Monday, June 29, 2009
  Death of Newspapers #3: DailyINK
Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer (February 5, 1946)

Why have I been postponing my rave review of King Features' superb email service, DailyINK? I don't know. Could it be that I have been waiting for them to add more classic King strips to the line-up?

Not long after Jay Kennedy became the comics editor at King Features Syndicate in 1989, he invited me over and gave me a tour of the place. At some point, he showed me press kits for the new comic strips. As Jay explained it, King Features' staff designers had the job of creating these press kits for salesmen to leave at newspapers when they went in to pitch new strips to the newspaper editors. These glossy press kits were a surprise because they looked identical to movie press kits. Well, okay, not as elaborate as the press kit for Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979), but you get the idea. The King Features salesmen needed all the help they could get when confronting newspaper editors who did not want to change any strips on their comics pages.

Around 1995, I suggested to Jay that he put a batch of the classic King strips from the 1930s and 1940s on the Internet. This seemed like an obvious idea, but his response was to question how such could turn a profit. However, a decade later, he did manage to push through this idea, introducing King Features' online DailyINK service in 2006. It's an amazing bargain. For only a $15 annual fee, subscribers can see their choice of strips either on a web page or via email or both. They can choose from more than 90 vintage and current comic strips, puzzles and editorial cartoons. They can read, save or print. Here's the King Features press release from February 23, 2006 when they introduced DailyINK.

The vintage strips currently sent to subscribers are Beetle Bailey, Brick Bradford, Bringing Up Father, Buz Sawyer, Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, The Little King, Office Hours, The Phantom and Rip Kirby. Only Flash Gordon and The Phantom feature Sunday strips as well as the daily strips. DailyINK is a near perfect service. There's very little to complain about, apart from the disappointment over so few Sunday pages and the fact that many other vintage strips still have not been added. Further, there is scant historical background about the strips and no display of dates to indicate when the original classic strips were first published. Perhaps the vintage section was not developed or expanded because of Jay's tragic death at age 50 when he vacationed in Costa Rica and drowned in a rip current. It happened only a year after he introduced DailyINK and only a few months after he added more vintage strips to the package.

On the plus side, subscribers can go to the DailyINK site, and use the "magnifying glass" to enlarge the strips for easier readability. And of course, it's great to sit down with a cup of Chock full o' Nuts Heavenly Hazelnut Coffee as the email scrolls and the morning strips magically appear.

I say "magically" because seeing the vintage strips each morning has a time-travel effect, bringing back the memory of those years when the continuity strips reigned. The reader was forced to wait 24 hours for the next installment in the continuity, and now DailyINK's digital delay also generates a 24-hour anticipation. In a like manner, Stephen King wrote The Green Mile as a paperback mini-series in order to recreate the experience of those long-ago readers who waited at the dock for the arrival of each new Charles Dickens chapter.

I mainly subscribed to read Buz Sawyer, and by now, DailyINK subscribers have followed Buz through WWII as a Navy fighter pilot and later as he headed home in 1945, landing a job with an oil company. The storyline is reminiscent of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and it is fascinating to realize that Roy Crane's readers daily followed the similar themes of this story arc well over a year prior to the release of The Best Years of Our Lives.

To illustrate this review, I've selected key strips to show the transition from WWII: a panorama of ships, Buz learning of the end of the war and the death of Tot Winters. The date on the WWII finale strip reveals that Crane managed to keep almost in synch with actual events. The Japanese surrender came on August 15, 1945, and this strip ran on August 28, the same date the occupation of Japan began. Note that the entire horizon line is filled with ships.

In the stunning sideways strip of February 5, 1946, Tot Winters is frightened by Taboo the tiger and falls to her death. No sooner does Buz enter civilian life than he is falsely accused of murdering Tot because he unknowingly walked into her apartment only moments after she fell. (A set-up worthy of Cornell Woolrich!) Notice Taboo the tiger in the lower left corner and Crane's cityscape with the incandescent street lighting effects he achieved by his skillful use of CraftTint double-tone paper.

This was not the first time Crane turned the drawing sideways; he did an earlier sideways strip of a plane making a descent just before the crash. These must have been eye-catching on the printed page. Many might have turned their newspapers sideways to look at these strips, but it's doubtful people today will tilt their computer monitors.

When you click to enlarge these sample Buz Sawyer strips, the images will expand to the same size as the strips enlarged with DailyINK's magnifying magical mystery tool. As Arthur C. Clarke put it, "Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic."

In King News: An Autobiography (1941), Moses Koenigsberg wrote about the origins and early history of King Features Syndicate. Below is the entire book. Use the little triangles, the contents page and the clickable page numbers in the index to navigate to other pages.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009
  Wood Chips 12

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Monday, June 22, 2009
  Rare Ralph Bakshi

Here are two obscure and little-known cartoons by Ralph Bakshi from 1958, capturing the bearded Beat modus vivendi of the era. Drawn 14 years before Bakshi's first feature film, they were published in Spectrum, the Queens College literary magazine, and copies were passed on to me by Marty Jukovsky, a Queens College student and Spectrum staffer during the late 1950s.

When I met Bakshi in 1978, I told him I had copies of the Spectrum drawings, and he asked me to send him copies. I did, but no "thank you" was forthcoming. One of my favorite Bakshi films is Harlem Shuffle (1985), directed by Bakshi with animation by John Kricfalusi. See below.

It would be nice to see once more Bakshi's live-action This Ain't Bebop (1989), his noirish Beat semi-autobiographical cinepoem with Harvey Keitel. Rick Kogan reviewed the short film in the Chicago Tribune:

Ralph Bakshi, best known as an animator for Fritz the Cat, has created a haunting and heartfelt homage to the Beat generation starring the wonderful Harvey Keitel wandering through the almost surreal landscape of contemporary Los Angeles. He is-in a very sure and flashbacked sense-trying to find a life he's lost. One sees this through memories richly realized. We see him as young boy watching a woman undress through a window across the street, and the scene pulses with pure eroticism. The coffeehouse discussions seethe with talk of art and creativity. Another powerful image is of Neal Cassady, the famous Jack Kerouac pal and later Merry Prankster wheelman, crumbling dead on the railroad tracks in Mexico and uttering the film's title, "This Ain't Bebop."

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009
  Oktapodi (2007)
Set in Greece, stylishly sun-drenched, this fast-paced French animated short was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award.

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Masquerade of the albino axolotls

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is the editor of Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003), reviewed by Paul Gravett.

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