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"What's New" Archives: 2020

 

 June 5, 2020:

Raskolnikov's Dream

How Did That Happen? (No. 4)

 

February 11, 2020:

How Did That Happen? (No. 3)

 

June 5, 2020:

Raskolnikov's Dream

It has been almost four months since I last posted here, a period that I've devoted in part to reading (in Sidney Monas's translation) the great 19th-century Russian novel Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (at the right). Toward the end of the book, its protagonist, the university student turned murderer Rodion Raskolnikov, has had the last of several dreams:

While sick, he had dreamed the whole world was condemned to suffer a terrible, unprecedented, and unparalled plague, which had spread to Europe from the depths of Asia. Except for a small handful of the chosen, all were doomed to perish. A new kind of trichinae had appeared, microscopic substances that lodged in men's bodies. Yet these were spiritual substances as well, endowed with mind and will. Those infected were seized immediately and went mad. Yet people never considered themselves so clever and so unhestitatingly right as these infected ones considered themselves. Never had they considered their decrees, their scientific deductions, their moral convictions and their beliefs more firmly based. Whole settlements, whole cities and nations, were infected nd went mad. Everybody was in a state of alarm, and nobody understood anybody; each thought the truth was in him alone; suffered agonies when he looked at the others; beat his breast; wept and wrung his hands. They did not know whom ro bring to trial or how to try him; they could not agree on what to consider evil, what good. They did not know whom to condemn or whom to acquit. People killed each other in a senseles rage. Whole armies were mustered against each other, but as soon as the armies were on the march they began suddenly to tear themselves apart. Their ranks dispersed; the soldiers flung themselves upon each other, slashed and stabbed, ate and devoured each other. In the cities the alarm bells rang for a whole day. Everybody was called, but nobody knew by whom or for what, and everybody was on edge. ... Fires blazed up; hunger set in. Everything and everybody went to rack and ruin.

There is more in the same vein, but you get the idea. You may detect a resemblance between the dream and our current state of affairs, the dream lacking mainly an analog to the vicious fraud in the White House.

I'd planned to take Crime and Punishment with me on a birthday trip for Phyllis in March. We were going first to San Francisco, then to Maui for six days, and then back home via Los Angeles (and Sunday dinner with Jenny Lerew at Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood). Thanks to the coronavirus, the bottom fell out a few days before our schduled departure, and we felt fortunate to get refunds for most of the cost of the trip.

When not reading Dostoyevsky, and while looking for something to do besides household chores, I've not been watching cartoons. No Disney +, no HBO Max. Instead, I've spent many hours watching the Metropolitan Opera's free streaming of dozens of performances, most from the "Live in HD" series that has been showing in theaters for the last fourteen years or so. Sometimes there's actually a strong cartoon connection (as with a colorful production of Rossini's version of Cinderella), other times there's what strikes me as a cartoon flavor (the first act of the Met version of Verdi's Masked Ball feels like a Talkartoon come to life), and, of course, there's the music from operas that Carl Stallling and Milt Franklyn found so useful in the Warner cartoons.. If you've seen Friz Freleng's Back Alley Oproar, you've heard the famous sextet from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, and you are perhaps familiar with a modest Chuck Jones cartoon called What's Opera, Doc? That's a joke, son.

I'm reminded, while watching all these operas (some wonderful and some not so wonderful, but almost all of them worth watching at least once) of how much more of a presence opera and other classical music used to be in American cultural life. But I don't fret much about the lack of interest in the music among many if not most young people; I think it's best to grow into classical music in general, opera especially, and the music will survive even as its audience shrinks and expands.. Me, I'm grateful that the Met has used the pandemic as the occasion for letting me and millions of other people see dozens of operas that I knew only by name, if at all. And yes, I did express my appreciation with a donation to the Met, and I'll send another one soon.

 

June 5, 2020:

How Did That Happen? (No. 4 )

My previous post under this title referred to R.C. Harvey's failure to recognize, in his annotations for Fantagraphics' reprinting of the complete Pogo, that George Y. Wells was a real person whose identity was easy to track down, not a name that Walt Kelly made up. There's an even odder annotation in the same Pogo volume, the sixth. Harvey writes, in his entry for December 4, 1960, about the name "Kathleen" (also "Kathe Kelly") on one of Pogo's skiffs:

"'Kathleen' may be a fond Irish recollecton of Kathryn Barbara, Kelly's daughter who died in infancy in the fall of 1952 before reaching her first brthday Biographer [Steve] Thompson explains this poiignant reference ... 'For many years in late October, Kelly would draw a bug floating through the sdwamp with a birthday cake, trying to find someone looking for a birthday." It's no longer 'late October,' but the reference seems a propos. 'S'more' [lettered on the skiff] may be a plea for more time for his daughter, whose shortened name, 'Kathe,' appears with 'Kelly' on the stern of the skiff in the next panel."

The problem here is that "Kathleen" is the name of the eldest of Walt Kelly's three children by his first wife, Helen. As far as I know, Kathleen has never been involved with the comic strip or other Kelly enterprises, unlike her siblings Carolyn and Pete, but to conclude that the name on the boat is not hers but that of another Kelly daughter requires some tortured reasoning, which Harvey unfortunately provides.

On a more positive note, I can recommend Jim Korkis's essay in the new book about Don Morgan, whom I met at Chuck Jones's Tower 12 studio in Hollywood in June 1969, during my first trip to the West Coast. Don struck me then as an exceptional character, and I think a little of his personality comes through even in my black-and-white snapshot.

 

February 11, 2020:

How Did That Happen? (No. 3)

I'm still studying the latest volume, the sixth, of Fantagraphics' complete Pogo—a classy job, as before—and I'll have more to say about it later, but I can't help but point out an unfortunate mistake on page 327, in R. C. Harvey's annotations of Walt Kelly's references to people and events. In his note for the strip of January 16, 1960, Harvey writes of the name "George Y. Wells," uttered as an oath by the insect mother of the bug candidate Fremount: "George Y. Wells was apparently an entirely fictitious person."

Not so; George Young Wells was the editor of the New York Star's editorial page when Kelly was that short-lived newspaper's editorial cartoonist. When Wells died in 1963, at the young age of 55, a full obituary appeared in the New York Times, where he worked after the Star folded. Harvey presumably did not consult the Times, or, for that matter, my book Funnybooks, where Wells turns up a couple of times in the index.

No big deal, obviously, but it does seem a pity that Harvey didn't make a greater effort to identify Wells, a former colleague whom Kelly regarded highly enough to honor in his very popular comic strip.