Sunday, October 29, 2017

Best Magazine Reads: Beetle Bailey and Connecticut's "Cartoon County"

I've visited Fairfield, Connecticut before because some of my wife’s cousins live there. What I didn’t know about the outer New York City suburb is that it had been home to an inordinate number of famous daily-newspaper cartoonists.

Mort Walker (pictured to the right) is perhaps the most famous of the crew detailed in a fantastic article in the September issue of Vanity Fair. I rank his Beetle Bailey as one of my favorite dailies, up there with Archie, Garfield, Peanuts, and, actually, several other strips emanating from Cartoon County, including Hagar the Horrible, Blondie, Popeye, The Family Circus, and Hi and Lois. The place also has ties to Superman, Tarzan, Prince Valiant, and many others. It’s really pretty phenomenal.

The cartoonists lived different lives than the working men (and the cartoonists seem to have been all men) who headed into the city each day. They sat at home in their offices that smelled of sharpened pencils, tobacco, and whiskey, were pretty domesticated by their families, and only went into the city on Wednesdays to show off their latest works to various publishers and editors. Then sometimes they would go to gatherings with the other cartoonists to drink lots of Manhattans. And they played quite a bit of golf and took lots of naps. Pretty nice work if you can get it. Maybe that’s why “cartoonist” was always on my short list of potential professions!

The author, son of the Prince Valiant cartoon, notes that Cartoon County was a quirk in time. Cartoonists were rock stars, creating the most-read portions of the newspapers, up until the early 60s, when Hearst killed what the group considered its Mount Olympus, the New York Journal-American. Then later Wall Street further killed Fairfield County as an affordable place where cartoonists could live comfortably.

Even I remember a time when the newspaper would clunk down near the front door. I would run out to get it and grab the funny pages, and maybe sometimes the sports section, and throw the rest of it down wherever. At that point, I was a remnant of an earlier age, when just about every kid (and adult) couldn’t miss the cartoons each and every day, with the special, fuller, mostly-color Sunday editions being the highlight of each week.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Battle of the Sexes tries to reach the dramatic level of real tennis

Tennis has been one of my lifelong passions.

But there have been few tennis movies that have come close to matching the drama of McEnroe vs. Borg or Nadal vs. Federer or, heck, even Gustavo Kuerten vs. Sergi Bruguera.

I mean, how can you match the beauty and story of the likes of the above short on Guga's first French Open win or those of my other favorite men's players of all time (ranked):

10. Andy Roddick
09. Roger Federer
08. Pete Sampras
07. Bjorn Borg
06. Arthur Ashe
05. Rafael Nadal
04. Andre Agassi
03. Jimmy Conners
02. Gustavo Kuerten
01. John McEnroe

This week, Hollywood nearly reached the higher plane of actual tennis, when we caught Battle of the Sexes at E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. As an interesting side note, we happened into free tickets because the Secret Service wanted to move us along in line so we wouldn't disturb the entrance of Mike Pence and Josh Brolin attending the premiere of Only the Brave.

I have to admit that Billie Jean King always got on my nerves, but when she was playing, I was far too young to understand the cultural significance of her off-court actions. She never seemed to be that exciting when I watched her play against the likes of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

But I was too young to have known about the match between King and Bobby Riggs, played in the movie with lovable squirm-ability by the incapable-of-not-being-funny Steve Carell. And Emma Stone made me forget any of my biases against King, as she plays her with determined vulnerability.

This movie, like Hidden Figures and other recent historical dramas, should be enjoyable for just about anyone, whether you're interested in the actual subject matter or not.

For me, it's an added bonus that I have that tennis obsession. Now if only I could find the time to get back out on the court to win a few more competitive championships in TennisDC.

4 out of 5 stars