Friday, September 08, 2006

Soft in the middle

I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard
--- Paul Simon, "You Can Call Me Al"

A few days ago 74 asked me, "How much of popular and high culture do you think you first encountered in cartoons?" Now, 74 and I are lucky to have grown up with the classic Warner Brothers cartoons --- Bugs, Daffy, Elmer et al. So naturally I replied, "A great deal." It's hard to determine exactly how much, because after you mature and encounter the actual things that were parodied and lampooned, you can forget there was once a time in which they were not familiar. But I'm sure that I saw parodies of Peter Lorre, Of Mice And Men ("I will hug him and squeeze him..."), Humphrey Bogart, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby, Liberace ("I wish my brother George was here," gushed Bugs Bunny, at a piano) Buck Rogers, Sherlock Holmes, and many, many more, before I had ever seen a frame of their films, read a page of their exploits, heard a note of their music. And music! Warner Brothers cartoons exposed me to opera and classical music that I never would have heard otherwise.

And culture also includes history. As a very young child, I absorbed references to World War II, the Depression, and Vaudeville through Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

Honestly, in a lot of ways those old cartoons were the bedrock of my education and my outlook. A lot of people my age today don't have any sense of the past or of history. Not just dry academic history, but all the things that make up our inherited culture: the Beatles, Prince Valiant, Jimmy Stewart, etc. I'm not saying that I'm an expert on Our Glorious Heritage --- far from it --- but I've kept my eyes and mind open when considering the relics of America's past, and I think that's in large part because I was so influenced by those old Warner Brothers cartoons.

I wonder if the cartoons of today use the culture of two generations ago as a springboard for parodies and jokes? And if so, will tomorrow's adults care about their past?


Here are the graphic novels I bought since my last purchase of the (boneheaded) Fantastic Four collection for four bucks.

9/1 - Hellblazer: Haunted - $10

Warren Ellis does a straightforward revenge story. As I dig stories about truly bad guys getting their comeuppance, I was a little disappointed with this. I mean, it was okay, but it didn't exactly have me cheering on the angel of rough justice, as, say, Lawrence Block does in his Matt Scudder novels. Ellis does write convincingly about London's seedy side, though.

9/4 - The Heart Of the Beast - $4

Never heard of the title, author or illustrator, but it has nice art and was four bucks. I was pleased with it; writer Dean Motter updates the Frankenstein myth, which is right up my alley. I love retellings of classic works.

9/4 - Violent Cases - $4

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean tell a story about Al Capone's osteopath. Huh? Pretty damn good, actually. Flashbacks and multiple layers and terrific art.

9/4 - Spirit Jam - $4

Fifty comics writers and illustrators get together and try to honor Will Eisner's Spirit, but none of them are fit to shine Will Eisner's shoes and they end up creating a big stupid mess that is the exact opposite of a loving tribute. I had to reread some Spirit archives to get past this travesty.

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