Imagined Medieval Comics Illuminate the Absurdities of Modern Life

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its famous food pyramid, jettisoning the familiar hierarchical graphic in favor of vertical rainbow stripes representing the various nutritional groups. A stick figure bounded up a staircase built into one side, to reinforce the idea of adding regular physical activity to all those whole grains and veggies.

The dietary information it promoted was an improvement on the original, but nutritional scientists were skeptical that the public would be able to parse the confusing graphic, and by and large this proved to be the case.

Artist Tyler Gunther, however, was inspired:

I started thinking about the messaging school children in 1308 were force fed to believe was part of a heart healthy diet, only to have the rug pulled out from under them 15 years later when some monk rearranged the whole thing.

In other words, you’d better dig into that annual goose pie, kids, while you’ve still got 6 glasses of ale to wash it down.

The imagined overlap between the modern and the medieval is a fertile vein for Gunter, whose MFA in Costume Design is often put to good use in his hilarious historical comics:

Modern men’s fashion is so incredibly boring. A guy wears a pattered shirt with a suit and he gets lauded as though he won the super bowl of fashion. But back in the Middle Ages men made bold, brave fashion choices and I admire them greatly for this. It’s so exciting to me to think of these inventive, strange, fantastic creations being a part of the everyday masculine aesthetic.

The shapes and structures of women’s headwear in the dark ages are truly inspiring. Where were these milliners drawing inspiration from? How were they engineered? How comfortable were they to wear? How did they fit through the majority of doorways? What was it like to sit behind a particularly large one in church? I’m still scrolling through many an internet history blog to find the answers. 

Kathryn Warner’s Edward II blog has proved a helpful resource, as has Anne H. van Buren’s book Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands.

The Brooklyn-based, Arkansas-born artist also makes periodic pilgrimages to the Cloisters, where the Metropolitan Museum houses a vast number illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings, altar pieces, and the famed Unicorn Tapestries:

On my first trip to The Cloisters I saw a painting of St. Michael and the devil almost immediately. I don’t think my life or art has been the same since. None of us know what the devil looks like. But you wouldn’t know that based on how confidently this artist portrays his likeness. After gazing at this painting for an extended period of time I wanted so badly to understand the imagination of whoever could imagine an alligator arms/face crotch/dragon ponytail combo. I don’t think I’ve come close to scratching the surface.

Every time I go to that museum I think, “Wow it’s like I’m on Game of Thrones” and then I have to remind myself kindly that this was real life. Almost everything there was an object that people interacted with as part of their average daily life and that fascinates me as someone who lives in a world filled with mass produced, plastic objects. 

Gunther’s drawings and comics are created (and aged) on that most modern of conveniences—the iPad.

The British monarchy and the First Ladies are also sources of fascination, but the middle ages are his primary passion, to the point where he recently costumed himself as a page to tell the story of Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall and Edward II’s darling, aided by a garment rack he’d retooled as a medieval pageant cart-cum-puppet theater.

See the rest of Tyler Gunther’s Medieval Comics on his website and don’t forget to surprise your favorite hygienist or oral surgeon with his Medieval Dentist print this holiday season.

All images used with permission of artist Tyler Gunther

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley, with a special appearance by Tyler Gunther. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bob Odenkirk & Errol Morris Create Comedic Shorts to Help You Take Action Against Global Warming: Watch Them Online

My beach house must be somewhere around here. I used to be able to see the ocean from it. I should be able to see it from the ocean. Ooo, that looks familiar. Lady Liberty. Ha ha! Hellooo! All the best to you.     —Admiral Horatio Horntower

Are there any Better Call Saul fans among the global warming deniers?

A scenario in which one can simultaneously pooh pooh the melting of the polar ice caps and embrace The Thin Blue Line?

Director Errol Morris and his star, Bob Odenkirk, may not change any minds with their Global Meltdown spots they produced in partnership with the Institute for the Future, but hopefully the emphatic end cards will stir some fans to action.

The absurdist 30-second shorts feature Odenkirk, encrusted in epaulets and naval insignia, as the fictional Horntower, “an admiral of a fleet of one and perhaps the last man on Earth.” Marooned on a small block of ice, he rails against the inexpertly animated wildlife encroaching on his domain.

(“You don’t even have the facility of language!” he tells a penguin, and later threatens a walrus that it will “get painted out” of the final cut for “complaining all the time…”)

Certainly a documentarian of Morris’ stature could have taken a lengthier, more serious approach to the subject, but as he notes:

Logic rarely convinces anybody of anything. Climate change has become yet another vehicle for political polarization. If Al Gore said the Earth was round there would be political opposition insisting that the Earth was flat. It’s all so preposterous, so contemptible.

Odenkirk also has some out-of-uniform concerns about climate change, as expressed in "Where I Got These Abs," a 2011 Shouts & Murmurs piece for The New Yorker:

The middle ab on the left (not my left, your left, if you are looking at me) is called Terrence. It’s a dignified ab. It tenses each time I read an op-ed article about global warming. The article’s point of view is immaterial; simply being reminded that I can do nothing to stop the horrific future of floods and catastrophe gives this ab a taut yank that lingers, burning calories in my well-creased forehead at the same time. 

Watch all of Morris and Odenkirk’s Admiral Horntower spots, currently totaling nine, with ten more to come, on Global Meltdown's YouTube channel.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC this Monday, September 9 for the new season’s kickoff of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Songs by Joni Mitchell Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers & Vintage Movie Posters

I wish I had more sense of humor

Keeping the sadness at bay

Throwing the lightness on these things

Laughing it all away 

                           - Joni Mitchell, “People's Parties”

Joni Mitchell has been showered with tributes of late, many of them connected to her all-star 75th birthday concert last November.

The silky voiced Seal, who credits Mitchell with inspiring him to become a musician, soaring toward heaven on "Both Sides Now"…

"A Case Of You" as a duet for fellow Newport Folk Festival alums Kris Kristofferson and Brandi Carlile….

Chaka Khan injecting a bit of funk into "Help Me," a tune she’s been covering for 20 some years...

They’re moving and beautiful and sensitive, but given that Mitchell's the one behind the immortal lyric “laughing and crying, you know it's the same release…,” shouldn’t someone aim for the funny bone? Mix things up a little?

Enter Todd Alcott, who’s been delighting us all year with his “mid-century mashups,” an irresistible combination of vintage paperback covers, celebrity personae, and iconic lyrics from the annals of rock and pop.

His homage to "Help Me," above, is decidedly on brand. The lurid 1950s EC horror comic-style graphics confer a dishy naughtiness that was—no disrespect—rather lacking in the original.

Perhaps Mitchell would approve of these monkeyshines?

A 1991 interview with Rolling Stone’s David Wild suggests that she would have at some point in her life:

When I was a kid, I was a real good-time Charlie. As a matter of fact, that was my nickname. So when I first started making all this sensitive music, my old friends back home could not believe it. They didn’t know – where did this depressed person come from? Along the way, I had gone through some pretty hard deals, and it did introvert me. But it just so happened that my most introverted period coincided with the peak of my success.

Alcott honors the introvert by rendering "Both Sides Now" as an angsty-looking volume of 60s-era poetry from the imaginary publishing house Clouds.

"Big Yellow Taxi" carries Alcott from the bookshelf to the realm of the movie poster.

The lyrics are definitely the star here, but it's fun to note just how much mileage he gets out of the floating text boxes that were a strangely random-feeling feature of the original.

Also "Ladies of the Canyon" is a great producer's credit. Given Alcott’s own screenwriting credits on IMDB, perhaps we could convince him to mash a bit of Joni’s sensibility into some of Paul Schrader’s grimmest Taxi Driver scenes…

That said, it's worth remembering that Alcott's creations are loving tributes to the artists who matter most to him. As he told Open Culture:

Joni Mitchell is one of the most criminally undervalued American songwriters of the 20th century, and that now that I live in LA, every time I drive through Laurel Canyon I think about her and that whole absurdly fertile scene in the late 1960s, when artists could afford to live in Laurel Canyon and Joni Mitchell was hanging out with Neil Young and Charles Manson.

See all of Todd Alcott’s work here. (Please note that this is his official sales site… beware of imposters selling quickie knock-offs of his designs on eBay and Facebook.) Find other posts featuring his work in the Relateds below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for a new season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

When MAD Magazine Ruffled the Feathers of the FBI, Not Once But Three Times

Many of us grew up reading MAD, the soon-to-be-late illustrated satirical magazine. But only the generations who went through their MAD periods in the publication's first couple of decades, from the 1950s through the 1970s, enjoyed it at the height of its subversive powers. As hard as it may be to imagine in the 21st century, there was even a time when MAD came under scrutiny by no less powerful an organization than the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, and faced the wrath of its first and most feared director J. Edgar Hoover at that. But did the heat stop its creators from doing their necessary work of irreverence? Most certainly not.

"In a memo dated November 30, 1957," writes Mental Floss' Jake Rossen, "an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as 'A. Jones.' raised an issue of critical importance." That issue had to do with what the FBI file on the case described as several complaints made "concerning the 'Mad' comic book," and specifically "a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a 'full-fledged draft dodger.' At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that." Agent Jones also weighed in with a judgment of MAD itself: "It is rather unfunny.”

You can see all this for yourself in the documents from the FBI file, excerpts of which are available to download at thesmokinggun.com. "Criticizing or lampooning the FBI has become standard media fare," says that site, "but when J. Edgar Hoover ran the joint, the bureau wouldn't stand for such swipes — and often retaliated by investigating its foes. So that's why it's great to see that MAD magazine wasn't intimidated by Hoover and seemed to take pleasure in needling the Director." It did it again in 1960, two years after publisher William Gaines promised never to mention Hoover's name in the pages of MAD, when it made fun of the FBI's top man twice in a single issue, once in a faux advertisement for a vacuum cleaner called “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux.”

The exchanges that ensued, says thesmokinggun.com, reveal the FBI's possession of "one lousy sense of humor." But they also reveal no small degree of courage on the part of a still-new humor magazine in the face of an intelligence organization more than empowered to seriously disrupt lives and careers. Not long thereafter, MAD would become a recognized American institution in its own way, poking fun at seemingly every phenomenon to pass, however ephemerally, through the national zeitgeist. But now that its own run, which adds up to a highly non-ephemeral 67 years, has come to an end, we'd do well to reflect on what its history tells us about satire and the state. The condition of that dynamic today may cause some of us to do just what MAD mascot Alfred E. Neuman never did — worry.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch a Star-Studded Cast Read The Mueller Report: John Lithgow, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Annette Bening & More

Laughter is good medicine, but I've found little genuine humor in satire of the 2016 election and subsequent events. Political reality defies parody. So, I guess I wasn’t particularly amused by the idea of a comic staging of the Mueller Report. But aside from whether or not the report has comic potential, the exercise raises a more serious question: Should ordinary citizens read the report?

Given the snowjob summary offered by the Attorney General—and certain press outfits who repeated claims that it exonerated the president—probably. Especially (good luck) if they can score an unredacted copy. Yet, this raises yet another question: Does anyone actually want to read it? The answer appears to be a resounding yes. Even though it's free, the [redacted] report is a bestseller.

And yet, “the published version is as dry as a [redacted] saltine,” writes James Poniewozik at The New York Times. “Robert Mueller himself has the stoic G-man bearing of someone who would laugh by writing ‘ha ha’ on a memo pad.” (Now that’s a funny image.) One wonders how many people dutifully downloading it have stayed up late by the light of their tablets compelled to read it all.

But of course, one does not approach any government document with the hopes of being entertained, though unintentional hilarity can leap from the page at any time. How should we approach The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in 10 Acts? Scripted by Pulitzer Prize-winning  playwright Robert Schenkkan from the Mueller Report’s transcripts, the production is “part old-time public recitation,” writes Poneiwozik, and “part Hollywood table read.”

The staging above at New York’s Riverside Church was hosted by Law Works and performed live by a cast including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, John Lithgow (as “Individual 1” himself), Michael Shannon, Justin Long, Jason Alexander, Wilson Cruz, Joel Gray, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, Zachary Quinto, Mark Ruffalo, Bob Balaban, Alyssa Milano, Sigourney Weaver, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mark Hamill, and more. Bill Moyers serves as emcee.

Can this darkly comic production deliver some comic balm for having lived through the sordid reality of the events in question? It has its moments. Can it offer us something resembling truth? You be the judge. Or you be the producer, director, actor, etcetera. If you find value—civic, entertainment, or otherwise—in the exercise, Schenkkan encourages you to put on your own version of The Investigation. “Your production can be as modest or extravagant as you like,” he writes at Law Works, followed by a list of further instructions for a possible staging.

If, like maybe millions of other people, you’ve got an unread copy of the Mueller Report on your nightstand, maybe watching—or performing—The Investigation is the best way to get yourself to finally read it. Or the most grimly humorous, moronic, pathetic, and surreal parts of it, anyway.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Killer Rabbits in Medieval Manuscripts: Why So Many Drawings in the Margins Depict Bunnies Going Bad

In all the kingdom of nature, does any creature threaten us less than the gentle rabbit? Though the question may sound entirely rhetorical today, our medieval ancestors took it more seriously — especially if they could read illuminated manuscripts, and even more so if they drew in the margins of those manuscripts themselves. "Often, in medieval manuscripts’ marginalia we find odd images with all sorts of monsters, half man-beasts, monkeys, and more," writes Sexy Codicology's Marjolein de Vos. "Even in religious books the margins sometimes have drawings that simply are making fun of monks, nuns and bishops." And then there are the killer bunnies.

Hunting scenes, de Vos adds, also commonly appear in medieval marginalia, and "this usually means that the bunny is the hunted; however, as we discovered, often the illuminators decided to change the roles around."

Jon Kaneko-James explains further: "The usual imagery of the rabbit in Medieval art is that of purity and helplessness – that’s why some Medieval portrayals of Christ have marginal art portraying a veritable petting zoo of innocent, nonviolent, little white and brown bunnies going about their business in a field." But the creators of this particular type of humorous marginalia, known as drollery, saw things differently.

"Drolleries sometimes also depicted comedic scenes, like a barber with a wooden leg (which, for reasons that escape me, was the height of medieval comedy) or a man sawing a branch out from under himself," writes Kaneko-James.

This enjoyment of the "world turned upside down" produced the drollery genre of "the rabbit's revenge," one "often used to show the cowardice or stupidity of the person illustrated. We see this in the Middle English nickname Stickhare, a name for cowards" — and in all the drawings of "tough hunters cowering in the face of rabbits with big sticks."

Then, of course, we have the bunnies making their attacks while mounted on snails, snail combats being "another popular staple of Drolleries, with groups of peasants seen fighting snails with sticks, or saddling them and attempting to ride them."

Given how often we denizens of the 21st century have trouble getting humor from less than a century ago, it feels satisfying indeed to laugh just as hard at these drolleries as our medieval forebears must have — though many more of us surely get to see them today, circulating as rapidly on social media as they didn't when confined to the pages of illuminated manuscripts owned only by wealthy individuals and institutions.

You can see more marginal scenes of the rabbit's revenge at Sexy Codicology, Colossal, and Kaneko-James' blog. But one historical question remains unanswered: to what extent did they influence that pillar of modern cinematic comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Archive of Animations/Cartoons of Ancient Greece & Rome: From the 1920s Through Today

Ancient Greece and Rome have provided fertile hunting grounds for animated subject matter since the very inception of the form.

So what if the results wind up doing little more than frolic in the pastoral setting? Witness 1930’s Playful Pan, above, which can basically be summed up as Silly Symphony in a toga (with a cute bear cub who looks a lot like Mickey Mouse and some flame play that prefigures The Sorcerer’s Apprentice…)

Others are packed with history, mythic narrative, and period details, though be forewarned that not all are as visually appealing as Steve Simons’ Hoplites! Greeks at War, part of the Panoply Vase Animation Project.

Some series, such as the Asterix movies and Aesop and Sona staple of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show from 1959 to 1962have been the gateways through which many history lovers’ curiosity was first roused.

(Russian animator Anatoly Petrov’s erotic shorts for Soyuzmultfilm may rouse other, er, curiosities, and are definitely NSFW.)

And then there are instant classics like 2004’s It's All Greek to Scooby in which “Shaggy's purchase of a mysterious amulet only serves to cause a pestering archaeologist and centaur to chase him.”  (Ye gods…)

Senior Lecturer of Classical and Mediterranean Studies at Vanderbilt, Chiara Sulprizio, has collected all of these and more on her blog, Animated Antiquity.

Beginning with the 2-minute fragment that’s all we have left of Winsor McCay’s 1921 The Centaurs, Sulprizio shares some of her favorite cartoon representations of ancient Greece, Rome, and beyond. Her areas of professional specializationgender and sexuality, Greek comedy, and Roman satireare well suited to her chosen hobby, and her commentary doubles down on historical context to include the history of animation.

The appearance of cartoon stars like Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye further demonstrates this antique subject matter’s sturdiness. TED-Ed and the BBC may view the genre as an excellent teaching tool, but there’s nothing stopping the animator from shoehorning some fabrications in amongst the buxom nymphs and buff gladiators.

(Raise your hand if your mother ever sacrificed you on the altar to Spinachia, goddess of spinach, in hopes that she might unleash a mushroom cloud of super-atomic power in your puny bicep.)

You’ll find a number of entries featuring the work of Japanese and Russian animators, including Thermae Romae, part of the juggernaut that’s sprung from Mari Yamazaki’s popular graphic novel series and Icarus and the Wise Men from the legendary Fyodor Khitruk, whose retelling of the myth sent a message about freedom from the Soviet Union, circa 1976.

Begin your decade-by-decade explorations of Chiara Sulprizio’s animated antiquities here or suggest that a missing favorite be added to the collection. (We vote for this one!)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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