Law and Conversation

September 29, 2011

The fascinating history of comic books

The other day I posted about Banned Books Week here in the US. In the mid-20th century there was a powerful movement against comic books in this country, complete with public burnings. I’ve noticed, though, that comic books don’t usually rate mentions during Banned Books Week. Indeed, though I’ve always loved comics, until just a few years ago, when I happened to be listening to podcasts reviewing David Hajdu’s “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America,” I had no idea about that interesting and appalling part of US history.

Jeet Heer’s article in Slate, “The Caped Crusader: Frederic Wertham and the campaign against comic books,” reminds me that I’ve been meaning to read Hajdu’s book for some time and ought to move it up on my list. Now that I know that Wertham and his partisans succeeded in whipping even Congress up into a frenzy over comic books, I understand why, when I was a child a couple of decades later, my parents didn’t want me to tell anyone I had my own subscription to MAD magazine. But Heer’s nuanced treatment of Wertham, which I haven’t seen elsewhere, also reminds us that many comics of that period contained story lines and imagery that even those of us who oppose banning books would find shocking and repugnant today.

I mentioned Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” a novelization of the mid-20th century’s comic book age, in my last post. The fictional storyline of Chabon’s novel reminded me strongly of longtime MAD magazine artist Al Jaffee’s real life story, which Mary Lou Weisman tells in collaboration with her subject in “Al Jaffee’s Mad Life.” (What, you don’t remember which cartoons Jaffee drew? He invented the brilliant Fold-Ins back in 1964; NOW do you remember?) You can read more about Jaffee and Weisman’s book, including the entire prologue, complete with some of Jaffee’s wonderful illustrations, on HEEB’s website.

To summarize, here are three reading recommendations for books about the fascinating history of comic books:

1) The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, by David Hajdu

2) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

3) Al Jaffee’s Mad Life, by Mary Lou Weisman

As always, I’d love to hear other recommendations for further reading in the comments.

UPDATED: Neatorama has a great post on the history of comic books. Hat tip: Judex Jones.

Advertisements

March 4, 2011

RIP Hazel Rowley: Biographer and storyteller

Sad news of Australian biographer Hazel Rowley’s untimely death this week at the age of 59.  Rowley wrote “Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre,” “Franklin and Eleanor:  An Extraordinary Marriage,” and biographies of Australian novelist Christina Stead and American writer Richard Wright.  She knew how to tell a good story, meticulously documented her research, and was a guest on a number of talk show programs, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Book Show.

In one interview on The Book Show, Rowley memorably said she preferred her biographical subjects dead (note that dead people can’t bring actions for libel). Those interested in biography and copyright law should read her article in the winter 2009 issue of The American Scholar on French publishing law and how it affected the publication of her biography of Sartre and Beauvoir in France.

In the meantime, check out communications researcher R.C. Richards‘s Droit Blog, on which he provides thoughts on law, music, politics, business, and other matters. In a lengthy post on August 5, 2010, “Selective Retraction of Inaccurate Statements About Public Figures: A Case Study,” Richards examines a political post on Twitter containing multiple inaccurate statements as a case study in political communication.  Richards’s measured and scholarly tone is a refreshing contrast to the brainless shouting and personal attacks that abound nowadays as purported political discussions and debates.

November 29, 2010

Read This: Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita In Tehran

On Mondays I’ve chosen to highlight a book or a story told in another medium that I really, really want everyone in the world to read.  Today I’m returning to a book I’ve referenced in several other posts.

As I was thinking over the books I’ve read this year, my husband wondered which I thought was the best.  It took me only a few seconds to decide:  “Reading Lolita In Tehran,” by Azar Nafisi, I answered.

In her memoir, which focuses on her life as a literature professor during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979, Nafisi writes of the meaning she found in literature, particularly literature written in English, and provides an illuminating perspective on why totalitarian governments such as Iran’s, and ideologues everywhere, typically focus on controlling and suppressing artistic expression:

“One of the most wonderful things about ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is the variety of voices it embodies.  There are so many different forms of dialogue:  between several people, between two people, internal dialogue and dialogue through letters.  All tensions are created and resolved through dialogue.  Austen’s ability to create such multivocality, such diverse voices and intonations in relation and in confrontation within a cohesive structure, is one of the best examples of the democratic aspect of the novel.  In Austen’s novels, there are spaces for oppositions that do not need to eliminate each other in order to exist.  There is also space—not just space but a necessity—for self-reflection and self-criticism….All we needed was to read and appreciate the cacophony of voices to understand its democratic imperative.  This was where Austen’s danger lay.

“It is not accidental that the most unsympathetic characters in Austen’s novels are those who are incapable of genuine dialogue with others.  They rant.  They lecture.  They scold.  This incapacity for true dialogue implies an incapacity for tolerance, self-reflection and empathy.  Later, in Nabokov, this incapacity takes on monstrous forms in characters such as Humbert Humbert in Lolita and Kinbote in Pale Fire.”

It’s not often that I find a book transformative, but Nafisi’s provided me with a new dimension of appreciation for story and literature.

What’s the best book you’ve read in 2010?

November 17, 2010

Three graphic memoirs worth reading

I mentioned last week that I’ve been on a graphic novel kick on and off this year.  The combination of dialogue, occasional narration, and often stylized cartoons to tell great stories never ceases to fascinate me.

The relatively recently coined term, “graphic novel,” not to mention the Pulitzer Prize that Art Spiegelman won for “Maus” in 1992, is an indication of the respect comic books have gained since I was growing up, when my parents admonished me against revealing that I had a subscription to Mad magazine.

My parents’ admonitions notwithstanding, until recently, I didn’t realize just how controversial comics once were, condemned by no less than Sterling North, the author of Rascal, and Frederic Wortham, the Comic Book VillainDavid Hajdu recounts that interesting and scary history in his nonfiction “The Ten Cent Plague:  The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America,” which is reviewed here and here.  Hajdu discussed his book and the history of comic book persecution and burning in a number of podcast interviews, including this one from Maximum Fun and this one from NPR.

Here are three other graphic memoirs worth reading:

1)  Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, which got me started on graphic novels earlier this year, is the story of the Iranian revolution of 1979 from the vantage point of a young girl in Tehran as she grows from a small child into a rebellious teenager.  Her parents ultimately send her to Vienna for her own safety and for more opportunities.  (Satrapi now lives in France.)  Satrapi also wrote “Embroideries” and “Chicken With Plums,” both of which I enjoyed, but not as much as “Persepolis,” which was made into a movie.  Like “Maus”, “Persepolis” is a two-volume work, and, also like “Maus,” the first volume so enthralled me that once I’d finished it, I RAN to the library to check out the second. 

2)  Stitches:  A Memoir.  David Small’s remarkably nonbitter account of his parents’ dysfunctional marriage and his radiologist father’s unwittingly planting the seeds of cancer by treating his breathing difficulties with massive amounts of x-rays during the 1950s.

3) Fun House, Alison Bechdel‘s memoir of coming to terms with her father’s and her own homosexuality, and with her relationship with her complex father.  Bechdel drew and wrote the comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For” for years; I thought she’d stopped, but her website seems to suggest that she may still be drawing it.

I have more graphic memoirs and novels and books relating to comics on my near-term reading list, including Craig Thompson’s “Blankets” and Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier And Clay.”  With so many great stories, fiction and nonfiction, in graphic novel format, and with even more stories about the history of comic book controversy and censorship, there’s no lack of material for future posts.

What comics or graphic novels have you enjoyed?

October 25, 2010

Read This: Author stories–The Paris Review Interviews

Dwight Garner reports in The New York Times that The Paris Review has now made ALL of its interviews with authors available on line.  This is wonderful news for anyone who loves reading, writing, or finding out as much as possible about writers’ lives and working habits. 

The Paris Review is, along with The New Yorker and Granta, the gold standard for literary magazines.  Harold L. Humes, Peter Matthiessen, and George Plimpton founded it in Paris in 1953, and its roster of contributors is impressive indeed.  Each issue has carried at least one, and sometimes two, interviews with writers.  The ones I’ve read are always prefaced by some background on the circumstances and surroundings of the interview.  The interviewers always ask good questions and you get a good sense of the author’s personality and state of mind at the time of the interview.  In fact, they’re really good stories that give the reader additional insight into the author’s works.

The archive includes interviews with Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy.  Never one to mince words, McCarthy tossed off a pithy insult about Hellman on The Dick Cavett Show in 1980, saying “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'”  The lawsuit that Hellman then filed made most of the rest of McCarthy’s life miserable.  As a lawyer, having seen litigation up close and personal, I can’t imagine that her lawsuit against McCarthy made Hellman herself happy for the five remaining years of her life.  It certainly didn’t do anything positive for her enduring reputation.

What do you think makes an interview a good story that you enjoy reading?  Are there other magazines that I should have included in my “gold standard” of literary journals?

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.