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92

THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 92, October 2, 2000
Happy 21st, Jon!

LNS Reviews
Gesundheit, Dummy! The Best of Baloo

by L. Neil Smith
lneil@lneilsmith.org

Special to TLE

For weeks, now -- maybe even months -- I've been asking myself, "Self, how in the sacred name of Virgil Partch do you review a book of cartoons?"

I mean, I promised to do it. Rex F. May, a monumental wit whom the world knows best as "Baloo" (meaning "Bear" in Urdu, if you'll recall The Jungle Book, because Rex is the only ... no, you're not quite ready for that) has been my good friend and occasional partner for many years. Long before I met him, he'd written my favorite cartoon (it was for Penthouse and I can't tell you about that here, either), and he was a contributor, in the Golden Age of the 70s to National Lampoon.

He's also a "cartoonist's cartoonist", often compared, with regard to his drawing style and dry wit, to James Thurber, admired by every serious practitioner of the trade, and among the most prolific and widely published anywhere in the world, having written something like 750,000 "gags", as they're called, in a little over a quarter of a century.

And besides, I promised his mother.

Be that as it may, it isn't as if you can compliment the author (I make a practice of never reviewing books I don't like) on his strong, deep characterizations, the subtle but inevitable development of his plot, or the breathtaking finale that leaves us wheezing through the denoument.

Gimme a break -- this is a book of cartoons.

All you can say is that it's wickedly funny and full to the brim with the astonishing wisdom that characterizes its creator in all of his endeavors. Which should be enough -- but it leaves the reviewer with a hell of a gap in an 800-word review. I suppose I could add that it's bitingly sarcastic, but the plain truth is that like Rex himself, it's so gentle in its all-pervasive cynicism with regard to power and institutions, that a more appropriate expression would probably be "gummingly ironic".

You could also say that it's deviously anarchistic.

Or that it's polemic without being preachy.

And that may be the point. They say that a cartoonist's characters usually resemble the cartoonist -- and that's certainly true here; I've seen Rex and I know. But even more importantly, they tend to reflect his entire approach to life -- and in this case, the freedom movement.

You could give this innocent-looking little volume, say, to your brother-in-law who works in the most vile, insidious bureaucracy this side of the BATF, the Department of Motor Vehicles. He'd look through it (probably in the bathroom on company time), chuckle, snort, laugh out loud (his coworkers would wonder what he was doing in there), then set it aside to sacrifice more babies or whatever they do down at the DMV.

But a week later, his stomach will have begun to churn, he'll toss and turn through the night, unable to sleep (and have nightmares, when he does, of being trapped in one of Baloo's cartoons), he'll grow shaky, nervous, sunken-eyed. Then he'll either quit his cushy job to become a professional telephone daisy-stripper ("He loves you, he loves you not, he loves you -- that'll be $2.99 a minute, please.") or his actuarial life expectancy will be diminished by at least half an hour.

A small victory, perhaps, but a victory nevertheless.

One bureaucrat down, 14,999,999 to go.

Some genuinely random examples: an obvious bureaucrat carrying a briefcase labeled IRS, on a lady's doorstep: "It's your husband, Ma'am -- he was shot while attempting to conceal income." (Unlike most other cartoonists, only about half of Rex's captions end in exclamation marks.)

Medieval seneschal with long scroll to a king sitting on his throne: "We've completed that study you ordered on the private sector, Sire -- the only things left are two shoe-shine boys and a hot dog stand."

One shaven-headed prison inmate to another in their cell: "I got 75 years -- I was driving under the influence and ran over a spotted owl."

Not that everything Rex does is political. He has a client telling a psychiatrist, "Every time I go on an ego trip, I'm hijacked by terrorists."

Or he has a traditional African native saying to a guy in a pith helmet: "You're not here to provide famine relief? -- That's what you think!"

But why give away the whole book for free, when the point here is to urge you to buy it for yourself and as many others as possible? There are several ways to accomplish that but you can start by writing to:

JoNa Books
P.O. Box 336
Bedford, IN 47421

Or you can e-mail to jonabook@kiva.net.

Or try their website at http://www.kiva.net/~jonabook.

Check it out!


Novelist L. Neil Smith, author of The Probability Broach and Forge of the Elders, and publisher of The Libertarian Enterprise, is the only official Libertarian Party candidate for president in the state of Arizona.
Buy his books at http://www.lneilsmith.org//lnsbooks.html



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