The Friendship of the Tortoise and the Eagle

The Great Curve posted an image featuring art in the upcoming X-Men: Fairy Tales #2 that immediately reminded me of the two characters in the long running Johnny Hart daily strip B.C. (which was far more entertaining before he started becoming so heavy-handed with the Christianity messages).

Issue #2 is a retelling of the African folk-tale The Friendship of the Tortoise and the Eagle and unlike issue #1, I am looking forward to reading it. I was disappointed in the debut issue because I just figured this was just a cynical attempt by Marvel to grab Fables dollars from DC while continuing to spread the over-exposed X-Men taint like peanut-butter on the genitals of some perverse elderly dog owner. That is correct, I just equated liking the X-Men with a geriatric beastiality fetish. I’m willing to change my basic opinion of the book should Marvel get away from aping tired 1970’s Manga and produce more work in the style of issue #2. I am glad to see that Kyle Baker was doing the art chores so I’ll pick the issue up just for that.

For those not familiar with the tale that X-Men: Fairy Tales #2 is based upon here it is in it’s entirety.

The Friendship of the Tortoise and the Eagle
A Central African Tale

It was not often that the tortoise and the eagle met, for the one spent his days in the clouds and the other in the under a bush. However, when the eagle heard what a warm-hearted little fellow the tortoise was, he went to pay a call on him.

The tortoise family showed such pleasure in his company and fed him so lavishly that the eagle returned again and again, while every time as he flew away he laughed, “Ha, ha! I can enjoy the hospitality of the tortoise on the ground but he can never reach my eyrie in the tree-top!”

The eagle’s frequent visits, his selfishness and ingratitude became the talk of the forest animals.

The eagle and the frog were never on speaking terms, for the eagle was accustomed to swooping down to carry a frog home for supper.

So the frog called from the stream bank, “Friend tortoise, give me beans and I will give you wisdom.” After enjoying the bowl of beans the frog said, “Friend tortoise, the eagle is abusing your kindness, for after every visit he flies away laughing, ‘Ha ha! I can enjoy the hospitality of the tortoise on the ground but he can never enjoy mine, for my eyrie is in the tree-tops.’ Next time the eagle visits you, say, ‘Give me a gourd, and I will send food to your wife and children too’.”

The eagle brought a gourd, enjoyed a feast, and as he left he called back, “I will call later for the present for my wife.”

The eagle flew away laughing to himself as usual, “Ha ha! I have enjoyed the tortoise’s food, but he can never come to my eyrie to taste of mine.”

The frog arrived and said, “Now, tortoise, get into the gourd. Your wife will cover you over with fresh food and the eagle will carry you to his home in the treetops.”

Presently the eagle returned. The tortoise’s wife told him, “My husband is away but he left this gourd filled with food for your family.”

The eagle flew away with the gourd, little suspecting that the tortoise was inside.

The tortoise could hear every word as he laughed, “Ha! ha! I share the tortoise’s food but he can never visit my eyrie to share mine.”

As the gourd was emptied out onto the eagle’s eyrie, the tortoise crawled from it and said, “Friend eagle, you have so often visited my home that I thought it would be nice to enjoy the hospitality of yours.”

The eagle was furious. “I will peck the flesh from your bones,” he said. But he only hurt his beak against the tortoise’s hard back.

“I see what sort of friendship you offer me,” said the tortoise, “when you threaten to tear me limb from limb.” He continued, “Under the circumstances, please take me home, for our pact of friendship is at an end.”

“Take you home, indeed!” shrieked the eagle. “I will fling you to the ground and you will be smashed to bits in your fall.” The tortoise bit hold of the eagle’s leg.

“Let me go, let go of my leg, let go of my leg,” groaned the great bird.

“I will gladly do so when you set me down at my own home,” said the tortoise, and he tightened his hold on the eagle’s leg.

The eagle flew high into the clouds and darted down with the speed of an arrow. He shook his leg. He turned and twirled, but it was to no purpose. He could not rid himself of the tortoise until he set him down safely in his own home.

As the eagle flew away the tortoise called after him, “Friendship requires the contribution of two parties. I welcome you and you welcome me. Since, however, you have chosen to make a mockery of it, laughing at me for my hospitality, you need not call again.”

From The Magic Drum: Tales from Central Africa, by W. F. P. Burton. London: Methuen & Co., 1961.

While it is still too early to tell, as this series matures it could be a good tool to get people interested in reading. Comics are thought to increase an interest among people in reading and the folk tales origins of the title could be much more palatable to schools than the standard super-hero fare. I’d be interested to see select issues of this title made available to schools or reading programs over the life of its’ run.

attention mr sleezebag

I don’t usually receive hate mail (except from the occasional B. A. T.*) in reference to this blog (due to the combination of low readership and my usually innocuous entries), so I was surprised when I received an email the other day from someone who claims to be the child of pulp comic artist Maurice Whitman. He apparently found exception to this entry, Comic Book Covers: Firehair vs Tiger Girl, in which I state the similarity between two comic covers as being “lazy”work by the artist.

attention mr sleezebag, oh my apologys ….sleestak, what you know of my father is 0, and an art critic you are not , if you did your home work , my father was considered one of the most versitile artist out there , and as far as the rest of those artist you mentioned copying my dads stuff , news flash , they all worked together at one point in time and alot of the work they did together was a collaberated effort , you may enjoy reading comics , and collecting them , however you dont have a clue what goes into the imagination it takes to come up with all that art work from scratch ,simply from a script . so unless your painting such works as leonardo davinci , shut your hole , untill you do …jon whitman

Sorry, sport. I calls ’em like I sees ’em. Two covers of similar theme and layout that are nearly identical I would have to critique as the product of taking a shortcut. From a purely creative standpoint it is lazy. To be nicer about it though, I recognize that comic artists of decades past were grossly underpaid and overworked. So out of respect for work I respect I am willing to couch what I perceived as not a best example of original work by a master of the genre not as lazy, but rather as frugal. If I worked under the same horrible terms and deadlines as most creative teams did back in the early days of comics then I might also avoid going to the genius well too often out of worry I’d drain the aquifer and create a sink hole of suck.

My original post really praises the work of Whitman and found fun in comparison of the covers. After all, monkey covers rule! Maurice Whitman is one of the greats of the era and if anyone collects vintage comics for the cover art then he definitely needs to be on the shortlist of must have artists. That said, I was dissapointed by the lack of creative originality of the latter cover.

* Byrne Attack Troll

Throw Away Genius: WKRP in Cincinnati

WKRP was a late 1970’s television show about a cast of mostly incompetent characters working at one of the worst-rated radio stations in Cincinnati. WKRP was funny, touching and brilliant and was helmed by great writing, producing and actors with an impeccable sense of comedic timing. The number of jokes in each episode was high. When many other programs labored to produce only a few funny moments per show, WKRP threw away more laugh-out-loud gags per minute than you could count.

In this YouTube clip is an example of the unique genius that was the television show WKRP, the fine point of which is missed by many. This clip is usually referenced as the episode when WKRP disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever, played by Howard Hessman, deigned to play one of the Top 40 songs from the stations’ mandatory playlist. One of the running gags of the show was that Johnny refused to play songs from the official list as a matter of principle. Partly because he thought the music was poor and partly because he liked to stick it to the management.

In the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter” (18 Feb 1980) Johnny finally meets his estranged daughter and hates her boyfriend. After a few attempts to be a Dad, Johnny realizes it is too late to make up for all those years of his absence. Or is it? Johnny and his daughter come to an understanding of sorts and after she leaves, Johnny later receives a letter.

The letter, which is read at the end of the show, is done in the familiar device of the scribe speaking in a voice-over as the recipient reads along silently. Now here is where the genius comes in.

After putting on to play a Top 40 song, Johnny reads the letter. He smiles and nods at appropriate moments and turns the letter over to continue reading, flips the page back to re-read a sentence and turns the letter over again. All the while the voice-over stays in perfect synch with Johnny’s reading.

As I said, genius. And throw away genius, at that. The realistic way Johnny read the letter with the interrupted voice-over synchronization was a great gimmick that probably went unnoticed by many. The show was full of moments like that.