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

    GreatgraphicnovelsLast 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

    NewImageAn 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. He thinks too much. Seth drew himself as the protagonist and we are privy to his thoughts (this book is written in the first person). Clearly nostalgic for the comfortable little things of his childhood, he doesn’t like change. Change depresses him. He likes the worn-down look of old things. He is annoyed by change and he is annoyed by people. He lets us know exactly how he feels. Seth’s memories of childhood moments are “sealed in amber” like his mom’s house and feel “safe” to him like the cardboard boxes he used to crawl in as a kid.

    As I sit there reading this book (on my front porch under the butternut tree), I flash back to huge stacks of dog-eared Archie and Little Lulu comics. I see myself rocking back and forth on my grandmother’s porch swing, sucking on hard candies and reading those comics. Every so often, I would squint outside at my grandfather, working in his sunny rose garden. Life was good. I never imagined that the scene would ever change or that the house would one day be sold. Golden memories “sealed in amber,” as Seth would say.


  • 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 parkwayUtopia 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. Instead, Cornell spent hours collecting bits of ephemera into files. He constructed romantic boxes dedicated to the objects of his affection (from Fanny Cerrito to Lauren Bacall). He poured all of his frustrations into his art. Sometimes he presented the boxes to them as gifts.

    Perhaps he had a case of arrested development. His father died suddenly when he was only 13 and, after that, he felt pressingly obligated to become the man of his family. For most of his life, he lived with his widowed mother and he took care of his brother, Robert, who was born with severe cerebral palsy. In some ways, he was a little bit like a martyr, a saint or a monk. He joined the Christian Science church at 21 and he never took an art class. His mother criticized him day and night.

    It wasn’t until his late 20s, while holding down a full-time job as a textile salesman, that he began to make collages and boxes from various souvenirs that he collected. He was inspired by Max Ernst’s collage novel of 1929 (La Femme 100 Têtes) and Marcel Duchamp’s found objects.


  • Mind Blowing Movies: Ghost World (2001), by Amy Crehore

    Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. — Mark

    Ghost World, A Movie That Knocked My Socks Off, by Amy Crehore

    [Video Link] It starts out with an absolutely unforgettable and insane music video of an East Indian dance number from a 1965 Bollywood production (Gumnaam). A young teenager named Enid rocks out wickedly in front of a television set, wearing a cap and gown in a bedroom crammed with clothes and familiar-looking junk.

    I knew it was going to be good, but I had no idea that the movie Ghost World (2001) would bathe me in such an uncanny sense of deja vu from start to finish. The characters are so real and familiar that they could have been based on my friends and me.

    Director Terry Zwigoff had previously spent almost a decade making a documentary about his friend R. Crumb, the legendary comic artist. Crumb (1994) had been a grueling project, but the film made a big splash when it came out and he was rewarded with new opportunities.

    In 2001, his first full-length fictional film was released and I was curious to see it. It is based on an earlier Daniel Clowes' comic called Ghost World, which features two teenage girl characters, Enid and Rebecca. The collaboration between Zwigoff and Clowes for the movie proved to be immensely fruitful with each adding his own personal nuances to the adapted screenplay.