Monday, July 30, 2012

Nine Years at the Keyboard

It was about this time of year in 2003. The freelance assignments had dropped off, but I was selling enough work to get by, just barely -- I had to give up my car in 2002. While I was glad for what work I could get I was missing being my own assignment-maker. My wiseass voice was feeling somewhat muzzled by the publishers who were still printing my words and art.

So that summer my son-in-law, Katey’s husband Brian, suggested I try blogging. I still thought the word “blog” was ridiculous, but when he offered to set it up for me -- at Katey’s urging -- I said, “OK, I’ll try it.”

Figuring that learning how to make posts, and so forth, would be a good skill to acquire, I followed through and started fiddling with it as the Dog Days rolled by. Before I knew what had hit me I was addicted.

The blog was named SLANTblog, as I considered it to be an online continuation of SLANT, my old ‘zine. Which made me a political blogger, right away, but I didn’t know that yet.

Of course, I hadn’t the foggiest notion of how chat rooms and the like had operated in the ‘90s, so I had little sense of the protocols that were migrating from that realm into the blogosphere. Which meant I couldn’t understand why anonymous bloggers/commentators were given any credibility at all. That view clashed with the views of many of my fellow bloggers as the Virginia Political Blogosphere began to coalesce in 2004. 

By 2006 things had gotten much more organized. There were teams of bloggers and there were professional bloggers. Aggregators were magnifying the reach of Virginia’s busiest bloggers, especially those with the savvy to work the system. And, so came the development of partisan attack bloggers, who called their opponents names and posted whatever they could to sabotage the online discourse. This was a turning point year. The comments under posts exploded with trash-talk.

As 2007 wore on the predictability and uselessness of keeping up with the universe of political bloggers had me steadily detaching from that realm. Its soap opera of feuds and noisy echo chambers were a waste of time. They were boring, even to a guy who had always loved to debate politics with people who could think for themselves.

But I didn’t break clean from my connection to political bloggers. My posts still appear in some of the aggregators. So, a few of the most obsessed of the old political bloggers still want to draw me into their wordy feuds, or to punish me for not acquiescing to one of their demands.

A couple of weeks ago, I was labeled as, “stupid and arrogant,” by a prolific leftwing Virginia blogger. And, by pure luck, the same day I was branded as a “coward” by a prolific Virginia rightwing blogger. Or was it the other way around?

Although these two cats are polar opposites in their views of politics, the tactics they are accustomed to using are quite similar. Both men view politicians as celebrities and are wannabe professional propagandists, middle-aged men who are dreaming the Big Boys will beam them up, one day, to play spin doctors at the top level.

Both mean-spirited bloggers claim to be attorneys. No real surprise there.

Those two bloggers are perfect examples of why the blogging world split apart early in the development of blogging. By 2006 there was already a bright line separating political bloggers from all the rest. I know that because I tried to straddle that line with SLANTblog and saw that I was bucking a trend.

The rest of the bloggers wanted nothing to do with political bloggers. I discovered that when I called together a meeting of the most prominent local bloggers in the spring 0f 2007. Subsequently, I realized how few bloggers about food, recreation, music, art, gardening or anything else, wanted to associate in any way with political bloggers.  

Nonetheless, I wouldn't change my focus to suit the non-political bloggers' dictates, either, so once again I found myself refusing to be pigeonholed and having to pay a price for not obeying the people who see themselves as branders. Alas, it's been that way for me a lot longer than just my almost nine years of blogging.

After doing without, I don't miss the car as much as I feared I would. Bicycle-riding is good for me, physically and mood-wise. 

Next month: Happy ninth birthday, SLANTblog.

-- Cartoon by F.T. Rea. It originally appeared in SLANT in 1986. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Can Romney afford to lose the debates?

As July winds down Romney still doesn’t want to run on his record as governor of Massachusetts. And, Romneycare isn’t his only problem left over from that four-year period (2003-07), which was his only experience in elected office.

Now Romney’s Bain Capital experience isn’t working for him, either. So, he has to resort to doubletalk when either aspect of his background is brought up. More than anything else, his plans look like he would return to Bush’s policies, but Romney can‘t really say that, either.

So, in the dog days of summer all Romney has going for him is demonizing Obama. Which means he has to lie down and snuggle with some nasty, flea-bitten dogs. He has to court all the votes that might stem from hating Obama for various reasons, few of which can be mentioned for the record.

And, that’s too bad, because this country would be well served by a honest debate over what government’s future role ought to be in stimulating job growth and regulating Wall Street. The voters would be better off if they could hear Romney and Obama articulate the real differences between them, to do with foreign policy and keeping the nation safe.

Instead, from Romney’s campaign we get mischievously edited videos and lots of faux righteous indignation.

So, maybe the only chance we will have to really measure the two candidates, evaluate their proposals and their differences -- sans spin -- will be during the three scheduled presidential debates in the fall.

Then I think about how bad Romney was at presenting his case in the series of debates with his fellow Republican hopefuls. Remember how many Republicans were attracted to the wacky campaigns of Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Perry and so forth, because they didn’t like the Romney they were watching on live television? And, they couldn’t see him besting Obama on a debate stage.

All of which suggests to me that for Romney to have a chance of winning in November he has to invent a reason to pull out of the debates in October.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gohmert speaks for modern Republicans

No, this is not your daddy’s GOP. William F. Buckley is long gone. Ronald Reagan is long gone. Today Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) speaks for modern Republicans.
Gohmert wasn't the only Tea Partier criticizing McCain on Tuesday. The longtime Arizona senator was also the target of ire in his own state, where Phoenix-based Tea Party leader Wes Harris called for a recall effort against McCain.

“Go to hell, Senator, it’s time for you to take your final dirt nap,” Harris wrote.
Click here to read the entire article in the Huff Post.

It was just three-and-a-half years ago that John Warner (depicted above) retired from the U.S. Senate. Warner was a class act and certainly no slave to rigid ideology. Although I disagreed with him frequently, he represented Virginia well in his six terms in office. Think how far the Republican Party has moved to the right and away from civility since then.

Now Warner can stay out of such ugly business. But when he was in office (1979-2009), there’s no way he would have stood by and remained silent with a Tea Party blowhard in the House of Representatives calling his fellow veteran, Sen. John McCain, “numbnuts.”

-- Art by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On banning assault rifles for crazy people

With the smoke clearing we hear that if the midnight show shooter in Aurora hadn’t have had an assault rifle, well, he probably would have found another way of killing a dozen people and wounding dozens more.

Still, the truth is the shooter chose the method he preferred, for whatever reasons. He chose the tools and plan that gave him the thrill and results he sought -- this self-styled Joker wanted the ability to paint the theater’s auditorium with bullets in a blink of the eye. He needed the courage that an assault rifle with a monster clip gave him. 

The assault rifle the shooter used is a tool no civilian should have the right to possess.

Hey, I’m not talking about banning handguns or sporting firearms. I’m talking about doing all we can to keep rapid-fire, long-range weapons designed for military use out of the hands of crazy people, including those who are in anti-government private militias.

And, shameless rightwing propagandists, please spare me the Second Amendment malarkey. Nothing in the Constitution says private citizens have the right to possess any weapon they might want to have.

So, I totally disagree with our elected leaders (and their flacks) who cash their regular checks from the National Rifle Association and repeat for their amoral mantra for all occasions: Now, I say now, isn't the time to renew the ban on assault rifles.

When I hear that guff it suggests to me that there should be a special place in hell for the politicians who know perfectly well assault rifles should be banned, but they are afraid to say so.

Look at it this way, I want to keep assault rifles out of the hands of crazy civilians. And, if you want to own an assault rifle, hey, that's enough to make you too crazy to own one in my book. 

This is precisely the right time to renew the ban on assault rifles. Yesterday would have been better.

Over-awareness of the camera

Note: This piece was written last summer. It is being re-posted for reasons that will become obvious to the reader.
Behind makeshift barricades in the basement of a small church there will be 18 people, 17 of which will hostages of a 20-year-old schizophrenic full of sweet red wine and homemade speed. He will have his finger on the trigger of a portable nuclear device.

A little camera and microphone hooked up to a laptop will capture and transmit the hostage-taker's cryptic announcement: "I am the Looney Tunes Bomber, my presentation will be a one-reeler."

The entire nine minutes and 11 seconds of the LTB’s ranting performance will be consumed by a rapt audience that some will estimate to be a billion viewers in its final minute.

After chuckling, “Tha, tha … that’s all folks,” he will set off the bomb.

It will blow Boise, or maybe Baltimore, off the map. The first video of the suicidal bomber’s diabolical stunt will go up on YouTube less than an hour after the appearance of the mushroom cloud.

Somewhere, in Rio, or Tokyo, or elsewhere, a heart will be beating faster in the chest of an abused and angry boy who will be instantly determined to top the LTB’s bloodthirsty audacity.

We are watching a generation grow up with an awareness of the camera that goes far beyond previous generations. And, we are also witnessing a snowballing of the ability of anyone to transmit words and images about love, hate, religion, style and politics, by way of the Internet, to a worldwide audience.

It’s anybody’s guess where the current generation’s insatiable thirst to record and share voluminous records of their everyday lives will lead ... good or bad. We do already know that revolutionaries everywhere are relying on social media in a way that is mind-boggling.

Meanwhile, more and more we are seeing news stories that are tantamount to stunts staged for willing cameras. While it's fashionable these days to scold the press for its tasteless and excessive coverage of certain events, it's not entirely the fault of media executives and editors. The stories they encounter, in some cases, have been planned and packaged by people who are damn good at planting a story.

A precedent-setter in this area occurred 32 years ago with the shameful cooperation that developed between news-gatherers for television and the Iranian "students," who demonstrated on a daily basis in front of the American embassy during the hostage crisis (1979-81) that sabotaged the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Now we know that much of the feverish chanting and fist waving was done on cue. Now we know the camera shots were pushed in tight because the angry horde yelling, "Death to America!" was only a dozen souls deep.

Today, it seems cultural and religious grievances are routinely becoming more heated, here and abroad, by provocative or slanted news coverage. Moreover, much of the reportage these days actually seems designed to inflame situations being covered.

On top of that, in America, the press scrutiny of angry the anti-government firestorm being stoked by some for political gain is surely helping to push some alienated militia types closer to the edge -- the sort that sees Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as a hero.

Speaking of McVeigh, the future’s bomber in the church basement will have already seen how plenty of sullen murderers have been made into celebrities by the press. So, he'll be confident the television networks and online newspapers would not switch off a live feed from an on-going hostage situation. Sadly, even if they could see they would be magnifying the reach and power of our maniac, it’s hard for this scribe to believe the mainstream media would be able to deny him his last terrible wishes.

Several movies have been made using this same basic hostage-holding hook.


Post-ka-boom, can’t you hear the executives explaining their decisions? "Hey, if we didn’t cover the story in real-time, the other networks would have..."

-- 30 --

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Apologies on demand

Political stories about impatient demands for apologies from the deeply offended are an every day thing. It seems the surest way to create a news event out of thin air is to puff yourself up with blustery indignation and call upon a politician to apologize.

Typically, a planted outrage story goes through its predictable cycle, which usually plays out something like this:

The Demander: Sir, I demand an apology. When you said, “War is hell,” you demeaned every single young American in uniform today, particularly those serving on the battlefields of this nation’s War on Terror. You were saying they’ve gone to hell, which is to say they do not deserve to go to heaven. Who are you to judge?

The Offender: What in heaven’s name are you talking about? “War is hell,” is a quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman.

The Demander: That’s your opinion.

The Offender: OK. I regret accidentally offending anyone who agrees with you, if it is true that offense was taken.

The Demander: If? I demand you apologize for issuing an insulting apology, and I also call upon you to apologize to Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy.

The Offender: What have they got to do with this?

The Demander: When you say “war is hell” it has to remind them of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, because that was the title of the war movie he slipped into a Dallas theater to see, after he alone shot President Kennedy. Why do you hate poor Maria and the rest of the Kennedy family?

The Offender: How about I just hate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies?

The Demander: Your un-apology apologies reek of sarcasm. I demand a full and unqualified apology, immediately. And your elitist opinions about movies are only making it worse.

The Offender: Does saying “war is heck” make it any better?

The Demander: The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” should convince you that saying war is hell, while we are engaged in righteous war against heathen terrorists, is tantamount to blasphemous treason.

The Offender: The First Amendment says you can't put blasphemy and treason in the same sentence. How about I put it this way: “War is so dangerous it can be hell-like?”

The Demander: You’d only be emboldening the enemy.

The Offender: To hell with the enemy!

The Demander: Better, now we're getting somewhere.

Replace Romney on the ticket?

If Mitt Romney continues to stonewall his Bain Capital/tax returns problem, it isn’t going to go away. No amount of distraction will do that for him. The speculation about what in the world he is hiding already has a life of its own. The nation's comedians are just getting started mocking Romney about this issue.

Today Romney’s dilemma made me think of Thomas Eagleton, a Senator from Missouri who emerged from the 1972 Democratic convention as then-Sen. George McGovern’s running mate. A couple of weeks later Eagleton was removed from the ticket, because it came out he had received shock therapy treatments for depression. The ever-cheerful Sargent Shriver replaced him.

Now, perhaps it could be argued that the GOP’s presumptive nominee -- like Eagleton -- withheld campaign-killing info … and that’s he’s crazy as a loon to think he can get away with it. Might some Republicans be thinking of throwing Mitt to the wolves?       

Hey, unless he's crazy, I don't see how Romney can believe he can stand on his record as a businessman at Bain -- as his main qualification to be president -- and then refuse to allow the public to see the most pertinent information from his stint in that capacity.

Wouldn't that be like applying for a job as a cab driver, but refusing to let anyone look at your driving record?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Penn State football must be suspended

In the wake of the firing of Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky’s convictions and the independent report from Judge Louis Freeh, what should happen to Penn State’s football program?

What does decency demand? What’s best in the long run? Beyond what the justice system hands out in the way of punishments, what role should atonement play in trying to facilitate a proper healing of all the wounds Sandusky (depicted above right) has created? 

Paul Woody’s opinions on sports are always worth considering. More often than not I agree with Woody, but in his column on Sunday, “Penn State has much to do but disbanding football isn't one of them,” he wrote that he thinks the Nittany Lions’ football program should not be suspended.
We are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us. That is where Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley failed. They gave scant thought to the victims they knew about and no thought to the victims they created by their inaction.

These men face punishment for that shortcoming. Punishing everyone now involved in the Penn State football program only creates more innocent victims.

There already are enough of those.
This time I disagree with Paul. You see, I can’t hear the cries of the indirect “innocent victims” he’s worried about, because the cries of Sandusky’s many direct victims are still ringing too loudly in my ears.

No, it’s too soon to go back to football, as usual, in Happy Valley. 

Saying that Penn State football generates too much money for the university and the community surrounding it is sort of the same argument that was made for banks that were said to be “too big to fail.”

With that argument it seems we’re supposed to let feeling sorry for hot dog and T-shirt vendors who will be out of a job outweigh cleaning up thoroughly after the worst scandal in college sports history. In this case it’s also saying money is more important than properly looking over the safety of children, when we send our kids off to a sports camp, or enroll them in a school. 

In this unprecedented case money concerns simply have to wait, while other concerns are given their just due. This week there were yet more men coming out of the woodwork, to say Sandusky abused them, this time from 30 years ago. There will be more. 

As far as Penn State’s football players are concerned, the NCAA could grant them waivers to let them transfer immediately to other schools, if those student-athletes want to put football over matriculating at Penn State.

Speaking of the NCAA, it is not ruling out the so-called “death penalty” in this case. However, my hope is that the powers that be at Penn State will quickly realize that they have to voluntarily shut down the program, themselves.

In 1982 Rev. John Lo Schiavo, the president of University of San Francisco, disbanded his school’s men’s basketball program. For some good reasons, including crimes, he decided the corruption had gotten so bad it was the only thing to do. After a thorough house-cleaning the hoops program was resurrected three years later. (For in-depth background on that episode, go here.)  

If Penn State doesn’t fall on its sword, then the NCAA should compel the university to do it. This is the perfect time for the money-chasing hypocrites who run the NCAA to get something right. How many years will it take to get things mended at Penn State?

Maybe one year would be enough, maybe it will take longer.

Woody and I agree about cleansing Paterno’s name from the campus. And, I honestly do feel sorry for all the people who loved Paterno who are suffering. Still, some of them haven't really faced up to what was wrong with making Paterno a god. That's going to take time.

And, I also know from having played sports over a lifetime that Sandusky isn’t the only mean and twisted coach in this country who ought not to be around children. 

Remember this: This scandal isn't about kinky sex. It's about raping children. Violence that ruins lives.

Little kids by the millions are watching this story. Some portion of them have been abused. They will learn lessons from how this all plays out. An example has to be made of what went wrong at Penn State. A year without football may cost some money, but it will also allow for some soul searching.

Maybe even some atonement.

-- 30 --

Monday, July 16, 2012

President Romney on climate change

July 16, 2017: Now in his second term in office, President Mitt Romney has begun to show more of that bone-dry wit those closest to him speak of.

At an afternoon press conference inside the refreshingly cool White House, with the 144-degree temperature in Lafayette Park setting another new record high for Washington, D.C., the president fielded a tough question on the climate change aspect of the 666 deaths from heat-stoke in the nation’s capital, alone, since Easter Sunday.

Romney flashed his signature presidential smile, squinted conservatively and shot back: “Hey, when we push the heaps of socialist folderol aside, we all know the proven science is still murky on that weather subject. But hey! it’s sure a great day to own stock in an air conditioning company.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Flashback 1999: Picture Your Corporate Sponsorship Here

With the news of Altria’s $10 million deal with the City of Richmond to have the tobacco products company's name put on what has been known since 1995 as the Landmark Theatre, I remembered a piece I wrote for in 1999. It was one of several attempts I made in those days to have a little fun with the news.

Satire aside, in looking over the 13-year-old commentary I had to chuckle at all that’s changed in Richmond since then … and all that hasn’t changed. Of course, the Landmark Theatre was called The Mosque from its opening in 1928 until it became the Landmark. And, Altria used to be called Philip Morris, but that's another story, for another day.

The original piece is posted below:   
Picture Your Corporate Sponsorship Here
F.T. Rea
Mon., Nov. 22, 1999
Richmond City Manager Calvin D. Jamison is looking for a company to buy "naming rights" for The Coliseum. If he is successful, Richmond would be in step with many cities in the country that have taken on corporate sponsors for their arenas, ball fields, and other municipal facilities that lend themselves to such exploitation.

Of course, just because the opportunity is there doesn't mean it will happen. The City of Richmond has been waiting since 1995 for an entity to throw some bucks into the kitty for the right to put its name on the storied hall that is being temporarily called the Landmark Theater.

With the budget for the operation of the city growing every year, it's no wonder Jamison is looking for new ways to make ends meet. And since it costs Richmond six figures every year to subsidize The Coliseum, why shouldn't the City Manager listen to a company that wants to cough up seven figures to install their logo onto such a high-profile facility?

Apparently Circuit City is considering it. If the deal goes down, we might soon see the circus and annual basketball tournaments held at the Circuit City Coliseum. And why not?

We applaud Mr. Jamison's state-of-the-art thinking and wonder what other publicly owned properties might become cash cows for the city. Humbly, we submit the following suggestions:

Let's go for the gold: The monuments on Monument Avenue should take on corporate sponsors. Why wouldn't Colonial Downs go for the equestrian theme? Maybe the best horse for them would be J.E.B. Stuart's, since it seems to be in motion. Just slap that racetrack logo onto the horse's ass and listen for the sound of the gravy train.

Then there's Matthew Maury, "Pathfinder of the Seas," with that big globe. How about a travel agency for Maury? A quick look at The Yellow Pages suggests Cruises Unlimited as a possible sponsor.


Next, we go for another one of those perfect fits. Instead of The Coliseum, we steer Circuit City toward sponsoring City Hall. That way we could call it Circuit City Hall.

Along the same lines, we could focus on a little local trivia and sell the naming right of the Lee Bridge to Sara Lee; making it the Sara Lee Bridge. (Sara Lee's happens to have been the original name of Sally Bell's Kitchen on West Grace Street. Maybe the first hundred grand could go to pay off Sally Bell's disputed tax tab with the City.)

The 6th Street Marketplace has been a drain on Richmond's resources for a long time. Maybe we could change that by selling the naming rights to a company that fits its image. How about The Forest Lawn Cemetery and Crematorium?

The most visible pieces of city property may be its police cars since they are mobile. Why not sell display advertising space on the patrol cars, just like cabs and buses?

The cars could have a Richbrau logo on their sides. And an ad for fightin' Joe Morrissey on the back.

Everybody makes money.

There's no limit to what fortune could flow from this concept. There will always be yet another space for an ad that could bring in some dough. A few more ads can't hurt us any more than the zillion our pickled brains have already been exposed to.

Finally, when he's making public appearances, Mayor Tim Kaine could wear a special mayor's suit adapted after the fashion of a NASCAR driver. On his official get-up there would be logos for sponsoring companies. There's no way Ukrops, Ethyl, or CSX can pass up this opportunity.

Come to think of it, didn't Richmond already do much the same thing when it hired Calvin Jamison from Ethyl?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Baby Boomer Payback

We Baby Boomers were the most spoiled generation, or so we were told by the generation that parented us. The generation that we spawned seemed to agree, once it gained its full voice. We didn’t ask for it, but we’ve been the target audience since we could turn on a television.

Consequently, we've been told we've used our numbers to bully the other generations with which we’ve shared resources and space. Whether we meant to, or not, maybe we have.

Although a lot of us died in Vietnam, in one way or another, it seems we’ve been mostly remembered by other generations for our protests of the war.

Likewise, we Baby Boomers have been known for decades for our fretting about the environment, as well as our penchant for taking lots of drugs -- legal and otherwise.

The greatest portion of the blame for whatever is most objectionable about the American culture has routinely been laid at my generation’s feet by our critics. When you hear arch conservatives bellyaching about the permissiveness of the '60s, they're putting down my age group and we know it, because we’re used to it.

When we Boomers traded our collective soul to the devil, in exchange for lifetime easy access to the TV shows and pop music of our youth, we had to know the price would be heavy. Those of us who didn’t know it must have been wearing blinders, or earplugs … or been way too high.

Now comes the grinning devil himself; he brings the tab: We will be the last generation to suffer through its so-called "golden years" under America’s greed-driven, broken down health care system.

Obamacare is a big issue in this election year. In the context of the 2012 political climate, debating the pros and cons of extending proper care to all citizens seems reasonable. That, while the rest of the developed nations of the world look at us and wonder why in hell Americans want to continue to live in the past, when it comes to protecting the nation's workforce and keeping it healthy.

Eventually, just like the resistance to allowing women to vote, just like the resistance to establishing the Social Security program, just like the resistance to integration, the resistance to universal health care will crumble into dust and blow away. The march of time will eventually make today's resisters look just as mean and stubborn as their forebears. 

When it comes to how health care will be delivered, by the time our children are our age the USA will have changed. Please note, I say that because it’s clear to me that what we’re doing now is unsustainable. The change will be imposed on society, some day ... but not today.

Unfortunately, I suspect many bad things will have to go down before the public wakes up and demands the change of its politicians. A full-blown epidemic of some sort would probably hasten the day.

In the meantime, this geezer has no health insurance. Haven’t had it in nearly 30 years. There are millions of Baby Boomers in the same boat and history has a part for us to play:

We will be the last generation to die by the millions for the lack of basic health care. Our final role will be collective martyrdom. One fine day, much will be made of our suffering. The wounds to our dignity will be decried in passionate speeches as having been avoidable.  

Once we're gone, maybe the Baby Boomers' collective reputation will go through some rehabilitation. Our dear grandchildren might come to see us in a better light.

They will have universal health care ... unless, of course, that aforementioned epidemic goes really sour. If basic health services aren't available to all citizens, rich or poor, if such an emergency arises, the payback could end up extending to more than just one generation.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Fan Free Funnies (1973)

The third piece in the Documenting the Death of Rebus series (1983) This is just a picture of good old Rebus, it wasn't in the FFF. 

During the spring semester of 1973 the student newspaper at Virginia Commonwealth University published three tabloid supplements that were inspired by the irreverent, sometimes-naughty underground comix of that age.

The timing was perfect for Fan Free Funnies, as this was the zenith of the hippie era in the Fan District neighborhood VCU's academic campus is part of.  

In the Fan, in the early-1970s, there was a group of young, mostly VCU-trained artists, who created paintings and prints in a style that owed much to old animated cartoons. Some of them were also making short films in Super 8 and 16mm and hung out at the Biograph.

Due to his well-honed talent for drawing cartoons, the most obvious of this pack was Phil Trumbo. “We were all influenced by the amazing work of sixties underground cartoonists," said Trumbo, “like Robert Crumb, Rick Griffith, S. Clay Wilson and Trina Robbins.”

R. Crumb was the most celebrated of the underground artists from the days when cartoonists bitterly lampooning the tastes and values of middle class America were having a noticeable impact on popular culture. Spontaneously, Crumb launched the movement in 1968, selling his Zap Comix No. 1 out of a baby carriage on San Francisco sidewalks. 

"Ed Slipek, the editor of VCU's student newspaper, Commonwealth Times, approached me to help create an underground-comix-style supplement,” said Trumbo. “I suppose he contacted me because I had done some independent comics and was exhibiting paintings influenced by comics imagery.” 

Slipek asked each of the invited artists to create a full page, drawn to proportion, in black and white. Some submitted a page of images set within traditional comic strip frames; others wandered into loose, more avant-garde styles.

For me, it meant creating the first strip for Rebus. Before Rebus even had a name, he had been appearing in my flyers touting midnight shows at the Biograph Theatre. I went to school on how R. Crumb used Mr. Natural as a spokesman, sometimes like a carnival barker.  But Rebus wasn't a holy man, he was a schlemiel with a dog's head.

Not long after the first issue of Fan Free Funnies came out, my three-year-old daughter, Katey, asked me a question. Pointing at her most recent birthday card pinned to her bedroom wall -- with Rebus on it -- she asked, “Is Rebus real?”

I shrugged. “What do you mean?”

She said, “Like Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck.”

“Sure,” I said, “Rebus is real. But only the cool people know about him.”

Phil left Richmond in 1984 to pursue a career in animation, which eventually led him to the West Coast and being the Art Director of Entertainment Media at Hidden City Games. Along the way he picked up an Emmy Award for his art direction on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. 

Charles Vess (VCU 1974) was another of the artists who participated in the Fan Free Funnies project, who has made a name as an award-winning illustrator. Vess’ art has been seen in Heavy Metal and National Lampoon. He has worked for comic book publishers such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Epic.

The other featured FFF artists were: Bruce Barnes, Damian Bennett, Eric Bowman, Michael Cody, Jeff Davis, Joanne Fridley, Stanley Garth, Gregg Kemp, John McWillaims, Nancy Mead, Dale Milford, Bill Nelson, Trent Nicholas, Alan R. O’Neal, Ragan Reaves and Verlon Vrana.

“Fan Free Funnies was a really diverse collection, representing vastly different graphic styles and inventive, experimental approaches to sequential storytelling,” said Trumbo.

Note: Scans of the three issues of Fan Free Funnies are available at VCU Libraries Digital Collections.

-- 30 --

Monday, July 02, 2012

The familiar smell of what happens

In terms of how resources were used in toppling the regime that was in place in Iraq in 2003 -- plus the subsequent bloody occupation -- from an American voter's standpoint, how would you score the results in 2012?

If you are a starve-the-beast Republican banker the results are mostly sweet. Since taxes were cut during the war it built up a monster sized debt. As the truth never mattered in the first place -- beware of weapons of mass destruction! -- now you can blame today’s eye-popping debt on social programs and insist on massive cuts to the very programs you have always hated. In your view the deaths and hardships of the war were collateral damage ... hey, shit happens.

On the other hand, if you are an unemployed school teacher who is a liberal Democrat, the results are mostly sour. You’ll never understand why your younger brother who lives in a veterans hospital had to lose half of his body in a war over a pack of lies that did absolutely nothing to make Americans safer anywhere ... there are always reason why shit happens. 

Now, with the slowly improving American economy still on wobbly legs, the Republican candidate Mitt Romney threatens to go to war with Iran. Of course, he wants to cut taxes, too.

Smell familiar?