember being asked to leave Tuscaloosa, we have confirmed the Alabama incident with a number of high-level university officials. 
They include Dean of Women Sarah Healy and University Security Director Col. Beverly Lee. On instructions from then University President Dr. Frank Rose, Lee went to Capp's hotel, asked him to leave and followed his car to the town line. 
- Capp On Campus - 
In addition, we have established the details of Capp's alleged encounters with the four young women involved. Two of them have given us notarized affidavits recounting their experiences. 
Based on our interviews and affidavits, here is what occurred: Capp arrived in Tuscaloosa Sunday, Feb. 11, 1968, to make a speech as part of the university's annual arts festival. 
Late that afternoon, a coed, active in the arts program went to his room at the Stafford Hotel to deliver a university yearbook and other materials he had requested for his speech the next night. 
Capp told the young woman he was impressed with her and discussed the possibility of hiring her to help produce the "Capp on Campus" radio series, then in progress. 
He began making forceful advances toward her and exposing himself to her. She tried to leave but found she could not get the door open. She finally broke free and locked herself in the bathroom until he agreed to let her go. 
Although she was not injured, she was sufficiently upset by the experience to be admitted a few days later to the university infirmary where she remained under sedation for several days. 
That evening, another coed, whose job it was to greet visiting speakers, went to see Capp at his hotel. He exposed himself to her and made suggestive comments. She, too, found she could not open the door, but he let her go when she threatened to open a window and scream. 
The next afternoon Capp was introduced in his room to another woman student who had just completed a taped interview with his staff for a planned broadcast called the "Now Morality." Capp exposed himself to her and made suggestive comments. She immediately left. 
Late that night, he brought another coed to his room where he said a party was planned. There was no party, however, and Capp made an unsuccesful pass at the girl. 
- Exodus From Town - 
By the next morning, reports of the four incidents had reached the university administration and Dr. Rose sent Col. Lee to Capp's room. "He was asked to get and he did get out and went to Birmingham," Lee told us. 
Asked why no charges were preferred against Capp, Dean Healy explained: "The young women were not physically harmed and we felt that the publicity and notoriety should be avoided." 
Reached at his studio in Cambridge, Mass., Capp told my associate Brit Hume that the Alabama allegations made him sick and he would neither confirm nor deny them. Instead, he immediately boarded a plane and flew to Washington to discuss the matter with us. 
In our office, he repeatedly declined to discuss the episode, claimng it made him ill. All he would say was: "I have never become involved with any student." Pressed, he finally listened to a review of the allegations and, when questioned about them specifically, denied them. 
It gives us no pleasure to make these revelations about a man whose legendary "Li'l Abner" cartoon creations have amused millions of Americans for generations. 
But Al Capp today is much more than a gifted cartoonist and a brilliant humorist. He is a major public figure, whose views reach and influence millions. He even seriously considered running against Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. 
Therefore, we believe the public has a right to any information which may bear on his qualifications to speak, particularly when the incident involved is so obviously relevant to the selfsame subjects on which he has been holding forth.

A 1968 Li'l Abner strip

In a 2008 interview, Brit Hume told how some newspapers decided against publishing the above investigation, and how Capp unsuccesfully tried to cover it up:

BRIT HUME: ”The Post” – ”The Washington Post” didn’t run it. The Boston paper, whichever one we had then didn’t run it. A lot of papers didn’t run it. 
BRIAN LAMB: A Chicago paper out there -- 
BRIT HUME: I don’t remember, but I can’t remember now. But it might be in the book, but ”The New York Post” ran it. We found that the Al Capp lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the ones that – the minute ”The New York Post” hit the newsstands up there, they were all bought up. So, he did everything he could to try to cover it. Now, one of the things – interesting things that happened was that the story ran in a little newspaper out in Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where there’s a branch of the University of Wisconsin. 
It so happened at that very moment that a young woman had had a similar encounter with Mr. Capp out there and she like a number of women across the country, we later came to learn, was agonizing with the local prosecutor about what to do. He didn’t – he was indignant about what had happened and outraged, but there was a question of are you going to put this – her word against his testimony and he’s a famous guy. And you going to put her through that for the sake of something that she managed to wriggle out of anyway. And when that story hit, her resolve was – look, this is obviously happening elsewhere. We got to do this. So, he was charged out there. And an extradition measure was taken. And Al Capp was on the verge of being extradited to Wisconsin to stand charges of assault. And as – I don’t remember all the details, but I think he pleaded out and got it over with. And, basically, he was really never heard from again.

Al Capp ended up being charged with sodomy, attempted adultery and indecent exposure in 1971. Capp tried to blame this on the "revolutionary left" but in the end "as part of a plea agreement, Capp pleaded guilty to the charge of attempted adultery" (quote from Al Capp's Wikipedia page). He retired his Li'l Abner strip in 1977 for health reasons, and died in 1979.

A 1971 Li'l Abner Sunday page

Nevertheless, we know that it's not exactly true that Capp was "never heard from again". More than two dozen reprint volumes of his Li'l Abner daily strips were published by Kitchen Sink a couple of decades ago, and IDW's Library of American Comics is now reprinting the daily strips and the Sunday pages. His talent as a cartoonist and satirist is undeniable, and I'm a big fan of the 1940's episodes of the strip, where many believe Capp did some of his best work.

And there's more. Over at The Beat, one of the blogs about comics where an account of actress Goldie Hawn having a similar incident with Capp was reproduced, publisher and agent Denis Kitchen posted the following in the comments section:

Readers of Heidi’s column who are interested in Al Capp’s fascinating career and personal life (of which Goldie Hawn is but one scandal) will be happy to know that Michael Schumacher (Will Eisner, Alan Ginsberg and many other bios) and I (Art of Harvey Kurtzman, etc.) are hard at work collaborating on a biography of Al Capp. It’s coming in approximately one year from a major publisher. Official announcement will come from them.

Good news. Kitchen definitely has shown himself more than capable of assembling books about cartoonists (though this may be the first time he tackles a straight biography), so I'm looking forward to this upcoming book.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hugo Pratt: Will Gould was my real teacher

An interview with Hugo Pratt (originally published in 1988) was recently posted over at Ediciones de la Duendes's blog (part one, part two). The following exchange (translated from Spanish) caught my attention. Interviewer Germán Cáceres describes Pratt as a great artist in the comics medium, comparing him to Chester Gould.

Pratt replies:

HP: He narrated masterfully, but I prefer Will Gould, who has no relation to Dick Tracy's author. Will's line is more dynamic, in the thirties he launched the police comic strip Red Barry. Will Gould was the artist who had the most impact on me.

GC: I had supposed those [who had the greatest impact] were Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff. Will Gould's work isn't very well known.

HP: I admit Will Gould isn't a widespread comics artist, but he was my real teacher. Though of course Caniff with Terry and the Pirates had an influence on my style as well, and besides, I consider he's the greatest comic strip artist ever.

Image taken from ComicArtFans.

A Fantagraphics compilation from 1989 is still available, but the good news is that there are plans to do a more definitive edition of Will Gould's Red Barry. The first hint was a blog post from Dean Mullaney over at the Library of American Comics site, showing a Red Barry Sunday page waiting to be scanned:

And Dean Mullaney confirmed it last month, posting the following:

We're gathering all the source material for Red Barry with plans to present the hard-to-find Sundays and dailies in a complete two-volume set. As soon as we locate the final elusive dailies, we'll put it on the schedule.

More of Hugo Pratt's work, by the way, can be seen at the Corto Maltumblr.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

R.I.P Jean Simek

Roy Thomas reports the passing of letterer Jean Simek:

I'm sorry to have to report that I just learned, from her partner Tom, that Jean Simek passed away on Jan. 5, after a long illness in which her body had great difficulty absorbing nutrition, and after an operation or two. Jean was the daughter of veteran Marvel letterer Art Simek, who lettered most of the early Marvel comics in the 1960s. Both under an earlier married name and later under her own name, she was a letterer in her own right, both for Marvel and for DC. I hadn't spoken with her in a year or so, though we exchanged Christmas cards, and we kept discussing the interview I wanted someone to do with her about her own career and her father's. She had lots of her father's sports cartoons, etc. Perhaps in the near future I'll discuss getting some of those from Tom... but I don't want to bother him just now.

Jean Simek's credits can be found at the Grand Comics Database, both as Jean Izzo and as Jean Simek.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Lost" 1958 Peanuts strip by Charles Schulz

A rare find from Heritage's upcoming auctions, a special Peanuts page drawn by Charles Schulz for the July 22, 1958 issue of Look Magazine. It seems to be an original piece, instead of a reprint.

Something to include in an special "odds and ends" volume after Fantagraphics finishes reprinting the strip, perhaps? (By the way, Fantagraphics recently posted the cover of The Complete Peanuts: 1983-1984.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Harlan Ellison on Howard Chaykin's "The Shadow"

About a week ago, Warren Ellis casually mentioned that he'd been "Writing a blurb for the back cover of the forthcoming reprint of Howard Chaykin’s SHADOW comics series."

Today Dynamite Entertainment has made the official announcement, releasing some preview artwork along with an impressive amount of blurbs from notable comics industry figures. But one of the things that came to mind when I first read Ellis's blog post was the somewhat different reaction from people back in 1986, when Chaykin's The Shadow mini-series originally was published.

This is something that Matt Fraction maybe alludes to, when he writes: "IT’S TIME TO GET OFFENDED AGAIN." I'm thinking of Harlan Ellison's particularly memorable reaction.

Ellison is a big fan of the character in its original radio and pulp incarnations, even planning at some time (a few years before Chaykin did his version) to write a graphic novel featuring The Shadow. Michael Kaluta was going to be the artist (sample image above), with Fantagraphics publishing the book. For various reasons the graphic novel was never done, and the fact that Ellison and Fantagraphics were involved at the time in a years-long lawsuit against Michael Fleisher probably didn't help.

Anyhow, issue #108 of The Comics Journal includes a report of a radio interview with Frank Miller that Harlan Ellison conducted on March 14, 1986. The interview is mostly about Miller's Dark Knight, which Ellison praises and holds up as an example of updating an old character "in more adult terms". Ellison contrasts Miller's work with what he describes as the:

"loathsome Shadow revival that is being done by Howard Chaykin, which in my view is an absolute obscenity".

Adding later that Chaykin's series was:

"a really offensive, ugly, mean-spirited, violently pornographic piece of work".

Ellison also criticized what he described as "the starfucker syndrome", in which:

"the comics companies are giving total auteur freedom to certain people to create projects like the Dark Knight project, and yet some of them are turning out very, very sour. Some of them are going very, very wrong."

Issue #111 of the Journal has reports of three more Hour 25 radio shows from 1986, in which Ellison interviewed people such as Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, and Frank Miller. There is a quite interesting discussion about John Byrne's Man of Steel which you can read following the link, and also more interesting Ellison comments about Chaykin's Shadow:

Ellison referred to the Shadow as "beloved to people of my generation," but found Howard Chaykin's interpretation "vile and detestable." According to Ellison, Chaykin's Shadow is a "sexist pig who uses people, sacrifices people, hasn't one grain of decency in him. He's a psychopathic killer." 
Ellison said he objected to Chaykin's killing off original Shadow characters and sidekicks. "At what point do we say, 'You're mucking with our myths'?" he asked.

(During the eighties Ellison frequently wrote and talked in public appearances about then-current comics, even writing an article for Playboy magazine in which he tried to summarize to a general audience how much comics had changed during the decade. I'm just mentioning this as an excuse to link to Gary Groth's 1989 editorial in which Groth responds to this article, denouncing Ellison's "intellectual charlatanism.")

Ellison is known for his ability to nurse a grudge, and here's one more example. In 2003, Michael Chabon edited McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, a collection of stories by various writers, with each story carrying an accompanying illustration by Howard Chaykin (who did his usual exemplary work). Well, each story save one. Here's a note Harlan Ellison posted on his forum at the time:

- Saturday, February 22 2003 19:23:45 
The reason my story in McSweeney's doesn't have an accompanying piece of art by Howard Chaykin -- as do the other stories in the issue -- is because I didn't want one. I wanted the marvelous color oil painting by my friend (and frequent Ellison-fiction illustrator) the phenomenal California artist, Kent Bash, that he did for this story-idea when I came up with it for the final issue of HARLAN ELLISON'S DREAM CORRIDOR. The illustration had to be done in black&white, so you cannot see how spectacular it is; but you'll see it when I get around to putting together that issue of DREAM CORRIDOR. What DOES piss me off, however, is among all the typos and amateur fuckups in McSweeney's #10 (which is incorrectly identified
as #11 on the table of contents) are two unacceptable, egregious demonstrations of sophomoric editing and amateur proofreading: 
1) They dropped all the copyright notices, thereby forcing me and other writers to have to get letters of omission so we can register the stories with the Library of Congress; 
2) The table of contents announces "all art in this issue by Howard Chaykin." Well, no, in fact; Kent Bash is an internationally-acclaimed artist, and however good or bad Howard Chaykin's little b&w cameos may be for McSweeney's purposes, the Bash painting is not comic-book art, it is a full visual interpretation of one of the punchlines of the story, and failure to acknowledge Kent REALLY and TRULY angers me.
Harlan Ellison

'Nuff said.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Love and Rockets books announced

As part of a celebration of Love and Rockets's 30th anniversary, Fantagraphics will be publishing the following two books. (Descriptions below taken from a message sent by Gary Groth to a comics scholars mailing list.)

Love and Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting)

The Love and Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting) contains three incredibly in-depth and candid interviews with creators Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez: one conducted by writer Neil Gaiman (Coraline); one conducted some six years into the comic’s run by longtime L&R publisher Gary Groth; and one conducted by the book’s author, spanning Gilbert’s, Jaime’s and Mario’s careers, and looking to the future of the ongoing series, with a follow-up conversation with Groth. 

This book has foldout family trees for both Gilbert’s Palomar and Jaime’s Locas storylines; unpublished art; a character glossary (which is handy, considering that Gilbert alone has created 50+ characters!); highlights from the original series’ anarchic letters columns; timelines; and the most wide-ranging Hernandez Brothers bibliography ever compiled, including album and DVD covers, posters and more. 

The obsessive-yet-accessible detail and high production values make it a must-have for comics collectors, scholars, libraries and old and new fans alike: for those new to the series, it will make jumping in seem less daunting. For longtime fans, it clears up confusion that even those devoted to the groundbreaking alternative comic over its 30-year run can experience, given the sheer amount of material and sophisticated storytelling techniques (such as flashbacks, flash forwards, elliptical narrative and magical realism).

The Love and Rockets Reader: From Hoppers to Palomar 

The Love and Rockets Reader: From Hoppers to Palomar started as a series of blog posts attempting to answer the deceptively simple question: “what makes Love and Rockets so great?” Over the next six years, it quickly grew into a meticulously researched study containing in-depth analysis of and commentary on the series. Author Marc Sobel delves into the comics’ themes, symbols and influences, as well as the Hernandez Brothers’ artistic development.

Organized into seven main chapters, one for each of the first seven Love and Rockets trade paperback collections (representing the original Love and Rockets Vol. I), the book also includes: the comics’ origins in the Hernandez Brothers’ roots, such as their involvement in the Southern California punk scene, their adventures in self-publishing, and their vital partnership with Fantagraphics; an examination of the Hernandez Brothers’ ill-fated Mister X (a science-fiction series) collaboration; a review of Mario’s solo book, Brain Capers; and a paradigm-changing analysis of Gilbert’s vastly underappreciated erotic graphic novel, Birdland. As an “extra,” The Love and Rockets Reader also includes Jaime’s very first published work: the never-before-reprinted four-page story, “Another Time, Another Place,” from 1977.

An essential resource for scholars and enthusiasts alike, this book will enlighten and deepen even the most ardent fans' appreciation of this groundbreaking series.