Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac


Harrison Ford cracked a mean bullwhip as the title character in the Indiana Jones series of films. Ford wasn’t born brandishing a bullwhip; he had to learn it for the films. And he was taught by bullwhip master, Lash LaRue born on June 16, 1917.

Like many actors in the 40s and 50s, LaRue spent most of his career making B-Westerns. Originally hired because he looked enough like Humphrey Bogart that producers thought this would draw in more viewers, he used his real last name as the name for most of his film characters. He was given the name Lash because, although he carried a gun, he was noted for preferring to use an 18-foot-long bullwhip to take on bad guys. Lash not only disarmed bad guys, he performed many stunts such as saving people about to fall to their doom by wrapping his whip around them — often while at full gallop on Black Diamond, his trusty horse — and pulling them to safety. Lash, like a guy named Cash, was also known for always wearing black.

After starting out as a sidekick to singing cowboy Eddie Dean, he earned his own series of Western films and his own sidekick, Fuzzy Q. Jones (Al St. John), inherited from Buster Crabbe. He also got his very own villain — an evil, cigar-smoking twin brother, The Frontier Phantom.

His films ran from 1947 to 1951. The comic book series that was named after his screen character lasted even longer, appearing in 1949 and running for 12 years as one of the most popular western comics published.


face down in a cranberry bog, part 5: driving mr. corpse

We needed my car because she had asked me, and I had agreed, to mind the body for a few hours while she got a government car and fussed with the paperwork so that the vehicle would never have been on the island. I had agreed to this cloak-and-dagger enterprise only because I couldn’t come up with a better one and, face it, I was seduced. When I returned I found her standing at the scene of the accident, looking down into the bog. For a moment, I was afraid she’d moved him again. She smiled and took my hand as I reached her, then led me off toward the bushes, our arms swinging between us – a most romantic portrait, except for the corpse. He was still lying face down and I was happy for that. The red boxer shorts had been cloaked by a distinguished dark gray governmental suit.

“You dressed him,” I said.

“It was the least I could do,” she said, with a little laugh. “After all, I undressed him.”

We lugged the body out of the bushes and slipped it into the trunk of my car, keeping a wary watch for prying policemen until the deed was done.

We agreed to meet at my place – foolish, perhaps, but my garage is more private than most places. I slept for two hours – fitfully, even though the morning had exhausted me – and, once up, puttered impatiently, waiting for her arrival. Finally I turned on the TV and watched two senators calling each other names over an appropriations bill. The political repartee immediately brought to mind the politician in my trunk and I felt the need to check up on him – possibly afraid he’d disappear again. I went to the garage and, with just a little foreboding, carefully opened the trunk. Unwarranted foreboding, for he was still there. I never thought I’d be relieved to find a body in the trunk of my car. Unfortunately, he had shifted, and his ghostly face now looked up chidingly, suggesting that I was somehow unAmerican. I tried to push him back over and felt something hard in the jacket pocket. I reached in and pulled the object out – a knife, an ugly knife. Working almost mechanically now in the grip of this new fear, I unbuttoned the crisp white shirt and – to no great surprise – found a wound in his chest. Looking back to the knife, I was certain it was the father of the wound.

I returned to the house. On TV the smiling anchor paused to glare at me as though I had been holding up his news program and only now could he continue . . . “And boarding a private jet at Logan Airport, here is Prince Leopold, chief of state of this tiny but strategically important nation. No one has indicated why the Prince made this secretive trip to the United States, but rumors suggested that he was seeking financial backing to save his crumbling empire. Those rumors, and his own angry statements, suggest also that he is going home empty-handed. His companion, thought by many to actually be his mistress….”

And there she was, my bicyclist, my co-conspirator, my would-be lover, once again gazing at me. Even though she was getting on that plane and even though the smile wasn’t there, I could see it in her eyes – she probably still loved me.

The knife is sitting on the table in front of me. I’m sure mine will be the only prints on it. Did she seduce him for the cause, hoping to blackmail him, or did she kill him because he turned them down? Did she actually make love to him? Probably not. Probably just the promise of it, like the promise to me. I probably should feel sorry for myself. A lot of people bicycle to ‘Sconset, but I’m pushing sixty and had to stop halfway. And now there’s a knife on my table, a dead Secretary of State in the trunk of my car, and the chief of police doesn’t like me much.

The snarl at the other end of the line tells me I’ve reached him. “Hello there. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m the one who found the body this morning – you know, the body that disappeared. Well, you’re not going to believe this. No, let me put that another way. This is quite extraordinary, but I’m sure if you look at it logically and carefully, you will believe it. Anyway . . .”


This story is included in the collection Naughty Marietta and Other Stories.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac


Walter Lantz, who was born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents,  actually had the surname Lanza until an immigration official anglicized it. Had he not, Walter could have grown up to be an opera singer rather than the creator of Woody Woodpecker and many other cartoon characters.

The first of these characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, star of a 1928 cartoon series for Lantz_OswaldUniversal Studios. The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, had once belonged to Disney. Lantz won it in a game of poker.

Other less memorable characters followed: a trio of chimps, Meany, Miny and Moe; Baby-Face Mouse; Snuffy Skunk; Doxie (a dachshund); and monkeys Jock and Jill. One character stood out from the crowd – Andy Panda became the comic star for 1939.

A year later, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford. While on their honeymoon, Walter and Grace were pestered by an insistent woodywoodpecker02woodpecker pecking on their roof, and Grace suggested that Walter use the bird as a cartoon character. Woody Woodpecker appeared for the first time in an Andy Panda cartoon and soon became a leading character.

Mel Blanc was originally the voice of Woody Woodpecker, but after only three cartoons, he left to join Warner Brothers. Lantz held anonymous auditions for a new Woody. Lantz’s wife Grace made a secret audition tape and was chosen to be the new voice. She continued in the part until production ceased in 1972.

Woody Woodpecker is the only comic character to have his own hit song. Kay Kyser recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” a top hit and Academy Award nominee in 1948.

Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Oh, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song.  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore.

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Athlete turned actor, Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II), looking back over his career, could easily have said “been there, done that.” After winning Olympic gold in 1932 for freestyle swimming, Crabbe dived into the movies, eventually starring in over a hundred movies, first taking a turn as the jungle hero in Tarzan the Fearless in the 1933 serial and a variety of jungle men in movies such as King of the Jungle that same year,  Jungle Man in 1941, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo.
Leaving the jungle for the far reaches of space, he played both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. His three Flash Gordon serials were Saturday morning staples in the 30s and 40s. The serials were also compiled into full-length movies. They appeared extensively on American television in the 1950s and 60s, and eventually were edited for release on home video. Later on television, Crabbe also found his way into the French Foreign Legion. As his acting career wound down, he became a spokesman for his own line of swimming pools. He died on April 23, 1983.

Don’t Try This at Home

According to the National Rifle Association, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  On the other hand, if you were to make a fist with your index finger pointing at your intended victim, and shout Bang, bang, you’re dead, chances are the only injury inflicted would be to your pride as you endured the derisive laughter all around you.

On yet another hand, take the case of William Lawlis Pace. Nine-year-old Billy was accidently shot in the head by his older brother. Pace died on April 23, 2012.  In his sleep.  At a California nursing home – 94 and a half years after the incident. The bullet was still in his head.

Doctors in Texas where the shooting took place left the .22 caliber bullet in his head because – well, because that’s what they do in Texas.

In 2006, Pace was crowned the Guinness world record holder in the category of “unwanted cranial ammunition acquisition.” A proud moment indeed, and Wayne LaPierre did not attend the ceremony.

Thank God, the Second Amendment still protects a citizen’s right to walk around for 94 years with a bullet in his head.

Matilda, Part 4: Starry Starry Night

Humberto and Odus had already powered through a bottle of Harold’s rum in anticipation of the evening and were speculating once again on the lengths to which their prisoner might go to avoid being set afloat, even though, Humberto promised Odus, she’d be set afloat anyway, when she emerged from below, radiant, slightly flushed, blonde hair neatly combed. She wore a delicate gossamer dress.

“Sorry I took so long,” she said, smiling and sitting on the edge of a chaise lounge. Humberto had killed the engines earlier, and the yacht now gently rocked with the movement of the water.

“That’s all right,” he said, staring at her. “You’re very pretty.”

“Goddamn,” mumbled Odus, staring as well.

“Thank you,” said Matilda. “May I have a drink?”

“Yes, yes,” said Humberto, pouring rum into three tumblers. The two men had discussed at length exactly how much they should let her drink so she might reach a peak of wild abandon, yet not pass out, although Odus had made it clear that her passing out wouldn’t make any difference to him.

“It’s a beautiful night,” said Matilda, sipping at her rum. “So starry.”

“Great night for gettin’ it on,” said Odus, grinning and gulping at his rum. Matilda smiled at him, and Odus accepted her smile as encouragement. “Great night for really gettin’ it on,” he added. Matilda just smiled again, then lowered her eyes to her drink. Humberto and Odus downed their drinks, and Humberto filled their glasses. They watched and fidgeted as their quarry sipped in slow motion.

“How about a little chugalug?” said Odus, lifting his glass. “To a starry gettin’ it on night.” They all emptied their glasses, and Humberto winked at Odus who burped in reply. Humberto quickly refilled the three glasses. Matilda looked around.

“I’ll kind of miss the yacht. But Harold will just get another one, so it doesn’t matter much. How many boats have you stolen?”

“Six, seven maybe,” said Humberto.

“So are you really gonna go through with it?” said Odus.

“Of course,” said Matilda. “I promised.”

“Well, when we gonna do it?” shouted Odus.

“Soon,” said Matilda. “After I have another drink. I need to get warmed up.”

“You get yourself good and hot,” said Odus. He was sweating again. “I gotta pee first, anyhow. Save my place.” He stood and walked away, swaying as though they were adrift in a stormy sea.

“I really don’t like him very much,” said Matilda, looking at Humberto through big eyes. “It would be better with just the two of us.”

Humberto grinned. “He’ll probably pass out any way. Here, we’ll help him along.” He poured more rum into his missing partner’s glass and winked at her.

“Just us two,” said Matilda, putting her hand on his arm. She spotted Odus weaving toward them and said more loudly: “And after you steal them, can you always sell them – or fence them – do you fence boats?”

“I guess so,” said Humberto, also in a stage voice. “Sweet Leilani will pay $100,000 for this baby.”

“Wow,” said Matilda. “Who’s Sweet Leilani?”

“He runs a saloon in Caracas,” Humberto answered.


“Real name’s Jack McIntyre,” said Odus, still standing and swaying. “They call him Sweet Leilani ’cause it’s Sweet Leilani’s Saloon. Why don’t you take your clothes off now, and be sweet t’us.”


Matilda is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac


Inventors are born every day, and April 5, 1951, was no exception. Dean Kamen was an inventor as well as a master of hype. Among his inventions are the iBOT an all-terrain electric wheelchair and a device that uses compressed air to launch SWAT teams to the roofs of tall buildings in a single bound.  Interestingly enough, Kamen’s father was an illustrator for Mad and Weird Science.

The most famous of his inventions by far was a closely guarded secret that he claimed would change the world when made public.  Among those touting its revolutionary potential was Apple’s Steve Jobs. Unveiled in 2001, the Segway is an electric, self-balancing human transporter. It has two parallel wheels and is controlled by the shifting of the operator’s body weight. Its computerized gyroscopes make it almost impossible to tip over (although George W. Bush did in a test drive).

Consumer reaction was more a whimper than a bang. About the only groups it caught on with are mall and airport security personnel. Adding to the insult, Time Magazine included the Segway in its list of the 50 worst inventions.

British entrepreneur Jimi Heseleden bought the Segway company in 2010. He died that same year when he fell off a cliff while riding his Segway.

Back Before the Wheel

Another important invention made its debut on April 5, 1939 — Dr. Elbert Wonmug’s time machine. Oh, there had been time machines before this, but this would be the first to transport and honest-to-goodness caveman from way back in the Bone Age right into the 20th century. The caveman was none other than Alley Oop, beamed in from the kingdom of Moo where for the past seven years he had been doing typical caveman things — riding around on his pet dinosaur in a furry loincloth, brandishing his big club at his many enemies, and courting the lovely Ooola.
But once in the 20th century with a time machine to beam him about, Oop was no longer bound by prehistoric limitations. He became a roving ambassador, traveling to such destinations as ancient Egypt, Arthurian England and the American frontier, rubbing elbows with such folks as Robin Hood, Cleopatra, Ulysses, Shakespeare and Napoleon. At one point he even visited the moon. Pretty impressive for a Neanderthal.



Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

March 2, 1985: Steering the Ark of Decorum to Saner Shores

When he put down his pencil on March 2, 1985, Gus Arriola brought to an end a classic comic strip that had endured for 45 years, appearing in as many as 270 newspapers. During that span, Gordo (meaning Fatso) had evolved from a Mexican version of Li’l Abner — a lazy, overweight bean farmer who fit the American stereotype of Mexicans (but not yet as rapist and murderer) — to an “accidental ambassador’ for Mexican culture.

Arriola wrote, illustrated and produced the strip throughout its run except during a stint in the army, although he regularly used tongue in cheek pseudonyms such as Overa Cheever, Liv Anlern, Kant Wynn, and Bob N. Frapples for his Sunday strips.

Along with Gordo, there were his nephew Pepito, poet Paris Juarez Keats Garcia, housekeeper Tehuana Mama and the widow hot in pursuit of bachelor Gordo, Artemesia Rosalinda Gonzalez. And pets Poosy Gato, Señor Dog, and Bug Rogers (a spider).

As Arriola became aware of the strip’s cultural influence over the years, he began to present Gordo as a more complex sympathetic character — more depth, less girth. In 1954, Gordo lost his farm and went to work as a tour guide, traveling throughout Mexico and presenting a more nuanced view of Mexican life.

Charles Schulz said Gordo was “probably the most beautifully drawn strip in the history of the business.” Arriola died in 2008.

Gordo strip for March 2, 1985:

Grave Intrigue in Heidiland

Swiss auto mechanics turned thieves, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev, had a great idea for a heist. They executed their bold plan with daring and cunning in the wee hours of March 2, 1978. Their target: a 300-pound oak coffin in the village of Corsier, Switzerland. Inside the coffin, was the body of the Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin, who had died on Christmas day of the previous year. The graverobbers phoned Chaplin’s widow Oona with their demand for £400,000 a few days later.

Oona was having none of it. “Charlie would have thought it rather ridiculous,” she said, refusing to pay. A cat and mouse game between police and the robbers ensued as the police set up phony payoff meetings. The robbers got cold feet, however, and contact was never made, although police and robbers continued to communicate in an effort to achieve their disparate goals.

So dogged were the Swiss police that they put 200 phone booths under surveillance. The robbers again called Oona, whose phone had been tapped. The call was traced, and the hapless thieves were arrested. The men led police to a cornfield where they had buried the body. Chaplin was buried once again in the same burial plot, surrounded by a thick layer of concrete where he has since rested in peace.

Other robbers have made attempts to steal notable remains, Elvis Presley for a supposed ransom of $10 million and Abraham Lincoln for a mere $200,000. Neither attempt got very far, but as a result the bodies of Presley and his mother were moved from a Memphis cemetery to Graceland and 24-hour security monitoring. The 16th President now rests in a steel cage ten feet below ground, covered by concrete.

Judy Drownded, Part 4: Creating the Monster

Visitors were strictly forbidden entry to El Sid’s studio, even Leland Armbrewster, the man who hired the director. But thanks to Chicken Avery, who had received a personal invitation from his friend, the international sex symbol, and who had allowed Leland to accompany him, Leland Armbrewster was now stepping into the magical world of Hollywood, or at least the Soleil version of it.

They stepped through the door and down into the two feet of water that covered the floor of the entire building. The floor underneath had been painted turquoise to give the whole place a tropical sea look. As astonishing as this was to Leland, it was not nearly as astonishing as what he saw when he looked up from his wet legs and across the large room. There protruding from the water was a huge gargoyle-like head with mouth open and teeth bared. And it was purple. Nearby, a purple arm also stretched from the water, holding out a flat hand, palm upward, on which sat Rainbeaux Derriere.

Before Leland could even catch his breath, El Sid, who sat in a director’s chair also in the water, shouted “Action.” The gargoyle’s eyes jerked open and rolled back and forth; the giant arm vibrated. The bikini-clad starlet bounced in its mechanized hand, doing her best to stay aboard. Her bikini top suddenly exploded and fluttered to the water below. “Cut,” yelled the director.

The arm stopped moving, and Rainbeaux climbed down and ran through the water to the two men. “Monsieur Leland, Poulet Cheri, isn’t it exciting?” she gushed, as the two men just stared at her internationally acclaimed breasts.

With months passing without a single sighting, relieved islanders thought the creature had left their little paradise. But then late at night, its fearful countenance rose from the waters, eying two young lovers, who barely escaped its sinister clutches. With an entire ocean to plunder, what keeps this monster lurking beneath the waters of tranquil Booby Bay? According to scientists, the creature, in addition to devouring nubile maidens and assorted others, feeds on fauna unique to these waters. Accompanying this press release was a blurry photograph of a grotesque purple face.

The photograph had a strong legitimizing effect, and the Soleil tourist trade doubled almost overnight. During the day, pasty-faced visitors lined the beach; knobby knees pointed seaward, pina coladas held high. Every now and then an unknown something would disturb the serenity of the turquoise water, and a murmur would race up and down the line of spectators before the incident was explained by a passing boat or a dolphin or a swimmer. And the audience would return to watching and waiting.

At night, the braver of the tourists would venture out into local nightspots – even places such as the Crab Hole, where “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” had been superseded by “The Adventures of Chicken Avery.” Leland Armbrewster would dream dollar signs.


Judy Drownded is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac


On January 13, 1404, the British Parliament under the guidance of King Henry IV signed into law an act that would endear them all to millions of today’s schoolkids — the Act Against Multipliers. Oops. Turns out he wasn’t outlawing multiplication tables. Back then multipliers were what we know as alchemists.

Alchemy actually had a somewhat noble background. Alchemists sought to purify, mature and perfect certain things — an elixir of immortality here, a cure-all for disease there, perfection of the human body, perfection of the human soul. But what really got the alchemists’ juices flowing was the use of philosopher’s stone to transform base metals into “noble metals” such as gold and silver.

And that’s exactly what Henry was making illegal — the possibility of some commoner making himself very rich, causing a redistribution of wealth and income equality that would bring ruin on the state. It would be as if in the U.S. today any Tom Dick or Harry could own as large and garish hotel as a president.

Therefore “none from henceforth should use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication, and if any the same do, they incur the pain of felony.” Off with their heads, most likely.

Philosopher’s stone is available from Amazon.

Where’s a Henry IV When You Need Him?

On January 13, 1854, alchemist turned musical inventor Anthony Foss received a patent for his accordion, a strange device shaped like a box with a bellows that is compressed or expanded while pressing buttons or keys which cause pallets to open and air to flow across strips of brass or steel, creating something that vaguely resembles music. It is sometimes called a squeezebox. The person playing it is called an accordionist (or squeezeboxer?)

The harmonium and concertina are cousins. And, yes, there is a World Accordion Day.

M – I – C.  K – E – Y . . .

The first Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared on January 13, 1930:

Island in the Sun, Conclusion

Several days passed before the bulldozer arrived.  During that time, Santo kept a constant vigil at the olive tree.  During the day, tourists passing by would sometimes stop to talk to Santo.  Most had already heard of the crazy man and his olive tree, but Santo’s disarming smile and his bullfriendliness would make them wonder whether he were crazy or merely a man with a cause, which is hardly so crazy.  Knowing that he remained night and day at the tree, some would bring him food and would sit and talk with him while he ate.

The young couple from the south of England shivered as Santo told them about sleeping on the dock in Trinidad after loading a banana boat and awaking to find a fat tarantula sitting on his chest staring at him.  The three ladies from California gushed over his tales of Spain during the last days of Generalissimo Franco.  And the young Montrealer listened until well after midnight as Santo talked of his time in Algeria with the French Foreign Legion.

The bulldozer arrived early the next morning.  Santo had to shake himself awake, and for a moment, he thought he was awaking from a nightmare in which he was about to be eaten by a huge yellow monster.  But even with his eyes open, the yellow monster remained, growling at him.

“Go away, crazy one,” shouted Luis Jordan from atop the chugging beast. Luis was a young man who had come to the island to do construction work; he didn’t belong on the island.  He was an angry, combative young man, frequently picking fights, and Santo didn’t like him much.  “You don’t think I’ll plow you down, do you, crazy man?”

“I am not crazy,” answered Santo.  “Go away.”

“Don’t be smart with me, crazy man.  You won’t stop me.  I don’t care if you live or die.  You’re trespassing.  I can plow you under and nobody will say anything.  I’ll take down that damn tree, and I’ll take you down with it.  Believe me.”

“I believe you.”

“As you should,” boasted Luis.  “Now stand aside.”

“I can’t stand aside.  This is my place.  It was my mama’s and my papa’s, and it was their mama’s and papa’s.  Go away and leave me alone.”

“I warned you,” said Luis, grinning as though he were really happy that Santo would not move, that he would have the pleasure of plowing him under.  “Good riddance to your lunacy.”  The bulldozer’s engine whined, and the beast lurched forward.  Santo stood his ground as the yellow monster bore down on him, it’s driver laughing.  Santo closed his eyes.

The Crystal Coral Beach Club was a magnificent place.  It straddled a mile’s worth of white sand beach and bathed it in grandeur and opulence.  Open for the first time this season, it was an unqualified success, drawing tourists from throughout the world and remaining fully occupied.  Hopes were high that it would bring years of prosperity to the tiny island.

On this day, the first anniversary of groundbreaking for the beach club, a large throng of tourists had gathered together.  The story of the Beach Club’s shaky beginnings had traveled from the swimming pool to the tennis courts to the lounge and to the bright blue water and back.  This was to be a celebration of that day of confrontation.

The olive tree had grown to nearly ten feet and was beautiful to behold; looking at this tree, it was hardly surprising that so many people considered olive trees holy.  Santo emerged from the modest house just beyond the tree, a house flanked by hibiscus, bougainvillea, and the beach club’s 156 luxury rooms.  Santo the celebrity beamed as he joined the others at the tree and shared a toast with the couple from the south of England, the three ladies from California, the Montrealer, and the others who had been here last year, the ones who had ignored the metallic whine of impending doom to suddenly join Santo in front of his tiny tree, linking their arms with his in defiance of the bulldozer.

With a grin, Santo pointed to where, even though it defied all the rules of horticulture and all the laws of botany (but didn’t surprise Santo or his friends one little bit), a single olive clung tenaciously to a branch of his olive tree.

 Listen to Island in the Sun

Island in the Sun is one of 15 stories in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac





  The editors of the New York Evening Journal did not think it suitable for the comics section. The public didn’t much care for it. But publisher William Randolph Hearst liked it and gave it a permanent place in the Journal, beginning October 28, 1913.

   Krazy Kat was a carefree, simple-minded, gender-confused cat (sometimes a he, sometimes a she), desperately in love with a mouse. It isn’t just unrequited love; Ignatz Mouse, a rather despicable little rodent, positively hates Krazy and endlessly schemes to throw bricks at Krazy’s head. Poor Krazy sees this as a sign of affection.

   Add a dog – Officer Bull Pupp, a police officer who dotes on Krazy and makes it his purpose in life to prevent Ignatz from throwing bricks and to haul him off to jail when he’s caught in the act. This peculiar love triangle takes place in a surreal Arizona (or is Arizona naturally surreal?), where the strip’s creator George Herriman had a vacation home.

   The premise was simplistic, the humor slapstick, but critics have loved it for 100 years. During it’s thirty-year run, it gained such admirers as H.L. Mencken, Jack Kerouac, E.E. Cummings and Willem de Kooning, and many modern cartoonists have cited the strip as a major influence on their work.