When I was youngster of 18 (who looked 13) I was fortunate to work at a splendid book and comic emporium in Falls Church, Virginia. One day I was filing new books and I came across a tome I’d never seen before, and certainly couldn’t afford – Bruce McCall’s Zany Afternoons.
I was too young to have encountered the articles there collected in their original homes in the National Lampoon and Esquire. And somehow I missed him among the articles in Dad’s Playboys. But this compendium was a cavalcade of hilarious drawings. And better still, outrageous captions and accompanying text pieces that torpedoed the gloss and smarm of advertising. It was almost as though The New Yorker had tried it’s hand at redesigning the beloved Wacky Packs of my youth. In Major Howdy Bixby’s Album of Forgotten Warbirds the stoic Brit’s Humbley-Pudge Gallipoli Heavyish Bomber, and the fiendish Germans’ Dinkel GX Kleinefeuerwerkswaffe or”Little Fireworks Weapon” fought the hapless Italians’ Caproni-Moroni for the honor of dumbest warplane.
The RMS Tyrranic (The Biggest Thing in All the World) featured in its glowing brochure a photo labelled “Mutton is taken. X Deck”. Page after page, the book was a nonstop exercise in fun. The author had created a surreal catalogue of all my boyhood enthusiasms and put them together in a way I never could. It took me many years (and a good friend in hinterlands so remote she found one on still the shelves) to get a copy of my own. I still count it as a favorite.
Later still, Barnes and Noble put out a hardcover reprint of the paperback original. They were gone from the shelves before I knew to look (and many assume them the 1st edition. After all what lunatic would publish the hardback second?).
On my recent trip east, I was presented with Thin Ice, author Bruce McCall’s autobiography. I had barely begun his tale of Canadian dysfunction and wishful patricide when I got word that my own father had, after a slow and horrific decline, finally died. So, the long-awaited reading became an unbidden exercise in comparing and contrasting.
I’ve long held that McCall is a better author than artist, and Thin Ice proves that, in spades. Again and again I’ve seen writers and artists goaded into creative work, into creating their own worlds where they might know a minutes respite from their daily strife, and where the rules finally made sense. When I suggested to my friends at Periscope Studios that a colleague seemed to be making comics for this very reason, they all seemed to stare and sadly nod their heads. OF COURSE he does. It seems that most everyone starts out that way – however much some of us might pretend otherwise. I was lucky enough to have a good parents (and an intervening fairy Godmother [I cannot recommend such a Godmother highly enough. If you find one, please let me know]) and I seem to have accordingly exorcised most of my adolescent drama. Sadly, McCall’s father T.C. was a tyrant, and his exorcism will never be complete. But as I reread Zany Afternoons today and marveled again at the cleverness and creativity forged in the furnace of his frosty Canadian Hell, I wondered which parts of his ghastly childhood I’d have spared him if I could.