Learning to Play a Rigged Game

Mark Evanier works in the television and movie business. He tells this joke when he gives The Speech to some would-be creative artist.

A man arrives in a strange city. He wanders around and eventually finds his way to a local tavern where folks crowd around a roulette wheel to gamble. He pulls some cash from his pocket and joins in.

After a while, a waitress wanders up to him and whispers, “The wheel’s crooked.”

“Thanks,” he says. But he doesn’t quit.

A few minutes later, the waitress notices him still losing money at the table. She sidles back up to him and again whispers, “Didn’t you hear me? The wheel’s crooked!”

“I know,” he says as he lays down another bet and promptly loses again.

The waitress is baffled. “Then why are you still playing?” she asks.

The man replies, “It’s the only wheel in town.”

Evanier has a four-point moral to The Speech.
(1) The system is not fair.
(2) It’s never going to be fair.
(3) You have two choices: Play under the system, as it is, or get out.
(4) If it should happen to pay off, it pays off big.

Coppola, B. P. “Learning to Play a Rigged Game” The National Teaching and Learning Forum, 2000, 9(2), 6-9.

“Still Life with Italian Plum and Silver Creamer (A Meditation on 10 Years)”

“Still Life with Italian Plum & Silver Creamer (A Meditation on 10 Years)” (2017)
by Abbey Ryan (1979-)
4 x 6 in, Oil on Linen on Panel
Coppola Collection

September 23, 2017
by Abbey Ryan

“Today marks 10 years since I began making paintings for this blog. Starting with a pink zinnia, I set out to make a painting a day and to see if I could develop a sustainable painting practice for myself — I had no idea it would lead me to where I am today. Ten years later, my blog has had well beyond a million visitors from over one hundred countries, and my work has been the subject of many interviews and articles, and is in books, magazines, and private, public, and museum collections on six continents. I know these numbers because what comes with the Internet-age is data, and, for better or worse, data is a force of nature. That said, I don’t know exactly how many daily paintings I’ve painted since September 23, 2007. A close estimate is between 1300-1400 hundred paintings.

“More important to me than that number is what my daily painting practice means to me. Spending time doing this created a way of life. Some days are a challenge, but for ten years, this vocation has enriched my life, and this inspires me to continue painting as often as I do. Painting for me is about paying attention and capturing a moment. Contemplative paying attention allows me to have an intimate relationship with my painting subjects. Mutual respect and exchange of energy manifests itself as gesture, movement, weight, edges, texture, and color harmony. I often choose from my collection of handmade pottery or local co-op produce or a scene out my window — and it is magic to me that my subjects can be simultaneously animated and meditative. Painting is both big and small. It is humble and majestic. It is reflective and sometimes difficult. It is present moment and vast potential.

“This blog has made my daily painting practice public, but for me, my daily paintings are intensely personal. They are a sort-of diary of my life. My painting practice is a mindfulness meditation. Through my work, I hope to share with you a sense of awe and wonder I feel about beauty that is all around us in our daily lives. In a small way, I hope my work might awaken the same thing in you.

“Today’s plum is from my local co-op, my colorful shirt was a recent hand-me-down from my wonderful sister, and the silver creamer was an amazing gift I got today.”

“Kanazawa Yajiro Kaikokukidan” (1805)

“Kanazawa Yajiro Kaikokukidan” (1805)
by Katsushika Hokushu (artist, listed as active ca. 1810-1832) and
Kanwatei Onitake (writer, 1760-1818)
17 x 12.5 cm, 10 pp, woodprint on paper
Coppola Collection

This is a book. What I liked about it were the original sketches and doodles. This is potentially a quite early work, from before the period where he is listed as being active.

Shunkôsai Hokushû Personal name Shima Jinsen; pupil of Shôkôsai Hanbei; briefly associated with the Edo master Katsushika Hokusai during a visit to Osaka in 1818.

Arguably the most important print artist in Osaka during the 1810s-20s, designing many printed masterpieces; influenced by the Edo master Katsushika Hokusai (Keikô Fujida of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, Yamaguchi City, identifies the shape of feet and wrinkled garment lines as being particulary derived from Hokusai); credited with establishing the mature Osaka style in the ôban format; widely influential through his printmaking and teaching.

“I’ve Knocked Out Adolf…”

“I’ve Knocked Out Adolf…” (2017)
by Cat Farris (1993-)
8.5 x 11 in., ink and watercolor on heavy board
Coppola Collection

Part of the fund-raising auctions done for The Hero Initiative in honor of the 100th birthday of Jack Kirby.

Captain America taking a swipe at Adolf Hitler is about as iconic as you can get. On top of the obvious symbolism, Cap socking Adolf in the jaw is exactly the cover of Captain America Comics #1 (March 1, 19410.

Then, so many years later, the terrific Marvel Studios movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, built so much of its story on history of the comics. Paolo Rivera built his movie posted around an homage to this cover…

And  the Captain America War Bond Campaign, in the move…

And then the line by Steve Rogers later in the movie…

Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan: “Wait. You know what you’re doing?”
Steve Rogers: “Yeah. I’ve knocked out Adolf Hitler over 200 times.”

Cat Farris is a Portland, OR native, and the creator of the mini comic series Flaccid Badger and the webcomic The Last Diplomat. An illustrator with an animation influence, Farris is best known for her chibi versions of popular superheros and video game characters. Her past work includes art for Emily and The Strangers: Breaking The Record, Harrow County: Tales of Harrow County, occasional inks for the Rick and Morty comic series, and variant covers for several books

“Katakiuchi Uwasa-no-Furuichi” (1857)

“Katakiuchi Uwasa-no-Furuichi” (1857)
by Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825)
35.5 cm x 25 cm, woodblock print on paper
Coppola Collection

Utagawa Toyokuni is often referred to as Toyokuni I, to distinguish him from the members of his school who took over his  (art name) after he died, was known in particular for his kabuki actor prints. He was the second head of the renowned Utagawa School of Japanese woodblock artists, and was the artist who really moved it to the position of great fame and power it occupied for the rest of the nineteenth century.

This print has fantastic depth in person thanks to its fine lines, rich colors, and thick, weighty paper.

I was particularly keen on this one because it was dated 1857, 100 years before I was born. Was this done from one of Toyokuni I blocks after his death. or by one of the successors to his name? I do not know.

“Opposition to the War”

“Opposition to the War” (ca. 1966)
by Herb Trimpe (1939-2015)
8.75 x 11 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

Trimpe was in Vietnam during the mid-1960s before starting his long comics career at Marvel.

This editorial cartoon is not dated.

Although hardly an uncommon phrase, “opposition to the war” was certainly popularized in the 1966 recording of “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” by Simon and Garfunkel, a haunting song that collages the singers doing a version of “Silent Night” with a voice of a news report of events from August 3, 1966.

At the end of the news report, a quote from a speech by “former Vice-President Richard Nixon” to the Veterans of Foreign Wars [actually is was to the American Legion] urging an increase in the war effort in Vietnam, and calling “opposition to the war” the “greatest single weapon working against the United States.”

I can find no mention of Trimpe doing editorial work. The cartoon is interestingly sympathetic to Nixon’s view, yet poignantly sympathetic to the effect on the troops… presumably drawing from Trimpe’s experience.

Joe Camel (1974-1997)

‘Behind the Eight-Ball” (1997)
by Jim Borgman (1954-)
6 x 12 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

The “Joe Camel” character was born in France in 1974. The caricatured camel, inspired by the original 1913 “Old Joe” – the camel on Camels. By 1988, the character had appeared all over Europe and made its move to the US for the 75th anniversary of the brand.

In 1991, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (in a rather brilliant move) argued by inference that the brand recognition, by virtue of this character, was enough to conclude that the company was targeting youth. By age six, as many children could identify “Joe Camel” as they could “Mickey Mouse.” The resulting PR outcry led to the inevitable termination of the character in 1997. Editorial and strip cartoonists got together and commemorated the day… 20 years ago.

John E. Calfree (October 1, 2000) in the  Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, wrote of The Historical Significance of Joe Camel.

There is no evidence that the Joe Camel advertising increased total youth smoking, which declined between 1987 and 1992.

However, the advertisements appear to have wielded substantial influence on the larger political and legal environment. Beginning soon after the publication of three articles in the December 11, 1991, issue of JAMA, Joe Camel became a fixture in attacks on cigarette marketing by public health organizations, advocacy groups, and politicians. The most important of the JAMA results–that the Joe Camel advertisements had their strongest appeal to consumers under 18 years of age and had increased Camel’s share among youth from less than 1% to 33%–turned out to be unsubstantiated. Nonetheless, the idea that Joe Camel advertisements were targeted primarily at underage smokers and dramatically increased smoking persisted in the public health community, the popular press, and government reports.

‘More States Ponder Tobacco Suits” (1996)
by Chuck Asay (1942-)
6 x 8 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection



“I Cover the Horror Front”

“I Cover the Horror Front” (ca. 1944)
by Bruce Russell (1903-1963)
14 x 20 in., ink and wash on posterboard
Coppola Collection

I would love to get a real date on this one, but I’ll bet I am close.

Bruce Russell was a longtime cartoonist for the LA Times. He began at the Times in the early 1930s, starting off with sports cartoons, but in 1934 he became the newspaper’s lead political cartoonist, and held that post until his death in 1963. Russell won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1946, for his cartoon titled “Time to Bridge that Gulch.”

But Russell’s most powerful works were his WWII cartoons. He had a biting edge to his work, unafraid to tackle difficult subjects. Case in point: this cartoon.

You can see that Russell titled the piece, “I Cover the Horror Front”, which is likely a take on a 1933 song, “I Cover the Waterfront” (more about that in a moment).

Syracuse University holds an archive of Russell’s work, as does UCLA. I’ll learn more, one day. There is also a recent book (2015: Cartoonists against the Holocaust, by Medoff & Yoe) that lists Russell and two of his 1938 works. As shown in this book, the references to persecution go right back to the rise of Hitler’s influence in 1933, while specific visual references to the concentration camps themselves are more rare, coming after the reports from the Allies. This is perhaps the most powerful one that I’ve seen.

There are three clues in the image, I think. (1) it was drawn while the war was still on because the Nazis were still flying the flag, (2) a sense of the actual make-up of the camps was known because of the smokestack, so first-hand reports were available, and (3) the title, if in reference to that song, would have needed to be current.

In June 1944, detailed reports (Vrba–Wetzler Report), as written by escapees, were being circulated. The Swiss-Hungarian Students’ League made around 50 mimeographed copies of the Vrba–Wetzler and other Auschwitz reports, which by June 23 had been distributed to the Swiss government and Jewish groups. The students went on to make thousands of other copies, which were passed to other students and the newspapers. As a result of the Swiss press coverage, details appeared in the New York Times on June 4, the BBC World Service on June 15, and the New York Times again on June 20, which carried a 22-line story that 7,000 Jews had been “dragged to gas chambers in the notorious German concentration camps at Birkenau and Auschwitz.”

On July 24, 1944, the Majdanek Concentration Camp became the first concentration camp to be liberated by Soviet troops (and the first to be liberated overall). On Aug 21,1944 Time Magazine published a story titled POLAND: VernichtungslagerLast week the Russian press published the first eye-witness description of a Nazi extermination camp. Wrote Soviet War Correspondent Roman Karmen:  “In the course of all my travels into liberated territory I have never seen a more abominable sight than Maiden, near Lublin, Hitler’s notorious Vernichtungslager [extermination camp] where more than half a million European men, women and children were massacred. . . .* This was not a concentration camp; it was a gigantic murder plant.  “Save for 1,000 living corpses the Red Army found when it entered, no inmate escaped alive.

News about the extermination program was out there, earlier, and studies continue to this day by those researching who knew what, and when, and what actions resulted (or did not).

Throughout the war few Americans were aware of the scale of the European Jewish catastrophe. But by late 1944, three quarters of the American population believed that the Germans had “murdered many people in concentration camps,” but of those willing to estimate how many had been killed, most thought it was 100,000 or fewer. By May 1945, at the end of the war in Europe, most people guessed that about a million (including, it should be noted, both Jews and non-Jews) had been killed in the camps.

The song “I Cover the Waterfront” was inspired by Max Miller’s 1932 best-selling novel of the same name. The book was adapted into a 1933 movie (starring Claudette Colbert). The song had become so instantly popular that the movie was re-scored to include it. Lots of jazz greats, including Louis Armstrong, covered the song. Dating from 1913, the phrase “to cover the waterfront” was a common idiom in the 1930s, meaning “to be thorough and comprehensive in what is presented or dealt with.”

At the height of her popularity, Billie Holiday recorded the song and helped to re-popularize it. She recorded it for the Columbia label on August 7, 1941, and then again, multiple times, on March 25, 1944, by which time it was played frequently during her shows.

I am selecting August 1944 as a reasonable time for this cartoon. We have the first-hand reports of camps coming out in July, stories running in August, and five months since Billie Holiday made multiple recordings of a popular song.