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Back in the alleged halcyon days when you could actually make a living making comic books (but had to hide your profession from everyone for fear of censure), one of the titles used in an attempt to mollify the sneering intelligentsia and bourgeoisie was Classics Illustrated, a lengthy series that by and large set about adapting classic literature — Shakespeare, Poe, Hawthorne, etc. — in the most mundane and unimaginative way possible.

As the medium’s status has risen over the past decade and a half, these kinds of adaptations have made a comeback of sorts. And while they might not bear the official Classics Illustrated moniker, they are, with few exceptions, plodding affairs, displaying little in the way of intelligence, wit, or imagination. Looking over the bulk of them, you might well wonder whether there are any cartoonists capable of adapting prose in a manner that avoids mere rote recapitulation of the original text.

More… Songy

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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Boxing is an ugly thing. The outcome is considered a great success when one combatant has beaten the other into unconsciousness. Old boxers are a sad lot, a compound wreck of irreversible physical and mental damage. The details are well known. Yet no one seems to care all that much. As someone once quipped, “Sure, there have been deaths and injuries in boxing, but none of them serious.”

Underneath this fundamental ugliness is a greater wretchedness still. I think, for instance, of the opening of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, where a group of young blacks in the South are made to fight one another to the drunken joy of the white crowd in order to collect their “scholarships.” Muhammad Ali summed this ugliness up with his typical forthrightness. “Boxing,” he said, “is a lot of white men… More…

 

There’s a Donald Barthelme revival afoot. These things sometime happen to writers who have the temerity to die. Time moves on. Literary fashions wax and wane. Great writers are inexplicably forgotten. Forgotten writers are suddenly reborn in the literary imagination.

Such is the story with Barthelme. He was never exactly forgotten (he died in 1989), but his name hasn’t been at the forefront of the collective literary mind since then. I suspect that the new biography by Tracy Daugherty, Hiding Man, signals a change in all that. There’s also been a number of prominent “reconsiderations,” including a longish essay by Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

All of this was predicted by Thomas Pynchon, who wrote an introduction to a posthumous collection of Barthelme’s “satires, parodies, fables, illustrated stories, and plays” called The Teachings of Don. B. Pynchon… More…

 

A little background is in order. Last summer, I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink. Then I wrote a belated review for 3QuarksDaily. The book, like most everything Gladwell writes, is a fun and sometimes exciting read. But I decided that, in the end, there wasn’t much of an argument in it. A nasty feeling crept over me. I wondered whether we’d all been duped into thinking that Gladwell had been saying something interesting when it really boiled down to well-placed anecdotes and well-told stories. The nasty feeling transformed into an admittedly nasty review titled “Down, I Say, Down With Malcolm Gladwell!”

I asked the reader to allow me to prove that Blink is “a piece of shit.” I talked about “sliminess” and “outright incoherence.” I called him a “huckster” (I’ve always liked that word)… More…

Homemade pizza is one of the larger letdowns of cooking. Even if you follow the directions for the crust perfectly, spend $30 on artisanal cheeses, and make your own tomato sauce, the process never seems worth the bother when you can order-in a pizza twice as good.

I have made some horrendous pizzas in my day, starting when I was around 7, and discovered that I could take an English muffin, cover it with ketchup and dried oregano, top it with a slice of American cheese, and stick it in the oven for a few minutes. (Seriously, God bless my father for eating these monstrosities without visibly gagging. He always waited until I left the room, proud as punch, before he… More…

If platitudes had weight, Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope would be impossible to lift off the table. Still, it’s a good book. By the standards of “writings by politicians” it’s in the top percentile. You read it and you like the man. You read it and feel that he has managed somehow to be both a skilled politician and a genuine human being. He writes, for instance, about what motivates politicians to run for office and to continue doing so:

Neither ambition nor single-mindedness fully accounts for the behavior of politicians, however. There is a companion emotion, perhaps more pervasive and certainly more destructive, an emotion that, after the giddiness of your official announcement as a candidate, rapidly locks you in its grip and doesn’t release you until after Election Day. That emotion is fear. Not just fear of losing — although that is bad enough — but fear… More…

The funny thing about Umberto Eco’s new book On Ugliness is that it is so pretty. It’s a beautiful collection of color reproductions of some of the great paintings, sculptures, and photographs from the last 2,000 years of Western art. It is also a collection of quotes from various smart and clever people over the last couple thousand years of Western civilization. The theme is ugliness and Eco gives us the following as both an explanation and a warning as to why he is interested in ugliness:

In every century, philosophers and artists have supplied definitions of beauty, and thanks to their works it is possible to reconstruct a history of aesthetic ideas over time. But this did not happen with ugliness. Most of the time it was defined as the opposite of beauty but almost no one ever devoted a treatise of any length to ugliness, which was relegated… More…

Who didn’t have syphilis in Belle Epoque Paris? Nobody who was anybody — at least if you read Deborah Hayden’s book Pox: Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis.

The disease had reached epidemic proportions in 19th century Europe, and before the production of penicillin in the 1940s, there was no effective cure. Paris in the 1890s, as the continent’s sex capital, was particularly hard hit: One French specialist in venereal diseases at the time estimated that 15 percent of the city’s adult population was infected, a level that anticipates today’s AIDS/HIV crisis. Amongst Parisian artists and writers, whose first sexual encounters were often with prostitutes and who disdained condoms, the level seems to have been much higher — the roll call of famous French syphilitics includes Gustave Flaubert, Charles Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant, Eduoard Manet, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, and Paul Gaugin. The art dealer Theo van Gogh was… More…

J.M. Coetzee is a cold fish, and James Wood is a hot fish. No one’s going to do anything about that. These are men who are firmly what they are. Hume once said that philosophies ultimately boil down to personalities. It is an insight that sounds trite when you’re young and looking for complicated answers, but it gets deeper with the years. But because they are two of the most astute literary minds of our times at the height of their powers, their respective hotnesses and coldnesses are worthy of further scrutiny.

The publication of J.M. Coetzee’s most recent collection of essays (Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005) provides an opportunity for the study of these two minds, two moods, two styles. This is because it just so happens that Wood and Coetzee are interested in many of the same literary figures. And not only are they interested in the same… More…