When Columbus sailed the ocean blue

Monday Book Review

October 12, 1992|By Mike Lane

WAS IT WORTH IT?: A COLLECTION OF INTERNATIONA CARTOONS ABOUT COLUMBUS AND HIS TRIP TO AMERICA. Edited by Michael Ricci and Joseph George Szabo. Witty World Publications. 109 Pages.

POOR Christopher Columbus! He has been the victim of some very bad press on the 500th anniversary of his discovery of America. (Some say properly so, considering what he did to the indigenous populations he found here.)

But Columbus was merely one of the great entrepreneurs of his day, a sea-going Ivan Boesky with a hostile buyout plan the New World couldn't ignore. We just have to shed the image we grew up with of him as kindly neighborhood explorer.

Poor Joseph George Szabo, too. The cartoon entrepreneur from North Wales, Pa., has published a collection on Columbus that matches the general mood of this anniversary: cynical, misinformed and -- even worse for a cartoon collection -- not funny.

Mr. Szabo, I hasten to add, is the cartoonists' best friend. He publishes work of the highest quality and provides one of the few world-wide forums for cartoonists on the pages of his magazine, Witty World.

But maybe he should have left Columbus alone. What Mr. Szabo gives us is a collection of comic drawings from 38 countries that bashes the U.S., our customs and our current problems using poor Christopher Columbus as the foil for his cartoonists' wit. It's a bit galling, moreover, that so many of these comic assaults come from our so-called friends. There are, for example, pictorial jokes on:

Coca Cola themes, from Hungary, Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Mickey Mouse themes, from the U.S., Turkey, Estonia and South Africa.

Big Mac themes, from Croatia.

Marlboro themes, from Portugal.

Marilyn Monroe themes, from France (funny drawing, though).

Most of these qualify under the category of misinformed, since Columbus himself never set foot in North America and the new continent ended up being named after Amerigo Vespucci anyway, mainly because Vespucci had a better PR man.

The cartoons that would win the award for cynicism mostly deal with the U.S. problems with drugs, alcohol, big cities, race relations, smoking and even the advertising industry. (The hypocrisy award goes to Israel's Mik Jaro, whose entry portrays a down-and-out Indian sitting amid trash cans in the inner city -- as if Israel never heard of the Palestinians.)

I'm all for cartoon fisticuffs, of course, since that's how I make my living. Lord knows, there's nothing better than a good shot to the head with the old ink bottle.

But perhaps it would have been better if Mr. Szabo had used only American cartoonists. They might not have been any funnier but surely they would have been more on the mark. I doubt, for example, that any U.S. cartoonists would have portrayed Columbus arriving to find Indians arrayed on the beach a la California surfers, as one Spanish entry does. Go figure.

Still, I can heartily recommend you buy this book because we cartoonists need all the attention we can get (I'm not in it) and because it's a decent collection of examples from varied cultures.

But it really has very little to say about Columbus and I suspect that after the many long and tedious hours putting this collection together, Mr. Szabo, too, was moved to ask: Was it worth it?

Mike Lane is editorial page cartoonist for The Evening Sun.

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