Posts Tagged ‘‘Maus’’

Cartoonist Kayfabe on the US Army’s Guide to Cartooning

September 7, 2021

Face front, true believers, as Stan ‘the Man’ Lee used to say at Marvel. Here’s a bit of fun I found on the Cartoonist Kayfabe channel on YouTube. In it, comics creators Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look at a little curiosity from the past. Back in the middle of World War II, the US army produced a booklet intended to teach squaddies the basics of cartooning.

The booklet was part of a series of such manuals intended to teach basic craft skills to wounded and shell-shocked troopers when they were recovering in hospital. It was also to give them skills that would help them find a job when they were finally demobilised. These booklets weren’t long. They were deliberately made short enough so that a trooper could have one in a pocket or in his kit bag. Other manuals in the series included leatherwork, knot-making and carpentry.

Although short, the booklet does cover all the basics of cartooning, such as proportion, perspectives, drawing action, the need to observe the wrinkles in clothes and so on, including tips on drawing noses and ears. Unfortunately, it also contains a section on ‘racial symbols’ – basically drawing national stereotypes, which includes two racist caricatures. One of these is of a Jew, which is especially distasteful given the nature of the regimes the US and its allies were fighting at the time.

The booklet’s own artwork is very fine and is stylistically similar to many of the great comics’ artists who were emerging at the time. The two speculate whether it was done by Art Spiegelman, the creator of Maus, a metaphor about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, or Stan Lee. Although both were in the army at the time, both were actually occupied on other projects. In the case of Lee, it was working on pamphlets about the VD. The pair also note that the booklet doesn’t say anything about sequential storytelling. It’s intended to teach single panel cartooning, the type published in newspapers at the time and which was massively popular.

I’ve got a feeling it was US army course on cartooning that produced the great American SF novelist, Harry Harrison. I think he trained as a cartoonist and started working in comics and from there found his way into writing SF short stories and novels. Harrison is probably best known for his comic SF novel, The Stainless Steel Rat, about a reformed criminal, ‘Slippery’ Jim diGriz, who works for a galactic detective bureau staffed with similar ex-crims to catch the villains, tyrants, murderers and general menaces to society that the ordinary police can’t. One of his other novels is Bill the Galactic Hero, which is a satire on the army and militarism, as well as spoofing Asimov and some of the other leading SF authors of the time. It was written, along with a number of other novels by various SF writers, as a reply to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and its glorification of war and the armed forces. In the book, the captains of the space navy aren’t the six-foot good-looking guys that appear in the films. Those are all actors. They’re members of the galactic aristocracy, and so are terribly inbred with low IQs. The aliens they are fighting against aren’t the aggressors as portrayed in the army’s propaganda, but are an otherwise peaceful race, the victims of human attack. When Bill finally meets one, who explains this to him shortly before it escapes, he asks it why they’re fighting them then. The alien replies that it doesn’t know, but ‘we think you like it’. When Bill is finally allowed some leave, he travels down to the nearest planet with a group of other squaddies. One of them is a man, who has had half of his face shot away and replaced with cybernetics. Another man wires himself into a saline drip that feeds him a mixture of alcohol and glucose so he can be flat out unconscious drunk for the duration. And at the end of the book Bill meets the Biblical Cain, here described as the first soldier, who gives him tips on how to be successful and survive as a squaddie.

Bill the Galactic Hero isn’t biting satire. It’s tone, like the Stainless Steel Rat, is largely light. But that doesn’t stop it making some very serious points about the lunacy of the armed forces and the hell of war amongst the jokes. I think it’s significant that Harrison had served in the war, while Heinlein was rejected as unfit for active service. It’s been said that the people who are least likely to start a war are those, who have actually fought in one.

And if Harrison did come into literature through the US’ army training on cartooning, there’s an irony in that it launched the career of one of SF’s great satirists of the military, along with just about everything else.

Metamorphosis: Another Comic Attacking Farage

April 4, 2015

Earlier this week I put up a post about reports in the Belfast Telegraph and ITV that 2000 AD was planning to skewer Farage in a forthcoming Judge Dredd strip. This will pit the hardest lawman in Mega-City One against the corrupt, racist politico, Bilious Barrage.

Now it seems that the Independent also is publishing their comic strip attack on the Purple Duce. I found this piece posted on the SlatUKIP site, reporting a piece in the Independent about the launch of the Metamorphosis comic strip, by one of their cartoonists. The strip seems to take Kafka’s novel, Metamorphosis, and puts an extra spin on it to turn it into a modern parable about racism.

Kafka’s novel is about a man, who wakes up one day to find that he has been transformed over night into a beetle. In this strip, giant intelligent cockroaches have appeared, and are being victimised in same way as foreign immigrants are in contemporary Britain. There is even an anti-cockroach party, UCOC, led by a politician, who looks exactly like Farage. Here’s the link.

http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/metamorphosis-an-exclusive-satirical-comic-we-recommend-you-read–eJlV0wWby1b

Apart from Kafka, the strip also seems influenced by Art Spiegelman’s Maus. This was an alternative comic narrating the experiences of Spiegelman’s father and the situation of the Jews in the Third Reich as an animal fable. The Jews were mice, the Germans cats, and the Poles were pigs. The Independent’s Metamorphosis seems to be following Spiegelman in using comics to combat racism, and animals as metaphors for the different racial groups.

A little while ago I posted a piece lamenting the absence of underground and alternative comics tackling the great issues of modern Britain. Now it seems they’re coming back. And that can only be a good thing, so here’s to more of them, and more power to their artists’ satirical elbows.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Disability

While this comic book uses Kafka’s idea of transformation into an insect as a metaphor for racism, the original novel can be read as a parable about disability. Though Kafka himself spoke and wrote in German, the novel’s title in Czech is Zuk, which literally means ‘beetle’, but can also mean anything loathsome or disgusting. Kafka was a clerk working in the insurance department, and his novels of labyrinthine bureaucracy are basically fantastic extrapolations from the real bureaucracy in which he worked.

In Metamorphosis, the hero’s transformation renders him unable to work, and he eventually either dies or commits suicide, because he is an increasing drain on his family. This could be seen as a metaphor for the all-too real predicament the disabled and their families ended up in 19th century Bohemia, when accident or disease rendered them unable to make a living.

Which is basically another good reason for why no-one should ever vote UKIP. Farage, Nuttall and the rest of stormtroopers would like to see the welfare state completely removed and the NHS privatised. Various Kipper politicos have made monstrous comments about the disabled, and denied the right of disabled children to be born.

This morning I reblogged another great piece from Tom Pride on the Nazi ideas of the Kippers’ European ally, Janusz Korwin-Mikke. This particularly Nazi has stated that the disabled should not be on television, which should be reserved for the strong, healthy and able-bodied. He also announced that supporting the disabled hadn’t yet spread to Africa, which was why they were going to become so much stronger than Europeans. In his view, this will lead to them invading and massacring us.

It’s bog-standard, 19th century eugenics crap, and could almost have come straight from Hitler himself, or any of the biology textbooks published in the Third Reich. It’s particularly ironic coming from a Pole, as the Nazis viewed all the Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe – Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Russians, Czechs and Slovaks, among many others, as sub-humans. They were to be enslaved and worked to death after the Nazis conquered their countries. As well as the extermination of the Jews and Gypsies, the Nazis were also responsible for horrific atrocities against these peoples, including in Poland.

Farage made an alliance with Korwin-Mikke’s party to get EU money by forming a voting bloc of extreme Right-wing and anti-EU parties within the European parliament. It shows a cynical absence of any kind of morality, and the underlying Fascism behind Farage’s democratic fa├žade.