Saturday, October 03, 2015

Buried Treasure at Penn State

Better to be at Penn State than at the State pen.

A lot of people go to Penn State. 50,000 of them may be attending classes at anytime unless it is a football day when they are all either in the stadium or praying at the house of worship of their choice for the home team. During my brief visit to give a lecture, football was not being played but the faint sounds of the marching band could be heard in the air.

Also in the air was the faint smell of fertilizer. “You get used to it,” one student told me, “After a while it doedn’t bodder you.” Hard to really believe a kid with a clothes pin clamped on his nose.

Plunked in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, as it is, Penn State has a big Agriculture Department. My host, Professor Joel Priddy, told me that he had met a student who was a Turfgrass Science Major. Who knew?! You may laugh, but I suspect that those graduating with this major are more likely than, say, poetry majors, to find employment in this golf course-crazy turf-mad country.

Prior to my lecture, the convivial Prof. Purdy (himself a cartoonist), suggested that we go over to the library to see a special collection that he had dimly heard about but had not yet visited. He was not really certain of the details, but it was some guy’s donated collection of old tabletops that cartoonists had drawn upon.

Well, it turns out that the guy who left the tabletops (some still attached to actual tables) attended Penn State and his name was Fred Waring. Not a lot of folks recall Fred Waring today, but in his heyday he was an important band leader who led a regional ensemble called “Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians.” In the 50’s he had a string of million-selling records. Waring was a great showman, businessman and promoter. While he did not himself invent the Waring Blendor (yes, with an “o”), he improved on the design, manufactured the thing, and named it after himself.

The Fred Waring Collection, officially and patriotically entitled, “Fred Waring’s America” but unofficially and less patriotically called (by me) “Fred Waring’s Cool Collection of Stuff”, takes up a few room in the Special Collections wing of the massive Penn State library.

The first room is the display room. Decorating the walls are posters of Fred, photos of Fred with Fred’s famous pals (Crosby, Sinatra, Reagan, f’rinstance), and, naturally, Fred’s fur jacket. Fred’s Steinway stands in a corner. Fred Waring ephemera everywhere.
Unbelievable raised lettering.

Golf clubs, Family Circle, and portable bar...need I say more?

An adjacent storage room is chockablock with shelves of sheet music and band arrangements. The librarian who patiently led us around pointed out that a structural engineer had ordered them to move the massive collection of vinyl 78s and LPs to a different location because their weight was causing the concrete floors to sag. Ironic, considering that Waring studied Architectural Engineering while at Penn.
Just photos here and lots of 'em.

One of several groaning shelves of band charts.

Fred Waring also loved comics and befriended many a cartoonist. He invited them up in busloads (literally) from Manhattan to spend time at his spread on Lake Shawnee, playing golf, drinking booze, and making merry. Some of the merry that they made were in the form of some original drawings inscribed to the generous bandleader.

Over 650 original drawings by those merrymakers are now crammed into a dozen flat files now held in the Special Collection of the Penn State library. All sorts of cartoonists came to party: Strip cartoonist: such as Hal Foster, Chester Gould, Bill Holman. Gag cartoonists, such as Chon Day, Barney Tobey, Reamer Keller. Comic book cartoonists! Sports Cartoonists! Animators!

Chet Gould brought the family once.


Hal Foster made numerous visits to Lake Shawnee

Superheroes allowed.
Wayne Boring drew a hell of a strange and thick Superman.

A Bob Kane drawing that was (presumably) actually drawn by Bob Kane.

Yup...Lots of round breasts in these flat files 
including this from James Montgomery Flagg.
...and the one below by Otto Soglow...

Captions are now being accepted.

One of the loveliest pieces in the place 
by Polly's pal, Cliff Sterrett.

I kid you not.

Scotch on the three rocks.

What I would give to have seen Boody Rogers meet Otto Soglow... 

Judging by their multiple offerings, certain fellas  (yes, all men, as far as I could tell) must have had their own bungalows: Milton Canniff, Russell Patterson, Otto Sogolow are all well represented.

..and, yes, stacked in a corner, one-of-a-kind cartoonists table tops.

Gus Edson

Mort Walker (surprised?)

Milton Caniff

Otto Soglow

Notary Sojak

I could not believe what I was seeing.

I wish that I had the chance to take more pix, but that structural engineer came bursting in and ordered me evicted. The weight of my drool was causing more floor sagging.

"Be on your toes tonight - or I'll be on yours tomorrow." 
- Fred Waring

Friday, July 24, 2015

How NOT to Get a Cartoon in The New Yorker

Graphic Report published in The Vineyard Gazette, 24 July 2015
Click to enlarge, then click AGAIN to make legible.

Monday, July 06, 2015

How To Grow Mushrooms

Graphic Report published in The Vineyard Gazette, 3 July 2015
Click to enlarge, then click AGAIN to make legible.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Don't Cry for Me, Technopolis!

They still have newsstands in Bueno Aires.
They still like comics, too.

I went to Buenos Aires on the invitation of Juan Manuel Dominguez, the smart and enthusiastic organizer of the comics section of “Encuentro de la Palabra”, an art, music, literature, and video extravaganza held outside of Buenos Aires in a sprawling complex called Technopolis.

Families come to Technopolis to let the kids run wild on all sorts of cool apparatuses. Hipsters come to Technopolis to dig art installations by their peers. I came to Technopolis to be completely confused about Technopolis.

Was it a theme park? A civic center? A playground? As far as I could tell, the “tech” part was low and the “opolis” part was the Buenos Aires skyline off in the distance.

Jesús Cossio from Peru, Matt Borrs and myself from the US, 
and Paul Gravett from the UK prepare to enter Technopolis.
After our escort took our photo, she asked us not to explain 
to her boss what her shirt meant in English.

Among the installations sprinkled around the extensive Technopolis grounds was a mini play gas station, a flashing neon-lit robot-looking thing, and a bunch of pavilions containing multimedia presentations. There is also an airplane for the family to clamber around in and play Flight Attendant and Disgruntled Passenger. Next to the parked airplane is a structure so large it could hold a fleet of such jets and have room left over for the Queen Mary. It is filled with art exhibits and cool things for kids to play on, and a huge concert hall.

Before my appearance on a comics panel, tucked away in the low-rent district of the plant, I wandered around trying to make sense of the incongruent elements at play:

Beach chairs dotting an enormous pile of sand facing a concrete wall onto which lapping waves were projected.

Sandbox filled with letter cubes for kids to form naughty words.

Some kind of Wheel of Fortune game with giddy contestants and a host with big teeth and a cranked-up microphone (I dared not get too close).

Exhibition of “real” artifacts from the time the aliens landed in downtown Buenos Aires. Sort of like Welle’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast, the gullible believe in the event, while most of the populace understand the exhibit  to be based on a popular comic strip from 1964.

A brief video that will shed no additional light onto the connective tissue that holds together Technopolis can be found here in the middle of the page:

The government runs Technopolis and patriotic pride is an undercurrent theme. Everything is free of charge. Families flocked.

At one point I got carried away in a flow of families and rode downstream into a dim auditorium. Bleachers could just be discerned, but the stage was aglow with whirling neon spotlights jittering to the throbbing music. Hundreds of seats were filled in eager anticipation. I figured that it was going to be a concert by some teen idol. All the kids chimed in with the songs that were blasting on the speakers.

Far from a pop icon love-in, the show turned out, of course, to be a history of the Argentine fight for independence performed by dozens of dancers in oversized cartoon costumes against an animated backdrop. I was later told that the spectacle is based on a very popular TV show which explained the enthusiastic sing-along by the audience. At one point the actors portrayed soldiers valiantly struggling across the Andes in bitter wind. Suddenly the roving green spotlights began to swing through the audience much to the delight of the crowd as little bits of snow-like flakes descended from the catwalks. Wait…it was not snow-like…it was real snow! Viva la Republica! Viva Technopolis!

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When Americans need to store water in a city, they usually build big, ugly water towers. This magnificent structure is essentially hollow and once was an urban reservoir. Presently vacant, one proposal has been to turn it into a very large swimming pool.

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Look closely:  M......U......N

Back in the day, this was the Munich Beer Garden. Today it is a museum of comics…but you can still get a beer if you choose to. Their collection of 19th century and early 20th century original and printed comics pages is small but impressive. I liked their floors, too.

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Subsequently, we were given a tour of the Biblioteca Nacional's comics collection, which is relatively new, but wonderfully maintained by the knowledgeable and dedicated scholar, José-Maria Gutiérrez (I was told that “José-Maria” is not an uncommon naming strategy for parents trying to cover their bets. If it’s a girl, they just name her “Maria-José”). Through his collaborator, the affable Pablo Zweig, we saw a lot of originals and learned a lot about Argentinean comics.

Illustrator/Cartoonist/Translator, Pablo Zweig, in front of the library.

José-Maria Gutiérrez points to something small and
to comics scholar, Paul Gravett, and publications
maestro from the Louvre, Fabrice Douar.

When Juan Peron was ousted, the government razed the glorious presidential palace and spent decades replacing it with the enormous concrete Biblioteca Nacional. This, of course, only added to the deification of Juan…well, especially of Evita. A sculpture of the Perons now sits in a park where their own garden may have once been located. The paint on Evita’s face is badly worn away from many fans trying to rub into their fingertips a bit of her mojo.

The mojo of Evita’s body was considered so serious that her remains were circulated around the world for years in fear that rooting them into any ground might cause a seismic (and political) disruption. When her body was finally properly entombed, it was in a welded iron crate placed in the family crypt, which had been fortified to withstand bombing.

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Evita's family crypt.
Evita’s family tomb is modest compared to many of the other crypts in the famous Recoleta Cemetery. But it’s a swell place to take the family on a Saturday morning to pay your respects to the most beloved figure in the nation’s history. Flowers were being placed on the door when I snuck in with the crowd. A woman kissed the marble façade. An old man wiped away a tear. Evita died in 1952.

 Look closely at background to see life imitating death.

This is not your low rent neighborhood cemetery, like the one in Montparnasse, Paris where every homeboy and his tante are dumped, but an upscale affair where families actively try to out-do each other in ostentatiousness. Some of the crypts are plain, some are memorial wedding cakes. Some are well maintained, some have imploded by age and vandals. Every one is worth contemplation…but there are hundreds of the things and after two hours I became numb to their virtues.

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During my brief visit did I cover the essentials? Did I eat the legendary Argentinean steak? Yes, I did. Did I see a tango performance? Yes, I did. Did I get my  photo taken with statues of two famously ribald and questionably funny comedians?

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