Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘humor’

06 OCTOBER, 2011

Hark! A Vagrant: Witty Comics about Historical & Literary Figures

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Training for presidents, Victorian dude-spotting, and what the Brontë Sisters have to do with Jules Verne.

From New Yorker cartoonist Kate Beaton comes Hark! A Vagrant — a witty and wonderful collection of comics about historical and literary figures and events, based on her popular web comic of the same name. Scientists and artists, revolutionaries and superheroes, suffragists and presidents — they’re all there, as antique hipsters, and they’re all skewered with equal parts comedic and cerebral prod.

Beaton, whose background is in history and anthropology, has a remarkable penchant for conveying the momentous through the inane, aided by a truly special gift for simple, subtle, incredibly expressive caricature. From dude spotting with the Brontë Sisters to Nikola Tesla and Jane Austen dodging groupies, the six-panel vignettes will make you laugh out loud and slip you a dose of education while you aren’t paying attention.

I think comics about topics like history or literature can be amazing educational tools, even at their silliest. So if you learn or look up a thing or two after reading these comics, and you’ve enjoyed them, then I will be more than pleased! If you’re just in it for the silly stuff, then there is plenty of that to go around, too.” ~ Kate Beaton

Beaton is also a masterful writer, her dialogue and captions adding depth to what’s already an absolute delight.

Handsome and hilarious, the six-panel stories in Hark! A Vagrant will undo all the uptightness about history instilled in you by academia, leaving you instead with a hearty laugh and some great lines for dinner party conversation.

Images courtesy of Kate Beaton / Drawn and Quarterly

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27 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Today Yesterday: 5 Vintage Visions for the Future of Technology

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Instapaper circa 1981, or what medical wonderlands have to do with making cash entirely obsolete.

One of the things that sets our species apart from others is our ability to imagine the future in remarkable detail. We do this every day on a personal level and have been doing it since time immemorial on a cultural level, and do it across the entire spectrum of ludicrous misguidedness and uncanny accuracy. Revisiting these predictions in retrospect can be a source of both fascination and humor. After last week’s vintage versions of modern social media, today we revisit five such predictions for the future of technology, envisioning — with varying degrees of correctness and comedy — everything from the workplace to the wardrobe.

THE OFFICE (1969)

In this fantastic compilation of BBC clips from 1969, James Burke — who brought us the iconic Connections series on the history of innovation — experiences the automated office of the future and what it might mean for the evolution of work culture.

The great thing about machines is that they do what they’re told. They leave you to get on with it. Never late, they’re obedient, they’re never sick, they never disturb you or argue or paint their nails or talk or smile at you or say ‘good morning’ or keep you company. They just leave you alone.”

(I guess Burke never had a brush with push notifications.)

What’s curious about the segment is that even in 1969, long before today’s digital distractions and always-on telecommunication lifestyle were, Burke expresses a frustration with the overwhelming pace of the traditional office and romanticizes the quiet, efficient focus of unitasking, which he laments as a thing of the past.

ELECTRONIC JOURNALISM (1981)

In 1981, long before the Internet as we know it had come of age, early adopters of the home computer were reading their morning newspapers online — kind of. This story by journalist Steve Newman, originally broadcast on San Francisco’s KRON network, expolores what the then-future of digital publishing and electronic journalism could hold.

On the telephone connection between these two terminals is made the newest form of electronic journalism lights up Mr. Howard’s television with just about everything The Examiner prints in its regular edition — that is, with the exception of pictures, ads and the comics.”

(Look familiar?)

CLOTHING (1930s)

In the 1930s, Pathetone Weekly asked leading fashion designers to imagine women’s clothing in the year 2000. From an electric belt that adapts the body to climatic changes to a wedding dress made of glass to an electric headlight “to help her find an honest man,” the Eve of tomorrow has an awful lot in common with Lady Gaga.

As for [the man], if he matters at all, there won’t be any shaving, colors, ties or pockets. He’ll be fitted with a telephone, a radio, and containers for coins, keys and candy for cuties.”

Just about describes your average Brooklyn hipster.

THE HOSPITAL (1950s)

In the 1950s, industrialist Henry Kaiser (of Kaiser Foundation fame) and architect Sydney Garfield partnered on a $2 million project bringing to life a vision for the hospital of the future. From babies sliding through walls to remote-controlled walls, the hospital was “a medical dream come true.”

From the admissions office on, everything is streamlined and expedited. The patient’s record reaches the doctor before he does.”

BANKING (1969)

In 1969, reporter Derek Cooper examined the computing innovations that could revolutionize banking, from credit card machines that would enable the transfer of funds directly from the customer’s account to that of the shop to computerized banks that would reap the benefits of shorter lines and more flexible opening times as customers had their basic needs answered by technology rather than tellers, with a twinge of fear about technology making these mundane jobs obsolete. (Cue in the Orson-Welles-narrated Future Shock.)

The system could eventually make cash entirely redundant, thus eliminating the elaborate security arrangements that are needed to protect it.”

Implicit to this sentiment so laughably naive in light of today’s hacking scandals is history’s proof that we can never anticipate the capacity for evil in the technological good we envision.

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31 AUGUST, 2011

Al Jaffee’s Iconic MAD Fold-Ins: The Definitive Collection, 1964-2010

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Half a century of clever visual satire from pop culture to politics, or what Warhol had to do with Whitewater.

Al Jaffee’s magnificent anti-authoritarian fold-ins, gracing the inside covers of every MAD magazine since 1964, have been a longtime favorite around here. For the past half-century, Jaffeee, just as brilliant today at 90, has been poking fun at the established political order with his clever satirical cartoons that made no topic, ideology, regime, politician or pop star safe from skewering as the reader simply folds the page to align arrow A with arrow B and reveal the hidden gag image. Now, from Chronicle Books comes The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964-2010 — the definitive treasure trove of Jaffee’s genius, a formidable four-volume set featuring 410 fold-ins reproduced at original size, each thoughtfully accompanied by a digital representation of the folded image so you wouldn’t have to actually fold your lavish book.

Sudoku (July 2007)

Second place (October 1969)

The first Super Bowl was in 1967, and it gave football a new visibility, threatening baseball's pre-eminence.

Covering up Whitewater (September 1994)

The Whitewater scandal haunted the Clinton White House for years.

On the campaign trail! (December 1968)

A nasty campaign, with Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon, in the midst of a nasty war.

No one (December 1990)

A Simple tribute 10 years after John Lennon's death.

The smell of dead meat (July 1995)

Another election looming another bunch of hopefuls.

Stop Art - Empty frame is big improvement (September 1965)

The art world was full of new ideas in the mid-1960s, not all of them resonating with everyone.

Essays by Pixar animator Pete Docter, New York Times cultural critic Neil Genzlinger and Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist and author Jules Feiffer contextualize Jaffee’s work and the tremendous influence it has had on generations of artists, comedians and ordinary people.

Here’s Jaffee on how his iconic fold-ins began — and confirmation that creativity is combinatorial:

In 1953, TIME magazine referred to MAD as a ‘short-lived fad.’ And now, fifty-umpteenth years later, MAD is still around, and I don’t think TIME magazine is doing too well.” ~ Al Jaffeee

Explore some of Jaffee’s gems in this excellent New York Times interactive feature from 2008 — a fine teaser for the full glory you’ll find in The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964-2010.

via @kvox > BoingBoing

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