Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

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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26 AUGUST, 2011

Illustrated Three-Line Novels by the One-Man Twitter of 1906 France

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What an early 20th-century Parisian dandy had to do with political theater and the rise of micro-nonfiction.

We’ve previously shown that the literati of yore had their own Facebook, and it turns out they had their Twitter, too. Artist, anarchist and literary entrepreneur Félix Fénéon was the one-man Twitter of early 20th-century France. Between May and November of 1906, he wrote 1,220 succinct and near-surrealist three-line reports in the Paris newspaper Le Matin, serving to inform of everything from notable deaths to petty theft to naval expedition disasters. In Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon, artist Joanna Neborsky captures the best of these enigmatic vignettes in stunning illustrations and collages, inspired by Luc Sante’s English translation of Fénéon’s gems for the New York Review of Books. Sometimes profound, often perplexing, and always prepossessing, these visual snapshots of historical micro-narratives offer a bizarre and beautiful glimpse of a long-gone French era and a man of rare creative genius.

Félix Fénéon was a dandy, a literary bricoleur, and a terrorist, maybe. Biographers dispute his guilt in the 1894 bombing of a restaurant in Paris. As the journalist himself might later have written, ‘A flowerpot left on a windowsill exploded in the Rue de Conde. In the Restaurant Foyot, appetites and the eye of Laurent Tailhad, 40, were lost.’ Fénéon, then a clerk in the government’s War Office, was arrested and tried int he sensational Trial of the Thirty, a piece of political theater aimed at exposing the anarchist underground. After he was acquitted (evidence was flimsy, the prosecution, inept), two policemen followed Fénéon for the next two decades. But how do you shadow a shadow? In life and work, the wraithlike Fénéon — his lean face darkened by a top hat and limned by a goatee that friends said gave him the look of Uncle Sam, or Mephistopheles — preferred to disappear. His love was art, and his subject, the genius of others.”

Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon comes from indie powerhouse Mark Batty Publisher, who have previously delighted us with explorations of everything from how sounds became letters to why typography might be the key to cross-cultural understanding to what the ecology of Antarctica has to do with remix culture and many, many more treats.

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26 AUGUST, 2011

The Ghost Map: Hard Lessons in Epidemiology from Victorian London

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What an ill Victorian infant has to do with the power of maps and the future of modern cities.

At around 6AM on the morning of August 28, 1854, the Lewis infant started vomiting and excreting greenish stools with a pungent smell. Her mother gathered the soils in a bucket of tepid water and tossed them into the cesspool in the family cellar. So began the story of London’s most horrific epidemic, the Broad Street cholera outbreak. In The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson, easily my favorite nonfiction writer working today, unleashes his signature cross-disciplinary thinking to explore the intricate interconnections between the spread of the disease, the rise of cities, the mysteries of medicine, and the very nature of scientific inquiry.

It’s the story of two men, Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead, who began to suspect the true cause of the outbreak and were eventually proven right by a rigorous, contested investigation. But Johnson’s genius is in his ability to translate the fascinating but seemingly irrelevant into a highly context of excruciating relevance, exploring what this story means for the liabilities and vulnerabilities of modern cities. (Cue in Monday’s omnibus of 7 essential books on cities)

This is a story with four protagonists: a deadly bacterium, a vast city, and two gifted but very different men. One dark week a hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of great terror and human suffering, their lives collided on London’s Broad Street, on the western edge of Soho.

This book is an attempt to tell the story in a way that does justice to the multiple scales of existence that helped bring it about: from the invisible kingdom of microscopic bacteria, to the tragedy and courage and camaraderie of individual lives, to the cultural realm of ideas and ideologies, all the way up to the sprawling metropolis of London itself. It’s the story of a map that lies at the intersection of all those different vectors, a map created to help make sense of an experience that defied human understanding.”

I’m a big believer in the power of maps as great sense-making mechanisms, so I find The Ghost Map deeply fascinating and an extraordinary feat of intelligence. It also makes me wonder how an epidemic of this scale would unfold today, at a time when evolved high-tech mapping tools like Ushahidi would not only glean better understanding of how the deadly wave is propagating but also track its progress in real-time and offer a powerful weapon in the arsenal of man’s epic battle against microbe.

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25 AUGUST, 2011

19th-Century Anthropomorphic Animals from the NYPL Archives

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What kimono-wearing rabbits and ice-skating camels have to do with solving information overload.

The New York Public Library has long been leading the way with smart digitization projects that make its vast and remarkable collections accessible to the world at large. And while the disconnect between accessibility and access may loom larger than ever in the age of information overabundance, it only takes a bit of curiosity and patience to find in these archives utterly fascinating historical materials. Case in point, these weird and wonderful anthropomorphic animals from the 1800s culled from NYPL’s Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection, including some early six-panel comic strips, with original captions from the collection and brimming with the subtle humor of the era — a fine fictional complement to the very real emotional lives of animals you might recall from several weeks ago.

Assembly of the notables at Paris, February 22, 1787 (1875)

Animals kissing, eating, listening to music, and dancing

The duel (1857)

Ice skating camel. (ca. 1898)

King Noble the Lion slaying a sheep (1846)

Monkey throwing a bucket of water at a cat on the street

Nursing the invalid

Pig and bear playing on a swing

Le procès des chiens (1849)

Une visite le jour de l'an : les joujoux (1876-1878)

Rabbits wearing kimonos

For more on the curious history and psychology of anthropomorphism in art and culture, see Lorraine Datson’s Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism.

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