Rereading: FREDDY THE POLITICIAN by Walter R. Brooks

The sixth book in the Freddy the Pig series by Walter R. Brooks was originally titled “Wiggins for President,” before being retitled as above to fit in with the rest of the series. Mr. and Mrs. Bean have plans to go to Europe for a few months, and are wondering if their talking animals will be able to run the farm in their absence. To help convince them, Freddy decides the animals need to show how responsible they are by starting their own bank. The First Animal Bank is set up in an otherwise unused farm outbuilding after underground vaults are dug to hold valuables. Freddy is the treasurer, but wants another animal to be president, and the job falls to a new arrival on the farm, a woodpecker from Washington D.C. named John Quincy Adams, after the early U.S. president. His impressive name seems just right for the job. Another project the animals take on is the formation of their own government, the First Animal Republic. Candidates are nominated and begin their campaigns, with Freddy and his friends backing the cow, Mrs. Wiggins, who has a winning personality, an infectious laugh, and lots of common sense. Soon, however, the true plans of the woodpecker and his family surface when he also begins campaigning for president after a slick takeover of the bank. How can Freddy and the Bean Farm animals combat this outside takeover of their ideas and enterprises?

As much fun as all the Freddy books, and the political shenanigans are especially amusing in light of current developments in our own world. Recommended.

Freddy the Politician by Walter R Brooks

Lettering Underground Comix Part 1: ROBERT CRUMB

From ZAP COMIX #1, Feb 1968, Apex Novelties. All images © Robert Crumb except as noted

The 1960s were a time of change in many areas of society, including comics. One factor was the availability of cheap printing for the general public. Independent offset printers were setting up all across the country and small runs of a comic book with black and white interiors and a color cover could be produced for a few hundred dollars. A new generation of cartoonists was exploring that option, first just printing copies for friends, but new kinds of stores were opening up that would sell them. A counterculture focused on drug use, politics, folk, blues and rock music, and free love was gathering young fans in droves, and they were meeting to buy things in head shops that specialized in drug paraphernalia and literature and posters related to the movement. A new type of comics, dubbed “comix” to imply the X-rated nature of much of the content, was arriving on those shelves. One of the earliest and most prolific creators of comix was Robert Crumb, whose anthology series Zap Comix was a hit, and sold well enough to encourage lots of imitators. Crumb’s work sometimes looked back to sources like the comics he loved as a kid, but more often it drew content from past and current music and culture. Both his art and his lettering had a rough quality that was very different from most mainstream comics, but beneath that rough look was solid cartooning and design skill. The content was raw, sexual and violent, free from any kind of censorship. It helped that court rulings at the time were making prosecution for producing or selling such things harder. Underground comix included everything the Comics Code Authority was sworn to prevent, and that made them all the more appealing. Crumb said in the book Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels by Roger Sabin (1996), “People forget that was what it was all about. That was why we did it. We didn’t have anybody standing over us saying ‘No, you can’t draw this,’ or ‘You can’t show that.’ We could do whatever we wanted.” In a way, underground comix reset the idea of making comics back to the beginning, with each creator doing his own complete package. Some were able to produce entire comix themselves, but many joined forces in anthology titles like Zap Comix. The center of comix publishing was San Francisco and nearby Berkeley, California, though comix were published in many parts of the country. No longer did a cartoonist have to live in the New York City metropolitan area and gain favor at the mainstream publishers to reach an audience. In Part 1 I’ll focus on Robert Crumb, in Part 2 I’ll look at other early underground artists and their lettering.

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Rereading: DANGEROUS ISLAND by Helen Mather-Smith Mindlin

Frank and Dorothy Warren have come with their mother to spend the summer in a rented house on Brigantine Island, just north of Atlantic City on the New Jersey coast. They soon meet Mr. Charleston, a friendly young man living in a self-built shack on the bay shore, where he makes a living fishing from his boat. Soon they’ve also met a local boy, Pug, who teaches them how to fish and gather clams, and Mr. Charleston helps them build a sturdy raft from driftwood that he ties to his dock so they can play and fish on it. One day, tired of being in the same place, Mr. Charleston tows the raft and the children to a new mooring further out in the bay before he goes out fishing. Unfortunately the stakes he moored them to come loose, and before they know it, the three children are swept by the tide out into the ocean. A thick fog comes up, keeping anyone from seeing their plight, and eventually they land on a small, rocky island miles from the coast. While Mr. Charleston and the parents are frantically searching for them, the three castaways get by on their deserted island, finding enough to eat, and sleeping in a cave, but then something ominous is noticed. The island is getting smaller! It’s gradually sinking into the ocean. Can the children be found in time? And what unusual secret does the cave hold for them?

This is an exciting read if you’re willing to overlook a few things. For instance, there are no rocky islands off the New Jersey coast, sinking or otherwise. Also, the author doesn’t understand that tides affect all land, including small islands. As a child, I didn’t notice any of that and enjoyed the adventure. Mildly recommended.

Dangerous Island by Helen Mather-Smith Mindlin


From AMAZING MYSTERY FUNNIES Vol 2 #12, Dec 1939, Centaur

In the early days of comic strips, the creators did everything: writing, art and lettering. Over time, if a strip was popular, the creator could afford to hire assistants who often did the lettering, which was considered an onerous chore by some. A percentage of early strips were always entirely the work of one person, as with Winsor McCay and George Herriman for example, but as assistants and their share of the work were usually unknown, it’s hard to be sure who did the lettering on many strips. In comic books, the demands of volume meant that creation was often an assembly-line process at both shops and publishers, with the work divided into tasks such as writing, penciling, inking, lettering, coloring and editing. A creator might begin with submissions that were all his own, but if he or she was accepted into the business, it was likely that person would become a specialized part of a team, and lettering gradually developed as a niche job done by lettering freelancers or staffers. There were always exceptions in both comic strips and comic books, two important ones in more recent comic strips are Charles Schulz and Gus Arriola. There were a few creators in comics whose work was so singular that it was best produced solo, but those creators tended to work on the fringes, not on mainstream books and characters. Basil Wolverton is a good example, an early story page by him is above. We’ll also look at Harvey Kurtzman later. Wolverton’s art was stylized and quirky, with lots of texture, like pulp magazine illustrations. His lettering was easy to read and professional, in neat lines of even letters, and his story title above is sedate block letters. This is Wolverton trying to fit in with the comic book work of others, I think.

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JIM APARO – Letterer

From GO-GO COMICS #6, April 1967, Charlton

By the 1960s, most mainstream comics artists were specialists, focusing on either penciling or inking. There were some who did both, but very few who also did their own lettering. Jim Aparo penciled, inked, and lettered his comics stories from his debut at Charlton in 1967 until the late 1980s, when he began doing only pencils. The last example I could find of his lettering is from 1993, but Aparo worked steadily all those years, producing about one page of penciled, lettered, and inked art a day, and it makes his work unique and personal. Aparo also always signed the first page of his stories, again not common at the time. His lettering above shows style and variety, and is creative and appealing. Also unusual is that he always lettered with a fountain pen.

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