La Musée de la Bande Dessinée (The Museum of the Comic Strip) in Angoulême, France really exists. The Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University; The Museum of Cartoon Art in San Francisco, California; and MoCCA (The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) in New York City, New York are also real.
The National Cartoonists Society (NCS) is a real professional organization. Its prestigious Reuben Award is presented annually to the “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year” by secret ballot.
At the time of this writing, both chambers of the United States Congress are considering copyright legislation bills known as The Orphan Works Act of 2008. Many American artists are actively petitioning the wording of both bills as they currently stand.
It’s widely reported that print newspaper markets are shrinking.
I think I've always had a great respect for American cartooning and especially this medium that we have created, the comic strip, which is supposed to increase the circulation of the newspaper. And I'm indebted, as we all who are in that end of the business, to newspapers for having invented this delightful medium. And I have a feeling that maybe it's going on its latter days now. We have a few new faces in there doing bright, light things, but there aren't enough . . .
—WALT KELLY, creator of Pogo, in an audio
—interview conducted by Gil Kane at a National
—Cartoonists Society (NCS) meeting, circa 1969.
—(The Comics Journal #140, pg. 53)
Do not count the years, tomorrow is just another day to create something I hope will be worthwhile.
—RUBE GOLDBERG, First NCS President and
—Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor &
—author; in his NCS member autobiography.
—(Publically accessible at http://reuben.org)
“GOOD GRIEF!” exclaimed Frost with his smoke-stained voice. “You’re using too much ink!”
Giles winced. His thirty-year-old legs felt numb from the squat wooden stool beneath him. “Sorry,” he said, almost instinctively to his father. “Lemme try again.”
But before he could, Giles found himself pushed aside like a stack of old newspapers—the kind, that is, which ceased production in the first half of the Twenty-First Century, several years before he was born. Still, thought Giles, looking around the cherry wainscoted room. Even those dirty old sheets of newsprint would feel more at home in this nostalgic cartoon studio.
“Look,” said Frost, grabbing the cork-gripped penholder from his son’s tensed hand. As the old man turned toward the antique drafting table before them, his weathered grimace said enough to discourage anyone from following their dreams—or, in Giles’ case, his destiny. “Now, watch carefully . . .”
First, Frost swished the pen’s little nib (a vintage Speedball Hunt Globe bowl pointed No. 513EF) in a glass pickle jar that had ‘H2O’ scratched on its label, and then, using a soiled rag, he wiped its stainless steel tip with the sort of care one would give to a samurai sword. Next, he retrieved an aluminum twist cap—apparently saved from a cheap bottle of ruby red wine—and filled it using a tiny pipette to about one-third with jet-black India ink. To this, he delicately added a few drops of murky pickle jar juice.
“Helps the ink go further,” muttered Frost.
Giles knew better than to say anything—at least, not right now. After thirty years, that was one thing the young Virtual Art professor had learned. And yet, as he watched Frost hunch forward, bringing his nose within inches of the 2-ply Strathmore Smooth Bristol board sheet, Giles wondered if his old man would even notice if he were to disappear.
“Are you paying attention?” asked Frost, holding the ruby twist cap in his left hand and the cork-gripped pen in his right.
Giles sighed. “Yeah, dad, but I thought—”
“This is important. Trust me, this is important!”
“Okay, okay,” said Giles, waving his hands with an air of submission. “Carry on . . .”
With the precision of a meticulous surgeon, Frost poked the tip of his pen into the inky solution, and then started drawing in an unexplored spot on the Bristol board. The ink flowed like music from an old animated cartoon:
Spontaneous . . .
Whimsical . . .
Enchanting . . .
“See? Less is more. You have more control over your lines and aren’t left with shoddy globs all over the damn place.”
Frost twisted, rinsed, and wiped his pen.
“Amateurs don’t realize this,” he said, his sharp cobalt eyes meeting his son’s, “but this kinda cartooning is more than just an art—it’s a science . . . Ignore the laws of Mother Nature, and she’ll bite’cha in the ass every time.”
Turning back to his drawing, Frost’s hand zipped about with an awe-inspiring rhythm, as if he were conducting the New York Philharmonic. Like anyone familiar with Frost’s work would tell you, his cartoons were well admired for their bold, expressive, yet limited lines. But most importantly, Frost was one of only a few contemp- orary cartoonists to employ the classical dip-pen method—a style completely unheard of in their virtually paperless society.
In fact, Europeans, young and old, had recently celebrated Frost’s “résurrection” of the funny art form during an exhibition at the Louvre’s Musée de la Bande Dessinée (Museum of the Comic Strip) in Angoulême, France, where they unveiled a life-sized animated hologram of the six-foot-two cartoonist seated at his drafting table. The piece was entitled “Le Petit Sauveur De Funnies.”
Ironically, “Frost” was the New York-based cartoonist’s self-given pen name—an homage to a nearly forgotten American illus-trator. Unfortunately, “Fred the Savior” didn’t have the same ring.
But as far as anyone these days seemed concerned, there was only one Frost. Only one Sauveur De Funnies.
And yet, to Giles, there was something almost blasphemous about observing his father at his craft. It was like watching a master magician reveal all his secrets.
“There,” said Frost, slapping his pointed knees with both hands before standing back up.
There it was.
As if it were a high-resolution reproduction, there it was:
A perfect rendering of Ozwell, one of four little extra-terrestrials—a species known as “Nibbles”—from Frost’s comic strip phenomenon, Li’l Nibs. As much as Giles, the young Virtual Art professor, wished it were just a badly programmed dream or, at best, a bad joke, Li’l Nibs was, believe it or not, the most popular feature on The Timeless Funnies Network (TTFN)—the humorous hub of our solar system’s one (and only) Mixed Reality Media distributer, SolSyndicate.
Of course, Ozwell (“The Nutty Nibble”) was the foundation of TTFN’s cartoon empire. His solid black silhouette appeared on a myriad of consumer-customized products, from holographic toys to fibre-optic illuminated evening gowns. Oh yes, even the highbrows of society raved about the comic strip’s original art and its critically-acclaimed Broadway musical “Weez Comez in Peez!” The world was amid an alien invasion, and everyone adored Frost’s cute little cartoon creations. After all, they literally made an out-of-this-world cultural impact on the red hot, record-scorching morning of July 4, 2046.
Giles felt his gut turn.
At the time, he was barely a year old, but the now famous SolWorld news clips were quickly adopted as part of every school’s curriculum. How many times had Giles been forced to relive that high-definition, multi-dimensional moment in history?
He remembered it as though he’d been there . . .
BREAKING NEWS: In a joint effort between international space agencies, ISA has successfully landed Mars Module IV, nicknamed “Li’l Nibble,” safely delivering the first families of permanent human settlers. Technicians describe their balloon descent to the red planet as “truly magical.” You’re watching time-delayed scenes of Team Ozwell as they prepare to disembark and step onto the surface of their new home. As they say in those timeless funnies, “Weez comez in peez! Weez comez in peez!”
However, as ambassadors of such intergalactic goodwill, Frost’s four colorful characters had become the subjects of countless public and private debates, pitting commercial greed versus artistic integrity. And now, once again, for some yet to be explained reason, Giles—Frost’s only child—found himself stuck in the middle.
“See the difference?” asked Frost, pointing his pen’s blunted tip at the Bristol board.
Giles glared down at his father’s cartoon child whose outline was black as outer space. The sparing ink around the anthro-pomorphic alien’s four eyes, still wet, twinkled in the warm August morning light that peaked through the studio’s sole window. Why, this drawing alone could fetch a considerable price—even more if Frost was dead. And yet, it was drawn in what seemed like only milliseconds. Drawn without the aid of a rough pencil sketch, digital stylus, or even a virtual simulator . . .
Drawn by the hand of the creator, himself.
“Yeah, dad, I see the difference.”
“Good,” said Frost, thrusting the pen at Giles’ chest. “Your turn.”