PART 5. HAM RADIO INTRO
Interest in ham radio begins for Shepherd in grammar school and extends throughout his life. He comments on the air that, “I became, at the age of ten, totally, maniacally, and for life I might point out, completely skulled out by amateur radio.” Shepherd several times speaks on the air about his love of ham radio. He says that in high school, it led to his being chosen to announce a sports program—his first experience with broadcast radio. In these stories he tells about becoming obsessed, getting his ham license, how lightning strikes—and engaging in the ultimate speed-contest, in which he learns an important life-lesson.
His knowledge of ham radio undoubtedly leads to his placement in the Signal Corps during World War II. He would eventually broadcast from Cincinnati and Philadelphia, and then New York City. As an adult he would publicly promote amateur radio and speak at several amateur radio conventions. Even after leaving his career in broadcast radio, at home he would continue his nightly communications on amateur radio for the rest of his life.
* * *
Ham radio stories to come.
THE ARTISTS OF EC COMICS
Wallace Wood Self-portrait
The artists who wrote and illustrated the EC line of comics, including MAD Comic (later, Mad Magazine), were far beyond any other comic artists in their sophistication, wit, and graphic style. These included Wallace Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Al Williamson, and others. The prestige awarded these artists in their field by their peers and media was echoed by their young fans, and is shown in the comics themselves by the signing of the artists’ names in the first panel of their illustrated stories. All comic art here is by Wood.
My favorite EC artist was Wallace (Wally) Wood, who, as did the others, drew covers as well as entire stories, and also wrote some of his own illustrated work. Enthusiasts enjoyed the varied styles of the artists, and EC did a series of one-page bios of major artists on the inside front covers. Naturally, I have the Wood bio. Here is the final page of a self-referential story, “My World”:
“My World” in Weird Science 11/12, 1953
Wood was regarded by many as the best artist for EC and best comic book artist ever. There are numerous tributes in books, magazines, websites, etc. Recently, while researching for my essay on Wood and others, I encountered a book of over 300 illustrated pages filled with anecdotes and tributes to Wood. (A new and more elaborate format of that book with color illustrations is being published in two volumes.)
EC war comics included stories about the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean War, and other conflicts. Wood, in his work for these, also did well-researched stories about much older wars. Also, his wide-ranging mind led to not only science fiction itself, but a Mad comic parody of that form:
A Wood Sci-Fi Cover and Opening Page of his Mad Parody of the Form.
[Note the age-discolored paper of the “Weird Science” cover
from my collection, now over 60 years old.]
EC artists did a variety of graphic art projects before, during, and after work with EC. Among Wally Wood’s projects was his witzend, founded by him, a critically acclaimed comic showcasing some of the best artists of the era, and a series of his about a sexy young thing named “Sally Forth.” Of special interest to Jean Shepherd enthusiasts is that in his only appearance in Mad Magazine, April, 1957, Wood did the art, the first page shown here.
A co-worker of mine had met Wally Wood and invited him, along with me and others, to a cocktail party at her apartment. I brought along his EC back-of-the-cover bio and he inscribed it to me as we chatted.
RIP, Wallace Wood.
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!
And I got about five feet from the steps when the denouement occurred. I heard from somewhere, off in the middle distance, a fiendish cackle. “Heeheeheehee! Such a fantastic person Heeheehee! I love you wawawawa!” And it was coming from under somebody’s porch! It was coming from under Patty Remaley’s porch! I heard “Heeheehee Patty Remaley, I love you wawawa.” I looked and I saw all the tulips growing up there and beginning to blossom. (This, by the way, is why I always hated tulips ever since. I used to like tulips when I was a simple, unspoiled person of five. But after that moment, tulips had another connotation.) I looked through the tulips and I could see hordes of evil, fiendish eyes peering out from under Patty Remaley’s porch! They heard!
And that cackling rose in volume! I was a buffoon! You’ve all seen Charlie Chaplin, but have you ever wondered how it felt to be that buffoon? I don’t mean Charlie Chaplin playing him, I mean being him! I was walking down the street, my feet going out sideways, and I could hear the “Heeheeheeheewawawa. Oh, what a beautiful red hat you got wawa.” Schwartz and Flick and Bruner and Jack Robinson and Grover Dill and Farkas, the whole damn bunch! It was the entire crowd from sixth grade, all of them. “Heeheeheeheewawawa.
There is so much more to show and say about graphic novels. I’ve got hundreds of them in dozens of styles by dozens of known and unknown creators. Not all styles of artwork would appeal to everybody. I am attracted to some not because they are pretty, but because they stretch the limits of visual presentation and mental framework in ways I find intriguing.
Shatter, by Mchael Saenz & Peter Gillis, published in book form in 1988, claims to be the first sci-fi “comic produced by computer.” Enlarging this page better reveals the computer graphics.
The most bizarre and quirky example in graphic novels that I’ve come across is Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld, described in its subtitle as “A most peculiar comic book experience.”.
Two “Beanworld” pages from different issues.
(Most of the various images from this comic series are
as strange and different as these.)
My apologies to all the numberless creators of fine graphic novels
not mentioned in my incomplete survey.
I carry on, with my continuing artsys,
in a comic, but relevant, variation on the foregoing.
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.
“….stirring dull roots
with spring rain….”
Believe me, there are no more beautiful months than April. April is not only the cruelest month, it is the most dangerous month. April gives people the idea that it’s a new year. Because it is April, things are going to be different this year. People believe that they’re actually going to buy those fantastic Bermuda shorts. Every day they are going to be at Jones Beach. They’re going to utilize every minute. Already, some of the warm days have slipped by and you have done nothing. That should be a clue. You’re letting it squeeze through your fingers again! But the trouble with April is that it is a cruel month and it is a beautiful month and a dangerous month.
But I didn’t know any of that in those days. To me, April is the month you sold seeds. You had Arbor Day and that kind of stuff.
The sun is trickling down on Cleveland Street and bouncing off roofs. And you can see the Sherwin Williams Paint sign glowing because they had just repainted it. The big globe and the big can of paint pouring over the top, and it says, COVERS THE EARTH. We always played behind the paint sign, and the sun was hanging over it. And I am all excited, knocking on Patty Remaley’s door.
I knock. I knock again and then I hear something stirring inside. People moving around. I knock again and the door opens, and of course my first thought is to say, “I have brought you nasturtium seeds,” because that’s what I always did when people opened doors.
There is Mrs. Remaley. Who, by the way, was an exact duplicate of Patty Remale only more so. Boy, she was a high-octane lady!
Mrs. Remaley looks out at me and says, “Yes?” This is not going according to script. Right away, because I had gotten a note from Patty Remaley saying that mamma Remale would not be here and that the two of us would have an idyllic afternoon making fudge. Mrs. Remaley says, “Yes?”
“Ah…is Patty home?”
“Who shall I say is calling/”
“Ah…” I figure that Patty is now in some room of the subterranean caverns of the Remaley house, dying of unrequited love, probably back there sweating bullets and thinking of this magnificent human being in the red corduroy cap.
I say, “Ah…would you tell Patty that I’m here?”
“Who are you?”
And then I hear Patty in the next room, one of the rare times that I actually heard her voice when it wasn’t dripping with sarcasm. I hear her say, “Mother, who’s out there? Is somebody asking for me?”
Mrs. Remaley turns and says one of the worst things that’s ever been said about me, ever. She says, “Yes, Patty, there’s some little kid here.”
Some little kid.
“Who is it?”
Mrs. Remaley turns to me and says, “Who are you?”
“Tell her Jean’s here.”
There’s a dead silence because obviously Patty heard this.
Patty says, “Jean? Jean who?”
Mrs. Remaley says, “What’s your last name, little boy?”
I say, “Jean Shepherd.”
This is really what happened. All this became a legend and a myth in Northern Indiana. Today folk singers are singing about this. It was of these awful moments in history. Like Casey Jones riding ol’ ninety-eight to this disaster.
Graphic Novels Part 3
Eric Droocker. often uses a flat and wordless style, as heir to earlier woodblock book artists such as Frans Massereel and Lynd Ward who produced numerous graphic novels without words before there was a term for them.
Other artists have also used wordless or almost wordless forms, such as Milt Gross and Peter Kalberkamp:
Inexpensive paperback reprint and two-page sequence showing the two main
characters, who had been separated and who,
because of the FATE sign, ironically remain apart
(until the happy ending),
in a witty use of a word in this “wordless” Great American Novel.
Apparently Kalberkamp’s only creative work in this field,
Mea Culpa is a large-format, thick volume
in strong, black-and-white imagery
Peter Kuper attracted my attention with a comic-book format version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. He works in black and white as well as color. His most prominent style involves his elaborate stencil-and-airbrush technique. Much of his work involves social protest. For a while he also created editorial art for The New York Times, Time magazine, and The New Yorker. A reviewer commented: “Kuper is that rare creature, a graphic novelist who has managed to weather changing fortunes of the comic-book industry…by relentlessly diversifying his work.” Below is the Jungle cover and various individual images from other works.
Chris Ware, whose best-known work is Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth, a visual delight, especially for its elegant color, but whose subject matter always seems to consist of slow-moving, sad, downers. Too damn unrelievedly depressing for me to pursue further. Cover & four pages.
Art Spiegelman, whose three-volume Maus won a Special Pulitzer Prize, is most peoples’ only contact with the genre. (Many mistakenly believe that the book initiated the field of graphic novels). The book portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. His style is a simple pictorial one, but careful viewing reveals his subtle use of various graphic techniques that amplify his ideas. A very good example is, within the context of his human/animal conceit (in his bio/autobiographic Maus) of using mice to represent his father and other Jewish inmates of Nazi concentration camps, the Nazis depicted as cats, he shows himself at his drawing board wearing the artifice of a mouse-mask. This is bluntly unavoidable as a metaphor, but so well conceived. Oh, and those annoying flies buzzing around him–it must be more than ironic coincidence that of those flies in every panel, three in the page’s final image conjoin to appear like the sad face of all his relatives and fellow Jews–yes–a ghostly mouse. Their history, in spirit, occupies the very air he breathes.
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.)
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,
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.
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.
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:
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 ↓
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.)
Erotic desires consisted mainly of looking at magazines in George’s Bowling Alley where they had the magazine rack, and once in a while George would belt you on the back of the neck: “You are not supposed to be looking at Spicy Detective.” That’s about all it was. Not much more than that.
But Patty represented the unattainable. She represented, among other things, the outside world. What was the outside world? It was the world where people went on sleighing parties. We heard rumors that Patty went on sleighing parties. Or Patty Remaley spent the summer at a place called “The Lake.” We spent the summer in the alley back of Schwartz’s house. She was always going to a place called “The Camp.” And we would hear that Patty Remaley would spend two weeks in a place called “Maine.” So this was another scene entirely from out daily, grubby life.
And to get a note from Patty Remaley saying that Patty Remaley can’t stand the fantastic pangs of love because of how you wear your red corduroy cap. Man! At first I didn’t believe it. Aw, come on! Oh, gee! But such is the drive of desire, such is the ability of mankind to rationalize the obvious, ridiculous plight that he’s in, my first impression of “That’s ridiculous” ceases. Then I say, “Why not? Maybe it’s true!” And I’m breaking out in a cold sweat right in the middle of arithmetic class.
Patty is sitting up there, a nimbus of hair drifting, and that beautiful sunlight coming in through the venetian blinds. And my thoughts, of course, ran to this kind of thing: “Oh, Patty, why didn’t you tell me? Why have we kept this a secret so long? Why have you allowed me to play footsy and hanky panky with Esther Jane Albery for so long? Me and Esther Jane—there’s nothing between us. Nothing really except once in a while we throw rocks at each other and that’s about all! Why have you allowed this charade to go on, Patty Remaley, when true love could have been consummated, or at least something? We could have, you know—we could have made Flick mad by walking home together. Or something.”
I didn’t know exactly, you know—what love means. It’s a thing kids write on notes and stuff like that. But I can tell you this—that was the first time that I spontaneously broke into a multi-faceted sweat.
FLUX PAPER EVENTS
by George Maciunas
I’ve hesitated to display this book because, after all the wonderful artists’ books I own, have shown, and am aware of, this work, in its absurd simplicity, is the most difficult one to suggest as an object of serious attention. Yet, do I dare suggest, its reason for being is to promote both a Zen-like response and deep thought? It is, I believe, an “event” for contemplation. In the wide and multifaceted world of art, it is an adjunct that usually aggravates me: it is “conceptual art.”
More than meets the eye.
All that meets the eye.
It annoys, it tickles, it is a mind game: it is Fluxus.
George Maciunas was one of the founding members of the Fluxus movement (considered the most important member), which included luminaries such as Yoko Ono and others of high regard among the rarified conceptual, artsy worlds of “happenings” and related matters. I know virtually nothing about the movement, other than: having attended in SOHO, New York, one of its happenings; traveled to a Long Island estate for a major happening; and bought, for a couple of dollars, a minor multiple-work by one of its major proponents in the 1960s. Out of pure, adulterated curiosity, I saw the 1988 Museum of Modern Art’s Fluxus exhibit and even bought the catalog, which begins:
Fluxus has been described as “the most radical and experimental art movement of the sixties” (Harry Ruhe), and at the same time as “a wildgoose chase into the zone of everything ephemeral” (Henry Martin).
Johanna Drucker, a highly regarded professional theorist in the artists’ book field, whose writings are complex and usually, for me, largely inscrutable, is quoted as stating about Fluxus works: “making the audience member a performer through the structure of the piece. One does not ‘read’ this work, but enacts it.” That seems a good starting point, as is a diagram by Fluxus, of its field and inhabitants:
CLICK ON ME, I IMPLORE YOU!
When I picked up this Flux Paper Events, a 16-page stapled thing in an artists’ book store decades ago, seeing it as being about (almost) nothing, I think I got some clue regarding it almost immediately—so I bought it, for what I remember as $1.50. I think it is an intellectual exercise in bringing us book-people back to the essence of first things. Superficial blankness as a lesson in one-ness, at making us really explore that which we take for granted. Delving deeply into some of what and how we make use of paper by exploring some of what can be done with it besides printing ink on it.
Every page is different.
Making manifest the simplest things.
OF MY COPY
All pages have the clipped corner and small, round, punched hole below. Among other pages: folded; wrinkled; two pages glued together so that the reverse side with its glue stains through them as an object for thought (Thought those pages were blank and opaque, didn’t you?); a page with a vertical row of tiny pinholes; three pages stapled together so we are aware of staple-fronts, staple-backs, staple rust, and indentations impressed on adjacent and otherwise innocent pages.
Unfortunately (not adequately scan-able), pages such as that with
the pinholes, don’t accommodate reproduction.
No words, no colors.
Only thought and wit.
CRUMPLED PAGE….TORN PAGES………………………GLUE-STAINED PAGE ↑
(The varied colors of “white” above are caused by the images
having been drawn from different Internet sources.)
I smile and I think.
What more is there to show
LAST PAGE & INSIDE OF BACK COVER
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.