Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Panelists Archive: Comments on "A Mountain of Minicomics"

These are the comments produced back in January 2011, when I posted my article about minicomics storage to The Panelists.

On January 19, 2011, at 9:03 am, Shannon Smith said:
I use these little plastic crate things. They look like plastic milk crates but are half or a third of the size. They are the perfect size and you can usually get them for a dollar or less (two for a dollar) at your cheapo stores like Dollar Tree, Everythings a Dollar, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dumbo Dollar, Holler Dollar, Lol’er Dollar, Lady Gaga’s Dollar Emporium etc. The positives of these little crates are that they are plastic so they hold up, they stack perfectly, they come in all kinds of colors, and best of all, they fit perfectly on a book shelf so you can still have your minicomics right next to your complete set of the the Left Behind series. Jesus approves of proper book case management.
Good luck.

My pal and colleague Charles Hatfield said:
"…first I’ll have to spend a few dozen hours alphabetizing the collection and centrifuging the dross away from the gold."

Oh, gee, such torture. :)

Seriously, I enjoyed this post so much, partly because it was a treat to be reminded of the CCS Library and to check out its blog once again, partly because, as my family can attest, I’m a Container Geek. For some reason I like containers even when, perhaps especially when, they’re empty and I can imagine various ways of using them.

We should try to get some banner ads from IKEA and The Container Store. :)

I don’t have as many minis as you do, Isaac, but I have given this matter some thought. Shannon’s suggestion reminds me that big box office supply stores often have stackable crates on the cheap.

In general, I find it difficult to cleave to pure alphabetization when shelving my comics–any comics, not just minis–because of the sheer daunting variety of sizes. I do end up sorting by size as well as alphabetically; it seems the only safe way to pack very big books on shelves (e.g., the Sunday Press Nemo that I have).

Then Jared Gardner said:
I know such considerations are probably wayyyyy too anal, exposing the not-so-hidden archivist in me, but isn’t there some concern about using those acid-rich packing boxes from Staples for long-term storage? Of course, it is not as if most minis are printed on acid-free paper…

To which I replied,
It’s not as if they’re in archival boxes right now, Jared. I think being able to sort and retrieve them will be a step up from the “archaeological strata” / trashpile mode of storage I currently have going on.

Let’s pretend that when I have more pocket change I will phase out my Staples boxes in favor of archival document boxes with the same dimensions.

And Ben Towle chimed in:
Mine are all in various-sized plastic boxes, but I too wish I had some better system. Those periodical boxes look perfect–if a bit pricey.

Caitlin McGurk checked in to say:
Wonderful post, Isaac! Thanks for the interview, any chance to rep CCS and my own over-saturated comics librarian brain is a good one.

Shannon- any chance you could post a link to the type of containers you’re talking about? I can’t quite visualize them, but it sounds like a great solution.

Jared- as I mentioned in my shpiel, Gaylord Industries does offer acid free boxes, but Isaac and I were going for the cheap and dirty method, just to get the storage set. If you’d like to read more about the acid-free end of treating/maintaining comics, check out the article I wrote for Diamond Comics about a year ago on the subject.

Rob Clough said:
Funny you should mention this. I’m in the process of reorganizing my minis as well, and in fact have just moved my main comics bookshelves into the living room of my small house. I’m just using a conventional bookshelf for my minis, and I’m alphabetizing them by creator. Then I have a separate section for my many, many mini anthologies. There is some question as to what’s a minicomic (Big Questions?), and I also have a few standard-sized comic books in this section as well. When I’m done, I’ll take a “shelf porn” photo of it.

And I replied:
One of the real disadvantages of the system I’m planning to use is that it’s much too blah for shelf porn. I wish I had room for the Alec Longstreth solution.

Shannon Smith replied (to Caitlin):

I tried to find some pics of the small plastic crates online but failed. I’ll have to take some shots of mine sometime. If you google plastic milk crates and look at images you’ll find lots of pics of standard size milk crates which people have been using to store records for ever. They are perfect size for records. Most stores also have the smaller ones which are perfect for minicomics (or 45s). Target or Wal-Mart are probably going to have them in their housewares sections but your cheaper stores should have them for a buck or less. They travel well too. I just them at conventions to both transport my stuff and display it.

Mike Rhode reminded me:

Don’t forget to send the dross to MSU, Isaac!

But I already had plans:
I’ve already promised the castoffs to my pals at the Schulz Library. (Vermont represent.)

Caitlin McGurk said:
Woot woot!!!

My Panelists Archive: A Mountain of Minicomics

Owing to changes in my work rhythms, this post from late January 2011 offered some promises on which it didn't really deliver on. Chief among my regrets is that it did not spur me to a series of "treasure trove" posts about the minicomics in my collection. Also, to tell you the truth, I still haven't found time to set up the archive system that I figured out while writing this post. My minis are still in three big boxes, as pictured here in this post.

I’m reorganizing my workspace this month, and I have decided to take advantage of that necessity by condensing and archiving my minicomics collection. Right now, it’s just piled into three boxes.

The boxes are working okay for me in two ways: they’re not damaging the minicomics, and they’re keeping the minicomics in a minimum amount of space. Or at least they were, until the past two years of SPX attendance overfilled my first two boxes. I’m clearly going to have to winnow the collection.

The main problem is that, as a supposed comics scholar, I sometimes want to find a particular comic without digging through fifteen pounds of other minis. If these were all standard-sized floppy comics, I could put them away in my longboxes with my Kamandi and Two-Fisted Tales. But because minis come in so many sizes, and because I don't live in a big palace, letting every mini take up the same amount of “shelf space” (even in boxes) isn’t really an option.

(Minicomics come in many sizes, see?)

I was stumped about minicomics storage, so I contacted Caitlin McGurk, the librarian at the Schulz Library of the Center for Cartoon Studies. I know they have a big minicomics collection at CCS, and I was hoping Caitlin would have some advice for me on the storage problem.

She wrote:
Being the head librarian at a comic-book school, I've not only heard the strife and whines of how to house minicomics that range drastically in shape and size, but I have also seen some of the most imaginative and interesting ways of storing them. Colleen Frakes arranges hers in the clear pockets of those back-of-the-closet-door shoe racks. Alec Longstreth took general measurements of his minicomics, then custom-built a shelving unit that includes heights ranging from five to fourteen inches. For the rest of us, those minis go in everything from shoeboxes to entertainment centers, milk-crates to I-can't-remember-where-I-put-that-awesome-jewish-supergirl-comic.

No matter which way you go, the biggest issue tends to be arrangement. If you have enough room on your shelf to store 'em all, it's no big deal to alphabetize and sift through. We don't all have that kind of space though, and I like to think that something crafted as uniquely as a minicomic deserves some special representation.

(This is a self-portrait of Caitlin.)

Now, these may not sparkle and shine, but I think the best method of storage (and the way we do it over at The Schulz Library,) is with any kind of Pamphlet File, like these, from Gaylord Library Supplies.

The corrugated cardboard ones are obviously not acid-free, but they are the cheapest way to go. Plus, if you're also using Mylar sleeves, they’ll protect from any harm the cardboard might cause. Otherwise, there are a wide variety of file sizes, colors, and acid-free treatments available if you've got the cash to spare. Once you've got these in your grips, my favored method of arrangement is to alphabetize by creator, tailing the collection with the anonymous material by title. You can slap or draw on a label to the front of each file indicating the contents (A-D, etc.).

The best thing about these files is that they can only hold so much, so once you've indicated the group, you can easily pull that off the shelf and cut down the search time. They're also easy to finger through as long as you don't pack them too full. Once you've got them arranged, they're easy to store on the shelf, in the closet, under the bed, or pretty much wherever. Also, if you have the time, try repurposing other cardboard with a ruler and exacto knife: with a little attention to detail you could easily copy the format for these boxes yourself.

Happy filing!

I really like the Frakes and Longstreth solutions, but I want to be able to alphabetize my minis, rather than sorting them by size, so that books of various sizes by the same author wind up together. If I had more shelf space, those pamphlet files would probably do the trick. Unfortunately, storage space is really at a premium here. If I can help it, I don't want to use any system that makes two digest-sized minicomics take up twice as much space as a full-sized 8½” x 11” monster. I need to be able to store the smaller comics side by side, which means I need to store them flat, parallel to the floor.

Still, using Caitlin’s suggestion of pamphlet files, further consultation with her led me into a little bit more web-searching for other solutions. First, I came upon the possibility of document storage boxes; these led me in turn to some cheap cardboard mailing boxes at Staples.

Caitlin's response to this idea:

I’ve bought and folded a few of the Staples boxes now, and it looks like I’ll have room for twenty of them in the space where my original two boxes were. I should have an easier time finding the minicomics I’m looking for, but first I’ll have to spend a few dozen hours alphabetizing the collection and centrifuging the dross away from the gold. I anticipate that some real treasures will surface during that sorting process, and I’ll let those be material for a few subsequent posts.

If you have other tales of woe or success from the world of comics storage, I'd sure be interested to hear about them.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Scuba Santa of Christmas Island

Okay, so for almost two years now I have been participating in a hobby called Postcrossing, which uses the web to arrange one-time, one-way postcard penpals for you, mostly from international and faraway destinations. It's pretty fun.

Sometimes the postcards I get are really awesome, and sometimes they come with awesome stamps on the back. Case in point:

It's Christmastime in Australia, too, even though they're a week into summer. And you have to figure that if your country contained Christmas Island, you'd do a stamp for it at this time of year.

My Panelists Archive: Comments on "Porcellino Re-Inked"

These are the comments occasioned by my piece on Porcellino's line for the now-defunct Panelists blog.

My friend Ben Towle was the first to comment (on 
January 10, 2011 at 9:17 am):
Your changes also introduce an increased concern with mechanical reproduction: you’d have to worry about getting a photocopier with good, rich ink and you’d have to tinker with the contrast settings a bit to make sure the variations in the line quality are reproduced accurately. Porcellino’s style is married to its physical format in a way that few other artist’s are. It’s perfectly suited to mechanical reproduction on a black and white analog photocopier.

And I said:
What would really get me in trouble with a photocopier is if I re-inked his work with cross-hatching, or with (shudder) gray tones. I think you make a really good point, Ben—and it’s something I should have been thinking about.

(By which I meant, in part, that one has to think about Porcellino's awareness of his own means of publication, and the way that the xerox machine informs his choices in style.)

Sean Michael Robinson then said:

Benjamin- This depends on what type of copier he was using, how well it’s been maintained, how much toner it has etc. A decent copier from the mid eighties up until, say, 2003 would have been able to produce a perfect reproduction of Isaac’s panel without many problems, assuming it was well-maintained and had enough toner. Certainly copiers earlier than that had major problems with black areas, and more “modern” copiers can have problems, especially if you don’t make some adjustments to their settings. (more modern copiers have gotten better at reproducing greys, and thus have gotten worse for most of the tasks required for cartooning- i.e. crisp, black lines. Most, however can be put into a “text” mode that will reproduce crisp black okay). But I can see how Mr. P’s image would be pretty impervious to a bad photocopier. 
Anyway, I’m not lecturing you, I hope- just a public service announcement for anyone that might be reading :) I can’t tell you the amount of minis I’ve read from local cartoonists that have all types of grey variation in what should be crisp black lines…


To which Ben replied:
Exactly my point! 
And, yeah, for sure modern copiers aren’t exempt from those issues. I’ve made enough minis to know that first-hand.

Sean Michael Robinson also said:

This is a bizarre, and pretty inspired, idea, and I have to say that I prefer your version of the panel! (apologies to Mr. Porcellino if you are reading this.) Dead line weight really bothers me- you’ve separated foreground from background and added a hint of lighting implication with the variation you’ve placed here. 
That being said, if I may critique the newly created panel… you’ve added two things that I would consider undesirable- with the little bit of curve you’ve added to the drummer arm you’ve made what was already an uncomfortable joint look closer to a broken arm. Second, the proximity of the left drum stick to the cymbal has added a tangent to the picture that becomes a new focal point- meaning that they’re too close now, and that close proximity draws the eye.
Anyway, this is a great idea. I’m pretty stoked to see where you take this process.

And I said:

The thing with the drumstick was a mistake on my part, and if I could have fixed it easily in Photoshop before preparing the post, I would have. I’ll stand behind the weird anatomy on the drummer’s arm, though, because I really was trying to duplicate Porcellino’s forms, not to “correct” them.
I don’t think it’s such a “bizarre … idea”, really, to imitate or alter someone’s work in order to understand style and its implications. I encourage poetry students to do this sort of thing all the time. Cartoonists do it, too, when they’re learning their craft; why not add it to the critic’s toolkit as well?

And Sean Sean replied:

I meant that it’s bizarre for a critic to do so- I was just thinking recently about the overlap between critics and practicing artists in the cartooning field just recently, actually. I guess partially I’m drawn to the idea of a loop- that, after you’d posted your panel, others would critique your panel :) I don’t consider “bizarre” a bad thing, by the way… I’m intrigued.

Then he posted a link to the nib-pen re-inking of Porcellino that I posted as an update to my original post.

He said, of it:

Here’s a different take, done with a pen nib (Esterbrook 356 for those pen fetishists out there). Kinda reminds me of Gene Deitch with the extra bit of bounciness and variation combined with the simplified drawing.

And I said:

Now, see, that’s what I should have done. I took the easy way out, though: my nib pens are all packed up, and I had a brush pen right beside my keyboard.

Charles Hatfield said,
Dead line weight really bothers me…
It doesn’t bother me in Porcellino at all, for the reasons Isaac suggests. But uniformity of line can pose legibility problems for me in work that is denser, such as some of Ron Regé, Jr.’s stuff, or in certain early minicomics I’ve seen by Simon Gane. Both are very interesting cartoonists, mind you, but at times I have difficulty parsing what I see. Porcellino, I think, has an ideal style and sensibility for uniform line weight.

And Derik Badman replied:

I think this contributes to the tone of his work, since the distance between near and far, in autobiography, is often also the difference between self and other. To give the environment the same line-weight as the central character is to suggest something strong about the permeability of identity, or the influence of world on self (and vice versa).

I love this reading, very astute, Isaac.

Then Jason Overby dropped in to add:

I like John P’s original panel, and I think it’s because it’s devoid of stylization that gets in the way of the transparency between maker and consumer. Porcellino’s lack of “polish” could be read as a lack of trickery, getting away from slickness so that only the core, pure communication is left.
I don’t really like John’s drawings as drawing, but I think his comics are almost better than anyone’s. Similar to Daniel Johnston and others, they’re so immediate that you trust him. I think a lot (as a cartoonist) about how technique can get in the way of content. This is a central struggle for me in comics.

but we have to be skeptical about romanticizing purity, I think, too.

My Panelists Archive: Porcellino Re-Inked

My next post at The Panelists was a reply, of sorts, to Derik Badman's take on one panel from John Porcellino's King-Cat #65.

I should begin by saying that I did not undertake this experiment with the idea that I would improve Porcellino; nor was it my intent to ruin him. My dabbling with comics craft has always been mainly an effort to figure out how comics work. I mean, I draw for fun, too, but mainly I draw in order to see better, so I can write with a more complete sense of a cartoonist’s range of potential decisions. I’ve approached this Porcellino panel in order to understand it better.

Since Derik has already written about the text in this panel, I thought it would make sense for me to focus on the image. And, in the spirit of the “Covered” and “Repaneled” blogs, I thought I’d try to zero in on Porcellino’s style by changing it. So I inked the panel with a brush.

(I am not trying to say my version is any good.)

This side-by-side comparison suggests a few things, even beyond the obvious and undisputed fact that I am clumsy with a brush.

For example, looking at this pair of panels, we might say that the change in drawing tools has less effect on the words than on the images—that my version’s words “mean” in much the same way, but the lines of the drawings start to work differently, even when the lines are “the same.” To an extent, this is surprising, because as Charles and Derik suggested last week, there are ways in which Porcellino’s diagrammatic drawing functions like language, or makes it easy to blur the boundary between text and image. Still, I seem to have altered the drawing more than the text, here.

Porcellino’s minimalism relies heavily on diagrammatic signification: rather than drawing what a drum kit looks like, he’ll draw what it is, leaving out the complicated superstructure in order to show two cymbals, two drumsticks, two drumheads, and the energy around them. A face is the four or five lines that create eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. For those lines to call attention to themselves as lines, rather than as marks in a diagram—for the variability of brush lines to add “life” to the contours—seems to contradict Porcellino’s method of seeing or parsing the world that he draws.

And there’s another important difference. Look at the thick solidity of the drummer’s arm. The brush lines do a lot more than Porcellino’s pen lines to discriminate between foreground and background. In this panel, Porcellino has done some of that work by removing detail from the figures in the background (they’re small, but there would be room for a pair of eyes, at least, on each of those distant faces). But in a lot of Porcellino’s work there’s not much graphic difference between near and far. I think this contributes to the tone of his work, since the distance between near and far, in autobiography, is often also the difference between self and other. To give the environment the same line-weight as the central character is to suggest something strong about the permeability of identity, or the influence of world on self (and vice versa).

This equanimity between subject and environment is, coincidentally, even evident in a small inking decision I had to make about the direction of the energy in the lines surrounding the drummer and his kit: do those lines come from the drummer or from the crowd? (I had done this inking even before the commenter “Nate” focused on the energy lines last Wednesday.)

In Porcellino’s impartial inking, those energy lines are almost like little equals signs, connecting crowd to music rather than directing energy from one place to another. I think this has a lot to do with the sentiment and sensitivity that permeates Porcellino’s stories: his lines imply that everything is interconnected, breathing the same air.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Sean Michael Robinson (of The Hooded Utilitarian) provided an improved re-inking of this Porcellino panel, done with a nib pen instead of a brush. (See the comments below for further details.)

I think this image actually makes my points just as well as my clumsier brush-inked one: that the change in line weight affects the meaning of the text less than that of the image; that the visual distinction between foreground and background seems to undermine something important about Porcellino's tone; and that the energy lines can't "connect" the different parts of the image as well if they reveal or imply the energy's direction.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Panelists Archive: Comments on "Enid Coleslaw and the G.O.P."

My initial post on Ghost World piled up 51 comments over on The Panelists. Apparently people care about Enid Coleslaw!

I am going to try to "curate" the comments a little in this archive, since there was a lot of material there, and not all of it was constructive. I won't misquote anyone, but I will probably prune a few comments and expunge a few more, in the interest of brevity if nothing else.

On January 5, 2011 at 10:41 am, Craig Fischer said:
Neat analysis, Isaac, though I don’t find Enid “uninformed, immature, and a little lame.” To me, she’s a vibrant, intelligent person stuck in a banal environment, and she deals with crushing suburban boredom by wishing that the stuff around her was a lot weirder than it actually is.

Hubba Hubba is a sterile diner located in a strip mall, but Enid elevates it into “the Mona Lisa of the bad, fake diners.” She’s desperate to find the quirky elements (Allen’s hair!) that’ll make going to Hubba Hubba a kitchy, playful experience, even if those elements are actually more pathetic and dismissable than kitchy. Her “What does that even mean?” line is her attempt to make the environment around her strange and interesting—a mantra of sorts that she repeats a page later, while looking at the “Mind-Benders” on the menu.

Maybe part of the “emplotment”—the narrative trajectory—of GHOST WORLD is this: Enid begins as a character who mocks and “makes strange” the environment around her, but it’s not enough. Eventually, she needs a less stultifying, more intellectually stimulating world (not a ghost world, nyuk, nyuk), and even though she doesn’t get into college, she knows she has to leave home, to find people and a milieu worthy of her attention.

To which I replied:

That’s a very hopeful reading of what’s going on in Ghost World, but I really don’t share it. I don’t mean to say that I think Enid is out-and-out lame, but I think that realizing that under her “vibrant” exterior she’s naïve and crushingly insecure is a major part of the book’s trajectory.

I think Enid leaves town to get away from herself, or to get away from her memory and others’ memories of her, rather than to seek a “more intellectually stimulating world.” That’s more or less how she explains her “secret plan” (p. 74-75).

Then, on January 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm, Charles Hatfield said:
I had thought that Enid was commenting on the banality of the idiom in the newspaper headline: IN BED with the GOP. Which, I’ve got to say, is a type of banality--the would-be titillating come-on–-that journalism traffics in so much that sometimes we desperately need an Enid (or a Clowes) to point out how strange and interesting our reliance on such cliches is.

I do agree, though, with the larger pattern of Isaac’s interpretation, particularly with the idea that the prank played on “Bearded Windbreaker” is a turning point in terms of Enid’s understanding that her smartass rebellious hipster persona can actually be damaging, and suffocating. Isaac, it’s at precisely this period, isn’t it, that Clowes also does that great short story “Caricature,” which similarly questions the terms of hipster alienation that the earlier Eightballs insist on? I remember feeling that Clowes was gaining in subtlety and gravity during those issues.

I tend to prefer the Clowes stories that I think aspire to this same type of moral and emotional engagement (I find Ghost World quite moving) over those stories that seem merely icy, chill, and alienating to me, e.g., “Black Nylon” or “Gynecology.”

But I was hearing none of that:

Considering that two pages later Enid says that she used to think “DWF,” in a personals ad, stands for “dwarf,” I think it’s possible that she’s so disconnected from “grown-up”politics that she genuinely has no idea what the G.O.P. is.

Becky’s response is, basically, “Who even reads the articles in the front of the paper? Aren’t papers just about personals ads and stuff?” I’m paraphrasing, and maybe skewing her point a little bit, but I think both of them are genuinely ignorant here.

On January 5, 2011, at 10:44 am, patrick ford said:
Something I’ve noticed over the years is there are many people who want to like, or identify with characters in fiction.
That’s something which has never exclusively interested me, and much of the fiction I like doesn’t feature characters who are intended to be likable.
It’s certain (I think) that Clowes never intended Enid to be a role model.
She really isn’t any more likable than Wilson, less so really because given her shallow personal character if we were to revisit her years later she probably would be more irritating than Wilson.

To which Jared Gardner replied:
Good lord, MORE unlikable than Wilson? {shudder}

I am inclined to agree with Isaac here that we are meant to think of Enid as a little “lame” in precisely the same way we are all inclined to think of our younger selves as a little (or in my case, a lotta) lame. And I think Isaac has found a crucial moment where the change in perspective happens–signaled not only by her political naiveté but in this panel by a (to my memory: forgive me if I’m wrong) uncharacteristic perspective where “we” seem to be seated in the next booth, ourselves (and our freepaper) being judged (lamely) by Enid.

On January 5, 2011, at 1:38 pm, Gabe Roth said:
I read that moment differently. The headline “IN BED WITH THE GOP” is a classic instance of a particular type of insider-speak. The reader is presumed to know not only that GOP = G.O.P. = Grand Old Party = Republican Party, but also that “in bed with” in a political context means “engaged in an (implicitly shady) alliance with.” If you take away all that accreted code knowledge, the phrase starts to seem meaningless and absurd.

I think Enid knows exactly what the headline means. But knowing what it means implicates her in the whole conventional daily-newspaper-reading, political-scandal-following mainstream culture. She doesn’t want to be part of that culture. But to say “God, what a stupid insidery headline” is to say “I understand the discourse in which that headline exists, and therefore I’m a participant in it.” The only way out is incomprehension.

(There’s a similar moment in ‘Wig Wam Bam,’ when one of the pretentious NY art-punks refers to the Dead Boys and Hopey replies, “I hate that song ‘Truckin’.” Hopey knows the difference between the Dead Boys and the Grateful Dead, but, by pretending she’s never heard of the Dead Boys, she announces that she’s not going to participate in this pretentious NY art-punk conversation.)

To which Jared Gardner replied:
I like this way of thinking… but I’m not sure I can buy into (and believe me I wanna) the Enid=Hopey logic here. I mean, we have so many reasons to believe in Hopey’s critical distance from the mass mediated blabbage around here; but do we really for Enid?

And I piled on:
Plus, there’s a big difference between knowing the jargon of mainstream national news-media political-party coverage and knowing the name of a fairly obscure punk band that existed for three years.

And Gabe's answer was:
Enid definitely ≠ Hopey; I just think they’re making the same conversational move in those two panels.

Enid’s problem in Ghost World is the classic adolescent struggle to figure out where she fits in relation to ‘mainstream society’—inside or outside. Inside is for losers, but outside has been so thoroughly co-opted that there’s no real place to stand. ‘IN BED WITH THE GOP’ is just one little example of everything horrible and smug and insidery that she hates about inside. She escapes it by positioning herself (at that moment) as a person who’s not on the inside of political-journalism cliché-speak.

(It’s worth bearing in mind that GW was published in the ’90s, when a teenage outsider wannabe was much more likely to think of politics as a trivial sideshow.)

Then there's a minor bout of sniping from Noah Berlatsky that I won't bother repeating, but it motivated Charles Hatfield to observe this:
... the moral arguments in Ghost World are not reducible to who’s hip and who’s not. There are questions of empathy and responsibility there that exceed, I bet, even what Clowes expected from the work when he was midstream.

To which Noah, after some goading from Jeet Heer, replied:
Oh, all right. Sigh.

I don’t find the questions of empathy and moral responsibility Charles is talking about either engaging or enlightening. As I’ve written about the book elsewhere, what I mostly get from it is an older male creator acting out his attraction/repulsion for younger girls. I think that fits this panel quite well. The girls are looking off panel at the reader/author, whose paper it is. The paper is about the Grand Old Party (coded old and surely male) performing metaphorically sexual acts. Clowes has Enid ironically refusing to understand the headline — a sexual disavowal, which actually means she understands quite well this headline about perverse sex with grand old men. The knowledge/not knowledge binary is a tease and a provocation; the moral experience Isaac articulates in which we are able to feel superior (and/or possibly inferior) to Enid is part of the (sexualized) satisfaction we (the grand old party) get in pretending that Enid knows and does not know us.

... a couple more notes. First, I don’t think this is something Clowes is unaware of. He picks his details carefully; the Grand Old Party is really not just a random choice.

Second — in this reading, Clowes emphatically gets the laugh on Enid. Enid is saying she doesn’t understand the headline in order to show she understands it; she gets the stupid metaphor. But the trick is, that stupid metaphor isn’t just a random paper lying around; it’s a snide sexual remark implicating Enid which has been placed there by Clowes. Enid gets the diagetic point, but not the extra-diagetic point. She’s attempting to assert her control and wisdom, but Clowes shows us she’s just his cipher. In this way Isaac gets the details wrong but the essence right; this is a panel which sneers at Enid for her lack of sophistication. I don’t find that particularly morally insightful or uplifting though.

On January 6, 2011, at 7:46 am, Mike Hunter said:
... why should she not know what “GOP” stands for? Rather than truly not knowing what the headline stands for, or – as Gabe Roth suggested, pretending she doesn’t know, couldn’t she (not to give Enid too much credit, but she’s still no dummy) be making a comment that’s an equivalent of Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” painting? Pointing out that the headline not only cannot be taken for its literal meaning, but that it might not even come close to an accurate representation of the situation in the article?

For instance, it’d be as if Enid were to overhear someone saying “Have a nice day!” and comment, “What does that even mean?” Of course, understanding the intended meaning of the phrase, but raising questions such as, how many good things are necessary for making up a nice day? Does it mean, for some unfortunates, having a day in which far fewer lousy things happen? (I.e., as in “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”) And so on…

So, her comment is simply another manifestation of her “looking through/beyond surface manifestations and culturally-accepted meanings and facades” attitude. And finding them meaningless. (“There’s no there, there!”)

...And on January 6, 2011, at 7:46 am, Rob Clough said:
The key line in the book, to me, is when Enid realizes that she and Becky are going in two different directions as people because Becky doesn’t hate herself. It’s the point where Enid voices her depression, where she understands that things can’t continue how they’re going. She’s created a world where she’s an outsider no matter what else she does, and so has to leave that world. Her rift with Becky finished off the only connection she had left, and she realized that the rift was not Becky’s fault for better adjusting to society, but hers for being unable to. Leaving town–leaving the story, as it were–can be construed as much as a form of metaphorical suicide as it is metaphorical rebirth. She’s not smiling or happy when she leaves (anticipating a rebirth or a new life)–she’s just hoping the escape can ease her pain.

... I thought your point was quite astute about Clowes putting together a narrative on the back end, basing it on clues he laid in the early chapters.

Then the conversation gets tangled up. Here, Jeet Heer is replying to something Noah Berlatsky said a few comments ago:

@Noah. “what I mostly get from it is an older male creator acting out his attraction/repulsion for younger girls”: this is a pretty good example of “the intentional fallacy” in action. I don’t think its very fruitful to judge works of art by what the author’s presumed motives are. In fact, I don’t even think it’s possible for anyone (even Clowes) to know what the motives of his art art, or what the motives of any art are.

The issue of “moral questioning” that Charles raised have to do with the friendship between Enid and Becky, and also how the two girls treat other people. This is something that can be discussed by looking at what Clowes wrote and drew. It doesn’t really contribute to the conversation to speculate about Clowes motives, unless by chance you are a telepath. If you are a telepath, then tell us and continue to enlighten us about the secret, ulterior motive of artists. On the other hand, if you are a telepath, you could use your power in more frutiful ways, perhaps by uncovering government and corporate corruption.

And I said:

I’m not really interested in whether Clowes personally thinks Enid is hawt, but I find that I am interested in at least one aspect of an author’s perceivable psychology (intentional or not): as his interests and ideas shift, the themes of the works shift. If I find myself responding more to the ideas in David Boring than in Like a Velvet Glove, and I know they’re written by the same person, I want to see when those new ideas started to develop.

Noah seems to be caricaturing those ideas as merely an older (not yet middle aged) cartoonist pining for teenage indie tail and then rejecting the notion of jailbait.

For me, or at least in my reading of Ghost World, it’s about more than (or less than?) simple attraction to scornful ugly-cute teenage girls: instead, it’s about Clowes as a writer moving out of a period of personal grotesquerie and universal satire (as in “I Hate You Deeply”) and into a period of social observation, where he becomes interested in writing characters.

There might be a grain of truth in Noah’s lampooning—remember the way that Clowes has Enid show up admiringly at a zine-store signing in “Punk Day,” then draws himself looking like a seedy dork—but I think the real crux of the matter is artistic development beyond teenage scorn and hipster one-upmanship. This is a lot closer to Charles’s notion of ethical stakes than Noah is allowing. And I think Clowes makes that turn in “Hubba Hubba.”

Jeet's reply:

@Isaac. I find your reading of Ghost World as a liminal work in Clowes’ oeuvre to be compelling and persuasive. But seeing Ghost World as being thematically focused on Clowes’ own evolution as an artist is a bit different than the type of argument Noah is making, which is that we can divine Clowes’ motives for doing the type of art he does. Your reading of Clowes is based on looking at the trajectory of his career, on looking at the comics itself. I think Noah’s approach is based on some sort of pretense to telepathic powers.

And mine, to him:

Well, you could call that a pretense to telepathic powers, or you could call it Freudian criticism…

As I said, though, I don’t think that “Did the cartoonist want to jump these fictional characters?” is the most interesting question we could be asking about a text.

And Noah entered into a comment about as long as the original post. Some of it went like this:
... I don’t think Clowes wanted to jump the characters necessarily, or only, by the by. It’s about inhabiting them too. Sadism is not just lust; it’s control.

There are lots of older men in Ghost World, incidentally. Clowes himself shows up, but there are various other figures wandering around the edges. And of course Enid’s name is Clowes’ name. Seeing her as and Becky as doppelgangers (doppelmeyers?) is hardly a counter-intuitive reading.

... Isaac, in terms of what’s more interesting in the text, morality or jumping bones. Do you really see Clowes’ moral vision as especially serious or insightful compared to folks who actually care about that stuff — George Eliot, Tolstoy, Jane Austen, even Dickens? It all just seems pretty thin gruel by those standards to me — the characterization is thin, the “morals” such as they are boil down to “don’t be a prick” — I just don’t see it as an especially powerful or interesting moral vision. Do we really need someone to tell us that it’s cruel to prank call people? I mean, this isn’t Lydgate being tempted here. The moral questions aren’t what’s interesting; what’s interesting is watching Enid be taught A Lesson.

To me, that’s because the energy of the book is not invested in morality as morality; rather it’s invested in morality as a lever of desire and power, about the experience of condemnation and wanting to be condemned. That’s why you’re reading of this panel isn’t really about morality. It’s about knowledge, and it’s about contempt. And about Clowes, of course.

To which I replied:
I don’t think I’m trying to compare Clowes to Tolstoy here. I’m comparing “early Clowes” to “later Clowes”—and noticing a difference that has to do with the position (moral, ethical, social, whatever) of the satirist or the satirical impulse.

Early in Ghost World, as in the Lloyd Llewellyn shorts, the satirist is impervious; beginning in “Hubba Hubba,” making fun of people starts to seem like a sign of personal insecurity and even a certain sort of naïveté. I think that’s an interesting development.

Rob Clough added:

To tie Isaac’s claims back into what I said, Ghost World represents the turning point between unfettered, unimpeachable satirist and a more self-aware artist and person understanding what their constant sneering represents. I agree 100% that Enid is a Clowes stand-in, but the issue is not even controlling a young girl, but rather exploring and expressing the understanding of how much self-loathing she (and he) possess at that point in time. Clowes drawing himself in as a grotesque, pathetic toad isn’t just a good gag, I would argue, but an expression of his own self-loathing.

Enid being taught a lesson regarding pranks isn’t a simple control/corrective of a young female, it’s Clowes castigating himself for indulging in the pleasures of simple cruelty as a way of coping with alienation.

Lastly, while I agree with Isaac that Clowes’ character work became much sharper starting with Ghost World, I would argue that nearly every one of his characters represented some autobiographical aspect of his life, personality and/or desires. Even with all of the pomo deflections, Clowes’ work is deeply personal.

And Jeet chimed in:
I think Clough pretty much hits the nail on the head in sharpening the point Isaac originally made taht Enid is a way for Clowes to reexamine his earlier artistic practices. I’d go further and note that their is a contradiction between saying that Enid is Clowes’ alter-ego and saying that he’s using her as a punching bag to work out his revulsion/attraction to young women. Yet the same critic can hold these two positions simultaneously.

Then Ken Parille got into the discussion:

Rob Clough says: “To tie Isaac’s claims back into what I said, Ghost World represents the turning point between unfettered, unimpeachable satirist and a more self-aware artist and person understanding what their constant sneering represents…”

I see this kind of self-awareness in many earlier works by Clowes. It might be harder to perceive because the narrative is more surreal and less satirical, but the ways characters interact in Velvet Glove, especially Clay’s involvement with the grotesque Tina, shows someone conscious of these issues.

“Why I Hate Christians,” published in the same Eightball as the first chapter of GW, is perhaps the best example of story in which Clowes directs at himself the kind of criticism he directs at others; and he explores the personal impulses and social conditioning behind his parody. “The Party,” also in this issue, shows Clowes’s attentiveness as he critiques his own sneering at ‘hipsters’ and the objects they have on display in their apartments. Clowes often impeaches himself.

You also see in Pussey! (begun 1989) an identification with the satirical target . Clowes writes in the introduction to the 3rd edition:
“The initial spark for many of the Pussey stories came from some misplaced, low grade desire for ‘revenge.’ As time wore on I began to feel more and more sympathy for Mr. Pussey. I started to see him . . . as a variant of myself.”

Isaac says: “Early in Ghost World, as in the Lloyd Llewellyn shorts, the satirist is impervious; beginning in “Hubba Hubba,” making fun of people starts to seem like a sign of personal insecurity and even a certain sort of naïveté. I think that’s an interesting development.”

I think it’s there, though, in the third panel of the first chapter, in which Becky calls Enid out for her hypocritical attack on Sassy readers. Enid maybe impervious to this criticism, but Becky and Clowes understand what motives Enid’s hostility. Enid develops a self-awareness later in GW that has been present in Clowes’s work for a while.

To which "Caro" replied,
I agree with Ken: my experience of the panel Isaac describes wasn’t meaningfully different from my experience of the 3rd panel of the first chapter, even on my first read.

I think I’m hesitant in general about the “shift through time” linearity of your argument, Isaac. Ouevre questions aside, I didn’t find Ghost World to have nearly as linear a narrative trajectory as the shift you’re describing suggests — I read it in the Eightballs (long after their original publication) and it was very nested and recursive to me, with each episode covering very similar ground save very subtle, significant, changes as Enid matured. There were constant metaphorical returns as well — really a structural tour de force. (I was apathetic about it, actually, until I got deeply invested in disagreeing with Noah’s reading from our roundtable last year.)

I still disagree with Noah, but also with Jeet — there’s nothing contradictory about representing a character from both inside and outside. Although I don’t see the same objectification here that Noah does, I think the objectification that is there is of a piece with the identity crisis at the heart of the narrative — the blurring/confusion of self and other — “desire is the desire of the Other” — it is Freud playing the piano there on the back cover of Issue #17…

And Ken tied the whole long discussion up with a bow:

The Sassy scene is also complicated by the fact that Enid is attacking the magazine on Clowes’s behalf; the editors had stolen a panel from Eightball and used it to illustrate an article in 1990.

I promise my other Panelists posts won't need to be followed with such an extensive archive of comments.

My Panelists Archive: Enid Coleslaw and the G.O.P.

You may already know that The Panelists, a six-member blog that launched at the beginning of this year, is shutting its doors on January 1. As one of the contributors (if perhaps the least steadfast of them), I'm planning to transplant my smattering of posts from there to here, where they will at least still be available to internet searches (if in a more obscure or less trafficked corner of the web).

I'm going to try to reproduce or archive the comment threads for the articles, too, at least to some extent. They're a little messy, because of the nesting of replies, but I'll make what I can of the muddle and present them in separate posts after each article.

I'll start with my very first piece, from the first round of our two-week "one-panel critics" stunt. Here it is:

I’ve been teaching comics in university English departments for nine years now, and I think I’ve put Ghost World on every syllabus I’ve used. Assigning the book to a decade’s worth of college students means that I’ve watched Enid Coleslaw and Becky Doppelmeyer go from being hipster role models to historical specimens.

(Here’s a way to simulate that experience: imagine a book about two teenage girls in which every phone conversation is connected to the wall by a wire and every bit of recorded music comes from vinyl and a stylus.)

From the beginning, one of my preoccupations with Ghost World has been the way Clowes begins with three or four self-contained short comics that he initially has no intention of gathering together, then transforms them post-hoc into the first chapters of a longer narrative. He has to find clues of a nascent story in the material he has already written, because it’s already published and read, impervious now to editing.

So I’m interested in watching the later chapters develop conflicts from brief signs earlier in the book, then escalate those conflicts and resolve the tensions that Clowes has actually only recently introduced. The book is also clever in the way that it selectively returns to the sideshow characters of earlier episodes—John Ellis and Bob Skeetes, yes; but not Carrie Vandenburg or Johnny Apeshit—in order to create a sense of narrative symmetry. (David Boring also makes a remark about “narrative symmetry” as his plot is hurtling toward its climax, even though it’s a narrative he has supposedly constructed himself.)

I’ve also become interested in trying to pinpoint the moment when things change, in Ghost World, from satiric one-off observational strips to the “plot” or the sense of “emplotment” (a word academics actually use). The shift follows pretty closely on the moment when Enid and Becky go from being culturally savvy know-it-alls, ripping on Sassy magazine and assorted local weirdos, to vulnerable and somewhat naïve girls. Maybe if you scratch any rebellious indy teen façade, you’ll find self-image angst underneath, but the redefinition of Becky’s and Enid’s characters isn’t only a question of revealing their vulnerability. It’s also a question of redefining their interaction with the culture around them, since the characters began as spokesgirls for a certain stripe of indy scorn and satire.

This is why their two trips to the fake ’50s diner and the practical joke they play on “Bearded Windbreaker” are important enough to be the crux of the Ghost World movie. Watching “Bearded Windbreaker” suffer the heartbreak they invent for him, Enid and Becky get their first grownup sense that not every prank call is funny for the person who picks up the phone.

At the beginning of the chapter, Clowes reveals Enid to be deeply clueless about the outside world in a way that rewrites a lot of her seeming savvy in the previous chapters. Up to this point, Enid has been cool, positioning herself against the stupid, the pretentious, and the lame: “I just hate all these obnoxious, extroverted, pseudo-bohemian art-school losers!” (Is that Enid talking, or Lloyd Llewellyn?) But then the change-up:

Enid’s fun to hang out with, but how seriously can we take a high-school graduate who doesn’t know what the G.O.P. is, or what it would mean for a lobbyist to be in bed with them? Don’t we have to think of her as uninformed, immature, and a little lame? This is the panel that gets us ready to think badly of Enid’s prank on “Bearded Windbreaker.” It’s also the moment, at least in my reading experience, when we start looking at these girls from the outside, as characters, instead of seeing the semi-grotesque world through their eyes. In other words, this is the panel in which Clowes moves away from Lloyd Llewellyn and Like a Velvet Glove territory and starts to make David Boring and Ice Haven possible.

In the next post you can see the original comment flurry from this piece.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Alphabeasts: K is for Kalidah

Okay, my Alphabeasts entry for this week is a little later than it might have been, but considering the holiday fluster of last week, I don't think it's really all that tardy. I promised an animal you might not have heard of, from a very famous book, and I give you the kalidah.

As you can see behind the link on its name, there are kalidahs in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, but they don't make the transition into the famous movie, except perhaps in the second and third terms of "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"

Here's the Cowardly Lion's description of these beasts. It's the only description of them in the short chapter that deals with them, which comes right before the drowsy poppy-field chapter.

They are monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers ... and with claws so long and sharp that they could tear me in two as easily as I could kill Toto. I'm terribly afraid of the Kalidahs.

Of course, the Cowardly Lion is terribly afraid of most things. But we do later learn—when the heroes are pursued by them—that a kalidah is bigger than a lion. Fortunately (spoiler alert) Dorothy and her escorts manage to avoid the kalidahs and reach the Emerald City.

Here's the only image of the Kalidahs in my copy of The Annotated Wizard of Oz, which uses the original illustrations by W. W. Denslow.

(You can see another image, with a plot spoiler of sorts, here.)

It occurred to me, as I was working on my drawing, that The Wizard of Oz isn't the only early-twentieth-century children's book with tigers and bears (oh my) in it...

Next week: I gotta fire up my Netflix queue to watch a movie from 1982.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What my Ph.D. Means to Me: Holiday Edition

I finally got my grades done on "Monday night," a little before 5:00 AM.

The last day of classes was December 7. Over the following twelve days, I graded that entire stack of papers. How much do you think it weighs?

Answer: nine and a half pounds, if we're just talking literally.

Maybe it's not as bad as it looks. I am only returning the ones above the shift, about halfway up. The others were read but not marked. But that top half of the stack has had its grammar marked (every misplaced comma, every confused homophone), along with critiques of the argument or pacing or metaphors.

Now I get to think about the holidays.

For the record, I got my Ph.D. about nine years ago, at one of the most prestigious institutions in my field. You might think that by now I would have felt some sense of professional advancement.

Instead, I have every reason to expect this workload (or more) until I retire, quit, or expire in the saddle.

The next time my students suggest that they are thinking about going to graduate school, I'm going to ask, "Do you like grading papers?"

And if they don't answer, "Like it? I LOVE IT!" ... well, I feel a strong moral obligation to discourage them.

But I shouldn't complain. I am lucky, in fact, in that I even have a job.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Alphabeasts: J is for Jeep

This week's Alphabeasts drawing ought to be familiar to all you comics fans. Back in 1936, E. C. Segar's Olive Oyl received a mysterious package, out of which emerged the mischievous critter known as Eugene the Jeep.

A jeep, you see, is a fourth-dimensional creature that has somehow been tangled up in the form of an African Hooey Hound. Or something like that. What he's doing here is telling me that I can't have any Christmas fun until I finish grading my papers.

There's some evidence that Segar's jeep actually did suggest the name for the motor vehicle, during World War II. I'd always heard that "Jeep" came from "GP" for "General Purpose," but apparently that may be apocryphal etymology. If it seems crazy to you that a marginal comics character would be known well enough to lend a nickname to a vehicle, remember that Eugene was also featured in moviehouse cartoons.

"The jeep is a magical dog that can disappear an' things."

I have to say, I found it a lot easier to wrap my head (or my pencil fingers) around Segar's forms, compared to Mercer Mayer's. Must be from reading all that Krazy Kat: Eugene seems to me to be a member of the same fraternal order as Ignatz Mouse.

Anyway, I was happy enough with my pencils this time around that I wanted to save them in case I messed them up. So here are a couple of "process" images, first of the stuff I erased under the inks in the final drawing...

... and then of the doodles that helped me figure out how the jeep works.

Next week: a creature you may not ever have heard of, from a very famous book.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ichipotomas Fanart

Let me make it clear that although I am a big hadpanagus booster, I love all of the alphabeasts that AZ has been coming up with. If I had the time, I would already have drawn my takes on her first nine creatures. It's not just about hadpanagus over here. No, no.

This week, she invented the ichipototomas, or maybe just ichipotomas (the name has variations), about which she says:

ichipototomas is a quiet shy hipopotomas with antlers.
A super crazy creature toataly. he eats grass! he hides in the trees at day time, so hadpanagus wont come and steal his butt, and he comes down and sits by the ocean at night. but sitting there makes him itch, so he just sits there itching all night. lives under trees and fears birds. if a bird is in the tree above him he sticks his head down in the dirt, with his tail down. he eats mice while hes down in the dirt. if he’s in a tree hiding, and a bird is in same tree, he would jump to another tree or jump onto another planet and back.

Right away, I wanted to draw my own version, and I started copying AZ's painting as faithfully as I could:

But then I thought that it might be nice to put the ichipotomas up in a tree, hiding its butt from the hadpanagus, hoping that no birds were going to come and scare it into jumping to another planet.

That seemed like a scenario with some potential for drama. I mean, I am sympathetic to the itchy, but scary birds are more fun to draw.

I was sorely tempted to prop that tree up, a la Horton Hatches the Egg, to make it a little more stable, but then I thought that the ichipotomas might need a little spring in the tree when it jumped to its next planet.

Okay, maybe I should get some sleep.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Alphabeasts: I is for Ickky

This week's Alphabeasts entry comes from a children's book that I enjoyed when it was brand new and I was a little kid, Mercer Mayer's Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo.

It's the story of a pith-helmet-wearing, beak-nosed, super-mustached professor-cum-zookeeper who has collected a "beastie" starting with every letter of the alphabet except Z. He travels to the ends of the earth searching for the Zipperump-a-Zoo, then returns disappointed to a home (SPOILER) positively infested with the little drunken gremlins.

Many of the book's beasties are about twenty feet tall, or bigger, but three domestic-size beasties follow Wormbog on his peregrinations, and one of them is an irreverent ickky

(The gingerbread man probably has salt and pepper and butter on it.)

Normally I'd link to other websites to lead to further information about my alphabeast, but there doesn't seem to be much about the ickky out there on the web. (A marginal critter from a single 35-year-old kids' book? Shouldn't there be a wiki page for it, at least?) Let me tell you what I know:

I know the critter is called the ickky because it appears in the abecedary lineup early in the book. (This splash page, by the way, could be a resource for anyone else working on the Alphabeasts, as long as you don't need it for R or S, which are covered up by characters standing in front of the fence.)

(And yes, quite a few of the beasties have bat-wings for ears.)

Wormbog's ickky spends much of the story loafing or cowering with a rainbow-scaled rhinoceros-dog critter called the kerploppus.

(The kerploppus apparently also appears in Mayer's Little Monster series, which are sequels of a sort to Wormbog. They're a little after my time, so I don't know whether the ickky returns there.)

At one point the kerploppus and the ickky abandon Wormbog in order to work for "Island Joe," but Wormbog encounters them again in a cave deep below the surface of the earth (they're working a concession stand and look mighty bored), whence they follow him home. Following their antics (and the other surplus details in the illustrations) was one of my pleasures in reading the book as a kid.

That said, I have to admit, I found it really tough to ape Mercer Mayer's forms. There's something about his curves or his lines that doesn't feel at all "native" to my drawing hand, and it took me a long time to approximate the look of the ickky.

I don't even think I wound up getting it right, in the end. But them's the breaks. Perfection is for people who don't have papers to grade.

Next week: an imp from 1936.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hadpanagus Fanart

One of the contributors to Alphabeasts has been cranking out really crazy mythological creatures that I had never heard of before, and with her entry for the letter H I simply could not resist jumping on the fanart bandwagon.

The artist in question is AZ, the daughter of another contributor. AZ is six years old. This is what she has to say about her creature hadpanagus:

HADPANAGUS just walks around & says “look! a butt!” & he eats butts! & grows butts! & wears butts! he just loves butts!


Hadpanagus also hooks butts onto his butt, so all the butts trail along behind him like a tail. he already has a tail, so now that he hooked a butt tail on, he feels like he has two tails! he even sews butts together for blankets & pillows & matreses & carpets & you know what? he even sings about butts! he just needs butts! just give him some butts! he has millons of butts he has millons of piles of butts. he eats butts with butter he also chases giingerbread men a lot, so he can stick them in the crack and then put some salt and pepper and butter on!

I am not the first to draw a fan tribute to hadpanagus, and I'm sure I won't be the last.

AZ's mom has also taken a crack at it (so to speak), and I believe her version met with AZ's disapproval. I hope mine passes muster.

If the relevance of hadpanagus's speech balloons isn't initially obvious, please give this video a minute and a half of your time.

And if you find that amusing, you might also listen to the video behind this link.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Alphabeasts: H is for Heffalump

It's the end of the term, and I should really be grading papers instead of drawing. I was joking last night about taking a close-up picture of some melted cheese on top of a pizza and passing it off as a Horta, but in fact I'm saving my Star Trek Alphabeast for a monster even dearer to my stupid heart in its way.

Instead, this week's Alphabeasts entry comes from one of my favorite books in all of Modernist fiction, and certainly my favorite such book to read aloud. That's not Ulysses, believe it or not, but Pooh. This week, H is for Heffalump.

That's a bit of a quickie drawing (with quickie coloring), and I'm not too happy with it, but I tried to make the heffalump a little different from merely a more familiar pachyderm up on its hind legs.

I am dimly aware that Disney has once again defiled the Pooh stories by creating some sort of cutesy, plush, kawaii abomination in a so-called Heffalump Movie—you may click here to see images, but beware that they are horrible and cannot be unseen. In fact, if you are a parent, I think it is crucial that you do not allow your children to see those images until they are well familiar with Ernest Shepard's original decorations.

There are two actual images of the Heffalump, in nightmare visions by Piglet and by Pooh. It is a creature of the nervous imagination, possibly even Very Fierce with Bears and Pigs. Only Christopher Robin has (possibly) ever actually seen one. The images I'm linking to are, really, conjecture at best.

And yet there is a chapter in Winnie-the-Pooh in which "Piglet Meets a Heffalump."

If you have never read this story, or indeed if you have never read it aloud, I exhort you to find a copy and read it before you hit my spoiler image below. This isn't the only time I've recommended the books, but let me say that Milne's Pooh books are great to read aloud, because they have a lot of little quirks and jokes that only appear as the reader makes the words on the page into sounds. If you haven't read the originals, and think of Pooh only as that Disneyfied pabulum, then you owe it to yourself (and anyone you read to) to put the real books in your hands. They're wonderful.

Okay, are you ready for the spoiler? In the chapter in which Pooh and Piglet resolve to trap a heffalump (despite Piglet's anxiety), Pooh himself winds up in the bottom of their Very Deep Pit, with his head stuck in an empty honey-jar. The very moment when he makes a "loud, roaring noise of Sadness and Despair" is the moment when Piglet peeks into the Pit to find out what they've caught.

This is the Heffalump that Piglet meets.

Next week: an irreverent creature from an alphabestiary I loved when I was a tot.