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1979: Albert's (in Omaha) is lit!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

fans is fans

My friend Harry has been searching out the etymology of Fanboy, and this was my contribution to the effort. It's from a biography of Rube Goldberg by Peter C. Marzio and is one of Goldberg's earliest publications (can't put hand on book just now house in chaos please help). It's clear enough from context that 'fan' is short for 'fanatic.'

Goldberg 'Fan Kid' 1904

Cigarettes, as we can see, were cool then, too. They're always cool. When tastemakers succeed in associating cigarettes with toothless Skid Row derelicts, then it'll be cool to look like a wino. In 1904, it was cool for a young dude (duded up) to have a cig in at all times.

When I was in sixth grade, I bought somebody's old assignment book at a thrift shop for a nickel. Well, it was priced a nickel, but I think the guy gave it to me so I'd go away. It had been the property of a schoolgirl, and along with the writing, there was a loose sketch of a female, slightly older than a schoolgirl perhaps, holding that little white coffin nail that meant she was free and independent. (Footnote: I realized that the name in the book was the neighbor of a friend, so I took it over and gave it back to her — feeling slightly guilty at having written my name in it — and as soon as I'd left, she probably put it in the trash for the second time.)

the Hammer of Humor

Some years back, I found a trade paperback called JUMBO COMIC BOOK that reprinted a large pile of diddly little pre-Code funny animal comic stories. It's printed in color. That is, it's reproductions of line art printed all in one color per page, in colors from a slightly gassy black to a hard-to-see yellow. At any rate, a number of cartoonists are represented within, like a popular Terrytoons director (can't put my hand on the book just now to say which one — Rasinski?), the justly famed Al Fago,  and, quite possibly, a pre-EC Harvey Kurtzman.

Then there's Milt Hammer. I apologize in advance if members of his family are reading this, but I find his art to be hasty and crude, and his writing — if he's doing it, and it's hard to be sure — is kind of random. He seemed, however, to possess ambition, drive, and determination, not only in finding venues in which to get paid for his work, but in the unholy vigor of the work itself, pushing gag after gag on the reader, regardless of how funny I myself find each one. If I'd had half of his work ethic, I have no doubt I'd end up in some collection somewhere too.

Anyway, in 1946, Hammer got himself into the pages of PM, a favorite lefty tabloid from NYC that burned brightly for a while — introducing Crockett Johnson's "Barnaby," featuring political cartoons by Dr. Seuss, Carl Rose, and Al Hirschfeld, among others, and before vanishing completely under another name, featuring the earliest comic strip versions of Pogo and Albert. Between their interest in innovation and Hammer's self-promotion, it's no surprise he'd wind up there.

This time it was hi-tech and art intersecting. The fac-simile machine (aka the fax) was a marvel of the day that allowed wire photos to reach newspapers across the land, and in 1946 there was a fax service that sent the news of the day into some 200 homes — and Milt found a way to get himself into those homes as well. Fax cartoons.


See how hard he worked? The pants have dollar signs on them! It's a detail! There's a sub-pun in a middle panel. The guy in the last panel flips backwards at the 'punch line,' complete with a big question mark and a star for emphasis. Is it funny? I DON'T KNOW BUT IT COMES RIGHT INTO YOUR HOUSE ON THE FAX MACHINE FOR GOD'S SAKE. Imagine the joy of fastening a piece of paper to the drum, watching it spin away for a couple of minutes, and then getting this.

O. Brave new world!

[ed. to add: the tractor-feed dots on the paper suggest maybe it's not a drum system. Never mind, I'm out of here.]