Comics Enriched Their Lives! #13


Thursday, August 20, 2009

I’ve written on a number of occasions about John Updike’s life-long love affair with comics, evidence of which can be found throughout his fiction, poetry and essays. (For examples, see here, here, and here). But one last bit of poetry is worth dwelling on. One of Updike’s final literary works, which he was still composing just a month before he died earlier this January, was the long poem “Endpoint” (now included in the collection Endpoint and Other Poems). A sequel to his earlier poem “Midpoint” (which reflected on his life at middle age), “Endpoint” looks back on Updike’s earthly existence and career.

References to comics are scattered throughout “Endpoint”. On his birthday in 2004, under the harsh sun in Tucson, Arizona, Updike sees a “prickly pair”. This leads him to think back to Mickey Mouse and his childhood: “The prickly pear/has ears like Mickey Mouse, my first love.” Chain association drudges up the following memory:

To copy comic strips, stretched prone
upon the musty carpet — Mickey’s ears,
the curl in Donald’s bill, the bulbous nose
of Barney Google, Captain Easy’s squint —
what bliss! The paper creatures loved me back
and in the corner of my eye, my blind
grandfather’s black shoes jiggled when he sang.

A little later, Updike recalls:

A small-town Lutheran tot, I fell in love
with comic strips, Benday, and talk balloons.
The daily paper brought us headlined war
and labor strife; I passed them in route
to the funnies section, where no one died
or even, saving Chic Young’s Blondie, aged.

A bit further on, Updike ponders how his youth was saturated with the mass media, which set him and his peers apart from their “elders”:

Signals beyond their [our elders’] ken transported us —
Jack Benny’s stately pauses, Errol Flynn’s
half-smile, the songs we learned to smoke to, ads
in magazines called slicks, the comic strips,
realer than real, a Paradise if
we held our breaths, we could ascend to, free.

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2 Responses to “Comics Enriched Their Lives! #13”
  1. T. Hodler says:

    Until recently, I had a childish, "Don't make me eat my spinach!"-style aversion to Updike, but your recurring advocacy for his writing helped spur me into giving him another shot. I am grateful to you for that. THE POORHOUSE FAIR is astounding.

  2. Marc says:

    You're probably already aware of this, but there's an excellent essay by Updike about his love of comics in that McSweeney's anthology from a few years ago. There's even a few drawings he did as well.

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