Oklahoman Centennial : Lange by Jim Lange (1994, Oklahoma Publishing Company)
Books of political cartoons generally have a few common traits, nearly all of which are bypassed for this book. They’re typically smaller than 125 pages; this one has more than 200. The cartoons rely extensively on the skill of the cartoonist with caricatures, while Lange only uncommonly presents recognizable figures within his images. The cartoons are almost always presented with some explanatory writing providing context; here they are left alone. Even the expected form of metaphorical items having words written on them to explain the point is often bypassed.
What the reader gets instead is a cartoonist whose single-panel strips aren’t very far off from what would typically be found on the comic pages. While Lange was unusually skilled with caricature, most of his characters resemble something out of the old Mutt & Jeff strip and the humor is more akin to The Lockhorns than nudges and winks to political insiders.
As a decades-long staffer at The Oklahoman, a fairly conservative newspaper, Lange straddled lines between value sets. He was an interesting cartoonist, and the book is absolutely worth purchasing… but because it was released in a small print run by the newspaper itself, it’s hard to find and comparatively expensive. A person who collects newspaper cartoonist books will appreciate this book. A person who just wants to read back through some cartoons of recent history is best served to watch for it to appear in garage sales or discount stores rather than shell out the $40 or more for this nice white elephant.
The Midnight Examiner by William Kotzwinkle (1989, Houghton Mifflin)
Humor is difficult to write well, but Kotzwinkle makes it look easy. The writing is consistently engaging through the course of the novel, but the humor sometimes suffers because of it.
The author presents staffers at a sleazy tabloid, and it’s in the depiction of the day-to-day operation of such magazines that the book shines. Just about everyone is contemptuous of their jobs, people are writing things they know aren’t true under a slew of names that aren’t their own, and contact with their fans and readers makes them uncomfortable.
The plot involves an attempt to disentangle one of their own from trouble with a mob boss, and there are a variety of chase scenes and short bursts of violence that seem well-suited to tabloid journalism.
The plot is thin, but the characters are bright and realistic and their dialogue is sharp. Both wit and casual silliness are present, giving it an appeal across a breadth of expectations for humor books. It’s a minor book by a novelist who won many prestigious awards, but it’s a fun one.