Category Archives: You’ve Got to Check This Out

Will Eisner (YGtCTO #267)

The Spirit

Comic strip series created by Will Eisner

When I first moved away from home and expected it to be permanent (which it was), I landed days away from everything that I knew. As expected, I had trials and tribulations which sometimes made me feel down. Friends and myriad distractions and adventures helped tremendously. Occasionally, the weather was miserable and my mood turned dark. So, I hiked to a bookstore and bought a collection of funny papers- most anything would do as long as it didn’t cost much and looked funny and distracting.

I don’t seem to be alone in finding comfort in that amazing combination of words and pictures. I have no idea if it’s the same appeal as comfort food, in a way. Some of our first memories are of making that remarkable connection between scratches on paper and the thing that they mean. Everyone who learns to read must harbor some deep-seeded joy at making that revelation.

By that time, I was browsing the comics section of bookstores. A few graphic novels started mixing in with the collections of comic strips. Will Eisner was usually featured in any sort of display, as if the bookseller in charge of the section hoped to endow the jokes with a degree of weight. I ignored those serious tomes and grabbed my Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes and left.

Will Eisner

Now,

it seems archaic to be churlish about serious graphic novels, but it did feel a little like Maus and Harvey Pekar took the magic out of a little corner of the bookstore which had only been bright sunlight. I was wrong and not only because it meant that comics could finally join the conversation with all the other art forms. Also, I was wrong, but not because I was being so provincial, though that is true.

I was wrong because I had forgotten the first rule of Art Club: There are no rules in Art Club.

Sure, I dabbled in some of those other offerings in the comic section. I checked out things from Japan and stories that lasted for hundreds of pages. There were books in black and white which could have been in color and black and white that sometimes added red. I liked some of it and didn’t understand some of it.

Eventually, I was reminded of Will Eisner because someone at some convention or store was selling these old newspaper inserts that Eisner had created back in the 1940’s. Chock full of strips, his workshop supplied them to papers on a weekly basis. The star of the show was The Spirit.

One glance and I had to forget everything I ever thought about superhero comics becoming mature in the 1980’s or anything so ridiculous. These were stories filled with mystery and humor and absolutely my favorite design work of anything produced in the medium.

Strange comfort comes from finding innovation where it is never expected. Certainly, change can destabilize our view of the world. Ultimately, it should be the real comfort to know that that first rule of Art Club has always been true and the real innovators always sitting there awaiting our discovery.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 33 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Jonathan Lethem (YGtCTO Words #89)

Motherless Brooklyn


Book written by Jonathan Lethem

Here is what I’m currently reading:

I mention this for two reasons: 1) I think it’s interesting how reading evolves when you start reading like a writer; and 2) I want to highlight just how difficult it is for a book to stand out for me.

I was watching this documentary the other day about the working ways of some of the big-name artists in Manhattan around 1970. One of the things that stood out for me was how casually they talked about their excursions to see the work of other artists. They were willing to drop everything to go see something that might be good and interesting and inspirational and innovative. Basically, they never stopped searching and learning. Yet, they talked about this as part and parcel of being an artist.

Nick Hornby has written a monthly column chronicling the books he has read every month. He talks about the books that he stopped reading, also, but usually he gets through a few. Clive James has written about sitting in coffeehouses with a pile of books and reading from one and then another. (He also describes working his way through books in multiple foreign languages with the aid of a translation dictionary. I can’t say that I see myself doing that.)

Jonathan Lethem

As you might imagine,
the need to up my reading game became apparent. I don’t know that I’m doing a much better job of selection and focus, but I’m not shying away from work that I would have considered a slog before. They just get mixed in with the rest and it all winds up in the same place anyway. Hornby reminded me that it is okay to abandon books that are not speaking to me, but I don’t run into that too much. (He also got me reading Muriel Spark, which I think I’ve done enough after five novels. That will leave you a little twisted.)

Some books do stand out. It’s often the ones that I already foresee as promising- usually by authors with whom I am familiar. I don’t mean that I only know their name, which was the case with Lethem. But, Motherless Brooklyn has somehow boggled me. I love every minute spent with it. And I strongly suspect other people will feel differently (despite the acclaim that it received), which is fine.

Moreover, I haven’t finished it yet, which is a first for this series. For all I know, it will just peter out and I’ll be shrugging about this book next week. I very much doubt it, because it has already seeped into my subconscious. Right now, this is a top five novel for me. That’s when someone asks you how much you like it and you say “Top 5” and they ask what the others are and you say, “Well, Martin Chuzzlewit is number one” and then you rattle off a couple others that you think they might like or at least not lose respect for you for liking.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 34 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Quintette du Hot Club de France (YGtCTO Music #89)

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Song composed by Fats Waller; performed by Le Quintette du Hot Club de France

I swear that I did not know this existed. You could have said the name of the group to me and I would have stared at you as though you were speaking in some sort of foreign language. I couldn’t pick the musicians out of a line-up if my life depended on it, despite the world-class status of at least two members of the group. Really, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli are part of that tiny cohort somewhere above world-class on their instruments- you know, those few who may actually be the best who ever lived. But I had no idea who they were.

So, what did I think when I first heard some of their tunes on one one of those radio stations that big cities used to provide way down low on the FM dial of the radio? I thought- wow- this sounds just like Paris in the middle of this century (which would have been the 20th century at the time). How in the world had I absorbed that sense of time and place so thoroughly in just a decade or two? This question is no different than wondering how I knew at a young age that Martha My Dear looked backward as much as it was a recent song.

Quintette du Hot Club de France

Moreover, I wanted to be in that smoky bar situated on a side-street in Paris, surrounded by men in tight suits and women in tight dresses, nodding along as Reinhardt executes another dynamic fill. During breaks, the musicians would mingle with the crowd and French would be everywhere. That’s the point at which my mind wanders and I wonder just how much I’ve mashed together a hundred years of history into one anachronistic mess.

This miracle of art that transports us to places that we have never been is absolutely amazing. Nowadays, we associate it as much with film as any other form, but surely that is at least part of the appeal of landscape paintings and epic poems. You spent the night listening to Homer because he made you feel like you were experiencing all those islands where Odysseus landed during his horrifying journey home.

We like to say that musicians (and other artists) are ambassadors when they travel to foreign countries and perform, but we somehow bury the lead when we do that. The art is what transports people and it isn’t the musicians who travel nearly as far as the audience. After all, the whole point of the artistic ambassador is to allow an opportunity to those who could never develop an image of a distant land.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 35 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.