Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The burgeoning contemporary cartoon and comic book phenomenon interests me. As a WWII child, I teethed on comic books and the “funny papers,” and I describe the latter in my new book, GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR, A Verse Retrospective of the Forties. On our 1940’s journey to “Diddy Wah Diddy” (California to you readers…also described in GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR), I can remember my mother and father creating their own “funny paper” by stopping in small Texas towns and buying the local newspaper so they could read the Society page and recreate funny notations about social events. “Listen to this one I just paraphrased,” my mother Dorothy would say to my Dad. “Mrs. J. B. Sweetwater motored to Copperas Cove, site of the famous Cowboy and Spurs Saloon to visit her aging parents, Mr. and Mrs. Brandon Pines and enjoyed afternoon ice cream with relatives and friends. Harold, do you think the ice cream came from the saloon? And what brand of ice cream do you think ‘afternoon ice cream’ is?” There would be deep laughter and on to the next social tidbit. “How about little Miss Patsy Cox made her debut in Swan Lake Saturday at the local theatre?” my father would rejoin. “Can you imagine a lake in the local theatre?” “Oh, Neeny,” (my mother’s name for nincompoop that she used as an endearment for my father) stop now, enough about this polite society we’ve left behind.” Life was amusement in small doses during that summer of our odyssey to California, and I’ll include the poem about the funny papers of this era from GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR at the end of this blog.

When I was preaching at Epiphany Episcopal Church in New Iberia, Louisiana, my comic strip background often reared its head. I alluded to Charlie Brown from the comic strip, “Peanuts,” by Charles Schulz many times, and at my retirement party in the bayou side home of Jeff and Margaret Simon, Bubba Murrell went over to an open piano and began to play the theme song from the television program about Charlie Brown. One of my favorite sermons including Charlie was delivered to the students attending Chapel at Episcopal School of Acadiana one morning. The Gospel that morning had to do with Christ talking about the idea of personal prestige and self exaltation being the opposite of having a simple trusting heart…of authentic Christians exemplifying humility. It seems that Charlie Brown and Lucy are having one of their famous conversations in the living room of their home where Lucy is seated, quietly reading. Thank God, since once she opens her mouth, we usually hear a diatribe. Charlie Brown is munching on a sandwich. Charlie is musing about his hands, saying, “Hands are fascinating things.” In the next frame, he says “I like my hands. I think I have nice hands,” and in the succeeding frame, he stretches out his hands, boasting, “My hands seem to have a lot of character.” Lucy looks up as he goes on. “These are hands which may someday accomplish great things…these are hands which may someday do marvelous works. They may build mighty bridges, heal the sick, or hit home runs, or write soul-stirring novels.” In the concluding frames, Charlie really gets carried away and is bellowing, “These are hands which may someday change the course of destiny.” Lucy has put her book aside by now, and we wait for the axe to fall. She looks down at Charlie’s extended hands and says tartly, “They’ve got jelly on them.” Well, I don’t usually support Lucy’s negative ideas, but that day in Chapel I told the students that she brought Charlie down to his humanity…his humility. I won’t belabor this blog by repeating the sermon, but many times when I’m feeling “puffed up,” I glance down at my hands and remember the jelly story.

Here’s the poem from GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR:

He could press 4,000 pounds and sometimes 36 tons
and enlisted in the “mighty Navy” in 1941,
muscled arms riddled with tattoos, arch enemies he’d foil
in “arful” battles designed to impress his girlfriend Olive Oyl.
Each Sunday at the oak dining table my father read aloud
the adventures of Popeye the sailor man, a character he avowed
could handle any enemy who dared to invade the States,
a spinach-eating hero to all his admiring shipmates,
father shouting at the end of each strip, his own “zap, pow and bam,”
quoting Popeye’s “I yam what I yam, that’s all I yam,”
affirmation of my father’s individuality, a message belying the cartoon,
with Popeye, he was ready to battle Sea Hag, Bluto, and Alice the Goon.
His somber voice deepened, describing the cold cruel world he knew
as that of Little Orphan Annie, another comic icon of WWII.
who formed Jr. Commandos and blew up a German U-boat,
enlisted us to collect scrap metal to keep the US Navy afloat.
On her arm, Lil Annie wore a band with “JC” inscribed upon it,
called herself “Colonel Annie” and demanded we do our bit,
“Gee Whiskers,” my father’s voice would sometimes resound,
“She’s left Daddy Warbucks! Poor girl’s on shaky ground.”
Alley Oop in the Kingdom of Moo who traveled to the moon,
Prince Valiant, the Nordic Prince who fought the hated Hun,
Dagwood, Blondie, and Lil Abner in the Golden Age of comic strips
where our father took us on astonishing Sunday morning trips,
life served up in weekly installments of strange cartoons,
accented by his voice ascending on floating word balloons.

For those of you who haven’t bought your copy of GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR, you can find one at Books Along the Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, or order it at, or write directly to Border Press, P. O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375. If you happen into a bookstore (I mentioned in a former blog) called The Book Inn in Fayetteville, TN, you will find a few copies there. And if you’re enjoying this blog, tell your friends how to log onto the site.
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