Irony

Richard Cory
Bullet in the head
Never lived long enough
To feel good about being dead

Damn you, Edward Arlington Robinson
And your sour explication
Damn your meter and rhyme
And your twisting knife

O sweet jocularity
that languishes in the hearts of poets
Buried deep beneath
starched collars and smooth shirts
So irony

(2017)

Peter Milligan (YGtCTO #168)

Shade, the Changing Man

Comic book series written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Chris Bachalo and others; based on a character created by Steve Ditko

Working on a college campus, as I did, can be a strange thing. Half the staff are single-minded about their jobs and the other half are recent graduates trying to stave off adulthood. Just as comic book culture was becoming pop culture, it still seemed weird to see superhero action figures on people’s desks. One co-worker kept collected volumes of comic book issues on a shelf behind his desk. These had been imported from the U.K. and printed in black and white. I asked what they were and left with a volume of something called Swamp Thing.

For a little while, it was fun to go to science fiction conventions, meet some authors, buy something strange, and find people with similar interests. We made some friends, one of whom ran a comic book shop. On a later visit, we received a tour, during which I mentioned that I had read this comic called Swamp Thing. I confessed to liking it. The shop owner walked around grabbing items off the shelves and building me a small pile of issues that I really needed to check out.

I had never seen Shade, the Changing Man, in his original incarnation, but the version put forth by Peter Milligan was far stranger than anything that I had seen before in a comic book. The story-telling felt like what I thought Jack Kerouac would do in four colors, twenty-four pages each month- with monsters and something called an M-Vest.

I hung in there,

reading a new issue every four or five weeks for a year or two. Then it all became too much. Living my own life and remembering someone else’s mad traipse across America was simply too difficult. Yet, I really liked the art and the story- I wanted to know what was going to happen to them.

Peter Milligan

So I did exactly what had to be done before comics were collected in reprints: I bought them each month and started a pile. I think the unread pile even moved once, perhaps twice.

Finally, the day arrived when I sat down and read- probably for a week or more. We are talking about forty or more issues. I had liked the series initially. Even so, I was blown away by its ability to comment on modern life. It synthesized current issues with longstanding arguments and then pushing all of it through a manifestation of madness until something resembling sanity took its place.

The real miracle was the way the characters came alive. Through a variety of transformations, they never lost their individuality that made them matter to the reader. Essentially, this was the peregrinations of Chesterton and Kerouac and Swift and Voltaire rewritten for the modern era in a format that took shape only recently. I still wonder that it worked so well before comics started being writ large, but I’m glad it did.

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. 132 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.

William Inge (YGtCTO Words #56)

Bus Stop


Play written by William Inge

What a difference a few decades makes, eh?

TV Guide used to matter. When I was old enough to eat breakfast alone, I discovered that meant I could read at the breakfast table (if you happened to be eating alone- a question of careful timing). TV Guide was smaller than other magazines so it sat on the top of the coffee table pile. I would grab it and see if anything good could be found. Then, I would plan my time entirely around whatever show appealed. It wasn’t like you could just watch a program anytime you wanted.

I had recently seen Star Wars and fallen in love with Princess Leia, like everyone else. I knew who Carrie Fisher was. Her name appeared in one of those “special program” ads in the white pages in the middle of TV Guide, right there with Laurence Olivier and Joanne Woodward. The show was something called Come Back, Little Sheba, an adaptation of a play by some dude named William Inge.

I don’t know what the rest of the family was doing, but I remember watching it alone. They’d probably had enough William Inge to last awhile, but I’ll get to that. I was rapt and very confused. The story seemed to hinge on a lot of histrionics about alcoholism and subtext about sex. So, one of my first encounters with serious modern theater ended in confusion to a degree that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to ask any questions.

Years later, I worked (in a very limited way) on a production of Bus Stop, which I thought was a marvelous play. I appreciated the way it captured a feeling of purgatory during a blizzard- a sense of being on the way to something as a metaphor for life.

As I have mentioned before, William Saroyan was my other youthful encounter with modern American play-writing, though I only read his work without seeing it at the time. From him, I developed an appreciation for the diversity that goes into humanity- even an approach to accepting it.

William Inge

Recently
reading William Inge’s Four Plays, I can understand my earlier uncertainties. Melodrama sits heavily on his stories in a way that dilutes his points. He comments on sex as a problem in ways that Tennessee Williams managed to make more concrete and less offensive. Inge’s interpersonal relations become abstract even as they talk more and more to one another. Great actors might be able to make something of it all, but it feels like they’d be doing the same work trying to figure out Shakespeare’s scene descriptions.

Originally I had planned to write about Luigi Pirandello, also, but I grew bored re-reading his plays, so it seemed disingenuous to expound on his qualities. I actually kept at Inge’s plays and they flew by, so he has something going on there- I’m just not sure the thrill should come from anticipating the next bit of oddness.

Then again, I still liked Bus Stop. In his introduction to the plays, Inge talks about learning to move multiple characters about on the stage and interlace their stories. I remember being struck by the continued life all over the stage when I first saw the production- something the movie is unable to contain. I still find the old professor creepy and sympathetic. Virgil is a good man who drives home every metaphor that you want to read into the play.

So, I’m grateful to Inge, not even grudgingly.

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. 133 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.