28 September 2012

See You in the Funny Papers!

Editor's note: The following is the final installment of this week's Red Bull Rising mini-series, "Comic Book Re: Insurgency." For more insights and information about telling war stories using graphic-novel techniques, see also Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Comic books matter. So do cartoons.

For more than 100 years—ending only after budget cuts and layoffs in 2008—the Des Moines (Iowa) Register ran an editorial cartoon on its front page. After budget cuts and layoffs, Brian Duffy was the last of a line that included Pulitzer Prize-winners Ding Darling and Frank Miller. Duffy still plies his trade on television, in the local free weekly paper, and online.

I was sorry to see that tradition die in the Register. To outsiders, it seemed as quirky as deep-fried butter on a stick at the Iowa State Fair. To those of us who live here, it was as natural as a landscape planted out in corn and soybeans, as far as the eye can see. Which is to say, of course, that it wasn't natural at all. But it was homegrown, part of the landscape. Nobody could take it away from us, until they did.

Budget cuts and technology can really take the fun out of things sometimes.

I've written previously about how Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury has been something of a personal talisman. Through his daily comic strip, Trudeau delivers some of the most insightful, accessible observations of military and veteran life in mass media today. He also supports mil-blogging as a craft. For the record, Trudeau won a Pulitzer in 1975. I hadn't realized Pulitzers would become something of a theme here.

There's a long line of cartoon soldiers that precede those Doonesbury characters, including Private Snafu, Sad Sack, Beetle Bailey, and Willie and Joe. The latter cartoon was drawn by Bill Mauldin, a citizen-soldier-cartoonist with Oklahoma's 45th Infantry "Thunderbird" Division, and winner of two Pulitzers himself.

Of more recent vintage, there's also "Delta Bravo Sierra", "Bob on the FOB", and "PVT Murphy" (the latter, sadly, no longer in production).

For my money and daily eyeball time, however, I visit most regularly a group of space mercenaries, a rudely drawn slideshow circus, and a stick-figure superhero who fights for life, liberty, and pursuit of doctrine. Because they're "free," I try to occasionally send them money by purchasing their merchandise, and by supporting their charities and causes.

As I have before, I'll include science-fiction writer Howard Tayler's "Schlock Mercenary" in this military-cartoon company. There's a reason that his "Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries" is posted on many a TOC wall. You can read his stuff and buy his books here.

Power Point Ranger has recently made some 600 of his scathing and snarky slides available on CD-ROM for just $12, including shipping and handling. Like they say: "Suitable for framing." By which, I mean "sneaking into your buddy's next briefing slide deck."

Finally, from the secret lair, poker den, and humidor-arsenal of Doctrine Man!!, the latest piece of inspired swag is a Blue Falcon sticker. Think of it as a "kick me" sign for that special someone around the staff tent.

Comic books matter. So do cartoons. Send them money when you can.

Otherwise, you might one day wake up to a blank page in your newspaper, or a broken URL on your computer. To mis-quote Sherpatude No. 26: "Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't ... there."


As a final note in wrapping up this week's Red Bull Rising focus on comic books and cartoons, theorist Scott McCloud, author of such books as "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art" and "Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels", is speaking in Red Bull country tonight in Northfield, Minn.

He's helping Carleton College kick off its “Visual Learning: Transforming the Liberal Arts” conference, which will "bring together leaders from 42 esteemed institutions around the nation—academics representing a variety of disciplines, as well as graduate students, museum curators, photographers, photojournalists, graphic artists, film-makers, technologists, and musicians."

Click here for details.

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