Great Graphic Novels: It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, by Seth

Last month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) -- Mark

It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, by Seth

An old fashioned looking guy (wearing a vintage overcoat, a hat and a pair of round eyeglasses) weaves his way through the snow to a second-hand bookshop in Ontario. He is obsessed with comic books, gag cartoons and newspaper strips of the past. Everything he does reminds him of situations and characters conjured up by Charles Schultz, Dr. Seuss, Hergé and other classic cartoonists. Fantasy merges with reality. The past merges with the present. Art merges with life. This artist can’t help himself. He collects the good old stuff.

It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken by Seth (a.k.a. Gregory Gallant) is dedicated to his mom Violet who repeated those words often. She didn’t invent the phrase; it has been around for a while. In fact, artist Gene Byrnes drew a cartoon called It's a Great Life If You Don't Weaken from 1915 to 1919 for the New York Evening Telegram and the phrase was a rallying cry for American soldiers during the first World War.

The title of the book has an air of melancholy about it, as does the main character’s habit of mulling over things. Read the rest

Enthralling Books: Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, by Deborah Solomon

This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon

A gaunt-looking man is sitting at his mother’s kitchen table in Flushing, NY. It is nighttime and everyone else in the house is asleep. He is meticulously cutting out a photo-copied engraving of a long-dead ballerina with small scissors. Later, he carefully arranges a few small objects inside of a homemade wooden box. On the chair beside him sits a huge plate of jelly donuts. He shoves a donut into his mouth, wipes his hands with a dish towel and keeps on doing his thing. The oven is on, but he is shivering. The man is Joseph Cornell, famous American artist and insatiable lover of sweets.

Joseph Cornell, who lived from 1903 until 1972, was a huge fan of female opera stars, poets, ballerinas and actresses. He made friends with them, he longed for them, and he stared at them, but he never acted out his fantasies. Read the rest

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