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Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD April Fooled part 5 & (80) ARTSY Graphic Novels Part 1

JEAN SHEPHERD April Fooled part 5 & (80) ARTSY Graphic Novels Part 1

I remember vividly this day.  This tremendous girl is in love with me now.  Not only in love with me, but she says the right things.  The best thing I owned at that time was this red corduroy cap.  It was a great cap.  She noticed that.  You could tell this was real love.  And I was a second baseman and I did like to play second base.  She noticed the way I laid the tag on Schwartz and Flick when they come sliding in there.  I’d get Schwartz right in the eye once in a while, lay one in Flick’s teeth.  She noticed these things!  That’s the right thing for a girl to say to a guy, you know?  And the fact that she could not stand any longer us being apart!  Well, only one thing to do.

So I’m sitting there in the back, and, by George, by about three o’clock in the afternoon, about an hour before school is out, another note is handed to me by Helen Weathers.  Helen Weathers has got this mad look on her.  She always wore her hair like Prince Valiant, she always looked like she was wearing a football helmet, and now she’s sweating and she looks mad: “Here’s another note.”

I look at it.  This one says,

“Dear Jean,

Would you please come to my house tonight?  And I will make fudge.  I must see you after school tonight.  Would you please come to my house about four-thirty.  I must see you.  Please.  Do not disappoint me. 

Your one and only true love.  You are fantastic and I like the way you wear that red hat.  Please come to my house at four-thirty.  My mother will not be there, and we will make fudge.

Your Patty.”

Patty Remaley!  My Patty Remaley!  Holy smokes!  And she’s sitting up there, and doesn’t look back.  Nothing.  Of course you would expect this of a sophisticated girl of the world.  She’s not gonna look back and wave at me when we’re in geography class.  So I’m sitting all the way through the next class, and now school is over.

I had planned to sell seeds this afternoon over on Cleveland Street, because every year, from early April through about the middle, we in the Warren G. Harding School had a custom of selling seeds.  We were supposed to get an encyclopedia for the school library, which we never got.  But all I know is I spent every afternoon during those days going up and down walks and porches and knocking on doors, asking people if they wanted to grow nasturtiums.  But today, I thought, the heck with seeds.

I rushed home and combed my hair.  I was going through my J. C. Penny checkered-Western-shirt phase.  Those red and black and yellow checkered lumberjack shirts.  They were really great.    They were flannel.  Hotter’n hell. I figured it made a statement so I put mine on.  I figured, if she liked my red corduroy cap, I’d better wear that.

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artsyfratsy 10010

Graphic Novels Part 1

I’ve been an enthusiast of graphic novels for decades. I believe the enthusiasm stems from a combination of my lifelong interest in both reading and the visual arts. (It fuses them, just as my ability in exhibit design did.) Most people misunderstand the term, thinking that it’s merely an artsy fartsy way of describing traditional comics that have been gathered into the book format. NOT TRUE! “Mickey Mouse,” “Nancy,” and their ilk could never be graphic novels, and are basically meant for kids, as are most of the shoot-‘em-up, soft core stuff directed toward teenage boys. Yet, most writers/reviewers who, in recent years have been asked to discuss them, write about the storys’ texts and only slightly and ignorantly mention the visual, not caring that a good graphic novel synthesizes word and image into a single artistic whole.

Seeking the answer to “what is a graphic novel” in my recent experience is not helped by googling the term. One encounters mostly a lot of adolescent superhero, violent-type crap. It’s interesting that some public libraries now display and loan out a bookcase-full of “graphic novels.” (Unfortunately, a glance through those available are inferior—they use the comic-book format to simply illustrate the material without creating graphically interesting/creative visuals.) Ironically, one of the finest, the “comic book” Cerebus, started out as a parody of super hero stuff, but evolved into a literate, visually extraordinary, comic book monthly, a 300-issue work subsequently bound into novel-length volumes. Despite the fact that Cerebus contains, in its 300 individual issues, hundreds of visually stunning pages, in googling images of Cerebus, I found not one page worthy of illustrating. So I illustrate from my own collection here and subsequently:


cerebus-knobcover0002cerebus-cover-house0002

Just the covers of two monthly issues.

When’s the last time you saw a “comic book” with such a cover?

(The group of issues titled “Melmoth” depicts the final days of Oscar Wilde)

[More Cerebus to come]

That the kid stuff represents 99% of what can usually be found in most comic book outlets is sad. The best store I’m aware of is Jim Henley’s Universe, near Fifth Avenue on the side street alongside of the Empire State Building (32 E 32nd St—apparently relocated and renamed recently to “JHU Comic Books”). Even there one has to search through lots of dross to find their large selection of good stuff.

In recent years there has been some more intelligent interest in this media, including occasional references and reviews in The New York Times. The lack of proper thinking remains–almost all reviews deal with the text and ignore the way a good graphic novel uses the visual as an important part of the whole creation. Surprisingly, just after I wrote the preceding, I read the Times Book Review of 12/6/2015, a full-page article by A. O. Scott, chief film critic for the paper, describing the graphic novel Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine. He begins with:

“Graphic Novel” is a perfectly serviceable phrase, but it expresses an unmistakable and unfortunate bias, emphasizing the literary identity of a given book at the expense of its visual essence. Pictures are more than prose carried out by other means.

Scott proceeds to describe the stories, noting that the visual contributes to the whole.

The only way to get the nature of graphic novels across properly would be to refer to some of the intelligent books that now discuss and describe comics and graphic novels. However, even here one can be inundated with info focusing on superhero dross for adolescents. Among literate graphic novels, one frequently encounters rather uninteresting visuals doing not much more that illustrating the text. I must admit that I’m especially attracted to striking visual material, and I thus expect the overall text/visual to be an intelligent synthesis. Sometimes I don’t spend sufficient time with the text.

One can also look at some examples of the art, but these can’t really make it clear without perusing quite a few examples of the monthly issues in their entirety. See:

Understanding Comics—The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud—this is the first and most basic of McCloud’s trilogy, which describes—in graphic novel form–what the word-and-image nature of comics and graphic novels is. Here’s a page 

understandingcomics0010

Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner, explaining the nature of what he created and has continued, initiated by him.

Graphic Novels—Stories to Change Your Life by Paul Gravett gives short descriptions and a few illustrations of dozens of graphic novels.

The Comics Journal—This periodical discusses graphic novels and comics in general with extended essays written at the same serious and intelligent level as do critical books on good literature.

Graphic Novels are Artists’ Books

(Lots More to Come.)

ARTSY ARROWS0010

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