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improbable-looking limestone karsts in Guilin

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

the Hammer of Humor

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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.

pm19420622a

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.]
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