One of the most polished of the crop of new strips is Dogs of C-Kennel, whose cast is chiefly dogs and other critters at an animal shelter. The strip doubtless glistens with a patina of storytelling panache because it is produced by a pair of accomplished comic strippers: Mick and Mason Mastroianni are the grandsons of Johnny Hart, and Mason has been drawing B.C. since his grandfather died and has subsequently assumed head writer status, too, and he also serves as contributing editor for Wizard of Id, the other Hart legacy; Mick, meanwhile, is head writer for Wizard of Id and contributing writer for B.C. The Mastroianni brothers may not be the entire mastermind cabal on the Hart agenda, but they undoubtedly are the chief operatives at the Johnny Hart Studio.
Growing up in the Hart penumbra, both boys gravitated into cartooning enterprises. Mason more handily, I suspect, than Mick.
As a kid, Mason was always drawing and entered, and won, many local and state art contests. He attended the DAVE School (Digital Animation and Visual Effects) in Orlando, Florida, and after graduation, went to work in CG animation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where his work at Wet Cement Productions earned the company an Emmy award for computer graphic animation. When his grandfather died, Mason returned to New York and took up the Hart pen on B.C.
Mick also spent his youth drawing, and after graduating from high school, he, too, went to Orlando, where he became a stuntman and precision driver, but his affection for the canine population led him to volunteer his spare time at the Orlando SPCA, and while feeding dogs and cleaning kennels and scratching himself behind the ears, Mick started thinking about a comic strip.
“There was a wing of the animal shelter that was out away from the main part,” he told Rob Tornoe at Editor & Publisher, “âit was called C Kennel, and I thought it must be where they kept the misfit dogs. I also thought it was a catchy name.”
For a year or so, Mick developed his four-legged cast and wrote gags. Then he asked his brother to join him and draw the strip. Mason agreed, and starting in February 2007, Creators Syndicate began featuring Dogs of C-Kennel on its website as a comic strip in development. Now, the strip is out in the world, seeking client newspapers.
Here are some of the dog strips Mick and Mason are producing, beginning with a couple of Sundays. Notice the high percentage of gags that depend upon a blending of word and picture, a definitive signal that the producers are cartoonists.
But the art of the comic strip also depends upon timing, as the last example above demonstrates. Part of the timing here consists of jamming a lot into the second panel: the several speech balloons convey by their number and clustering the impression of rapid-fire blurts of speech. And Kennyâs pose, clambering up on Willâs head and covering Willâs eyes in his nearly panicky eagerness to view and comprehend the tv program theyâre watching, is the comedic high point in this installment.
Timing is also the mechanism of the comedy in our next examples.
In the last strip above, the punchline is the final picture, but the preceding panels have timed Willâs utterances and Kennyâs doggy impatience with the object of getting to the punchline. Without the timingâwithholding information, dribbling it out a bit at a time, panel by panelâthe humor in the last picture would be considerably diminished. And Kennyâs panting visage adds yet another visual dimension to the comedy.
Odds & Addenda: In my November 18 review of Patrick Rosenkranzâs Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975, I took umbrage at the authorâs uncritical acceptance of Robert Williamsâ claim that his phone was being tapped by mysterious agents of the government and his fear that he, and other underground cartoonists, would soon get carted off toÂ an internment camp.
Partly, I was complaining that Rosenkranz didnât offer any demurer about Williamsâ assertionâno qualifying hesitancy, for instance, or suggestion that maybe Williams was exaggerating. But partly I was also pooh-poohing the notion that internment camps existed back in the 1970s; that seemed particularly outlandish. Still does. But that doesnât mean itâs wholly imaginary, as Jay Lynch recently assured me:
“On Williams’ quotes on the paranoia of the era over surveillance: Many of us did get our FBI files under the old Freedom of Information Act which confirmed said surveillance . And documents have been released and countless books written about the Fed’s MK ULTRA program which further confirm that we were being watched by the Fed. So it would seem to me that the surveillance issue would be well known by the average reader of 1960s lore. And going into MK ULTRA would have been as unnecessary for Rosenkranz to have gone into as say the reason for Nixon’s resignation.”
I had forgotten about J. Edgar Hoover; had I clawed memory of him and his paranoia up from the back of my mind, I wouldnât have questioned Williamsâ claim about being surveilled. Thatâs not really so outlandish, given the times, and it, by itself, wouldnât have prodded my dubiousness. But the internment campsâthat was a little over the top. For the early 1970s.
Lynch tells me Iâm being naive, and he may be right. In any event, I donât question the existence of internment camps today: GeeDubya and Darth Cheney have worked their subrosa magic wonderfully. (Although I never thought Iâd use “magic” and “wonderfully” in the same sentence as “GeeDubya” and “Darth Cheney.”)
My apologies to Williams and to Rosenkranz.