Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Graphic Novels

I’m reading a book with the unusual title of Kill My Mother.  What attracted me and inclined me to buy the book was the fact that it was written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist and author whose work I have followed for more than fifty years, when his cartoons began running in Playboy magazine.  The second attraction was that it was labelled a “Graphic Novel”, a medium with which I was totally unfamiliar.

It turns out that Mr. Feiffer, who is now 85 years old has been very busy in the interval between my Playboy days and my most recent purchase.

He has written two novels, a successful memoir and several children’s books.  He has written several plays, including Little Murders, which was made into a film.  Mike Nichols adapted one of his unproduced plays as the film Carnal Knowledge, and Feiffer, introduced to Hollywood, then scripted Robert Altman’s Popeye, which starred the recently departed Robin Williams.  His more than forty years of cartoons from the Village Voice have gone through several iterations of print.

Not bad for a guy who started out in the business writing balloons for The Spirit.

That beginning, and the influence of its creator,Will Eisner set him on a course of crafting slightly off-center cartoons.  They, in turn opened doors to theater, film, teaching positions and a lifetime of drawing original cartoons.

The Graphic Novel would seem a natural progression because it is, after all, a hardback comic book.  There is significant character development, a serious plot, and his signature art work, all of which cause me to nibble away at it rather than to devour the entire book in one sitting.  The characters are stereotypes: the rebellious daughter, the young widow, who hides her brains and bravado from the Mike Hammer-type, hard-drinking private eye she hopes will find her husband’s killer.  There is even a Mysterious Woman.  I have yet to find out how she fits into the story.  It is my first Graphic Novel, but I may look at the genre again.

I would have plenty to choose from!

The origin is given to a “picture novel” published in 1950, titled “It Rhymes With Lust” but the next serious contribution didn’t come until 1968, when a Balloon-narrative novel called His Name is…Savage, with a character looking remarkably like Lee Marvin, hit the stands.  Purists would argue that the true original Graphic Novel was Gil Kane and Archie Goodwin's Blackmark, which came out in 1971, building on the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons.

Comics as a medium were changing and I can remember making good use of the Classic Comics edition of Tale of Two Cities.  It helped my eighth-grade son get through his English assignment.  And DC Comics was modernizing the comic book landscape leading to todays fixation with the Action Heroes we see on the screen.

Perhaps those films were what caused Feiffer to come out with this book.  We have a generation that seems to want ever more action and violence with their stories.  Not that they are unique.  I grew up with television and film with Superman, the Green Hornet, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  When one goes back, one wonders if we would have won WWII without them.

At the time I bought Feiffer’s book, I also bought the 14th book in the Captain Underpants series.  I originally thought it also might be a graphic novel but, although heavily illustrated, it is just a children’s book.  I have been searching for why it is so controversial, without much success.  In fact the vocabulary is probably at 11th or 12th-grade level, and I would think it might encourage young readers to read, something neither of my grandsons seem to find interesting.

There is much talk about Ebola in the news, including monitoring by twice-daily temperature checks.  In my next post, I’ll track some of the changes in thermometers in my lifetime.  You may find the “what and whys” of the changes interesting.  I hope you will join me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Destination Weddings

The recent passing of Oscar de la Renta brought to mind the slightly less recent, but equally as publicized wedding of George Clooney, twice named Hollywood’s Most Eligible Bachelor.  This was primarily because Amal Alamuddin, the bride, surprised most pundits, who suspected she would choose the same designer as Kate Winslet, by choosing de la Renta to design her gown.

A second reason for remembering the wedding and choosing the topic for this Post was that Mary’s Book Club, which met a week or so after the wedding seemed to spend as much time talking about the wedding as they did about the book.  It got me thinking about the subject of Destination weddings, those where the wedding site is neither the home of the bride or groom, and a select number of guests are either transported to the destination or, more likely in the case of the Clooney-Alamuddin ceremony, pay their own way to the occasion

There seems little doubt that the 150 celebrity guests were treated well once they got to Venice.  A fleet of water-taxis picked them up from the Resort, which Clooney had booked for the entire group, and transported them to the wedding site.  In the evening, and presumably during the day they were invited to help consume the 150 cases of Premium Tequila, that Clooney brought in on his private jet.  Seeming no concerns were expressed about bringing liquids on board.

Dancing went on all night with three top bands from the U.S. providing music.

A civil ceremony the next day allowed for some photographs, since the wedding and reception were closed events. Even guests were asked to leave their cell phones outside. Apparently right to the official pictures were sold by the couple for one-million dollars, which they donated to charity.

Which charity was not specified, but one can guess that with Clooney’s leanings toward the oppressed and Amal’s career as a Human Rights lawyer and her Lebanese heritage, it likely had something to do with the under-privileged in Africa, he mid-east, or maybe Cambodia where she recently won a Civil Rights case.

My first and only invitation to a Destination Wedding was in 2002, when nephew Matt Green invited our family to Key West where he and Teala, would tie the knot.  Since they met on an airplane, finding the trip compatible while occupying adjacent seats, neutral territory for the service seemed fitting.  We guests enjoyed the fact that we could be tourists as well as onlookers or participants, especially pleasing.  At the time there were several celebrity Destination Weddings, one from Hollywood, where the guests travelled to London on what was virtually a chartered Virgin Airlines flight.

 Most recent celebrity weddings, discounting the British Royals, are more private affairs.  The Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie recent marriage being a case in point.  Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel being another.

The Clooney wedding purportedly cost $13 million, which must be some sort of record, again excepting the Royals.  There is speculation on where all the money came from.  Certainly George could afford it, but the best guess is a more traditional source:  the bride’s parents.  Maybe it was a sort of dowery.

Reverting back to de la Renta, I was surprised that among his accolades were episodes of Sex and the City where Carrie finds out a beau calls him Oscar.  “Oscar…You can call him Oscar?” she asks?  The character (Mikhail Baryshnikov) eventually gifts her with an Oscar de la Renta dress.  Really! Well Oscar gifted her.!

In my next Post I will share with you my discovery of a new genre in books:  Adult Graphic Novels.  I think you’ll find it interesting.  Please join me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mark Twain

Mark Twain - age 36
Recently I watched a two part series on Mark Twain, or perhaps it was a one-part series I watched over two nights.  In any event, I was certainly entertained and, in that most precious of watching Public television gifts, I was also educated.

My previous exposure to Samuel Clemons, following the obligatory adolescent reading of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its companion [piece Tom Sawyer was following a forty-plus year career of Hal Holbrook, who Mary and I were privileged to see on two occasions, almost twenty years apart.  His An Evening with Mark Twain provided me with several quotes, some of which I still find a way to bring into conversation: e.g., “Man is God’s greatest creation.  I wonder who decided that?”  His long-term distrust of the Congress and government in general seems almost too prophetic in this time of do-nothing division between the parties.  And comments from a man uttered more than 100 years ago are timelier than many made on Fox News.

I learned several things from the show, including the extreme highs, lows and highs of his financial life.  He was one of seven children, fewer than half of whom would live to adulthood.  Although his father was an attorney and a judge, the family lived a modest life, partially because his father died when Samuel was eleven.  Twain made great claims about when he was born, playing up the fact that he arrived on the tail of Haley’s Comet and believing he would leave the next time it made its appearance: a fact that proved to be true.

While we think of him as essentially a writer, his career was much more varied, beginning as an apprentice for a newspaper as a typesetter at the age of twelve.  By fifteen he was writing articles for his brother’s paper and in his late teens had worked on papers in New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis, while advancing his education with nightly trips to the library.  His writing took him west ending up in Virginia City where he tried his hand unsuccessfully at mining.  One of the quotes used by Holbrook in his show was Twain’s initial impression of Virginia City, a town with, “One church and thirty saloons.  Not the kind of place for a Christian gentleman, and I did not remain one for long.”

His time in the West provided the background for the story of the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Count, which became a popular and profitable story.  This caught the attention of The Sacramento Union and started what would become a lifetime career of travelling and writing about his travels.  When he eventually hits the lecture circuit, the stories of his travels provided the structure of the entertaining presentations.

I had previously thought he enjoyed the lecture circuit and was surprised to find out that, had he not been forced to declare bankruptcy, owing what today would be more than $8 million, and had he not made a personal commitment to repay all his creditors, even though legally not obligated to do so, he would not have provided the persona that Hal Holbrook has carried through the years

Another fact from the PBS presentation that surprised me was his devotion to his wife of 34 years and to their daughters, seeing to their welfare and comfort through his hard, financial times.  The home he had built for them in Hartford remains as a museum to this day.

In my next Post I will discuss the concept of Destination Weddings and how George Clooney raised the bar.  I hope you will be interested in what I have to say.