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Posts Tagged ‘comics’

The Serviceable Prose of Jules Verne, and Other News

July 16, 2014 | by

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An 1884 caricature of Jules Verne from L'Algerie, a magazine.

  • On reading Middlemarch and being twenty-one: “Eliot’s ability to describe people was, in its subtlety and depth and scrupulousness, so many levels above my pay-grade. My own attempts were feeble in comparison. ‘He plays bass and dislikes capitalism and has long hair and an intense look,’ I’d say to a friend in explaining why I liked a certain guy, and the truth was that it was the best I could do.”
  • Jules Verne was unquestionably imaginative: a science-fiction pioneer. And yet … “Verne may be a master of sorts, but he is not a master of high art. A casual reader, even in English translation, can see that Verne’s prose is rarely more than serviceable and that it gets overheated when he presumes to court eloquence … Each of Verne’s heroes is a nonpareil, the most remarkable man in the world—as long as the reader is immersed in his particular story. Only in other Verne novels—and in television commercials for a Mexican beer—can one find his equals.”
  • Dungeons & Dragons has turned forty, and, “for certain writers, especially those raised in the seventies and eighties, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives.”
  • Archie will die by taking a bullet for his gay friend. “Archie taking the bullet really is a metaphor for acceptance,” Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater said, in case you didn’t get it.
  • From Bach to Deadmau5: a prehistory of electronic-music festivals traces their roots to the nineteenth century.

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Dear Diary: An Interview with Esther Pearl Watson

June 20, 2014 | by

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Esther Pearl Watson’s comic Unlovable is based on a found diary, from the 1980s, of a teenager Watson has named Tammy Pierce. Tammy lives in a small North Texas town with her parents and younger brother; her life is banal, poignant, and excruciatingly funny. She clings just above the bottom rung of her high school social hierarchy, awkwardly pursues “hot guys,” and is regularly exploited by her best friend, Kim.

In Watson’s hands, however, this is not a coming-of-age story. Expanding on the details of the diary, she amplifies Tammy’s naïveté and absurdity, capturing the grotesqueness of adolescence, how teenagers live in their aspirations and ideals but also in an amplified shame. Watson’s lines are exaggerated and energetic; her characters are sweaty and ugly, their imperfections magnified as if being scrutinized in a sixteen-year-old’s mirror. You feel, vividly, the humiliation of bodies. Matt Groening has called Unlovable “the great teen comic tragedy of our time.”

Watson has been at work on the series for more than a decade, first publishing it as minicomics and on the back page of Bust magazine. The third collected volume of the strip has just been released by Fantagraphics Books—a lime-green, gold-glitter affair that is apt tribute to Tammy’s fervent aspiration to be a makeup artist.

I spoke with Watson over Skype, calling her in Los Angeles from my apartment in Brooklyn. Though she’s well known in the LA art scene, her voice carries the lilt of her own Texan upbringing.

How is Unlovable different from the original diary?

I started keeping a daily diary when I was thirteen—I hoped there was somebody else out there who felt the need to put down what happened every day. My diaries are impossible to read now because they’re so boring. I would write down what I ate, what I wore, trying to make my life sound normal, but I wouldn’t write that my dad was building flying saucers in the backyard.

“Tammy”’s diary was different. I found it in a gas-station bathroom in a sink. Somebody had unloaded a bunch of garbage, piles of clothes. I hid it under my shirt and ran out to the car and said to my husband, Mark, Let’s get out of here, quick! We read it out loud, driving our beat-up car through the desert. It was less than a hundred pages. “Tammy” talked about friends, this whole cast of characters, and she tried to choose between two guys, which one she would go out with. She would sneak out of her bedroom window to hang out with these delinquent kids who you just knew were using her. And you wanted to yell advice at her—That doesn’t mean he likes you, he wants something else! Listen to your mom! Read More »

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Reddy Kilowatt, and Other News

June 2, 2014 | by

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Image via Retronaut

  • Envisioning the brick-and-mortar bookstores of tomorrow: “Wide steps double as seating and lead down to a bar and a stage, where a writer performs—‘authors will become more like rock stars’—or a ‘book wizard’ explains the craft of making books. The book you make might be one by the writer on stage, something you’ve written yourself, or any other text the robots conjure up.”
  • “I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn’t happen, because it’s the most delightful thing … We have lost the sense that poetry sits halfway between prose and music—that you can’t expect to read it like a novel. We are quite used to downloading an album and listening to certain tracks … poetry needs to be consumed in that way.”
  • On Tolkien’s 1926 translation of Beowulf, which was finally published last month: “The literary landscape has changed since then in a way that Tolkien would have neither expected nor accepted: he now towers in fame over Beowulf. Last year, Penguin repackaged its Michael Alexander translation as one of five ‘classic [stories] that inspired J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit.’ but far more people will read the book for Tolkien’s sake than for Beowulf’s.”
  • “Though their obsolescence has been prophesied at various points, neighborhoods remain a vital—perhaps the most vital—way of thinking about the modern city.”
  • A 1959 promotional comic touts the glories of atomic energy through Reddy Kilowatt, everyone’s favorite grinningly electric asexual mascot: “I’m a real, live wire and I never tire. Yes, sir—I’m a red-hot shot. I can cook your meals, turn the factory wheels, ’cause I’m Reddy Kilowatt.”

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The World’s Tiniest Comic Strip, and Other News

May 15, 2014 | by

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Detail from “Juana Knits the Planet,” a comic strip etched onto a single strand of human hair by the artist Claudia Puhlfürst. Image via Beautiful/Decay

  • St. Marks Bookshop has signed a lease on a new location: 136 East Third Street, near Avenue A. The plan is to move sometime this fall; “the owners are exploring a transition to nonprofit status.”
  • Philip Roth gave a talk at Yaddo yesterday—it will probably be his last. “After he gave a reading at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, Roth insisted that it was ‘absolutely the last appearance’ … Roth did not refer to those remarks on Wednesday. But when the Associated Press emailed his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, and asked whether Roth had given his last public talk, Wylie responded, ‘That’s his last.’”
  • The smallest comic strip in the world has been laser-etched onto a single strand of human hair.
  • A thought on International Conscientious Objectors’ day: “It occurred to me that conscientious objectors are underrepresented in the literature of war. There are many references to conscience: to soldiers who signed up but later doubted the rightness of the cause and to deserters, to those who were, by our standards, wrongly accused of cowardice. But references to actual conchies, as they were (not always affectionately) known, are thin on the ground.”
  • How does a work of art come to be considered great? The latest research in canon formation suggests that the “mere-exposure effect” and cumulative advantage play a larger role than intrinsic quality.
  • To the NSA’s growing list of offenses, we can now add “hideously outmoded graphic design, especially in PowerPoint presentations.”

 

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A Week (or More) in Culture: Mimi Pond, Cartoonist

April 4, 2014 | by

GoatSaturday, February 28

We fly from our home in Los Angeles to York, Pennsylvania, so that my husband, the artist Wayne White, can begin building an art installation commissioned by York College of Pennsylvania. It will be constructed inside an historic former Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall in downtown York, now an organization called Marketview Arts. All of York is crazy historic, dating back to 1740! Temporary capital of the Continental Congress! Articles of Confederation drafted and adopted here! Home of the Underground Railroad! WHAT? This is a mind-blower for a history-loving girl from Southern California, where they tear down anything older than 1967 and replace it with a building made out of Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s Glue. Read More »

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The Silent Treatment

February 13, 2014 | by

On Art Spiegelman’s new stage show, Wordless!

Photo: Robert Kozloff/The University of Chicago

Photo: Robert Kozloff/The University of Chicago

In 1970, when Art Spiegelman was twenty-two, he went to a gallery opening in Binghamton, New York, for an exhibition of woodcuts by Lynd Ward. Spiegelman wanted to tell Ward how much he admired the wordless novels the artist had made in the 1930s, but also, and no less importantly, he wanted to ask him what his favorite comic books were. The way Spiegelman tells it, the sixty-five-year-old Ward was gracious but confused: he didn’t know much about comics; his Methodist minister father had forbidden them. Ward’s woodcut novels, which blended Depression-era social realism with a Faustian sense of good and evil, owed more to the biblical engravings of Gustave Doré than they did to the Sunday funnies. Spiegelman didn’t get the comics talk he came for, but he spent some time in the gallery, studying those prints. Two years later, he composed a four-page comic about his guilt over his mother’s suicide. It was just a few panels, but their startling intimacy set the pattern for much of his later work, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus, in which they were later included. Spiegelman titled that short comic “Prisoner on the Hell Planet,” and in its stark style and pitch-black outlook, you can see the influence of Ward’s woodcuts.

Spiegelman has given Ward’s novels a central role in Wordless!, the new stage show he created with the composer Phillip Johnston, and which the two men presented twice last Saturday to sold-out crowds at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Wordless! weaves together Spiegelman’s reflections on the history of wordless novels with slide show projections of the genre’s classic works, which Johnston and his sextet accompany with rollicking, klezmer-inflected, vaudeville jazz. The back-and-forth between lecture and performance neatly captured Spiegelman’s ambivalence about his role on stage. On the one hand, he was a comic artist on a mission, there to add a new branch to the family tree of the graphic novel, one that would demonstrate the genre’s deep roots and help solidify its place in the canon of “real literature.” Mostly though, Spiegelman was having fun. He was there to give the crowd what he had sought from Ward: a conversation about some of his favorite comics and a taste of the overwhelming pleasure they give him. “Don’t worry if you get a little lost while you’re watching,” he reassured his listeners between puffs on his e-cigarette. “I’m hoping you will careen between my words and these picture stories until you’re left as breathlessly unbalanced as I am.” Read More »

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