Friday, November 18, 2005


Cool Quote Friday and some Amazing Comics

Our Man in LA is of course sorry for the lateness of the hour for this report. In fact, he realizes that if he was still living in one of those more eastern timezones, it wouldn't even be Friday anymore, which would mean a different title for this post, and so on, and so forth.

No matter. It's Friday somewhere, and Our Man in LA is on the job.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'm currently plowing my way through Time magazine's list of 10 Best Graphic Novels. You've already seen me raving about Jeff Smith's BONE epic, about which I can't say enough. It really is the kind of story that makes you understand why folks had to invent comics as an artform. Amazing and spectacular.

Yesterday, I moved on to something a bunch more political. I slid Jeff Buckley's Grace into the iTunes and picked the LA Public Library's copy of IN THE SHADOWS OF NO TOWERS by Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman, you may know, became the first comics artist/writer to win the Pulitzer Prize, when he crafted the holocaust tale MAUS a dozen or so years ago. Brilliant, amazing, heady stuff, Maus was. So I looked forward to re-visiting Spiegelman's work.

Alas, IN THE SHADOWS is no MAUS. But hell, how many artists can produce at that level over and over again? And what's more, it doesn't really matter.

In the new book, Spiegelman tells the story of his experience on September 11, 2001, when he witnessed the fall of the World Trade Center towers from 1) his Soho studio, 2) the Wall Street area middle school his daughter attended, and 3) his home just blocks away from the buildings. A comics artist and historian to his core, the medium for his storytelling is giant comics plates, each the size of a broadsheet newspaper page, all done in the style of late 19th century/early 20th century political cartooning. If you've ever seen an example of the Yellow Kid cartoons in the Hearst and Pulitzer papers of the last century, you know what I mean.

What makes the storytelling interesting, too, is that crafting such a piece of art took a great deal of time. As Spiegelman remembered that day a little bit in every plate, he also experienced it from a greater distance in time. He grabbed hold of the gift that time and space gave him, and as such, he could view his experience of the towers coming down in the context not just of that day, but then in the context of the political landscape that followed - including the war in Iraq and the posturing of our leaders in Washington.

At the end of the book, he goes a step further - taking actual cartoons from the late 19th century and early 20th century that expose and aspouse similar sentiment to his own work, and to the mindset of America post 9/11. It's almost as if these cartoons 100 years before predicted the attitudes and feelings that we would all experience in those horrible days just a few years back.

You should check out the book. Truly a beautiful piece of art. And, as I promised at the top of the post, it left me with two major, amazing quotes that I won't soon forget.

First, Spiegelman references a Krazy Kat cartoon from the early days of comics. If you don't know Krazy Kat (and you should), here's the gist. Ignatz Mouse constantly tries to kill Krazy Kat. But Krazy Kat loves the mouse no matter how hard the mouse tries to kill him. There's also a dog in the script - a bull pup police officer who loves Krazy Kat and constantly tries to keep Ignatz Mouse at bay. Got it? Good.

Well, in this particular cartoon, Krazy Kat and the dog start drinking, and then they sing a duet. It doesn't go quite right, so they grab this lady duck. They're all singing together now. But still it doesn't work. So they go to the jail where Ignatz is. Even though Ignatz has tried to kill Krazy in virtually every other strip, they convince him to sing, too. He does, and it works.

What's it all mean? Well, according Spiegelman, it's a symbol of how we need to be living our lives - in American and elsewhere. And it's cool quote #1:

"It proposed that since every Eden has its snake, one must somehow learn to live in harmony with that snake. I'm still working on it."

As are we all. In paranoid times like these, it's a tough nut to crack. Spiegelman takes a swing at it in this book. Reading the book reminded me of the work that I have left to do on this front. But the author's explanation filled me with more than a bit of optimism. Here it is folks, cool quote #2:

"I still believe the world is ending, but I concede that it seems to be ending more slowly than I once thought. So I figured I'd make a book."

Glad you did, Art. Good night, folks. It's Friday for a few more minutes, and as the man says, it's great to be alive.

See you next week.

I really want to check out "In The Shadows." It sounds cool, and I vaguely remember hearing about it when it first came out. I've been looking for this graphic novel about the lives of the saints forever...someone I used to know had it, and it was so awesome, all the saints' lives in comic form, each by a different artist.

I've got this weird thing about saints and nuns. I like 'em.
I have to admit that I'm a fan of saints, though the nuns at Archbishop Alter High School put me off the 'Sters, all things considered.

I mean, seriously. How do you respond without laughing to someone named "Sister Dennis" who's giving you demerits for chewing gum?

I don't know this graphic novel, though it sounds really interesting. Check out In the Shadows. Very cool.

And just as amazing is "Blankets" by Craig Thompson - seriously one of the best I've ever read. Thompson looks back on his first love back in high school, but sets it against a bizarre combo of 1) his own geekiness; 2) his obsession with drawing and art; 3) particularly cold midwestern winters; and 4) his parents' somewhat stifling evangelical relgious fervor.
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