Nursery Rhyme

December 11, 2010

I remember this ditty from my childhood.  Do kids still sing songs like this?  Nobody knew where they came from or how old they were.  Has the Internet, Facebook, and continuous digital audio feed via earphones obliterated this folk-childhood culture, or does it yet remain?


Black & White Again

January 31, 2010

Comics are in color too, but I prefer the black and white variety.  Thomas Ott makes stories using scratchboard, rectangles of white material covered with India ink.  The artist scratches to reveal the white underneath – once a popular medium for newspapers since it is so easy to photograph and print.  The image above, from Ott’s Tales of Error, is a wonderful example of the way light can be made to shine out of pure black.

Ott’s stories in that book are full of little O’Henry plot twists and Twilight Zone effects, but I felt they fell flat more often than not.  His images, from what I have seen on the Internet, are all similarly focused on the bizarre, the grotesque, and the plain ugly.  His wordless “novel”, The Number, however, is very successful.

In a series of beautifully designed pages, the bizarre story of a prison executioner is unraveled as he is led on to his doom by a series of numbers on a slip of paper dropped by a murderer sent to death on the electric chair.  At first, the numbers, popping up in unpredictable ways in his life, give the man luck, but that’s gotta change!  Here the man, and his new girlfriend, return home after a successful go at the roulette wheel, using the numbers as a can’t-lose system.

The end of the tale isn’t surprising, but the way that the logic is worked out to its predestined conclusion is nice, and the drawings are wonderful.

Another favorite B&W scratchboard example is Peter Kuper’s comic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The expressionistic style of the stark black and white compositions works well with the story, and it is very true to the spirit and humor of the tale.  (Yes, Kafka is funny! )

Finally, a black and white image done with pen and ink, and reproduced in the newspapers of 1925 – a Sunday panel from Krazy and Ignatz, by George Herriman.  I have dipped into these before because they are celebrated widely as a high point of comics, a great 20th century achievement in art and satire, and a deep poetical statement about…well, lot’s of things.  At first, I was merely amused, but found them a bit tedious.  Now, however, having followed them a bit, as Sunday readers would have, I can say that the more I read, the more seduced I am.  They have a unique atmosphere and sensibility:  surreal, dadaist, poetic, satirical, slapstick, and always composed with sophistication and wit.  One never knows what will come next.

The plot line of the series is quite simple:  Ignatz Mouse lives for nothing but to throw bricks at the head of Krazy Kat.  Officer Pup tries to stop him, but usually fails.  Kat seems to take the endless attacks as a sign of true love, because when a brick hits someone else in one strip, he is very jealous.  I’ve not fathomed all the motives of Ignatz yet.

Sounds like a dada version of a Greek tragedy.  Here the Kat muses on the nature and source of time in a typically arid and otherworldly landscape.

Here Ignatz thinks he’s come upon a source of bricks to last him for a near eternity of head-smashing attacks on Kat.


Tekeli li

January 3, 2008

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Reproduction of this image is prohibited, or at least that is the title of the painting by Magritte shown here. I guess I have involved myself in the sort of vicious logical cycle that he loved so much, and that he painted, by simply showing it here. Or buying it in a book, or on a postcard. Another one along the lines of “This is not a pipe.” A college friend of mine remarked of this painting, “What a nightmare – looking into a mirror and not being able to see your face!” Another interdiction.

The book on the mantle, by the way, is Poe’s “Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym”. That story dealt with unmentionables and things unseen and never seen – the ghastly horrors of the antarctic regions. Pym ends up there on a doomed sailing ship by way of shipwreck, psychopaths, and cannibalism. On expedition into the inland regions of the south, he meets his end, we think, at the hands of vicious natives. All chant, shout, and speak with horror the syllables, “Tekeli li!” What does it mean?

H. P. Lovecraft knew what it meant, or so he claimed. I’d always thought that he wrote junk-fantasy, and so avoided him. Recently, I corrected that error and found him to be a worthy follower, and a worshipper, of E. A. Poe. His story, “The Mountains of Madness” is an over-the-top recounting of an expedition to the south gone awry that connects with the fantastical notions of Arthur Pym – the sounds of “tekeli li” hover ominously throughout this story of the discovery of a vast polar civilization that pre-dates the rise of advanced lifeforms on the other continents. (They appear to have been of the shape of huge cucumbers, tremendously intelligent, and, as in other Lovecraft stories of aliens and ancient civilizations, have “blood” that is sticky, green, and foul smelling.)

The mere sight of the remains of the the huge urban settlements built by these creatures, with the realization that they are millions of years older than the oldest human city, and the eventual discovery that some of the inhabitants yet live, drives some of the explorers positively mad.   Lovecraft repeatedly mentions paintings by Nicholas Roerich (an early 20th century mystic and pacifist) to describe the appearance of the urban remains.

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Metamorphosis

December 10, 2007

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In Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak Memory, there is a chapter in which he takes a break from his sometimes tedious nostalgia about the comings and goings of his aristocratic family and describes the origins of his “mania” for butterflies. Of course, he was a serious collector and respected lepidopterist all of his life.

The image of men with butterfly nets has often been used in movies and TV for comic effect, but apparently his experience was that it was regarded as simply bizarre. Here he describes the impact of his boyish hunts on the startled Russian country people:

“I would see in my wake the villagers frozen in the various attitudes my passage had caught them in, as if I were Sodom and they Lot’s wife.”

Marvelous simile there, a movable city of sin, the burning metropolis of Sodom, plowing through the countryside leaving a trail of salt/stone figures, transfixed by its passing. And here he addresses the frightening aspects of transformation as he comes across a caterpillar on the path:

“…a strange creature…in a frantic search for a place to pupate (the awful pressure of metamorphosis, the aura of a disgraceful fit in a public place).”

I think it was Joyce Carrol Oates who identified the “gothic” element in Dante’s Inferno, as those passages in which characters experience in helpless terror the changing of their bodies into something else. (The “disgraceful fit” reminds me of Dostoyevsky’s descriptions of his epileptic attacks, always ecstatic in the end). Transformations and horror, as with Actaeon, werewolves, American and otherwise, Jekyll-Hyde, vampires male and female, and even the Incredible Hulk.

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(The image at the top is by James Gillray, and shows a celebrated naturalist Joseph Banks.)


For the love of God, Montresor!

August 28, 2007

Here it is. Fortunato (Oscar Wilde) & Montresor (the addled knight.) Now showing!

Click this link: Cask of Amontillado


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