Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘comics’

07 APRIL, 2014

Tom Gauld’s Brilliant Literary Cartoons Blur the Artificial Line Between “High” and “Pop” Culture

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From Hemingway’s hangovers to the messiness of creative collaborations, wryly witty visual satire of intellectualism.

With his singular style of irreverent erudition, cartoonist Tom Gauld has emerged as an unparalleled visual satirist of the literary world. You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons (public library) collects eight years’ worth of Gauld’s wryly wonderful and wonderfully wry comics created for the Sunday Review section of The Guardian, mildly reminiscent in spirit of Kate Beaton’s literary cartoons and yet entirely, unmistakably original in style. From the odd habits of famous writers to the age-old tension between science and religion, Gauld leaves no cultural stone unturned in his heartening testament to Susan Sontag’s assertion that the divide between “high” and “popular” culture is a false and toxic one — after all, if a medium as “pop” as the cartoon form can serve, like Gauld’s art so masterfully does, as a form of meta-literary criticism and intelligent cultural discourse, then the polarization between “high” and “low” is instantly and spectacularly demagnetized.

In one cartoon, Gauld echoes E.B. White’s protestation that “a writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper” and Bukowski’s bold debunking of the excuses writers use for not writing:

In another, he seconds Virginia Woolf’s admonition about the evils of cinematic adaptations of literature:

Another reminds us that there is no magic formula (though there are some excellent tips) for writing a great story, and that in fact, as Steinbeck put it, “the formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader”:

Then there are our greatest techno-dystopian fears and anxieties — the worst manifestation of Saul Bellow’s admonition about “the distracted public” — followed to their most tragicomic end:

Gauld also extends beyond the literary and into the broader spectrum of cultural concerns, such as the lamentable present neglect of space exploration:

On and on Gauld goes, poking gentle fun at our cultural conceits:

The rest of You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons is immeasurably wonderful from cover to cover. Complement it with Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant and this charming compendium of contemporary graphic artists’ takes on literary classics.

Images courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly © Tom Gauld

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24 FEBRUARY, 2014

Freud’s Life and Legacy, in a Comic

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“You have to listen carefully. The unconscious mind is crafty.”

While Freud may have engineered his own myth and many of his theories may have been disputed in the decades since his heyday, he remains one of the most influential figures in the history of psychiatry and psychology. And yet for many, Freud is more metaphor than man and his name summons only a vague idea of his work — “something to do with penises,” our marginally informed collective conscience might whisper — rather than a true understanding of just how profoundly he influenced contemporary culture, from our mechanisms of consumerism to our notions about the self.

In recent years, the comic book genre has been applied to a wealth of graphic nonfiction for grownups, ranging from famous biographies to philosophy, but nowhere does the genre shine more exquisitely than in Freud (public library) — a magnificent biography-as-graphic-novel of the founding father of psychoanalysis by Swiss-born writer, economist, historian, and psychoanalyst Corinne Maier, illustrated by celebrated French cartoonist Anne Simon. Published by British indie press Nobrow — which also gave us Blexbolex’s brilliant No Man’s Land and some gorgeous illustrated chronicles of aviation and the Space Race — this unusual illustrated biography takes us through Freud’s life and legacy with equal parts scientific-historical rigor, sociocultural insight, and disarming wit, both visual and narrative.

From how his own childhood informed his ideas to his most famous cases, the captivating story weaves its way through Freud’s life to shed light on both the man and his metaphors for the mind.

Freud is absolutely fantastic from cover to cover. Complement it with Freud’s little-known correspondence with Einstein, then revisit the graphic biographies of Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin, Hunter S. Thompson, and Steve Jobs.

Images courtesy of Nobrow

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07 FEBRUARY, 2014

R. Crumb Illustrates Philip K. Dick’s Hallucinatory Spiritual Experience

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“There is nothing worse… no punishment greater than to have known God and no longer to know him.”

In 1981, counterculture creative icon R. Crumb — who revolutionized album covers by bringing comics to music in the 1960s and 1970s — created the magazine Weirdo, a comics anthology conceived as the lowbrow response to Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s intellectual-skewing Raw magazine, which had launched the previous year. Even so, Crumb, who would later illustrate Bukowski and adapt Sartre in a comic, couldn’t escape the appeal of the literary. In Weirdo #17, published in 1986 and eventually included in the altogether fantastic anthology The Weirdo Years by R. Crumb: 1981–’93 (public library), Crumb illustrated sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick’s now-famous spiritual “exegesis,” his hallucinatory 1974 experience in which he believed to have encountered a God-like presence. Crumb’s signature psychedelic pen-and-ink crosshatchings only amplify Dick’s message about the illusory nature of reality, leaving us to question whether he was a madman or a genius. Still, when all is said and drawn, who is one to judge another’s experience? Jane Goodall put it best.

The comic, as well as many more of Crumb’s Weirdo gems, can be found in The Weirdo Years by R. Crumb: 1981–’93. Complement it with Philip K. Dick on reality, media manipulation, and human heroism.

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