Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

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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04 APRIL, 2014

An Illustrated Taxonomy of City Bikes and Cyclist Archetypes

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From hipster habits to midlife crises, a morphology of urban life on two wheels.

“A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning,” E.B. White wrote in his timeless love letter to New York. “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.” And sometimes, I may add as someone who takes daily joy in roaming Gotham on two wheels, to the accompaniment of spokes. From designer, illustrator, and School of Visual Arts alum Kurt McRobert comes this impossibly delightful illustrated taxonomy of Gotham’s bike-riding archetypes, which applies in varying degrees to any city and comes as a fine addition to similar visual taxonomies of Gotham’s four types of jaywalkers and its three classes of cats.

McRobert missed the doggie-daddy, who is a regular delight, but that’s okay.

Complement with this entertaining Victorian list of don’ts for women cyclists, then see the tables turned as the bicycle helped emancipate women, then treat yourself to this lovely bicycle-inspired illustrated exploration of relationship cliches by legendary French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé.

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02 APRIL, 2014

Winston and George: An Illustrated Ode to Friendship, with an Incredible Creative Journey 50 Years in the Making

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A beautiful and bittersweet redemptive triumph.

In 1956, a twenty-something New Yorker named John Miller left Gotham for Rome to live the life of an aspiring writer, following in the expat footsteps of his heroes, literary legends like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There, he befriended Italian artist Giuliano Cucco, and the two created a beautiful series of four nature-inspired picture books. But when Miller returned to New York in 1966, carried on the wings of enormous enthusiasm for the collaboration, he quickly smashed against the realities of an industry which the great Ursula Nordstrom once accurately described as being run by “mediocre ladies in influential positions.” Publishers deemed the imaginative and uncommon books too unmarketable — not mainstream enough — or too costly to produce, given the vibrant colors of the illustrations.

John Miller (left) and Giuliano Cucco in the 1960s

Discouraged but not resigned, Miller followed the typical fate of the New Yorker and changed many apartments over the decades that followed, but he carried the manuscripts and portfolios faithfully with each move, until they ended up in the attic of his house in upstate New York. All along, he knew there was something very special about these books — as did the friends he showed to whom he showed the manuscripts over the years.

It was his friends, too, who encouraged him to resurrect his efforts to find a publisher nearly half a century after the books were created. Eventually, the manuscripts found their way to Muriel Bedrick, the mother of Claudia Zoe Bedrick, head of Enchanted Lion — the wonderful Brooklyn-based independent picture-book publisher that quietly and consistently churns out such award-winning treasures as Alessandro Sanna’s The River, Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls, Blexbolex’s Ballad, Øyvind Torseter’s The Hole, and Albertine’s Little Bird. Bedrick instantly fell in love with the heart and art of the books and decided to publish the series. The news came as exquisite creative redemption for 80-year-old Miller, who rushed to get a hold of his old artist friend. (He and Cucco had lost touch over the years.) But when he finally reached the artist’s sister, he was devastated to learn that Cucco and his wife had been killed in a motorcycle accident in 2006, but his son was thrilled to hear about the long-awaited creative validation.

And so the debut of the first book in the series, Winston and George (public library), is a bittersweet feat — an exuberant triumph for Miller after decades of harbored hopes, and a posthumous tribute to Cucco, who never lived to see his dream come true.

But the book itself counters the tragedy with its boundless hopefulness and celebration of life: It tells the story, both playful and poignant, of the unusual friendship between Winston the crocodile and George the crocodile bird who love each other dearly but who have to withstand a flurry of hazards to remain together. It’s a beautiful ode to what true friendship means and to what it necessitates — the unconditional acceptance of each other’s flaws, the ability to see past the surface behavior and into the deeper intention, and the capacity to defend the sanctity of the relationship from the poison of outside pressures.

Winston and George live happily together, fishing in the jungle river as pilot and co-pilot — perched up on the tip of Winston’s nose, George would look into the water for fish and shout “DIVE!” at the opportune moment. Winston would snap the fish up, then the two would share a delicious meal ashore.

But George has one rather irksome quirk: he likes to play pranks on Winston and the other crocodiles. He would fly over and cry “DANGER! DANGER!” just to see them startle from their afternoon nap and dive into the river, or he would push sleeping Winston off the shore into the water, so that his friend awakes in the middle of the water three miles down the river and has to swim back until after sundown.

Irritated, Winston’s crocodile friends would urge him to simply eat George to put an end to the pranks. But the idea is unthinkable to Winston.

In one particularly misplaced prank, Winston and George were coasting down the river in their usual arrangement when George, upon spotting a pile of mud rather than a fish, issued his customary command for Winston to dive.

Down Winston dove, but instead of a fish he found his snout stuck firmly in the mud.

It was very funny at first to see a crocodile’s feet and tail kicking and wagging in the air. But when George realized that his friend was stuck, he grew frightened.

George calls on the other crocodiles and the hippos for help but, fed up with his pranks, they agree to only help Winston if George agrees to accept the fate he deserves for his mischief and let himself be eaten by Winston. Desperate to save his friend’s life, George agrees and the crocodiles and hippos make a long chain to pull Winston out, tugging and tugging.

With one final yank, Winston flew over their heads and landed on a far shore.

Eventually, the crowd gathers around Winston and urges him to gobble up George. Puffing a mighty cloud of mud from his nostrils, Winston demonstratively agrees and opens his giant jaw for George to climb in.

Reluctantly, George stepped over Winston’s sharp teeth and stood inside, waiting for his end to come.

Winston snaps his jaw and emits a loud burp, which pleases the others enough and they disperse satisfied. But the end, of course, is not the end:

Winston opened his jaws, and there was George, alive as ever, safe on his friend’s soft tongue.

George has learned his lesson, but has also felt the bonds of friendship tighten as the two souls expand.

Winston and George is unspeakably magnificent, and the screen does absolutely no justice to Cucco’s rich and enchanting illustrations. Complement it with more of Enchanted Lion’s treasures, including My Father’s Arms Are a Boat, Little Boy Brown, and The River.

Images courtesy of Enchanted Lion

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