Comic Strip of the Day: Want vs Need

This is a single panel from Bob Eckstein’s “A Sketchbook of the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference,” in the current New Yorker, and you should go read that if you want the rest of this to make sense. (Your choice, of course.)

Eckstein’s piece is about fiction writing and book publishing, but it applies to a wider array of arts, and, as for cartooning, it’s not far afield from last Saturday’s discussion of commercial comic strips vs. the auteur approach.

I chose this particular panel to excerpt here because a lot of children’s books come across my desk that not only sound like her summary but go even further.

The characters in them are not simply minorities but also have birth defects and/or learning disabilities, are victims of abuse and are not cisgender and no, I’m not kidding. It’s as if there were a checklist and a book has to score at least 60% to have a chance.

There is an element of cultural appropriation here: You can feel that literature should be more diverse, but that doesn’t qualify you to make it happen.

Volunteering in a soup kitchen might inspire you to dedicate your life to aiding the homeless, but only after a few years of doing that full-time are you qualified to write a novel about a homeless person.

I’d extend that further: Having ethnic genes and hearing your older relatives’ stories might start a very long process of exploration, but it is not the same as having had that experience yourself.

However, that’s a discussion of truth, and we’re supposed to be discussing marketing. There are all sorts of books that are beloved of teachers and librarians and that win awards and are assigned to kids and are pretentious, preachy crap.

Which is okay if we all agree on what’s going on. “Best selling” is only one category of “best,” but, then again, it’s the category that will pay your rent.


Still, today’s Mr Fitz criticizes a type of teaching that puts analysis ahead of creativity.

Of course, writing literature is very rigorous, but the rigor is largely internal, and, with a few exceptions, it’s only after the work is done and published that the analysts circle to apply their own brand of rigor.

In James Joyce’s short story, “Araby,” the narrator describes a house in which a priest had lived, saying “The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes under one of which I found the late tenant’s rusty bicycle-pump.”

We were taught that the bicycle pump was a phallic symbol, rusty because of its celibate owner, but this doesn’t necessarily mean Joyce planted it there with that intention. That is, it may not be an insight into his craft so much as an insight into his mind.

And Joyce was the most intentional of symbolists. Analyzing other authors as if they were that self-consciously conscious is missing the point of art.

Why is there a goat playing a fiddle in this Chagall? Why is there a fish with a candle?

To quote Dr. Waller, “If you got to ask, you ain’t got it.”

For my part, I abandoned an English major after freshman year and took up classics, which gave me less knowledge of structure but more knowledge of life.


As for success, I’m with Nancy. All that preparation and planning still leaves it up to you.

One of my most-repeated quotes came from an interview I did with an actress I’d gone to college with, who was telling me that she was the only person in her MFA program who had gone on to a career.

A lot of people want it, she said, but that’s not enough. “You have to have to have it,” she said.

Still, theater departments and writers’ conferences would go out of business if they didn’t cater to people who simply wanted it but didn’t have to have to have it.


Late to the story arc

I should have alerted readers to this one when it began, but over at Retail, Grumbel’s has begun interviewing for holiday workers and it’s been worth following.

Here’s a hint: Unless you are applying to a law firm, never accept an offer from anyone who wants to call you an “associate.”


Name Droppers

However intently you follow the storylines in Dick Tracy, the off-the-cuff cultural references are worth the visit.


Now let’s overthink this gag!

Loose Parts cracked me up this morning but it also sent me to overthinking, because, while I don’t know this for sure, my guess would be that medieval knights’ scabbards were leather, not metal, and so there probably wasn’t any SHINNGGGG!!!!! when they drew their swords.

There are, however, all sorts of noises that Foley operators insert into movies that wouldn’t be there in real life but that we’ve now come to expect.

Anyone watching a Western would think screwdrivers hadn’t been invented, for all the jingling and jangling of wagons and horses and men wearing spurs. (They had, though slightly after Blazek’s knights had nearly stopped SHINNGGGG!!!!!ing and clanking around.)

I’ve got several collegiate fencers in the family and the stuff in movies is quite different than what they did.

My only experience was with the theatrical style, and I didn’t get to wield a blade, but just as well: In a production of “Servant of Two Masters,” Beatrice-disguised-as-her-brother-Federigo missed a choreographed block and got a slashing downstroke from Silvio on her forehead.

She gamely finished the scene, but, in the next, when she appeared in her lady-clothes, the lovely maiden had a large, swollen patched lump over her right eyebrow and I’m not sure how the wardrobe people got her man-clothes cleaned up for the next performance, because head wounds have a dreadful tendency to over-act.

As for Beatrice herself, a few stitches and a little ice and she was ready to take up the sword again. No need for heroes on her behalf.


8 thoughts on “Comic Strip of the Day: Want vs Need

  1. The dialogue in the _Mr Fitz_ has one too many: he’s writing an analysis of an analysis, not an analysis of an analysis of an analysis. Maybe that’s part of the “not rigorous” gag, but it seemed more like just a mistake…

  2. I think the problem with Fitz is the convoluted dialogue in Panel Two confused him when he came to Panel Four. The joke works better if he adds another “analyze” in Two, but, yeah, then he miscounted in Four.

  3. I’ve had people find all sorts of symbolism and deep meaning in my stories. They come up proudly and triumphantly, as if they’ve solved the Da Vinci Code. I never tell anybody they’re wrong. If they found something meaningful to them, I’m happy. But three times out of four, they dug up something I didn’t intentionally plant. Sometimes a rusty bicycle pump is just a rusty bicycle pump (though knowing Joyce it probably wasn’t).

  4. Your mention of “Foley operators”threw me because I know more people in the medical field than I do in the movie industry.

  5. My mom drew that pirate from a matchbook once (maybe more, as she drew all the characters on the matchbooks, even though I can’t recall any of the others right now). We kids thought they were pretty good (What did we know?) and encouraged her to send them in. She, thankfully, never did.

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