My seven-year-old recently reminded me, after thirty years of forgetting, that there’s a sinister underground current of folk songs being traded on the schoolyards of America, behind garden sheds and under slides, away from the watchful eyes of what in my time were called “yard duties”.
What’s amazing about these songs is that there are dozens of them that seem to be pretty much universal, both geographically and across generations. The one below should certainly be familiar. “Ms. Lucy” has roots that go back at east as far as early 20th Century vaudeville, at which point it was just a single quatrain about a steamboat. Over the decades, children all over the country added more quatrains and variations, until it became the song that so many people now know almost by instinct.
But as familiar as the song may be, it wasn’t until I applied my time-hardened analytical ear to the lyrics that I realized just how strange and wonderful they are. So of course I had to draw them.
Songs like these have a funny, complex life of their own, slowly getting modified and updated, while retaining a few anachronisms. My daughter knows what a “TV set” is, for example, even though she’s never encountered one “in real life.” In the same way, I knew what a steamboat was at age seven because it was already stamped on the culture as a cliché in cartoons.
There are other schoolyard songs I could’ve illustrated that are way funnier, but they’re in such horribly poor taste that they’ll have to wait until I’m too worn and crotchety to worry about offending the public. In any case, I love the teasing word play in this one, and can’t get over that it’s been with me, dormant, all these years. It’s probably a good place to hang the blame on all the hack work I’ve subsequently churned out as a freelancer
Lisa Hanawalt is a cartoonist and the production designer and producer of the Netflix series BoJack Horseman. In this strip from her forthcoming book, Coyote Doggirl discovers the pleasures of going off the grid:
Being an emperor in ancient Rome was a dangerous business. In the abstract, it sounds like a great gig, but it wasn’t all bacchanalia and parties in the hippodrome; it was a horrible job filled with violence and treachery. The emperor’s survival was predicated on an unthinkable (to us, at least) level of personal and public brutality. Et Tu, Brute? is an illustrated compendium of the deaths of the Roman emperors from the establishment of the Roman Empire to the fall of Rome. A selection of these illustrations is presented below. —Jason Novak
The Welsh cartoonist Chris Reynolds has been creating Mauretania Comics since 1985. Short detective tales and poetic fragments like the one below thread through a future earth where aliens politely control humanity. On the surface, this world seems much like ours: a place of cool afternoon shadows and gently rolling hills, half-empty trains and sleepy downtown streets. But the closer you look, the weirder it gets. Mysterious figures suddenly appear in childhood photos, family members disappear forever without warning, power outages abound, and certain people gain the power of flight. The loosely plotted comics raise more questions than they answer, leaving behind a lingering sense of existential unease and dread. A new collection of Mauretania Comics, selected and designed by the acclaimed cartoonist Seth, will be published by New York Review Comics on May 1. Below, read “Endless Summer Wells,” a strange and melancholy comic that appears in the forthcoming book.
From The New World: Comics from Mauretania, by Chris Reynolds. Excerpt courtesy of New York Review Comics.