Sheer Brilliance!

June 3, 2011

A place, a road, a door, and some characters.  Its simplicity, depth, comedy, and profound playfulness makes this one of my top Krazy Kat cartoons. To see the entire full-page comic, click here.  Vladimir and Estragon are simply imitators!

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All the world’s a stage

February 17, 2010

click for full strip

Ignatz fashions himself a boomerang brick and shows it to Officer Pup.  Ever mindful of Krazy’s welfare, Pup “get’s rid of it” by hurling it off a magic mesa.  From that point, or even before, we know what will happen, and here it is in the image above.

Somehow, without explanation or comprehensible mechanism, the scene has shifted.  This primal drama of love, longing, and anxiety is being played out…on a stage!  See the boards, the curtains drawn aside, the lamp?  And Ignatz, like the character in Bunuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie who suddenly realizes that the dinner party he is attending is in front of an audience, catches the situation and tries to apprise Krazy of it.  “Pssst…let’s go!”  Pup will suffer the dramatic consequences of the prologue, and they don’t want to be around for it.

As they make their escape, the theater seems to have disappeared, or is it always there?  May I paraphrase Marlowe’s Mephistopholes in his response to Faust, who asks him, “Tell me, where is this place that men call hell?”

The Stage hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d one self place; for where we are is our stage, and where this stage is, there must we ever be.


Krazy Architecture Critic

February 8, 2010

click image for full strip

From it’s completion in 1913 until about 1930, the Woolworth Building, funded by all those drugstore nickels and dimes across the country, was the world’s tallest.  A “cathedral of commerce” it was promptly dubbed, and a monument it truly is.  The entire facade is clad in white terracotta, intricately sculpted in a dizzying array of ornamental shapes.  The lobby is a stunning melange of gothic and byzantine sytles, with gorgeous gold and azure blue mosaics.  Every little piece of architectural furninture is created with brilliant gothic detail.

The structure was built quickly, and paid for in cash.  Click on the drawing here, from The Building of Manhattan by Donald MacKay, to get a detailed view of the innovative foundations that hold it all up.  (I heartily recommend this book for any urban infrastructure fanatics.)  The topmost surface of the bedrock in Manhattan is not on an even plane; it dips and rises in folds.  To some extent, this subsurface geology is responsible for the clustering of high-rises in midtown and downtown, with a relative slough in between.  The bedrock on the Woolworth site was said to be deep, too deep to excavate the entire pit down that far, so the caisson tubes were sunk instead.  Well, deep is a relative term, and what was deep in 1913 might not pose a problem today.  Thus, I daily watch over the huge “bathtub” of the World Trade Center site, excavated down to bedrock.  (See this post for a video a bedrock blast.)

Here are two views of the tower from the conference room where I work.  Nowadays, here in the United States of Fear, you can no longer visit the lobby of this great building.  Since 9/11, a sign posted on the sidewalk warns away tourists, and guards won’t let you in the door.  Yep, I’m sure those Islamic terrorists are busy scouring the AIA Guide to NYC for landmarks to target.

The golden ball on a pedestal is on the top of the AT&T Building, the lobby of which is shown below.  The building was erected in stages:  in 1927 the Broadway portion, faced in white, severe and enormous Doric columns was finished.  The entry is a vast space with the feel of a temple, and includes a memorial to the dead of WWI.  The contrast with the Woolworth Building, just across the street,  is extreme

And while we’re at it, here’s a Krazy Kat strip illustrating the need for gun control.


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.