For gay penguins, science and Canada!

A few days ago, this full-page magazine display made the rounds of Facebook:

(#1) Deriding the “Libtard Agenda” while imitating the Johnson Smith Co.’s ads for novelty items in the back pages of comic books and other publications aimed at children

The first copies I saw didn’t identify the creator or the publication the page came from, and there was some question whether it was (as George V. Reilly, invoking Poe’s Law, put it) “a right-wing parody of progressive views, or a left-wing parody of right-wing opinions of progressive views”. Parody, certainly, but from what viewpoint?

So in its form it’s a parody of a genre of advertising hucksterism. And then in its specific content it’s a parody of a style of political talk (either mocking what’s framed as a preoccuption with kale, gun control, facts, and the like, or mocking those who engage in such mockery).

Much has now become clear. To start with, the copy of the page in #1 identifies the creator as Mary Trainor, and that provides enough context to eventually sort things out.

Background 1. Johnson Smith and its kin.From Wikipedia:

(#2) A Johnson Smith ad from 1980

The Johnson Smith Company (Johnson Smith & Co.) is a mail-order company established in 1914 by Alfred Johnson Smith in Chicago, Illinois, USA that sells novelty and gag gift items such as x-ray goggles, whoopee cushions, fake vomit, and joy buzzers. The company moved from Chicago to Racine, Wisconsin in 1926, to Detroit in the 1930s, and from the Detroit area to Bradenton, Florida in 1986.

The company would put ads in magazines devoted to children and young adults such as Boys’ Life, Popular Mechanics and Science Digest. Their ads appeared on the back cover of many historically significant comic books, including Action Comics #1, June 1938 (first appearance of the character Superman) and Detective Comics #27, May 1939 (first appearance of character Batman).

In 1970, humorist Jean Shepherd wrote the introduction for the reprint of The 1929 Johnson Smith & Co. Catalogue.

Johnson Smith is just the biggest of these back-of-the-magazine companies. Other, smaller companies offer(ed) more specialized fare. For example, there are the sea-monkeys, the wonderful sea-monkeys. See my 4/22/16 posting “Joe Orlando: a cartoonist and his sea-monkeys” — with this 1960s ad for them:


Background 2. On libtard and contempt for libtards.

noun libtardUS informal, offensive a person with left-wing political views. ORIGIN early 21st century: blend of liberal and retard. [In fact, some time ago, the –tard of retard took on a life of its own as a formative in word formation, and it’s now a textbook example of a libfix. See my 1/23/10 posting “Libfixes”.]

Both parts come with a sting. From NOAD on one part:

noun retard: informal, offensive a mentally handicapped person (often used as a general term of abuse).[a clipping of retardedGDoS1st cite 1967-8 in a survey of US undergraduate slang]

The Adj/N liberal has an extremely complex history as a political label. In the current usage of US conservatives, it’s a term of contempt and abuse, mocked from the liberal or progressive side by Geoff Nunberg in the wonderful title of his 2006 book:

Talking right: How conservatives turned liberalism into a tax-raising, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show

The right-wing critique mocked here proceeds by enumerating the life styles, the opinions, and the political goals of liberals in a way that treats them as frivolous, impractical, or dowright dangerous. The critique (as mocked by Nunberg and by Trainor in #1) tends to mix the trivial and the weighty in a way that’s familiar from other outpourings of grievance or annoyance combined with calls for action — as in the 1960s/70s campus radical manifestos that I once saw derided as demanding withdrawal from Vietnam, an end to racist policies on campus, and more bicycle racks in front of the library.

Poe’s law and its resolution. From Wikipedia:

Poe’s law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the parodied views. The original statement, by Nathan Poe, read:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.

In the case of #1, context supplies a resolution. Trainor’s career has been centered in two places: the Bongo Comics Group (associated with Matt Groening and The Simpsons) and the new incarnation of MAD Magazine. That’s solid-lefty territory: so #1 is making fun of rightwingers’ sourness about the left.

On Bongo Comics, from Wikipedia:

Bongo Comics Group was a comic book publishing company founded in 1993 by Matt Groening along with Steve & Cindy Vance and Bill Morrison. It published comics related to the animated television series The Simpsons and Futurama, as well as the SpongeBob SquarePants comic; along with original material. It was named after Bongo, a rabbit character in Groening’s comic strip Life in Hell.

Bongo has, at some time in its history, printed Simpsons Comics, Simpsons Comics and Stories, Futurama Comics, Krusty Comics, Lisa Comics, Bart Simpson, Bartman, Itchy & Scratchy Comics and Radioactive Man.

Lisa Comics #1 by Trainor:

(#4) From Alice’s Wonderland: A Visual Journey through Lewis Carroll’s Mad, Mad World by Catherine Nichols (2014), about how Wonderland has been imagined by artists, filmmakers, writers, and others

Then to MAD Magazine, which is where #1 comes from. The thing is, it’s from the April 2019 issue, which isn’t on the stands yet. The cover:

(#5) From Richmond Illustration Inc. (“Caricature and cartoon art studios”) on 2/18/19, “On the Stands: MAD #6” (April 2019)

And the table of contents:

(#6) (Cartoons in there by P.C. Vey and Lars Kenseth, cartoonists I’ve written about on this blog)

A note about MAD, from Wikipedia:

Mad (stylized as MAD) is an American humor magazine founded in 1952 by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines, launched as a comic book before it became a magazine

… From 1952 until 2018, Mad published 550 regular issues … The magazine’s numbering reverted to 1 with its June 2018 issue, coinciding with the magazine’s headquarters move to the West Coast.

From Trainor’s bottom row: gay penguins, kneeling, science, Canada!. Science, dismissed as mumbo-jumbo here, is the weightiest matter; Canada, mocked here as merely the home of Bullwinkle J. Moose, is politically consequential; kneeling in protest, derided as self-advertisement here, is a matter of both political and moral significance; and attention to gay penguins, presumably too ridiculous to merit further attention here, is a stand-in for respect for lgbt people and their rights.

Just can’t let Canada and gay penguins go by without comment.

— Oh Canada! Trainor offers us a maple leaf on a t-shirt on Bullwinkle: a leaf shirt moose ‘moose in a shirt with a leaf on it’. Multi-part compounds are fun.

The resources of the net provide us also with:

(#7) A moose leaf shirt ‘shirt with a leaf with a moose on it on it’

(#8) A leaf moose shirt ‘shirt with a moose with a leaf on it on it’

(I saved the images, then had to do other things, then when I returned, couldn’t find the sources any more. My apologies.)

— Gay penguins. Since I’m a gay man with a penguin totem, obviously of great interest to me. Trainor’s drawing looks like a version of this image:

(#9) A mirror image photo, offered as a representation of the penguin couple Stan and Olli at the Berlin Zoo 🤨

Then there’s this more elaborate creation:

(#10) From Danielle Ackerman’s micmackerman site

Bonus play. On FB, I identified the artist and writer of #1 as Mary Trainor. Then this exchange:

BH: And doesn’t she also do those greeting cards depicting 50s women with snarky speech balloons?

AZ: Betsy Herrington That’s Anne Taintor. Are we starting one of those name [association] chains? [If so, then:] Next up: Nell (Irvin) Painter.

The allusion is to my 3/15/18 posting “Name association chains”:

On this blog on the 13th, some examples of a type of phrasal overlap portmanteau sometimes known as name chains: Billy Zane Grey, Billy Joel Grey, Fletcher Christian Grey. On reading this, Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky pointed me to a different way in which names can be chained, in a series of associations that’s sometimes used as a comedy routine. Elizabeth then sent me a wonderful example from Neil Gaiman’s Tumblr account.

With a chain of comic misidentifications, from various hands, following on Caroline Palmer’s suggestion that Neil Gaiman is the Sandman guy: Nah, I’m pretty sure he’s the dude that sings “Sweet Caroline” — leading to descriptions of:

Neil Diamond, Neil Armstrong, Neil Patrick Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Neil Stevenson, Neil Young, Neil Hannon, Niels Bohr, Niles Crane, Nile Delta, Na’il Diggs, …

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