Thursday, 29 May 2008

Towards tidier wars

Following the earlier news of greener bombs, Francis Sedgemore has a report on also making armour piercing depleted uranium munitions more environmentally friendly.

In passing he mentions the new cluster bomb treaty which he supports, and which Oliver Kamm objects to. I agree with Mr Sedgemore.

I'm very much in favour of tidier wars, not only killing as few people as possible, but also being as neat and tidy and polite as one can in the process. Ends and means cannot be separated. Decisive use of legal lethal force delivered as accurately and as courteously as possible is the way to win hearts and minds. So less of this sort of thing, and don't forget to wipe your boots on the way in.

Slowly putting my brain back together

No more coffee might help, tea for a while I think, tea and beer.

Earlier here and here.

Canary arrested 2

A video on the arrest of Nekschot, also one in Danish, via Journalista and Mike Lynch.

My earlier post here.

Environmentally friendly bombs

Here. Soon even the Green Party will be able to support a robust foreign policy. Well maybe not that soon. And replacing all the dirty old polluting bombs will be expensive...

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Reminds me of that time in the Bay of Biscay...

Above is a rendering of a little-known incident in the history of the Imperial Russian Navy. The ship is the Saint Eustace (Евстафий) and the drawing is one in a series depicting strange events at sea.

Sailors in the audience may wonder why the ship is flying the Navy Jack while underway. The truth is she was still at anchor and building up steam when the monster surfaced, and in the hurry to escape I regret all proper formalities of flags were not attended to.

The full series, titled Worse Things Happen at Sea, will be published in Illustrators 50, the next annual from the Society of Illustrators.

For more up to date maritime news I recommend the Russian Navy Blog.

And here is a rather lovely painting of frolicking sea monsters by Jim Flora.

“What did Chamberlain do?”

In an earlier post I praised Lynne Olson's book, Troublesome Young Men, about the politics of appeasement in 1930s' Britain. Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker has a post today with an incredible video of someone who obviously hasn't read the book, or any other history on the subject, a talk show host named Kevin James who comes a cropper while being interviewed by Chris Matthews. It's an absolutely jaw-dropping exhibition of belligerent ignorance.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Old faces of censorship

This illustration on the history of censorship was drawn for the Times Higher Education Supplement in 1994. It was already a bit out of date then. It looks even more in need of updating now.

No pasarán in Afghanistan

. . . writes Terry Glavin.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Canary arrested

Again, a cartoonist under threat for being offensive, this time Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot. Only now the police are doing the extremists' work for them.

There's coverage on Journalista with lots of links, here and here. (Scroll down in each post.)

Also via Journalista, an opinion piece by Perro de Jong, A Policeman Calls.

Mr Nekschot (not his real name) draws cartoons critical of Islam, amongst other things. Some are grotesque, some sexually explicit, some violent. A number of them are very likely to be considered offensive by a great many people. But I don't believe offensiveness should be illegal. 

What is considered offensive is not universally constant. 

To grant anyone freedom from offense would be to grant them absolute power to censor, as only they themselves could define what they found find offensive. To grant everyone freedom from offense is logically impossible, as many conceptions of offensiveness are mutually exclusive. To grant only some freedom from offense is unfair, and therefore in my view offensive.

And the quality of the work must not be an issue either. Freedom of expression only for work of recognised artistic worth is not freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is essential. The only exceptions I can see are incitement to murder, libel, breaches of intellectual property law, contempt of court in the reporting of legal cases, disclosure of state secrets likely to endanger life, and the like.

I'd like to recommend an article written by Oliver Kamm for Index on Censorship, titled The Tyranny of Moderation: Respect and Civility are the Enemies of Free Speech.

Now when I posted a link to that piece on the Comics Journal Message Board in connection with an earlier cartoonist-hunt story, another poster ridiculed the argument therein, writing that it implied that more offensiveness would greatly aid the discourse of ideas. This misses the point. Offensiveness is the canary in the coal mine. If the canary cannot survive, the air is not healthy for miners either. If there is no freedom to offend, then all expression is under threat.

Noisy nights in Dublin 4

Here's a drawing from twenty-one years ago, published in the pages of In Dublin magazine, illustrating an interview with Thomas McLoughlin, singer and songwriter with the band Light a Big Fire. The drawing looks a bit crude - well, I was only twenty is my excuse, twenty and lazy. The music has aged much better.

Earlier posts in the Noisy Nights series: 1, 2 and 3.

More In Dublin work here.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Will Elder 1921-2008

Will Elder, one of the greatest visual artists of the 20th Century, died yesterday.

Best known for his collaborations with Harvey Kurtzman for Mad, Trump, Humbug, Help! and Playboy, his work was filled with richly detailed lunacy. Never content to draw one gag where twenty could squeeze in, he must have been the  hardest working man in comics.

There is nothing relaxed about his work. Intense to look at, it looks as though it was an intense experience to create. I admire his achievement enormously.

More on Journalista with further links, including to his own site

May I also recommend some books, starting with Will Elder, The Mad Playboy of Art, a hefty volume brimful of riches. Also a slim follow up of curiosities that didn't make it into the big book, Chicken Fat, both published by Fantagraphics. Also from that corner, The Comics Journal No. 254 devoted 59 pages to a richly illustrated interview with the man. Out of print, but available at a reasonable price, Goodman Beaver, a collection of the legendary satirical strip by Kurtzman and Elder. And from the pages of Playboy, a Goodman Beaver with breasts, Little Annie Fanny, volume 1 and volume 2. Also, the Denis Kitchen Art Agency has some original Will Elder art for sale, all from Goodman Beaver.

Above: a young Elder tries on his wings, from Will Elder, The Mad Playboy of Art.
Below: Self portrait on the cover of issue 254 of The Comics Journal.
Images copyright © 2003 Will Elder.

Nasty idiot of the day

Via Norm, here's the Rev. John Bell on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day:

Now think of Burma. I'm not an apologist for the cabal of generals who rule Myanmar. And certainly if the accusations are true that they would rather have seen people die than be the recipients of aid, they would have been guilty of willful genocide. But should we be surprised if the leaders of a country which Western governments have accorded pariah status, are reticent to defer to our wishes?

Foolish Westerners! If you're mean to dictators then you only have yourselves to blame when they consequently go on to commit mass murder. This argument is depressingly and sickeningly familiar.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

War, war

The two previous posts have revolved around World War II, and here's a third before moving on to other things.

One of the most engaging books I read in the last year was Troublesome Young Men by Lynne Olson. It's a history of the politics of appeasement in Britain in the time leading up to and beyond the outbreak of war between Britain and Nazi Germany. It's concerned primarily with the struggle in parliament by Tory rebels to remove Chamberlain and replace him with a leader willing to take on the Nazi threat.

The book gives a frightening picture of what a close run thing that struggle was, why Churchill was not necessarily the preferred candidate, and why he became the only possible choice. It also shows how the delay in defeating appeasement most likely lengthened the war, increasing the consequent loss of life, and how appeasement actually continued beyond Britain's entry into the war.

There's a New York Times review of the book by William Grimes, and another by John Meacham.

At one point Lynne Olson's book mentions Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh, a very sharp satire set during the phony war, the period from Britain's declaration of war in September 1939 to the failed defence of Norway in early 1940. The book was published soon after, in 1942. By chance I'd just picked up a copy from the bargain box outside a secondhand bookshop on Gloucester Road, so I went straight on with it, and the two books enriched each other greatly.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

While the sun shines

Yesterday was a day off, after three or more seven day weeks of work in a row. A late breakfast was followed by a visit to the Political Cartoon Gallery in Bloomsbury to see an exhibition of David Low drawings.

After so long indoors at my painting table, the sun's warmth, the crowds milling about, all felt overwhelming. For days my view of the outside world had been through news reports from over the horizon, of war, and war, and arguments about war. Here in central London the people in the streets felt happy and busy, energising and reassuring, but still in my mind brutal events beyond the visible insisted on their equal reality, and here too the potential for brutality was asserted in newspaper front pages about the knife murder in Oxford Street the previous afternoon.

On to the gallery and David Low, best known now as the creator of Colonel Blimp. The combination of precision and energy in his drawing, particularly in the work from the '30s, is startling. Even his earliest work betrays no doubt or insecurity.

While I was there I picked up a secondhand copy of Avisens Håndskrift (The Newspaper's Handwriting) by Hans Edvard Nørregård-Nielsen, a look at the work of members of Danske Bladtegnere, the Danish newspaper illustrators' society, on the occasion of the society's fiftieth anniversary in 1983. As I'd just been looking at Low, I was curious to see what the book would include from the occupation period. Not much was the answer. There were a couple of anti-Nazi cartoons from before the war, and a couple more from afterwards. The only images from the period of occupation were a couple of pleasant drawings, one of women on a beach, another of birds singing.

Absence makes the mind more curious. What did political cartoonists do during the occupation? Did they all turn to pretty pictures? Did any professional cartoonists also work for resistance papers?

So off I went to search -

Here's one anti-Nazi cartoon by Viggo Rohde from an underground book published in 1943 marking the second anniversary of war between Nazi Germany and the USSR. It's part of an online exhibit of underground wartime publications on the Danish Royal Library website.

1943 i tekst og tegninger, (1943 in words and pictures,) was a book from the Communist Land og Folk underground press with cartoons by Herluf Bidstrup and Thorkild Holst. Images here and here and here and here. At least one of those same cartoonists seems to be responsible for the cartoons here and here in another Danish Communist Party publication, Ugens Nyt, (The Week's News,) again from 1943. Here and here are postcards by Herluf Bidstrup. According to Avisens Håndskrift, Bidstrup stayed with the Land og Folk paper after the war, and his work remained very much in line with party policy.

This cartoon, Leaders of the New Order is by Anton Hansen, who assumed a change in drawing style to hide his identity. His work had appeared before the war in Arbeiderbladet in Norway, Simplicissimus and Das Panoptikon in Germany, as well as Ekstrabladet in Denmark. After the war he worked for Information, a daily that had begun life as an underground news agency. This drawing however was published in Danske Tidene, an underground newspaper begun under the editorship of Nicolai Blædel, who as foreign editor of Berlingske Tidene prior to the invasion had been strongly critical of the Nazis, and was one of the first writers to be banned from publishing under the occupation.

Here's a poster published by Morgenbladet, an underground daily newspaper launched in November 1944 by the Dansk Samlings party, and here's a report on the poster in the paper - I was surprised by the scale of it! From the same press came a humour magazine Muldvarpen, (The Mole,) with a mix of Danish cartoons and material supplied by the allies, including this Donald Duck strip.

Altogether the volume of material published by various parts of the Danish resistance seems to have been enormous. Morgenbladet for example published 142 issues under occupation, with a circulation reaching 7,000 in the last months of the war. As you can see in the Danish Royal Library exhibition, most underground material was typewritten or very simply typeset, but a surprising amount was also illustrated to a high standard.

The top four drawings are by David Low, all from The Complete Colonel Blimp, edited by Mark Bryant, and are copyright © Low estate/Solo Syndication.

Blimp in the '30s was portrayed as a conservative appeaser of fascism. The character in the fourth drawing, Pmilb, the inverse of Blimp, was his leftist mirror image, an equally wrongheaded appeaser.

I've written a little on the Colonel Blimp film here, and more on Denmark under occupation here.

The bottom three drawings are by Hans Bendix, all from Avisens Håndskrift, Dansk bladtegning gennem et halvt århundrede, by Hans Edvard Nørregård-Nielsen, copyright © Dansk Bladtegnere.

Bendix's Hitler caricature, titled Dollfuss in Memoriam, was published in Tegning af tiden in 1935. The Port Jefferson beach drawing was for the cover of Hjemmets Søndag, a colour supplement to the paper Social-Demokraten, published in 1941.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

A Salzburg Comedy

On the subject of book design, here's something you don't often see, a novel with colour illustrations, and it's not a children's story either. Erich Kästner's A Salzburg Comedy is a light romantic tale, with beautiful pictures by his regular collaborator Walter Trier, eight interior paintings as well as the dust jacket image above.

The book was first published in Switzerland in 1938 at a time when Kästner was banned from publishing in Nazi Germany. Despite witnessing his books being burned by the Nazis, he'd chosen to stay in Germany, and remained there 'til the end of the war.

The English edition was first published in 1950. From Erich Kästner's foreword:

When I was turning over in my mind this little book, during the Salzburg Festival of 1937, Austria and Germany were cut off from each other 'for all time' by boundary-posts, customs barriers, and separate issues of postage stamps. When, in 1938, my book was published, the two countries had just been united 'for all time', with one common set of stamps and no dividing barriers of any sort. And so my book slipped hurriedly out of the country to avoid confiscation. Habent suafata libelli; in truth books have their own fates! Now, as my book is about to appear in a new edition, Germany and Austria are again separated 'for all time'. Again there are boundary posts, customs barriers and different issues of stamps. It seems to me that recent history is on the side of stamp-collectors rather than authors. And if that implies a mild reproach, it is directed against recent history and not against stamp collecting.

For those curious about stamps from this time, there's an interesting permanent exhibit in the British Library, by the café.

Also worth visiting: Harrie Verstappen's Erich Kästner page.

More Walter Trier art online here, and a gallery of his covers for Lilliput magazine here. A nice book of his work for Lilliput and elsewhere is here, and a catalogue from the Art Gallery of Ontario is available here. The catalogue shows examples of his large collection of toys as well as his illustration work. An essay on Walter Trier and fellow illustrator Fritz Wegner by Gillian Lathey is online here as a PDF, and in printed and bound form in issue four of the Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, also on sale here.

Gillian Lathey also writes on Erich Kästner here.

All my posts on Erich Kästner are here.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The dire state of book typography

A discussion on Typophile.

A remedy: The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst.

Recommended for authors as well as designers. As publishers' standards are falling, you need to educate yourself to know what to ask for in the design of your books.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Trust me, I know what I’m doing!

Another detail from the mess you saw earlier.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Be kind, dear editor

Popeye shows how:

From a 1934 Popeye strip by E.C. Segar.
Copyright © King Features Syndicate.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Tin Man in the UK

Tin Man, a Sci Fi Channel miniseries that I did some work for, is coming to the UK in a week's time. I haven't seen it yet myself, so I'm on the edge of my seat! You can see some of my contribution to the show here.

Image copyright © RHI Entertainment/SciFi Channel.