Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Bad Pitch

Sunday, 21 August 2011

While looking for information on the physical specifications of the gahoon, I ran across mention of the Maui Xaphoon and of the Maui Xaphoon Pocket Sax. Now, a pocket saxophone could be a good thing, but the marketing by Maui Xaphoon indicates how it could become a social ill:

It will bring you JOY — Imagine being able to create a sense of community wherever you are — at a bus stop, in a cave, waiting in line, even a parking garage!

Yeah, imagine. Imagine innocent people stuck at the bus stop, spelunking in the Sand Cave, queued at the DMV, or just trying to get to or from their cars, and some g_dd_mn'd would-be pied piper tries to horn them into a community to end the loneliness of his here-to-fore friendless existence.

(BTW, if you don't want to pay US$57.95 or more for a pocket saxophone, then consider flubberjibbel's DIY pocket saxophone. Just don't try to rope me into some community with it.)

Up-Date (2020:09/25): The Maui Xaphoon products pages have moved, and the lowest list price of a The Maui Xaphoon Pocket Sax is now $65. (The DIY video to which I linked parenthetically was made private, but a search of YouTube finds other videos for DIY pocket saxophones.)

Man of Mystery

Monday, 25 July 2011

Sometimes ethics stick one in odd corners.

A while back, I queried an artist about commissioning a sketch to be given to my sister-in-law. He turned-down the commission as such, but offered to send to her a drawing containing the major element, without charge, if I provided a SASE. I accepted the offer, and he sent her the drawing. By reports, my sister-in-law was thrilled. (I have insisted to all parties that the principal thanks are owed to the artist.)

I'd like to be able to thank him here by name for his generosity, but won't do so without his permission, as it might cause him to be beseiged by similar requests. And he just passes in silence over my request for that permission.

So, well, he did something really sweet. I'm sorry that I cannot tell you who he is.

In the Woodpile

Monday, 4 July 2011

Some weeks ago, the Woman of Interest spotted an interesting deck of cards on eBay. The deck was miniature, Disney-themed (Mickey Mouse on the backs and on the box), and dated from the late '30s or perhaps 1940. I later found a similar or identical sort of deck listed.

These decks are very appealing, but there's something disturbing about them as well. Here are the joker cards shown in the listings: [image of two cards, each showing Goofy with his head and neck sticking up from within or behind a woodpile] The two designs, of course, are basically identical except for coloration and for the presence of a background cloud in one and not in the other. I don't yet know whether these cards represent two designs found in each deck, or distinguish one sort of deck from another, but I believe that the latter is the case.

In any event, each pictures Goofy's head and neck sticking-up from within or from behind a woodpile.

There's an expression

a n_gg_r in the woodpile

It refers to a condition where something significant, typically undesirable, is believed to be concealed. This unpleasant metaphor is no longer current in America;[1] in fact, I had to relate and to explain it to the Woman of Interest, who had never encountered it, and I had to double-check on its exact meaning. But it used to be quite current here, and certainly would have been when those cards were designed and when they were released. I cannot help but think that in the mind of the designer, these graphics are meant to be an allusion to that expression, with the underlying notion being that Goofy is an analogue, within the Disney universe, of the stereotypical black character from that era.

I draw attention to the point that one cannot infer that this is how Disney or the rest of the firm conceptualized Goofy; an alien analogy would not be recognized as such, and the image could have been seen as simply silly.

[1] It evidently retains some currency in Britain, where state and corporate officials continue to let it slip in public!

All that He Is

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Although I'm something of a fan of E[lzie] C[risler] Segar, what I like most when it comes to Popeye are the animated cartoons made by the Fleischer Studios, before they relocated to Florida. (Some years ago, the Woman of Interest got me a copy of Popeye the Sailor: 1933 – 1938, which was exactly the perfect collection for me.)

Anyway, I thought that I'd present my single favorite bit from those cartoons: [animation of Popeye jumping from a stool and beginning to pump his fists] For a better sense of what is happening here, watch Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937), or at least the minute and 48 seconds starting at 6:12.

Popeye and Olive and Wimpy are the restaurant of an oasis village, when there is a warning that Abu Hassan and his band of forty thieves are out on a raid. The villagers go into hiding (as does Olive). Indeed, the thieves approach this very village. Popeye hears a great commotion outside, leaps from his stool, and begins pumping his fists.

Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves is, over all, not actually my favorite Popeye cartoon — which, off the top of my head, might instead be Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936), though I'm not sure — but this one bit is perfect. Popeye isn't sure what he's about to confront, but he's prepared to fight it! Popeye is emotionally prepared to fight anything,[1] and he expects to do so with his fists!

Popeye is, in important respects, a simple man. He has many apparently unexamined certitudes, leaps to conclusions, and often does things that are very inappropriate. And he knows that he's simple; that's part of what he's saying with I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam! Popeye doesn't typically think his way out of a problem; it doesn't even seem to occur to him to try. If thinking were suggested to him, then he'd probably confess that he couldn't. He uses his fisks 'cause that's what he's gots. And, ultimately, they've always seemed to be enough.

But, in the moral sphere, he is consistently doing his very best. Not just what others might see as enough, but his best. I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam! isn't used to rationalize shirking. Popeye is prepared to fight whatever comes through that door because, if it's bad, somebody has to fight it; and, if Popeye doesn't fight it, well, then who will?

BTW, on Thursday, I received copies of the first three volumes of the Fantagraphics Popeye reprints from Edward R. Hamilton, mentioned in a previous entry; they had no remainder marks. (And the transaction seems otherwise to have been perfectly satisfactory.)

[1] Except in-so-far as he has no personally acceptable means by which to fight a woman.

He'll Bring the Books

Monday, 21 February 2011

The first three volumes of the Fantagraphics Popeye reprints are currently available from

Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company
PO Box 15
Falls Village, CT 06031-0015
for $9.95 apiece, with a flat s&h charge of $3.50. (Connecticut residences would also need to add sales tax, whatever that might be.)

The ordering numbers are

I include order information for Volume Four but note that it is $19.95, rather than $9.95. (NB: I do not know whether any of these copies have remainder marks. [Up-Date (2011:03/04):: I received copies yester-day; they did not have remainder marks.])

In order to get the flat s&h charge of $3.50, you'll have to mail an order with a check or money order. To order on-line with a credit card (which may be more convenient, and reduces risk that the stock will be exhausted), go instead to (a domain distinct from, but you'll pay an additional 40¢ per item.

Long Gone

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

I don't generally collect postcards, though I have a few and there is one specific series which I am attempting to acquire.

This card [hand-colored photographic image by D Calcagni from 1919 of young woman in bathing suit, sitting in a studio facsimile of a beach, lacing her foot-wear] is not in said series. However, it is, just as the seller claimed, adorable; so I got it.

(I've seen four other images that seem to be from this same session; they are not particularly appealing.)

Noo ye kis ma boot or A strik ye wi ma whip!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Somewhat to my surprise, I was recently able to get a copy of House of Tears (creditted to Harold Kane and illustrated anonymously by Joe Shuster).

At some point, I'd like to scan the thing,[1] but I don't want to damage it in the process of scanning, and the volume is bound in a way such that it does not naturally open flat. For now, I'll offer a verbal description.

The book is 20 sheets folded into five gatherings[2] to make a total of 80 pages. The gatherings are bound together by three staples, running from front to back but near the fold. A cover of dull-yellow paper, textured like parchment, is wrapped around these pages and glued to them at the fold. The volume is about 5 3/8 in × 8 in × 3/16 in (13.7 cm × 20.3 cm × .5 cm); I'd guess that it were printed on 8½-by-11 sheets before binding and trimming.

There are 65 pages of text that were almost certainly set with an elite[3] typewriter. There are ten full-page, black-and-white interior illustrations, two more than the eight that I discovered on-line. Both are plainly also by Shuster. One of these shows a fellow in a suit standing close behind a woman in a classic French maid's outfit; the other shows three women, one upon a throne-like chair, one in a dress lifting up her skirt to expose her lingerie, and the third behind her, apparently yanking or pinching her ear and dressed in a maid's outfit.

Although I've not read the story, it is apparently about a wealthy Illinois man who hires a Scottish woman to be the governess for his 15-year-old daughter, rather hoping that the governess will turn-out to be a dominatrix, and discovering that this is, indeed, the case. I cannot help but be amused at the thought of a household of Americans trying to figure-out what the H_ll a Scottish dominatrix is demanding of them, but a cursory investigation suggests that Miss Phyllis neither speaks Scots nor has a note-worthy accent. What I do see is a lot of space given over to sound-effects.

I'm not sure what that was, and perhaps I'm just better-off not knowing.

[1] No copyright registration was made, as this would have identified a person or a business entity that could be traced to owners, and those involved in production of this work could have been prosecuted under anti-pornography laws. It might be a fine thing to reverse the consequences of past censorship, and allow claims that could not have been registered to be made, but I believe that this particular work would then be orphaned.

[2] A gathering is a group of sheets stacked and folded together. The term signature is frequently mis-applied to gatherings.

[3] twelve characters per inch

A Simple Tale

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Some time within the last several weeks, I finally got around to reading The Secret Agent (1907), by Joseph Conrad. The novel is interesting for a number of reasons. One of those is that, as with Heller's later Catch-22, events are driven by the characters' unquestioned misunderstandings one of another, and by terrible narrowness of vision. (Unlike Catch-22, Conrad's book is not particularly humorous in its beginnings.) But what most struck me about The Secret Agent is that Conrad identified and unsparingly depicted the mental process that leads most who turn to state socialism to do so, and what essentially propels most of those who proceed on to left-wing anarchism to do that.

One of the characters of The Secret Agent is Stevie. Stevie is a low-functioning young man; operationally a person of very limited intelligence. He is also someone who is concerned — often overwhelmed with concern — about the fate of people and of beasts who seem to be ill-treated. Stevie's concern is illustrated at various points in the story, but it is in Chapter VIII that they begin to take political form.

Stevie's mother, over the objections of her daughter, has had herself moved to an alms-house; Stevie and his sister, Winnie Verloc, see their mother to her new home. The cab-man drives a much-abused horse to pull his carriage, and responds to Stevie's imploring that the horse not be whipped as if it were nearly incomprehensible. But, after the move has been effected, the cabbie tells Stevie that, however hard life may seem to be for the horse, it is harder still for the cabbie, who is a poor man with a family. Stevie is moved by this information. The driver departs.

Stevie is rejoined by his sister; they begin the journey homeward.

Before the doors of the public-house at the corner, where the profusion of gas-light reached the height of positive wickedness, a four-wheeled cab standing by the curbstone with no one on the box, seemed cast out into the gutter on account of irremediable decay. Mrs Verloc recognised the conveyance.[1] Its aspect was so profoundly lamentable, with such a perfection of grotesque misery and weirdness of macabre detail, as if it were the Cab of Death itself, that Mrs Verloc, with that ready compassion of a woman for a horse (when she is not sitting behind him), exclaimed vaguely:

Poor brute!

Hanging back suddenly, Stevie inflicted an arresting jerk upon his sister.

Poor! Poor! he ejaculated appreciatively. Cabman poor too. He told me himself.

The contemplation of the infirm and lonely steed overcame him. Jostled, but obstinate, he would remain there, trying to express the view newly opened to his sympathies of the human and equine misery in close association. But it was very difficult. Poor brute, poor people! was all he could repeat. It did not seem forcible enough, and he came to a stop with an angry splutter: Shame! Stevie was no master of phrases, and perhaps for that very reason his thoughts lacked clearness and precision. But he felt with greater completeness and some profundity. That little word contained all his sense of indignation and horror at one sort of wretchedness having to feed upon the anguish of the other—at the poor cabman beating the poor horse in the name, as it were, of his poor kids at home. And Stevie knew what it was to be beaten. He knew it from experience. It was a bad world. Bad! Bad!

Mrs Verloc, his only sister, guardian, and protector, could not pretend to such depths of insight. Moreover, she had not experienced the magic of the cabman’s eloquence. She was in the dark as to the inwardness of the word Shame. And she said placidly:

Come along, Stevie. You can’t help that.

The docile Stevie went along; but now he went along without pride, shamblingly, and muttering half words, and even words that would have been whole if they had not been made up of halves that did not belong to each other. It was as though he had been trying to fit all the words he could remember to his sentiments in order to get some sort of corresponding idea. And, as a matter of fact, he got it at last. He hung back to utter it at once.

Bad world for poor people.

Directly he had expressed that thought he became aware that it was familiar to him already in all its consequences. This circumstance strengthened his conviction immensely, but also augmented his indignation. Somebody, he felt, ought to be punished for it—punished with great severity. Being no sceptic, but a moral creature, he was in a manner at the mercy of his righteous passions.

Beastly! he added concisely.

It was clear to Mrs Verloc that he was greatly excited.

Nobody can help that, she said. Do come along. Is that the way you’re taking care of me?

Stevie mended his pace obediently. He prided himself on being a good brother. His morality, which was very complete, demanded that from him. Yet he was pained at the information imparted by his sister Winnie who was good. Nobody could help that! He came along gloomily, but presently he brightened up. Like the rest of mankind, perplexed by the mystery of the universe, he had his moments of consoling trust in the organised powers of the earth.

Police, he suggested confidently.

And there one has it. A great many of us would agree that the world is economically harder on many people than it ought to be. A great many of us would agree that society ought to do something about it. But the typical state socialist just unthinkingly grabs for the first social institution that comes to mind, the State; or, as Stevie puts it, police. There's no real thought to what other institutions might be more appropriate. If the point that we are talking about an institution that is first-and-foremost about violence is considered at all, there is little reflection on the question of whether and when violence is appropriate, unless that consideration is to rationalize the conclusion that violence should be used after the conclusion was already implictly embraced. But Stevie isn't drawn to wrestle with the a theory of what ought to be the limits of the State or of the use of violence:

The police aren’t for that, observed Mrs Verloc cursorily, hurrying on her way.

Stevie’s face lengthened considerably. He was thinking. The more intense his thinking, the slacker was the droop of his lower jaw.[2]

And it was with an aspect of hopeless vacancy that he gave up his intellectual enterprise.

Not for that? he mumbled, resigned but surprised. Not for that? He had formed for himself an ideal conception of the metropolitan police as a sort of benevolent institution for the suppression of evil. The notion of benevolence especially was very closely associated with his sense of the power of the men in blue. He had liked all police constables tenderly, with a guileless trustfulness. And he was pained. He was irritated, too, by a suspicion of duplicity in the members of the force. For Stevie was frank and as open as the day himself. What did they mean by pretending then? Unlike his sister, who put her trust in face values, he wished to go to the bottom of the matter. He carried on his inquiry by means of an angry challenge.

What for are they then, Winn? What are they for? Tell me.

Winnie disliked controversy. But fearing most a fit of black depression consequent on Stevie missing his mother very much at first, she did not altogether decline the discussion. Guiltless of all irony, she answered yet in a form which was not perhaps unnatural in the wife of Mr Verloc, Delegate of the Central Red Committee, personal friend of certain anarchists, and a votary of social revolution.

Don’t you know what the police are for, Stevie? They are there so that them as have nothing shouldn’t take anything away from them who have.

She avoided using the verb to steal, because it always made her brother uncomfortable. For Stevie was delicately honest. Certain simple principles had been instilled into him so anxiously (on account of his queerness) that the mere names of certain transgressions filled him with horror. He had been always easily impressed by speeches. He was impressed and startled now, and his intelligence was very alert.

What? he asked at once anxiously. Not even if they were hungry? Mustn’t they?

The two had paused in their walk.

Not if they were ever so, said Mrs Verloc, with the equanimity of a person untroubled by the problem of the distribution of wealth, and exploring the perspective of the roadway for an omnibus of the right colour. Certainly not. But what’s the use of talking about all that? You aren’t ever hungry.

Although it is plainly explained that Winnie is not really out to express a Machiavellian theory of the state, she has done so. Actually, many people from many otherwise very different ideologies would embrace this theory of what the State actually does; many anarchists (and not just left-wing anarchists) would insist that the State is at best unnecessary to all but those who would use to effect or to sustain an unjust distribution of economic power. But, in Stevie's case, in a matter of minutes he's invented state socialism, and then had his statism but not his socialism contradicted, and so heads down a path to left-wing anarchism. Someone else will later help him further down that path.

[1] The poor driver has taken his meager pay not home to his family, but to a pub. Earlier, it is revealed that a scrub-woman frequently plays upon Stevie's desire to help her and her family, only to spend on alcohol the money that he gives to her. Perhaps Conrad was inclined to believe that Work is the curse of the drinking classes. or perhaps he meant no more than to emphasize Stevie's gullibility. In any case, the interpretation is separable from what I seek principally to note.

[2] Note that Conrad has written Stevie as quite literally a slack-jawed fool.

Norman Rockwell's Americans

Monday, 13 December 2010

A confluence of events, including particularly a recent entry at Grantbridge Street, brought me to a new reälization about Norman Rockwell's great masterpiece,

The point has been thoroughly belabored that Rockwell's recurring theme was a vision of America. I want to draw attention to the specific that this vision of America isn't much of amber waves of grain or of redwoods; it is of people; his recurring theme was Americans — a sort of people — as he saw them. In image after image, Rockwell painted Americans. [image of burly female riveter] [image of returning soldier being greeted in tenement neighborhood] [image of police officer, small boy with bindle, and short-order cook at counter] It would be a mistake to say that these were Americans as Rockwell wished them to be. Rather, these are people as Rockwell conceptualized Americans. He does not generally make them pretty; they are apt to have craggy or slightly comical faces, to be noticeably scrawny or chubby rather than athletic in appearance. But there is an underlying idealization here. It is not one of place; to be an American is neither to be within nor to be from a region; the concept of American here is more akin to one of culture, but there's a better term for what it really is.

With his having made all of these images of Americans, to be painted by Rockwell was to be depicted as an American. When Rockwell painted Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, he painted three Americans. [image of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, being murdered] Indeed, for Rockwell, these three must have been very American, because here to be an American is to embrace an ethos. Americanism is an ethos.

The viewer sees only the shadows of the killers. It could be argued that Rockwell didn't know how the killers looked, but he could have dressed them in white sheets. It could be noted that they seem more menacing in this way, and perhaps Rockwell wanted that effect. But the main reason that they are out-of-frame is because Rockwell painted Americans.

Romance noir

Saturday, 31 July 2010

A confluence of recent events provoked me to acquire and watch a copy of the Fox Film Noir DVD of Laura (1944). [Still image showing portrait of Laura Hunt in background] Included on the disc are some commentary from David Raksin (who scored the film), from film professor Jeanine Basinger, and from historian Rudy Behlmer. Some of these comments add real value, but I was unhappy about things that the commentaries missed, and am thus provoked to write this entry.

Most useful discussion of this film entails some spoilers, and will further presume familiarity with the film. Behlmer strongly urges his listeners to have watched the film with its ordinary soundtrack before listening to his comments. Similarly, I suggest that, if you haven't watched Laura, you stop reading this entry right after I give you just one piece of advice.

That advice is that, while you watch Laura, you dismiss if you can the lyrics that Johnny Mercer later wrote for the theme melody, which impose a new significance to the melody that it wouldn't have had when the film was first made and shown. The melody actually figures within the story (at least in a minor way), and within the story is not about Laura. (By all means, recall and enjoy the Mercer lyrics after watching.)

(Here Be Spoilers!)