Monthly Archive for September, 2012

Goodbye Alice

The Last Cul de Sac, original watercolour


Yesterday, one of the few strips that should give Petey comfort ended. The circumstances of cartoonist Richard Thompson’s decision to do so — health reasons — are heartbreaking. We wish Thompson the best of health and fortune in his future endeavours.

The Week


The week in review

Another great drawing by Raphael is coming up for sale. Like the Female Head, which broke all records when it sold for £29 million in 2009, it’s a so-called auxiliary cartoon for his last great, large-scale work, the Transfiguration (begun 1516, finished after the master’s death in 1520) now in the Vatican. Coming from one of the greatest private collections — accessible to the public — of drawings in the world, that of the Duke of Devonshire, it’s a well-known and justifiably famous drawing. It’s kind of sad that the Duke occasionally sells off his drawings in this way, potentially occluding great work such as this from public view.

It shows the head of one of the apostles, and was probably used as a visual supplement to the drawn cartoon used in the studio to transfer the composition to the panel. Like the Female Head, it shows pounce marks (the little dots along the contours), which one would expect to be evidence that it was transferred off the present sheet, probably to the final panel (coal dust is pounced through little holes, transferring the composition in outline), but the marks do not seem at all to follow the contours of the drawing, which seems to me indication that an outline design was transferred onto the present sheet and then reworked into the drawing we see.

Not having seen the drawing in the flesh, I’m far from certain about this, and I haven’t consulted the literature either, so I may just be talking nonsense here. I just find the drawing exciting, with its smoky chiaroscuro suggesting strong light falling from the right, picking out the cranial features and accentuating the melancholy aspect of the young man. Lips parsed, tussled hair, young beard, intelligent but passive.

The drawing’s estimated price of between £10-15 million reflects the kind of drawing we’re dealing with here: a large, highly finished piece by one of the defining artists of the Western tradition — the kind of work that only comes up for sale extremely rarely, despite what the 2009 sale would seem to indicate. One question is whether it’ll reach the same, frankly unbelievable price that sheet fetched. Judging by quality I think it should: it appears to me a more finely rendered and subtly beautiful drawing than the Female Head, which is beautiful but slightly rote by Raphael’s standards. This is the same type of drawing, but shows more invention and, I think, carries a greater emotional charge.

Anyway, let’s see what happens at the sale. I hope the Getty or some other wealthy public institution steps in.

Links:

  • Salman Rushdie on the repressive culture of offense and fear. With the release of his memoirs coinciding fortuitously with the tragic international flare-up of unrest related to that idiotic video on the prophet Muhammad, Danish TV programme Deadline broadcast this interview with the author, recorded the week before. Also: read Bill Keller on Rushdie and the controversy.
  • The anniversary of hate at the Hooded Utilitarian continued this week, with some really good pieces, led by Isaac Butler’s savage critique of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, which also sparked fascinating discussion. Craig Fischer’s piece on David Small’s Stitches was also good. Plus it was nice to see the inimitable Tom Crippen writing again.
  • Henry Sørensen interviewing Morten Søndergård on fifty years of Spider-Man. This now completed extended dialogue is a really great read, but is unfortunately only available in Danish. But do check it out if you can read the language, part one, two, three. Totally unrelated: Xavier Guilbert’s interview with Anders Nilsen is in English, and good!
  • Raphael’s Portrait of Lorenzo de’Medici

    Raphael’s Portrait of Lorenzo de’Medici
    raphael_lorenzo_feature.jpg
    The Metabunker summarizes the problems of attribution surrounding the Raphael portrait sold at Christie’s in 2007

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    Hammershøi cubed


    Yesterday’s sale at Bruun Rasmussen here in Copenhagen featured (for the second time) an extraordinary painting by Vilhelm Hammershøi. Reproduced above, it is a small, rather atypical painting, but one that adds to the picture of just how original and modern painter he was. I was happy to learn that it was acquired for a public collection. Continue reading ‘Hammershøi cubed’

    The Week

    The week in review

    Not much to report from this angle this week, apart from the fact that the Jewish new year reminds me that I’ve been back in the ole home country for over a year now. Last year’s Rosh Hashannah kind of marked a fresh return to new beginnings here and it’s been a great ride since then, one of the best years I’ve had. Thanks to everybody taking part.

    Links!

  • I would like to supplement this week’s welcome announcement that Fantagraphics is going to publish Ed Piskor’s online comic The Hip Hop Family Tree with this interview with Piskor, conducted by my man PTA on said piece of edutainment.
  • Also in comics, the Hooded Utilitarian’s five-year Anniversary of Hate! has brought some good criticism to the table. I liked in particular Steven Grant’s essay on bad comics and why the field still makes sense as a vocation. Plus! HU has reprinted Ng Suat Tong’s notorious Comics Journal essay from 2003 on why the EC New Trend comics are among the most overrated in the canon, supplemented by a back-and-forth on the issue with R. Fiore.
  • Other (more!) comics-related links: Slavoj Žižek on The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Spurgeon on Dave Sim’s recent, depressing letter of resignation, Chris Ware on display in New York.
  • Meanwhile in hip hop, I really enjoyed what El-P had to say about Nas’ classic debut album Illmatic (1993) in this otherwise rather dumb list of best albums of the nineties, and I totally dug this video of a young Kanye West rapping with his mom.
  • L’Shana Tova!

    Comics of the Decade: Gary Panter’s Jimbo in Purgatory


    This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

    Thus the unfacts, did we posses them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.

    – James Joyce

    In the twelfth canto of Purgatorio, the last step on the way before Dante can put behind him the burden of pride and rise up to the second terrace of Mount Purgatory, he stumbles — stooped and strained by sin — on an enormous comic, cut into the rocky pavement.

    The comic tells the story of vanity and presumption from the dawn of time to the Biblical era. He is thus given the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the story of Niobe, Queen of Thebes, whose aggrandizement of her seven children over the goddess Leto’s two, lost them to the arrows of the gods and was transformed into a statue. Or the tale of the weaver Arachne who was punished for besting Pallas Athena with her art had to spend the rest of her life spinning webs as a spider. Or the tale of the Syrian warlord Holophernes who gave himself over to the murderous hands of the avenging Israelite Judith, or – not the least – the story of King Nimrod of Babel left broken on the plain of Shinar, his aspirations struck down in bitter confusion of language.

    Gary Panter’s commentary track in comics, Jimbo in Purgatory, substitutes a diagonally placed tapestry of fifties B-movie posters for Dante’s comic. Standing in for the poet is his recurrent, Candide-like muscle man Jimbo, whose origins trace back to the early seventies, while Dante’s guide on the mountain, the Roman poet Virgil, is replaced by Jimbo’s parole officer, the box-shaped robot Valise. The angel who descends on them from the mountain and tells them about the transience of all life appears here in the form of the robot woman from Fritz Lang’s SF parable Metropolis (1927).

    Panter’s version of the conversation is a fragmented jumble to Dante’s moving reflection on human worth. An exchange of classic nonsense and raunchy limericks stitched to samples from Boccaccio, Chaucer and Milton. The result is a poetic confusion of meaning in which twentieth-century pop artifacts are tried in the court of the classics, read in eclectic zigzag to engage only halfway tongue-in-cheek the questions raised by the source material. Continue reading ‘Comics of the Decade: Gary Panter’s Jimbo in Purgatory’

    The Week

    “The Supreme Court is saying that campaign spending is a matter of free speech, but it has set up a situation where the more money you have the more speech you can buy. That’s a threatening concept for democracy. If your party serves the powerful and well-funded interests, and there’s no limit to what you can spend, you have a permanent, structural advantage. We’re averaging fifty-dollar checks in our campaign, and trying to ward off these seven- or even eight-figure checks on the other side. That disparity is pretty striking, and so are the implications. In many ways, we’re back in the Gilded Age. We have robber barons buying the government.”

    David Axelrod

    The week in review

    Watching (selected parts of) the Republican National Convention this past week has accentuated the distinct feeling that we have been witnessing a gradual dismantling of democracy in America over the past fifteen years or so. The nadir so far was still the stolen election in 2000, closely followed by the disgraceful first election of George W. Bush on the backs of a vulnerable minority in 2004. However, the political deadlock in Congress for the past four years has been a dismaying spectacle to say the least, as has the Obama administration’s utter failure to correct the political abuses of its predecessors in its foreign policy.

    And now we’re getting myth-making on a grand scale, with bald-faced lying and deception the order of the day for the Republican candidacy. Romney seems to be the ultimate candidate of this particular moment in time. Entirely malleable in his effort to reach the majority that will win him the election, he is now running along with a right-wing ideologue whose approach to facts as something equally malleable was made apparent in his address on Wednesday. And with the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2010, the stage is set not only for the mass propagation of these lies, but the further marginalization of the greater electorate.

    I know, politicians have always lied and American politics have long been dependent on special interest, it just seems to me that we are witnessing an accelerated decline these years. For all its disappointment, the Obama administration have achieved — or seemed to achieve — a few important victories for democracy, from ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to fledgling universal health care, but overall the prospects that the fundamental problems of the system by which they rule, starting with its dependence on big money, will be solved are bleaker than ever. This election will not even carry the entertainment value of the last one, it’ll just be depressing, but it will also be a real test of a severely tested democratic system.

    Links:

  • Jane Meyer at the New Yorker has written about the Obama administration’s relationship to its donors and the general dependence of American politicians on same, past Citizens United. Tying into this, this 2008 profile of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, one of Romney’s chief donors, is an illuminating read. Last, but not least, Matt Taibbi has written about Romney’s time at Bain Capital at Roling Stone.
  • Comics: R. Fiore on The Dark Knight Rises, Craig Fischer on Jack Kirby, Derik Badman on comics poetry, Dan Nadel on Mazzucchelli and Miller, Henry Sørensen and Morten Søndergård on fifty years of Spider-Man (Danish alert!).
  • Reads: David B.

    From "Les Faux visages"


    David B. has long been suffering from that unforgiving problem of having defined his career with an early masterpiece. His L’Ascension du haut mal, or Epileptic, which was originally published 1996-2003, remains one of the most stirring and complex works ever created in comics, a high watermark of autobiographical cartooning and a singular artistic vision. Needless to say, following up a book like that is hard. And it’s even harder when its focus is the great tragedy in one’s life, the narrative around which your identity is constructed. In comics, it is what one may call the “Maus conundrum.”

    In contrast to Art Spiegelman who has created very little of note — indeed very little at all — since his masterpiece, David B. has remained prolific. Most of his work is strong, but none of it quite measures up. Among the most interesting, post-L’Ascension, are its addenda in Babel (2004-2006), which is brilliant in passages, but remain addenda. The dream comics in Les Complots nocturnes (2005) and the recent part imaginary diary, Journal d’Italie (2010), similarly displays flashes of brilliance and suggest fruitful new directions, but everything remains tentative, as if the foundational work’s center of gravity maintains its smothering hold. Continue reading ‘Reads: David B.’