Archive for June, 2017

Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby, Volume Four (1948-1949): Notes and queries. UPDATED!

Good news: I’ve finished the Afterword and Notes for Crockett Johnson‘s Barnaby Volume Four: 1948-1949 (co-edited with Eric Reynolds, and coming next year from Fantagraphics)!  Revision to first sentence: we might put “finished” in quotation marks because there are a few references that stump me.  Perhaps you can help?

At the back of each book, I provide a catalogue of the comic strip’s many allusions — some of which are topical, and others of which reflect Johnson’s wide range of interests.  For those unfamiliar with it, I should add that Barnaby (1942-1952) mixed fantasy and satire in its many stories of its five-year-old title character and Mr. O’Malley — Barnaby’s loquacious, endearing con-artist of a fairy godfather. Read all about them in the first three books! :-)

Barnaby, Volume 1 Barnaby, Volume Two Crockett Johnson, Barnaby Vol. Three (1946-1947), ed. Philip Nel & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics, 2016)

For Volume Four, here are a few allusions that elude me.  Any thoughts?  Any who help will of course be credited in the published book, of course. I realize that a mention in the Acknowledgments is not a Big Prize, but in my experience readers of Barnaby rather enjoy these sorts of esoteric questions in and of themselves. Thanks in advance for any ideas or suggestions you might have!

UPDATE, 29 and 30 June: Mere hours after posting this (and thanks to Mark Newgarden for sharing this query via his Facebook page), I already had a definitive answer to the last item and a possible answer to the penultimate one.  By June 30, more suggestions arrived.  Thanks to all who answered.  I have what I need!  (I don’t think we’ve quite pinned down the play, but we may be as close as we’ll get…)


The O’Malley Sales Method improves upon the old technique of merely suggesting the ailment (17 Mar. 1948).

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 17 March 1948

Who came up with the suggestion? Lots of companies create the problem that they then ameliorate, but I wonder if O’Malley is referring to a particular person, advertising agency, or company.

UPDATE, 30 June: Thanks to Peter Sattler (on Facebook), I now have an answer.  Here is what I have written:

This strip may reference a once-common way of selling vacuum cleaners. The salesman arrives at your home with a Hoover or Kirby, unpacks the vacuum and its attachments. As part of his demonstration, he throws flour or dirt on the living room carpet (or rug), and then shows how the vacuum cleaner makes that flour or dirt disappear.

Thanks, Peter!


ad for the book about how to double a white collar income with an acre of land (26 June 1948).

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 25 June 1948

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 26 June 1948

Also referenced in the 25 June strip (“double your parents’ income, the ad says”), this seems like it might be a real book — an actual scam from the period. If it is, I haven’t been able to find it. 

UPDATE, 30 June: Thanks to Steven Thompson (via Facebook), I now have answer (below!)

Also referenced in the 25 June strip (“double your parents’ income, the ad says”), this is likely a reference to advertisements for William B. Duryee’s Farming for Security (McGraw-Hill, 1943) or M.G. Kains’ Five Acres and Independence (Greenberg, 1940). Both books promised to teach people to farm — a claim that would have aroused the skepticism of Johnson, who had mixed results with his own garden.


my play portrays human suffering as the product of civilization, time and space. The poor frustrated peasant in “The Peon’s Plight” could be you or me or Barnaby — (29 July 1948).

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 23 July 1948

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 29 July 1948

If Johnson is mocking a specific play or plays (and I suspect he is), I have not been able to determine which one. Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) is a possible candidate. Its main characters, the Antrobus family, personify humankind; in each act, they face the possibility of their (and therefore humankind’s) demise. Strongly influenced by Marx, Johnson saw human suffering as a byproduct of capitalist exploitation. He would have disliked Wilder’s use of history as allegory (or “modern symbolic drama,” as The Peon’s Plight is described on 23 July), which he would have seen as lacking analytical rigor.

UPDATE, 29 June: John Wendler (via Facebook) notes that the title, The Peon’s Plight, may be derived from John Bunyan’s Christian allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). That’s a good point. 


St. John Saintsbury-Wough (17 Aug. 1948).

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 17 Aug 1948

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 18 Aug 1948

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 3 Sept. 1948

Is Johnson mocking a specific critic or simply a type of critic?  If it’s someone in particular, I don’t know who.

UPDATE, 29 and 3o June: Via Facebook, Ray Davis and Corey Creekmur both suggested Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943), which is a possibility.  I rewrote it once.  Then, I received more suggestions from Pete KunzePeter Sattler, and Rob King. So, I rewrote the note a second time.  Here it is:

This character is likely an amalgam of several critics. The name itself recalls some of English novelist (and journalist) Evelyn Waugh’s full name, Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (1903-1966). Another possible inspiration for the name and the character is St. John Ervine (1883-1971), the Irish-English dramatist and critic. (Ervine was born in Belfast, but lived and worked in London.) The source of “Saintsbury” may be the English scholar and critic George Saintsbury (1845-1933).

        Two American critics may also be woven into this composite character. St. John Saintsbury-Wough may be based not on Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943), but on the idea of Alexander Woollcott. Both he and Saintsbury-Wough were known for being highbrow, tough, idiosyncratic, and famous. I say the idea of Woollcott because he was famous via his portrayals in popular culture. He appears in altered form as Sheridan Whiteside in George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner, portrayed in both the stage (1939) and film (1942) versions by Monty Woolley. Woollcott is also an inspiration for Waldo Lydecker in Laura, which was a Vera Caspary serialized story (1942), then a novel (1943), Otto Preminger film (1944, with Clifton Webb as Lydecker), radio play (1945, 1948), and stage play (1945).

        However, Woollcott was dead by 1948. But George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) — another famous American critic — was active and influential. An appearance by him at a production like this would have elicited a similarly awed reaction. So, he may be another source for Johnson’s character.


oo—MOONbeams beHIND you—oo (14 Dec. 1948).

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 14 Dec. 1948

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 15 Dec. 1948

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 16 Dec. 1948

I have not been able to locate this song. As it is rendered typographically, it suggests a rude pun — “MOONbeams beHIND.” This makes me wonder if it’s a drinking song, playing perhaps on the stereotype of the Irish policeman.  Thanks to Luke Jaeger (via Facebook, when Mark Newgarden shared this query), I at last have an answer to this.  Here’s what I’ve written:

It should be moonlight and not moonbeams. Ausdauer is slightly misremembering a lyric from Noel Coward’s “Someday I’ll Find You,” the chorus of which begins: “Someday I’ll find you, / moonlight behind you.” The song first appeared in his play Private Lives (1930), and later became the theme for the long-running radio show Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons (1937-1955).

Luke is now in the Acknowledgments, as are all the people who have helped.  Thanks, everyone!


Note: these are not the best copies of these strips. But Fantagraphics always gets the best source material available and cleans them up when necessary. So, you will see better quality reproductions in the book!

AND: Comic-Con!  Barnaby Volume Three has been nominated for a 2017 Eisner Award.  Will it prevail, or will I become a three-time Eisner loser?  Stay tuned!  And, if you’ll be at Comic-Con, well… so will I!  See you at the Fantagraphics booth, perhaps?  (I’m not working the booth, mind you.  But I will be there.  Might do a signing — no details on that yet.)

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We Need Diverse Scholars

The most powerful panel at last year’s Children’s Literature Association conference was “Needs of Minority Scholars,” featuring Sarah Park Dahlen, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Laura M. Jiménez, and Marilisa Jiménez García.

  • If you are at the Children’s Literature Association conference right now, I encourage you to attend the follow-up session, “Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Changing the Culture and Practices of the ChLA.” It will be held tomorrow (Thursday, 22 June) at 3:30 pm in Palma Ceia 3.

Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Changing the Culture and Practices of the ChLA

  • Wherever you are, I encourage you to read last year’s panel, published in the latest issue of The Lion and the Unicorn (January 2017).  The panel’s papers published there, instead of in the organization’s own Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, because — as Michelle Martin points out in her contribution to the issue — “because the editors [of ChLAQ] didn’t consider these pieces research.” That fact proves the necessity of that panel, of tomorrow’s panel, and of the ChLA’s need to walk the walk — and not just talk the talk. As Kate Slater (the panel’s chair and editor of the special section) asks, “What if every marginalized scholar felt welcomed within the field of children’s and young adult literature studies? What if our community listened—truly listened—to their experiences, words, and perspectives, even when that experience of listening requires us to look uncomfortably at ourselves? And, perhaps most importantly: what now? How will we act together to make these ‘what ifs’ a reality?”

The Lion and the Unicorn (January 2017)

If you have any interest in children’s literature or in making your scholarly/professional organization (whatever its subject) a truly diverse one, I encourage you to read these essays.  (Note: Ebony Thomas’s piece is not included, but [as you will have guessed already] a new piece by Michelle Martin is included.  And the other three panelists are there.)

Need a brief summary of why?  I’ll offer succinct (and thus incomplete) highlights of each essay here.  ALSO: please access these via your institution because doing so helps underwrite the cost of the scholarly journal.  BUT if you cannot get behind the paywall, email me and I will send you pdfs.  My address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”


Sarah Park Dahlen, A Step from Heaven: On Being a Woman of Color in Children’s Literature Studies

  • on the need for mirrors: on the experience of reading An Na’s A Step from Heaven for the first time, Dahlen writes, “I wasn’t alone. I saw for the first time that these things happened to other people too, other people who looked like me. Whose parents looked like mine. Whose mother suffered as mine did. Whose father was absent as mine was.”
  • on being the visible embodiment of racial identity: “I do not leave my personal history or identity at the door when I enter a classroom. As Ebony Elizabeth Thomas said at the Children’s Literature Association 2016 conference’s Minority Scholars panel, students read our bodies before we even open our mouths. How they treat us is based, first and largely, on how they read our racial identities. My Korean body disrupts assumptions about who is an authority in teaching children’s literature.”
  • on point: “We who are racially Other are fatigued by repeated distortions and erasure, and by exposure to micro- and macroaggressions in our daily lives and in spaces that masquerade as safe but actually exist to uphold the status quo. Racial battle fatigue is real. White fragility is entirely different. White fragility maintains power.”

Michelle Martin, Brown Girl Dreaming of a New ChLA

  • on the insufficiency of good intentions. I (and many others) are fond of quoting the organizations unofficial mantra: “We don’t eat our young,” which past president Roberta Trites likes to say.  It’s true: ChLA is welcoming.  But it also isn’t equally welcoming to everyone, as Martin reminds us: “when scholars come through the doctoral pipeline whose educational experiences have been rife with racial and gender microaggressions from more seasoned scholars (even well-meaning ones) and peers and when they, like Marilisa Jiménez García, constantly struggle to have their work acknowledged as (1) scholarship and (2) relevant, ‘we don’t eat our young’ is little comfort. Some of us feel that we’ve been eaten our entire careers.”
  • on how structural power magnifies microagressions; or, how the powerful forget the harm they do, but the less powerful remember.  Martin recounts a story shared by Tiffany Martínez — a Suffolk University undergraduate, McNair Scholar, and aspiring academic — who used the word “Hence” in a paper. Her professor circled the word, opined “This is not your word,” and accused her of plagiarism.  As Martin notes, “Although this incident was seismic for her, Martínez suspects that the professor might have already forgotten it.”
  • on the need for scholars from outside of minoritized communities to do the research and write what she terms “crossover scholarship”: “writing crossover scholarship should not be undertaken casually but with a commitment to excellence, with humility, and with a teachable spirit.”

Laura M. Jiménez, My Gay Agenda: Embodying Intersectionality in Children’s Literature Scholarship

  • on the need for an intersectional agenda: “it is not uncommon for me to be accused of having a “gay agenda.” I’ve read the phrase on student evaluations, reviewers’ comments, and heard colleagues use it to dismiss my arguments, assertions, and even my life experiences. Let me be clear, I have an agenda, and it is an out and proud agenda, but it probably isn’t the one most people assume. My agenda isn’t simply gay. My agenda is a race-class-gender-and- all-kinds-of-identities-that-make-people-uncomfortable-and-unsure agenda. In short, my agenda is an intersectional agenda.”
  • on importance of teachers making their own intersectionality visible: “At the same time they read these texts I provide an authentic model of intersectionality. I say the words that my students fear. The words that need to be said out loud and often. The words Black, White, Asian, Japanese, African American, Arab, Persian, race, racism, Latinx, Chicano, women, men, Native American and First Nations, cis-gender, able, disabled, neurotypical, gay, queer . . . all the words need to be said out loud. The words that need to be talked about so these teachers get to know the feeling of these words on their tongues. I come out to my students as a complex person by addressing my intertwined identities. I am performing myself in ways that most of my students have never seen a teacher do, have never had to do themselves, and will come to recognize as one way to normalize diversity.”
    • If I may, I would like to add here that it is especially important that a cisgendered straight, White, male teacher — like myself — take categories that are typically invisible (and thus normalized via their invisibility) and make them visible.  We must also acknowledge how the invisibly privileged among us may fail to acknowledge or even see the ways in which we are implicated in systems of privilege and oppression (typically without our active consent).  As Jiménez says, “The disruption of admitting to differences, by naming those differences and directly addressing them in a classroom, can be transformative and in that transformation, change is possible.”
  • on the need to make majority communities uncomfortable: “teacher education provides opportunities for them to learn to recognize the stories they are not a part of, are not native to, are not privileged by and to hear the voices that are unfamiliar, and believe the narratives that run counter to their lived experiences. Piaget’s concept of learning has helped me understand how to challenge preservice and practicing teachers. For Piaget, learning takes place when a person experiences disequilibrium, attempts to assimilate the new information into their existing schema, and finally must change that schema to accommodate the new knowledge. But for this to happen, the learner must first recognize what is unknown, must be aware of the disequilibrium and want to change it. Disequilibrium is by definition uncomfortable; this discomfort is often caused by the mere fact that the new knowledge is in direct opposition to the learner’s existing schema”

Marilisa Jiménez García, Side-by-Side: At the Intersections of Latinx Studies and ChYALit

  • on the need to dwell on intersections and contradictions. Citing Monica Brown’s Side by Side / Lado a Lado (2010) as a metaphor for this need, García writes, “The picture celebrates the coming together of Chavez and Huerta, yet we see that English and Spanish are also placed side-by-side: two languages with a violent history facing each other, but separated by a division on the page. Chavez and Huerta’s hands bridge the divide, yet that division between cultures and languages running side-by-side remains. U.S. children’s literature evidences these splits, switches, breaks, and unlikely pairings—these parallel stories and traditions greet us with a history of delight, violence, and contradiction. My research has demanded that I negotiate divisions both in the field of Latinx studies and children’s literature in order to exist in academia, and to dwell on the parallels, the intersections and the contradictions.”
  • on the need to displace English’s centrality to the field (citing Emer O’Sullivan): “Emer O’Sullivan writes in the ‘Preface’ to her study, Comparative Children’s Literature (2005), that ‘[c]hildren’s literature studies in English is mainly a monolingual phenomenon, mostly dealing with the wealth of children’s literature in English-speaking countries and referring to critical material written in English. Researchers who do not write in that language generally remain internationally unnoticed’ (x). She suggests that limiting inquiry to predominately Anglo children’s materials ‘neglect[s] to adequately describe and explain the crossing of linguistic and cultural borders’ (1)”
  • on the need to address diversity from more than one field: “scholars in Latinx studies rarely consider the position of literature for youth and writers for young audiences in the study of historically oppressed peoples. That is, in ethnic and postcolonial studies, literature for youth remains, for the most part, marginalized.” As she notes, “As a field, are we engaging in scholarship that values diverse communities and stories? What story does our scholarship tell about the communities and knowledges we value? Or is our scholarship centralizing only certain kinds of knowledge? I have argued in my research that you cannot know the story of American children’s and youth literature and culture without knowing the story of the Puerto Rican community in the United States; the same applies in reverse.”

 

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A Weaponized Campus Can Be Fun!

Excited about unregulated firearms coming to Kansas State University’s campus?  Well, be sure to thank Representative John Barker and Senator Jacob LaTurner.  They refused to let the university campus-carry exemption bills even come up for a vote in the full House and Senate. So, thanks to them, the citizens who voted for them, and to all the NRA lackeys who create the laws in Kansas, as of July 1st, Kansas State University will be fully weaponized!

What does this mean for those of us who teach and study here?  Well, this morning, the university shared with us its new Weapons Policy Training module.  You see, as the announcement tells us,

On July 1, the university’s exemption from the concealed carry requirements of the Personal and Family Protection Act expires, meaning that the concealed carry of handguns will be allowed in university buildings at Kansas State University and other state universities. K-State continues its commitment to the safety of students, faculty and staff and all members of the K-State community.

The dark irony created by the juxtaposition of these two sentences is genius.  They tell us, first, that “concealed carry of handguns will be allowed” all over K-State campus and, second, that “K-State continues its commitment to the safety of students, faculty and staff.”  Because, you see, these two ideas are in no way incompatible!  Hahahaha. Ha.

But, for more fun, let’s get to that Weapons Policy Training module, shall we?

Weapons Policy Training module: first screen

Yep! “K-State Faculty/Staff.”  That’s me. (For now, anyway.)

Weapons Policy Module: screen 2

Ordinarily, I’d say “don’t repeat the same joke twice.” But I have to admit that the “dedicated to the safety and security” of everyone juxtaposed with WELCOME GUNS! is still pretty funny the second time around. Nicely played.

Weapons Policy Training module: screen 3

We have no choice about having armed and untrained students (to get a weapon, Kansas law requires no training, no background check, no license). But getting a choice of the order in which to complete the training makes me feel so much better. Thank you!

OK, I think I’ll start with “FAQ.”

Weapons Policy Training module: FAQ 1

Right, of course.  It’s much more fun to be surprised by the firearm accidentally going off or by the student using it on a classmate or the instructor.  Also, this policy helps protect the sensitive feelings of those people so cowardly that only being armed at all times makes them feel safe.  Poor little snowflakes.

Dropping a gun into a backpack seems like such an easy way to store it. Why bother to secure the weapon?  I mean, it’s not like someone could easily grab a classmate’s backpack or unzip the backpack and get the gun out.  That’s highly unlikely.  And since a person with no training on how to use a weapon will of course take all appropriate precautions, we can be confident that he (or she, but probably he) will leave the safety on.

Also, the need to keep the backpack “within the immediate reach of the individual” creates a fun new classroom game: Is That a Gun in Your Bag or Do You Suffer from Backpack Separation Anxiety?  The game works like this: Watch your students, and see who keeps the backpack very close at all times.  Is that student carrying?  Could be!  What about that student, over there?  Hmmm.  And why are those two students whispering near that satchel?  Points will be awarded based on the ratio of correct answers to survivors.

Weapons Policy Training module: FAQ 4

So, then: office hours cancelled until further notice.  Great!  I’m learning so much from this module!  Bonus: Not having office hours will save time, as will absenting myself from campus except when I absolutely have to be there.  This Weapons Policy is looking better and better!

Weapons Policy Training module: FAQ 5

Introducing my new policy: A’s for all students!  You are all brilliant, wonderful people!  You all get A’s!

Another part of the genius of concealed carry: by making every student a potentially armed student (and thus an implicit threat), faculty can treat them accordingly.  We can be spared the time of grading, by acknowledging that each and every one of our students is a certified genius!   Also, since campus carry revokes the safety upon which freedom of speech depends, why bother laboring over challenging discussion questions?  Fear inhibits discussion, and, well, we wouldn’t want a student to feel threatened by an intellectual challenge, now would we?  Of course not.  That would be rude.  I mean: the very idea of challenging students to think!  That’s so, I don’t know, pedagogically sound.

Extra credit question: Is there any chance that weaponizing the campus will lead to such egregious grade inflation that a degree from a Kansas university will become meaningless?  Let’s find out!

Well, this has been a fun survey.  I’d really love to take the rest of it, but no time at the moment.  After all, I have an exit strategy to plan — er, I mean, work to do!  I have work to do!  Bye!


To any academics who may be reading this: Is your university in a state or country with (relatively) competent governance? Or is it a private university (and thus not required to weaponize)? Does it seek an expert on children’s literature? Well, seek no further! Here is my curriculum vitae and a page devoted to my books (with selected reviews of same):

Drop me a line. (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”)  I’d love to hear from you!


Related writing on this subject (by me, and on this blog unless otherwise indicated):

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