How I Met the Godfather

Posted by on June 23rd, 2010 at 9:08 AM

If you want to see a harmless old drudge being made fun of and having sand kicked at him, you’ll want to see the video that opened the festivities at the National Cartoonists Society’s Reubens dinner last month. It’s called the “Godfather video” in various of the venues where it’s being shown, but it has other identifying titles. YouTube is one of the places you can see it, but I think you can find it most easily at Alan Gardner’s (Well, I can find it most easily there, but that’s because I don’t know how to work YouTube; if you do, you’ll doubtless go there.)

And one of the ways to get to the Daily Cartoonist is by going to, then clicking on “blog” at the upper right in the green strip. After that page comes up, scroll down until you come to the heading “Comic Book/Cartooning Blogs” in the right-hand column; the second listing (right under my own Rants and Raves) is the Daily Cartoonist.

Once you click yourself there, you scroll down again until you get to June 9; then look for “Another NCS Soon to be Classic Video” and when you find it, click on the heading and the YouTube screen pops up; press the play button.

(When I first looked for the video, the YouTube screen was on the GoComics home page; but it has probably moved on to other locales by this time.)

The “actors” in this extravaganza are actually cartoonists, not actors. In order of appearance, they are: Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Jeff Keane (Family Circus and NCS President), Jerry Scott (Baby Blues, Zits), Bill Hinds (Tank McNamara, Cleats), Mark Tatulli (Lio, Heart of the City), Sean Parkes (Illustrator), and Tom Gammill (The Doozies).

The opening gambit features Pastis, whose complaint to the Godfather, Keane, stems from something a fellow posing as “R.C. Harvey” wrote about Pearls Before Swine. In order to properly appreciate Pastis’ dilemma (and the joke), you need to know what I wrote when I was discussing the NCS nominees for Cartoonist of the Year, one of whom was Pastis. Here’s what I wrote on March 8 here in Hare Tonic:

“Pearls Before Swine is by Stephan Pastis, whose tooth-picked olive draftsmanship bespeaks of convenience rather than ineptitude and therefore can be seen, at least by some of us easily insulted multitudes, as insulting to cartooning even while being hilarious in its affront. (And why are the characters so often apparently seated at a lunch counter or kitchen table? Is Pastis too busy elsewhere to draw feet? Toothpick feet?)”

In other places at other times, I have explained that my judgement that his “draftsmanship bespeaks of convenience rather than ineptitude” is based upon the clear evidence that Pastis can draw better than his tooth-picked hors d’oeuvres imply he can. When he draws himself in the strip, which he does with alarming but jocular self-deprecating regularity, he appears as a regular cartoon character; the tooth picks—the stick-drawing style that he deploys to draw Rat and Pig—aren’t there.

And when Pastis arranges cameo roles for characters in other comic strips, those characters show up as perfect clones of the originals, a clear and convincing demonstration of Pastis’ superior drawing skill.

So if he can draw that well, why does he persist in doing stick figures? It’s almost as if he is saying to his cartooning colleagues: “Hey, guys—go ahead and waste your time drawing your elaborate pictures; I’m getting away with stick figures, so nyah nyah nyah.”

That’s the insult embedded in his drawing mannerism.

The other insult Pastis perpetrates is in the strip’s title. If his strip is “pearls before swine,” who are the swine? Me and thee, tovarich. And if being called a “swine” isn’t insulting to you, then your sense of humor is as perverse as Pastis’—and mine.

I didn’t know this video existed, having not attended this year’s Reuben weekend. But when a couple friends referred me to it a week or so ago, I went to it.

I can’t say much about it, though—much more than I’ve already said—because my hearing is so bad I can’t make out much of what Pastis was saying. I had my wife look at it, but since she doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he talks with a heavy accent (which he assumed for the role; his normal accent is much lighter), she couldn’t help much. But it seems to me, picking up a word here and there, that all his best lines he found in my remarks (quoted above) about Pearls.

I’ve always thought Pastis took my alleged criticism better than anyone else who got involved in that voluminous comment strand when Gardner quoted my Hare Tonic screed in Daily Cartoonist—that is, Pastis took it not very seriously.

And he was right. I mean, that “convenience rather than ineptitude” formulation for calling the strip an insult to cartoonists is byzantine in its so-called logical contortion. The whole construct is a mockery of academic comics criticism.

And I think, from what I can hear in this parody, Pastis is carrying on famously in that vein.

To others that missed the mockery, I must apologize for constructing a jibe so elaborate that it appeared to be the real thing, serious criticism (which, in a way, it is, albeit in a very minor key). That’s the pitfall lurking in the ironies of parody, as numerous others before me have discovered.

The NCS Godfather parody comes apart at the seams eventually not because of irony but because the “actors” refuse to give up their amateur standing. All except Jeff Keane. The best reason for watching the video is to see him playing Marlon Brando’s godfather. Keane is ABSOLUTELY STUNNING in the role. What an act.

Only a fool would follow such a performance.

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