Posts Tagged ‘John Updike’

Cartoonists that Never Were: Friedrich Engels


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Tuesday, February 15, 2011


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A cartoon of Frederick William IV and the Prussian bourgeoisie drawn by F. Engels, 1849.

In recent years, there has been a surge of critical interest in the fact that many major writers were also, on the side at least, doodlers and drawers. Off the top of my head, such writers include Thackeray, Kipling, Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, John Updike and Guy Davenport. There are many critical insights to be gained by thinking of these writers as “cartoonist manqués” (to borrow a phrase from Updike). Thanks to Kent Worcester we can add another notable name to the list: Friedrich Engels, the co-creator of historical materialism. For those not familiar with him, Engels was to Karl Marx what Gerhard has been to Dave Sim. Engels was also a lifelong doodler and sketcher. Many of his letters are filled with drawings. He had an excellent sense of draughtsmanship. I would love to see someone familiar to Engels life and thought do an analysis of his drawings. The website www.marxists.org has a vast collection of Engels’ letters, sometimes including the drawings that accompanied them For a sample, page, see here. I’ve posted a few of Engels’ drawings below.

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Comics Enriched Their Lives! #13


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Thursday, August 20, 2009


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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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Comics Enriched Their Lives! #11


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Friday, January 30, 2009


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Two more, by request:

CUT THE UNFUNNY COMICS, NOT ‘SPIDERMAN’

I can’t believe that you’re cutting “Spiderman” — the only comic strip in the Globe, except for “Doonesbury” half the time, worth reading. Do think again in making way for what sounds like one more jejune set of unfunny panels pitched at the nonexistent (or at least nonreading) X-generation.

And what ever happened to “Mac Divot” — the most helpful set of golf tips I ever read?

JOHN UPDIKE
Beverly Farms

—From a 1994 letter to the editor of the Boston Globe.

And:

The encounter, when all was said and done, had been no stranger than those in ‘Krazy Kat,’ which had given me my first idea of the American desert.

—John Updike, in “A Desert Encounter,”
from the October 20, 2008 issue of The New Yorker.

I remember really enjoying reading the Spider-Man comic strip in the early ’90s, but mostly in a kind of stupefied amazement at the lengths it took to stretch out a single plot point from Monday to Saturday (presumably so Sunday-only readers wouldn’t get lost). I wonder what Updike saw in it, assuming his letter wasn’t a put-on. I was just a stupid kid at the time, so maybe I was missing something…

[Thanks, Jeet.]

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This is Unseemly #2


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008


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Everyone and his sister has already linked to this profile of Paul Pope in the Wall Street Journal.

And I still agree with John Updike’s rule for critics: “Review the book, not the reputation.”

But man, I have to say this makes me wish I’d been a little harder on Heavy Liquid last month.

This does not reflect well on me, I know.

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