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Old 07-07-2018, 11:56 AM   #1
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Franz Mailer, Master Cartoonist

[DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual people or places is purely satirical in nature.]


It was a dark and stormy night at the offices of Diatribe Comics (really just an “R & D lab” for their much larger parent company, according to some authorities) and the editors were in a tizzy.



“These pages are crap!” said one. “I mean straight up inky shite.”

“I know, I know,” said the other, putting a coffee-stained styrofoam cup to his mouth before realizing it was empty, for the twentieth time. “But Franz Mailer is a legend in the field! We could stamp his name on a dog turd and it would sell half-a-million copies to his fans!”



“This is true,” said the first, a (relatively) young 40-something with tattoos and a kind of sparkly dragon design on his form-fitting t-shirt. “But there are LIMITS. There must be limits. I mean, I have to think there are... such... limits... at some point. Right?”

His baggy-eyed pal sighed and almost lifted the cup again before finally remembering it was empty.

“No you’re right,” he said. “There’s a lot of blowback out there in fandom. I don’t even have to go online... I’ve been catching funny looks from short people in long hallways... You can just feel it in the air.”



The younger editor mused privately to himself that this was unlikely, as nobody really seemed to read comics anymore. His colleague was probably just paranoid, imagining that they were under more scrutiny than circulation figures could justify. The really horrifying truth was that they could publish their kids’ refrigerator scribblings across the entire line and maybe one guy in Poughkeepsie would notice--- and HE wouldn’t even be arsed enough about it to send them a rambling irate email.

But instead of expressing this, he played along.

“Yes, we’re becoming a laughingstock. The whole industry is giggling with schadenfreude, before using these pages to wipe themselves!”

“Actually the first couple installments were passable, I’d say. If you like that sort of thing. And with a top colorist going along behind him to make it look pretty. But this last batch he turned in... It’s like he walked off one of those craggy piers he’s always drawing and fell in the drink.”

“How long do you think it took him? Ten minutes per page?”

“If that. I don’t think he even penciled the thing. Just straight inks. And half-assed inks at that. He’s such a mad-man.”

“He’s a genius though. A mad genius. Maybe we should let him do it, in respect to his past work. You know, if he wants to coast, fine, coast. Rest on your laurels, Franz: you’ve earned it.”

“Yeah, but this...”

WHAP! A worn leather satchel slapped down on their conference table, spilling forth a large sheaf of bristol board paper.



“Ooh, pages!” said the editors, gleeful for some distraction from their worries. But would this bring new ones in their stead?

“Howdy-ho, gentlemen,” said the gray-haired, fashionably discheveled cartoonist who had brought the pages. It was Jan Clauson, the European emigre who had spent several decades inking the top talents in the field, as well as penciling his own work and teaching young hopefuls at the School of Pictorial Artistry here in New York.

“You look worried, mein freunds,” Jan perceived accurately, a slight trace of an accent still present beneath his polished English.

“Worried ain’t the half of it!” agreed the editors, “but let’s see what you’ve brought in. Ooooh! Now this is respectable, Jan... This we can put the ‘Diatribe’ logo on without fear of desecrating a 70-year-old institution, ya know?”



“Ja, you think so? Well, mein freunds, Bobby Kippet is no Franz Mailer, and I sometimes yawn when inking these pages; but I suppose they appeal to this generation.”

Bobby Kippet was drawing the main chapters of “Dark Viking 3” --- the editors had made sure of that, knowing already that Mailer was getting too wonky to hold down the entire book.

“Geez, Jan, I think he’s great! I can’t see a single thing wrong with these pages! It’s exactly in line with the script we approved. Bobby is the perfect artist, as far as I’m concerned. He may not be a GENIUS, like some, but that has its pros & cons, you know...”

Clauson, murmuring epithets to himself under his breath, then noticed the pages already strewn around the large table.

“Are these Franz’s latest? Can I see?”

“Oh god, if you don’t mind having your eyeballs melted out of your skull, be my guest!”

“Yeah, have at it! I’m getting some more coffee --- and then maybe jumping out the window, if I can get the damn thing open. Modern architecture, I’m tellin’ ya...”



Clauson flipped through the pages as the editors left the glass-walled conference room. He was a pretty big Franz Mailer fan himself, with reservations to be sure, but on the whole a devotee.

And yet... These pages, even for Franz, were pretty far gone. Would Diatribe actually publish this? It was almost at the level of some underground experimental comic, like something Fancygraphics would do. Or even a smaller, weirder zine place. Almost too wonky for Fancygraphics, mein gott!

But the Dark Viking always was an edgy, experimental “universe.” Clauson had inked the original back in the eighties. Although in those days Franz was still BECOMING a legend, and was closer to his hungry, striving days, aching to “draw well,” like a pro... ARTSY, to be sure. Franz was always artsy. Brilliant sense of design, passionate about ideas and storytelling. But not so entitled and complacent as this latest chapter...

The editors came back, buoyed by a new round of java. They were full of pep and... What was that twinkle in their eyes? It was not entirely to Clauson’s liking...

“Hey, Jan... We were thinking...”

“Ja? That is novelty around here, yes?”

“Hahaha... Good one, Jan! Now listen, you must see this ship is coasting dangerously near the breakers here. You saw his latest?”



“Ja, I saw.”

“Now, MAYBE the color can work some miracles there. Photoshop is a wonderful, wonderful thing...”

(Clauson had mixed views on Photoshop, but kept silent.)

“Anyway, we can’t see publishing ALL the remaining chapters that way. Suppose it gets WORSE! So, we need you to be...”

“Ja?”

“Our Aquaman.”

“Aquaman?”

“Ja... I mean ‘yes,’ Aquaman. You know, save us from the eddies! Drag this ship back into the tradewaters, or whatever it’s called... I’m an editor, I should know.. But anyway, rescue us, Jan!”

“And how am I to do that, gentlemen?”

“You inked him before.. Why not ink him again? Take his pencils as rough finishes and clean them up. Make ’em more like the old Franz. You can do that, can’t you? We’ll pay you for pencils as well, but (in the interest of being discreet) maybe just credit you as inker... The fans, you know, they want as much Mailer as they can get...”

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Old 07-07-2018, 12:01 PM   #2
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“Wellll....”

“Come on, Jan! Do it! Do it... for Diatribe.”

“Let me see. I call Franz. I talk to him. I see how he feels about it. These days, I think he likes to ink himself, maybe.”

“But you’ll call? You’ll see what he says? Fantastic! Now look Jan, feel him out, but this is what we want. Be delicate, be discreet, but it may be the only way this thing sees completion. Otherwise, hoo boy, I hate to think... we might have to bury it, cut the print run in half, totally stop promoting it, not collect it, etc.”

Lighting crashed as Clauson turned to leave. The editors glowed maniacally for a brief moment, like characters in some hardboiled pulp fiction, who’d just been spared by the arrival of Mike Hammer, the dark knight of detective fiction. They raised their foam cups high and laughed with relief, a sweaty sheen on their scalps, as Clauson weaved his way out through the maze of empty desks and cubicles.



* * * * *

The links were still wet from last night’s rain.

Clauson had called that morning about having lunch, and Mailer’s assistant had informed him that Mr. Mailer was already out on hole nine, at an exclusive country club frequented by many of New York’s media and publishing elites. Of course cartoonists were small fries in this world, but among cartoonists, Mailer was a whale. His concepts had been made into motion pictures, featured in news stories, and hyped as revolutionizing the comics medium. And, evidently, earned him enough to take the day off and knock around a little white ball for sport. Well, he had earned it thought Clauson (though a workaholic himself, who could never bear to be away from the drawing table for too long.)

He found Franz somewhere out on the back nine, utterly alone, concentrating intently at... something? He was holding his niblick frozen as though he’d just swung it, looking off in the distance.



“Franz?”

No response. Clauson gingerly picked his way through the wet grass, pointlessly: his shoes had been soaked through instantaneously, from the first step onto the course.

“Franz? It is I, Jan...”

Why wouldn’t he look up? The funny little man (though a genius) stood as if in a trance. Still frozen, he finally said “Hi, Jan.”

“Franz! Mein gott, I wondered would you talk.”

“Well, it’s not often you get a hole in one.”

“But, Franz...”

“Yes, I can’t see the ball anywhere out there, so I assume it went in the hole.”

“Franz. Is at your feet. Ze ball, she is here.”

Anger flashed across Mailer’s face as he finally looked Clauson’s way. Then he looked down where, indeed, lay a dimpled white ball.



“That’s not it! I like to hit multiples. You’re looking at a multiple there. The ball I hit is in the hole, Jan.”

“Ah I see, Franz. My bad.”

“Anyway, I’m done here. I’ve had enough of this damn snooty patrician’s sport. What was it you wanted to see me about?”

“Well, Franz... Is somewhat delicate. Is about DV3.”

“What about it?”

“I was just up at the Diatribe offices last night... You know, we were wondering... It’s up to you of course, but maybe the approach we used for DV1 was better in some ways...”

“Ya think?”

“Ja, maybe... I think. You know, what if I ink your pencils, too? Might help to UNIFY the book, if I ink yours and Bobby’s.”

“Jesus. How’d I get roped into this, that’s what I wanna know.”

Franz lit up: Camels. Low-tar.



“I mean come on,” Franz continued. “Bobby’s a sweet kid and all, but so by-the-book. He’s probably really earnestly doing his best, he just doesn’t have the flare or panache... well, like I do, not to brag but...”

“No no, is true Franz. I fall asleep on those pages. I’m too old to be inking such things, but is my dutiful nature. It’s a job.”

“I mean I was excited at first... But now; yeah, you saw my last batch of pages up at the offices? Five minutes a page. Tops.”

“Only five? Impressive, ja, I guessed ten...”

“It’s not just the kid, Jan. It’s everything. World’s changing. I can’t take my own bullshit as seriously as I used to. I used to be a BELIEVER, you know? In superheroes, ha ha. In the industry, the medium, in art. Now... I don’t know what it is... I still like a good juicy brush stroke, a wiry pen line.. But I feel the wheel has turned, the meaning has gone out of things...”



“Ja... Well, then I ink, okay Franz?”

“Yeah.. Sure.. Yeah, I don’t know what it is.”

“Actually, speaking as an artist, Franz. I’m okay with the last batch myself. Very rough, yes; but it’s honest, you know? I can appreciate that. But from an editor’s point of view, I can see it might be beyond the pale.”

“Oh yeah. Sure. Yeah, and it’s my ‘handwriting’ anyway, you try to clean it up, that’ll be its own form of ‘butchery.’ But very subtle butchery. Less obvious to the unstudied eye.”

“Ja, those big eyes Franz... in some ways is an abomination to merge with my ‘handwriting.’ But these are subtle points...”

“Indeed. Well, thank god anyway. The sooner I can wash my hands of it the better. Hey, let me ask you...”

“Ja?”

“Is my bloviation fooling anybody? All my narrative pontification and pseudo-profundities?”

“You are meaning ze caption boxes? All ze little musings sprinkled here and there, coming from who-knows-which character?”

“Yeah, yeah. Does it seem ‘deep’? Clever, at least? Do I still have it? I mean that’s what superhero fans of these years demand, I guess...”

“To be honest Franz, I don’t have a clue what any of it means.”

“No? Well, good. Maybe I’ll hide behind that. If people don’t ‘get it,’ they might think it’s profound.”

“Ja, is strategy...”

“The truth is, I DO have one or two ‘big ideas’ buried in there... you know, these alien humanoid super people could represent the Jewish people... Or on another level, the aristocracy. Or, a meritocratic elite. There’s a lotta ways it could go. Half the time I don’t know what I even think about it. Just trying to spin a lot of BS around it so people don’t know WHAT to think.”

“Right, some kind of allegory.”

“Exactly. Keep ’em guessin’.”

“Good plan.”

“I was just worried, maybe my bloviations had gotten to about the same level as my DRAWING. But no, that’s easier to fake your way through. Always. Especially in a damn superhero comic.”

“Right.”

“Ever since the 80s, you know. Used to have to have real stories, but now it’s just a few bloody fight scenes, and a shit-ton of caption boxes about some vague global concerns or personal soapboxing by the hot writer du jour... Or, by me...”




“Absolutely. Well, I should be getting back to ze old inkwell...”

“Right you are, Jan. And me... Hmm, I still haven’t looked at today’s Wall Street Journal. Maybe there’s one in the clubhouse...”



As Clauson squooshed off onto the pavement, dreaming of getting back to his office and finding fresh socks, the clouds remained but the day brightened slightly; exactly the sort of overcast lighting that gave every person and object a crisp delineation, such as Bobby Kippet favored. It would not be the hardboiled expressive lighting of a Mailer/Clauson outing, not today. They would do things Diatribe’s way, and it would be mediocre, and it would be met with indifference, neither love nor hate; and they would move onto the next project, where passion might (or might not) once more infuse their pens and brushes, as it had in the glory days of the 1980s.

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Old 07-08-2018, 10:23 AM   #3
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Really intriguing.
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Old 07-08-2018, 05:02 PM   #4
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Wonderful. Brings a tear to my good eye.
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Old 07-10-2018, 11:03 PM   #5
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Toondoctor, thank you.

PBD, just know that Forest Whittaker and Peter Falk both had lazy eyes and it didn't stop them from success in Hollywood.
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Old 07-10-2018, 11:39 PM   #6
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I'm digging this.
Franz is soo edgy.... pretty sure I have a few of his older crime comics. Hahaha

Just read 'the master race' recently too. Was thinking that someone got a bit lazy in the art dept.
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Old 07-11-2018, 04:27 PM   #7
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Sevans, that is the book that inspired this. Funny thing is I actually LIKE Miller's very rough inks (well mostly, not always.) But I can see where it would be hard to stomach for the average reader. I haven't read any reviews or seen any fan reaction anywhere though, so I don't know how the book was received.
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Old 07-11-2018, 06:02 PM   #8
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I loved and hated it. Some panels were sparce and simple but worked really well.
Others had anatomy that a 10 year old might draw...in a hurry.

Stylised and simple, Yes. Just bad, No.

I got the book from a library, but I might still buy it. I actually liked it more than DK2 (oops DV2)
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Old 07-12-2018, 06:02 PM   #9
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Haha that makes me want to go back and look at "DV2" again.

I really could not figure out what the metaphor or "point" was with Master Race. Maybe some reviewer has explained it.

You're right of course some of the art is very rough... I don't know why I'm indulgent about it, I guess I appreciate Miller's innovative work and originality in superhero comics. His past work. So I cut him some slack now, if he still wants to mess with it.. Also, um, I got mine from the library too so, hey, whatever...

And... I'll take BAD Miller, over boring, gray, bland modern superhero art (not naming names cough cough AK) any day. That stuff is technically good maybe, but doesn't interest me like Miller, even Miller when he must be high on pain pills or coughing up phlegm all over the pages or something.
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Old 07-12-2018, 07:44 PM   #10
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He still has moments of quality.
I have his Hard Boilded, Big Guy and Rusty, various Sin City and a few Robocops.
When he's on form.... love it.

Must be my slightly dark sense of taste.
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