Here are some of the links I’ve made note of during the weeks this blog has lain fallow:
- I’d love to read a collected edition of this comic strip.
- Mahendra Singh has written a series of blog posts analyzing the brilliance of Moebius’s inking.
- Sam Henderson details the work that goes into one simple gag cartoon.
- Last month the internet experienced some consternation about a standardized test question involving a pineapple. One of the best responses came from Adam Cadre, who has worked in the test prep industry; he explains how reading comprehension questions work in theory, what they really measure, and why maybe the pineapple question isn’t all that bad.
- In the middle of an article on “unteachable” college students a professor shares part of the FAQ-style course policies he gives his freshman composition classes, beginning with “Why is the university making me take this course?” and getting gradually more philosophical.
- Joe Queenan reviews a book that I can’t believe actually exists in the world.
- A review of a book suggesting the existence of “social jet lag.”
- A. L. Kennedy on the perniciousness of the myth of the suffering artist.
I found an old drawing today, scanned it, and put a caption on it. I’d thought about putting it on my comics page, but in the end it didn’t seem to fit there.
Here are a few things I’ve been reading lately:
Catherynne Valente on the reasons for the prevalence of medievalesque settings in fantasy. Her argument is that the medieval world may have more metaphorical relevance for our society than we might, at first glance, suspect.
Two articles on food from Lapham’s Quarterly: Why we have food safety laws, and why, despite Michael Pollan’s best efforts, not all of us are nostalgic for unprocessed food and home cooking.
For the second year in a row, I’ve managed to get three drawings into a show at a local art gallery.
This is a small piece of a show featuring work from many other people who are, in all honesty, more talented than me. In the unlikely event that you’re in the area, you might follow the link for the address and take a look.
I thought it might be time to do another links post. So:
If a part of you doesnâ€™t laugh when Emma Bovary takes her poison, or Jim stands there and lets himself get shot, or Anna kneels down to wait for the train, or Ahab goes down with the damn-ed whale then you havenâ€™t been paying attention.
I donâ€™t mean this the way Oscar Wilde meant it when he said that a reader must have a heart of stone not to read of the death of Little Nell and laugh.
I mean that Flaubert and Conrad and Tolstoy and Melville all intend us to see that there is something ridiculous as well as something beautiful in human beings taking themselves and their troubles so seriously.
Shaenon Garrity, with several things people who know Popeye through the cartoons tend not to know about Popeye:
1. Popeye is old. I donâ€™t mean the strip is old. Everybody knows the strip is old. I mean Popeye himself is supposed to be a senior citizen. Heâ€™s a grizzled old sailor, with emphasis on the old, with extra old added on. Although his official bio now describes him as 34, according to the Segar-era strips heâ€™s in his sixties, and his father (more on him later) is pushing 100. Thatâ€™s why Popeye is bald and missing an eye. Because of the oldness.
Chris White, at McSweeney’s, solicits a little empathy for history’s failures:
It’s easy to care about a Lincoln or a Washingtonâ€”they give us so many mattress sales. But greatness is a relative condition. There is no Lincoln without Pierce, and when you ignore those who failed, you miss out on the humanity of the past. You miss out on the reassuringly universal stories that will play out again in our future.
Colin Marshall at The War on Mediocrity has written “The Plight of the Social Maladroit,” a five-part series about how much of life—including the stuff that we seem to be doing by ourselves—is about connection and collaboration. Part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five:
As examples of the unsociable novelists the likes of which we stand to lose, Miller cites David Foster Wallace, J.D. Salinger, V.S. Naipaul and Thomas Pynchon. Fair enough. But could any set of names scream “outlier” louder?
And even they, in presumably that least collaborative of all art forms, collaborated. They collaborated with their publishers, their editors, their research sources, their friends and associates who read drafts. Most importantly, they collaborated with their audiences. That sounds like nonsense, and maybe it is, but if it’s not nonsense, I’ll bet it’s beyond relevant. What’s a work, after all, without an audience? I hate to go all zen on you again, but if an audience isn’t an important partner in a work, how different is that work from one hand clapping, a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it, etc.?
From the New York Times, why English is a great language for newspaper headlines with accidental double meanings.
Since English is weakly inflected (meaning that words are seldom explicitly modified to indicate their grammatical roles), many words can easily function as either noun or verb. And it just so happens that plural nouns and third-person-singular present-tense verbs are marked with the exact same suffix, â€œ-s.â€ In everyday spoken and written language, we can usually handle this sort of grammatical uncertainty because we have enough additional clues to make the right choices of interpretation. But headlines sweep away those little words â€” particularly articles, auxiliary verbs and forms of â€œto beâ€ â€” robbing the reader of crucial context.
In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: â€œsolastalgia,â€ a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root â€“algia (pain), which he defined as â€œthe pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault … a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at â€˜home.â€™â€
Catherynne Valente explains what publishers do, and why books are not cheap, and why, no matter how long Kindle owners hold their breath, they’re not getting cheap ebooks or a vibrant self-publishing industry anytime soon:
I’ve read the slush pile. And in this Orwellian post-publishing dystopia, you will be, too. The mass of ebooks will be unedited, badly written, and horribly presented. And while this is an unpopular thing to say, that’s pretty much the state of self-publishing now. There are a few great self-published projects, and they are buried in an Everest of trash. Essentially, a reader acts as an acquiring editor, sifting through the mediocre, offensive, awful, and laughable for one good book. And readers will usually give up after a few burns.
The way to have control over how the metaphors and stories you ingest affect your thinking is to know they’re doing it and to be aware of how they’re working. You have to think about them to do that, have to question them. If you’re a writer, in my opinion you should be doing that as a matter of course, just to improve your abilities. If you’re not a writer, well, pick your own level of analysis. If that’s just “Squee!” fine. But just because you don’t see the subtext doesn’t mean it isn’t there, and worth questioning.
Finally, Dan Nadel has new information on Herbert Crowley, the cartoonist who created one of the most interesting entries in Nadel’s book Art Out of Time, the brief, bizarre strip The Wiggle Much. Unfortunately, as I write this Nadel’s current blog is having technical problems and this post seems to have vanished, but if it reappears, be sure to take a look—it included some tantalizing cameraphone photos of Crowley’s sketchbooks.
Here’s another list of interesting links I’ve collected recently:
We talk about worldbuilding as something the writer does, but it’s also something the reader does, building the world from the clues. When you read that the clocks were striking thirteen, you think at first that something is terribly wrong before you work out that this is a world with twenty-four hour time–and something terribly wrong. Orwell economically sends a double signal with that.
Earlier in the essay, Delany refers to the fact that “the conventions of poetry or drama or mundane fiction–or science fiction–are in themselves separate languages,” and in other essays call the process by which one approaches and reads those languages as “protocols.” As I thought about it, I realized that good reading is a matter of learning the protocols and applying them with understanding and sensitivity to a particular genre: poetry, for instance, is not read with the same protocols as prose, or an essay, as an article, or a short story, as a novel, or any of these, as drama.
On the other hand, there’s this post from another writer in which “genre fiction” is pitted against “literary fiction,” and the Virginia Quarterly Review is held up as an example of all that is wrong with the literati. There are people who look down on genre fiction–David Langford finds one or two examples every month for Ansible–but hardly anyone listens to them anymore and it’s really time for genre fans to stop obsessing over it.
But I’m linking to this particular post because, rather wonderfully, the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review shows up in the comments to point out that the VHQ does, in fact, publish genre fiction. I think this is what the kids these days call “pwned.”
Ten ways to write badly. I only draw comics and write blog posts, but I must admit I’m guilty of the first half of rule 7 (“Write only when the muse moves you.”) Got to work on that.
Additional rules for writing badly, the way I write badly:
11. Adverbs are your friends.
12. So are semicolons.
13. Em dashes! Lots of em dashes!
14. Interjections are so much better than actually organizing your thoughts.
Too much of the time I spend revising blog posts is spent just cutting down on these four problems.
On a less tasteful note, this is what can happen when language changes.
Dear James is R. O. Blechman’s entry into the “Letters to a Young Something-or-other” genre which has sprung up in imitation of Rainer Maria Rilke. In recent years books have been addressed to young mathematicians, young activists, young conservatives, and young novelists. The McSweeney’s website offers “Letters to a Young Plumber” and although I have not investigated this phenomenon in detail it would not surprise me if someone had written letters to a young rat-catcher.
No one seems to be writing letters to old people. It’s sad.
Anyway. Blechman is writing to a young illustrator. Not a real young illustrator, in this case, so it feels a little weird when he compliments his imaginary correspondent on his latest gig. But the conceit frees Blechman to take a casual, conversational tone and the book is more fun for it. That probably has a lot to do with why the “Letters” format has been popular lately.
Blechman touches on all the stages of an illustration from idea to print, and wider philosophical issues about art (How do you juggle creativity with a day job? What’s the difference, if any, between high art and low? And why are we doing this at all, anyway?). One idea that will be obvious to most artists but new to some readers is that art is work.
Not everybody gets this. For instance, there are people who think writers just sit down and, y’know, write. (There are writers who thing people just sit down and write. Recently I came across a blog post by a writer who claimed writing wasn’t work, it was just typing. I made a mental note to avoid his books.) These are the people who end up self-publishing horrid first-draft novels about elven vampires and cluttering slushpiles with nonsense.
There are people who think cartoonists and illustrators just draw. Maybe they’re especially fooled by scribbly and deceptively simple art like Blechman’s… but he wrestles with his ideas, draws multiple versions of an illustration, worries about the best and clearest way to communicate what he wants to get across. In one case, even after an illustration is accepted by the New York Times, he decides he hasn’t done his best work, and before the deadline he goes back to the editor with something better. It’s a struggle, but he’s also having fun. Dear James manages to communicate both the struggle and the fun.