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good-night, opus & the batman betrayal

This is a blog by a cartoonist; you may have already understood that based on the tangential digressions that dominate these here posts. But sometimes I like to talk about comics directly. These two news items, in particular, warrant a little discussion.

First: Opus is going to die! Well, hopefully not die. Like James Bond, who will return (according to the end of every James Bond movie), Opus has been granted a reprieve from the comic character gallows twice before. Every time Berkeley Breathed gets bored of counting his money, he returns to the comic pages. And, honestly, it never fails to make me happy when he does. Bloom County, although I only read it in book form after its run had ended, was a truly hilarious comic strip. Outland, the Sunday-only follow-up to Bloom County, was still funny, better drawn, and even more colorful (har). Lately we’ve had Opus, which is kinda sorta like Outland and Bloom County, but with lots more Bush references. Also, the art improved again.

homesick-for-heaven Now, Mr. Breathed wants to quit Opus before the penguin turns mean. I wasn’t aware of this fact before, but apparently at some point in their lives, penguins become bitter and cling to their guns and religion. Mr. Breathed understandably doesn’t want to be the guy standing next to the angry, resentful penguin.

It isn’t clear whether Opus will return again after Opus ends its run. My personal secret hope is Mr. Breathed will segue into longer comic stories. Not necessarily graphic novel length, but longer than a half-page Sunday strip. This, it should be noted, was also my secret hope for Bill Watterson after he retired Calvin and Hobbes. As of yet that wish has remained unanswered. After a cartoonist has given us ten or so years of brilliance, he or she deserves a little break from the constant deadlines. But, at the same time, there are plenty of formats for comics these days. This all-or-nothing, draw one comic strip per day or else get out mentality should really be re-thunk. We’re losing too many good cartoonists.

That was the good cartoonist news. Now for the bad cartoonist news.

According to The Comics Journal message board and this blog, Bob Kane was a total hack. I haven’t been able to parse the truth from the, ahem, exaggerations, but it seems Kane was a mediocre (at best) artist who used connections to secure him a sweet deal, thus ensuring his lasting fame. He was one of the very, very few cartoonists in comic’s early days to own his character. Because that character happened to be Batman, Mr. Kane was pretty well-off for the remainder of his days.

Kane’s crimes, in the minds of Comics Journal commentors, include being a pretty spotty artist and possibly overstating his role in the creation of the Batman character. Had we been talking about a superhero nobody remembers, there wouldn’t even be a discussion (or at least a fairly muted one). Because we’re talking about THE Batman, there is a feeling that we’d better get straight who did what. It’s kind of like giving Neil Armstrong credit for stepping on the moon first. Had Neil Armstrong been the first human to step foot on the new mall downtown, nobody would care. Since the stakes are high, the credit matters more.

Also, Kane probably stole his signature from Milton Caniff:caniff_kaneI’m not sure what to make of the argument. On the one hand, I’m all for cartoonists’ rights. Lord knows cartoonists have historically been trod upon by newspapers, publishers, and distributors (Clout & Money). For a cartoonist of his time to not only create but own one of the most enduring comic characters of all time is a feat worthy of praise. But if it’s true Kane took credit for other people’s good ideas, that would make him, well, typical. The jury’s still out on this one, dear readers.

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