Monday, August 10, 2015

Three collections: Peter Arno, Editorial Cartoons, and Urban Legends.

     Peter Arno: "You give such perfect parties, Alice. Is there someone here that you'd like to meet?" (1979) With an introduction by Charles Saxon. I’ve always liked Arno’s New Yorker cartoons. They have an edge to them. Arno also has an uncanny ability to present a social type and  milieu in a few brushstrokes. His career was with The New Yorker. Of the 248 drawings in this collection, 236 first appeared there. It’s a marvellous collection. I found it at the local food bank’s yard sale. It’s a keeper.
     Arno’s life started well, but ended sadly. He became a misanthropic recluse. Perhaps the politely silent contempt for an artist who was merely a cartoonist finally got to him. Saxon says that a visit to Arno’s studio showed how often he redrew the same image, trying to get it right. His obsession with composition, tone, texture, and line is the mark of an artist. That his pictures also conveyed social commentary and critique makes his work all the more admirable.
     The last cartoon of the book is the last one published before his death. A typically Pretty Young Thing, all perky bosom and thighs, is seated under a leafy tree. A satyr playing the pipes prances by. “Oh, grow up”, the girl says.
     Great book ****

     Guy Badeaux, ed. Portfoolio 13 (1997) “The year’s best Canadian editorial cartoons” the subtitle announces, and it is that. Worth studying not only as a reminder of what worked up our indignation and amusement back then, but also for what has and hasn’t changed. The cartoons range from wry commentary (Man reading paper with headline Banks Enjoy Record Profits says “I guess the times they aren’t a-changing that much...”) to savage (Western diplomat type wades through corpses while vulture labelled Karadzic perches on scarecrow labelled Dayton Accords, says “Getting rid of him would be too messy”).
     A document, a keeper, another find at the yard sale. ****

     Thomas J. Craughwell. Alligators in the Sewer (1999) A beautifully printed and bound book. The contents are the old standbys, a good introduction to anyone who likes urban legends, the kinds of stories that Jan Brunvand pointed out always happened to “a friend of a friend”. Craughwell likes the naughty ones, often obscene, but always morally correct: the sinners get theirs, and then some. A good gift book, a little light on the in my opinion necessary commentary on the age and history of these tales, most of which have been around for generations and even centuries. Only the details of setting and technology have changed, the core narratives are ancient. Some of the tales apparently have figured in best selling novels. **½

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