Corned Beef Hash
by Dan Nadel
Friday, January 7, 2011
“Better you look corned beef hash in the face than live in constant expectation of a warm bird and a cold bottle.” So advises Eugene Zimmerman in his recently reissued 1910 how-to book, Cartoons and Caricatures. First, I like this “face facts, you might suck” advice to a young cartoonist, and second I like the idea of Corned Beef Hash (now making a big comeback at old-timey restaurants all over Brooklyn!) having a face. It soothes me somehow.
Anyhow, this reissue is one in a series of books from Lost Art Books focusing on forgotten turn-of-the-century cartoonists, most of whom did caricature, illustration or gags for now-forgotten magazines before these things were avidly reprinted in book form.
Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman was a wildly popular cartoonist of the very old kind: No daily strip, no enduring character — but seriously great Victorian-stylings and a sure way with the absurd. Zim also ran a Cartooning Corrrespondence Course, and it’s these lessons that are distilled in the present book. By the way, it looks like Warren Bernard and Rick Marschall have a book in the works on these courses, due out sometime in 2011 from Fantagraphics. Anyhow, all the DNA is there in these books, spelled out in simple terms. There weren’t exactly divergent schools of thought back then, so you get a damn good feel for how people formally thought about comical drawing at the time.
And Zim, oh Zim. I gotta say, this is a funny book. Like, smirk on the subway funny. Or Dan Pussey funny. There are concrete lessons, but mostly it’s like a book of wisdom on the life of a cartoonist, and for 1910 he sometimes sounds an awful lot like 2010. Have I heard much of this from my friends? Yes, yes I have.
Here’s Zim on “The Caricaturist: Aches and Pains vs. Humor”: “The caricaturist cannot always be funny. He has aches and pains like any other mortal … When you find that he is below his usual standard of funniness, you must make allowance for his conditions which may have deprived him for the time of his drollery”
And here’s a classic:
“Single or Double: I cannot say whether a man, in order to become famous as a caricaturist, should be married or unmarried. I have known both classes to succeed. In the face of the facts before me, it would be safe for me to state that a man, to be successful in any matter he undertakes, should be either married or unmarried.”
Other topics include: Human and Animal Composites; An Outline of the Process of Half-Tone Engraving [still true!]; Safe Transmission of Drawings (“enclose them in cardboard tubes or between heavy sheets of pasteboard” — also still true!); Bible Subjects and Caricature; Reduction of Drawings; Sontaneity [sic]; Be Modest; and so on. It’s basically half-drawing book, half-guide to life. Some of these things I swear I’ve been told by Gary Panter very late at night. Or at least it seemed that way.
Anyhow, this is a fun item — reminding me again that cartooning can be a vocation — and Lost Art Books is filling niche. Check out their site. The books are nicely printed, without the bells and whistles of other contemporary reprints — these are more on the old Dover Books model in terms of content over form — but quite nice and, frankly, very surprising.
Was that a plug? I think it might have been. It’s Friday, I’m feeling generous.
This week I also read NBM/Papercutz’s recent reissue of The Smurf King, though I did not bring it on the subway, having endured enough ribbing about it from my dear Rachel just around home. Well, friends, I liked it very much. Hadn’t ever read a Smurf comic before, and it’s a deeply strange experience. The logic of when the word “Smurf” is used and when not is a topic best left to someone much smarter than me, like Jog, but the cartooning is superb. That lively line carving out now-familiar but really quite stunning landscapes. And of course there is the nice trick of each character looking alike yet possessing distinct voices. Plus, the political message delivered at the end is funny and wise, allowing you to dip back into the book and look at all the foibles on display, as if getting a bird’s-eye view on an abstract thought (human disfunction).
And finally, I have said this elsewhere and I will say it here: Go forth to Kickstarter and support Amy Lockhart’s animated feature, Dizzler in Maskheraid. The comic it’s based on was published in The Ganzfeld 5, and remains one my proudest moments as editor/publisher dude. Amy has an absurdly funny, completely elastic view of life, and this Dizzler a great creation. Plus, this is all hand-done, exquisitely crafted paper animation. Yes, paper. Imagine! So get out there.