Picks of the Week

“Think, for example, of Northrop Frye. Frye’s is now a name that you never hear mentioned but which was then everywhere. CS Lewis, who is now famous for fairy stories, was then famous for being a scholar. Tolkien too was famous for being a scholar, not for elves and so on. There is no prestige associated any longer with being a good critic. There are people writing now who seem to me likely to be as good as those critics I’ve been mentioning but they won’t be as famous nor as influential. There’s some very good scholarship in the subject still going on. There’s also an immense amount of rubbish.”

— Frank Kermode

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Crumb! This week saw the continuation, but also the possible cessation (?), or roundtable on Crumb’s Genesis over at HU. Last at bat was Peter Sattler with a great essay on the ‘literalism’ of Crumb’s approach. In addition to that, Tim Hodler linked to film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s fine piece on Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb documentary, as well as a recent piece he has written for its reissue in the Criterion series. All worth reading for people interested in Crumb!
  • Re: the “Ground Zero Mosque” shitstorm, Justin Elliott examines how an innocuous and initially uncontroversial news story developed into the ridiculous media circus we are now witnessing. And former FBI agent Ali Soufan expresses his exasperation.
  • Frank Kermode RIP. The passing of the great critic found me reading this short 2006 interview, in which he talks about the evolution of criticism and its reception over the course of his career.
  • Overset: Anikonisme

    Lige en kort notits: jeg har i længere tid gerne ville anbefale Anikonisme, en af de tegneserier Simon Petersen har lavet til det i øjeblikket tørlagte Serieland. Det er måske Petersens mest ambitiøse tegneserie til dato og en af de eneste danske tegneserier, der er gået ind i den sprængaktuelle billed- og integrationsdebat.

    Petersen forsøger sig i den 69-sider lange serie som socialrealist i sin skildring af den unge, vordende tegneserietegner Khalid og hans liv i og omkring Gjellerup-parken. Man kunne hævde, at han har taget munden for fuld i forsøget på en sandfærdig skildring af et miljø, han i bedste fald kender fra anden hånd, men han går som altid til sagen med krum hals og formår at skabe en fortælling, der virker forholdsvis realistisk og, vigtigere, vedkommende på i hvert fald denne læser. Petersen har altid haft godt greb om hverdagens dialog, især som den udfoldes blandt yngre mennesker, og formår på ganske lidt plads at levendegøre de centrale figurer.

    Som sædvanligt har han et problem med at afslutte sin historie. Han benytter til slut et greb, han vist selv synes giver det hele en raffineret åbenhed, men som nu mest virker som et cop-out. Det forekommer tydeligt, at han ikke formåede at få samling på sine livlige fortælletråde og derfor i stedet besluttede sig for helt at droppe forsøget.

    Oh well, det er bedre end at gribe til postuleret patos, og serien er indtil da overvejende et glimrende or kærkomment ambitiøst forsøg på en socialt engageret dansk tegneserie. Det var efter min mening en fejl, at vi ikke nominerede den i kategorien ‘Bedste danske webtegneserie’ til Komiks.dk. Læs den!

    DWYCK: Word Made Inky Flesh

    Over at Hooded Utilitarian, my monthly column this time is an extended piece on the art historical antecedents of cartooning, with special focus on Robert Crumb’s adaptation of Genesis, and with reference to Bruegel and Rembrandt, plus a bonus discussion on the different meaning-making properties of text and image.

    I hope you’ll check it out, and perhaps join the discussion, which is part of what has become an extended, frequently interesting roundtable on Crumb’s book.

    Image: Rembrandt, Abraham Conversing with the Angel, c. 1636-37, pen and brown ink, 108 x 114 mm., formerly London, private collection.

    B.o.B vs. Drake II

    Further to my article of last week on the two new rapping and singing Wunderkinder, B.o.B and Drake, I just wanted to add a few comments about the reception of their debut albums and what it might say about hip hop criticism today.

    My colleague over at Rapspot, Toobs, dug both albums (warning: Danish), preferring B.o.B’s, but he pointed out something he saw as a shortcoming of his album in comparison with Drake’s: that it lacks lyrics of more personal nature. This would appear in direct contradiction of my criticism that Drake sounds like a record company product, promising to give us the “real” him, but instead offering polished formulae, wouldn’t it? Well, here’s why:

    On the Ongoing Cartoon Shellshock

    manden-bag-stregen_t.jpgI was just reminded today of how depressingly treacherous it has become to navigate the Mohammed cartoon affair and its religious-cultural discontents. The day before yesterday it was reported worldwide that the upcoming memoirs of ‘Bomb in Turban’ cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, Manden bag stregen (‘The Man Behind the Line’), would be published with the cartoon for which he has become world-(in)famous on the cover. Pretty daring and rather provocative thing to do, I figured, but perfectly plausible, I felt. We published the news both at our Danish comics site Nummer9.dk and at the Danish Comics Council webpage, as media all over the internet had done.

    Then today, I received an email from the book’s publisher, John Lykkegaard, informing me that the news as reported everywhere was in error and that it was not the intention to publish said cartoon on the cover. He also mentioned that the announcement that the book has 35 illustrations in Somalian media had been interpreted as it carrying 35 images of Mohammed. For fuck’s sake.

    Lykkegaard included the actual cover design for the book, which features the cartoon Westergaard drew for his newspaper Jyllands-Posten (publisher of the original Mohammed cartoons) to mark his retirement earlier this year. It refers to the debacle, casting the cartoonist as Don Quijote accompanied by an ass carrying a box labeled ‘freedom of speech’, on top of which rests a bomb with a lit fuse. Above them, the crescent of Islam glows. The caption reads: “The Don Quijote of idealism says goodbye, with thanks — the real Sancho Panza will be sticking around for the moment”

    So, a reflection of the issue, and fairly acerbic (understandably!), not to mention a little self-aggrandising, but not exactly something to reignite the fuse of idiocy, I hope. Real sad, though — and symptomatic — that we nevertheless reported it that way.

    Here’s the publisher’s official announcement.

    Picks of the Week

    “I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger?”

    — Christopher Hitchens

    The picks of the week from around the web. (A little late, sorry.)

  • Christopher Hitchens on his cancer. The contrarian author and political commentator has been diagnosed with cancer and writes about it with candour. Our best wishes — get well Hitch!
  • Washington Post: Top Secret America. I’ve only started digging into this major investigative project, on the proliferation of secret service and intelligence agencies in the US, but from what I’ve read, it seems great.
  • Google’s villainous turn. Another step towards the crippling of net neutrality perpetrated by the “Don’t Be Evil” people. Ryan Singel has a fine write-up at Wired, while Robert X. Cringley offered a counter-intuitive caution at the New York Times.
  • Bobby Ray, Drake, and the Prescience of Hip Hop

    The synthesis of rapping and singing surely has its prehistory in church, and found precursors in such acts as the Last Poets, while on record it goes back to the early days of hip hop, when The Fatback Band invited Tim Washington onto their 1979 record for “King Tim III (Personality Jock)”, which was shortly followed by the game changing “Rapper’s Delight”, on which an ad hoc assembly of non-rappers killed it over Chic’s “Good Times.” Since then, the genres have continuously converged, while the rapper-singer has been a staple since at least The Sequence, and boasts a long history written by such diverse acts as UTFO, Queen Latifah, Teddy Riley, Bell Biv Devoe, Boyz II Men, Domino, Warren G, Fugees, Mikah Nine, The Roots, OutKast, Mos Def, Cee-Lo Green, N.E.R.D., and Kanye West.

    drake-thank-me-later-album-cover_t.jpgToday, multi-talented vocalists who shift effortlessly between rapping and singing fetch top dollar at record companies looking for the next hit. Right now, this is evidenced by two young (early 20s) rapper-singers topping the charts: the 23-year old Canadian Drake just dropped his debut album Thank Me Later on Wayne and Birdman’s Young Money Records, while the North Carolinian Bobby Ray aka. B.o.B. has recently released his first longplayer B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray on Grand Hustle/Atlantic. Their superficial similarities elicit a comparison, which reveals real differences in concept, skill sets and, ultimately, quality.

    Thank Me Later is a polished, autotuned catalogue of timely pop formulae. On the first single, “Over”, Drake asks himself, “what am I doing?”, answering his own question, “Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m doing me”. He doesn’t seem sure though, and one can see why: he comes across more like a product than an artist.

    Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • RSA Animate: David Harvey breaks down in simple terms the financial crisis from his perspective, accompanied by some great instructional white-board cartooning (above).
  • Amoeblog: Billyjam interviews hip hop legend Krs-One in depth, on the occasion of the release of his new book The Gospel of Hip Hop. As usual the Teacha’s all over the place and highly idiosyncratic, but it remains lovely to hear him speak about hip hop.
  • London Review of Books. Rebecca Solnit writes on the repercussions of the Gulf oil spill. A little wobbly, but with some interesting reporting from the ground.
  • Vanity Fair: Survey among 52 world-renowned architects and specialists on the most significant works of architecture since 1980. Of course this is just a best-of list, but it’s compiled from the responses of people who know what they’re talking about and serves to highlight many of the remarkable buildings of the last 30 years, with a great overview provided in a slideshow. I’m suprised Santiago Calatrava didn’t make the final 21, but that’s the nature of these things…
  • Mail from David Mazzucchelli

    I recently received the following correspondence from cartoonist David Mazzucchelli, re: my old article on his “Big Man” and its similarities with Bill DuBay and Alex Toth’s “Daddy and the Pie” (above):

    “Dear Matthias,

    I came across your essay, “The Child and the Giant,” several years ago, and would like to thank you for your flattering words (about me). Since I’ve noticed that it is still posted at your site (and rather prominently), I would also like to suggest one correction. Hard as it may be to believe, I had never seen “Daddy and the Pie” until about ten years AFTER I made “Big Man.” (Although Toth did have an influence on my work — especially at certain periods — it was based on a very limited acquaintance with his work.) Imagine my own surprise at seeing the similarities you discuss — down to certain panel compositions! Chalk it up to lack of originality on my part, I guess.

    Sorry if this pulls one of the legs out from under your argument.

    Best wishes,

    David Mazzucchelli”

    As I answered, to the contrary: I’m very happy to receive such a corrective. When I first saw “Daddy and the Pie”, it immediately struck me that it must have served as inspiration for “Big Man”, not the least because Mazzucchelli had channeled the older master so beautifully in Batman: Year One. I figured it couldn’t be a coincidence, but of course it could.

    Thanks, David!