Archive for Crockett Johnson

Nine Kinds of Pie

Happy Pi Day!  In recognition of 3.14 (today) and this blog’s Pi pie avatar (logo?), here are Nine Kinds of Pie (loosely defined).

Pi1. The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter: 3.1415926535.  When I was a kid, I memorized the number out to its tenth decimal point. On a long strip of paper, I also wrote the number out to about 100 decimal points. Perhaps I thought that learning this irrational number would grant me some greater insight. Or, possibly, I was intrigued by the fact that this simple ratio would be represented by such an unwieldy and unending number. I’m not sure. But I still have a fondness for Pi (and pie!). For the truly obsessed, here is Pi out to 100,000 decimal points. Here’s Pi Day’s “Learn About Pi” page, the Joy of Pi’s “Pi Facts,” and Wikipedia’s essay.

Pi: one hundred digits


2. Pi was also important to Crockett Johnson. In his later years, he worked on the mathematical conundrum of squaring the circle — a problem that also intrigued mathematician and children’s author Lewis Carroll, a century earlier. Johnson even published his own original theorem on the subject.

Crockett Johnson, from the Mathematical Gazette (1970)
Crockett Johnson, algebraic proof from the Mathematical Gazette (1970)

He moved towards this answer, visually. He literally worked out the problem via his paintings, creating many variations on the idea, and ultimately arriving at Squared Circle (1968).

Crockett Johnson, Squared Circle (1968)

Then, to get the algebraic notation correct, he corresponded with mathematicians, who helped him express his idea in the less visual medium of the formula. It was published in the Mathematical Gazette in 1970.


3. As readers of children’s literature know, this blog takes its name from a scene in Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), in which the title character “laid out a nice simple picnic lunch.”

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): "There was nothing but pie."

I love the way Johnson’s tone both embraces Harold’s matter-of-fact tone and registers amusement at this claim. On the one hand, the third person narrator (via a literary technique known as free indirect discourse) tells us what Harold is thinking: our narrator is so closely aligned with Harold’s point of view that one could easily swap the pronouns and Harold’s name for “I.” These are Harold’s thoughts. On the other hand, they’re not entirely Harold’s thoughts. Johnson’s deadpan delivery of these lines also underscores the mild absurdity of having nine favorite kinds of pie. That is, there’s also an awareness here that Harold lacks — specifically, that “nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best” is  funny.


4. Or is it? This somewhat baffling pie chart lists Americans’ 10 favorite types of pie.

Pie chart of Americans' favorite types of pie

It’s somewhat baffling because the percentages don’t add up to 100 — which is the point of using a pie chart. The circle represents 100%, and then each slice some lesser percentage. But this chart doesn’t. As the chart’s caption explains, the total “adds up to more than 100 per cent because people were asked to rank their three favorite types of pie.” And that still doesn’t make the above chart any more illuminating — though it is pretty to look at.


5. Pies are among those foods that come in both sweet and savory varieties. When I think of pie, my thoughts drift to the sweet (apple, peach, pecan, blueberry), but there are are also savory pies (meat pie, chicken pot pie, potato pie, pizza pie). The Oxford English Dictionary, which finds the oldest use of the word “pie” (then spelled “pye”) in 1304, offers the following as its  first definition:

A baked dish of fruit, meat, fish, or vegetables, covered with pastry (or a similar substance) and freq. also having a base and sides of pastry. Also (chiefly N. Amer.): a baked open pastry case filled with fruit; a tart or flan.


6. Care for some Amblongus pie? Since this is (often) a children’s literature blog, here’s a recipe from Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Cookery” (which appears in his Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets, 1871).

TO MAKE AN AMBLONGUS PIE

Take 4 pounds (say 4 1/2 pounds) of fresh Amblongusses, and put them in a small pipkin.

Cover them with water and boil them for 8 hours incessantly, after which add 2 pints of new milk, and proceed to boil for 4 hours more.

When you have ascertained that the Amblongusses are quite soft, take them out and place them in a wide pan, taking care to shake them well previously.

Grate some nutmeg over the surface, and cover them carefully with powdered gingerbread, curry-powder, and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper.

Remove the pan into the next room, and place it on the floor. Bring it back again, and let it simmer for three-quarters of an hour. Shake the pan violently till all the Amblongusses have become a pale purple colour.

Then, having prepared a paste, insert the whole carefully, adding at the same time a small pigeon, 2 slices of beef, 4 cauliflowers, and any number of oysters.

Watch patiently till the crust begins to rise, and add a pinch of salt from time to time.

Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of the window as fast as possible.

For any readers unfamiliar with Lear’s nonsense works,… you’re in for a treat even tastier than amblongus pie and gosky patties. Go read ‘em!


7. John Cage and Lois Long’s Mud Book (written 1950s, published 1983) offers a recipe for mud pie — and yes, this is John Cage, the composer.

John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)

 

John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)

 

John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)

 

John Cage and Lois Long, Mud Book (1983)

As Lane Smith and Bob Shea write in their post on Mud Book (and my source for these images), “Instructions any child can follow with ingredients easy to obtain. Notably, dirt, rocks, water, dirt and more dirt. But remember, mud pies are to make and to look at. Not to eat.”


8. Michael John Blake’s “What pi sounds like” is my favorite musical interpretation of the number. (It’s also literally a “musical number.” Get it?)

Many others have composed music inspired by Pi. Lars Erikson — composer of the Pi Symphony — even sued Michael John Blake (composer of the above piece), alleging plagiarism. Erikson lost.

If you like it (and if you don’t), you can  buy Michael John Blake’s “What pi sounds like” via iTunes.


9. One could make a long list of pie-themed music, too. The earliest one that comes to mind is “Song of Sixpence” (18th century): “Sing a song of sixpence, / pocket full of rye. / Four and twenty blackbirds / baked in a pie.” There’s A. A. Milne’s “Cottleston Pie,” performed here by Rowlf the Dog on the first season of The Muppet Show (1976).

According to an informal and completely unscientific survey of the “pie” songs in my iTunes, pies usually function metaphorically in music. Yes, there are “The Worst Pies in London” (from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd) and Zoe Lewis’s “Pies for the Public” (from Sheep), but you’re more likely to encounter Don McLean’s “American Pie” (1971), Jay & the Techniques’ “Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” (1967), the Beatles’ “Honey Pie” (from The Beatles [White Album], 1968), David Wilcox’s “Wildberry Pie” (1991), Death Lurks’ “Happiness Pie” (from The Kids in the Hall soundtrack, 1996), or Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Patootie Pie” (1946).


And what better way to express one’s appreciation for Pi and pie than by baking a Pi pie?

Pi pie

If you want to make one, the Nerdista has a recipe for her Pi pie (pictured below).

Nerdista's Pi Pineapple Pie

Happy Pi Day! Let’s have some pie. And Pi, of course.

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Fantagraphics and Kickstarter Capitalism

Fantagraphics' logoThis past week, Fantagraphics launched a $150,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund its Spring 2014 season. The sudden death, in June, of co-founder Kim Thompson had an economic impact on the independent publisher: 13 books he was to translate or edit had to be postponed or delayed, creating a drain on the company’s cash flow. The great news is that, only five days later, the Kickstarter has raised over $130,000 from 2,000 different backers.

The less great news is that, here and there, some people are wondering aloud why the greatest comics publisher out there should need to turn to Kickstarter. Hasn’t publishing the Complete Peanuts, or getting a distribution deal with Norton made Fantagraphics sufficiently flush?  How is the company being managed that it should need to launch a Kickstarter campaign?

While it’s wise to ask about management (there are better and worse ways for a publisher to manage risk), I worry that these questions reinforce the false assumption that capitalism rewards every well-managed company and punishes the poorly managed ones. Good management definitely improves a publisher’s odds for success, but all business ventures (and especially ones, like Fantagraphics, that lack a parent corporation) are susceptible to the whims of the marketplace: you have flush years, and lean ones, and you hope that the flush years will allow you to weather the lean ones.

Markets reward the popular, not the virtuous (unless it happens also to be popular). A business can carefully manage its finances and aggressively promote a book, yet still find itself with a product that doesn’t sell. Just as commercial success does not confer moral worth, nor does commercial failure denote moral shortcomings.

I must disclose here that I am a Fantagraphics editor — co-editor, really. Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds and I are co-editing the five-volume series of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby.  So, I can’t claim impartiality.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (Fantagraphics, 2013): front cover

But I can claim experience. I’m author or co-editor of eight books, and have worked with both academic and commercial publishers. I have also written nearly as many failed book proposals as I have successful ones. Hard work and careful planning sometimes yield rewards, and sometimes does not. Because I am an academic, I (fortunately!) do no have to make a living off of the books I write or edit. But publishers like Fantagraphics do have to turn a profit.

And they are a great publisher to work with. Their attention to design is phenomenal. To echo book design of the 1940s, Dan Clowes hand-drew the eight boxes on the back cover of Barnaby Volume One. Today, design software would make these boxes look perfect; in the ’40s (when Johnson was writing Barnaby), hand-ruled lines made them look just slightly imperfect. Details like this, or setting the text in Futura (the typeface Johnson used for Barnaby), give the book its Crockett-Johnson-in-the-1940s aesthetic.  And that’s just one example of the kind of attention Fantagraphics lavishes on its projects.  They make beautiful books because they care deeply about making beautiful books, and they have nearly 40 years of experience doing it.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (Fantagraphics, 2013): back cover

If any publisher deserves to be rewarded with commercial success, it’s Fantagraphics. However, since capitalism is an economic system and not a moral one, there’s Kickstarter. While it’s not the solution to all of publishing’s challenges, Kickstarter does allow a publisher’s supporters to make moral decisions with their capital. Those who have funds to donate can vote their conscience, sustaining the health of a publisher committed to the art of comics.

Unless we as a society decide (for example) that public funding for the arts should be a priority, Kickstarter is one way we can help support worthy artistic ventures. Crowdsourcing is not a necessary evil. It’s a necessary good.

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Happy 107th Birthday, Crockett Johnson!

Crockett Johnson was born 107 years ago today, in New York City. If you are (or will be) in New York, here are three ways you can celebrate.

1. In the shameless self-promotion department, you can hear me tomorrow (October 21st) at 8 pm Ben Katchor’s New York Comics and Picture-story symposium, at the Parsons School (2 West 13th Street), in the Bark Room (off the lobby). Free and open to the public.
Crockett Johnson's Barnaby: The Greatest Comic Strip You've Never Read
I’m up at 8 pm, but the symposium starts at 7. So, if you’re heading over there, you might come for Aaron Beebe‘s talk (at 7). Why not? Two events, both free, same evening!

2. Visit “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” an absorbing exhibit curated by Leonard Marcus. It’s at the New York Public Library, through March 23, 2014.  It’s also free.  And, yes, Harold makes an appearance.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, at "The ABC of It"
Here’s the caption:

"The Work of Play" at "The ABC of It"

There’s a great deal more there, besides, including art by William Blake, John Tenniel, Marcia Brown, Ludwig Bemelmans, Edward Lear; first (or at least early) editions of The Cat in the HatHarriet the SpyThe Brownies Book; the ARC of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; children’s books from the early-twentieth century Russian avant-garde; and far more than I can possibly catalogue in this sentence.  Well worth a visit!

3) Take a walking tour of Crockett Johnson’s childhood homes, courtesy of last year’s blog post.  He was born at 444 East 58th Street, but — after a few years there — grew up in Queens, starting at a house adjacent to (what is now) the Corona Branch of the Queens Public Library.

And, to conclude, here’s a photo (also previously posted) of Crockett Johnson laughing.  Enjoy!

Crockett Johnson Laughs, 1967. Courtesy of Nina Stagakis.

Photo credit: Nina Stagakis.

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Crockett Johnson & Ruth Krauss & Adrian Tomine

Cool! My biography, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (2012), has a cameo appearance in Adrian Tomine‘s Optic Nerve #13.  (Click on the strip to see a larger version.)

Adrian Tomine, from Optic Nerve No. 13

Appropriately, the context is an affirmation of — and some nostalgia for — print culture. If you don’t have a copy of the biography (and would like one), then my advice is to avoid the ebook and buy the paperback.  Only the paperback edition has Chris Ware’s full cover.  The hardcover truncates it, and the ebook has only the front cover.  Also, the 88 illustrations look much better in print than they do in the ebook version.

A hearty thank-you to Adrian Tomine for mentioning my book in his work!  In the spirit of a strip later in this narrative (after you click on the link, scroll down), I’m going to handwrite him a thank-you note now.

Also, check out:

Finally, thanks to Dave Ball for calling my attention to this!

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Sunday, July 21

No Face (from Miyazaki's Spirited Away)

Welcome to the final day of my admittedly idiosyncratic coverage of the 2013 Comic-Con in San Diego. As on previous days, I’ve given each event or topic a heading so that you can find whatever interests you and then skip the rest.

Getting Into Character

You could spend all of your time here photographing people in their costumes. Some of the people in their costumes seem to come primarily to be photographed. People ask them, they agree, and then they stop and pose. And lots of people take photos. I can’t imagine that these folks make it to many panels.

But they do such an incredible job with their costumes. Truly impressive, and such a wide array of characters — from comics, movies, TV shows, video games, even some from children’s literature. (I saw a Thing One and Thing Two today.)  Here are a few cos-players that I’ve photographed during the past few days.

Poison Ivy and Two-Face

Poison Ivy and Two-Face.

Spy vs. Spy

Spy vs. Spy.

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players.

Funky Winkerbean’s 40th+ Anniversary

Tom Batiuk and Alex Sinclair

Featuring Tom Batiuk (creator of Funky Winkerbean), and Alex Sinclair (who has done coloring for Funky and for a lot of other comics), this panel marked the 41st year of Funky Winkerbean.

Tom Batiuk has a wry sense of humor, and solid comic timing. Describing Phantom Empire (starring Gene Autry) — an over-the-top combination of western, science fiction, and musical — he said it “viewed genre as an inconvenience.”  He’s also fond of one-liners like “So, I got up early one morning at the crack of noon.”

Batiuk recalled reading comics — or having his father read the comics to him — in the 3rd grade.  He started drawing them not long after. As he said, “I got my first comic book, and learned that there was a party going on inside.”

A couple of choice quotations from Tom Batiuk:

“I’ve spent the last 40 years in a room by myself. I’m lucky. I’m a fortunate person. I like spending all day in a room by myself.”

“People often ask me how to get into comics. The first thing I say is don’t have a plan B. And the second thing is try to get a room on the sunny side of the hospital.”

Alex Sinclair talks about coloring the story of Lisa’s cancer, and how in coloring these Funky Winkerbean strips he did the opposite of what he did in comic books. Instead of bright colors, he went for realistic coloring.

The strips about Lisa’s cancer — displayed on the screen — were so very moving that you could hear the audience sniffling (me, too). The strips’ tone makes them so effective. They leaven the sadness with humor, but they do so with a light touch, offering a smile in the darkness rather than a laugh.

Two more quotations, in which Tom Batiuk addresses the sometimes serious subject matter of Funky Winkerbean:

“I still get emails: ‘I really love your strip, especially the early funny ones.’”

“I don’t owe people a funny strip each day…. But what I am obligated to do is give you the best work I could possibly give you every time.”

Faith Erin Hicks in Conversation with Jeff Smith

Faith Erin Hicks and Jeff Smith

Though he was the rock star on this panel, Jeff Smith kept the focus on Faith Erin Hicks. In addition to being a great cartoonist, Smith is also a great moderator/interviewer.

Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen, Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongThis conference introduced me to Faith Erin Hicks’ work, and I’m now a fan. I bought two of her books while here: The Adventures of Superhero Girl and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (adapted from Prudence Shen’s novel). I’ll definitely be buying more, and — I expect — teaching her work in my Literature for Adolescents class. (See also her comments on the “Drawing Stories: What’s New in YA Graphic Novels” panel from my Friday, July 19 Comic-Con report).  OK, now on to the panel itself.

Hicks told us, “I was a teenage wanna-be reader of comics, but there were no comics for me.” And so, “I literally started making comics because I wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer in comic-strip form.” Her early comics, she says, were Buffy knock-offs.

Faith Erin Hicks: I’ve made over 2200 pages of comics.

Jeff Smith: Wow. Nice.

Faith Erin Hicks: And I’d say over half of them are not terribly good.

Hicks was so happy to be interviewed by Jeff Smith. As she said, “I’ve been having the most amazing time at this Comic-Con…. I’ve met all my artistic heroes.  Getting to sit here and talk with you [Jeff Smith]. … I got to meet the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and got to talk with them. … And just this morning, my editor introduced me to Joss Whedon.”  Things are going well for her.

But they haven’t always gone well. She recalled being here at a Comic-Con some years back, and not having enough money to buy meals… and so seeking food at various receptions. She moved to Halifax in 2005 for a job in animation, but that company let her go in 2008. At that time, she wondered whether to look for another job in animation or make comics her full-time (instead of part time) vocation. She chose the latter and has been very happy.

Faith Erin Hicks: I now get to make my living making comics.

Jeff Smith: You quit your day job.

Faith Erin Hicks: My day job quit me.

Smith and Hicks talked about the increase of women in the comics business. Smith observed, “When Vijaya [Iyer, Smith’s wife and business partner] and I came here in 1993, the women’s restroom was like a palace. There was no one else in there. It was just her and Vampira.”

Jeff Smith, Bone vol. 1: Out from BonevilleFaith Erin Hicks big influences — the first comics that really spoke to her — were Jeff Smith’s Bone, and Naoki Urasawa’s work. She tells us that “Manga didn’t have an impact on my style. … But it had an impact on my pacing.” She noted that the pacing in Smith’s work is also like that of manga. He said that he’d heard that, but never read manga until recently, and then, sensing that the conversation had veered toward him, Smith — great moderator and kind person that he is —interrupted himself. “I don’t want to talk about me,” he said, and then steered the conversation back to Hicks.

Discussing future possible projects, Hicks told us, “My most rejected pitch [is] about an office that is a waystation for dead people.”  She added, “It’s been rejected everywhere.”

“It’s the very first comic I’ve done that has no supernatural bent to it.”

— Faith Erin Hicks on Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (her latest book, 2013).

Faith Erin Hicks starts each day with a run because first priority of cartoonist is to take care of yourself.  She then works 12 hours a day (taking a break fo make supper, see the boyfriend), 6 days a week. She takes Saturdays off … unless deadlines demand that she works Saturday.

Faith Erin Hicks, The Adventures of Superhero GirlI asked whether there’d be more Adventures of Superhero Girl, and she said that she’d like to do more but wasn’t sure where she’d find the time. I completely understand. The more your career gets going, the harder it is to commit to anything not already under contract.

In response to another audience member’s question, Hicks told us that Demonology 101 will never be published in book form because she feels it’s not good enough — she’s just not comfortable selling it. But, she said, it will always be available on-line.

Jeff Smith can relate to that. People ask him to publish the Bone strip he did (“a sort of proto-Bone“), but he says no: “The drawing is terrible, the jokes are terrible.”

Hicks also recalls her comic strip, Font Management, which she did for her college newspaper. She also speaks of it with disdain. (The joke in the strip’s title concerns how to use typefaces to make your essay seem longer.)

“It looked like a guy in a big rubber batsuit fighting a villain on a train. It looked too real.”

— Jeff Smith on the Chris Nolan Batman films, and why he skipped the last one

Some recent work Faith Erin Hicks recommends:

  • David Aja’s Hawkeye
  • Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants

“‘I am going to make superhero comics for me.’ I think that’s my whole career.”

— Faith Erin Hicks

Audience member asks, “Do you have a dream project?”

Jeff Smith (answering for her): It’s a way-station for dead people.

Faith Erin Hicks (joking): Iron Man! I really want to do Iron Man!

Faith Erin Hicks (serious): I would really like to something longer — 3 books, maybe. … I’d like to do something in a historical fantasy setting.

“Once comics become your life, you have to make decisions on what you spend your time on.”

— Faith Erin Hicks on why she’s no longer a gamer

I was struck during this panel and others by how much comics work can be like academic work. Choose the projects that interest you. Since you sit most of the day, make sure you exercise. You’ll work long, long hours (including weekends), but the work will be interesting. Both careers are very self-directed, with all the benefits and perils implied by that. The main difference is that us professors don’t need to make a living from our books, whereas comics artists do. But we’re similar in that we also do other work (in addition to our books) to make ends meet.

Gene Deitch

Philip Nel, Eric Reynolds, Gene Deitch, Zdenka Deitch

Stopped by the Fantagraphics booth to have a proper chat with animation/cartooning legend Gene Deitch. I introduced myself after his panel on Thursday, and thanked him for his help on the bio. of Johnson and Krauss. But I didn’t get the sense that he remembered our correspondence. So, Eric Reynolds and I chatted with him a bit. Eric re-introduced me: “This is Crockett Johnson’s biographer.” We showed him the new Barnaby book and my bio.

Deitch recounted the story (which you can find in his essay, “The Picture Book Animated,” and in my bio.) about animating A Picture for Harold’s Room. That story granted me a lot of insight into how complex Johnson’s Harold books actually are. Each Harold book is essentially one large drawing. To animate it, Deitch couldn’t add a tiny piece of the picture in each new frame because, if he did so, the line would look jerky. So, they drew Harold’s entire picture first, and then filmed Harold erasing that (with his crayon). When you run the film forwards, it looks like he’s drawing the picture. Also challenging for Deitch is that the film has no cuts. It’s one continuous animated film.

I bought Nudnik (the DVD and the book), and Cat on a Hot Thin Groove (collection of Deitch’s cartoons for the record industry).

Paul Hornschemeier draws Crockett Johnson

From 2 to 4 pm, I hung out at the Fantagraphics booth with Paul Hornschemeier — our signing was again at the same time. Not long after we sat down, Paul began sketching a portrait of Crockett Johnson, using the photo on the back cover of Barnaby Volume One.  Remarkably, he did this sketch while talking with other people and posted it to his Tumblr during our signing.

Crockett Johnson by Paul Hornschemeier

This is the third cartoonist’s portrait of Crockett Johnson. In addition to Johnson’s self-portrait, there’s Chris Ware’s (on the cover of my bio.).

Paul Hornschemeier, All and SundryPaul is a versatile artist, as his latest collection, All and Sundry, shows. Since our signing wasn’t exactly mobbed, I spent some time reading his All and Sundry and The Three Paradoxes. I bought The Three Paradoxes solely because it was easier to transport (a smaller book). Both are well-drawn and thought-provoking, and I’ll be ordering the other from Fantagraphics when I get back.

By “wasn’t exactly mobbed” I mean, of course, that very few people came. A former classmate stopped by with her husband, and bought Barnaby.  A few other folks came buy and bought books. There is some good news: when I left (less than an hour before the exhibition hall closed), Fantagraphics had sold all but one copy of Barnaby Volume One.

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

I missed most of this because I was down in the exhibit hall, signing books (well, a few books, anyway). And… for the few minutes that I was there, I didn’t take notes.

So, about all I can tell you is this. Paul Pope listens to Beethoven while writing — Beethoven’s Third Symphony is his favorite. Depending on the kind of work he’s doing (inking, say), he also listens to heavy metal.  Gene Yang can’t listen to music while he’s working.  As an ’80s child, he did admit to a fondness for Men Without Hats.

And this: An audience member asked Yang whether he would write something more autobiographical, exploring the complexities of Asian identity. (Yang himself has one parent from Taiwan and one from China.) He said that’s a possibility. He noted that he’s married to a Korean, and that though they’re both “Asian Americans,” identities are of course much more complex.

Gene Yang and Kyoshi Warriors

 After the panel, Gene Yang poses with the Kyoshi Warriors.

Books (and one DVD)

Comic-Con: books

Books arrayed on floor of hotel room.

Now to carry them all home, because it wouldn’t be a proper Comic-Con if you didn’t damage your back, now would it?

Note: The Owly ones are for my niece Emily (I already have copies, albeit not autographed ones!)

My Favorite Tweet from Comic-Con 2013

The Future Belongs to Crowds

“The future belongs to crowds”

— Don DeLillo, Mao II (1991)

I have never seen any conference as massive as this one. I have never seen a book/media exhibit as vast as this one. And the crowds! As far as I can tell, about 130,000 people attended this year’s Comic-Con.

After being at the Con for a few days, you grow accustomed to seeing people in costume. Last night on the way to dinner (blocks away from the Con), I saw Spider-Man crossing the street. No one even blinked.

I learned a great deal from the panels, all of which were really interesting. Not a dud in the bunch. I’ve also learned to avoid the big media events. Unless I get a press pass that lets me jump the line (I assume a press pass would let one do this?), I will in future be sticking to sessions about comics/graphic novels. No point in standing around for hours to see movie stars — those events are covered by the press. You can read about them on-line, afterwards.

I’m not sure when I’ll return, but — to quote Gonzo, at the end of The Muppet Movie — “I’m going to go back there someday.” Heck, if there’s time, I may even dress up like Mr. O’Malley (Barnaby’s fairy godfather). Who wants to dress up as Barnaby & come with me?

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby (15 June 1943)

 

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

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Barnaby at Comic-Con

Comic-Con 2013Attention! Fellow and future members of the Elves, Gnomes, Leprechauns, and Little Men’s Chowder and Marching Society! If you’ll be at Comic-Con this week, stop by Fantagraphics, at Booth 1718 (see map below).  Eric Reynolds (who co-edited Barnaby Volume One with me) and I will be there at these times.

  • Thursday, July 18: 10-11:30 am.
  • Saturday, July 20: 9-10 am.
  • Sunday, July 21: 2-4 pm.

We’d be glad to sign your copy of the book. Or not. It’s up to you, really.  Or we could just chat.  What? Stopping by to chat about Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, and Mr. O’Malley isn’t enough for you?  Well, you could also purchase one of Chris Ware’s limited-edition posters for my Eisner-nominated book, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (2012).  The actual full, wrap-around cover is below: click to enlarge. Seriously: click it. It’s beautiful.  Mr. Ware’s specially designed poster version (measuring 20″ x 39″) removes the blurbs (replacing them with two more Johnson paintings), and removes all other text save for the title (on the front cover) and my name (on the front cover).

Chris Ware's cover for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

I’m bringing a limited supply.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Fantagraphics will also have a few copies of the biography (published by UP Mississippi), which I’d be glad to inscribe.  In case blurbs would be persuasive, here are some very nice things that very kind people have said about it:

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)Mr. Nel’s engrossing, beautifully-researched dual-biography of these two mid-century masters and their enviable symbiosis will restore the cynic’s faith in love and marriage and elicit gasps of shock from devotees of the genre at the sheer decency of their lives.

— Daniel Clowes

wonderful new dual biography…. This book is a great read…. Highly recommended!

— James Sturm, Center for Cartoon Studies

Nel has a gift for stitching together his exhaustive research into a brisk, highly readable narrative

— Jack Feerick, Kirkus

And Fantagraphics will have LOTS of copies of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (2013), edited by Philip Nel (me) and Eric Reynolds, designed by Daniel Clowes, with a foreword by Chris Ware, and essays by Jeet Heer, Dorothy Parker, and Philip Nel (me, again).

Barnaby, Volume 1

If you don’t know Johnson’s masterpiece, now’s the time to get acquainted.  Don’t believe me?  Then listen to these people instead:

I never thought I’d see this day, but the book you hold is, well… the last great comic strip. Yes, there are dozens of other strips worth rereading, but none are this Great; this is great like Beethoven, or Steinbeck, or Picasso. This is so great it lives in its own timeless bubble of oddness and truth.

— Chris Ware

I think, and I am trying to talk calmy, that Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American arts and letters in lord knows how many years. I know that they are the most important additions to my heart. . . . I think Mr. Johnson must love people. I know darned well I must love Mr. Johnson.

— Dorothy Parker

Still not convinced?  Then come by the Fantagraphics booth (1718!).  Eric and I will convince you.  Here is a map — I’ve drawn a red box around booth 1718.

Comic-Con 2013: Where's Fantagraphics?

For more on Crockett Johnson and Barnaby, see:

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The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part II: Picture Books

In the 58 years since its publication, Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon has appeared in 14 languages, and inspired many artists.  This blog (which takes its name from a line in the book) presented The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part I: Comics & Cartoons… nearly three years ago.  It is at last time for Part II: Picture Books.

Anthony Browne, Bear Hunt (1979)

Anthony Browne, Bear Hunt (1979)

As Harold does, Bear goes for a walk. As Harold does, Bear carries something to write with (a pencil instead of a crayon). And, as is the case with Harold, what Bear draws becomes real.  It’s true that, graphically, this is a very different book. Browne’s jungle scenes — all in color — recalls those of Henri Rousseau. Also, where Harold both creates and solves his problems, Bear’s problems — two hunters who want to shoot him — are not imagined. Fortunately, his pencil proves more powerful than their guns. I’m tempted to say that, in the book, the power to imagine a better reality trumps the power to kill. However, Browne handles this story with such a light touch that, while it may suggest such morals, that’s not the focus.

Jon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (1988)

Jon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

Felix Clousseau’s art looks ordinary, but it’s not.  His painting of a duck actually quacks. However, “that was only half of it,” observes Agee’s narrator as the duck leaves the painting.  This is one of the book’s sly jokes (if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…), which include comic names of rival painters (such as Felicien CaffayOllay), several Magritte references, and the pun on the final page. No, I won’t give away the ending. Read it yourself.

Chris Van Allsburg, Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)

Chris Van Allsburg, Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)

In his Caldecott acceptance speech for Jumanji (1981), Chris Van Allsburg actually thanked “Harold, and his purple crayon.” He has elsewhere spoken of the book as the one he “remember[s] most clearly” from his childhood. Van Allsburg loved its theme of “the ability to create things with your imagination,” which, he says, is “a fairly elusive idea, but [the book] presents it so succinctly through these simple drawings that it registers very clearly.”

May of Van Allsburg’s books traverse (or blur) the line between imaginary and real, but Bad Day at Riverbend seems the most explicit homage to Johnson’s book. Rendered in coloring-book style, the people of Riverbend face a “greasy slime” that sticks aggressively to whatever it assaults. We readers recognize the “slime” as crayon scribbles, which (spoiler alert!) the book’s ending reveals to be true.  The townspeople are … the victims of a child with a crayon.

Thacher Hurd, Art Dog (1996)

Thacher Hurd, Art Dog (1996)

As Harold does, Art Dog creates art that changes physical realities. He also has his artistic adventures at night, beneath the moonlight. On one of the pages, he paints a somewhat goofy purple (with green spots) bird who reminds me of Harold’s drawings. Above the bird, on the wall, he has painted falling stars reminiscent of the one that Harold rides home in Harold’s Trip to the Sky (1957).

Some years ago, I wrote to Thacher Hurd to ask whether he or his parents (Clement Hurd and Edith Thacher Hurd) had known Johnson or Ruth Krauss. He said that they may have, though he had no memories of them. During our very brief email correspondence, I said “I’ve often thought that Harold would get along very well with Art Dog.” He responded, “Yes, I did put in a subtle aside to Harold and the Purple Crayon in Art Dog. I love that book, and loved it as a kid.”

Régis Faller, Voyage de Polo (2002: English translation: The Adventures of Polo, 2006) and its many sequels

Régis Faller, Le voyage de Polo (2002)

Wordless (save for the occasional sound effect), Faller’s Polo books have an associative narrative logic that’s evocative of the Harold stories’ structure.  In Voyage de Polo (The Adventures of Polo), he opens the door of his island tree home, walks over to a tightrope, and then starts carefully to make his way along it — shades of Harold’s tightrope act in Harold’s Circus (1959). The tightrope suddenly becomes stairs, which Polo then climbs — reminiscent of the stairs in Harold’s Fairy Tale (1957).  Beyond those direct visual allusions (or, at least, they feel like allusions), the story’s art manages to link each panel to the next, and then to the next.  You don’t quite know where Polo is going, but he’s traveling with a purpose, and fun to accompany for the duration of his journey.  More than anything else, the chain of associations most strongly reminds me of Harold’s stories.

Delphine Durand, Bob & Cie., (2004; English translation: Bob & Co., 2006)

Durand, Bob & Cie (2004): cover

A small book that begins with “a blank page” and then waits for “the story” to get underway, Durand’s Bob & Cie. (Bob & Co.) pursues the metaphysical implications of Harold’s predicament. Except, in this story, it’s Bob’s predicament. It’s hard to summarize. By turns whimsical and profound, Durand’s absurdist metafiction is about faith, narrative, the universe, beginnings and endings. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. Someday, I’d like to write (a blog post? an essay?) about Durand’s work.  Her sensibility and sense of humor appeal to me.

Patrick McDonnell, Art (2006)

The creator of the comic strip Mutts creates a story about a boy named Art who creates lots of art.  This conceit inspires many puns on the name, and, well, lots of art (and Art).  About a third of the way in, the book moves explicitly to Harold’s territory, when Art draws a house and then stands on the doorway in order to draw the roof.

from Patrick McDonnell, Art (2006)

Deborah Freedman, Scribble (2007)

Deborah Freedman, Scribble (2007)

When Emma insults her younger sister Lucie’s drawing of a kitty (“It looks like a scribble”), Lucie defends herself: “It’s a special scribble-kitty!” In retaliation, she scribbles all over Emma’s drawing of the Princess Aurora. Emma storms off.  Then Scribble, Lucie, and the sisters’ real cat step into the drawings — which is the moment that the book enters Harold’s realm. It’s telling that only the younger sister crosses the boundary from real to imaginary worlds. Perhaps Freedman is suggesting that only the youngest children — Lucie, Harold — can make that leap, and fully believe it.  Freedman’s second book, Blue Chicken (2011), also plays with the boundary between art and life.  But, this time, a chicken is the artist.

Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman, The Pencil (2008)

Ahlberg and Ingman, The PencilA pencil (which appears itself to have been rendered in pencil) draws a boy, a dog, a cat, a house, a road, and a park.  As in Harold and the Purple Crayon, all things the pencil draws are real. The book departs from Johnson’s book when the pencil draws a paintbrush, who in turn colors everything the pencil draws. The decision to add color bends the narrative logic (how can a grey pencil draw color?), as does the decision to add an eraser (how can an eraser remove watercolors?). But the eraser proves a valuable antagonist. Just as the pencil draws enthusiastically, so the eraser embraces his function — threatening the world that pencil and paintbrush have created.  I wonder: what would have Harold done with an eraser?  He does cross things out (the witch in Harold’s Fairy Tale, the whole picture in A Picture for Harold’s Room), but he never erases.

Matteo Pericoli, Tommaso and the Missing Line (2008)

Pericoli, Tommaso and the Missing Line (2008)The line of the hill disappears from Tommaso’s drawing, which shows “a house on a hill, / a tall tree and some mountains. / And two people — / him and his grandma.”  So, of course, he goes off in search of it. On the right-hand page, Pericoli uses black ink for everything, except his character’s drawing and specific lines that Tommasso finds — those are all in orange. On the left-hand page, Pericoli places white text on an orange background. The orange at left makes each orange line at right “pop” out of the picture. Visually, it’s very effective.

Sure, Tommaso is also an artist, but, you ask, is there a more particular connection to Harold and the Purple Crayon?  There are several, first of which is that Tommaso does find his line — “as real as he always remembered it” — out in the world. So, as in Johnson’s book, art can become real.  Also, though Pericoli’s line is not as tight as Johnson’s, the pen-and-ink drawings on white pages evoke Johnson’s aesthetic sensibility.  Just as Harold’s purple line does, Tommaso’s orange line has as powerful a visual presence.

Any obvious (or not-so-obvious) books I’ve missed? I realize there are many other metafictional books (Scieszka and Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man, Barbara Lehman’s The Red Book, to name but two) or aesthetically comparable books (Lehman, again, Newgarden and Cash’s Bow Wow series) or books about artists (Lionni’s Frederick, McClintock’s The Fantastic Drawings of Danielle). My list may be too narrow, but its idiosyncrasies will I hope inspire discussion.  So, let the discussion begin!

Related Posts:

(And, yes, I do plan further parts in this series — with luck, they’ll appear more swiftly than Part II!  Indeed, the blog has been quieter for this past month because, this summer, I’ve foolishly taken on more writing than I can cope with.  I’m struggling to keep my head [nearly] above water.)

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A Manifesto for Children’s Literature; or, Reading Harold as a Teenager

Those of us who read, create, study, or teach children’s literature sometimes face skepticism from other alleged adults.  Why would adults take children’s books seriously?  Shouldn’t adults be reading adult books?

There are many responses to these questions:

  1. Children’s books are the most important books we read because they’re potentially the most influential books we read. Children’s books reach a young audience still very much in the process of becoming. They stand to make a deeper impression because their readers are much more impressionable.
  2. Adults who dismiss children’s literature neglect their responsibilities as parents, educators, and citizens. What future parents, teachers, doctors, construction workers, soldiers, leaders, and neighbors read is of the utmost importance, if for no other reason than some of us will continue to live in the world they inherit. If books leave such a powerful impression on young minds, then giving them good books is vital.
  3. Almost no children’s literature is written, illustrated, edited, marketed, sold, or taught by children. Adults — and adults’ idea of “children” — create children’s books. It’s profoundly hypocritical for an adult to suggest children’s literature as unworthy of adult attention. Indeed, adults who make such claims are either hypocrites, fools, or both.
  4. Children are as heterogeneous a group as adults are. There is no universal child, just as there is no universal adult. Defining the readership of any work of “children’s literature” is a tricky, sticky, complex task. Paradoxically and as the term itself indicates, “children’s literature” is defined by its audience — it’s for children. It thus a literature for an audience whose tastes, reading ability, socio-economic status, hobbies, health, culture, interests, gender, home life, and race varies widely. Children’s literature is literature for an unknowable, unquantifiable group. The very term “children’s literature” is a problem. Only someone who has never thought about children or what they read could argue that children’s literature does not merit serious consideration.
  5. Children’s literature has aesthetic value. Good children’s books are literature. Good picture books are portable art galleries. If we don’t take children’s literature seriously, then we diminish an entire art form and those who read it. We also prevent ourselves from being able to distinguish quality works from inferior ones — thus neglecting our responsibilities outlined in no. 2, above. This is not to suggest that we can or should all agree on what is a great children’s book. We can’t and we shouldn’t. What we can and should do is care about what makes children’s books bad or good, average or classic, banal or beautiful.

But my focus in this post is less on those preceding five points (or the many other points that could be added) and more on a sixth point: that children’s books have much to give those of us who are no longer children. There are levels of meaning we may have missed when we read the book as a child. There are experiences adults have that grant us interpretations unavailable to less experienced readers — just as children may arrive at interpretations unavailable to adults who have forgotten their own childhoods. In children’s books, there is art, wisdom, beauty, melancholy, hope, and insight for readers of all ages.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverWhat inspires me to make this sixth claim is that I have no memory of reading Harold and the Purple Crayon as a child. As an adult, I created a website devoted to the book’s creator, Crockett Johnson, and wrote a biography of Johnson and his wife, fellow-children’s book writer Ruth Krauss. But the book that inspired both website and biography is completely absent from my memories of early childhood.

The book does appear in memories of those memories. In eighth grade, when I had long since “graduated” into reading chapter books, my mother got a job teaching at a private school, thus enabling my sister and I to attend the school for free. Once a week (or was it once a month?), there was a faculty meeting after the end of the school day. During that meeting, my sister and I were left alone in the school library to do our homework. She did her homework. I did not. Instead, I wandered over to the picture books and began reading them. There, I rediscovered Harold and the Purple Crayon, a book I then remembered fondly from my pre-school days. I also realized that there were other books about Harold — Harold’s Trip to the Sky, Harold’s ABC. Had I read these other Harold stories when I was younger? I wasn’t sure. But I knew they were just as enchanting as the first Harold book.

So, at the age of 14 — an age when you might expect a person to be reading Young Adult novels — I began to collect paperbacks of Crockett Johnson’s Harold books.

I don’t know what needs were fulfilled by those particular words and pictures. Perhaps it was the books’ presentation of the imagination as a source of power and possibility. Maybe Harold’s iconic, clear-line style better enabled me to identify with him as he, and his crayon, navigated an uncertain, emerging landscape.

For that matter, I don’t know why, as a freshman in college, I adopted as my bedtime reading A. A. Milne’s The World of Pooh and The World of Christopher Robin. (The former contains both Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner; the latter collects all the verse from When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six.)

My point is that books “for children” can speak to people of all ages and backgrounds — if we are ready to listen. It’s hard to predict when or why we will be ready to listen. It is indeed dangerous to assume that recommended age-ranges on the backs of books will tell us anything about who may read those books. When I read and re-read the Harold stories at age 14, the books did not then have age ranges on them, though I note that a more recent copy of Harold’s Fairy Tale claims it’s for “Ages 3 to 8.” As Philip Pullman has said of his own work,

I did not intend the book for this age, and not that; for one class of reader, and not others. I wrote it for anyone who wants to read it, and I want as many readers as I can get, and I want to meet them honestly…. For a book to claim “This was written for children of 11+”, when it simply wasn’t, is to tell an untruth.

Exactly.

Books “for children” or “for teenagers” are books for all who are ready to listen to them. They are for all who recognize that art cannot be confined within such narrow labels.

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Barnaby, Small Scandinavian Investors, and Dapper Dan: Can you help identify these allusions? UPDATE: Mysteries Solved!

Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby (1942-1952) was both fantasy and topical satire. As noted on an earlier post, each of Fantagraphics’ 5-volume Barnaby series will have notes to explain the topical comments and any other references that may elude the average reader.

I’ve now finished the notes and Afterword for Barnaby Vol. 2: 1944-1945 (2014).

Almost.

There are two allusions that elude me.  Perhaps you can help?  Here are my questions along with the two relevant strips, which I’ve scanned from the Del Rey paperbacks (we’re using better versions of these strips in the volume itself — don’t worry).

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 28 Feb 1945

1. For instance, that Scandinavian Pixey, who— (28 Feb. 1945). This seems to be a reference to a specific (possibly diminutive) investor of Scandinavian descent, but I haven’t he foggiest idea as to whom it might be. As you can see in the strip above, Mr. Baxter says “Investment bankers don’t consider Pixies good risks, as a rule—.” He then adds, “Oh, they HAVE made a few exceptions…” and makes this comment.  So, clearly, at least some of Johnson’s readers would have caught this reference.

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 27 Apr 1945

2. Dapper Dan’s Outlet Emporium (27 April 1945).  If this is a reference to a specific business, I haven’t been able to find it.  When I was a kid, there was a Dapper Dan toy: a bald-headed man’s face, behind plastic. Using a magnet, you could move the little metal shavings (also encased in the plastic), and give him some hair, a moustache, beard.  But this can’t be it.  In the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), there’s Dapper Dan pomade, but this is a fictional brand, evidently used only in the film.  I need something that may have been around in 1945.

And, yes, of course, I’ll give credit where it’s due. (I realize that getting one’s name in the Acknowledgments is a rather small “prize” for your help, but,… well, I will to the Acknowledgments the names of those who help identify these two — unless you tell me you don’t want to be identified, that is.)  Thanks in advance for any thoughts you may have.

The first Barnaby volume is in press, and will be out in May or June. You can order it from Fantagraphics.

Barnaby, Volume 1

UPDATE, 4:15 pm.  Within less than an hour, both mysteries appear to be solved.  Via Facebook, Mark Newgarden suggests Ivar Kreuger, “the Match King,” as the “Scandinavian” allusion.  This makes sense.  It’s the kind of allusion Johnson would make.  He’s already had O’Malley proudly identify himself as mentor to Charles Ponzi.

Brian Herrera suggests “Dapper Dan” Hogan, a legendary Irish mobster.  The mobster was known for his style, and indeed appears to be the origin of the nickname “Dapper Dan.” Johnson loved detective fiction & true crime stories. This is the sort of allusion he would make. So, combine the historical allusion with an Outlet Emporium and you get a not-too-reputable source of fashionable menswear, exactly the sort of place where a captain of industry (as O’Malley is, at this point in the narrative) would not be expected to shop — hence, the joke.

Mark also points out that the name “Dapper Dan” precedes Daniel Hogan.  It had been attached to products prior to that time.  And there’s even an Eddie Cantor song, says Brian.  So, all of this is grist for my mill — and the note!

THANKS, MARK AND BRIAN!

 

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Shrdlu, Minsky, Burke & Hare

When you look at Chris Ware’s post-Newtown New Yorker cover, the looks on the parents’ faces call to mind the previous month’s massacre in Connecticut. But 10 years from now, readers (I hope) will see just a scene of children entering a school as their parents watch intently. In creating the notes for Volume 2 of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby, I’m facing this challenge as I work to help contemporary readers follow the political satire.

Johnson’s comic strip was a fantasy, and you can enjoy it without knowing the contemporary scene of 1944 to 1945.  But I’m one of those people who wants to know. In reading Fantagraphics’ beautiful Krazy Kat series, I was always a little disappointed when one of Herriman’s obscurities lacked an explanation in the book’s “Ignatz Debaffler Page.”  So, for Fantagraphics’ equally beautiful Barnaby series (the first volume of which should be available in March), I’m catering to the reader ­— like me — who wants to turn to the back of the book, and find an explanatory note.

In addition to being topical, Barnaby was also wide-ranging in its allusions. Johnson’s characters offer wry commentary on American politics in the 1940s, but also reflect his interests in mathematics, mystery novels, and popular culture. There are many referents that might be obscure even to his readers in 1944 and 1945.  On 28 September 1945, the lettering on a con-artist swami’s door reads “SWAMI ESYAYOUISIJA.”  I spent some time staring at this before realizing that the swami’s surname is “YES” in four languages: Pig Latin (ESYAY), French (OUI), Spanish (SÍ), and German (JA).

ShrdluEarlier that same month, Barnaby introduces a printer’s devil named “Shrdlu.”  He’s a friend of Barnaby’s fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley. Why Shrdlu? A linotype machine arranged the letters in order of how frequently they were used. In English, that order is ETAOIN SHRDLU. On the machine, the first column (reading downward) was ETAOIN, and the second was SHRDLU. Thus, as the OED explains, “ETAOIN SHRDLU” are “The letters set by running a finger down the first two vertical banks of keys on the left of the keyboard of a Linotype machine, used as a temporary marking slug but sometimes printed by mistake; any badly blundered sequence of type.” So, Shrdlu is the ideal name for a newspaper employee who, as he explains on 4 September, is “responsible for all omissions, typographical errors, pied lines, switched captions and misspelled names.”

etaoin shrdlu from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

On 28 March 1944, O’Malley says he’s a devotee of Minsky’s brand of humor. Who? He’s referring to the comics employed by the Minsky Brothers, who were more famous for their risqué burlesque shows. Johnson’s also making an in-joke: one Minsky comedian, Jimmy Savo, provided some inspiration for the character of Mr. O’Malley.

O'Malley phones Burke & HareNear the beginning of his career as a Wall Street financier, Barnaby’s fairy godfather decides to phone a brokerage firm. So, he checks the phone book, and says “This firm’s name has a familiar ring to it. ‘Burke & Hare.’” The name may be familiar, but it’s not the kind of familiarity one associates with a reputable firm. It recalls the infamous Burke and Hare Murders of 1828. Over the course of 10 months in Edinburgh, Scotland, William Burke (1792-1829) and William Hare (1792-?) murdered 16 people, and sold the corpses to Dr. Robert Knox, who needed cadavers for his anatomy lectures.

Even though you don’t require these notes to enjoy the strip, a thorough editor (that’s me!) provides them… for the few readers who (like me!) want to know.

Barnaby Volume 2: 1944-1945 should be out in early 2014, and Barnaby Volume 1: 1942-1943 is due in March. I expect to receive an advance copy in the next week or two.

Note: All Barnaby images are from the Del Rey paperbacks (1985-1986). For the Fantagraphics books, expect higher-quality images and paper.

Barnaby, Volume 1

Coming in March, from Fantagraphics: Barnaby Volume 1: 1942-1943, co-edited by Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds. Design by Daniel Clowes. Introduction by Chris Ware. Essays by Jeet Heer and Dorothy Parker. Biographical Afterword and Notes by Philip Nel. You can pre-order it now.

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