Sunday, June 2, 2002

J. Huizinga Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (1938, English 1950) - It's easy enough to see why Debord loved this book, the first chapter anyway, though Huizinga is not an explicitly polical commentator/theorist. Actually, he's not even very rigorous, instead stating his theme and then expanding on it rather than arguing and supporting it. Huizinga does come across as a perfectly reasonable, observant person with an older scholarly style that's much more interesting and personable than most of today's academic writing. The chapter on etymology is pretty useless--I wouldn't go so far as to say this kind of stuff is meaningless but at best it can only be trivial. (Late in the book he refers to "perilous etymologies" which although referring to people who "outstrip their knowledge" could refer to the whole project.) Much better is the explorations of play on the origin of philosopy, law and poetry that connect dots both obvious and occult. Huizinga tends to focus more on these "serious" realms (though perfectly aware of doing so) which might tend to slight other forms of thought such as, say, music, design, film, comics, etc. When reading about slanging and insult contests see if the descriptions don't remind you of rap. Towards the end of the book when Huizinga moves closer to now-decades-past modern times he develops a Mencken-esque rant about the movement of "the half-educated masses into the international traffic of the mind," a feeling that must have been much in the air at that time. Today you'd get branded an elitist for such statements though considering that even colleges barely half-educate anybody (something much desired by the anybodys and not the fault of colleges) perhaps this is no longer much of a concern.


Michael Barrier and Martin Williams A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (1981) - Though the commentary is barely routine (and their insistence of a cut-off date of 1954 has historical plausibility their insistence instead on the date as the end of vitality in comics almost disqualifies them as editors for such a project) the choices are generally solid. I wish they'd chosen some less heavily reprinted Batman and Superman material, three George Carlson stories is two too many (though I'm glad these are available somewhere), and the choice of Pogo comic book stories seems dictated solely by the desire to include Kelly's work since these are much inferior to the strips. I particularly was surprised at the Little Lulu stories: I hadn't read any of these since in decades and didn't remember that they're actually funny (not witty but laugh-out-loud funny) and tightly plotted. The illustration seems unduely simplified but look closer and you can see how carefully organized it actually it; the finale of "Five Little Babies" is nearly flawless. The pages to all stories appear to be straight photographs of original printed pages rather than republications. This allows for textures than many reprints don't have but also several printing flaws, the worst being a page of a Spirit story with severely misregistered color; surely this is sloppy editing.


Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1 - This isn't really where it all began for Marvel--the company had been around in one form or another for years--but certainly where it began for the Marvel Universe. Stan Lee was mainly a marketing genius (past tense because he's done little creative in decades) and not much of a writer. Though I'd read a couple of these stories years ago the surprise now is how bad they mostly are. Admittedly there's a kind of goofy charm to stories where the group shrinks or Dr. Doom rockets the Baxter Building into orbit but you have to forgive a lot for these to work. Lee's penchant for third-rate faux pseudo-science--something that's infected Marvel writers ever since to some degree--is in full force. Lee and Kirby did fortunately have a knack for swift storytelling. Many of these one-issue stories would today sprawl over numerous issues to no real advantage (see Straczynski's recent Spider-Man: Coming Home which really is nothing more than a single issue Lee/Ditko story puffed out until it almost collapses). One reason is that today's artists tend to show more stages of a continuous action (almost like they're trying to be "cinematic") but Kirby and others of this era tended to focus on the high spots.

Alongside Reed's comment "If there's panic in the streets, then something serious must be wrong!" here's another choice exchange:

General: "Miss Storm, a pretty young lady can always be of help--just by keeping the men's morale up!"

Reed: "That's just the way we feel about Sue, General!"