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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Joke & Dagger Dept.

Sometimes, even I miss the point.

But more on that in a moment. Earlier this evening, I went by the bookstore to remedy the fact that I don't seem to own any Shakespeare, and found out that it was Stephanie's last day. She's an amazingly pleasant person to speak to, and she turned me on to Jasper Fforde when I was looking for a Mother's Day present, for which I'll be eternally grateful. Unfortunately, just as I've gotten to the point where I trust her implicitly with directing my reading habits, she's moving. I was genuinely sad to see her go.

One more quick word about Waldens: Not to pull a Porto here (tag, Mike, you're it!), but the bookstore seems to be staffed exclusively by pretty girls and Rob Lindsey Dot Com. I asked him about it, because I figured it went down a lot like the scene from "the practice" where Denny Crane is interviewing Tara. Picture Rob sitting across the desk from some young brunette saying "I like pretty girls. Can you be a pretty girl, soldier?" and you'll have a good idea of what I was thinking.

To my dismay, that's apparently not how they get things done there. Rats.

Anyway, enough digression.

A few days ago, a woman came into the store with her son and asked me if we had any Spy vs. Spy comics.

"Not right now," I told her, "But they put out a book a few years ago that collects all of the strips Antonio Prohais did and a lot of his other work, including the early stuff. And it's got a great biography of him, too."

I've always been a big fan of MAD Magazine. It's one of two periodicals I've ever had an actual subscription to, and like so many of the guys who worked on that mag, Antonio Prohais is one of my heroes. He's every bit as much a master of slapstick sight gags as Chuck Jones, whose work I consider almost sacred.

But unlike my other comic book heroes, like Alan Moore and Walt Simonson, I admire Prohais for what he did off the page as much as what he did on it.

He was a political cartoonist back when that actually meant something, before the form devolved into cheap partisan gags that fail to even approach controversey. Specifically, he was known for doing anti-Castro cartoons in Cuba in the late '50s. At one point, Castro even used one of Prohais's cartoons as an example of how his enemies were undermining the state, leading the assembled crowd to chant for his execution.

He was threatened, kicked out of the Cuban Cartoonist's Association (despite not only serving as the group's president for two years, but also recieving Cuba's top newspaper award six times), and was fired from his own paper at the decision of his colleagues. He left for America just as Castro seized control of the newspapers, sending for his family after they were threatened on the radio, and never returned.

All of which, of course, led him to show up at the MAD offices in 1960, bringing along his 14 year-old daughter to translate for him. His work impressed Al Feldstein, Nick Meglin, and of course, Bill Gaines so much that they hired him on the spot.

His work is just a joy to read. I've re-written this paragraph three times because I keep gushing about the non-Spy vs. Spy stuff, but I'll just pare it down to this: He did a three page strip where psychological conditions are represented by flowers that's brilliant.

The book's amazing, and you should all get it.

I mentioned some of this to the woman at the store, going on for a few minutes about how he fled for his life from Castro.

"And there are some of the new Peter Kuper strips in there, too," I finished.

"Oh," she said, and gestured at the six year-old with her. "My son really likes them."

The lights in my room are burnt out and I don't have any fresh lightbulbs, so tonight's Shelf picture didn't quite turn out. Instead, have a look at the books I leave laying on the floor for easy access when I'm in bed:

Apparently, I'm reading Spiral Bound, a D&D adventure, the Harry Potter textbooks, and the instruction manual for my alarm clock.


Blogger Mark Hale said...

I didn't know all that stuff about Prohias. Fuckin' Castro, I swear.

8/07/2005 2:31 AM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

I'm telling you, all those original MAD guys are incredible. Kurtzman's work speaks for itself, but there's Wally Wood, Nick Meglin, Feldstein, Sergio-Friggin'-Aragones...

And who could forget Gaines testifying before congress?

8/07/2005 4:00 AM

Blogger Philip Looney said...

Early Mad is the bomb. I'd really like to get ahold of more Kurtzman stuff.

8/07/2005 8:27 AM

Blogger Mark Hale said...

I just got a copy of Dick DeBartolo's "Good Days and MAD" for cheap -- how else would you buy a MAD book? -- and I swear Bill Gaines had to have been the best boss in the world, and an all-around awesome dude.

8/07/2005 1:37 PM

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