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I would turn to page fifty-seven and there it would be at the top: pizzicato. Pizzicato means a string that is plucked. “Should I start at the top, Miss McCullough?”
So I would grab that bass and I would start dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun. Now my left hand is aching all the way up to my shoulder and I feel seven gigantic blisters forming on my right-hand fingers—which never did when I normally played. I used to dread Thursdays. She never told me anything. Just used to sit and listen.
So, wherever you are, kid, taking those music lessons, we bow our heads for ten seconds in silence. I know exactly what you’re going through. God only knows the torture that man can wreak upon his fellow man.
End of Music Lessons
Stay tuned for even more of Shep’s music
MOM’S VIOLIN, PARAKEET, AND EGGS
As a young woman, Marjorie Crosby, my mother, left home to play the violin in vaudeville. She joined a woman’s dance troop. The dancers would come on stage and do a few numbers and then leave to change costumes, which is when my mother would come out from behind the curtain and play classical music for the audience.
The dance ensemble moved from city to city, and in New York, finally broke up, where my mother remained, eventually meeting my father, Benno Bergmann. After a long courtship, extended by the financial strain of the Great Depression, they married and had me, their only child. Eventually she taught me to play the violin well enough to be in the high school orchestra.
From time to time, when we had guests, mom would play the violin for them. As she was very shy, with our adult friends in the living room, she entered the next room, closed the French doors, and then play.
My mother taught our parakeet to recite poetry. She set up an audio tape loop, playing a word or two over and over by his cage until Pretty Boy could repeat it, then go on to the next word.
Eventually Pretty Boy could recite, all together, the first lines of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám:
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
Friends kept erroneously saying that Marjorie’s bird could recite Shakespeare. So she taught Pretty Boy to recite a few lines:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
A bird food company wanted to pay Pretty Boy to recite during a live TV commercial, but Pretty Boy would only perform when he wanted to.
Then my mother, inspired by Faberge Eggs, began designing her own original creations with chicken eggs. She discovered a way to be able to twist the egg shells into varied shapes. (She would never reveal her secret.) Sometimes she would also design cutout shapes for the basic shells and my father, with his Dremel tool, would cut them to her specifications.
She promoted her work to a mid-town Manhattan bank, which displayed her eggs one Easter season in their show windows. I designed an exhibit of them for the Museum where I worked. One year, New York’s Daily News sent a photographer and a reporter to our house, and her work was displayed in the Easter Sunday double-spread of its magazine section.
She designed and made elegant royal crowns,
complete with real diamond, ruby, and emerald chips.
Marjorie Crosby Bergmann
was our family’s original
artsy fartsy artist supreme.
And then I would start to play eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh. Eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh eughhhh. Augh-augh-augh-augh-augh- auuuugh. My hand would start to ache. It never ached whenever I played it by myself or when I was playing in the orchestra. I was hanging around with Schwartz and we used to jam a lot and it never ached! I’d play for two hours straight! All I had to do was play maybe three or four measures for Miss McCullough. My hand was aching all the way up through my elbow. It’s your left hand that aches when you play the bass. Then I would finish the section eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh eughhhh. Augh-augh-augh-augh-augh- auuuugh.
“Thank you. Now would you turn to page fifty-seven. I’d like you to try page fifty-seven and begin at the top.”
I don’t know what got me thinking this way (probably images by Picasso), but whenever I see three dots or little circles in some arrangement, I see two eyes and a mouth—a face. I see faces everywhere. So, for me, it’s only natural that when I come across a cardboard easel used to support upright a flat ad on a counter, I see the opening as a mouth.
I began making animal faces and abstract faces by drawing on easels with felt-tip markers. Some of them are rather tall and work well for large animals such as bulls, elephants, giraffes. Then I thought they might be a good adjunct to commercial displays of perfume or other objects for sale, so I arranged some in our backyard and photographed them for my design portfolio.
I made an appointment with Tiffany’s renowned window display designer, Gene Moore. He liked my easels a lot but said they were too dramatic and would overwhelm the jewelry. He recommended that I show them to his friend across Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, who designed the windows for Bergdorf Goodman’s Delman Shoe Department. This designer liked them and bought them from me. (I made copies of them for me to retain.) He used them for all of their 5th Avenue windows–not for the usual month, but for two. He gave me black and white photos of the displays.
I’ve got my easel faces scattered on perches around my study,
from which they peer down at me.
Miss McCullough taught the strings in the orchestra. And every Thursday at three-thirty was my time. And for fifteen minutes I would stand before this music stand with a big, double, B-flat bass. Big bass fiddle. She would just say nothing. She’d just take the exercise book that we used and she would open it to a page and say, “I want you to start at figure C.”
I would take up my bow, nervous, sweating, and I’d put rosin on it. I always used to try to stall for time. I’d put a lot of rosin on it. I’d put my hand up to the pegs and listen dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn. I was pretending to tune it. Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn. Miss McCullough would look at her watch, meaning, let’s get on the stick! She says nothing, she’s sitting there in her metal chair, just waiting.
Going to work at the Museum by subway, I used to take a longer route than necessary so that I could have a comfortable seat and be able to easily read my book. From Forest Hills, Queens, I’d take the F Train to 6th Avenue and 34th Street, then climb stairs, go through a mezzanine, then downstairs to the Uptown B Local and get off at the Museum’s 81th Street stop. That was until I met a violin busker, James Graseck.
One morning, about to go upstairs, amid the noise, hustle, and bustle, I heard a classical violin despite the roaring trains, on the far side of the tracks—yes, in the subway. I went up, across the mezzanine, and down, finding the musician playing. I listened until he stopped, and put a dollar in his violin case.
Every morning I sought him out and went over to listen. I bought one of his CDs, I introduced myself and we would talk. Each day I put a dollar in his case. I told him that my mother used to be a classical violinist, a professional, playing in vaudeville in her youth, and that she had taught me to play.
* * * * * *
I became obsessed with his indomitable spirit to play against the roar of trains.
I wrote a poem about him and gave him a copy.
He seemed quite pleased with my unusual gratuity.
He may still have it in his case.
That was twenty years go.
He’s been interviewed and shown
performing on radio, TV, periodicals.
I believe he still performs
his audacious artsy.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Have you ever read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi? Well, one thing that Twain talks a great deal about is learning how to be a pilot on the Mississippi. About these great pilots that he sailed with. And about how the old pilots could sit in the pilot house, and they could hear the sound of the paddle wheels—dabadabadabadaba—have you ever been on a riverboat?
You know it’s been a long time since I’ve given a lesson to the kids. Kids, are you listening? There is a limit, kid, to what you can do. Now you don’t know it—and maybe you’ll never find it out—but there is a limit, kid, in almost every direction you care to choose. Now, this is a very unpopular thing I’m saying here—but I’m going to describe to you how it came to me one day.
I’m this kid, see. Now how these things happen, one doesn’t know. How you drift, you know, along in life. How you meet the chick that you’re going with. How you happen to—the random quality of life is inexplicable.
I was a lightning-fast operator. Then one night on forty meters, I met my match. One night on forty meters at three o’clock in the morning, I hooked up with a guy from Pittsburgh, and we got into a speed match. By 4:15 that morning, I was reduced to rubble. I met a guy who could send and receive well in excess of sixty words a minute—on forty meters.
Book Manuscript Intro Continued
Almost all entries are about the arts and related matters in some form or another. Some aren’t about what one might usually consider “art.” Yet, my Inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guys could, indeed, be seen as having some connection to an avant garde dance routine, and Intestinal Distress could be construed as a well-put-together Surrealist video.
Subject matter changes—all the hell over the place every couple of pages. Only sometimes is there a continuity between individual pieces—the idea is in the variety of little snippets, the continuity is rather in the diverse interests that catch one person’s open-minded attention, and in that manner, add up to some sort of coherent, artsy landscape of unexpected encounters. For help in making for a coherent reading experience, I divide them into “Parts” of related topics. For example, there are pieces about a standard idea of “Art,” a few related to my interest in Japanese art, and some deal with my insider’s experiences at a major natural history museum.
As the title contains the word “ART,” the “Art Part” comes first. Others follow in a kind of order as I see it and feel it. And their relative compatibilities interact and follow each other as best they can–I’m rather content, but not hidebound, regarding how they rub shoulders. As at a bubbly cocktail party chock full of scintillating guests, inquisitive readers may choose to comingle with my “Guernica Colorization Kit” before chatting with Hieronymus Bosch’s klatch, or sooner read my tale of fondling the Venus of Lespugue.
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING
I’m going to tell you about the time I was knocked down by a bolt of lightning. On this July day, it was a Saturday, and my old man was working a half a day. The house was quiet. We lived in this five-room house.
The front bedroom, which was on the front of the house, was my bedroom, my own thing. It was right on the corner, so there was a window on my left and on my right. I had put posters all over the walls and I had my amateur radio rig there. In the corner of the room was my desk, which was my great pride and joy. I’d built my amateur radio rig on the top of this desk, on a rack I had built out of angle iron. My whole life revolved around that amateur radio transmitter. Up on the roof of the house I had an antenna, a twenty-meter dipole, just stuck up there.
On this beautiful Saturday morning, it’s the beginning of July and our school vacation has just begun. I am sitting at my desk and I’m on twenty-meter CW at the time. The band is very lively with a lot of stations on.
Now, around my house, as in the case of all kids versus their parents, there is a great gap between my mother and me and my old man and me. It is always thus. In the front bedroom I am doing what they call, “Making all those noises.” Anybody who’s ever played with amateur radio as a kid, always hears, “Would you cut out all that noise up there, we’re trying to sleep!” And, “You’re making that sound on the radio again! Will you stop it!” It’s always called, “Making that noise.” Well, of course, what you were doing was involve yourself in worldwide electronic communication. You weren’t “Making that noise,” which was way above and beyond the ken of anybody else in my family. My old man’s technical knowledge stopped short of how to use Simonize. My mother’s technical knowledge consisted of how to get the most mileage out of a Brillo pad.
And so I was sitting in there doing this mysterious thing. And I was always on the defensive about it. They couldn’t understand what all those beeps were. My mother would see all this stuff—I had rectifier tubes that would glow blue when I put my key down. They looked spooky to both my father and my mother. It not only looked very spooky but it looked unbelievably dangerous. Which, incidentally, to tell the truth, it was.
Let’s face it, I had a power supply that delivered fifteen-hundred volts at two-hundred mil. That’s quite enough to knock the front end off of your house any time it wants to do it.
So I’m sitting in there working away with my rig on this day and my mother’s out in the kitchen. Every time I got on she would look in my door and say, “Now, be careful. You’re going to get a shock. Be careful with that. And stop making those beeps so loud. Can you turn it down?” And she would go back into the kitchen. She always thought I was going to get a shock—playing around with electricity.
Well, I had gotten my share of shocks and, I might add, RF burns —Radio Frequency—which is another story. When you’re tuning up a section network and you start getting an arc off of the knob—I got an RF burn one time that caught me in the thumb and burnt me all the way down to my ankle. It bore a hole in me. So I had my share of it, but I never told my parents about it.
(More lightning to come.)
In the early 1960s, with graffiti and all other kinds of mayhem burgeoning, I noticed some billboards that were torn in—shall I say—“interesting and artistic” fashion. Either by wind and rain or by human intent. I began photographing them. The one that first attracted my attention and led to my fascination, was the “I got my job through The New york Times” poster in the subway. Note his job. I returned with my camera, and so began my extended interest. To point out the obvious–for me, finding stuff to photograph involves two aspects: one is having an eye for good possibilities, and the second half is closing in on and, from the entire scatter, shutting out the excess and forming a strong composition. All billboard photos shown I took circa 1963-6. I did not tear or in any other way alter what you see here.
Under highway overpasses, on subway platforms, elevated platforms. I began using a tripod. A subway cop stopped me, saying I needed a permit to photograph in the subway. I got one, and though it lasted only a few days, that didn’t curtail my artsy activity.
At the time, I didn’t realize that a couple of known photographers had done torn-subject photos before I got the idea. But they were somewhat different—many of mine tended to have a rather bold, abstract expressionist look. I had some of my 35mm slides converted to color prints. Surprisingly, the color translated well to prints. I sold a couple at the Greenwich Village Art Show in 1963. I showed a selection to Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski. He liked my photos and wanted to show some of them in a slide show he was putting together—that show never happened.
John Szarkowski as quoted on the Internet
“Photography is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. The contest can be held anywhere… “- John Szarkowski
“The study of photography touches the broader issues of modern art and modern sensibility.” – John Szarkowski – In B&W Magazine.
I framed some photos and keep others in a portfolio,
which I glance at maybe once or twice a decade.
Here are more.
“A photographer’s best work is, alas, generally done for himself” –John Szarkowski
[Might we equally say the above about one’s thoughts and writings?]
My good friend, Riff, suggested I photograph his eyes with the “HE PEOP” torn poster.
He didn’t like being photographed, but, surprised that I included his whole upper body, he accepted that my image of him included his hands and arms.
Do you know that not more than a year ago, I was visiting Hammond, I was walking down the street, and who came out of the A and P, looking even more high-octane than ever before—Patty Remaley. My first thought was, don’t even notice her. But she looked at me and said, “Why, Jean, how are you?” She remembered me! My god, there’s still hope!
I said, “Hi. Gee, Patty Remaley, how are you?”
She said, “How are you?” She said, “Why, you’ve grown.”
I said, “Heh, you know, heh, those things happen. The sun hits you and you grow.”
We stood there for a minute. I thought—should I pour it all out? Then I said, no, no, I’m a grownup man. I said, “Good seeing you, Patty.”
She said, “Do you still have that red corduroy hat?”
I said, “Yeah.”
And we walked our separate ways. April Fool’s Day.
So “April Fooled” (as I’ve titled it) is the story Shepherd used,
in a recorded audio from a decade past,
to end his WOR broadcast career after 21 years.
Yes, he was unhappy.
One can only wonder exactly what he felt
as that story played:
“Why have they done this to me?”
[END OF “APRIL FOOLED”
NEW STORY COMING.]
TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD
Around the time when Congress was beginning to complain about “sex-and-violence in comics,” and a book appeared, Seduction of the Innocent, decrying the influence of comics, I believe that EC Comics got worried, and, with the staff of witty writer/artists, came up with Mad, which would appeal to the same more advanced adolescent minds. (A few years into it as a comic, Mad changed format and, for me, lost some of its wit and much of its visual art. It became Mad Magazine, so it could no longer be persecuted as a “comic.” It was still funny, but less witty as it continued its burlesque of modern American culture. I kept up my subscription to beyond issue 100.)
Ad for the first issue of MAD Comic,
on the back of the front cover
of a late 1952 Two-Fisted Tales.
Covers of Mad‘s first issue and its “art” issue of 4/1955
Mad captivated a certain strata of youngsters who had a higher-than-average interest in words and ideas (including myself, I blushingly note.) As I put it in the intro to my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!:
As a kid in the higher reaches of grammar school and early high school, I had the good fortune, along with countless others, to encounter Mad comics, which opened a kid’s eyes by making fun of our culture’s assumptions, clichés, fads, fancies, and popular arts—just at an age when a kid first begins to realize (but has not yet fully articulated) that the world constructed by parents and other adults has inconsistencies. In college I found Jean Shepherd.
Mad stories were quirky, funny, ironic, and usually made fun of the usual kid “comics” and other cultural items seldom criticized by mainstream adults–or even most kids.
For example, in “Blobs!” by Mad artist Wally Wood, one sees the future, in which everything is done for people to the extent that they can no longer even move around by themselves. One character worries that they will be in big trouble if the main machine that does everything breaks. His friend says it will never happen. At the end, the main machine breaks and the two are flung out of their motor-driven seats and are seen, upside down on the floor, conscious, but not mobile. A spider casually spins a web from one of their noses.
MORE MAD-NESS TO COME
Humiliated before the entire world. They heard! I couldn’t figure out why they did it to me. Why did they do this to me? And then I heard Schwartz: “April Fool’s Day! Wawawa.” I’ve been had. Ahhhhhg! You know, to this day I don’t know whether Patty Remaley ever heard about it. But she couldn’t possibly not have heard. She was also part of that little, hardy band of searches after truth, after culture. Oh, some nights early in the spring, when I’m walking through Central Park looking at those beds of flowers and I see those friendly little tulips looking up with their tongues sticking out at me and the sun shining down over General Sherman’s statue and all the pigeons are flapping around doing what pigeons always do around statues, I can hear those fiendish cackles. And I can say one thing. Patty Remaley never mentioned that insane episode out of my checkered life. Never.
I couldn’t figure out why they did it to me.
Why did they do this to me?
[It’s no wonder that Shepherd,
with the humiliation of being asked to leave
with several other long-time WOR broadcasters,
used this audio instead of doing a live broadcast on his last show,
April Fools Day, 1977.]
EC COMICS–not Graphic Novels but
“Graphic Short Stories”
(my invented name for them)
Most all comics in my grammar school and high school days were simple-minded, for little kids (an audience of childish, mindless, kids.): Mickey Mouse and Superman, or those sexy horror comics of interest to many young teenage boys. Then, somehow, I discovered EC comics, (Entertaining Comics) which were well-drawn, artistic, each artist having his own style and approach to a tale, and containing in their stories a goodly amount of intelligence and usually an O. Henry ending—irony and a moral.
Early EC Comics included two war-content titles, Two-Fisted Tales, and Frontline Combat; two sci-fi types, Weird Science, and Weird Fantasy; and three horror types, Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear, plus some even more gory titles I usually avoided. Most all of these have been republished in fancy, hardcover volumes for serious collectors who like to hearken back to their wet-behind-the-ears interest in the finer things in life (i. e. us nerds.). This series of creative, artistic comics, even had its own serious, quality fanzine and I still have a few of these. The name comes from words spoken by an alien species in an issue:
EC comics were not graphic novels, but, because of their artistic and literary attributes, they belong in the same context, so they are, in my invented term, “graphic short stories.” As an example of the ironic content, a science fiction story involved a man in love with a young woman. Being married, he couldn’t legally be with her, but had to hide his lover. He put her in cryogenic cold storage, and as part of a space-program, had himself and her shipped to another planet that was being colonized. As he lifted her out of storage to revive her, he tripped and dropped her body, which shattered into millions of frozen bits. END. Not high art/literature, but it caught the imagination of youngsters not used to such “literature” and ironic content. This sci-fi story, as were many other EC stories, was titled with a play on words=”THE TRIP.”
In another story, an Earth man astronaut lands on an inhabited planet somewhere and finds that the humans are medically primitive so people die of the simplest diseases. He cures them with his medicines, the people thinking it must be magic–godlike. In later years the astronaut, then having been tortured and killed, people think he had performed miracles so he became god to them–reminiscent of the story of Jesus. Again, with a play on words, the title=”HE WALKED AMONG US.” I don’t know if the publisher received protest mail. These are but two of the scores of well-drawn, sophisticated tales ending ironically. (Very sophisticated for us still wet-behind-the-ears nerds who had begun having an interest in art and literature.)
By Matt Groening in his former,
fantastic, cartoon strip, Life in Hell.
Still view-able by googling and in book-compilations.
(Now he’s better known for doing TV’s The Simpsons.)
Oh, there is so much more to come!
Patty Remaley says, “Jean Shepherd, mother. Tell him we don’t want any seeds.”
I say, “I’m not here for seeds. Tell Patty I’m…I’m here…I…”
Mrs. Remaley says, “Yes?”
“Patty, he says he’s here!”
And Patty says, “Tell him I’ll see him in school tomorrow—or something. What does he want?”
What does he want! I don’t know what to say to Mrs. Remaley. I say, “Well, tell Pattie that, an…I want to ask her if she got…ah…the third problem in arithmetic?” It is all I could think of.
Patty says, “Yes, the answer is thirty-two.”
I say, “Oh, thanks…ah…ah…”
Mrs. Remaley says, “Is that all, little boy?”
I say “Bye.” It is the first time I’ve noticed that my corduroy hat weighs seventy-two pounds. It is hanging down over my ears and I am sweating in it. I say, “Bye” again, and Mrs. Remaley closes the door.
I turned and I looked out, and the sun was coming down through the trees and I saw that Sherman Williams Paint sign and the Warren G. Harding School off in the distance, and in the windows all the paper cutouts kids in kindergarten had made.
And I walked across the porch and went down the steps and I had the feeling that Patty Remaley was looking through the curtains at me. What do you do?
Graphic Novels Part 4
Frank Miller, well known for his violent work, has expanded into movies such as his Sin City. His graphic novel Sin City is a visually dramatic book all in black and white. The film derived from it does a good job–only in the beginning–replicating the dramatic b & w effect used throughout the book.
Ted McKeever has done a number of works tending to depict unattractively drawn people in frequently strikingly colored environments.
This is a single panel from a page by McKeever.
I’ve been so taken with this image that,
when I met him at a store appearance,
he signed the image for me in the comic.
David Mark. This artist uses innumerable graphic styles in the same comic issue, creating powerful effects. Four separate pages from Kabuki below.
Harvey Pekar, author of American Splendor, with his wife, are the subjects of the biographical film of that name staring Paul Giamatti. In the series of graphic novels, almost all with the same name, Harvey’s subject is the various circumstances of what he considers his own very ordinary life. He is referred to as a pioneer of the the autobiographical form of graphic novels. He’s definitely the creator of graphic novels, but what‘s different about his work is that he cannot draw. He does page layouts with rudimentary stick figures and then contracts various comic book artists to work with him on the finished pages. Robert Crumb, a longtime friend, did some art for Pekar’s works.
At a comic convention, I sought out Harvey’s booth because I’d heard that he was a Jean Shepherd enthusiast. We met and I discussed Shepherd with him and his wife–and sometimes collaborator–Joyce Brabner. I bought one of his books from him. While Harvey watched and sold more books, Joyce and I grabbed a couple of chairs and sat for an hour talking about Shepherd. She volunteered to try to find a stash of audios of his earliest New York broadcasts–the holy grail for Shep enthusiasts. (Ultimately the quest was unsuccessful.) To demonstrate her enthusiasm for Shepherd’s work, she handed me her CD earpiece–she was playing his re-broadcasts, which she listened to on their business trips.
R. Crumb’s cover art above.
Below, Paul Giamatti as Harvey, and Harvey.
Harvey died recently.
So I’m all dressed up, I go out and there’s Schwartz and Flick and Brunner playing ball. I go down the street and Schwartz yells, “Hey, here comes Shep. Let’s choose up a game.”
I say, “No, I can’t play.”
“Whatda ya mean you can’t play?”
“No, I can’t play. I have important business.”
“Whatda ya mean important business? Forget the seeds today. Come on, let’s go!”
“I am not going to sell seeds. I have important business.” Well, you know. Love. First awakening and all that stuff you cannot turn aside.
I go down the street. I figure I’d better be careful. If I walk down the street to Patty’s house, that is really giving them my secret. So I go around the block, turn left, go down the block, go down the alley, and I’m faking it. I go down around back of the school and back of the Sherwin Williams Paint sign. I cut through a couple of vacant lots.
I’m trying to wait until it is time to go in and see her. I’ve got this Mickey Mouse watch which tells this great time with these two big hands with yellow gloves. But you had to play it like a golf slice. The trouble was that the minute hand was loose. If you giggled it a little bit it would spin around about nine times. You never really knew what time it was. So I would always judge it by the hour hand. It’s pointing halfway between four and five so it’s now four-thirty.
I go sneaking back down Cleveland Street and I see the ballgame is over and nobody’s playing. I figure they’ve gone down to Ashenslogger’s Store to get some root beer barrels or something. So I go sneaking along the street and man, the excitement! Fantastic excitement! Patty Remaley is gonna make fudge! At her house!
I’d never been to her house. It was kind of aloof, just because it was her house. It was a girl’s house. A Patty Remaley house. I’d walked past it practically every day of my life and I’d think, “Patty Remaley lives in there! Patty Remaley eats supper in that house! She walks around in there.
MORE APRIL FOOLED TO COME
Graphic Novels Part 2
Graphic novelists, some of them, don’t last long for some reason—there’s not the money maybe, or who knows why. Some have succeeded in graphic work for newspapers, magazines, and other publications. Some of my favorite graphic novelists are:
Will Eisner. Credited with inventing the term “graphic novel” for his work, A Contract with God. Frequently his page layouts, instead of a series of lined-up rectangles, integrates the images with flowing art. He usually worked in monochrome (except for the earlier The Spirit comic book series), but for me, one of his most dramatically visual books is Signals from Space (The color version seems not to have been done by Eisner).
Bill Sienkiewicz. I originally discovered graphic novels one day while browsing a comic book rack and finding the first comic-book issue in a short series called Stray Toasters. I realized that Archie and Betty was not the only kind of visual thing out there!
The first three from Stray Toasters.
On lower right, page+ from his illustrated “comic book” version of Moby Dick.
David Sim, who, with Gerhard, created an extraordinary visual, black and white, three-hundred-issue monthly comic-book in a series of “novels” starring Cerebus,—are you ready for this?—an aardvark who lives in our human world. As someone described it, “By the time the 6000-page work was completed in March 2004, Sim had delved into politics, theology, metaphysics, and a controversial examination of feminism and gender issues.” I’ve never seen such unendingly fascinating graphic manipulations, nearly page by page for many hundred pages! One volume focused on the final years of Oscar Wilde and another depicted Hemingway. A character in one novel looked exactly like Groucho Marx. The original pen drawing Sim and Gerhard did for me as I watched them draw it, is one of scores they did at incredible speed at a New York comic book store during a tour.
Part of a double page and an original drawing by Sim and Gerhard.
Two double-page spreads in sequence.
(One signed by Sim and Gerhard).
Dave McKean does extraordinary art in graphic novels, sometimes with his own story, sometimes written by others. Below are two of his covers. (He tends to prefer sepia and golden color schemes.)
How come I didn’t get a valentine from Patty Remaley? The only one I got was from Helen Weathers and she’d said, “Before I give you this valentine, you have to promise to give me one.” So we exchanged valentines. The only girl who gave me a valentine. I was the only boy who gave Helen Weathers a valentine, too. So we weren’t shut out—skunked-out—entirely.
I’m sitting way back there in the alphabetical ghetto of the classroom where the Schwartzs and the Shepherds are, and I am about to be euchred. I remember to this day, it said, “Dear Jean. Holy smokes, am I in love with you! You are an incredible, fantastic human being. And the way you make that slide into third is incredible.” Signed, “Patty Remaley.”
Here’s what kind of symbol Patty Remaley was. First of all, Patty Remaley was rich. Patty Remale didn’t have an ordinary walking-around family. Patty Remaley only came to the Warren G. Harding School because her parents felt that she should know something about the hoi polloi. And we were the hoi polloi. She was studying us like bugs. And she did not take part in our little bug-like games under any circumstances.
She was so remote that, as far as my knowledge is concerned, Patty Remaley never attended any kid parties. We had these parties where me and Schwartz and Helen Weathers and Esther Jane Albery played spin the bottle. Whoever it pointed to they had to kiss. That was the whole point. It was awful being kissed by Schwartz. You just can’t trust a Borden milk bottle. Patty Remaley would never get stuck in a spin-the-bottle game with me and Schwartz and Flick. She never even said anything to us, not even “hello.” Patty never said things like “Get out of my way.” She just walked through the halls, this magnificent blonde image. This glorious nymph, deep in the heart of a forest of erotic desires such as we knew her at the time.
END OF PART 3
A current master of the pop-up form is Robert Sabuda, who has designed and published dozens of pop-up books. He is constantly complex, clever, and elegant. Possibly his best-known single image is at the end of his Alice in Wonderland, in which the deck of cards flies through the air.
Sabuda’a Alice above. Dinosaurs below
showing 4 side flaps, which reveal more pop-ups.
One of my great favorites is Michael Foreman’s Ben’s Box, a seemingly minor, fairly small and slim volume. I especially admire it because of its self-reference-to-its-medium, contrasting its flat pages with dimensional ones–it uses the contrast between the mother’s prosaic real life (flat pages), with the boy’s fantasy (pop-up movement, dimension, and even sound.) The mother gets a washing machine in a big cardboard box. Mother is involved with the work-a-day machine and Ben creates his imaginary world with the box. The illustrations on the mother’s page-openings are flat. Ben’s imaginary world of the box is pop-up-dimensional and full of movement—and, in its exuberance, beyond adequately depicting here. I show the bland, flat image of the machine’s arrival.
Almost all pop-up books illustrate real objects or ideas, but David Carter’s pop-ups are pure abstraction. He artfully plays with the medium. Taking the medium and expressing the pure joy of its seemingly magical explosions into three dimensions.
I could go on for hours, just illustrating the variety of ideas and paper-engineering techniques—including even paper-created sounds made from the opening of the pages. For example, in a book on desert creatures, upon opening the page showing a rattlesnake, one hears the rattling—created by hidden paper in zig-zag cut, a separate stiff paper with its edge moving over the zigs, creating the sound.
I have dozens, and I’m constantly amazed that such complex dimensional figures, when slowly collapsed, enfold back into each other and close into a (usually bulging) flat book.
Some simple, older pop-ups are found in a few books
hundreds of years old,
simple shapes rising up, showing some scientific principle.
All good pop-ups are adventures–into the book-world
of paper engineering–into joyous wonders.