The Strangest Pictures I Have Seen #7

Posted by on July 14th, 2010 at 12:36 PM

Yeah, yeah, newspaper comic page dying, we know.  What about the other casualty of the print news implosion?  What about the alternative news weekly, the daily newspaper’s grungy little sister who’s into cutting?  Weekly papers have nurtured some of the most brilliant, original and sarcastic comics in American history, from Jules Feiffer’s pioneering strip in The Village Voice all the way through Life in Hell, Ernie Pook’s Comeek (my vote for #1 greatest comic ever drawn), Dykes to Watch Out For, Red Meat, This Modern World, The K Chronicles, Slowpoke…on and on the list goes, down through the depths of increasing publishing obscurity, descending full fathom five into the rich and strange.  Now, with the alternative weeklies in many cities folding or paying cartoonists an even smaller pittance than they did in their salad days, those waters have grown shallow.

But in the ’80s you could still get away with being weird.

Gertrude’s Follies
by Tom Hachtman

I own a couple of collections of  Tom Hachtman’s Gertrude’s Follies, launched in 1978.  I was turned on to it by Modern Tales founder Joey Manley, who loves Gertrude Stein, because Gertrude’s Follies is a strip starring Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and their friends.  In fact, Joey used to say that he thought my destiny was to be the Gertrude Stein of the comics world, which always made me feel a little weird.

Gertrude’s Follies seems to be one of those comics that attracts a small but deeply lovestruck following.  At one point an animated feature was in the works, under the auspices of animator Michael Sporn, with Tim Curry slated to provide the voice of Alice.  Alas, funding for the movie fell through; Hachtman went on to dabble successfully in animation, caricatures and political cartoons, and now has a nice run of Gertrude’s Follies archived at NowWhatMedia.com.

Gertrude Stein may be the single greatest real-life person to adapt into cartoon form, even greater than Hunter S. Thompson.  For one thing, she looked like a stocky, scowling man in a skirt, an iconic character design.  Beyond that, if you make Gertrude Stein the main character in your comic strip, it opens up so many potential topics:

1. Art
2. Partying
3. Historical partying
4. Gayness
5. Women stuff
6. Famous historical assholes Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso
7. Writing
8. Why Europe is awesome
9. Sex

Snuffy Smith has been running for decades, and it’s only about hillbillies. Think how long you could keep a Gertrude Stein comic going before you started to run out of ideas.

I don’t know how long Gertrude’s Follies lasted; this time the Internet has failed me.  The two collections I own are freewheelingly witty, traipsing from historical humor (the strip where an African tribesman gets pissed at Picasso for ripping off his mask designs is downright Kate Beatonesque) to 1980s pop-culture references (Hachtman likes casting Gertrude and Alice as TV commercial spokeswomen) to fourth-wall-breaking metahumor to curiously touching meditations on art, sex and love.

Where could a strip like this survive today?  Online, supposedly.  Get on the ball, webcartoonists!  Be more weird!

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