Wednesday, March 14, 2007

When smoking was fab.

When I was working a Acraforms back in the early and mid 1980s, it seemed like all of us smoked, or at least bummed smokes while trying to convince ourselves that we didn't really smoke anymore. This was also reflected in my cartoons of the era.

Here's about half of the Acraforms slide department:
Nancy, Chuck, me, and Pete. Chuck was the only nonsmoker. In the background is that famous photo of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald as Willard Scott looks on.

My version of Jack Ruby's mechanic (drawn about the same time as the group shot above) was also a smoker.

Another mechanic from the late 1970s. He looks alot like one of the characters on "King of the Hill" (also named "Dale", I believe).

Similarly, I think I did the original "Bad Santa" twenty five years prior to his arrival in theaters.

The human zippo has an FDR sophistication.

Some guys can make smoking look pretty glamorous.

A cartoon drawn for On-the-Town.

A large-format shriner who also looks quite a bit like...

this three-dimensional cartoon I did in Clay, called "Corporate Structure 1"

After years of normalizing smoking through my cartoons the big irony came along when I found myself doing gratis work for the American Lung Association. Like second-hand smoke; what goes around, comes around.

I've been smoke free for over twenty years now, nary a puff. I made a deal with a gal I was dating back then: I'd quit smoking if she'd start using her seatbelt. Twenty-some years later, I don't know if she stuck her end of the deal, I'm just glad that I stuck to mine.

By the way, for me, it was like throwing a switch. One moment I smoked, the next I didn't.

Here's this week's installment of Pembroke. This one's really dated. Tony Randall the actor had an equally high profile as an anti-smoking crusader. I guess you had to be there.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, just not upwind of me, thanks.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Learning along the way

More than once (read all too often) I'll do a cartoon that I think is really funny, but the humor is apparently lost on many others. Sometimes it's because the gag is way too obscure (like the visualization of my childhood imaginary, did that one fall flat). Sometimes the cartoon's just not drawn right.

When I started with "Downtown" (later On-the -Town) I was really thrilled to be an actual cartoonist for an actual publication that was being seen by actual viewers. And I was still very naive and also a little too full of myself. Somehow, it seemed to me that every idea that flowed from my pen was a gift to mankind. My editor, Roger Bruinkool, quickly set about to knock that post-adolescent notion right out of my head.

The reality-check began with a simple little gag I drew as a reflection on a heat wave that was ongoing.

Now, I knew that the ice cream guy was inside of his refrigerated pushcart. Roger insisted that it looked as if he was simply standing behind it. Doh! Unlike everyone else in the world, I often don't take criticism very well, and what really torqued me off was that my editor was himself a visual artist. He was often critical of my execution, and I was just as often annoyed with his lack of perception...though he was just about always right...which in itself was pretty annoying too. Well, when you're at press time with a hole to fill, the cartoon generally runs weather the boss "gets it" or not, as in the case of Elmo the ice cream man.

It was not so with this next example. Later in 1982 Roger asked me to do the cover for the December issue with a downtown Christmas theme. THE COVER!!! Man, I was thrilled. So I came up with an idea of an army of identical happy Santas as holiday shoppers in the downtown business district (back when Grand Rapids still had a downtown business district). Strung above them appearing as garland were continuous strings of Hs (as in aitches) and Os (ohs). The effect was a continuous line of ho ho hos going across the top third of the panel. Again, it was a sight gag, which I'm some times a little too enthralled with. It was great and I was eager to bring it in to the office and bask in the glow of praise and approval.

I laid it out in front of Roger. He adjusted his glasses and without any expression examined the piece.

"Well this won't work at all"

I was stunned and insulted, and began a lame argument. Before I was able to make a complete ass of myself, Roger pointed out the obvious:

"This 'hohohoho' stuff becomes meaningless. All of the action [the Santas] is below the fold".

By golly, he was right, and that's when I learned what "below the fold" meant in designing a cover for a tabloid-style paper. What the viewer sees is the top half of the paper as it sits in the display rack. If the gag is dependent upon the imagery in the lower half it ain't going to work. I was getting educated in the ways of real cartooning.

Roger had me fix it by simply losing the hohohoho and spreading out the Santa action. Its a much better cover his way (dammit).

Here's another sight gag. From the feedback I received, it seems that most readers got it.

Live and learn.

Here's a Pembroke strip. First published in 1985, I run it here to commemorate the current spate of weather that grips this neck of the woods.

Staying warm, and humble, on South Mountain.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Baldness, Old frends, baldness, batchelor life

Hi, welcome back. Here's the second Pembroke strip published in OTT (On-The-Town) in 1984. I pretty much had Art Pembroke's look nailed down, but Angela was still elusive. I wanted her to look pretty glamorous and cool, but drawing cheekbones and boobies still intimidated me somewhat.

This strip is noteworthy as I drew it in my new bachelor pad apartment where I had just had cable installed by my landlord Melvin. I'd never had cable before. This was way back when MTV still played music videos.

The cable was hot (as in bootleg) as was Melvin (as in totally horny). It seems that Melvin was known by half the female population in Grand Rapids, and they either loved him or hated him...often both at the same time. He was a real character. I was cautioned by my sister to keep Melvin "out of the loop" regarding my social life as he was a guy to whom discretion was an unknown virtue. That turned out to be some very good advice.

Life as a newly single guy was always interesting and usually fun.I was setting the agenda in my new Genessee Street "Batch pad" and it was all about high adventure (and, apparently, not wearing tee-shirts).

Around this time, I had just been canned (a recurring theme) from my job at "Acraforms" a graphic arts house in Grand Rapids Michigan. By the way the "Acra" in Acraforms stood for "accuracy"...wait...what the... shouldn't that be "Accuforms"?. Well, whatever, I was working at Acraforms as a graphic arts grunt.

The boss and I just rubbed each other the wrong way. The immediate result of my firing became a piece of corporate folklore...still told around campfires by the elders.

These are the groovy cats and chicks that I worked with at Acraforms, as Pembroke was coming together. L to R: Kevin, the beautiful Margaret, Schmedly, Me (with the hand o' death hovering above me), the lovely Bonnie, Good pal Pete Taylor, and good old Ken.

My firing from Acraforms lasted exactly one weekend as a popular rebellion unfolded at the shop headed by Ken and the above mentioned folks. The boss (George) hired me back as a supervisor on second shift, That way he'd never have to see me and I'd never have to see him...pretty cozy huh? Anyhow this was my first inkling that I was leading a charmed life.

During this period I started working for "Downtown" (later "On-The-Town"). This was a wonderful experience. I was meeting all sorts of delightful people, including these two:
New York cartoonist Art Melendez and O-T-T editor/publisher Julie Christiansen.

Every day was a holiday and every meal a banquet in those days.

Suddenly, and without warning, the boom is lowered. Baldness!!!!

And no, I never resorted to the "comb over ploy", except in jest as you can see here.

Thanks for tuning in. I can't wait to see how it all develops (even though I was there at the time).

Stay warm,


Sunday, February 4, 2007

Math as torture, torture as math

Get used to this one as I'll probably foist it on you again. It's sort of like my cartoon anthem. Mathematics and I parted company in the fourth grade. I think that I can trace my unfocused anger to that period. Since then I've been faking it as far as arithmetic is concerned.

One of my greatest triumphs in college was to use the words "albeit" and "moreover" in the same sentence. A triumph of this particular strip was to have Art doing the rubber pencil trick and walking like an Egyptian in almost adjacent panels.

Here Art is tutoring some young miscreant (who we'll see again much later) in Algebra. I took algebra at Birch Run High School in Birch Run Michigan... now there was a little slice of hell on earth.

...and chemistry, again with Mr. Frank, was yet another unflushable toilet of mounting despair.

I'll let Arthur do the speaking here for me and countless others.

Remember, none of you are safe.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

cartoons as alter ego


I'm Mannie Gentile. In addition to many other things, I'm a cartoonist.

I've been cartooning, on and off, for over forty years. During that period it was my good luck to latch on to a brand new arts and culture magazine in Grand Rapids Michigan (not necessarily known for either) entitled "Downtown".

Launched in 1984 by a groovy cat named Roger Bruinkool (a local artist) "Downtown" appeared monthly on the streets of Grand Rapids (GR). Noted for smart, diverse writers, and a very hip style, "Downtown was a very new thing for the area, and it took right off. (This original, showing the photo-safe blue lines as well as the original "cut and paste" appeared in 1984)

I drew cartoons for "Downtown" from its first issue, and stayed with it for about eight years (long after it had changed its name to "On-the-Town" to be more inclusive of the advertising dollars from outlying communities). After a long absence I returned very briefly a couple of years ago to do a few final cartoons and reviews for them.

Although a cultural history educator by training, and a park ranger by good fortune, I continue to occasionally do illustration work and cartoons, most recently for the Park Service.

Through this blog I'd like to resurrect some of my older work to give it new legs in this electronic media that didn't even exist at the time the ink was still drying on my drawings.

I did a comic strip "Pembroke" that ran for five years. Little did I know it at the time, but Arthur C. Pembroke was a foreshadowing of Mannie Gentile 15 years into the future, sans ponytail. I was the last one to see the obvious. More on that next time.