Posts Tagged ‘the bible’

Schizophrenia: or, Five Unrelated Links


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Thursday, September 9, 2010


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1. New Richard Sala site.

2. The kind of readers who frequent this site have probably already seen this, but if not, you really should check out Daniel Raeburn’s website. Last week, he posted free pdfs of all four issues of The Imp, which includes an unfairly large proportion of the best and most insightful comics criticism of the last fifteen years. This is essential reading.

3. New Matthew Thurber site.

4. David Bordwell delivers a typically meaty essay on the downsides of episodic, serialized entertainment, focusing mainly on the prime delivery method for the highest grade junk of this type: television.

Having been lured by intriguing people more or less like us, you keep watching. Once you’re committed, however, there is trouble on the horizon. There are two possible outcomes. The series keeps up its quality and maintains your loyalty and offers you years of enjoyment. Then it is canceled. This is outrageous. You have lost some friends. Alternatively, the series declines in quality, and this makes you unhappy. You may drift away. Either way, your devotion has been spit upon.

It’s true that there is a third possibility. You might die before the series ends. How comforting is that?

With film you’re in and you’re out and you go on with your life. TV is like a long relationship that ends abruptly or wistfully. One way or another, TV will break your heart.

Incidentally, along the way, he quotes the late, great Gilbert Seldes (best known to funny-page aficionados for his seminal essay on Krazy Kat).

But the main interest here for comics readers, or course, is that, at least here in America, their medium of choice is the second most popular purveyor of long-lived serial entertainment. Though with comics the heart-breaking potential is even greater. From Blondie and Gasoline Alley to Batman and Spider-Man, a surprising number of ancient titles are still around, potentially offering a lifetime of fiction featuring the exact same characters. (That the recent cancellations of strips such as Cathy and Little Orphan Annie have received so much attention is testament to how rarely such cash cows are allowed to expire.)

It is sometimes fun to wonder what it might be like if television was run like the comics industry — would The Beverly Hillbillies still be on the air, with its fifth cast, rei-magined to exude a “grim and gritty” atmosphere? I guess Dallas was sort of like that… And then there’s Star Trek. And 90210. Ah, maybe this isn’t so much fun to think about after all. The Bordwell essay’s still worthwhile.


5. Finally, I like it when Sammy Harkham writes about comics. He does it too rarely. Last month, he published a short but sweet post on artist and beermonger Ron Regé. This led to an interesting exchange in the comments about the practice of constructing comics stories out of a collection of smaller, interconnected strips (e.g. Ice Haven, much of David Heatley’s work, Wimbledon Green). One particular anonymous commenter was very much against the practice, considering it a trendy cheat, doomed to appear as dated in the future as ’90s-era CGI “morphing” does today (my analogy, not his/hers).

Derik Badman draws attention to two previous posts worth reading on the subject, written by Charles Hatfield and Craig Fischer.

I end up on the boring but correctly neutral side of another anonymous commenter in that thread—”Who cares if it is a trendo or a gimmick?”—but I really do enjoy the effect of this kind of comics “mosaic” when it’s done right. And generally, even when an artistic technique is considered newfangled, gimmicky, or showoffy, there’s a good chance it has actually been around for a long time. (See Steven Moore’s recent The Novel: An Alternate History, for an entertaining recounting of a few millennia worth of examples of literary postmodernism, all somehow predating capital-M Modernism by centuries.) And this same phenomenon seems to be true in this discussion as well. One name in particular that doesn’t seem to be coming up yet (unless I missed it) is John Stanley. In fact, a big part of the enjoyment for me of reading his Melvin Monster and (especially) Thirteen Going on Eighteen books has come from the inventive and surprising ways in which he builds his issues through combining standalone stories. I am sure there are many more (and better) examples of pre-’90s and ’00s cartoonists doing this kind of thing, but my main point is simply that nothing new exists under the sun, a clichéd insight that’s been repeated by about a million morons like myself, probably since well before it appeared in Ecclesiastes. Let me say it once more for old time’s sake.

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Altering Alter: Crumb & the Translator


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Sunday, September 13, 2009


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As I noted in my Bookforum review, one way to appreciate the awe-inspiring craftsmanship of Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated is to pay attention to his handling of the translation. Crumb relied heavily on Robert Alter’s 1996 translation, a very interesting choice. A major scholar of Hebrew, Alter has been much influenced by Walter Benjamin’s thinking about translation. Benjamin argued that translators should not try to create a false illusion of fluency but rather should try to act as a bridge to the original language, bringing along some of the strangeness of an alien syntax and diction. Following Benjamin’s program, Alter has given us a Genesis that sometimes feels very foreign, hardly English at all but rather an English/ancient Hebrew hybrid. (Parts of the book are available here, via Google books).

Crumb followed Alter not blindly but with care. Occasionally the cartoonist reverted to the more sonorous and familiar language of the King James translation. At other times, he simplified or straightened out Alter’s word. Below some passages from Alter’s translations set next to Crumb’s reworking, along with some notes. I think the comparison will be of interest to many people: Bible buffs, translations junkies, and Crumbites.

Genesis 7:11

Alter: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day,

All the wellsprings of the great deep burst
and the casements of the heavens were opened.”

Crumb: “In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day, all the wellsprings of the great deep burst and the windows of the heavens were opened.”

“Windows” is simpler and more traditional than “casements” (which seems far too refined for an ancient text). Alter occasionally makes some highly charged passages into poems, whereas Crumb leaves everything as prose.

Genesis 12:5

Alter: “And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew and all the goods they had gotten and the folk they had bought in Haran, and they set out on the way to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.”

Crumb: “And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew and all the goods they had gotten and the people they had bought in Haran, and they set out on the way to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.”

“People” is a blunter term for slaves than “folk.” Visually, Crumb’s slaves look fairly miserable as well. Alter’s comments on slavery occasionally have an unfortunate note of whitewashing apologetics. See in particular his footnote on this very passage: “Slavery was a common institution throughout the ancient Near East. As subsequent stories in Genesis make clear, this was not the sort of chattel slavery later practiced in North America. These slaves had certain limited rights, could be given great responsibility, and were not thought to lose their personhood.” This may well be true, but ancient slavery was still very cruel, as Crumb brings out in his art.

Genesis 16:5

Alter: “And Sarai said to Abram, ‘This outrage against me is because of you! I myself put my slavegirl in your embrace and when she saw she had conceived, I became slight in her eyes.”

Crumb: “And Sarai said to Abram, ‘This outrage against me is because of you! I myself put my handmaiden in your lap and when she saw she had conceived, I’ve become diminished in her eyes!”

“Lap” is more visually suggestive than “embrace”. Throughout, Crumb describes Hagar as a “handmaiden” rather than “slavegirl.” In doing so, he’s following feminist scholar Savina Teubal, who sees Hagar as a major matriarchal figure.

Genesis 19:14

Alter: “And he seemed to be joking to his sons-in-law.”

Crumb: “And he seemed to his sons-in-law as one that mocked.”

Genesis 19:28

Alter: “And he looked out over Sodom and Gomorrah and over all the land of the plain, and he saw and, look, smoke was rising like the smoke from a kiln.”

Crumb: “And he looked out over Sodom and Gomorrah and over all the land of the plain, and he saw and, behold, smoke was rising like the smoke from a kiln!”

Crumb is fairly free in his use of exclamation marks.

Genesis 20:12

Alter: “And, in point of fact, she is my sister, my father’s daughter, though not my mother’s daughter, and she became my wife.”

Crumb: “And, in point of fact, she is my sister, my father’s daughter, though not my mother’s daughter … and she became my wife.”

A very minor change: a comma becomes three dots.

Genesis 25:18

Alter: “In defiance of all his brothers he went down.”

Crumb: “In the face of all his kin he went down.”

Genesis 25:23

Alter: “And the Lord said to her:
‘Two nations – in your womb,
two peoples from your loins shall issue.
People over people shall prevail,
the elder, the younger’s slave.”

Crumb: “And the Lord said to her… ‘Two nations – in your womb, two peoples from your loins shall issue! One people over the other shall prevail, the elder the younger’s slave.”

Genesis 26:8

Alter: “And it happened, as his time there drew on, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out the window and saw – and there was Isaac playing with Rebekah his wife.”

Crumb: “And it came to pass, when he had been there for some time, that Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out the window and saw … and there was Isaac frolicking with Rebekah, his wife!”

Genesis 30:2

Alter: “Am I instead of God, Who has denied you fruit of the womb?”

Crumb: “So, then, it’s me, not God, who has denied you fruit of the womb!?”

Genesis 33:8

Alter: “What do you mean by all this camp I have met?”

Crumb: “What do you mean by all these droves I met on my way here?”

Genesis 34:1

Alter: “And Dinah, Leah’s daughter, whom she had born to Jacob, went out to go seeing among the daughters of the land.”

Crumb: “And Dinah, Leah’s daughter, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see some of the the daughters of the land.”

“Borne” seems to be a spelling mistake on the part of Crumb. “Went out to go seeing” is awkward, so Crumb turned it into standard English.

Genesis 34:3

Alter: “And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the land, saw her and took her and lay with her and debased her.”

Crumb: “And Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the land, saw her and took her and lay with her and defiled her.”

Genesis 34:7

Alter: “And Jacob’s sons had come in from the field when they heard, and the men were pained and they were very incensed, for he had done a scurrilous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, such as ought not be done.”

Crumb: “And Jacob’s sons came in from the field as soon as they heard, and the men were pained, and they were highly incensed, for he had done a despicable thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done.”

Crumb’s word choice of “despicable” is far superior to Alter’s “scurrilous” which seems a mite too high-toned.

Genesis 34:24

Alter: “And all who sallied forth from the gate of his town listened to Hamor, and to Shechem his son, and every male was circumcised, all who sallied forth from the gate of his town.”

Crumb: “And all who came from the gate of his town listened to Hamor, and to Shechem his son, and every male was circumcised, all who came out of the gate of his town.”

Alter’s “sallied forth” is again too precious.

Genesis 34:27

Alter: “Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the town, for they had defiled their sister.”

Crumb: “The other sons of Jacob came upon the slain and looted the town because their sister had been defiled.”

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The Field to Labour Calls Us


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Thursday, June 11, 2009


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I’ve heard some grumbling from more than a few people about the excerpt of Robert Crumb‘s upcoming version of Genesis that was published in The New Yorker last week (“staid,” “unimaginative,” “overly literal,” etc.). I think those people are wrong. And that they probably haven’t read the original Genesis recently, and don’t remember that the beginning is the most boring part. (Well, except for all the “begats.” But I assume Crumb has a good solution for that.) If the rest of the book is as “literal” as the initial excerpt, it’s going to get very strange, very soon.

I know this is a half-baked idea for a post, but Frank’s starting to get mad at me for being lazy, and fully baked post ideas may not come along for a while. In the meantime, why doesn’t everybody take a shot at telling me why I’m wrong? Am I just a soft touch, being too easy on Crumb? To my mind, he’s earned the benefit of doubt.

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Variety Pack


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Tuesday, March 11, 2008


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1. This old interview with Matt Groening popped up in my RSS reader about a week back, devoid of any context or explanation. I’ve decided to take it as a sign that now is the time for me to declare that — strange as it sounds to say about one of the wealthiest and most-celebrated cartoonists alive — I think Groening’s comics work is highly underrated.

Most episodes still have a few funny moments in them, but The Simpsons lost me as a big fan at least a decade ago. And while I was initially excited by the concept of Futurama, it never hit that sweet spot for me that the first two or three seasons of The Simpsons and many of Groening’s early Life in Hell strips reached on a regular basis. The strips collected in books like Work is Hell, Love is Hell, and School is Hell are not just incredibly funny and insightful, they also display a barely concealed sense of real dread over the human condition. That underlying pain raises the humor above the amusing into something that I find genuinely moving, and even strangely comforting — yeah, sure, life is pointless, but at least I’m not the only one who feels that way. To me, early Groening at his best belongs to the same great tradition as Kafka and Ecclesiastes. (Or at least it’s a small, awkwardly beautiful fish swimming in the same big river.)

2. Incidentally, it occurs to me that with all the endlessly recurring talk about “literary” comics versus “art” comics, if you go by the only definition of literary comics that makes much sense to me (the relative importance and prominence of the words), then Groening and Lynda Barry are two of the most literary cartoonists around. It’s strange that their names never come up in those discussions.

3. Since I’ve written some harsh things about the critic Noah Berlatsky in the past, it seems only right to point out his recent post on Alan Moore, which I think is quite good. I don’t necessarily agree with him in all the particulars, but it’s a really strong, fair, smart piece. For some reason, writing about Moore tends to bring out the best in him.

4. Finally, I don’t think I’ve linked to Charles Hatfield & Craig Fischer’s relatively new comics site yet, but it’s been worth regular stops for a while now. (I probably never would have bought the fascinating Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure comic if I hadn’t read their write-up, so I owe them for that alone.)

Anyway, while I regularly disagree with many of their individual judgments, their writing is unfailingly thoughtful and fair. This week, they took on Frank’s Storeyville. Again, I don’t concur with everything they say about it, but it’s nice to see the book finally getting some real (and overdue) critical attention. (If I didn’t feel constrained by ethics, I’d write more about it myself.) I hope this helps get a good conversation going.

[UPDATE:] 5. & 6.: A Gary Panter interview and Gary Groth on Jules Feiffer.

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Making History


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Monday, July 10, 2006


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In an attempt to beat Dan to the manga-reviewing punch, I recently read the first volume of Path of the Assassin, another ninjas-and-samurai epic from Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, the writer/artist team most famous for the legendary Lone Wolf & Cub series. I read the first four or so volumes of the Lone Wolf series a while back, but eventually got bogged down by the endless sword fights.

It was impressive enough, though, that I decided to give them another chance, especially since this Path of the Assassin series is 1) much shorter, and 2) more directly concerned with ninjas, which I’ve never seen handled in any kind of intelligent way before. (I’m sure Cold Heat will be an exception.)

Maybe ninja stories usually fail because assassins are basically repellent people; I don’t know.

In any case, I liked the first volume of this, though I have to admit much of the feudal politics and gender roles are a little off-putting. I don’t know what Japanese audiences make of this material, but 16th century Japan is almost totally alien to me, which is actually one of the things about it I found most appealing.

In fact, comics seem almost ideally suited as a medium for historical fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter). Unlike in straight prose, the comics artist can immerse the reader directly into the world visually, with unfamiliar clothing, vehicles, and tools depicted accessibly and immediately.

Movies can do this, too, but they aren’t able to easily impart a lot of the factual and contextual information needed without resorting to often clumsy exposition. (“Ever since Custer fell, Butch, the Sioux have been restless.”) Comics, on the other hand, can seamlessly include textual notes, glossaries, maps, et cetera, directly into the story.

Of course there have been many great historical comics. The late, lamented Jack Jackson specialized and excelled in them; and he could always be relied on not to cut out the good parts. Harvey Kurtzman’s period pieces from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat are still considered by many people (including me) to be a high-water mark for the medium.

This obviously isn’t a comprehensive list, but I’m somewhat surprised that more cartoonists haven’t attempted historical work. Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde are at least partly in this vein, but I can’t think of too many other contemporary artists that apply. (Probably the comic book I am most looking forward to is R. Crumb’s adaptation of Genesis, especially after I learned that he was using Robert Alter’s astounding translation and annotation of the Five Books of Moses as a source.) Oh, and I almost forgot Maus! And Tezuka. And Jacques Tardi

Anyway, time to end the rambling. I imagine that the biggest single reason that historical comics aren’t more prevalent is economic: research takes time, and readers aren’t particularly interested. (Jackson didn’t get rich off Comanche Moon, and Kurtzman’s war comics had to be subsidized by more popular EC series like Tales from the Crypt.)

And I guess, like a lot of things that I wish were better about the world of comics, that’s just the way it goes.

UPDATE: The more I think about it, the more period comics occur to me, from Enemy Ace to the World’s Fair sections of Jimmy Corrigan. I don’t know if that supports my post, or hurts it, or both.

UPDATE II: And Louis Riel! Maybe I’m just stupid…

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Sweet Clarity


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Wednesday, June 21, 2006


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Because we got a little off-schedule this week, I’m not going to make the big Shazam reveal until tomorrow (sorry, I know). But since my last post may have come off as a little more strident than I intended, a little brief clarification may be in order.

First, I wrote that only one superheroes-grown-up story has ever worked, but to be fair, I might well have missed something or other. (I’ve never read Rick Veitch‘s Bratpack or its sequels, for example, and for all I know, they’re brilliant. And Alan Moore’s early Miracleman comics worked to at least some extent.) And once you’ve got more than one “exception that proves the rule”, maybe the exceptions don’t actually prove the rule so much as they disprove it. So there’s that.

Second, I also kind of gave the game away when I brought in Ursula K. Le Guin. Once you take away the capes and underwear, there’s really no reason that a story with super-powers can’t be successful (and “adult”). Books ranging from Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination to the New Testament have proved that a super-powered protagonist isn’t necessarily a liability. It’s the costumes that cause most of the problems. (But they’re big problems. Green Arrow yelling, “My ward is a junkie!” is bad all enough on its own, but when he’s dressed like Robin Hood while he’s doing it, it’s all over. Wearing that outfit, reading the 9/11 Commission Report would seem ridiculous.)

That’s all, I think, since I don’t want to get too deep into the nerd weeds. I still think my general point was valid, but consider adding these grains of salt, please.

Unrelated bonus: Since Dan brought up Jerry Lewis comics, here’s a memorable comic book moment that’s been making the internet rounds lately, for those who haven’t already seen it: When Jerry Met Kal-El.

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