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Dean Mullaney has a bit of good news for fans of former Popeye writer and artist Bobby London: The next volume of the Library of American Comics’ collection Popeye: The Classic Newspaper Comics by Bobby London will include the first three weeks of the abortion-themed sequence that got London fired — and six weeks’ worth of unpublished strips that were never sent out to newspapers.
Here’s what happened back in 1992, as related at the time by London in an interview with the Comic Art and Graffix Gallery: After writing a strip in which the Sea Hag said “Drat! There goes Roe v. Wade” without getting any pushback from his editors, London figured the topic was fair game and created a storyline in which Olive Oyl, who has a serious Home Shopping Network addiction, gets a baby robot she doesn’t remember ordering and decides to send it back. Despite the fact that the robot is a spitting image of Bluto, Popeye’s arch enemy, Popeye wants her to keep it. Two clergymen overhear them arguing and jump to the wrong conclusion, that Olive Oyl is “in a family way” by Bluto and wants to get an abortion (although the actual word is not used in the strip — the clergymen just call it “the A-word”). One clergyman muses that she must keep the child, and when the other one points out that Bluto is the son of Satan, he retorts, “You fool!! Without Satan, we’re out of a job!! No Satan, no US … You dig?!!”
This John Kerschbaum interview is long overdue. After I interviewed John Arcudi back in January 2009, he suggested I interview John Kerschbaum. In fact, he mentioned Kerschbaum in the course of our interview: “Petey and Pussy creator John Kerschbaum is the best cartoonist working in funnybooks right now. And he’s not working nearly enough.” My apologies to Kerschbaum for the time it took to make this interview happen (he agreed to it back in late January, but I was unable to get questions to him until May), so I am really glad to run this finally. Kerschbaum, who was a 2008 Eisner nominee in the Best Humor Publication category for Petey and Pussy, was kind enough to discuss this most recent Fantagraphics book as well as the work he has self-published through his own Fontanelle Press. Enjoy.
Tim O’Shea: Looking at your work to date, is there any line of comedy that you are afraid to cross?
John Kerschbaum: I don’t know if I’m motivated by fear, per se, but I tend to shy away from specifically offending people. That is, I avoid ethnic, political or religious humor, that type of stuff. I like to think I’m more of an equal-opportunity offender.
But that’s not to say I think any of those topics are taboo. There are talented cartoonists, humorists and comedians that mine those territories for humor whose work I really enjoy. It’s all about the context in which it’s being done and the abilities of the cartoonist doing it. Just because something CAN be funny doesn’t mean is always IS. There’s a time and place for everything.