Tuesday, July 24, 2007
He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed,
With his name painted clearly on each:
But, since he omitted to mention the fact,
They were all left behind on the beach.
The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because
He had seven coats on when he came,
With three pairs of boots — but the worst of it was,
He had wholly forgotten his name.
The subject for today's sermon is the number 42, personified by the late, great Douglas Adams (pictured above at his easel). The late Mr. Adams has been dragooned by this artist into performing what is essentially a Magrittian pratfall involving bits of canvas, packing crates and some pokey things. He is ably assisted by the charming Xie, AKA Alexandra Kitchin, a young Englishwoman clad in a Chinese costume delineated by the very best India ink, the entire ensemble having once furnished the subject of a photograph by Lewis Carroll.
This artist has not felt it necessary to depict the seven coats and six boots mentioned in the above stanzas, owing to the fact that since the clothes make the man, the commutative principle of haute couture allows the man to make the clothes. Therefore, the sartorial and ontological nudity of this man (still un-named, un-manned and un-drawn) is his own lookout. No doubt, if left alone, nature will have its way and his coats and boots would multiply and eventually replenish his wardrobe (the commutative spirit of Victorian men's fashion was biblically fecund) and he will find himself the proud possessor of 42 coots and boats.
With these newfound portmanteaux in hand, we see our anonymous semi-protagonist depicted evacuating this barren strand for the ontologically, sartorially and spatially broader comfort of the next stanza, wiser by a factor of 42.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
There was one who was famed for the number of things
He forgot when he entered the ship:
His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings,
And the clothes he had bought for the trip.
We are not famed for the number of things we forget, we are infamous for remembering to introduce the penultimate crew member of the HMS Snark (still anonymous for now but stay tuned) and we have timed it perfectly for today is Snark Day, the 133rd anniversary of the day when Lewis Carroll composed the last line of the Snark. Carroll proceeded to write the remainder of the poem over the next two years, ending at the beginning on April 1st, 1876 with the publication of the Snark. While you're "digging" Marie Osmond's letter-perfect phonetic performance of Hugo Ball's Karawane in the jazzy-looking jukebox over by the soda machine to the right (plus Max Ernst's advice for troubled youth and Man Ray's home improvement tips), amaze your Snark Day date with your ink-stained grasp of all things Snarkish:
Snark Day Trivia: The Snark's last line was composed in the birthplace of P.G. Wodehouse and the final terrestrial abode of Ford Prefect — Guildford, Surrey!
Snark Day Trivia: A possible etymology for Snark is the German verb schnarren, to jar or buzz, itself cognate with the Low German snarren, to snarl. A friend of Lewis Carroll's, Beatrice Hatch, wrote in 1898 that the author had told her that Snark was a portmanteau of snail and shark. Pshaw!
Snark Day Trivia: Dante Gabriel Rossetti was convinced in his later, even less rational years, that Carroll intended the Snark to symbolize himself. Rossetti also identified himself with wombats to an unhealthy degree and eventually disinterred his wife to retrieve some poems which he had entrusted to her.
Snark Day Trivia: Today is also the feast day of Saint Arnulf of Metz, patron saint of beer brewers. So, if you don't object, my dear, we'll try a glass of bitter beer — I think it looks inviting!
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Pages 2 and 3 in their final layout, type included. No hand lettering, for now I'm using ITC Garamond Condensed by the great Tony Stans, a classic ITC face (which also dates the artist for those who keep track of such things). I must also mention that the display fonts used on the opening Fit the First Page are Selfish and Downcome, designed by a very talented Brazilian, Eduardo Recife. His work is rather good and can be found here. Truthfully, the ITC font is a minute shade too light, too phototype. If I could find a compressed bodycopy, as tight and legible as ITC GC and a darker color to balance my linework, with the same Victorian, slightly faux-letterpress aroma of Recife's work, I will change the Garamond.
The initial conceit of the Snark is properly launched. The theatrical, self-contained staginess of the Snark, its insistent play-acting, makes a stageboard and footlights opening motif inescapable. Carroll loved messing about with boats and amateur theatricals both, I have chosen the most economical means to effect both modes of transportation. The play's the thing, damn the torpedoes!
And now, it's time to ask: what does it all mean? What's with this Snark, was Lewis Carroll embarking on some psycho-Freudian, hypo-ontological, extra-existential crypto-quixotic crusade? If a college freshman searching for inspiration for a theme paper on the Hunting of the Snark were to consult these pages, what would I tell him? Should I confide to him or her that the Snark's meaning can be approximated best by regenerating all 5,065 words of the original text into a matrix roughly congruent in morphology, syntax and grammar to the original, the generation process beginning on or about July 18, 1874? And will the resulting text file provide an optimized WYSIWYG explanation of the meaning of the Snark, assuming of course that one has not yet taken religious orders but that one does have minimal pedagogical experience in college-level mathematics (also assuming that one "reads" the resultant codex with a false recursive memory of having composed it oneself whilst seeing it for the first time)? Must I also hint that the physical location of this generation process is unimportant, that anywhere in the rain while wearing scratchy woolens and mudcaked wellingtons will do? Questions, questions, nary a hint of an answer! Take heart, all ye who yearn for answers , such questions — like laughter — are probably doomed to disappear.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
There was also a Beaver, that paced on the deck,
Or would sit making lace in the bow:
And had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck,
Though none of the sailors knew how.
All aboard! At one and the same time, the Bellman delivers himself from an impending watery grave, snatches a coveted berth aboard the H.M.S. Snark, tingles his bell to signal our departure and introduces the Beaver, who is busily engaged upon her salubrious lace-making.
I am aware that readers assume the Beaver to be a He. Carroll's text is ambiguous on the point, only using the masculine (possessive) pronoun in the plural to refer to the Beaver and another (usually the Butcher). In his Annotated Snark, Martin Gardner concurs on this important grammatical point, which is reinforced in my mind by its aesthetic rightness.
Inasmuch as the Snark is an imaginary animal and thus its clochetic pursuer triply so, inasmuch as the creator of these drawings is rumored to be imaginary by the good people of the The Comics Journal message boards, and inasmuch as Castor canadensis, AKA the Beaver, is riparian, sedentary and unimaginably disinterested in travel and the needletrade, be it resolved: No man — for such is the Bellman's essence — can, strictly speaking, step into the same river twice, especially when there is no river (for any body of water delineated by an artist, however vaguely — touché! — unreal himself, is rendered null and void). Any riparian fauna must, ipso facto hey-nonny-nonny and a-hey-diddle-diddle, be contrary to any popular expectations held of them.
QED, the Beaver's a She and not a He and any other arguments I cordially defer as yet, for nothing will come of nothing. Speak again of this matter and I will invoke my Aristotelian rights: nature abhors a void, especially a kingly third portion (AKA the artists' Law of Thirds). Now stop learing at this nice drawing and get busy googling Heraclitus and Shakespeare, the bookends of occidental thinkery.
Monday, July 2, 2007
A Billiard-marker, whose skill was immense,
Might perhaps have won more than his share —
But a Banker, engaged at enormous expense,
Had the whole of their cash in his care.
Immediately to the right of the Bellman is the Broker, AKA Karl Marx. To the latter's right is the Billiard-Marker, AKA Raymond Roussel. If — and the thing is wildly possible — the charge of drawing nonsense were ever brought against the illustrator of this brief but instructive poem, it would be based, I feel convinced, on this panel. Messers Marx and Roussel were both notable figments of each other's imagination, each believing the other an opiate of the masses or a mass of opiates.
In a related matter, it's come to my attention, thanks to the current Max Ernst thread on the message board at The Comics Journal, that there is some genuine doubt as to my existence. The treason of reality, so scandalous, so flattering! Or even better, to paraphrase Magritte (who knew a thing or two about snarks and boojums) —
CECI — IL N'EST PAS UN ARTIST.