Friday, March 29, 2013

Caption Contest victor & more funny stuff

The votes have been counted, and the Easter Bunny is happy to pull out of his hat the name of the winner in our latest caption contest. By a hefty margin, it is Stella Weng! Congratulations, and I'll be sending you the code for your discount via e-mail. Thanks to all the clever folks who shared their wit with us—we hope you'll continue to do so.
"I'm leaving you, Jake. Maximillian here .... understands me."
Here's a close-up of the new contest image (see the rules at the upper right of this page).
More funny stuff: NPR Laughter Therapy: A Comedy Collection for the Chronically Serious; Monty Python's Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated ... All the Bits.
And here's a recent winner from Anne Taintor's monthly caption contest.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Yorker cartoons: beyond the pale?

In honor of the finale of our latest caption contest, I'm sharing some images from The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker. Summing up thematically, many of the entries seemed to have been spurned because they were about sex, were politically or religiously sensitive, or were just plain gross (I'll spare you the wurst). There's a photo of each cartoonist in the book, and a profile of sorts is created by how willingly or anarchically they fill out a questionnaire designed to get them to open up about themselves (thankfully, some draw cartoons on the questionnaire).
As Matthew Diffee writes in the Introduction about how a cartoon is born,
It's a little like driving around the countryside looking for something to photograph.... Along the way you probably take a few uninspired shots of double-wides and clotheslines and maybe some appliances on porches, but nothing you really like. Nothing that works. And then, just as the afternoon sun turns its most mawkish hue, you round a bend and see a black-and-white cow chewing on an old red tennis shoe. You snap the picture. And it's perfect. You've found just what you wanted, but it isn't something you ever could have planned on finding and isn't something you're ever likely to find again.
We'll start off with Gahan Wilson (could one of the aliens have been wearing "Earth Shoes"?)
Which one's your favorite?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The heyday of "love" comics

Heart Throbs and Ranch Romances ... the alluring covers of these "golden age" classics from 1955 and 1949 look down upon me daily on a wall of assorted pulp and pop culture artifacts in my first-floor bathroom. (They were graciously donated to me by Daily Glean follower and "relentless reader" Bettina Berch.) So you can imagine how I gobbled up Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics. Published from 1947–1977, "love" comics sold millions of copies monthly at the height of their popularity. With 147 different titles, they made up 1/4 of all comic book sales at the middle of the last century.
Besides being eminently eye-catching, this book is a sociological bonanza in its glimpses into the handling of issues such as women working after marriage, dating mores, class distinctions, disability, in-law problems, and even the commie menace (published in Lovelorn in 1952, "Behind the Romantic Curtain" is distinctive in that it's told from a male point of view).
Here's the cover and one of four stories from a 1946 issue of Heart Throbs, complete with several ads and an advice column.

Addendum on Ranch Romances. In an article on the series on, Michelle Nolan has this to say:
In his pulp publishing memoir Pulpwood Editor (1937), Hersey calls Ranch Romances "my home run." It was one of the few magazines left relatively unsullied by Depression economics when Clayton Magazines called it quits in 1933. In my book Love on the Racks (McFarland, 2008), I mention one of my favorite editor's quotes from the era, which is Hersey's famous phrase: "There are only two kinds of women in the western pulpwoods -- your sister and nobody's sister." "Your sister" became an endless line of independent, daring, impulsive yet invariably feminine western heroines with whom untold millions of modern female readers could identify while reading Ranch Romances….
Throughout the 1940s -- as the pulp industry became increasingly squeezed by war-time paper drives and the competition of comic books, paperbacks, radio, film and, later, television -- Ellsworth soldiered on, frequently handling manuscripts submitted by western writers of distinction. They included Frank Gruber, Wayne D. Overholser, Elmer Kelton, Todhunter Ballard, Giles A. Lutz, and Lewis B. Patten.
Finally, here's Issue No. 1 of Heart Throbs, 1949:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Listening booth: Child ballads for a new millenium

Ever since I blurbed an advance copy of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer's Child Ballads I have been longing to share it with you, and now it's in stock! The first thing that strikes one are the fabulous woodcut-like illustrations of these vivid song-stories. By Peter Nevins, there is one CD-sized graphic for each one, included inside as an accordion foldout. You can hear Mitchell and Hamer perform "Tam Lin" (illustrated below right) live in this duet from a Folk Alliance International Conference and "Willie's Lady" on the BBC World Service. I find them just spellbinding.
The next song is "Geordie" (above left) probably best known because of Joan Baez's recording. Her version is etched in my memory, but this one gives it a run for the money. 

"I just fell in love with the stories," Mitchell told The Guardian. "They're so beautiful, so strange and weird. That's the poetry of it. When I met Jefferson we decided it would be cool to do them ourselves. As outsiders we had some trepidation, but they're very hardy songs. They have weathered centuries." As a bit of background, The Guardian helpfully provides a sampler of Child ballads as performed by Harry Belafonte, Doc Watson, Fairport Convention, and Joan Baez. "While there are other significant traditional song collections, the influence of Child's is impossible to overstate" they write. "Since the folk revival of the 1950s they have been sung and recorded by every notable traditional musician, from Joan Baez to Nic Jones, and adapted by folk-rock pioneers including Steeleye Span and Pentangle. Fairport Convention did extraordinary things with Tam Lin and Sir Patrick Spens [above right]. Bob Dylan not only sang several Child Ballads, including Barbara Allen, but used them as prototypes for his own songs. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall derives its haunting imagery and question-and-answer structure from Lord Randall." [Below, "Willie o Winsbury" and "Willie's Lady"]
"Clyde's Water"

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lucien Lelong: a timeless genius of fashion

When you think about famous French citizens who outmaneuvered the Nazis, fashion designers don't usually jump to the fore. He's not as well-known nowadays as his pal Coco (with whom he's shown at left), but for nearly half a century, being à la mode in France meant wearing a creation from the house of Lucien Lelong. Not only that, but he was married to a 40-carat Russian princess. Lelong's longtime model and muse, Natalia Romanov Paley was depicted wearing his gowns by great fine art photographers like Horst, Cecil Beaton, and Man Ray. Because fashion history focuses on the "revolutionary" years of 1905, 1925, 1947, and 1966 (Poiret, Chanel, Dior, and Courreges), other dominant and influential figures like Lelong have often been obscured. But his sophisticated, exquisitely draped creations are timeless works of couture that are now collected in the major museums, and the large-format, beautifully printed book Lucien Lelong really brings them up close, as well as telling the fascinating story of his life and times. 
Natalie Romanov Paley (Mrs. Lucien Lelong from 1927–1937) wearing one of his black sequined evening gowns; photo by Man Ray, 1934. During her marriage she also had a relationship with Jean Cocteau.
And so, back to L.L. vs. the Third Reich. When the Germans entered Paris in June of 1940, many couture houses fled to southwest France. Lelong kept his part of this vital French industry in Paris and encouraged the press to report on its survival. The Germans banned exports, appropriated the files of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture (with its files on American buyers), and proposed that all of French haute couture be integrated into a German organization in Berlin or Vienna. As its spokesperson, Lelong flatly refused, and they eventually backed down. In 1942 he organized a fashion show for clients from neutral countries, without prior approval from the Germans. Despite retaliations such as increased conscriptions, a ban on marketing, and rations on raw materials, Lelong did a masterful job of keeping French fashion alive during the war, boosting both morale and the economy in the process.

1928, McCord Museum
 Related reading: Americans in Paris: Life & Death Under Nazi Occupation; A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS.