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Preview: Peter Bagge: Reason Magazine articles.

Peter Bagge: Reason.com articles.





Updated: 2017-11-21T00:00:00-05:00

 



The Fleeting Glory of Trump Magazine

2017-06-25T06:00:00-04:00

TRUMP: The Complete Collection, edited by Denis Kitchen, Dark Horse Books, 184 pages, $29.99 Trump—the title of which, I feel compelled to point out, has nothing to do with the current POTUS—was an illustrated satirical magazine edited by Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman and published by Playboy's Hugh Hefner. Both men were young, very ambitious, and perhaps a little too idealistic. Thanks partly to a storm of unforeseen business woes that almost destroyed the Playboy empire and partly to Kurtzman and Hefner's generosity toward their contributors, the publication lasted for only two issues, one released in 1956 and the other in 1957. The result, on display in a new collection edited and annotated by Denis Kitchen, was a tragic might-have-been. Kurtzman is best known for founding Mad, which started out as a full-color comic book satirizing other comics. As one of only two staff editors at the EC Comics company, Kurtzman was expected to write every word of the titles he edited; prior to Mad he ran the imprint's war titles, which often featured anti-war messages. Thanks to his obsessive determination to get all his facts straight, he routinely fell into "research holes." Mad was supposed to be a relatively easy job for him, but he soon started obsessing over it too, especially as he started to run out of comic characters to spoof and began to expand his targets into the worlds of film, TV, advertising, and literature. Mad was a surprise hit, and it soon attracted attention from outside the marginalized, lowbrow comics world, with Kurtzman becoming a cause célèbre among humorists of all kinds. This, combined with a new industry-wide self-censorship policy (known as the Comics Code) that was threatening EC Comics' very existence, convinced Kurtzman to ask his publisher, William Gaines, to convert Mad from a kiddie comic to an adult humor magazine. Gaines agreed, and Mad became not just more popular than ever but, eventually, a cultural institution. All this sudden and unexpected attention went to Kurtzman's head, and he soon began making outrageous demands that the publisher wouldn't have agreed to under any circumstances, such as 51 percent ownership of Gaines' own company. But Kurtzman thought he had an ace in the hole: Hugh Hefner. Like most men of that era, Kurtzman was fascinated by Playboy, with its unprecedented mixture of pornography, high-end production values, and intellectual aspirations (or pretensions, take your pick). And Hefner, who had been an unsuccessful cartoonist, was equally fascinated by what Kurtzman was doing with Mad, specifically in the way he would deconstruct—in a very pre-postmodernist fashion—his targets. Kurtzman's commercial purpose was simply to mine humor from his subjects, but if in so doing he also revealed some heaping doses of hypocrisy and greed behind the mass media's messages, then so much the better. (It should be noted here that Kurtzman's parents were Communists. While he never shared their political beliefs, he certainly was raised to view American culture with a cynical eye.) This approach appealed to Hefner's own self-image as an observant Hip Outsider, and the two men were soon conspiring with each other to create a satirical publication that would put all others to shame, sparing no expense in the process. Content-wise, Trump wasn't much different than the early "adult" version of Mad that Kurtzman had only just started at EC. Kurtzman also took the cream of EC's stable of artists with him, primarily the incomparable threesome of Will Elder, Jack Davis, and Wally Wood, as well as a young Al Jaffee. (Wood quickly returned to Mad when he learned he wasn't allowed to work for both publications, while Davis and Jaffee were welcomed back after Trump folded. Jaffee still works there 60 years later.) What separated Trump from Mad was the former's determination to be a demonstrably "adult" publication, which meant it included (possibly at Hefner's insistence) a lot of semi-clad young women in the art; the only nod to modesty was a rule against exposed nipples. Mad, me[...]



200,000 Alcoholics Can't Be Wrong

2017-02-26T06:00:00-05:00




Presidential Portraits

2017-01-15T07:00:00-05:00




Let's Ruin Cuba!

2016-05-15T06:00:00-04:00




Life Out on the Political Fringe

2015-03-29T12:00:00-04:00

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Eggheads of the World, Unite!

2014-06-21T10:00:00-04:00

You can click on each image to see a larger version. - Editor.

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The Death of the Age of Stuff

2013-11-04T07:00:00-05:00

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The Wizard of Dogpatch

2013-02-26T10:30:00-05:00

Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary, by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen, Bloomsbury, 336 pages, $30. Everything about the life and art of Al Capp, creator of the mid-century comic strip masterpiece Li'l Abner, was brash and over the top. Even the way he lost his left leg at the age of nine was right out of a Warner Brothers cartoon: He got run over by a street car. As one might expect, that traumatic event affected the rest of Capp's life for good and for ill. It inspired him to become good at something not requiring the use of two legs, yet it also compounded his innate and profound self-loathing. The lifelong pain and embarrassment it caused him (he always walked with an awkward, comical gait) only contributed to his negative, curmudgeonly psyche. Even before the accident, Capp had a tough row to hoe, as Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen reveal in their fine new biography, Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary. Born Alfred Caplin in New Haven in 1909 to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Capp quickly exhibited the traits that defined him throughout his life: ambition, creativity, and a wicked sense of humor along with an explosive, hair-trigger temper. His lovable yet ne'er-do-well father dragged his family from city to city, starting one failed business after another, while his stoic, no-nonsense mother occasionally had to rummage through the neighbors' trash at night looking for something to feed her children the next morning. As a young man in the 1930s, Capp had to drop out of school just to feed himself, while cunningly sneaking into one art school after another and disappearing before his tuition payment was due. As with many Depression survivors, these hardscrabble beginnings eventually turned him into a money-obsessed miser who by the '60s grew to despise the younger generation for having it so easy in comparison. Debuting in 1934, Li'l Abner was a unique mix of bawdy, burlesque humor presented in an adventure/continuity format. It also quickly transcended its "hillbilly" setting as it took on a strong satirical tone. Capp used his strip to spoof not just other comic strips (most famously with Fearless Fosdick, his send-up of Dick Tracy) but also theater, movies, and politicians. He basically was doing what Mad magazine became famous for a full decade before Mad even existed. His strip was also intricately well-crafted: simultaneously and in equal measures loud, gaudy, sexy, and detailed. It was a masterful blend of high and low humor, "pretty" and "ugly" art. The strip also clearly was not for children, not only because of the sophisticated references but also due to the blatant sexual innuendos and the impossibly curvy, scantily clad women who populated the Yokums' hometown of Dogpatch. In terms of both art and humor, Li'l Abner was unlike any newspaper strip before or since, and during its late-'40s/early-'50s heyday it was the undisputed king of the funny pages, both artistically and commercially. Contrary to what you might assume, Li'l Abner was never meant to be an insult directed at Southern and/or rural folk. As a teen, Capp hitchhiked through the South, and he was struck by how friendly and big-hearted the natives were, particularly to a Jewish Yankee like himself. In his strip, the sincere country folk always win out in the end. Capp already had a family of his own by the time Li'l Abner got started. Prior to that he eked out a meager living mainly by assisting other daily strip cartoonists, most notably Ham Fisher, creator of the then-popular boxing strip Joe Palooka. Little did Capp know it at the time, but in Fisher he was looking at his own future self: a man of great success and wealth with an insatiable appetite for fame, praise, and beautiful women. While encouraging to the younger artist to his face, Fisher pathologically tried to undermine Capp's career at every turn. Capp sussed this out immed[...]



Detroit

2013-01-03T10:30:00-05:00

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Shenanigans!

2012-08-10T16:30:00-04:00

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Caged Warmth

2011-07-01T13:30:00-04:00

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I.M.P.

2010-09-21T12:58:00-04:00

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I.M.P.: The Isabel Paterson Story

2010-09-14T07:00:00-04:00

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I.M.P.

2010-07-27T07:00:00-04:00

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