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There are three kinds of Gerald Jablonski stories.

The first stars Howdy, a middle-aged, bear-faced (or is it dog-faced? It’s difficult to tell) man and his nephew, Dee Dee, a yellow-skinned lad with tiny dog ears (or are they horns?). Howdy is perennially upset because Dee Dee is playing music by his favorite band, Poopy, too loud and Howdy can’t hear his serial radio program. The pair start to bicker and trade insults. This always, always, always turns into a discussion of Dee Dee’s teacher, who is an ant. As in the insect. There is a third man, “a friend of Howdy’s nephew”, who looks a little bit like Felix Unger, wears a pink apron, and hangs in the back of every panel with a pained expression on his face. He never says anything. More… “Jablonski’s Barnyard”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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An oil painting by Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin
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Ever since single-pane windows have given way to their double-glazed cousins, frost patterns have widely disappeared, but these icy coatings can still be found on other surfaces, like car windows. They used to be common on windows of trains traveling across icy landscapes. Appearing where inside and outside meet, they are always threatened with melting. The frost consists of crystals produced when moisture in the air comes in contact with a smooth surface that is colder than the freezing point of water. The moisture thus goes directly from gas to solid.

The sparkling, glittering patterns, growing from below, are delicate, complex, often fantastic. They immediately capture our attention and divert our thoughts into other directions. Seemingly painted by an invisible hand, they can both delight and irritate. They may even suggest a story. Among the most-heard comparisons are with leaves or ferns. Some observers see coastlines, mountain ranges, fig trees. A spider’s web or a peacock’s tail. Of course, frost patterns never look exactly the same, and the interpretations are almost endless. More… “Crystalline Botany”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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In the last century, originality has killed one once-flourishing art form after another, by replacing variation within shared artistic conventions to rebellion against convention itself.

I blame the Germans.

It was the German Romantics who introduced the idea of “original genius” to modern society. The artistic genius, according to 19th-century romantics, is a special kind of human being with unique visionary powers. In ancient Greece and Rome, poets had sometimes claimed vatic powers; the “bard” sometimes posed as a quasi-prophetic figure, not a mere versifier, though this pose was usually not taken seriously. It was only in the 19th century, however, that the notion of this kind of visionary genius was generalized outside of poetry to what became known as the “fine arts,” including painting and sculpture and even architecture. Earlier, all of these arts had been classified among the utilitarian “crafts,” like textile-making and tile-making. More… “Originality Versus the Arts”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Of course, it’s a topic that never completely goes out of fashion. There’s always some person raving on a street corner about how all is lost and a few folks huddled around him or her, eager to listen. But these days, what with climate change, bees dying, ebola, and, of course, the recent election, it’s a topic on a lot of folks’ minds (at least judging from my social media feeds).

It’s a topic that’s on the mind of cartoonist Julia Gfrörer (pronounced “gruff-fair”) as well, or at least it’s the central setting of her latest graphic novel, Laid Waste. Gfrörer isn’t interested in depicting wanton death and destruction a la Michael Bay, however, as much as she is in depicting her characters’ attempts to find some sense of hope or solace in a world that is swiftly falling down around them. More… “Wonderful Waste”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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The English folk musician Nick Drake died in November 1974 at age 26, leaving only three albums behind.

The first, Five Leaves Left — the title a reference to a British cigarette papers packet — appeared in 1969, one of those rare albums with little that preceded it and little that could follow from it, so singular was Drake’s musical tapestry, like the rustic verse of John Clare had met with some Mendelssohn-like stirrings and taken a trip to London to walk the streets before returning to the heath. More… “Season’s End, Season’s Start”

Colin Fleming writes on art, literature, film, rock, jazz, classical music, and sports for Rolling Stone, JazzTimes, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and a number of other publications. His fiction has recently appeared in AGNI, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Commentary, and Post Road, and he’s the author of The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss (Dzanc), and is writing a memoir, Many Moments More: A Story About the Art of Endurance, and a novel about a reluctant piano genius, age seven or eight, called The Freeze Tag Sessions. He’s a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition. His tattered, on-the-mend website is colinfleminglit.com, and he highly recommends reading The Smart Set daily, along with ten mile coastal walks and lots of Keats and hockey for the soul.
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We asked our staff to pick their favorite contributions to popular culture that we encountered in 2016. From books, to movies, to a YouTube concert video, we enjoyed a lot of beauty and truth in a year unlikely to be remembered for either. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen famously sang in “Anthem.” Embodying this year, Cohen triumphantly released the gorgeous album You Want it Darker shortly before his voice was suddenly silenced by his passing in November. A less-quoted lyric of Anthem is Cohen’s instruction “Ring the bells that still can ring.” Here is what chimed for us this year. More… “Best of 2016”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.
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How many artists out there can say they completely transformed an entire genre so much that there is a clear demarcation point between what came before and what came after?

Manga artist Moto Hagio can. She had help, though. As one of the members of Magnificent 49ers, also known as the Year 24 Group, Hagio is a member of a loose affiliation of female cartoonists all allegedly born in or around the 24th year of the Showa era (1949, hence the name), that transformed girls’ comics in Japan, a.k.a. Shoujo manga. More… “The Magnificent Moto”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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Was there any announcement in recent comics history that was met with more fanfare and excitement than the news last year that acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates would be writing the adventures of Marvel superhero Black Panther?

It’s hard for me to think of anything comparable. Coates, of course, is perhaps the preeminent writer on race and American society today. His columns for The Atlantic have deservedly won him widespread praise and a MacArthur Genius grant. His second book, Between the World and Me, garnered him a National Book Award. He is one of the most prominent literary figures in the country. The news that someone of his stature would be writing the adventures of one of the most recognizable black superheroes (though perhaps Storm, Luke Cage, or Cyborg could argue for more cultural cachet) is worth a bit of hullabaloo. More… “Ta-Nehisi’s Take”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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On a humid day in early October, I walked from the Ponte Sisto to the Ponte Mazzini. The river was flowing on my right and the progress of Western European culture, from a Roman point of view, was turning into illustrations on my left. I had been in Rome for three weeks and had briefly seen the illustrations, a range of military and cultural imagery, including generals, a recurring angel, victims and perpetrators of violence, mythological agents, and occasionally the general populace. But now I was set to walk the half-kilometer extent of William Kentridge’s monumental set of drawings and parse as best as I could what these 80 figures spelled out. The title, Triumphs and Laments, gave a broad context, and for an admirer of Kentridge’s work, this was a veritable feast. Along with such admiration, there were bound to be questions of technique, archival recovery, historical meanings, and artistic daring. More… “The Gravity of Graffiti”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).
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Trebuchets. Oboes. Manhole covers. Labyrinthian playground equipment. Interactive Christmas sweaters. Grocery carts. Pangolins. Fish-slapping bears.

These are just a few of the items that decorate the off-kilter and thoroughly delightful world of Cul de Sac, the comic strip by Richard Thompson (no relation to the guitarist) that ran in newspapers from 2007 to 2012.

Thompson, who died at age 58 in August due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease, wasn’t a household name like Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson. And while successful, Cul de Sac wasn’t a phenomenon along the lines of Garfield or Dilbert. But for those comic connoisseurs who had the opportunity to discover it, it was nothing short of a work of comedic genius. More… “Comic Connections”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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