Call me Russ L

Looks like we got ourselves a couple of readers

Posted in Books, Combat Sports by Russ L on 29 November, 2008

In spite of being an avid reader, I don’t very often write here about books. I don’t find it the easiest thing to do; the oft-repeated trope that writing about music is like ‘dancing about architecture” is all very well and good, but A) that’s surely easier than dancing about dancing, and B) a dance about architecture sounds bloody ace to me.

I am, nevertheless, in the mood to mention a few things I’ve read recently.

Cage Talk by Jimmy Page (no, not that one) is a book about Mixed Martial Arts that has really been hurt by its publishers. I’m fairly sure that the author isn’t responsible for the out-of-context Frank Mir quote on the back cover, the “agonising armbar graaagh” style of photo captions, and the terrible proofreading throughout. The inside cover is epic, referring as it does to “Calazaghe” (sic. A famous boxer, apparently. Never heard of him, although I am aware of his mate with a very similar name), “heavy-weight” (sic. If in doubt, add a hyphen), and typos aside it amusingly lists a group of “cage fighting organisations” that includes ‘Vale Tudo’. An organisation, whodathunkit.

All of this has nothing to do with the author, of course (that really shouldn’t need stating once, never mind twice, but I have had a discussion about this lately so I’ll indulge), and the content is more worthwhile (even if I’m not completely sure who it’s pitched at. It sort of reads like a beginners guide to MMA, but sort of not). Each chapter explores a theme by means of series of extracts from interviews, starting with big concepts and questions that hang around the sport (morality, women fighting etc), moving on to specific techniques used in the game, and finally specific fights. In every case, the material presented is very impartial and wherever applicable counter-arguments are presented.

The thing I like about it most, however, is the documentation of UK MMA that it provides. There’s not really all that much in print about our domestic scene, and so the quotes and interview excerpts from the likes of Rosi Sexton, Mark Goddard etc. alongside the bigger American names are more than welcome, as are the discussions about fights that took place over here. Two thumbs up for that.

Moving into the realms of fiction, I enjoyed Patrick Süskind’s Perfume. Grenouille, a child with an unnaturally overdeveloped sense of smell but no smell of his own, is born and nearly abandoned before being almost immediately orphaned in eighteenth century Paris. A brutal upbringing leads to him becoming a complete psychopath, who will go to whatever lengths necessary in harvesting smells he admires.

The main strength of this book lies in its wonderful descriptive writing (I knew I was going to love it when only a couple of pages in I encountered “even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion”), and it seems relatively unique to me – I know of no other novel that concentrates on scents and odours with such adjectival brilliance. Grenouille’s psycopathology is handled particularly well, too; he feels contempt for the rest of mankind, but aptly only a very small amount of actual spite. His murders were merely a means to the ends he wanted to achieve, and that’s where the creepiness lies. This also contrasts very well with the cold cynicism of everyone we encounter in any sort of position of authority throughout the book.

It’s not a ‘nice’ book by any means (not quite “The Wasp Factory” or “And The Ass Saw The Angel” nasty, though, either), but I’d definitely recommend it. Apparently a film has been made. I find it very hard to imagine how that would work, unless presented in glorious smell-o-vision.


Currently: I’m reading “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, and I’ve nearly finished Robert Tressell’s “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” and a re-read of Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”.

I suppose this would be as good a place as anywhere to chuck in a link to my Shelfari shelf.


20 Responses

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  1. Jez said, on 29 November, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Surprised and delighted to see The King Canute Crowd on your shelf there, chum. But Garfield? You better tell me you were drunk, they seemed so attractive at the time, but when you woke up in the morning you realised it was all a terrible mistake and have felt kind of bad, not to say soiled, inside ever since, because otherwise, you know, it’s over between us, man. Over.

  2. Russ L said, on 30 November, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Now don’t be hasty, Jez. They’re from many years back. I always liked Garfield as a little chillun. I even had Garfield wallpaper on the one wall of my bedroom.

    But, erm… I do still like Garfield. It is best without him, obviously. Or when he’s doing film noir.

    The mighty P’Ashton gave me The King Canute Crowd, y’know.

    No thoughts on the Hagar The Horrible books?

  3. Jez said, on 1 December, 2008 at 10:39 am

    I accept that the 4 panel newspaper cartoon strip is an immensely difficult thing to create once, let only on a daily basis. I understand that the limitations imposed by format, size, deadlines, and low print quality are extremely restrictive. This is why, I believe, that while a number of people have achieved commercial success, very, very few have achieved any long term artistic success. Hagar falls into squarely into the “a bit rubbish” category that most 4 panel cartoons do, the kind that just goes on and on without showing any kind of growth or change or development. The slightly tragic thing about Hagar is the way that Chris Browne took over from his late father on the strip, again without any apparent change in style or content.

    Garfield stands out from the pack for its excessive laziness. Jim Davis so-called humour is so piss poor and weak it can’t even make it four panels, but coughs up its pathetic punchline in three. Garfield’s continued existence is an insult not just to comics, but to humanity itself. The fact that not only is it still printed in newspapers, but that people go out and buy fucking Garfield merchandise shows us that we are indeed living in a dying civilisation which will soon crash in a great conflagration and that out ashes will be washed away by the churning tides of history.

  4. Russ L said, on 1 December, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I didn’t know four panels was some kind of standard. Learning all the time, that’s me.

    They both amuse me, anyway, in the “raising a chuckle’ sense.

    Skol, Skol, Skol, Skol, Skol…

  5. Jez said, on 1 December, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Chuckle? An actual noise? Please, if such a Garfield cartoon exists, direct me to it with all haste.

  6. Russ L said, on 1 December, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Well, if ‘cartoon’ in this context means ‘cartoon strip’ then this isn’t your answer, but the abovelinked Garfield cartoonfillum makes me more than chuckle. Laff Out Lowud, if you will.

    This is me though, and not you, if we want to preserve that irritating distinction that I believe cognitive psychologists insist we pick up at the age of about 6-9 months.

    EDIT: The thought occurs that we were just purely talking about the comic strips and not the Garfield cannon as a whole (civilisation-destroying hyperbole aside), so that first paragraph ain’t helpful, but still: I do find them funny. Quite often, anyway. The further thought occurs that – confused by my liking of the Garfield cannon as a whole – I’d not previously realised that I’m not quite as amused by the comic strips as I am by the on-screen cartoons. I nevertheless still find them funny. Quite often, anyway.

  7. Pete Ashton said, on 1 December, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    While Garfield hatred amongst comics and cartooning aficionados is common, it’s worth noting that Jez does this sport a lot more seriously than most.

    One thing in Garfield’s favour is it’s not as bad as Fred Bassett, but that’s not saying much at all.

    A good yardstick for quality in 4 panels would be Peanuts. Glorious stuff where quite often you don’t notice the genius unless you’re looking for it, which is how good cartooning should work.

  8. Russ L said, on 1 December, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    So much ‘should’. So very much ‘should’.

  9. Pete Ashton said, on 1 December, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Okay, you best contextualise that lest I start thinking you’re dissing the Schulz. No-one disses the Schulz and gets away with it. Not on my watch.

  10. Russ L said, on 1 December, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I am not dissing the Schulz by any means. I like, nay love, ‘Peanuts’.

    Jez seems to suggest that a three-panel strip is necessarily a four-panel strip done badly. You say cartooning ‘should’ be as described above.

    I, on the other hand, didn’t know the rules before I started reading the texts in question.

    I often worry about being expected to know what I expect to be expected to like about something before I’m expected to actually like it.

  11. Pete Ashton said, on 2 December, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Well, that’s a relief. I once met someone who seemed okay but turned out to not like Peanuts. We’re no longer friends. This may or may not be connected.

    The 4 panels is better than 3 thing does make sense. It’s about the setup and Doonesbury does this a lot. That 3rd panel is where it’s at, giving the joke a moment to breath before the punchline.

    Setup | Setup | Pause | Punchline

    With a 3 panel strip you either have

    Setup | Pause | Punchline

    which has less depth, or

    Setup | Setup | Punchline

    which has less impact.

    I wouldn’t worry about knowing what you’re supposed to like too much. Just remember Jez and I take this stuff FAR too seriously but that it’s important that someone does. Cartooning is one of those things it’s easy to do badly with no-one noticing but really hard to do well, because when you do it really well no-one notices at all.

    Or something.

    (Good grief!)

  12. Russ L said, on 2 December, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Apostasy #381: I’ve never once found Doonesbury even the slightest bit funny.

    I don’t really worry about not knowing what I’m expected to like, I just find that pretending to do so is a good way of mocking dogmatic form-over-content-every-time thinking.

  13. DocDelete said, on 2 December, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Sorry guys – cruising in here after stumbling stalker-like over this thread…

    Generally, I’m a fan of the daily stuff, though there’s a tendency to Brit work like Garth, Modesty Blaise, Andy Capp et al – the lure is surely a nostalgic one.

    However, can I add Calvin and Hobbes to the list of Greats? I dunno – I’m perhaps getting soppy in my old age but I feel Watterson’s creation has an innocent quality to it that really appeals. Can’t honestly say I’ve been driven to gut-laughs but I’ve often left the page smiling from ear to ear. It’s a kind of warm, gentle, observational humour that never gets saccharin sweet.

    Peanuts? Soz, never really took to it. Garfield? Liked it when I was 12-ish, mainly ‘cos my Mum thought he was cute (still does) and bought me some reprints. Neither managed to leave a lasting impression. God, I’ve done it now…

  14. Russ L said, on 2 December, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I would have to agree with Garfield being very cute. We had a cat turning up in our garden for a while who looked uncannily similar (this is in real life, natch). She wasn’t the friendliest of beasts, although I suppose neither is Garfield.

    Spike For, as I believe they say, The Win.

  15. Pete Ashton said, on 3 December, 2008 at 4:43 am

    I like Doonesbury but I don’t think it’s supposed to be funny-funny.

    Waterson is another god of the dailies and one I need to study more of to be honest. Keep meaning to buy the books…

    Doing a comic about a cat and making it cute is making a cup of tea with lots of a sugar and making it sweet.

    Anyway, here’s a Doonesbury which probably isn’t funny but does have the Setup | Setup | Pause | Punchline rhythm.

    I had a scan through the Garfield strips and the pacing was atrocious. It was like watching a man walk downstairs with his trousers around his ankles while carrying two goldfish bowls. Made it to the end but not very gracefully.

    I’m gonna leave this now, as much fun as it is. Get Jez and myself talking in pub sometime if you want more…

  16. Jez said, on 3 December, 2008 at 10:00 am

    I’ve never tried to suggest that anyone should like such-and-such a thing and not like such-another thing. I hope I haven’t suggested that the “goodness” of a thing is dictated solely by its form. Sticking with the subject matter at hand, I consider Garfield to be a piss-poor cartoon strip because its content is so weak – the jokes barely exist. That it is also poor from a technical point of view is almost secondary.

    Doonesbury I feel is a good cartoon strip because its content is strong, and consistently so. It’s also strong in a formal and technical perspective.

    I’ve never been that taken with Peanuts (someone once told me “it was very strong in the 60s and 80s”, while I was reading it in the 70s), but I can appreciate it from a technical standpoint.

    Steve Bell’s If… regularly throws the formalisms of the newspaper strip out of the window, but to terrific effect.

    I do like Calvin and Hobbes, although it does eventually become repetitious. It’s interesting to compare that strip with Garfield actually, because they’re both working with similar boundaries. You have a protagonist and his talking cat, a minimal number of other characters, a very few sets. Calvin and Hobbes bristles with energy and excitment and fun, while Garfield just doesn’t.

    I probably have spent too much time thinking about this nonsense, but, you know, keeps me off the streets.

  17. Jez said, on 3 December, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Just watched the animated cartoon linked above, and it’s alright, probably because it bears as much resemblence to the newspaper strip as a cow to a carrot.

    The very first shot, panning along the street, tells us more about where Garfield lives than we ever would have learnt for the strip. In less than a minute we’re into this noir fantasy and have left the strip behind. Aside from Garfield, the drawing doesn’t follow Davis’ style. The dialogue isn’t anything like the pattern he’s established. It’s so remote from the strip, you could swap out Garfield and drop in almost anyone else – Magnum PI, Bart Simpson, Rigby Reardon – and it will still work as an amusing noir parody.

  18. DocDelete said, on 3 December, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Pete – I think if you just bought one bumper Calvin and Hobbes book you’d have all you’d need. Jez’s point about repetition is a valid one, but I do feel C&H is saved by a finite run that is collectable without breaking the bank ;)

    Peanuts. My introduction to it was the animated thing in the late 70s (?) through 80s. Hated it. *Then* tried to read the strips, didn’t get interested – perhaps the TV experience had spoiled it for me.

  19. Russ L said, on 3 December, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Crises in carrot-cow-comparability in this context are, of course, correct. As I acknowledged above, though, my epiphany in this thread has been that my liking of the Garfield screen cartoons/cannon-as-a-whole has possibly confused me about how much I like the paper cartoons (although I do still like them).

    Having thought about this for a second time, I can also say I couldn’t give a whit about the technical aspects mentioned here (this is, of course, relatively consistent with the way I look at a lot of artforms): I can certainly see what’s being said about pacing, but from my perspective it really doesn’t add or detract anything at all in a text so short. I don’t think the thought would ever have occurred to me if it hadn’t been suggested here.

    Meanwhile, I don’t find Doonesebury funny-funny, witty-funny, or even-remotely-in-any-way-funny.

    What’s with the metaphors in this thread? Cows, carrots, goldfish bowls, trousers… I liked sweet cats and cartoon tea, though.

    Anyone remember the Big Comic/Funny Fortnightly? That may well be our consensus re-building thing that everyone will condemn as rubbish.

  20. […] Garfield’s continued existence is an insult not just to comics, but to humanity itself. – In which Russ L writes a nice blog post about books and somehow Jez turns the comments into a rant about Garfield and then I join it and try to explain the rules of good comic strips. Meanwhile Russ L is presumably bemused and amused by this behaviour. […]


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