Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry Friday: Ben

Who else remembers this paean to a rat as tenderly as I do? I wish I could post the video but I am defeated by technology. It's worth cutting and pasting the link below, though.

I never saw Willard (too young at the time and I have always hated horror movies) but I did love this love song to a rodent. Could be why I settled in New York.

Ben, the two of us need look no more
We both found what we were looking for

With a friend to call my own

I'll never be alone
And you, my friend, will see
You've got a friend in me (you've got a friend in me)
Ben, you're always running here and there
You feel you're not wanted anywhere
If you ever look behind
And don't like what you find

There's one thing you should know

You've got a place to go (you've got a place to go)

I used to say "I" and "me"
Now it's "us", now it's "we"
I used to say "I" and "me"
Now it's "us", now it's "we"

Ben, most people would turn you away

I don't listen to a word they say

They don't see you as I do I wish they would try to
I'm sure they'd think again
If they had a friend like Ben (a friend)
Like Ben
(like Ben)
Like Ben

-- "Ben," by Don Black & Walter Scharf, 1972

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, 1958 - 2009

It's hard not to have your heart break a little for Michael Jackson. Remember the utter joy he displayed in his early performances? As if singing and dancing were the most happy-making thing in the world.

Here's just one more thing to add to his legend. You know who told him to wear the light-colored socks? To draw attention to his feet?

Fred Astaire.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Poetry Friday: Ted Geisel

My brother's little daughter is almost two years old, and of course impossibly adorable. I babysat her not too long ago. Her favorite tape (she's still analog) is a recording of "The Cat in the Hat," by Dr. Suess, of course, read by David Hyde Pierce. I was only with her for 36 hours but I heard it at least 9 or 10 times. Easy.

On the way to the train station, at the end of my stay, the tape was on in the car. My brother (David) and I got to talking about how very subversive the whole poem is. Suppression of ego in favor of id. Sexual desire as personified by the Cat. Abandonment issues. Confessional narratives. Goldfish as Chorus. Et al.

Which led us to ask each other (as the adorable niece dozed in the car seat): What is the BEST line in that book? What's the single most daring idea, most challenging to the status quo?

I don't remember what David said, but for me it has got to be this one:

You sank our toy boat,
Sank it deep in the cake,

"Sank it deep in the cake"!!! That is just THE most anarchic line a writer could write. The pathos of "You sank our toy boat." (The poignancy of "toy boat.") The sadness of the realization that a toy boat can be sunk! AND AS IF THAT IS NOT ENOUGH -- where did the Cat sink it? DEEP IN THE CAKE! The madness that suggests! How can a cake and a toy boat even be in the same place? And if it's deep in the cake, then the cake must be a layer cake. The effort it takes to make one of those (and in 1957, yet -- no mixes). And to frost it. All ruined in a moment. In two lines of handsome dactyls, we understand the enormity of the havoc the Cat has wreaked. Toy: demystified; boat: sunk; cake: ruined; home: violable; thin membrane that holds society together: DESTROYED.

And the niecelet: she may be only two, but as you can see, she was not missing a thing.

If there's another candidate for best Dr. Seuss line, bring it on.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poetry Friday: Dylan Thomas

In April, I went to the Antiquarian Book Fair here in New York. I love going to this event. The books are beautiful, old, and lavish. MoCCA is Bizarro Antiquarian Book Fair, in fact.

At Ursus Rare Books I spent too long leaning over the glass counter reading a tight-packed letter from Dylan Thomas. There is nothing like a letter from a genius in his own hand. He doesn't count this as his own poetry; it was something sung -- over and over -- by his then-mistresss, Wyn Henderson, whom he described as "not quite my cup of night custard." Maybe it's not up to the standards of "Do not go gentle into that good night," but it sure counts for Poetry Friday.

There was a bloody sparrow
Flew up a bloody spout
Came up a bloody thunderstorm
And blew the bugger out.

-- As recorded by Dylan Thomas, April, 1936

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why I like MoCCA

So it was a little disorganized. And hot. But because they opened the doors an hour late, I got to stand in line with a great mom who was bouncing with enthusiasm and restrained pride for her son (booth #608). And I met a man who had long ties in the children's book world. And behind me was a young comic book artist who was carting in 100 copies of her latest work, heavy as it was, so she could barter with others just like her.

The people at MoCCA understand something about books. Books are permanent. Books mean work is final. Books are to be passed along, read, re-read. Of course all these artists and writers are web-savvy -- even that term is way too naive for them. It's like saying artists 50 years ago were pencil-savvy. But savvy as they are, they love print. They love its limitations, they love the tooth of paper, they like to sew up seams and fold paper and figure out how to use color on color. They like to see how they can make things look old even when they are shockingly new.

If something deserves to be printed, I heard them saying with their gorgeous tiny hand-printed volumes, then it deserves to be a beautiful object. Even if it's a few pieces of stapled Xerox paper, there is thought in every panel. The effort it takes to make books -- after work, late at night, whenever the muse strikes and when it doesn't, and all with very little money -- that effort is worth nothing unless the book itself is a work of art. And you are so right, MoCCA folk. Why print unless you can't do anything else?

Maybe I'm romanticizing a little. So what. I love the raw unstoppable passion of these artists. I am filled with deep admiration at their willingness to help one another. Honestly, with country's biggest publishers heading further and further down the virtual road, I'm glad there is a vanguard of new artists who believe in printed books. Because, dudes, I believe in you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vegetarians: Stop reading now

This was the slightly surreal scene at Madison Square Park, just a couple of blocks from MoCCA this past weekend. Imagine my surprise when I got out of a cab to find a suckling pig laid out on a park bench. The piggie was about to be carved without sentiment of any kind by a short woman with a long knife. A really long knife.

Just the perfect entry into the world of cartoonists and comicbook writers.

More about them soon, truly.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Today was my day to post about MoCCA but I didn't get a chance to do it. As an opening salvo, here's the best quote from the 2-day fair.

The scene: A very small table, being shared by 3 aspiring comic book writer/artists. One person's work particularly catches my eye. I stop to talk to the open-faced young artist about her delicate, wryly funny drawings:

ME: Have you ever thought of doing a children's book?

ARTIST: Only in my dreams.

Which reminds me: Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Separated at birth?

Jack Nicholson.

Mo Willems.

Can you believe I had never actually seen Easy Rider before this Friday night? A disgrace, I know. And when I at last did view this trippy movie, all I could think of was Mo Willems. NOT because it was trippy, no no. But every time I looked at Jack, I thought...Mo. Whoa.

Which is a nice segue into tomorrow's blog post about the Musem of Comics and Cartoon Art festival in NYC this weekend. (Mo Willems is on the MoCCA Advisory Board.) For tonight let's just say there is a future to publishing, and it was in exhilarating evidence at the Lexington Avenue Armory this weekend. More anon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Poetry Friday: Alternate Side of the Street Parking

This week, here in Gotham, I had a horrible run-in with a fellow New Yorker. The reason for the altercation was alternate side of the street parking. I won't go into it, except to say that it made me realize how lucky we are in this town not to have to rely on a car. And in honor of my 1999 Subaru Outback Wagon, and of the four winters I spent at college in Maine, here is a poem for a cold Friday:

Starting the Subaru at Five Below

Ater 6 Maine winters and 100,000 miles,
when I take it to be inspected

I search for gas stations where they
just say beep the horn and don't ask me to

put it on the lift, exposing its soft
rusted underbelly. Inside is the record

of commuting: apple cores, a bag from
McDonald's, crushed Dunkin Donuts cups,

a flashlight that doesn't work and one
that does, gas receipts blurred beyond

recognition. Finger tips numb, nose
hair frozen, I pump the accelerator

and turn the key. The battery cranks,
the engine gives 2 or 3 low groans and

starts. My God it starts. And unlike
my family in the house, the job I'm

headed towards, the poems in my briefcase,
the dreams I had last night, there is

no question about what makes sense.
White exhaust billowing from the tail pipe,

heater blowing, this car is going to
move me, it's going to take me places.

-- Stuart Kestenbaum
Pilgrimage, (c) 1990, Coyote Love Press

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

You know it's a quiet BEA when... don't run into any of your former office-romances at the Javits Center. Granted, I was not at the fair the whole three days, but I did not have to avoid a single past significant other. For a moment I thought I'd spotted an ex- in the line at the coffee place right at Exhibitor Registration, but it was just another darkly handsome broody brainy guy in his convention suit and badge.

How to fix that? Let the public come in. Richard Nash on his PW blog says it eloquently and passionately. I would point to Comic-con as an example of how people -- masses of people -- can be intellectually ignited by what publishers have to offer. People read at Comic-con. And they'd read at BEA, too -- in the hallways, on the floor, on the buses, in line -- if only we asked them in. Then there'd be plenty of exes to avoid.

I taught a class this weekend at the Little Airplane Academy. Part of the weekend was spent at BEA. Afterwards, one of the students, who by day designs board games, said that he couldn't really tell what anyone was pushing. I told him it was a trade fair, so the pushes were different, and not necessarily discernible in the booths. He raised an eyebrow. "Missed opportunity," he said.