Seeing Is Deceiving

The smoke from last week’s gunfire had barely dissipated before conspiracy theories began to bloom like magic mushrooms in a fresh cowpie. First, the unedited version of the now-famous scene of the terrorist killing the wounded policeman is making the rounds on the ‘net. Theorists claim the film clearly shows the bullet ricocheting off the sidewalk rather than exploding the head of the victim. That can only mean the cop was offed afterward by the (insert name of organization or government agency here) because he either saw too much or he was killed just to incite hatred of Muslims. We’ve become accustomed to such speculation in the information age and the evidence certainly bears investigating. But until I see Big Foot fleeing from the Charlie Hebdo offices on the back of a robot unicorn, I’ll reserve judgement.

paris-march-wide-shotAnd you do have to wonder what is real, after seeing this wide angle shot of the world leaders marching in solidarity with the grieving public. Oh wait, that’s not the public! It was just their security people, surrounded by soldiers. You can’t really blame them for being a little paranoid after the bloodbath, but whoever decided to make it look like the high potentates were at the head of the parade didn’t do them any favors. (Score one for conspirators.)

Warren Beatty warned us about this shit. You can’t trust your eyes, even with google glasses. As long as we see the world through the lens of the technician/artist, reality is more of an illusion than ever. We used to take drugs to do that.

The cartoonists have been laid to rest, and I had to smile when I saw the photos. Any cartoonist would be proud to go through eternity surrounded by the etchings of his friends and peers. I only hope they filled his pockets with fresh sharpies and a bottle of white-out.

cartoonist funeralMeanwhile, in the rest of the world, an NAACP office was firebombed in Colorado. Boko Haram murdered an estimated 2000 souls in their continuing reign of terror in Nigeria. In Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Mohammed Saleh Al Munajjid proclaimed that Muslims are forbidden to make snowmen, even if they don’t look like the prophet. The most surprising thing I learned from that story was that snow exists in Saudi Arabia.

possumAnd finally, school officials in Valley, Alabama announced that they would begin to stockpile canned goods, not to feed the poor or even themselves, but to use as weapons in case a gunman should invade the classroom. (The theory being that the terrorist would be so surprised by the assault he would immediately flee the scene or be rendered helpless until the police arrive. ) Talk about your food fight.

Once again, these events illustrate the need for cartoonists in this topsy turvy world. At least for those who can distinguish satire from what passes for reality.

 

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Kick Me

Kick Me One855Kick Me Two856Kick Me Three857Kick Me Four858Kick Me Five859

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“Charlie” Lives!

CHARLIEThe cover of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo since the attack on their offices.Translation: “All is Forgiven”

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Robert Wyckoff

Bob Wyckoff852I got a few emails  asking if I was going to the rally in San Francisco to remember the fallen Charlie Hebdo cartoonists this weekend. No, I didn’t make it. Instead, I attended a memorial service for another fallen newspaper comrade, Robert (Bob) Wyckoff, who passed away last year. Bob was a reporter, editor, publisher, photographer, author, songwriter, and historian. He was also the father of three children.

It was a beautiful, simple service, with an honor guard and testimonials from his brother Jim, retired Nevada City city manager Beryl Robinson, Union editor Brian Hamilton, former mayor Paul Matson, and Bill MacSems, the co-creator of the musical about the Narrow Gauge railroad, Never Come, Never Go. The local group, Buffalo Gals, played several songs from his 1985 production of Songs and Stories of the Gold Rush.

After the ceremonies, we all had a great time reminiscing about our experiences with Bob. It was pretty much agreed that he was a cantankerous son of a bitch, and most of us hated him at one time or another. I was reminded of a cartoon I did of him hanging from a gallows and calling him a “dumbass.” (It was a disagreement over the legality of David Parker’s legendary mural on the wall of the Wiley’s Bar patio.)

He was also a gregarious personality with a boundless enthusiasm for Nevada City, his adopted home. No matter what our disagreements, we were never mad for very long.

In a roundabout way, Bob was responsible for me getting my first job as a newspaper cartoonist. He was the editor and founder of The Independent, a weekly newspaper based on Broad Street in Nevada City. (You can still see the name on the building at the corner of Broad and Pine, above Utopian Stone jewelers.)

Bob had experienced financial problems with the paper, which led to investors, which led to a confrontation over the direction of the publication, which led to Wyckoff walking out in a huff, which led to investor Dave Fluke taking over as publisher. Fluke hired a whole new crew, led by editor Dan O’Neill, to guide the paper into the Reagan era. I was the cub cartoonist, dark room developer, and in charge of color separations. It was quite a learning experience and way too much fun. It lasted two years, until Fluke got tired of burning money to support us.

A few years ago, I suggested that the two of us commandeer a table at The Union’s Home & Garden show to sell the books we had published under their banner. We had a great time talking about history and local gossip, and occasionally someone would attempt to buy a book. “You don’t want to pay twenty bucks for this thing, do you?” was Bob’s sales pitch. (“Yes, we do,” I’d whisper while kicking him under the table.)

I miss his weekly forays into local history in The Union, and I dearly miss the man himself. There will never be another like him.

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I Am Charlie, And Proudly So

Charlie Hebdo843

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The Problem With Laughter

With the terrorist attack in Paris that has claimed the lives of five cartoonists still fresh in the minds of the public, I’d like to take the opportunity to refresh our collective memory on this lowbrow profession. Yes, it is true that we sometimes aim for the lowest common denominator when poking our leaders and institutions. It’s been that way since the first caveman took a burnt stick and etched the chief of his tribe with an exaggerated butt on the cave wall. He was encouraged when he got a few laughs from his buddies, (especially the women) but no doubt had the burning stick shoved up his ass after the head honcho got a look at it.

It didn’t matter. There was always another fool waiting to take his place. As soon as the first wall of civilization went up, it was covered with graffiti. With the coming of the printing press, cartooning became mobile, no longer weighed down by heavy stones or wooden planks. It was still a labor intensive task. The original drawing had to be etched by hand onto the plate for printing, and although it was performed by skilled craftsmen the subject matter was still aimed at the nether regions.

Treason849This crude caricature of King George III was penned by Richard Newton, whose cartooning career lasted only seven years at the time of his death at age twenty-one. William Pitt the younger was the King’s prime minister and chief henchman.  The year this cartoon appeared (1798) was marked by an unsuccessful rebellion in Ireland and the growing fear of invasion from France. It was not a good time for “John Bull” to be farting in the monarch’s face. At a time when the jails were filled with radicals, Newton was fortunate to escape prosecution.

 

King George and Turk II848This cartoon by James Gilray depicts the king and his officers of state cowering before the implied manhood of the Turkish ambassador. One of the Prince of Wales’s cronies penned a song about the encounter, The Plenipotentiary:    When to England he came with his prick in a flame                          He showed it his hostess at landing                  Who spread its renown through all parts of town                                                                      As a pintle past all understanding                    When he came to the court, oh! what giggle and sport  Such squinting and squeezing to view him!…

In our own country, there have been many attempts to intimidate journalists and cartoonists. After years of being bought off by the Southern Pacific Railroad, California newspapers were discovering that there was more profit in attacking the monopoly than taking its bribes. Led by William Randoph Hearst’s Examiner and The San Francisco Call, the railroad and their lackeys in the legislature were targeted for their corruption and cronyism. Every day, the crusading papers carried unflattering caricatures of politicians kowtowing to SP’s William Herrin. After a cartoon picturing a long-forgotten forgery by Assemblyman Grove Johnson caused the politician to break down in tears on the assembly floor, angry legislators drew up several bills intended to curb the power of the press.

The signature bill required reporters to sign their names to any articles they wrote that “might blacken the name of anyone living or dead.” Another made it easier to prosecute a libel suit. A third bill, now get this… made the crime of killing a newspaperman who had libeled a citizen justifiable homicide.

The capstone of the package was the anti-cartoon bill, which prohibited a newspaper from publishing any picture of a living Californian without his written consent, unless the person was a convicted criminal. It also banned cartoons that reflected negatively on the honor, integrity, manhood, virtue, reputation or business or political motives of any individual.

Cartoon Bill851Cartoon from The San Francisco Examiner by Robert Edgren (1899) depicting Senate leader Morehouse accompanied by his lap dog, Assemblyman Johnson.

Goaded by SP and riding a wave of sympathy for the humiliated Johnson, the cartoon bill easily passed both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Henry T. Gage. After tempers cooled, the bill was forgotten, and would have never passed scrutiny by the courts anyway. It was quietly repealed in 1915. The final irony was that Grove Johnson’s son, Hiram, led the progressive movement that would finally end the railroad’s power in California.

The real heroes today are the cartoonists, writers and musicians who live in oppressive countries, be it Putin’s Russia, North Korea or the Islamic nations. What is it that would lead a person to risk his life to draw a despot in a compromising position, just to get a laugh? It is something buried deep in our pysche that refuses to conform or be controlled. If we truly have a sixth sense, it is the sense of humor. The one thing that oppressors despise above all is laughter, because laughter is the killer of fear.

 

 

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Charlie Hebdo

Molly144

 

I did the above cartoon five years ago, in honor of the ordeal that young woman had to endure for even suggesting that cartoonists should not put up with threats from extremists. I hear that Molly was eventually able to come out of hiding and resume a somewhat normal life. (I don’t know if that is really an option for cartoonists.)

But today we have another reminder of how dangerous it is to put lines on paper. The reports of the terrorist attack on the offices of the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo (Hebdo is french for weekly) are still coming in, but there are at least four dead cartoonists who were specifically targeted among the ten journalists and two police officers that were butchered by three masked murderers.

The dead cartoonists are; Stephane Charbonnier (known as Charb), Jean Cabut ( known as Cabu), Bernard Verlac (known as Tignous) and Georges Wolinski.

Witnesses claim the terrorists shouted out that they were acting on behalf of Al Qeada, but that has yet to be confirmed as of this writing.

Some people claim that for every terrorist we kill, another ten are created. That goes for cartoonists as well. We will never shut up, and we will meet the challenge with ink instead of bullets, until they drown in it. Go to hell, assassins.

 

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Status: Still Not Dead

Well, I survived my 64th. The wife says she still needs me, will still feed me, and she took me to see Hot Tuna at The Center For The Arts last evening. The Tuna is as hot as ever, and they are another band I can cross off the bucket list.

Look forward to getting back to writin’ more regular on the ol’ blog here in ‘015, but in the meantime, chew on some fish….

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Sixty-Four? Hard To Believe!

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TCM Remembers

I don’t get TCM anymore, but I was happy to find their annual tribute to the film industry’s departed souls on Youtube. We never knew them, but many were as familiar as our closest friends…

Posted in Culture, History | 4 Comments