Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Behold! The Comics Page!



Behold! The Comics Page!

By
Gyan C. A. Fernando.
With illustrations by N Senthilkumaran

This Sunday morning, as usual, I got up at the crack of dawn at 1030 hrs. and after the usual refreshing cup of tea I went straight into the Plus section of The Sunday Times and shock horror there were no cartoons!
Did that register with you? No?
I said that there were no cartoons! There were no cartoons at all! This was very definitely the start of a bad, bad day.
Behold the cartoon page



I looked at the sky. The sun was still shining.
I hit the side of my head a couple of times against the wall to get the old cerebrum into gear in case I had suddenly gone cartoon blind.
Nothing happened! There was no cartoon page!
Grrrrr! I said viciously and my sister’s pseudo Dobermann said ditto in sympathy with me. (Well actually, the vicious little so-and-so detests me, but that is BTW.)

I immediately tried to contact the Editors of this newspaper but being Sunday, the lazy (expletives deleted) were not working! Can you believe that? It was only after I had gulped down my pre-luncheon shot of White Label did I calm down a little bit.
Fortunately for me I usually get my daily dose of ‘toons on the web in two languages. Por exemplo, I first read Garfield in Espanol and I laugh in Spanish (Je! Je! Je!). Then I read Garfield in English and I laugh in English (He! He! He!). This keeps my old brain active.

Some of us who grew up in the 60’s grew up on comics. Comic books were relatively expensive then but newspapers were cheap. So we thrived on the newspaper cartoon strips. Some armchair pundits of that era were of the pompous opinion that cartoons were not good for kids. But fortunately, my parents were liberal minded. Maybe we did learn some bad words like “Damn!” and “Blast!” but on the whole our vocabularies improved.
In those days most Sri Lankan, or rather Ceylon daily newspapers, carried a few strips at least and some carried a full page of strips.

Ahhh! Those were the days!
There was a full page of strips in some dailies and apart from Tintin, there was Mr Abernathy, Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, Mutt and Jeff, The Gambols, Dennis The Menace, Henry, Blondie (still alive and well) and of course Bringing Up Father. The latter, popularly known as Jiggs and Maggie, ran for many years but is now sadly defunct.
One of the earliest strips that I can remember was a silent strip The Little King by Soglow. The strips of Little King are now collectors’ items.

Then there were the serious strips like Tarzan and Mandrake the Magician.
The only reason that I still admire the Americans is because they invented the comics page. Organisations like the King Features Syndicate are household names and to this day US rags run loads of ‘toons. Garfield would not have seen the light of day if not for these sinisterly named “Syndicates”. 

The Cartoon Syndicates were the brainchild of William Randolph Hearst who owned a lot of American newspapers. This explains why US newspapers ran cartoons and still continue to do so. He was probably a thoroughly despicable guy but then he did a lot of good for struggling cartoonists.
In this respect, Great Britain is pretty backward. The staid old The Times (of London which is the original Times) never runs strips but some tabloids and local papers do. The venerable Andy Capp appeared in the British Daily Mirror and still continues in spite of Reg Smythe having moved onto the Great Syndicate in the Sky. Then there were The Perishers now also sadly defunct.
Behold the cartoon page

Widescreen Garfield
A few years ago, residing in the West Country of GB, I used to read Garfield in a respectable local newspaper, The Western Morning News. This was the only strip that they ran.
One day, because of space restraints, the morons in the typesetting department started squeezing Garfield to fit their column width. Unfortunately, the idiots failed to maintain the horizontal-vertical ratio and Garfield, who is notoriously fat, appeared unnaturally slim. This was totally unacceptable and as they say in Britain: “I say old chap! This is completely off!”
As usual I was driven by the solitary bee buzzing in my bonnet. I wrote letters firstly to the Editor of the said newspaper, the typesetting department, the Printers’ Union, to Tony Blair, the then PM of GB, to Queen Elizabeth and to Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield.

The first to reply was Jim Davis who obviously was chuffed with my concerns about Garfield’s girth or the lack thereof. “Go for it Gyan!” he encouraged me. Closely following this was a letter from Tony Blair! It was an election year which explains his concerns about Garfield, I need to add.

Behold the cartoon page

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Garfield
Elizabeth’s secretary did acknowledge my letter, which was good enough of a royal seal of approval for me to start the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Garfield (RSPCG), but the best response I got was from the Print Unions who threatened to go on strike! The unions are always on the lookout for any excuse to go on strike which explains their concerns.

Needless to say that, the Western Morning News, buckled under this overwhelming pressure from the Printer Friends of Garfield and the RSPCG. I felt like a hero! Like Garfield!
Within seven days, the time limit set by the Unions to stop the presses, they the WM News, adjusted the width of the strip and Garfield appeared in full bloom! I expected to be invited to Buckingham Palace but Elizabeth probably doesn’t read the Western Morning News.

Peter Pan Syndrome
Until very recent times I had a vast collection of comics of the funny kind. Thinking that this was a good weapon to use against me in our divorce, my wife wrote to her lawyers, mentioned my vast collection of the aforementioned items which, in her opinion, reflected my “immaturity” and then, sounding authoritative, concluded that I suffered from the “Peter Pan Syndrome”!.
You know Peter Pan don’t you, J.M. Barrie’s the “Boy-Who-Never-Grew-Up”?
Unfortunately, it backfired on her when I took it as a compliment and was chuffed to bits about it. No doubt the venerable old Judge did think of his own collection of comics, which he probably kept hidden under his Bench and which he consulted from time to time, when he smilingly signed our Decree Absolute!
Who got the custody of the comic books? Sadly, she did!
Behold the cartoon page


Fundamental Right
Getting back to the matter in hand, if ever our Sunday Times drops the cartoon page again I am going to write to our supreme commander, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
I do not want to put further pressure on the Sri Lankan Government, but if he, Mahinda, doesn’t reply, I and Kumaran (the guy who draws ‘toons for my articles) might write to the United Nations!
Apart from ruining our Sunday mornings, it is a serious violation of our Fundamental Rights thingummy!
Behold the cartoon page


Copyright Gyan C A Fernando 2013
First published in the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka 12th May 2013







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