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Suckling goat

For those of you curious, this is the largest web version (watermarked at that) I could find of the full painting Esmeralda by Steuben of which a detail was used for the cover on my copy of Notre-Dame de Paris. Note the heaving bosom. I didn't notice it at first, but I assume that's Quasimodo down on the left (not part of the detail on my book).

Happy birthday Victor Hugo!

Interestingly, we've managed to schedule our meeting about The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Victor Hugo's birthday. From The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist, and dramatist,) born in Besançon, France (1802). He is best known for his epic novels, like Les Misérables (1862) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), but he published dozens of works in his lifetime.

Hugo's father was an army general, and the father taught his young son to admire Napoleon as a national hero. Hugo also traveled widely as a boy, living in Spain and Italy before his parents separated, when Hugo moved to Paris with his mother. It was in Paris that the young Hugo began to make a name for himself, as a writer of promise. He published his first play at age 14, and he earned praise from the prestigious Académie française a year later. Hugo published his early novels, Han d'Islande and Bug-Jargal, in his early 20s. He had been translating the poetry of Virgil since adolescence, and in 1822 he published his first translations. Hugo earned a large financial reward from Louis XVII for these translations, and he married the daughter of the minister of defense.

Hugo earned widespread fame for his play Hernani (1830) and for the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), which tells the now-famous story of a gypsy girl named Esmeralda and Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer who loves her. Much later, Hugo wrote the epic Les Misérables, about the life of Jean Valjean, who is imprisoned for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread.

Hugo became increasingly involved in French politics later in life, particularly after the death of his daughter and her husband, which caused him much sadness and kept him from publishing a book for 10 years. In particular, Hugo was an advocate for social justice. In 1848, after a revolution helped form the Second Republic, Hugo was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and the Legislative Assembly. Just a few years later, Hugo fled France after a coup d'état by Napoleon III put his life in danger. Hugo first went to Brussels, then he moved on to Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel. He would be away from France for 20 years. It was during this time that Hugo wrote Les Misérables.

Hugo returned to France when the Third Republic came into power, but he left again during the time of the Paris Commune, which ruled Paris for a brief time in 1871. He again took up residence in Brussels, but he was expelled for sheltering defeated revolutionaries. Hugo moved on to Luxembourg, and when the Paris Commune finally collapsed, he returned to Paris and was elected a senator.

Like so many French writers before and since, Hugo's death was a national event. He was given a national funeral attended by two million people.

(By the way, The Writer's Almanac is awesome. I don't listen to it on NPR, sadly, but I love getting a poem and tidbits about authors in my inbox every morning.)

This group needs some traffic

Everyone making progress with the next book? When are meeting? I'm only halfway through!

Also...today's QuasiM.

marjane satrapi interview

i just started persepolis (thanks alibi_shop!) -- i didn't realize it was about growing up in revolutionary iran! i'm so excited to read it. my family lived in iran from 1974-75, and then again in 1978, just before the shah was deposed and the embassy was taken hostage. (my dad was in the air force; retired right around the time i started high school. i was at college in texas when they were in iran the second time; marshall law and the resulting curfews were in effect during that time period.)

anyway, i'm getting off on a tangent.... i just wanted to let you know that the washington post ran a (rather fluffy) interview with marjane satrapi on 20 january. you can find it here, if you're interested in reading it. apparently, she's quite funny. in one of the quotes from the article, she says to the interviewer, "If you have asthma or something, you tell me. Then I go into the toilet and smoke and we have to speak through the door."
I had a great time on Tuesday! Because I found this amusing and you might too: I got home last night and a package with a book was on my doorstep. It turns out I ordered Maus II instead of Maus I, which actually works out now that I've read Maus I.

Good thing there's only one Hunchback (I'll be sure to get an unabridged version - thanks for the tip, canis_fortuna). I think I'll go order it now.
Because Denise mentioned it, and we were talking about documentary comics in general, I wanted to plug (again) this ongoing webcomic about NOLA/Katrina by my Brooklyn homeboy Josh Neufeld:

After the Deluge

Meeting on Tuesday?

Hi! I'm new here and haven't read Maus yet but hopefully will finish some of it by Tuesday. What time is the meeting on Tuesday? I know it's at beckastar and alibi_shop's place.


more Maus background, sort of

I'll briefly geek out here about the cultural scene surrounding Art Spiegelman and Maus, so that I won't be tempted to do this so much during the group meeting.

As you may know, there was a wave of underground comics in the '60s that had a pretty big audience; they tended to be kind of rude, and mostly stuck to short stories. (One of the few long-form artists then, Jack Jackson, did a bunch of fictionalized Texas history books - about as far as you can get from Maus, but great.) This magazine scene was mixed up with '60s youth culture in general, & pretty much died out in the early '70s.

Spiegelman and Bill Griffith (Zippy) were among the ambitious kids who tried to start a second wave; they edited Short Order Comix and Arcade, which put out all kinds of stuff, some of it old-school undergroundy and some a little more nerdy-arty. Spiegelman's own stories at the time were more the latter, with lots of graphic design experimentation and postmodern humor - "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" was in the first issue of their first series, after which he got a lot more abstract. The other big deal at the time was the feminist collective Wimmen's Comix, which hosted a ton of really interesting newer artists, many of whom were doing personal and realistic stories; Carol Tyler was one of the best.

Spiegelman's roommate, and Tyler's husband, was Justin Green - a half-insane artist who did a legendary long story in 1972 called "Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary," a memoir of severe OCD that reads kind of like a cross between Portnoy's Complaint and Donnie Darko. Green didn't pursue comics very hard after that (he became a sign painter to make ends meet) but that story was hugely influential and led to a boom in autobiographical artists doing embarrassing material. A few years later Harvey Pekar started his series American Splendor, which was mostly about his day-to-day but also dipped into other people's stories, and sometimes dealt with Yiddish culture in the Midwest. You can arguably draw a straight line from Green to Pekar to Maus. (Incidentally, Pekar hates Maus with a passion. He thinks the animal heads are too silly.)

In the '80s Spiegelman and his wife Francoise Mouly started RAW, a comics anthology that gathered various post-underground Americans together with European stuff wrapped up with lots of graphic design in a spiffy package - sort of a blatant bid for respectability in the art/lit world, and an effective one. Maus was a serial stuck into the middle of RAW on different paper, a chapter at a time. It didn't fit very well with the look of most of the other stuff in the magazine, but it got attention and the serialization probably helped to prod him along.

Unfortunately, it's still pretty common for cartoonists to take 10+ years to finish a medium-sized book. In Spiegelman's case it meant that by the time he finished it, he was already pretty famous & very busy; between editing other anthologies and getting interviewed and teaching and art directing, he never attempted anything in a long form again. (His later book In the Shadow of No Towers is basically a big collection of autobio strips from the New Yorker. It's okay.)

things about Maus

There are various editions around, some with the whole thing in one book, others with two smallish books (Maus I: My Father Bleeds History, and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began [a.k.a. From Mauschwitz to the Catskills]). It's in two books because of the way it originally appeared -- verrrry slowly, serialized in his magazine Raw; the first half was done from 1980-1986, he won various awards for it and then stalled for a while (the second half starts out with some references to this) and finally finished in 1991.

The short story he includes, "Prisoner on the Hell Planet", is from 1972. Spiegelman's comics before Maus were all pretty experimental and expressionistic, but not usually as personal as this. (They're really hard to find now. His anthology Breakdowns is supposed to be reprinted next year.) Maus was a huge simplification of his style. I've seen the originals in a museum show and they're drawn more or less at the same size they're printed, with a marker or something, with no apparent signs of pencil sketching -- although at least there were some cut-out and pasted-over pieces, so the bastard must've made a few mistakes.

The visual style of the book is partly a reference to Nazi art, which used a lot of mouse and rat cartoons and references to "vermin" in general. The museum exhibit had some of those, and also some tapes of Art's interviews with Vladek (which are pretty spooky because the dialogue in the book captures him so well) -- this stuff can also be found on the Maus CD-ROM edition, if that's still around.

The Wikipedia articles on Spiegelman and Maus are pretty good.

Dec. 18th, 2007

Good to see folks. For those who couldn't make it - we missed you, and Happy Holidays.

And thank whoever that we're done with that book. No offense to the fans of it.

Next on deck is Maus, vols. I and II, by Art Spiegelman. We opted for a short read this month, followed by Hunchback of Notre Dame for the Jan / Feb month.