Tomorrow Stories 7 – Splash Brannigan
Below are annotations for Tomorrow Stories, No. 7 “A Bigger Splash” (6 pages, June 2000)
Writer: Alan Moore (AM), Artist: Hilary Barta (HB)
>return to Splash Brannigan annotations index
Note: some of this stuff is obvious, some very very obvious… but you never know who’s reading this and what their exposure is to any given reference. Apologies for stuff that’s too obvious to you. If there’s stuff I missed or got wrong, let me know in comments, or email linton.joe [at] gmail.com
General notes: Overall the story parodies the art world. Though this is second Splash story; it’s the first Splash appearance on a comic book cover.
- Splash has entered the Pablo Picasso painting titled Guernica. The painting is somber tragic portrayal of a massacre that was part of the Spanish Civil War; Splash has mistaken it for a “hoedown.” Guernica is, for the most part, faithfully reproduced, but HB has added an an extra band-aid on a wounded arm in the foreground.
- “Carson Noma tobacco” is a phontic play on the word “carcinoma” – a cancer caused by smoking.
- The falling people may be a reference to the credit sequence for the TV series Madmen (or did that come after?) though it is probably just foreshadowing Kaput’s fall in the next panel.
- “Kevorkian Life Insurance” is a play on the somewhat notorious “right-to-die” physician Jack Kevorkian.
- Looks like an action figure for Ferdy the Fantom Foetus, who appeared in panel 4 on page 6 of the Splash story in TS No. 6.
- “Downey Plummetts” is “down he plummets” – sort of refers to Sydney Kaput having fallen down into the sidewalk. Sydney Kaput is frequently shown committing suicide due to the poor financial outlooks for the comic industry.
- “But then, I’m a girl” is one example of Alan Moore’s tongue-in-cheek critiques of sexism, which I think is one of the themes of the series (see Splash background/intro page.)
I think that the dog and fire hydrant refer to something. Generally it’s the other way around, though: the dog pisses on the fire hydrant. So, taking that in the context of Miss Screensaver saying “comics artists should familiarize themselves with the world of fine art” perhaps AM is making fun of fine artists – mainly Roy Lichtenstein – whose work is based on comic book art (example.) I would say that, generally, comics people don’t have a very high opinion of Lichtenstein and his “swipes“; here’s an entire website dedicated to deconstructing Lichtenstein.
The dog and fire hydrant are somewhat similar to a fire hydrant splashing a poodle on P4,p4 of the Kurtzman/Elder story “Shadow” from Mad No.4. To some extent, the relationship between Brannigan and Screensaver is similar to that of Shadow and Margo Pain.
- The woman mopping the floor is Mrs. Gowanus, from Mad comics No.7 story Shermlock Shomes. Gowanus, whose name refers to a heavily-polluted canal in Brooklyn, was created by Harvey Kurtzmand and Bill Elder. The early Mad comics zany gags are one inspiration for Splash’s stories. Mrs. Gowanus presence sort of implies that art galleries are cesspools. She returns in TS No.8 on page 6, panel 4.
- “Dutch Masters” refers to a group of artists, including Rembrandt… but it’s also a cigar brand that references these artists.
- The art patrons are caricatures of snobby urban gallery goers… Perhaps there’s a more specific reference, not sure.
- “Impressionists” and “post-impressionists” refer to actual specific types/styles/schools of art. “Animal impressions” is, of course, not a type of art, but a joke on the word impression.
- The painting Splash is looking at is more-or-less at least dressed like the subjects in paintings done by Dutch masters (example.) The windmill is a fairly cliche Dutch emblem. (What no tulip?)
- “The French artist Maintenance” is Miss Screensaver mistaking the maintenance closet for artwork. Not sure if it refers to any specific actual artist.
- “Marcel Duchamp” is a French artist who did “ready-mades” where he would take objects, such as a urinal, and declare them art.
- This is Mrs. Gowanus’s (see p2 above) maintenance closet. The image in the frame looks like Sherlock Holmes, but it’s Mad comics parody Shermlock Shomes, hence the initials “SS” (Thanks to smoky man of Alan Moore World who got this response directly from Hilary Barta regarding question 9 here: “They are characters that originally appeared in the EC color MAD comics, in stories drawn by Will Elder. I believe the woman is “Mrs. Gowanus”, the housekeeper of “Shermlock Shomes” in a Sherlock Holmes parody in MAD #7. This also explains the “Love SS” note in her maintenance closet. The big guy is just ONE guy that Alan and I used several times. His name is “Bumble,” and he originally appeared in”Ganefs”, a story in MAD #1.”)
- “Mom and Pop Art” is a bringing together of the phrases “mom and pop” (a type of small business) and “Pop Art” (a school of art.) They are performance artists
- Mom and Pop Art are the couple from Grant Wood’s 1930 painting American Gothic.
- The white sculpture with foot-in-mouth looks familiar… I think it’s based on some Pablo Picasso piece?
- The dollar sign in the frame seems like AM’s or HB’s critique of money driving the art world.
- The painting is commonly known as Whistler’s Mother. Formally it’s titled “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1” , painted by the artist James McNeill Whistler in 1871.
- “Immerse myself in art” usually means seeing a lot of artwork. Splash is using it more literally here.
- The snobby kid (looks like a friend of Richie Rich?) is reading an “Abstract Action!” comic book. The cover is based on the cover of the very first appearance of Superman – in Action Comics No. 1 in 1938. The car Superman lifts is replaced by a paint can. The cover reads “with Jackson Pollock” who was an artist famous for splattering paint – a style of art sometimes called “Action Painting.” By playing around with these high/low art references (Pollock/comics) AM may be commenting on the legitimacy of comics as art? or the illegitimacy of splatter paintings as not quite great art?
- “[4D ink] can probably do whatever the story purposes require” is a pretty apt description of the flimsy incoherence of a lot of comic book plots (and many movies, and other narrative forms, too.)
- The painting is Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
- The framed paintings (here through Page 5, panel 3) are perhaps somewhat analogous to comic book panels – both paintings and comics deal with 2-dimensional images in generally-rectangular frames.
- The painting is French Georges Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, though a few things have been modified.
- “Get an eye test. Everything is sort of blurry” refers to Seurat’s pointilism style. His paintings are made of lots of tiny dots of color, somewhat like a color-blindness eye test (examples.)
- Near Splash’s foot, it’s the wimp from the classic Charles Atlas ad (above) ubiquitous in Marvel comics circa 1970s-80s. He is sitting with a woman (holding parasol, below) from Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Their dialogue “Hey! That bully kicked sand in my face!” is paraphrased from the Charles Atlas ad.
- There’s a shark fin in the panel that’s not in the original painting.
- Also an octopus, which perhaps refers to the Challengers of the Unknown late-1950s Showcase No.12 – great Jack Kirby cover (4th image down here.)
- For more lowbrow comedy “I [heart] Jerry Lewis” which refers to the seeming inexplicable French popularity of comedian Jerry Lewis.
- Panel 3 and 4 are nicely connected as a sort of multi-pan. The seemingly still water from Seurat’s painting has suddenly become Hokusai’s storm-blown high waves, causing Splash to look back and yell “whoah Nellie!” (I think this is why AM and HB chose the slightly less well known Bathers, instead of the iconic Sunday. For these two panels , Bathers reads right to left.)
- The artwork portrayed in panel 4 is Japanese artist Hokusai’s c.1830 print The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
- “Made in Japan” was a very common label in the U.S., especially c. 1980s. I recall a tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker popular around then that stated “Be American / Buy American / Made in Japan.” Japan was emerging as a manufacturing economic powerhouse, and so many everyday products were labeled “Made in Japan” that it became a joke.
- “Holbein’s Dance of Death” is a series of woodcuts by German artist Hans Holbein published in the 1500s. See this example and this longer explanation with plenty of examples.
- “Doing the Hully Gully” is a 1963 hit song by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. Not sure how it might pertain to Holbein, except that it’s also a dance.
- Not sure who that guy is drooling over the fruit still life. It sort of looks like a hungry homeless person who is fooled by the realistic depiction of the food.
- “Ceci n’est pas une pipewrench” is a take-off on a famous 1920s painting called The Treachery of Images by French artist Renee Magritte. The original painting depicts a pipe (for smoking) with the words “ceci n’est pas une pipe” which translates to “this is not a pipe.”
- The painting on the right is a take-off on artist Winslow Homer’s 1890s painting The Lookout – All’s Well. Moore has punned on the painter’s last name Homer, inserting the cartoon character Homer Simpson. (Not sure if there’s any significance to the guy in the black jacket looking at this painting.)
- I thought that the woman crying could possibly be “Sister Wendy” Beckett (the nun art historian on PBS) but she doesn’t really look like Sister Wendy. The woman is deeply saddened by Splash’s desecration of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous mural The Last Supper, alluded to by Miss Screensaver and depicted in the following panel.
- Image is from Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper, the title of which is cleverly woven into the dialogue “this is the last supper I’m coming to!”
- “The prince of pizza” is a phonetic joke on Jesus’ name “the prince of peace.”
- Image is Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh‘s 1889 self-portrait. Van Gogh is said to have deliberately cut off his own ear, which is where he is depicted as bleeding. AM makes light of this by suggesting it was a shaving accident instead. I like the way Van Gogh points downward into the panel below, sort of breaking the fourth wall of the comics page.
- Image is a detail from Hieronymus Bosch‘s c.1500 painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, specifically a portion of the right panel which depicts hell. There are lots of changes from the original, listed below. In general the Bosch image is very detailed, and mostly HB has simplified so it reads more easily on the comic book page.
- The disk on the large figure’s head has pizza (with face-down corpses – not sure what the reference is), where the original has a disk with a giant bagpipe and figures. The pizza has perhaps fallen from Page 5, panel 1 above.
- “Grade A extra large” on the side of the large figure’s body refers to an egg. The figure is known as the “tree man.” His torso is indeed egg-shaped, though maybe there’s some other significance?
- Inside the the tree man body cavity, on the left sitting next to a barrel, is a Billy DeBeck hillbilly comic character Snuffy Smith. He’s a moonshiner presumably drunk on moonshine liquor, which the barrel is presumably full of. In the original painting (detail), there’s a nun filling a drink from the barrel.
- To the right of Snuffy Smith, in the tree man, there’s a sort of spoon-bill creature holding a spatula, barbecuing a human leg. The creature is Bosch’s depiction of a devil – from elsewhere in Garden (see bottom left of above detail), and in other paintings. Not sure of what the significance of this is, but I would guess that this change may be mostly to simplify the very-detailed dining scene in the original painting (detail.)
- On the right there’s another disk, with a circle of dog-like creatures that are eating an armor-clad man. This scene is in the original, but there are some changes. In the circle of dog-creatures is Disney’s cartoon dog Pluto. Under the man, there is a banner that reads “Go greyhounds.” That’s from an advertising slogan from Greyhound Bus Lines “Go Greyhound … and leave the driving to us,” but it seems like it’s more like a sports pennant in support of a team called the Greyhounds. Not sure if there’s any specific meaning applicable here.
- In the bottom left hand corner, there’s a hand coming out of a toilet – not in Bosch’s original. I think it refers a 1970s-80s meme called “Goodbye Cruel World” where someone is committing suicide by flushing her/him self down a toilet, for example see this movie poster.
- At the bottom of the ladder, the figures are changed from the original (see detail.) Another spoon-bill devil creature has been added. This is, again, probably mostly to simplify a complicated scene.
- Mom and Pop Art are cleverly pushing against the panel, causing it to bulge into the white gutter.
- Figures in frame are also from The Garden of Earthly Delights, see panel 3 above.
The naked man with the egg-shaped growth (?) on his back is from just below the left boat under the tree-man. Though, in the original, it seems like he might be balancing that large egg on his back? Not sure.
- The brown-cloaked lizard-face figure sure looks like something out of Bosch’s depiction of hell, but I couldn’t find any specific figure it refers to. There’s a somewhat indistinct figure in a blue cloak, atop a skull next to a man in a giant key, all to the left of the tree-man – see bottom of this detail – which was the closest I could find.
- Man in with green apple in front of his face is from The Son of Man, a 1964 painting by French artist Renee Magritte. “Apples 10 cents” refers to the apple in the Magritte painting. It also sounds kind of like a depression era poor person selling apples… though the price then might have been less than ten cents, I think. The joke is probably just that the Magritte man would be selling apples.
- Painting in frame looks sort of like a cubist painting by Pablo Picasso (example.) It’s all blue, which sort of refers to Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period, though he wasn’t actually doing cubist stuff like this then, so the overall blue-ness of the image might refer to Splash himself.
- Figure in background is also from The Garden of Earthly Delights, see Page 5, panel 3 and 4 above.
- Splash is putting a third arm around Miss Screensaver’s waist. In panels 3 and 4, he expands to a fourth and fifth arm, respectively. This sequence is somewhat reminiscent of the Issue 3 page 4 of Watchmen, when multiple Dr. Manhattans embrace Silk Spectre.
- Moore is making fun of the art industry – in that seemingly simple splattered paint pieces can be worth “a million bucks.”
- The Comics Journal is a fairly intellectual publication reviewing comics. Seems like Moore is making fun of it (its pessimism or seriousness?) by including it in a “Midnight Moods” trilogy with “Audit” and “Divorce.”