Friday, July 28, 2017

Time to Catch Up On My European Daily Whip Outs

July 28, 2017
   I've been drawing up a storm since I landed at Charles De Gaul two weeks ago. Here are a few of my efforts.

Daily Whip Out: "Zaboly Hombre"

Daily Whip Out: "Go Go Betty"

Daily Whip Out: "German Rocker In Repose"

Daily Whip Out: "Down The Colorado"

Daily Whip Out: "Wiesbaden Market at Webergasse"

Daily Whip Out: "Sitting In Das ! Burger Sequential Study"

Daily Whip Out: "Sequential Study, Part II"

Daily Whip Out: "The Radical"

"If you can say it in words there would be no reason to paint it."
—Edward Hopper

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bathing And Bending It With Ray Charles And Goethe

July 27, 2017
   Here is an early photograph of a very historic hotel in Wiesbaden, Germany:

The Schwarzer Bock Hotel in the 1880s

   Yesterday I went down into the basement to the Schwarzer Bock spa and bathes where Goethe once bathed in 1818. I kid you not. Here's what the G-Man had to say about the experience: "The primary duty of every bather is not to sit and think, but rather to bend to a higher purpose his wit, and make a merry life of it." 

   Thanks to that little bit of advice I got a little bent.

Daily Whip Out: "Goethe's Great Advice: 'Bend It Baby!'"

   Later, in 1865, Dostoevsky worked on his novel, "The Gambler" while staying in the hotel. Still later, in the 1940s, some terrorist group bombed the roof of some nearby baths. When the lovely guide took us on a tour of the historic premises, she showed us several photographs of the bombed out roof which happened during the 1940s and she discreetly did not put blame on anyone. As for the bombing and the bombers, I wanted to say, "What kind of A-holes would do that?!" But I knew the humorous irony would be lost in the translation so I kept my mouth shut, for once.

   So, little by little, as you can clearly see, I am maturing.

   On the way out of the baths there is a display case showing several of the modern day celebrities who have stayed at the Schwarzer Bock, including Ray Charles, who wrote the following in the guest book: 

"Thank you for a very good stay—see you soon."
—Best Wishes, Ray Charles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Negotiating German Water Closets

July 27, 2017
   It is well known that Germans like their beer. Had to laugh when I saw this in a Wiesbaden cafe.

Oldtime Beer Buds: "I'm not sure why, but this beer lights up my nether region."

Full disclosure: I'm not sure why that little flash is there in his crotch, but I didn't plan it.

Negotiating German Water Closets 

   The Germans like to put their bathrooms in dark basements with cryptic symbols over the doors: H and D. I took a guess that D stood for dame and went into the room with the H. I was greatly relieved to see this graphic, which I assume is a royal gentleman who monitors my aim? Either way, I was relieved.

You Vill Choose And You Vill Not Miss.

"My aim is true."
—Elvis Costello

PAW! Hiii! & YAP! And Other Dang Peculiarities of Those Crazy German Westerns

July 26, 2017
  Delving even deeper into the incredible fascination of the Europeans with the American West. A Croatian comics expert, Marko Fancovic, is explaining to me the history of these comics, so that I may see the Black Forest for the trees.  Turns out there is an Italian wing of the genre and a Franco-Belgium wing. And then, of course, the Germans. 

   Here's a good example of a German graphic novel utilizing their phonetic terms for sound effects in a Western.

Bang For The Buck   Of course we Americans use "Blam!" but the Germans are quite fond of "PAW!" for Bang, but where does "Hiii" come from? Is it the high pitched cry from a guy who has been shot? Like in Hi-eeeh!? Or, is it, perhaps, the horse snorting? Inquiring minds want to know.

   And here's another example of the YAP! And PAW! phenom:

Lot's of PAW! Heavy on the YAP!

   It's funny, I didn't come here looking for Western comics, I just stumbled onto it because of my son seeking out comix stores in Paris and in Germany. It's so crazy, to have traveled so far, to the Old World to find something so new about my home country—The New World. I feel like I have looked into the future to see the history of the past. Very exciting and, yes, weird as hell.

Window Rock or Rainbow Bridge, both in northern Arizona,
seem to be the inspiration for this stunning scene from the graphic novel "Mac Coy".

   I asked Marko about why Lucky Luke and Lt. Blueberry never quite caught on in America. Both are huge successes in Europe but have never gained traction in the U.S. Here is what Marko told me:

The thing is, European relation to comics is quite different from the American one - there are two "schools" or approaches, you might say, the Franco-Belge one and the Italian one, and neither adapts well to the US 'comic book' format - it's just something the American audience isn't used to, a different way of thinking. Lucky Luke has a specific sense of humor that draws very much upon the European relation to western lore, which might be slightly off-kilter to US audiences. Blueberry, however - the best comic ever, any country, any genre, any medium - was I think wrongly marketed overseas. Many Americans are crazy about Blueberry; I've had numerous Facebook inquiries where Blueberry can be found in English, or laments that it was not properly published in the US and is out of print. There are also some other great European westerns - my favorite after Blueberry might be "Comanche" by Hermann and Greg.
—Marko Fancovic

The End of The Beginning
   And, so how do the German's like to end their graphic novels? Like this:

A Shorthand version of The End, as Das Ende is German for The End.

The End.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why Aren't Comics About The American West Popular In America? Part II

July 25, 2017
   I sent out a call to my history gang back in the States to help me understand why European comics and graphic novels are still celebrating and buying graphic novels about the American West and in the U.S. it's a dead letter deal.

   But before we get to that, I have been attempting to read my German comics and they do this crazy mash-up with their native tongue and American Western slang from movies, to wit:

A typical German-Western graphic novel word balloon mashup:
"Hauptsache, du lasst meine kinder in Rume, Bastard!"

The Top Secret Writer's Take On Why Europe
Still Gets The Wild West
   "Those folks take the long view on history (since they really have a history as opposed to our 200 years) and with the exception of WWII are pretty much over it all. They have had so many colorful heroes and villains that they don't sit in lofty moral judgements over their ancestors (no banning of images of Cavaliers or Roundheads in England). Hell, when Napoleon is your national hero how can you get upset over Custer and the American Indian Wars. Plus, thanks to Buffalo Bill, they remain captivated by the American West.
—Paul Andrew Hutton

A striking German graphic novel cover by Xavier Dorison and Fabien Nury.

American Comic Book Writer And Editor, 
Jeff Mariotte Weighs In
   "The heyday of Western comics in the US ran from the 40s into the early 60s. By the late 60s, the revisionist history vogue was going strong. I'm not putting down that revisionism--in many cases, it was just telling the story more accurately--but it served to de-mythologize the Old West for a lot of people. Anti-heroes were big, too, so the heroic western characters we grew up with were relegated to the backseat. Think about the western movies of those days--for every Butch & Sundance or Jeremiah Johnson, there was a Little Big Man, Missouri Breaks, and the Altman's Buffalo Bill & The Indians movie discussed in the current True West.

   "That didn't happen so much in Europe. Their cultures are old enough that they've probably already dealt with their revisionists. When I was a kid in France in the early 1960s, everyone I met assumed my family were cowboys. To correct that impression, I told them I was from Chicago, which changed their assumption to gangsters. We attended an event around '63 or '64 called--if memory serves--"Trois Jours a l'Americain," which purported to be a recreation of American life, but it was almost all cowboys and Indians.

An In-din Miss Kitty from the German series, Der Stern Der Wuste.

   "When I lived in Germany in the early 70s, there were still plenty of Western comics (and other genres--it wasn't just Westerns that disappeared here, but also romance and horror and medieval, etc.; the lack of Westerns was notable because they had been such a big part of the market for so long, but superheroes were already taking over). In any given week, you could find Western movies playing in German theaters. Not very good ones, but the mythology still lived over there.

   "It wasn't just comics, either. Think how prevalent TV Westerns were into the mid-60s. By the early 70s, how many were left? But we're talking comics, here, so I digress.

   "Comics boomed in the late '80s-early '90s, but that boom was almost entirely superhero-driven. By the time I created Desperadoes at Image Comics in '97, there were no major-publisher Westerns on the market (and if there were any in the small presses, they were well hidden).

   "Now fast-forward 20 years. The people making comics are mostly in their 20s and 30s. When they grew up, comics were all superheros, all the time. Sadly, most of the creators in the comics biz don't have much frame of reference outside of comics, and when they do it's usually movies and TV. Nobody who came of age after the mid-'60s had the experience of seeing Westerns as a big part of the comics market. And to exacerbate that, the sale of comics shifted from newsstands to specialty stores during that same era--the early 70s and beyond. 

   "Since Desperadoes, there have almost always been one or two Westerns on the market here, and there continue to be now. But those are outliers, with marginal sales at best. Nobody's getting rich writing Western comics in the US. Desperadoes always did pretty well overseas. It had multiple translations, and I got fan mail from France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Wales, etc. Here in the US, though, it was always touch-and-go.

   "So my operating theory is basically this: In the US, we de-mythologized the Old West, which made it harder to sell heroic stories in that setting. And we know what today's West is like. In Europe, the mythical West remains a more universal image of what the American West was and is than it does here, whereas comics about contemporary American superheroes dealing with contemporary American situations are of less immediate interest than they are here.
—Jeff Mariotte

   "Because too much focus placed on too few historical events. We need new definitions and new stories."

—Vince Murray

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Enduring Popularity of European Westerns

July 24, 2017
   My son Thomas finds all the best comic book stores in every town we visit. In Paris he found, what we came to call Comic Book Row, which is an intersection and side street off Saint Germaine, on the Left Bank, full of specialty comic book stores (one shop specializes strictly in Tin Tin art prints). I was immediately stunned (and that is the right word) at the wide variety of Western comics and Western themed graphic novels shown prominently in almost all the stores. And we're not talking about just the old school titles like Lucky Luke and Lt. Blueberry, but new titles with big, over-sized, hard covers and excellent artwork on the inside. I bought as many as I could fit into my carry on suitcase, quickly went over that limit and decided to buy another bag to transport these home. They are that cool.

A partial sampling of the Western graphic novels I bought in Paris, Mainz and Frankfurt.

   As I have studied them for the past several days, my amazement has given way to bewilderment. Why aren't these titles available in the U.S.? Or, better still, why isn't there a market for Westerns in the country that created the genre in the first place?

   I asked the Frankfurt Comicladen X-Tra-Boox shop owner Ludwig Strzyz this question, and here is what he told me: "In the U.S. it's 90% super hero comics, and then in the back of the store, near the toilet, or in the toilet, is all the rest. In Europe we have big and healthy categories for Adventure and Western."

Frankfurt Comic Shop Owner—and fellow drummer—Wolfgang Strzyz

   Full disclosure: Wolfgang put on a tape of the Kink's "You Really Got Me," and I knew I had to buy something from this guy. We compared notes as drummers and rock music (at the check out counter he has a 24-hour cam site pointed at the crosswalk at Abby Road in England and we spent several minutes laughing in amazement at all the kids posing on the legendary site of the Beatles walking across the painted stripes).

T. Bell scores another coup down a side street in Mainz, Germany

"It's just lines on paper, folks."
—R. Crumb, who lives in France

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Paying Homage to The Godfather of My Business

July 22, 2017
   Two days ago we visited the site of the invention of the machine that makes my business possible.

Daily Whip Out: "The Godfather of Texas Boogie, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top? 
No, Wait, This Is Supposed to Be Johannes Gutenberg,
The Founder of The Printing Press"

   Yes, Johannes actually looks a little like the leader of that little ol' band from the Texas Blues Country and maybe they both have more than the beard and crazy headgear in common. Just maybe they harken back to the roots of Western civilization and, at the same time, they lean towards a more Boogie-fied consciousness?

   On a related note, my son Thomas bought a punk rock CD by a German group called Tooten-hoozen (that is my phonetic spelling). Great sounding name, wish I could say the same for the tunes. We almost went to a Punk Rodeo but it was too far to go in a day.

   But I digress.

   Many experts currently predict the demise of our business, but I have to tell you, being in Paris on the Avenue of Comix (there is an intersection of several streets south of the Notre Dame on Saint Germaine where a gaggle of comic book stores thrive), and seeing young people standing in line to buy comics—many of them Westerns!—is a joy to behold. Down the street at Shakespeare And Company, they actually have a doorman-bouncer at the door with a line of people waiting to get inside, a BOOKSTORE! This makes me so happy, I am almost weeping as I type this.

BBB paying homage to The Man Who Made Magazines Possible: 
the bust of Johannes Gutenberg outside the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany

"Everybody's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man."
—Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The German Humor Museum Is A Laugh Riot Even When It's Closed

July 20, 2017
   Do I want to go to a castle today? Or, a German market? Or, a rare, national treasure? No contest.

Daily Whip Out: "Time to Go to The German Humor Museum

  I know this is going to sound snotty and condescending, but I just flipped out hearing that there was a German Humor Museum. A British Humor Museum, well, of course. A Holland Humor Museum, yes, perhaps. A Portuguese Humor Museum, weird, but it might work. But a German Humor Museum? That seems like a leap that I absolutely must take. The first thing I did, to bone up on the German Humor Zeitgeist, is to do a Google search of German humor. And here's what I discovered:

Most German humor is base on the incorrect usage of German grammar. True, that is rather insular, but, well, okay, I can get into that. The rest can be categorized as follows:

Anti-Frisian Jokes: In the northwestern corner of Germany there are folks known as Frisians who are, by my reading, sort of the Rednecks of the Strudel set. Here is a typical Frisian joke: "How many Frisians does it take to screw i a lightbulb? Five! One to hold the light bulb and four to turn the table."

Pedestrian? Yes, but don't judge. Perhaps it's funny if you you've had a hit of crack or lived under a bridge for a year.

Antiwitz Humor: Germans are crazy for the anti-joke. "Two thick feet are crossing the street. Says one thick foot to the other thick foot, 'Hello!'"

I guess you had to be there. On the street where it happened.

Bauernregein-witze Humor (farmer jokes): "If a farmer lies dead in a room, he lives no more." I realize this is very close to the antiwitz—anti-joke, but here is another one: "If by Waltrude the cuckoo is not heard, it is probably frozen and dead."

Somehow, picturing Goebbels telling this joke makes it funnier, at least to me.

Schudderdeutsch: a form of dubbing. The Germans seem the most creative when it comes to dubbing foreign films. For example, in the British film "Monty Python And The Holy Grail" there is a line, "Hey there ! Who rides so late through night and wind?" This is evidently from a Goethe poem Der Erikonig, but the Germans dubbed this as, "I taught angling to the Saxons, and they've been called Anglo-Saxons ever since." This has nothing to do with the scene or the movie, but it evidently kills in German households who rent the tape. My favorite example is, the Germans took a failed American TV show, "The Arrivals" and turned it into a hit show, changing ALL the scenes to fit the jokes they wanted to tell.

We left Wiesbaden at two and got to the location of the German Humor Museum at 2:30, but it was closed down with weeds growing in the parking lot. I asked a woman at a bus stop if it was expected to open any time soon and she told me she has never seen it open—ever. So, right there is a great joke—on us, the crazy Americans. We all started to laugh at the absurdity of it all, and, as we looked around, everything we saw made us laugh, like these crazy elves in the courtyard.

Elves On The Patio

So we soaked it up and looked around.

Signs In The Patio

We laughed at signs we couldn't even read.

Humor! Gott Bose?!

And, at the end of the day, everything was funny to us.

   We Americans are so easily entertained. Turns out the German government likes to make us laugh at every exit on every road and even the parking lots, like this sign in Wiesbaden, Germany. Yes, we laugh every time. I know, so low, so crude and so predictable. Sorry, still funny though.

Bonus German Joke:

Leading a convoy, my driver shook me awake: "Sir, I think we're lost. We've passed the town of Ausfarht three times!"
—Thanks to Doug Hocking

"Germans are unable to speak the German language."
—Hans Georg Stengel, being so witty we can't even get the joke.