We can all agree that the world would be a better place with more Magic Whistle in it, but Sam Henderson is just one man with other demands on his attention. What’s the solution to this problem? Bring in more funny artists! That’s the general idea with this latest version of Magic Whistle, and it’s a fantastic idea that works splendidly in this first issue. Sam does his thing better than most funny people so you know going in that that’s going to be good (check the handy chart to see what gum is called in your state; Ohio is “Pennsylvania asparagus”). But what about the newbies? Well, to start with, I think they’re all oldbies (i.e. people who have been making comics for years now), so no worries on that front either. John Brodowski (if you’re a regular around here that should be a familiar name) has a series of strips involving Sid and Sid (basically a carnival barker and a mute ghoul, although it’s probably best not to know for sure exactly what they are) spreading knowledge and horror wherever they go. Manuel Gomez Burns picks apart the traditional gag comic, spending a lot of time with the character in the last panel who always plops over in horror/outrage/hilarity and exactly what might make this character tick outside of the frame. Leah Wishnia devises the ingredients necessary to create the perfect spitball and show the devastating effects of such an object. Jesse McManus’s comic might require some knowledge of older Magic Whistle strips (mostly the ones where the bear and the human exchange body parts with each other with joy and hilarity), but he injects some unsettling realism into that hypothetical situation. Finally there’s Ansis Purins, another familiar name to regulars around here, with an oddly sweet tale of brothers with little in common who go out to plant a tree. And because it’s Ansis, some version of zombres are of course involved. Here’s hoping that increasing the pool of funny means more Magic Whistles in the world, because we’re all going to need something to laugh about over the next few months, he said, injecting a slight political note into an otherwise non-partisan review. Don’t vote Trump, you dummies. But do buy this comic, because it’s funny. $5.99
Quick, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you. Now imagine yourself writing and drawing a comic story about it. That right there should make you cringe, which means you’re in luck, as that’s what this anthology is all about! This book has right around 30 small press artists, some new and some who have been around for awhile, who are willing to share some shameful incident from their past. I don’t think anything in here will get anybody put in jail, but it’s hard not to cringe while reading some of these. I’m not going to review every story because there are so damned many of them (and for a measly $8!), but the highlights include Shaenon K. Garrity wetting herself while out with a group of other cartoonists (including a big name guy, but I won’t spoil the surprise; I particularly loved the way she ended her strip), Sam Spina’s unfortunate method for drinking a rum shot when he met the Bacardi girls, Adam Pasion’s particularly gruesome retelling of an incident involving a finger in the eye, Geoff Vasile dodging a bullet (not literally), Chad Essley and his series of embarrassing moments (hard to top the one where he volunteered to breakdance at school on stage), Fred Noland’s theories on some crayons he used to own, Chad Woody and his racist former roommate, Box Brown and his former habit of eating light bulbs (it’s not quite as life-threatening as it sounds), Stephen Notley and his experience of being “that guy” at a comic convention (you know the one, the guy who gets up to ask a rambling and pointless question and has no idea how to get out of it once he gets started), and Sam Henderson’s experiences with having seizures while surrounded by strangers. It’s a damned fine mix of stories, and at a ridiculously cheap price. Save yourself the embarrassment of not owing this anthology of embarrassment! Ugh, I feel dirty for saying that. I’ll let myself out… $8
My favorite Sam Henderson is filthy Sam Henderson, and he’s fully back in that mode with this issue. The last thing I read of his was an all-ages collection of strips, which was still great, but severely lacking in the number of “fucks” thrown around. And, as the man has proven countless times in his 20+ years of making comics, he has no trouble putting out a thoroughly hilarious comic. Which, as always, is problematic to review, as there’s only so many times I can say that this part or that part was comedy gold. If you’re new to comics and just now hearing his name, there’s a wealth of older material out there from the man that I’d highly recommend if you enjoy laughing. If you’re already a fan, then you should know that the strips in here include some very modern pickup lines, the return of Dirty Danny, easy ways to ruin a joke, an update of his classic strip about LSD with him using his modern sensibilities, how the older cast was always better on SNL (told from a perspective 700,000 years in the future), new shows coming this fall, and Nancy and her exploding head. Scattered around the comic are his usual single panel gag strips, and nobody does them better. Still, the highlight of the comic was the story on high school urban sex legends and the descent of that story into complete madness. The image of that guy slipping on the condom, rolling down the stairs and eventually turning into a giant rolling ball of snow had me practically crying, which is as high a mark as a funny book can achieve. Anyway, there probably wasn’t much doubt from anybody who has read this site for any length of time that I was going to highly recommend it, so no surprises there, but come on, who doesn’t like to laugh? Buy this and laugh! $4.99
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this a few times on this website already, but Sam Henderson was a favorite of mine from the early 90’s (wow have I been reading small press comics for a long time). The strip that starts this collection in particular was something that I copied and showed to strangers for at least a month. Yes, this was before I had a comics review website, and no, I shouldn’t have copied that page, but it wasn’t nearly as funny with me describing it, so I figured it was OK. Anyway, Sam has been doing a strip based on the characters from that one strip for 16 years in Nickelodeon magazine, and this is a collection of either all of them or the best of them. Look at the sample for some idea of the dynamic going on here, but each strip involves two characters: a humanish creature and a bear creature. Neither one of them ever says a word, the strips are usually a page or two and they all involve hijinx of some sort between the two of them. Wow, that doesn’t get the funny across very well, does it? I should know better by now, but I’ll attempt to describe that one favorite strip of mine from 1993. These two creatures are grinning maniacally in the same panel. The human reaches over and plucks the nose from the bear and eats it. The bear is shocked, but pulls the eyes off the human and eats those too. And then… nope, this isn’t working either. The best way to kill humor is to describe it. Anyway, the humor is all in the expressions of these characters, as I’d have to imagine that having my cartoon nose pulled off my face and eaten would be a traumatic experience. This book runs about 120 pages, with actual pictures of the characters (and Sam) in the back, along with a brief “how to” about his strip. Oh, and there’s an introduction by Noah Van Sciver, which should have maybe been mentioned on the cover. Hey, there’s my single complaint! Anyway, buy this book. This is the perfect “all ages” book, with nothing dirty for the kids, and plenty for adults to enjoy. And for long-time readers of his, this is all in color, which is a damned treat. Oops, a swear word on a review for a kids book is not OK. My apologies… $14.95
Do you like your comics funny? Do you like some or most of the creators I listed in the tags section (right below this post, in big letters, you can’t miss them)? Then this one should be an easy call for you. There, now that I’ve made that case, I’ll go about my afternoon… wait, you want something of substance? Egh, fine. Laurent Barnett does the “Me Likes You” comics (which you should already be reading on a regular basis), and she was one of the editors, so there, that’s substantive. Strips in here include Noah Van Sciver’s fever dreams (both with and without music), funny jokes that aren’t really jokes by Bort, Martha Keavney’s tales of a pet human, Nikki Burch showing us that saying “that’s what she said” too many times will end up with you getting what you deserve, Anne Emond’s cat style, Sam Spina’s ridiculously awesome sex comic, a couple of pages of single panel jokes by Sam Henderson (which should be worth the price of admission right there), Grant Snider’s fears and feats (he had four pages of strips and I don’t want to ruin any of them), KC Green’s depressed fish, Jane Mai’s dream of male lingerie, Nathan Bulmer’s tale of ninja tricks, Julia Wertz’ attempt to get serious and Ian Anderson’s tale of a bear that’s just trying to fit in. But wait, there’s more! And you can discover it for yourself if you buy this. Unless you just have an unnatural hatred for all anthologies, which I guess I could almost understand, but it makes no sense to hate the good ones too, and this is one of the good ones. Hell, just pick three of the names of people who contributed to this, go to their websites and see what there is to see. If you don’t laugh once then I release you from your duty to buy this, but seriously, good luck with that. $10
|One of the oddest things about my reviewing comics on this site for the past 11+ years (!!!) is that I’ve lost touch with more than a few of the comics that got me started doing this in the first place. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Magic Whistle during my small press formative years when I was climbing out of the superhero ghetto, and I still have most of his mini comics before he was published by anybody to prove it. Still, I ended up getting overwhelmed with comics submitted for review (a damned nice problem to have) and taking fewer trips to the comic stores, so the end result is that I haven’t read an issue of this in at least six years. It turns out that Sam hadn’t put out an issue in roughly four years, so it turns out that I hadn’t missed all that much anyway (although there are at least two issues advertised in the back of this one that I don’t own, a situation that will soon be rectified). So, much like my King Cat reviews, don’t expect to find a lot of negativity here, as the sheer joy at seeing another issue of this series overwhelmed my critical faculties. Which is not to imply that it’s bad and that I’m too biased to see it but, humor being subjective and all, I guess you might not find it funny. Hey rambly, what’s this comic about? Well, for those of you who have never read an issue of this series (and, after being gone for four years, I could even excuse a few of you for that), there are no magic whistles present in these comics, except for maybe the very early days. Instead they’re a series of funny bits of differing lengths, which may sound like a lot of comics, but Sam’s style is simplistic in his own unique way, and there’s no mistaking it once you see it. Subjects in here include a protest about the reality of the constitution by a man in the audience of a school play, the trials of having a large ass and always being expected to give people rides on it, a look back at a really terrible gym teacher from grade school, Dirty Danny’s sneaky trick after getting elected, the lonely robot duckling asking questions about the terminology behind pornography (in the story that got the loudest laughs out of me), the differences between how you’re perceived crossing a section of the river as a child versus doing it at 42, learning about his teacher and her possible gay relationship as a child, some letters from ages ago, and several one panel gags that I’m not going to spoil even a little bit. If you’re just wondering if he’s still funny: yes. Yes, he is. And that’s why you’d be buying a Magic Whistle comic anyway, right? It’s good to see Sam back and, with his announcement of a big collection of strips coming out in 2013, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more from him in the near future. Hurray! $4|
Have you ever wondered what comics creators do all day when they’re stuck at a convention?Â Most of them don’t have a line at their desk all day long and some of them (especially when they’re at one of the big conventions where the small press people are sometimes all shoved into a far corner of the building) get very few visitors at all.Â Well, sometimes they do little jam comics like this, purely for the hell of it.Â This tiny comic contains all sorts of people, namely Andy Runton, J. Chris Campbell, Duane Ballenger, Chris Pitzer, Sam Henderson, Rob Ullman, Jacob Chabot, Chris Giarrusso and Justin Gammon.Â If it wasn’t for the table of contents I would have no idea who drew which pages, as they mostly aren’t even using their usual drawing style.Â This book doesn’t say for sure, but I’d guess that they would do a panel and pass the book along to the next person to see what they came up with, as this doesn’t follow much of a story or have much of a point.Â There’s some liquid sunshine, you see, and a boy is carrying it around.Â Another boy wants to steal this glass of liquid sunshine for the obvious piles of money he’ll get for it, but abruptly drops this idea to urinate in the glass instead.Â It wanders around a bit more after that, but you get the general idea.Â This is a great comic for those of you who are curious about what artists do in their spare time at these conventions, otherwise it’s easily skipped.Â No price, but it can’t be more than $1.
Alternative Comics #1
This was the comic that was free on Free Comics Day a couple of months back, so I’m honestly not sure if you can get it online anywhere or not. Check the website and e-mail somebody, otherwise check out your local comic store to see if they have any left, because it’s a great piece of work. The idea is to showcase all of their artist’s best work and they pull this off beautifully. Sure, Sam Henderson could have had more than a page out of his sketchbook, and I would have liked to see more out of Steven Weissman than a cover, but overall everyone associated with the company (again, check the website, as I’m too lazy to type everybody in) had either a good or a great short story in here. There were links to everybody in the book as well, meaning that anybody who picked this up randomly could find whoever they liked best, and that’s the point of this book. Kudos on a job well done, and I’d have to think that this did a better job of promoting the medium than almost anything else could have. After all, it was free!
Here it is, the funniest anthology comic ever. It’s not? Fine, show me something funnier, I dare you. I’d love to see it if it exists, but I doubt it. If I had any doubts that the series would lose some steam or something after the first issue, I was happily proven wrong with the release of this collected edition. This is silly humor at its finest. I wouldn’t feel compelled to point that out if it wasn’t for the introduction of Sam Henderson, as he complains about being lumped into the same category as Graham Annable. There are many different types of humor comics out there among the very few alternative humor comics, and it’s important to try and keep them straight. If you like laughing, you’ll love this book. Few things have made me laugh out loud as much as sitting down and reading this volume. It’s $12.95 and it’s such a no-brainer that I’m not even going to try and hype it up any more.
God bless Lowjinx. I don’t know if anybody has ever come up with the concept for this book before, but it’s about time. In case you can’t read the cover, it’s an anthology of childhood drawing from some of the best small press cartoonists around. Included here are James Kochalka, Sam Henderson, Ivan Brunetti, Nick Bertozzi, Greg Cook, Tony Consiglio, Jordan Crane, Pete Sickman-Garner, Jesse Fuchs, Megan Kelso, Alex Robinson, Kevin Scalzo, Tom Spurgeon, Eric Reynolds, Steve Weissman, and, of course, Kurt Wolfgang. Once again, with this book, it’s probably not going to appeal to many people who don’t already know the work of those cartoonists. But for those people, this is absolutely priceless. It’s $6, if you like the work of these people go to the Top Shelf website and beg them to sell you a copy. OK, I should tell you a little bit about it first, even though if that list of names didn’t sell you, I don’t know what I could possibly say to convince you. Eric Reynolds (is he even on my page yet?) had a mostly text story about the Fantastic Four that’s hilarious, Sam Henderson hasn’t changed much over the years except now he swears more, Nick Bertozzi has a great story about a dog who’s learning to roller disco, and Tony Consiglio… aw, just buy it. I don’t want to ruin anything else for you, and everything in here is fascinating when compared to their later work. Don’t believe me? Fine, look at this:
Wolfgang, Kurt (editor) – Lowjinx #2: Understanding the Horrible Truth About Reinventing Mini Comics
Lowjinx #2: Understanding the Horrible Truth About Reinventing Mini Comics
If this was a perfect world, anybody who bought any mini comic ever would get a free copy if this book with their purchase. Yes, it’s that good. There’s one page that doesn’t do much for the book, but it doesn’t do much to take away from it either. Everything else is golden. I didn’t know much about Kurt Wolfgang before I saw this book (he’s the editor and contributed two pieces, “What the Fuck is a Mini Comic” and “My ‘Career’ in Comics”) and I still don’t really, but reading his pieces did inspire me to go to his website and order some of his other stuff. The new issue of Lowjinx is out and it has everybody who is anybody in it. If you’re wondering about the wisdom of making a comic about comics, well, he addresses that in the intro, so worry no more. The comic basically makes fun of Scott McCloud and James Kochalka and talks about trying to be taken seriously around your family and friends while drawing comics for a living. Jef Czekaj apes the Kochalka drawing style in his piece and pretty much nails the guy. Throw in Sam Henderson, Tony Consiglio , Dave Kiersh and Johnny Ryan and you have yourself a hell of a book. I can’t wait for #3 to get here…
What’s the better way to go about making comics? Putting a book out every few months (this discussion is for the people who at least manage to put a book out every few months, by the way), or just putting one big book out a year? Sam is going with the second option. I think it’s a shame, because his book is exactly the type of thing that I like to see on a regular basis. Graphic novels in waiting (everything by Seth or Chester Brown, for example), those can come out in bigger books and I’m fine with that. The world has to be made funny to me at least a few times a year! Still, that being said, this issue is tremendous. The larger size means there can be a few huge stories in here, including a couple of them in color, which is an experience by itself. Other than that, it’s almost 100 pages of Sam Henderson. Isn’t that specific enough? OK, included in here in an exploding dog, Bill Cosby, Dirty Danny, newlyweds, Gunther Bumpus, Hamburger Joe, and hippies vs. beatniks. That’s just in case you wanted me to sum up a complex and huge issue in one sentence, anyway. $11.95 might seem a little steep, I know, but keep in mind that this is the only issue for the year, and it’s all new material from Sam Henderson! What are you, stupid or something? Click on the title if you want to buy the book, or just go to your comic store, as long as it doesn’t suck.
What possible reason could I have for letting this page stagnate for so long? Got me. I guess I just figured that everybody out there already knew that Sam Henderson is at the top of a short list of the funniest people in comic books. Well, don’t you already know that? This one is mostly about Chugbot, a drinking, dancing, cock-blocking robot made by a nerd with a dream of fitting in. And no, that doesn’t mean that there’s a moral to the story. The “Eyes Are Up Here” page didn’t do much for me, everything else was hilarious. Are there various degrees of hilarity? If so, some page were of a higher degree than others, but it’s all funny. If you don’t know who he is buy this immediately, if you do know who he is maybe you’re not keeping up on his new stuff, and that means you’re stupid. Unless you have a legitimate reason not to, but what reason could you possibly have not to laugh?
Apparently, in one of the great crimes against humanity, this is the only volume of Sam’s work that is currently available. I’ll look around more and try to bring more of these to you, don’t worry. Listen, there are a few things I read when I’m really down. The Milk and Cheese Collection or some of the issues of Dork from Evan Dorkin, some of James Kochalka’s stuff, and anything by Sam Henderson. He has three collections out that I know of, but I already have most of the stuff in them in various mini comics. It doesn’t matter because these books always have at least a few new stories in them from other publications, and anything new from him is a treat. Stupid, stupid, humor that is, naturally, the best kind. This is going to get a longer review later, don’t you worry. For now, if you like laughing, you’ll love this book. If your soul is too dark and empty for laughter, well, buy this book, give it to a friend and have them explain to you why it’s funny.
The Magic Whistle #2
Am I wasting my time with all this mini comics nostalgia?Â Possibly, yes.Â On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that there’s a younger generation of comics readers who may have heard some of these names but haven’t seen much of the actual work outside of what’s available in whatever collections happen to still be in print, in which case this is a vital service to the world.Â The world that reads this website, that is.Â This is another packed collection of funny, starting with another page of jokes from the 50’s (my best guess on the time period, anyway.Â Sample joke: When is a steamboat like a witness in a trial?Â When it is bound to a pier), and then moving on to the comics.Â Again, reviewing one panel gag strips is one of the dumber things a person could do, but that sadly prevents me from going into detail about some of the funnier stuff in the book.Â Other stories include Li’l Brainy and his calculations, three men at a urinal, the man and the bear (sampled in the last issue) with a center spread of silent hilarity, how a “got any pictures of your wife naked?” joke went horribly wrong, and the story of Sam and the Secret Service.Â Sam, see, sent a nastyÂ letter to the first president Bush (under his friend Scott Russo’s name, who did a comic called Jizz for years that I should probably put up here at some point too, lack of being in print be damned), but had the whole thing traced back to him only after his friend had gotten in big trouble.Â This story details Sam’s side of the story (which is mostly “boy was I stupid”) and how he avoided Scott and his friends for years at cons because he thought there was serious bad blood.Â Other bits of this book include more “always funny” jokes and a review of a number of zines he’s heard of (or was just making up, this far out it’s impossible to know), including one called Time that’s been running since 1923 and seems to have a bright future.Â Basically these old reviews serve two purposes.Â 1. When this rental project gets off the ground at least a few of these creators are going to give me permission to use my copies of their older books in this idea, which means these reviews will serve a useful function now or 2. If you are lucky enough to go to a comics shop with a box of old minis and are digging through, not sure what to buy, maybe having these names brought to your attention will help.Â Either way, if you see something with Sam Henderson on it, but it.Â
Magic Whistle #1 (mini comic)
It’s another trip down memory lane!Â This time it’s the first issue of the Magic Whistle comic, and shame on you if you don’t know what this is.Â If there is a hierarchy in my head of comics folk who got me interested in this small press business, it’s people like Sam Henderson who KEPT me interested.Â This was always one of the funniest books out there, and at the time he was fairly prolific for the field, putting out four or five books a year.Â Possibly a little more or less, but he was always one of the few people to consistently put out funny work.Â This is the first issue of the comic, but not the first thing he’d done, as a number of his even smaller minis were collected in a Magic Whistle #0 set.Â So how about it?Â Does it hold up?Â If it isn’t already abundantly clear, it’s difficult to judge things objectively through a cloud of nostalgia, but… yes.Â Yes, it is still hilarious.Â He’s funny before you even get to the comics, as he mentions in the intro that if you got this book through a boyfriend or girlfriend, you shouldÂ think about whether you’d still be with that person in a few years and how you should probably go ahead and get your own copies of his books just in case.Â Now that’s salesmanship!Â Some of his funniest comics are of the single panel variety, so it’s pointless to attempt to describe them.Â Longer stories in here include hippy high school, Monroe Simmons and his unknown popularity, how beer will make girls you don’t know want to fuck you, and his “always funny” series.Â That, kids, is something you’ll have to see for yourself in the collections, as I couldn’t put any of them up here without somehow making them unfunny.Â He also includes a couple of pages of humor from the 50’s, which are funny in their own special way.Â Really, what I always loved about his books is how they were more of a complete reading experience.Â Sounds stupid, but bear with me: there was always a bunch of single panel comics, a few longer stories, the “always funny” series, oddities (like that stuff from the 50’s), and some obvious personal care that was often oddly lacking in other minis.Â Of course, it’s possible that you just don’t share this sense of humor and think it’s all stupid, but I can’t relate to that.Â The link above has all kinds of his stuff up for free, so if you’re not familiar with the man that’s an excellent place to start, as I’m sure this is way, way out of print.
Legal Action Comics Volume 2 Now Available! $18.95
It’s always a copout of some degree to just list the contributors involved in an anthology as proof of it’s greatness. Why not go into greater detail about the (in this case) 73 cartoonists and their individual contributions? Well, to me, the joy of a good anthology is discovering things as they come, finding new artists that you like, taking a chance on all sorts of people you’ve never heard of, that sort of thing. So nailing all this down specifically (outside of it being, in that case, by far the longest review I’ve ever written) kills a lot of that sense of discovery. But none of that is really the point of this book anyway. It’s about trying to help Danny Hellman pay some huge legal bills in a lawsuit that is still apparently ongoing (the only update I managed to find about it (as of 8/15/07) is that only one count is left in the lawsuit and that it still hasn’t gone to trial) and, on a selfish level, getting to see a bunch of the best cartoonists working today all gathered into one book. So how about that list? OK, here’s a few names: Sam Henderson, Carol Lay, Doug Allen, Art Spiegelman, Kim Dietch, Kaz, Johnny Ryan, Tony Millionaire, Ted May, Hans Rickheit, Dave McKenna, Michael Kupperman, Miss Lasko-Gross, Pshaw, Lauren Weinstein, Patrick Dean, Mike Diana, Rick Altergott, and Dean LeCrone, to name a fraction of the people that I had already heard of. There seems to be a bit less personal animosity towards Ted Rall this time around (although there’s still plenty here), with the stories being all over the place. It’s a great anthology whether or not you agree with Danny’s legal case (and what’s not to agree with?), and something that everybody who enjoys this genre at all needs on their bookshelf. $18.95
Legal Action Comics Volume 1 Now Available! $14.95
I could go on and on and tell you that the proceeds for this go to a great cause, and one that is vastly important to free speech in general. But if you want to know why Dirty Danny and Ted Rall are in court these days, you should go to the homepage of Danny Hellman and see for yourself. Or I could run down the stories and tell you what I thought of each one. Instead of wasting your time with that, if you read all about the lawsuit and still don’t think you should give money to this guy, I’ll just let you know who’s in this benefit, and this collection of talent should pretty much speak for itself. Tony Millionaire, Sam Henderson, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Renee French, James Kochalka, Marc Bell, Johnny Ryan, Steven Weissman, Ron Rege, Doug Allen, and Spain, among MANY others. I hadn’t seen most of the stuff in here, although I don’t know if it’s pulled from other stuff or mostly original. Whatever the case, it’s all really good, and I’d never had a chance to see Danny Hellman’s stuff before this and I like it quite a bit. Did I mention that this is over 250 pages? What the hell are you waiting for?
Note: The following is from Ben Durgin, and it was on a forgotten page here, put into limbo after a past update of the whole website. No idea how this came about or why it’s here (thank you brain, for losing that memory completely) but, as it’s a great synopsis of the actual legal case involved here, thought it best to put it on the “main” Danny Hellman page.
Danny Hellman is in a bit of a rut right now. In addition to being doomed in the highly unrecognized field of comics, he is facing a $1.5 million lawsuit. Well, we’re four years into this mess, and since the fall of 2001, I’ve had a wonderful lawyer named Erik Jacobs handling my case pro bono, says Hellman. For me, as a struggling artist, the most emotionally devastating aspect of the lawsuit was the expense, and thanks to Erik, these last two years of the lawsuit have been a lot less stressful for my wife and I than the first few.
The lawsuit is over an e-mail prank Hellman circulated and a cartoon he drew of fellow comic book author Ted Rall. Rall had written an article for the Village Voice boldly criticizing Art Spiegelman, the well-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus. Hellman says the cartoon that he circulated came out a day or two before the prank.
The cartoon consists of Rall drawn as a small dog in a park, peeing on a statue of Spiegelman. The prank came after Rall and Hellman exchanged several private e-mails about Rall’s Village Voice article. Hellman says he found Rall’s e-mails to be snide and decided to write an e-mail mocking Rall’s article.
The e-mail, which is entitled Ted Rall’s Balls, featured a faux Rall bragging about his testicular fortitude, which he earned by criticizing Spiegelman, the chain-smoking Napoleon of comics. The e-mail welcomed it’s recipients to join a list serve where the topic of discussion would be Ted Rall’s balls. Hellman says he sent the email to approximately thirty people, most of whom were already well-acquainted with his juvenile jokes. Rall was also included on the list.
That e-mail was followed by a series of faux disgruntled responses from well-known voices in the publishing industry. They were actually written by Hellman himself. Within a couple of days of the Ted Rall’s Balls e-mail, I was receiving cease & desist letters from Rall’s attorneys, threatening legal action, and demanding an apology, as well as a five figure sum of money, he explains. I provided an apology immediately, but declined to offer any cash, (as I felt none was deserved). Within a few weeks, Rall’s attorneys filed a $1.5 million dollar libel suit against Hellman. In Hellman’s opinion the whole prank was completely harmless.
Regarding Rall’s article about Spiegelman, Hellman says, The Main thesis of the piece, (as I remember it) was a dark portrait Rall struggled to paint of Art Spiegelman as a petty, power-mad tyrant of the New York cartooning scene, without whose consent no aspiring cartoonist could ever hope to advance professionally. Hellman says Rall even attacked Spiegelman’s smoking habits.
Danny Hellman isn’t a millionaire who can easily pay a settlement to Ted Rall. So he has put out a benefit book called Legal Action Comics Volume 1. The second volume of his anthology is also available .I’d wanted to do a comics anthology for years. And had tried a few times to get such projects off the ground, with little success, says Hellman. I had done a mini comic in the early 1990s called Legal Action Comics, which reprinted two strips I’d done for Screw magazine parodying Superman and the Simpsons. So in a sense, there were precedents that led to 2001’s Legal Action Comics Volume 1, but I’d certainly had no plans to print such a book prior to the lawsuit. The anthology contains work from some very well-known people in the world of comics such as Robert Crumb, Sam Henderson, and Art Spiegelman. The second volume contains some returning contributors from Legal Action Comics Volume 1 and some new talents as well.
Hellman also has gotten some help from M. Doughty, former front man of the band Soul Coughing, whom he calls a very gifted writer (as one can tell from his lyrics). Hellman says he got acquainted with Doughty a few years ago at the New York Press offices, and at the newspaper’s legendary lavish parties. Doughty had been a writer and an illustrator for the paper for several years. Hellman says that Doughty was possibly the funniest writer the New York Press ever had.
When I got into legal hot water, Doughty and his band Soul Coughing were generous enough to headline a benefit concert the New York Press had organized on my behalf. (Soul Coughing disbanded shortly after that December 1999 concert, and I’d like to think that the sight of me in clown makeup had nothing to do with that breakup).
Danny Hellman doesn’t have any specific plans for the future. He says he has made a living as an editorial illustrator and hopes to have continued success in that field. I enjoy doing comics, and hope to do more of that, in spite of the meager financial rewards and limited audience. Perhaps he’ll continue to get by with a little help from his friends.