Thursday, October 30, 2014

“Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.”

"What's an envoy?" asks my non-native English speaker husband, busy reading.

"Oh, it's a poem, that in the old days poets used to put at the end of their book, sending it off and hoping people would like it."

Dead silence.

Me, getting suspicious: "Why, what does it say?"

"That the new Italian ambassador was one."

"Oh, that envoy!"

I am not actually so bookish as to think that a now-rare poetic device is more likely to be referred to in today's newspaper than a diplomatic title. But the "Go, little book" type of envoy (from the French envoyer, "to send", same root as the envoy sent by a government) has been on my mind recently, ever since I came across the exhilirating envoy by Russell Banks which I used as the title for this post, and it started me thinking, what better way to follow a post on the art of the dedication than with one on the art of the envoy?

syndetics-lcThe envoy dates back to classic Roman literature, meaning that it has been around for over 2000 years. Ovid, the greatest poet of the Augustan Age, affixed a touching envoy to his book Tristia (Sorrows), written from exile in what we now call Romania, but the Romans referred to as "beyond the Danube", by which they meant, at the outskirts of the civilised world, where the emperor had sent him for "a poem and a misunderstanding" (said Ovid).

The envoy opens like this (I include the Latin because English translations of Latin poetry always sound too chatty - so just before you read the English, say stirringly aloud "Ibis in urbem!"):

Parue—nec inuideo—sine me, liber, ibis in urbem:
ei mihi, quod domino non licet ire tuo!

"Little book -- I won't resent it -- go without me to the city
Where alas, your master is not allowed to go..."

But of course he resented it. A man of culture and refined habits, witty and urbane, Ovid found banishment among the (semi) barbarians -- who didn't even know Latin -- a cruel punishment. Cruellest of all, he never got to follow his book back to Rome, dying in exile.

By the nineteenth century, the envoy had become a trope, its more unexceptional manifestations ripe for mockery, as Lord Byron did with the efforts of the rather paltry poet laureate of his time, Robert Southey.


syndetics-lcFrom Don Juan (1819):

"Go, little book, from this my solitude!
I cast thee on the waters – go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days.

Southey's read, and Wordsworth understood,
I can't help putting in my claim to praise—
The four first rhymes are Southey's every line:
For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine."


The twentieth century! War, carnage, decay, disillusion, experimentation, modernism! If anyone was in the thick of that it was Ezra Pound, and he got it all, and Art too, into his revisitation of Edmund Waller's famous 17th century envoy "Go, Lovely Rose" (set to music by Henry Lawes), a poem firmly in the carpe diem tradition, which began:

Go, lovely Rose—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be...

Here's Pound's "Envoi" from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1919):

syndetics-lcGo, dumb-born book,
Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
Hadst thou but song
As thou hast subjects known,
Then were there cause in thee that should condone
Even my faults that heavy upon me lie
And build her glories their longevity.

Tell her that sheds
Such treasure in the air,
Recking naught else but that her graces give
Life to the moment,
I would bid them live
As roses might, in magic amber laid,
Red overwrought with orange and all made
One substance and one colour
Braving time.

Tell her that goes
With song upon her lips
But sings not out the song, nor knows
The maker of it, some other mouth,
May be as fair as hers,
Might, in new ages, gain her worshippers,
When our two dusts with Waller's shall be laid,
Siftings on siftings in oblivion,
Till change hath broken down
All things save Beauty alone.

Where could one possibly go after that, you might find yourself asking. Well, that's what I'm here for! Here, closing the circle and leading us back to Russell Banks, are two dazzling envoys from the second half of the twentieth century:


syndetics-lcWilliam Meredith, "Envoy":

Go, little book. If anybody asks
Why I add poems to a time like this,
Tell how the comeliness I can’t take in
Of ships and other figures of content
Compels me still until I give them names;
And how I give them names impatiently,
As who should pull up roses by the roots
That keep him turning on his empty bed,
The smell intolerable and thick with loss.


Robert Creeley, “Envoi”:

syndetics-lc
Particulars they want,
particulars they
fucking well will

get, love. For openers,
you—the stars
earth revolves about,

the galaxies their in-
struments neglect. I
walk down a road

you make ahead, not
(no negative) there ex-
cept my body finds

it. Love, love,
love, swirls—myriad
insects hum, the

air softens, the night
is here. So empty
these days with-

out you, a box
with nothing in it. I
am waiting, you

are coming, so what’s
the world but
all of it.


And here we are back at Russell Banks. I don't know if anyone else out there has written an envoy in prose, but this is one it would be tough to compete with. It comes at the end of Banks's novel Continental Drift, a tale of our times which mixes "low comedy and high seriousness" (as someone said about Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood, which it reminded me of), sardonic descriptions of domestic dissatisfaction, low-end jobs, moral corners being cut, and suddenly, apocalypse.

"The world as it is goes on being itself. Books get written -- novels, stories and poems stuffed with particulars that try to tell us what the world is, as if our knowledge of people like Bob Dubois and Vanise and Claude Dorsinville will set people like them free. It will not. Knowledge of the facts of Bob's life and death changes nothing in the world. Our celebrating his life and grieving over his death, however, will. Good cheer and mournfulness over lives other than our own, even wholly invented lives -- no, especially wholly invented lives -- deprive the world as it is of some of the greed it needs to continue to be itself. Sabotage and subversion, then, are this book's objectives. Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.”


*****
Post script:

The American poet Robert Creeley (of Pound-Olson-Zukofsky-Black Mountain lineage), sojourned in New Zealand in the 1970s (a trip organised by Alistair Paterson), and Auckland Libraries' Sir George Grey Special Collections has a number of books of his poetry relating to that time, including The Dogs of Auckland, a limited edition artist's book by the Holloway Press, which has this note in the catalogue, a poem by itself: "The binding is cloth spine with Canson Mi Teintes paper-covered boards, & the case & casing in are by Bound to Last, Auckland."

I realise that Canson Mi Teintes is just a mezzo-tinto, half-tint, but what it said to me when I first saw it, and what it still wants to say to me, is "Song, you tempt me!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dedicated by -- or to -- the Beats

There's nothing quite like a good book dedication, that brush with mystique which you encounter, if you're lucky, opening a new book. And yet, for all the times you come across book lovers exalting the smell of books, the feel of books (I did recently spot one new and genial appreciation of the pleasure of books -- "They don't catch on my braces!"), you rarely encounter celebrations of the well-written dedication. Which, I might point out, is even more valuable for being an attribute any book may boast, no matter its form: print, electronic, or even read aloud.

I've made it a tradition to post, every year, the standouts among the dedications I've discovered at the library over the previous twelve months. They've included one to a typewriter (noir, of course, both the novel being dedicated and the typewriter it was dedicated to) and one to absinthe drinkers, and the authors who composed them have ranged from Edward Gorey to JD Salinger, not forgetting Hunter S Thompson.

There's a Beat theme to this year's finds -- wholly unplanned, I hasten to say, as befits the Beats.

Here they are:

1.  From  Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouacsyndetics-lc

   Dedicated to America, whatever that is

Reading On the Road when I was a teenager rates as one of the most exciting reading experiences of my life, but I'd never tried Visions of Cody, Kerouac's later, posthumously published hymn to Neal Cassady and to those days on the road when the highs were still coming easy, until this year, following a slow, appreciative read of Big Sur. I skipped large swathes which I found too intemperate (who changed more? Jack? me? probably me), but the last 50 pages held, and did they hold.

The Penguin edition I found at the library also includes wonderful, sad, notes provided by Allen Ginsberg, where he calls the book "a dirge for America... for the American Hope that Jack (& his hero Neal) carried so valiantly through the land after Whitman..."

Kerouac himself suggests in his foreword, "This feeling may soon be obsolete as America enters its High Civilization period and no one will get sentimental or poetic any more about trains and dew on fences at dawn in Missouri."

Not yet, though, Jack, not yet!

My sentimental snap of Beat wheels by the Mississippi River
Hannibal, Missouri, 2012

syndetics-lc2.  From These are my rivers by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The owner of the fabled City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, the publisher who gave us Howl, the poet who sang of the pennycandy store beyond the El, 95 years old this year, prefaced a collection of almost 40 years of his poetry with these lines:

For 
various brothers & lovers
eternally present


The book's title, These are my rivers, is taken from a bittersweet and nostalgic poem by the Italian modernist poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, Questi sono i miei fiumi, in which he evokes the phases of his life by naming the rivers which flowed through them, the Serchio of his ancestral home in Lucca, the Nile of his childhood, the Seine of his youth, and the Isonzo, the river which runs through the devastated Carso where Italian troops, Ungaretti among them, had fought a series of terrible battles against the Austrians during World War One.

Ferlinghetti quotes the poem in his book's epigraph:

Ho ripassato
le epoche
della mia vita

Questi sono
i miei fiumi...

[I have revisited
the ages
of my life

These are
my rivers...]

(You can read the whole of Ungaretti's poem here.)


3. From Odysseus in Woolloomooloo by Bob Orr

   to the mysteries

Just three words on the otherwise all white third page of this fine new poetry collection, just out this year. 

Bob Orr is the most beat of New Zealand poets, and if you don't believe me, check out this picture.


Bob Orr's Odysseus in Woolloomooloo in the window of  the City Lights Bookstore

The year I moved to New Zealand, I came across Bob Orr's own "The Names of Rivers" in The NZ Listener. I ripped it out (no, it wasn't a library copy) and still have it, over ten years later. Read it and you'll see why.

The Names of Rivers

The names of rivers
suggest them:
The Nile weaving its scaly blue coolness
serpent like from Africa's hot heart.
The Mississippi each syllable a broadening
of its passage to the ocean.
The Amazon hallucinogenic as the zircon flight
of butterflies above its jewelled rain forest.
Those are the big rivers
the ones we all were taught about
but I would like to take you
to a small creek
whose taste I still recall --
a slight rustiness on the tongue
like old steel or blood. The Mangawara.
I would like to be able to say
that this creek runs through my life
runs through my poems. In fact until
the age of twelve it did.
not a river so much as water.
Not water so much as something as simple as time
perhaps even timelessness. Where I live now
the water is salty and it's blue and huge beyond belief
and you would drink of it only to stop
something from within yourself from bleeding.


Beat poetry lovers are invited to join us for our annual beat poetry read-a-thon, the Day of the Dead Beat Poets, on Monday 3 November at 5:30 pm, at Central City Library. Read or listen to poems by Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lew Welch and other classic beats, as well as by poets who have carried the beat spirit into newer times and places. We'll read Bob Orr's poem about panel beating Neal Cassady's car, the one where he says,

Tomorrow with the tiny hammers of a typewriter
I'll make this poem cool again
As if it were a car once stolen in America by Neal Cassady

-- I think it's that one I found in a parking lot along the Mississippi River, panel beaten roof and all.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Comics: Librarians Choice

Comic Book Month wraps up today, though as with all good comics, it's just a matter of waiting for the next issue! As a final treat, here are a few personal recommendations from some of the comics fans who work at Auckland Libraries: Michelle and Blair from the 2014 Comic Book Month team; Baruk, creator of our new Comics NZ blog (check it out); Stanley from Collections, and myself! Enjoy!



Adamtine by Hannah Berry

This is the first horror-themed graphic novel I have read. Although I admire the artists' skill, the violent gore scenes typical of this genre are a bit much for me. But I do enjoy a good scare, and with this graphic novel I wasn’t disappointed. It is horror with a difference, with the artwork creating a sense of foreboding and darkness. In fact, I have become a big Hannah Berry fan. The artwork is clever and emotive, supporting a captivating, frightening story line that really does keep you guessing. This is a graphic novel requiring more than one read, with each reading revealing more of its mysteries – most of which are hidden in plain sight. It is definitely a thinking person’s graphic novel... oh, and beware the last page!

-- Michelle, Titirangi Library


Faction 1  ed. by Damon Keen, Amie Maxwell

syndetics-lcQuite simply, I liked this enough to buy my own copy, and that doesn't happen often. Especially not when it is also available for free (legal) download!

Faction 1 is a Kiwi comic anthology, from 14 very different writers/artists. One of the joys of anthologies is the unlikely juxtaposition of very different styles, and Faction does not disappoint. The artwork moves eclectically from Ned Wenlock's bold primary colours, through Damon Keen's delicate shading or Ralphi's yellowish-greenish-brownish and Karl Wills's detailed black-on-white, to Mark Holland's lush, painterly style. The stories very well matched the artistic styles used to tell them.

Faction was created through crowdfunding, and it is nice to see contributors named on the back page (dammit, I missed my chance at fame!). The Faction website has links to individual artist websites, and a free subscription to the (digital) anthology. Auckland Libraries also holds Faction 2 and Faction 3.

If you like anthologies, you may also enjoy Syncopated, an anthology of non-fiction picto-essays. Or not.

And if I sound like a fanboy, that's because I am.

-- Baruk, Digital Services


Shaolin Burning by Ant Sang


Shaolin BurningFull of graphic martial arts action and mayhem, Shaolin Burning is a thrilling and fast-paced adventure through Qing dynasty China. The plot centres on Deadly Plum Blossum’s journey to challenge The Monk Who Doubts, who has been terrorising China. Events like the destruction of the Shaolin Temple, and the legend of the five surviving elders place this in a time of kung-fu legends and martial arts monks.

The illustrations of BroTown’s Ant Sang skillfully capture the chaos of the combat; the parries and thrusts of the sword, feints and blows of the fighters come through in the black and white shading and ink, and deftly illustrate the action.

I found the characters a highlight. They are unique and intense figures with legendary pasts, and equally awesome names. I also like the subtle humour that runs through the book, with skillful plays on words, quirky names like The Benevolent Laughing Monkey Palm Gang, and the tiger-costumed group The Killer Tongs. Still, the themes running through this work – the need to control desire, the perils of revenge and the sacredness of life – make it more than just an entertaining read.

-- Stanley, Collections



The Sandman (The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1) by Neil Gaiman

syndetics-lcWidely considered one of the greatest comic book series of all time, The Sandman tells the story of Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, as he escapes from captivity and seeks to rebuild his realm. Along the way, Morpheus is forced to deal with the enormous changes within both himself and his realm. The Sandman is a wildly imaginative series that manages to be as effortlessly entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Its dark, adult story set the tone for DC Comics’ fledgling Vertigo imprint. The Sandman is a story about stories, and should be read by anyone who loves them.

(This Absolute Edition format collects issues #1-20 of THE SANDMAN and features completely new coloring on the first 18 issues, as well as a host of never-before-seen extra material. It is the first of four volumes.)

-- Blair, Central City Library



Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea by Hugo Pratt 

syndetics-lcI was turned on to Corto Maltese long ago when I went to live in his home country of Italy, where the fumetti (Italian for comics) about the sailor with the pierced ear had attained cult status. Fumetti means puffs of smoke, that being what Italians saw where we saw speech bubbles or word balloons, as well as all around themselves. Everyone smoked, and everyone read comics, and Corto Maltese was everyone's favourite. The art work is brilliant -- the scene where an underwater Corto is drawn with squiggly refracted lines which grow ever more boldly abstract as the panels progress leave me in awe -- and the rhythm is intense and filmic. So are the characters. Corto casts a spell over everyone, men and women, in that Humphrey Bogart kind of way.

“Who knows why you make me think of that Arola’s Tango I heard in the Parda Flora Cabaret in Buenos Aires?” “Maybe there was someone there who looked like me?” “No! It’s precisely because you don’t resemble anyone that I would have wanted to meet you anywhere”. Are those tears on Corto’s chiselled face?

The original drawings were all in black and white, while this edition uses colourised drawings which, as with colourised movies, somewhat detracts from the artistry. But Pratt is such a genius that they are still great. If you like comics, you owe yourself a sail with Corto.

-- Karen, Books in the City 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Not only do I read banned books, but...


My award for Best Headline of Banned Books Week goes to Melville House Publishers for "Texas school district thinks 'Banned Books Week' means they’re supposed to ban books this week", with which they called attention to the decision on the part of a school district in Texas to pull a new crop of books from the school curriculum. In other words, the school board doesn't subscribe to the sentiment voiced by the great, banned-in-his-time writer and philosopher Voltaire: "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too".

I must say it's good to see Banned Books Week getting ever greater, and wittier, attention in the media, as well in that old stalwart, libraries (it is, in fact, an initiative of the American Library Association).

I'm proud to have two personal ties to Banned Books. The first is that it was my 10th great-grandfather, William Pynchon, who wrote the first book to be banned in the New World. It happened in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1650, and the book was called The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, Justification, etc. It refuted the Puritan belief that punishment and suffering were the price of atonement, and as such the order went out for it to be burned -- by the colony's executioner, no less -- the very next day, on the Boston Common.

Its author, perhaps because of his standing as an important businessman (exporter of beaver pelts) and a magistrate, was given time to retract-- or be tried for heresy and receive the same treatment as his book. He wisely precluded the need for either by heading back across the sea to England, where he continued to write tracts until his death 12 years later.

Nine copies of the book survived and here is one of them, held at the Congregational Library in Boston. The blog where I found it, History of Christianity, points out that this is one book which the Puritans could have judged by its cover. Just look at that subtitle: Clearing it from some common Errors. Seriously?


My other claim to banned books fame is having smuggled Henry Miller through US Customs at the tender age of eight. Not Henry Miller in person, but a number of books by him which my father had purchased in Paris (Olympia Press's aptly named "Traveller's Companion" editions, as pictured) while the American courts were still debating whether they were obscene or not, and popped into his daughters' little tote bags for the re-entry onto U.S. soil and into U.S. jurisdiction.

I was just remembering with my sister this weekend the heady moment when, tired out by standing in line at LA airport, and perhaps from lugging her tote bag (no cute little wheeled suitcases back then!), she began feeling faint and our parents were frantically trying to get us through before she keeled over and drew the agents' attention to us. She remembers the books as being by DH Lawrence, so it looks as if each daughter might have carried a different banned author.

It was the attempt by Grove Press to publish Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer in the United States which led to the obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography. Witnesses for the defense included a professor of medieval literature at Harvard, who testified (quoted in The Harvard Crimson), about the "meaningless and irrational" social conventions around the use of some words: "Words of Latin and French derivation referring to the sex act and bodily organs are acceptable in English, Bloomfield testified, but words of Anglo-Saxon origin with identical meanings are tabu." Indisputably.

The case was heard by the Superior Court of Suffolk County (Massachusetts, again!), which decided that the book was indeed protected by the First Amendment. I love this passage from the opinion:

That a serious work uses four letter words and has a grossly offensive tone does not mean that the work is not entitled to constitutional protection. Much in modern art, literature, and music is likely to seem ugly and thoroughly objectionable to those who have different standards of taste. It is not the function of judges to serve as arbiters of taste or to say that an author must regard vulgarity as unnecessary to his portrayal of particular scenes or characters or to establish particular ideas. Within broad limits each writer, attempting to be a literary artist, is entitled to determine such matters for himself, even if the result is as dull, dreary, and offensive as the writer of this opinion finds almost all of Tropic. Competent critics assert, and we conclude, that Tropic has serious purpose, even if many will find that purpose obscure.

Personally I prefer Tropic of Capricorn, which was the second of Miller's two autobiographical novels but describes his early days in Brooklyn, to Tropic of Cancer, the one written first, which covers the time after his move to Paris, and is I think the more noted of the two, perhaps because it includes his love affair with cult personage Anaïs Nin. I remember as a teenager devouring the very Tropic of Capricorn I'd sneaked through US customs, a full-immersion in Brooklyn in the twenties, as experienced by an irrepressibly high-energy, high sex-drive, very funny, quixotic genius.

(Genius and lust was the name Norman Mailer gave his book about Henry Miller's works.)

Some past Books in the City posts you might enjoy about banned books and censorship:

Mark Twain on banning Huck Finn

Banned Books Week dinner party

A funny story about censorship




Friday, September 26, 2014

Timothy Kidd's comics choices

The best thing that happened to me this Comic Book Month was reading the piece Kelly Sheehan wrote for Factional, the Faction Comics blog, about the work of Timothy Kidd. For a second I was going to correct that to say 'the best comic-booky thing', but actually I think it was the best thing, period. It's a wonderful, unstinting exposition, absolutely worth reading.

Timothy Kidd is one of my favourite comics artists, as well as being one of my favourite people, unforcedly original and unfeignedly genuine. I still remember that the first time I talked to Tim about his having written a graphic novel, I saw a twinge of discomfort cross his face. Not, as you may be thinking, because he didn't want to talk about his work. It was because of the terminology I used. "People who make comics don't really like the term graphic novel", he said. "We think of all these (gesturing towards Central Library's graphic novel shelves) as comics."

Comics 

It made sense to me. Comics was what I had always called them, too, until I went to work in a library, where the first time I heard someone talking about 'graphic novels' I thought it meant books with explicit sex and violence. What, a whole collection? "No, no, it means comics in book form! You know, when they tell a story!"

Well. Years after this conversation, it's still hard for me to think of the term 'graphic novel' as anything much more than a ploy to convince establishment figures such as book publishers, the compilers of the New York Times 'Books of the year' book lists, school boards, and old-school librarians, that comics can rub elbows with Lit-ra-ture! (Here I need a sound clip of Johnny Angel, creator of Afithe first Samoan superhero, the time he was pretending to me he didn't know how to pronounce the word.) Comics lovers don't need to be convinced! It reminds me of the episode in the American comic classic Doonesbury where a survivor of Nixon's "secret bombings" of Cambodia says "Secret bombings? There wasn't any secret about them! My wife knew too! She was with me and I remarked on them. 'Here come the bombs!' I said."

There's not much to add to Kelly's appreciation of Tim's talent. Here instead, for your enjoyment and edification, are some of the intriguing comics recommendations he's written for us over the last few years.

Or, "Here come the comics !" I said.


Very Casual by Michael Deforge (2013)

syndetics-lc
On the cover is a weird deer. Is it a deer? Maybe not. It is deer-shaped, with deer legs, a kind of deer face, and antlers, all in the right deer places. But something tells me that it is not actually a deer. It seems to be made out of some kind of oozing, red substance and its eye is like a big flat dish. And it kind of has a beak.

Something is wrong with something familiar. Or else something weird is treated as if it was the most mundane thing in the world. This is what Deforge plays around with in this collection of short comics. A faux-natural history comic explains that the creature on the cover is actually a common Canadian quadripedal slug. The narrator in another story is a teenage guy who is super-excited to be hanging out with a cool local band. We the readers see that the band is made up of disgusting meaty blob-monsters, but do the characters notice? No one mentions that the singer looks like a piece of fried chicken. Are the kids oblivious? or brainwashed?... or just living in a world where monsters are pretty ordinary?

This weirdness is so underplayed that it seems all the more weird, and Deforge draws it just right-- in a cartoony, clear line style, so that nothing looks exactly normal. Post-Fort Thunder indie-comics weirdness meets twisted body horror meets goofy bigfoot cartooniness. Weirdness aside, these are compelling stories told in an entertaining way. I really liked this book and I look forward to new things from Deforge.


Everything together by Sammy Harkham  (2012)

syndetics-lcI always try to read every comic Harkham makes but he doesn't always make it easy to be a completist. Most of his strips are published in obscure places-- small anthologies, niche websites, or his own indie comic book, Crickets. I love his stories so much that I have always made (grainy, pixilated) copies/print-outs of them, then read, and re-read those loose A4 pages until they fall to pieces.

So I am happy to say that those short stories have finally been collected in this shiny new volume-- his first book. And it’s great; I think he is the best new cartoonist to emerge in the last ten years. He has figured out the perfect style for comics-- it can be goofy like Popeye, grown-up like Chris Ware, sweaty like R. Crumb, satirical like Dan Clowes, or exuberant like Roy Crane.

I like the way his characters seem to want to be civilized or act like grown-ups, but really are just at the mercy of the random whims and needs that come over all creatures. At some point in a Sammy Harkham story, the façade will crack and a professor will get punched in the nose for blocking another academic’s ambitions (The New Yorker Story), or teenagers will put rubbish bins on their heads and crash into each other (Somersaulting), or one cartoonist will laugh when his dog bites the other’s drawing hand (Clowes+Huizenga). Heartbreaking and hilarious.


Garden by Yuichi Yokoyama (2011)

syndetics-lcIt doesn't have a plot exactly. There are just a lot of oddly-dressed guys walking through a huge landscape filled with weird structures and features. One guy's head looks like the front of the space shuttle, another guy is spiky. They look at the weird things, climb over them, swing, jump, crawl through them and narrate as they go-- "Oh look, it's a river filled with giant rubber balls instead of water" or "The walls are suddenly made of concrete”.

All the strangeness is underplayed, though. The drawing is uninflected and spare -- lines ruled, circles stencilled -- there are no faces to get attached to. It is quite stilted but very fascinating. It looks as if the natural world had been remade out of concrete and water by some faceless architect who had never actually seen the natural world. And the way the reader follows the guys from moment to moment reminds me a lot of platform video games. It is pretty engrossing. I’ve never read anything like it.


Wilson by Daniel Clowes (2010)

syndetics-lcWilson is the kind of guy you would hate to sit next to on the bus-- opinionated, obnoxious and quick to take offence, a middle-aged misanthrope who thinks that he is way smarter than you. Fortunately for the reader, Clowes is a good enough cartoonist to find the humanity lurking within this apparently charmless man. About halfway in, Wilson finds himself alone in the world and goes on an odyssey to try to reunite the family that he has alienated. This plan goes about as wrong as possible for him-- with darkly comedic results. The book is made up of a series of self-contained one page strips, each drawn in a different style. Some of these are individually funny or tragic but taken as a whole they add up to a nuanced and touching story. This approach engages the reader, and gives the book the strange liveliness that is in contrast with its surface blankness. This is an odd book and an odd character but it turns out that Wilson is not so bad.


Auckland Libraries holds these works by Timothy Kidd, published by Comic Book Factory,

Came the dawn. Book One

Came the dawn. Book Two

Came the dawn. Book Three

Coming up, more comic book recommendations...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dorothy Parker, Winnie the Pooh, and a proofreader's Fail

Two recent birthday shout-outs on social media that spoke to me were those for Winnie the Pooh on August 21, the anniversary of the day in 1921 when the real-life Christopher Robin received him as a present, and those for the great Dorothy Parker, poet, short-story writer, critic and notorious wit, on August 22, she having been born on that day in 1893, across the Atlantic in New Jersey, USA. Not just because I am a fan of both, but because coincidences delight me, and this is a very good one, especially when you add in a third august anniversary: August 25, 1928:  the day Dorothy Parker's famous review of The House at Pooh Corner came out in The New Yorker. The one where she sentenced "Tonstant Weader fwowed up".

Harold Ross had started up The New Yorker in 1925, and Dorothy Parker, a fellow-member of that Algonquin Round Table characterized by liquid lunches and sharp wit, was a contributor from the second issue on. She was perfect for the The New Yorker in its early, non-establishment era, of course, being fresh, urbane, sophisticated, and funny, and within a couple of years had found her niche as the author of the popular Reading and Writing column, signing herself Constant Reader, a term from Victorian times used when writing letters to the editor. Charles Dickens, for example, is noted for having written a Constant Reader letter to the Daily News, complaining about their numerous typos, and also the Editor's reply to the letter.

(Keep in mind: typos.)

Here's the story of Miss Parker's review of The House at Pooh Corner, as told by Marlene Wagman-Geller in  Eureka! : the surprising stories behind the ideas that shaped the world:

The House at Pooh Corner proved to be one pot of honey too many for the acerbic critic. The breaking point for Parker was when Pooh revealed that he added the "tiddely pom" to his Outdoor Song which Has To Be Sung In The Snow "to make it more hummy". Her caustic ink stated, "And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

Now, here's what Dorothy Parker's obituary in the New York Times, as posted by the Dorothy Parker Society on their website, has to say about the review:

Book Briefly Dismissed
She reduced A.A. Milne's sugary "The House at Pooh Corner" to water by remarking that "Tonstant Weader Fwowed up" after reading one too many of the word "tummy."

Tummy! Tummy!

Can't you just hear the proofreader?  "Hummy! What's a hummy? She can't have said hummy! It must be a ...a... tummy! That'll be it!"

You just know that mistake would not have been in the original obituary, which was written by the legendary Alden Whitman, the man who made an art of the obituary, the inventor of the "Interview with the still-living", the one where he'd meet with the meritorious before they died to get the story for the obituary he would eventually write for them. Apparently they quite welcomed the chance.

I found Alden Whitman's own obituary in the The New York Times, in their archives.You have to wonder if it were one that he wrote for himself. It does sound like it:
Mr. Whitman, short, amiable and professorial, worked 13 years as an editor on metropolitan and national copy desks of The Times. He became something of a clubman and literary figure in his later life, writing book reviews for The Times and other publications and donning a cape to sally from newsroom for luncheons with authors. 

Now, Mr Whitman would have read Dorothy Parker's review. But even if he hadn't, anyone who was a child in the '20s, as he was, and later a father of four children, would know that Winnie the Pooh is full of hums, Good Hums, Hopeful Hums, all sorts of hums, all modified with capitalised adjectives, as was A.A. Milnes's way, and that of any number of writers attempting to emulate the sacred mysteries of childhood, an annoying habit on their part which Miss Parker did not point out but could have.

Whereas 'tummy' not only does not appear in The House at Pooh Corner, but is simply not a word jazz-agers have trouble with, however much the Dorothy Parker Society might think they do. We even have the story of Hemingway on a clothes-buying expedition at Abercrombies exchanging quips with the belt clerk about his "hard tummy" (punching himself in the stomach with the clerk's hand), courtesy of Lillian Ross's Portrait of Hemingway, which first appeared in ... The New Yorker!


 
Powered by Blogger.