Comics notebook

Seth's beautiful new book, George Sprott
Seth's beautiful new book, George Sprott

The subset of Sans Everything readers who are interested in comics will want to read the following articles:

1. Patrick West on the politics of Herge (which West argues were Catholic conservative rather than fascist). A quote:

Posterity has not been kind to Hergé. In many ways, his life resembles that of P G Wodehouse. Both authors were unfairly accused of being Nazi collaborators (Hergé having written for the Belgian Le Soir newspaper in the 1940s when it was a sanctioned organ of the German occupying administration); both their works suggested an unconscious misogynistic mindset: Wodehouse’s world was one in which the only female characters were airheaded or manipulative girlfriends, or the aunts Dahlia (bossy) and Agatha (terrifying); Hergé’s only real female character was the monstrous pest, Bianca Castafiore, based on Maria Callas. And both Hergé’s and Wodehouse’s tales centred on two asexual characters, one of whom was phlegmatic and rational, the other spirited and tempestuous: Tintin and Haddock, Jeeves and Wooster.

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Global Citizenship Expert Reviews Japan’s Open Future

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I’d like to share a recent review of my book Japan’s Open Future: An Agenda for Global Citizenship by Dr. Hans Schattle, an expert on global citizenship and author of the 2007 book The Practices of Global Citizenship

I have not yet had the chance to read Schattle’ s book, but according to the Amazon review, it “provides a detailed and vivid account of how the term global citizenship has been interpreted and communicated in recent years,” and it “includes numerous fascinating conversations with global citizens from many nations, revealing how notions of global citizenship have been put in practice by an ever-increasing number of governing institutions, non-governmental organizations, corporations, schools, and universities.”

 It was exciting therefore to be reviewed by a global citizenship expert who could assess Japan’s Open Future in this broader context. Dr. Schattle wrote the review for Global Asia, a publication of the East Asia Foundation. The East Asia Foundation was established in Seoul in January 2005 with the goal of promoting “peace, prosperity security and sustainability in East Asia,” while Global Asia aims to “provide a compelling, serious, and responsible forum for distinguished thinkers, policymakers, political leaders and business people to debate the most important issues in Asia today.”

Here is his review in full.

“THE CONCEPT OF ‘global citizenship’ has gained momentum in recent years as a metaphor to describe both communities of individuals and professional and advocacy networks that operate across national boundaries. While global citizenship often comes across as an idea that transcends the limits of nationalism, much of the contemporary public discourse on global citizenship also uses the concept as a way to evaluate the policies and practices of national governments. It is this view of global citizenship, as a series of enlightened and responsive policy choices carried out by nation-states, that drives the authors of a sweeping new volume, Japan’s Open Future: An Agenda for Global Citizenship. John Haffner, Tomas Casas I Klett, and Jean-Pierre Lehmann have channeled their experiences in academic and business circles in Japan into a tour de force of the country’s recent history and the imperative for Japan to establish a new foreign policy ‘rooted in an enlarged conception of humanity that identifies Japan’s interests integrally with the fate of people everywhere.’
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Noblesse Oblige from Japan Tobacco

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The Wall Street Journal has just translated from Japanese a hilarious interview with Hiroshi Kimura, ostensibly Japan Tobacco Inc.’s president and chief executive. Either we are being had by another Sascha Baron Cohen character, or the translator is a  wicked prankster. This is high comedy: 

… Mr. Kimura has a law degree from Kyoto University and joined the company in 1976 when it was still a government domestic monopoly called Japan Tobacco and Salt Public Corp. “I wanted to work for an international firm, and so Japan Tobacco initially wasn’t within my top 10 choices, but it helped that I liked tobacco,” said Mr. Kimura, who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day.

WSJ: What did you learn from your first job?

Mr. Kimura: … When I first joined I learned from a senior the [French] phrase noblesse oblige, which I understood to mean not shirking the responsibilities of your position. In my early days I was given many challenging tasks to stretch my abilities, which gave me the foundation to develop into the manager I am today.

WSJ: Who gave you the best business advice?

Mr. Kimura: Our customers. As a cigarette company, similar to makers of food or medicine, our products are consumed by our customers and have a direct impact on their lives. To meet their high expectations, we have to be constantly aware of the market pulse and make trusted and preferred products.

The Uses of Nostalgia

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Robert Crumb’s nostalgia for that old time music.

 

Nostalgia is a suspect emotion, both psychologically and politically. Emotionally, nostalgia carries connotations of escapism, ignoring present realities while longing for a mythical past. Politically, nostalgia has often been used by conservative and Fascist leaders who have deployed images of the good old days in order to thwart social progress.

 

I’m uncomfortable with this view of nostalgia as a purely regressive phenomenon because some of my favorite contemporary artists often do work that consciously tries to evoke melancholy at the passing of time. I’m thinking here of the films of the Coen brothers, the music of Bob Dylan, and especially the comics of Robert Crumb, Seth, and Chris Ware (among many others). All of these artists are nostalgia-obsessed but none of them fit the stereotype of complacency and escapism that fit the nostalgia stereotype: these artists are all astringent and challenging. As an example think of Crumb’s use of blackface racial images: stylistically he is working in a nostalgic mode, but the end of effect of these drawings is to remind us of an uncomfortable past (which lingers into the present).

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Tennis Vagabond: a story of tennis, evil and everything else

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Sans Everything depends not only on its writers, but also its readers. Given the huge difference between daily site visits and replies to our posts it is clear that the vast majority of visitors to the site are content to read quietly, which is perfectly fine with us. We are also delighted, however, to have some regular readers who themselves have become a part of the blog through their regular responses, and in no case is this more true than with David Sachs.  His interests are as varied as our posts and then some, and he adds immeasureably to our ongoing conversation.

What Sans Everything readers may not know is that David has put together a highly original and very funny podcast entitled Tennis Vagabond, based on a novel he wrote called The Life on Court of Bacon O’Rourke (you can subscribe to the podcast for free). As David explained to me, “Tennis Vagabond follows the young tennis legend Bacon O’Rourke who travels the open road with whiskey in his flask and a racquet on his back, serving and volleying and drinking and toking his way across the land. This comic epic is, in short,  Jack Kerouac with a tennis racquet, and some serious bad guys. The story covers tennis and evil, sex and death, drugs and physics, and the dangers in commodifying that which we love. The bad guys in hot pursuit of Bacon and his underground tennis caravan include the mythical Tennis Illuminati (secret masters of the Game), and a down-and-out coach with a taste for detective novels, Zen quips, and funk music. God and the Devil make cameos as tournament umpires.” It also has a physics blog, a tennis blog and some memorable video extras (trust me: the strip tennis match is sure to hold the attention of people who otherwise don’t care for tennis).

Tennis Vagabond‘s mix of lowbrow and highbrow will appeal to many Sans Everything visitors, and it is also timely in its central message: “a parable of consumerism, commodification, and the progression of open-ended capitalism at a time when those things are being questioned.” But why tennis in particular? David’s answer: “I’m not too sure, but it worked. As Tom Robbins says about hitchhiking in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, the Truth is there in anything, if you push it far enough (‘when it has been pushed far enough it contains everything else’).”

Congratulations, David, and we look forward to hearing of O’Rourke’s continuing adventures!

The Achievement of Chris Oliveros

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Adrian Tomine’s portrait of Chris Oliveros.

Drawn and Quarterly, one of the world’s premier comic book publishing companies, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. For many years D&Q was a one-man operation, run by Chris Oliveros (with assistance from his immediate family). In recent years, the company has gone through a strong growth, overseen by Associate Publisher Peggy Burns, Creative Director Tom Devlin, and a very talented production team. The new crew has remained true to Oliveros’s high standards while expanding the range of books published by D&Q. 

At the Doug Wright Awards last month Stan Bevington, himself a distinguished Canadian publisher, delivered a tribute to Oliveros. Here is a slightly amended version of what Bevington said:

“The Chief”

 

T.S. Eliot once said “Literature is produced by a few queer people, in odd corners.” Eliot was referring to the small presses and little magazines of the early 20th century that published most of the great work of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf—and Eliot himself—that larger publishers were afraid to touch.

 

Great comics are also produced by a few queer people in odd corners. Long before the large New York publishers started their “graphic novel” lines, the work of publishing decent comics was done by a few hardy, hard-working, visionary independent publishers who dared to believe that comics could be art.

 Chief among these publishers is Chris Oliveros, known affectionately as “the chief” by the cartoonists he publishes.

 For 20 years at the helm of Drawn and Quarterly, a company that he started as a one-man operation, Chris has distinguished himself as a publisher who has changed the cultural landscape through his uncompromising commitment to excellence.

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Jimmy Frise and the Canadian Cartooning Tradition

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Birdseye Center by Jimmy Frise.

Jimmy Frise (1891-1948) was the most important Canadian cartoonist of his time, the creator of two cherished comic strips, Birdseye Center and Juniper Junction. Although he was among the most widely-read Canadian creators of the early 20th century, Frise’s work has largely been forgotten, a real injustice since his lively linework can still raise a smile. (For samples of his work, go here.)

During the Doug Wright Awards last month, Frise was inducted into the into the Giants of the North, the Canadian Cartoonist’s Hall of Fame. It was a moving ceremony with one of Frise’s daughters present, along with a strong contingent of grand-children and great grand-children. Storyteller and broadcaster Stuart McLean, whose homespun humor on the Vinyl Cafe show continues the tradition started by Frise, delivered a speech on the cartoonist and his work.

Here is a text of what McLean said: 

Canada was still a hinterland nation when Jimmy Frise was born in 1891 on Scugog Island, Ontario — a small community just a crow’s flight north of Toronto.

Frise’s hometown was typical of Canada at large; A broad nation of farms and villages, tank towns and railway junctions, where most people still lived off the land.

Fifty seven years later, when Frise died in 1948, Canada— its mettle tested through two world wars — was well on its way to being a modern, urban nation with its citizens congregating in big cities and doughnut suburbs near the border.

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Burma’s Mute Despair

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The Literary Review of Canada gave me room to do a substantial review of Guy Delisle’s Burma Chronicles. Click the link in the middle of the last sentence to read the review, the opening of which is excerpted below:

 

Many travellers record their experiences with a camera. Guy Delisle relies on an older method of preserving memories. Using the digits of his hand rather than digital handheld devices, the artist keeps sketchbooks where he draws the sights he encounters in other lands. He then reworks these impressions into comic strip travelogues, currently available in three volumes each named after a foreign locale.

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Listen to Reason

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FDR with an Orphan Annie look-alike.

 

I’ve been writing the introductions for a series series of volumes reprinting Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, a comic strip which in the 1930s pioneered a form of right-wing populism which later (in the era of Nixon, Reagan and Bush) became politically pervasive in the United States. Brian Doherty of Reason magazine has just written a very gratifying review of the series. I was particularly happy with this passage on the politics of Annie:

Heer once characterized Gray’s philosophy as a sort of “two-fisted conservatism.” These first two volumes of the series, both of them pre–New Deal, are individualistic, but the anti-government mood is generally quietly suggestive, not obtrusive. The subtle politics are highly individualistic, promoting the virtues of the hard-working common man. The strip was suffused with Midwestern values (hard work and cheerfulness) and prejudices (pro-fisherman, anti-beard) and a very populist sense that it was who you were inside, not money or station, that mattered, and that “just plain folk—and plenty of ’em” were best.

In the 1930s, as the New Deal proceeded and Gray became increasingly appalled, his opposition became more apparent. He never named the president, but it was obvious where he stood. One stunning 1935 sequence told the tragedy of a man who invented Eonite, a wonder substance that could provide a cheap eternal building material, “ten times stronger than steel,” that had the potential to “replace all known woods or metals.” He is, alas, murdered by an angry mob whipped up by a union demagogue, and Eonite dies with him. Ayn Rand fans will hear echoes of that tale in both The Fountainhead’s Ellsworth Toohey and Atlas Shrugged’s Rearden Metal.

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Time enough for tweets


One hundred and forty characters is not a lot of text. It’s maybe twenty words if you write like George Orwell, maybe fifteen if like Mervyn Peake, and a good thirty or forty if you know text message shorthand. Even if you do, it’s not exactly War and Peace.

As Jeet amusingly hinted, is Twitter yet another signpost in the ongoing decline of the modern attention span?

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