Saturday 8 October 2011

The editor's job.


Friday 7 October 2011

I wanted to post something about Habibi today, but i got sidetracked doing some checking in Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nights: a companion:
"Burton shared Payne's enthusiasm for Rabelias's Gargantua and Pantagruel. More specifically, Burton had a passion for the first three books of that work, as translated in 1653 by the eccentric Scottish Cavalier and linguistic theorist Sir Thomas Urquhart. Urquhart was an advocate of logopandocie- that is, readiness to admit words of all kinds into the laguage- and his translation of Rabelais took on the character of a verbal riot, something resembling a surrealist reworking of Roget's Thesaurus.
Logopandocie. I had to check that elsewhere (as posted apropos of nothing by 'teapeebubbles' on a forum somehwere.
"the worthless word for the day is: logopandocie
The system of admittance to these hallowed grounds,
by reason of its logopandocie, may deservedly be
referred to as adfenestration."
right, that'll be me back out the window. Habibi tomorrow maybe, if I don't get lost again.


Thursday 6 October 2011

Truest thing I've read today.

Seth, from Palookaville #20, 2010


Wednesday 5 October 2011

After talking about 'graphic novel' two days ago, i was reminded that a pal recently emailed to alert me to his referring to me as 'the cantankerous writer/artist Eddie Campbell' in a piece he is writing about 'the graphic novel', noting that he had taken care to avoid calling me a 'graphic novelist' (cantankerous seems to be a given).

I wrote back:

'say something positive that cannot be later made to sound negative.'
be your guiding principle. If you said 'Eddie Campbell does not like 'graphic novel' then you would have said something negative. If you said Eddie Campbell says it means one thing but somebody else says differently, then you would have said something negative. There is room in the world for what Eddie Campbell says as well as what the next guy says. Pick one, or pick both, but do not make an argument of it. The rest of the world does not have to hold itself to Eddie Campbell's standards.

Anybody who says 'comics and graphic novels' is causing confusion because they are saying that graphic novels are not comics. Thus that simple phrase implies a negative. Say what you have to say, examine it from every angle and make sure it does not contain a negative.

If you say 'the term graphic novel embraces all that is pretentious as well as all that is progressive in the field of comics' then you will have conveyed useful information. Nothing negative there. By negative I mean writing or talking that is a waste of time, that cancels itself out.


Tuesday 4 October 2011

While looking for something else I stumbled upon a piece of work that has quite captivated me. It has been theorized for some time that the writers of the New Testament gospels were drawing on earlier texts, hypothetically identified as 'Q', a 'sayings gospel', and an earlier passion narrative. This lost passion work, a short narration based on the arrest, interrogation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ would have formed the basis of all later accounts. Livio Stecchini (1913-1979) theorized a lost play by the Roman dramatist Seneca as the original source and then went to some lengths to reconstruct a thorough account of the work. It was edited and completed by Jan Sammer, and published as a book I think circa 1987, then put online around ten years ago. Sammer has popped up on bible discussion forums from time to time to draw attention to it, but it has never got as much as it deserves, not counting an occasional poo-pooing, and casual dismissal. It's even more preposterous than From Hell, as well as ingenious. And when confronted, it demands not fact checking and nit picking, but robust applause. A story is a story. It may never have existed in antiquity, but it does now, and it is an engaging piece of creative scholarship. A paragraph from the opening, and one from near the end, regarding what was in the sponge:

The Gospel According to Seneca
The nine tragedies of Seneca formed a philosophical whole, beginning with The Mad Hercules, in which some weighty moral questions are posed, and culminating with Hercules on Oeta, where the soul is at last liberated from its bodily prison. It is reasonable to assume that this series originally included a historical drama, a fabula praetexta, in which the lessons expounded in the nine tragedies were applied to a contemporary subject. It is our hypothesis that this historical drama, which is now lost, was Seneca’s tragedy of Jesus. When Lucilius decided to omit the tragedy of Jesus from the collection of Seneca’s works, he substituted for it his own recently completed Octavia, a play for which he could expect to find an appreciative audience in the wake of Nero’s overthrow. But while Lucilius’ Octavia is a vitriolic piece of political propaganda, having no organic relationship to the nine extant plays of Seneca, the tragedy of Jesus, as we reconstruct it in this book, was an eloquent summation of Seneca’s philosophical ideals and a monument to his mastery of the dramatic art.
The authors use the classical stage conventions, such as the unities and the chorus, etc. to explain the comings and goings before the high priest and Pilate et al. In particular, this hypothetical play, written in Latin for an audience of Roman culture, gives possible explanations of the anomalies and conundrums that exist in the four Gospel accounts of the Passion, written in Greek by writers from a different cultural background:
Poisoned wine.
Mark, unable accept Seneca’s version, preferred to understand medicatum vinum as meaning wine treated with myrrh. Matthew, realizing that Mark’s account does not make sense unless it is a matter of poisoned wine, changed the interpretation of medicatum vinum to the more correct one of wine mixed with gall. In order to make clear that it was not a desirable drink, such as wine with myrrh would be, he added that Jesus refused the drink after having tasted it.

Seneca’s text must have included the word fel which in ordinary Latin means gall, or bitter substance, but in poetic language is frequently used in the sense of poison. Seneca uses fel as a synonym of venenum poison. The clearest example is his Medea where Medea completes the preparation of the poisoned robe by mixing in the fel of Medusa (line 830); two lines below this the other ingredients of the fateful robe are called venena. Matthew caught the word fel, but missed that it was being used in the sense of poison. I have mentioned that the Greek equivalent of fel, which is cholê, may also carry this sense in poetry. Both Greek and Latin poets use these terms particularly in referring to the poison of serpents. But because the usual meaning of fel is bitter substance, Matthew understood that Jesus refused the drink after having tasted it.

The gospel of Luke contains only a brief reference to the episode of the drink. Luke was confronted with the problem of choosing between the report of Mark and that of Matthew. He realized, as Matthew had, that if one follows Mark’s report, it must be inferred that Jesus was offered poisoned wine and died of poison. Hence, Luke cut out the entire episode except for a passing reference.
I can get lost all day in such analytical complexities.

But I have work to do.


Monday 3 October 2011

The 'graphic novel' is an evolving process, though an account of the whole of it from the beginning would be a big undertaking. But for instance, there was a very distinct phase between 2003 and 2006 during which a number of New York book publishers adventured into the arena.

Doubleday, an imprint of Random House managed to get three books out before it axed its graphic novel line (march 28 2003)
Reed Graphica, imprint of Reed Communications, was even more short lived (dec 12 2003)
Scholastic Launched New Graphic Novel Imprint (July 13 2004) and did well with Jeff Smith's Bone and Shaun Tan's The Arrival, both of which had been previously published elsewhere. If you look at their web page you'll see that they associate the form with young readers. This was a trend among the NY book publishers that worried me. On the other hand, Norton commissioned Genesis from Crumb (2 Sept 2004) First second, an imprint then of Holtzbrinck, now of MacMillan, made its debut in Spring 2006. Hill and Wang, imprint of distinguished literary house Farrar, Straus & Giroux launched its series of non-fiction comics works fall 2006. And so on.

An aspect of this wave of activity was that for the huge 224 page book commissioned from Crumb we'd have to wait five years, till 2009, and even longer for Craig Thompson's Habibi, commissioned by Pantheon in the same year. (Pantheon is the book publisher with the longest success with comics, beginning with its series of '...for beginners' going all the way back to 1978.) Habibi, at 672 pages, was a long seven years in the making. Such a thing was very rare even as recently as the 1990s, when it was a given that a comic of such length would have to be be serialized first. I think Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs (1998 Jonathan Cape) and Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco (2000 Fantagraphics) were the first occasions when works of impressive size were published straight to book, though i have probably overlooked one or two (City of Glass, 1994...The Jew of New York, 1998...).

I've noticed a new phase in which individuals of the generation associated with the 'graphic novel' now find themselves the subjects of attractive monographs. last year there was the lovely The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death by Todd Hignite, from Abrams, this year Ilex's book on Alan Moore by Gary Millidge, and next year I see we can look forward to one on Daniel Clowes, also from Abrams.

The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, will be published in April 2012.
The book will be edited by Alvin Buenaventura, publisher of the highly-regarded independent comics publishing house Buenaventura Press, and will feature essays by book designer, editor and comics expert Chip Kidd, acclaimed cartoonist Chris Ware and others. “Alvin Buenaventura has pulled together an exciting collection of art and essays, all of which have come together beautifully to showcase Dan’s considerable talents,” said Kochman. This year Clowes was also awarded the Pen Center USA's 2011 Literary Award for Graphic Literature for an outstanding body of work.
The 'graphic novel' has now travelled so far along its course of evolution that we even have a whole book about a single book: