Enter the Franz Kafka Caption Contest for a Chance to Win a New Book of the Author’s Drawings (Until June 13)

Imagine if Franz Kafka were charged with picking the winning entries in The New Yorker’s weekly cartoon caption contest.

The punchlines might become a little more obscure.

If that idea fills you with perverse pleasure, perhaps you should toddle over to Yale University Press’s Instagram to contribute some possible captions for eight of the inky drawings the tortured author made in a black notebook between 1901 and 1907.

The intended meaning of these images, included in the new book, Franz Kafka: The Drawings, are as up for grabs as any uncaptioned cartoon on the back page of The New Yorker.

In Conversations with Kafka, author Gustav Janouch recalled how their significance proved elusive even to their creator, and also the frustration his friend expressed regarding his artistic abilities:

I should so like to be able to draw. As a matter of fact, I am always trying to. But nothing comes of it. My drawings are purely personal picture writing, whose meaning even I cannot discover after a time.

Kafka seems to have gone easier on himself in a 1913 letter to fiancée Felice Bauer:

I was once a great draftsman, you know… These drawings gave me greater satisfaction in those days—it’s years ago—than anything else.

Artist Philip Hartigan, who referenced the drawings in a journal and sketchbook class for writing students nails it when he describes how Kafka’s “quick minimum movements … convey the typical despairing mood of his fiction in just a few lines.”

You have until June 13 to make explicit what Kafka did not by leaving your proposed caption for each drawing as a comment on Yale University Press’s Instagram, along the hashtag #KafkaCaptionContest.

Winners will receive a copy of  Franz Kafka: The Drawings. Entries will be judged by editor Andreas Kilcher of and theorist Judith Butler, who contributed an essay that you might consider mining for material:

Was it a muffled death? Or perhaps it was no death at all, just a tumbling of intercourse, a sexual flurry?

Yes, that might go nicely with Kafka’s drawing of a seated figure collapsed over a table, below.

https://images.app.goo.gl/mGfZzLcpRXuyqqU68

Some alternate proposals from contest hopefuls:

I needed to bathe my battered knuckles with my tears.

He studied his newly acquired rare stamp with a powerful loupe.

How can I make sure that all my letters and papers will be destroyed after my death? I know – I’ll ask my closest friend to take care of it!

This last is a reference to Kafka’s literary executor, Max Brod, who defied Kafka’s explicit wish that all of his work be burned upon his death, save The Metamorphosis, and five short stories: The Judgment, The Stoker, In the Penal Colony, A Country Doctor and A Hunger Artist.

Brod cut Kafka’s drawing of the standing figure, above, from his sketchbook and kept in an envelope with a few others. Some of the current caption suggestions for this haunting, never before seen image:

my face is an umbrella to my tears

I couldn’t face myself.

I am the Walrus goo goo g’joob

https://images.app.goo.gl/e6v8xbuRin3qWcS56

Of the eight drawings in the caption contest, Drinker, may offer the most narrative possibilities. A representative sampling of the inventiveness that’s come over the transom thusfar:

I, period

Angered by the impudence of the cabernet, i had only the courage to berate its shadow

Waiter! There’s a roach in my wine.

Enter Yale University Press’ Kafka Caption Contest (or get a feel for the competition) here. Entries will be accepted through June 13. Full contest rules are here. Good luck!

Explore the drawings and other contents of Franz Kafka’s black notebook here.

Purchase Franz Kafka: The Drawings, the first book to publish the entirety of the author’s graphic output, here.

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

On Art Speigelman’s Maus: Should Comics Expose Kids to the World’s Horrors? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #122

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In light of its being recently banned in some settings, we discuss Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1980-91), which conveys his father’s account of living through the Holocaust. We also consider other war-related graphic novels like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000) and George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy (2019).

Your host Mark Linsenmayer is joined by comics scholar Vi Burlew, comics blerd/acting coach Anthony LeBlanc, and comedian/graphic novelist Daniel Lobell.

Are comics particularly effective in changing hearts and minds when they display people’s hardships? Should kids be exposed to the horrors of the world in this way? What about the complexities of social justice and gender identity? We also touch on Gilbert Gottfried and the relationship between humor and tragedy, learning history vs. reading one person’s experience, the ages at which became political, and how comics may have aided that.

Read Vi’s Washington Post editorial about censorship that inspired this episode.

Other relevant sources include:

If you enjoyed this discussion, try our episodes featuring Vi talking about the trope of the heroine’s journey in film, Anthony talking about blerds, i.e. black nerds, and Daniel talking about the comic Peanuts.

Follow us @ViolaBurlew, @anthonyleblanc, @DanielLobel, and @MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pretty Much Pop. Support the show at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Explore a Big Archive of Vintage Early Comics: 1700-1929

The popularity of graphic novels (and more than a few extremely lucrative superhero movie franchises) have conferred respectability on comics.

Handsome reissues of such stunning early works as Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and Frank King’s Walt and Skeezix suggest that readers’ appetite for vintage comics extends deeper and further back than mere nostalgia for the Sunday funnies of their youth.

Artist Andy Bleck’s Andy’s Early Comics Archive is an excellent resource for those seeking to discover early examples of the form that have yet to be reissued in a collected edition. (Fair warning: reflecting the attitudes of the time, the collection does inevitably contains some racist imagery. Such imagery won’t be on display in this post.)

Bleck, the creator of Konky Kru, a beautifully simple, wordless series, as well as several self-published mini comics, takes a historian’s interest in his subject, beginning with the William Hogarth engravings A Harlot’s Progress from 1730:

The famous ‘progressions’ by Hogarth were not actually comics. The images don’t lead into and don’t interact with each other. Each shows a distinct, separate stage of a longer story. However, because of their great popularity, they established the very notion of telling entertaining stories with a series of pictures and so became a highly influential stepping stone for future developments.

He also cites the influence of British political cartoons, Chinese woodcuts, illustrated fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter, a book that terrified children into behaving by depicting the monstrous consequences befalling those who failed to do so.

Ironically, Franz Joseph Goez’s Lenardo und Blandine, an actual graphic novelette from 1783, “probably had little influence:”

 It was too ahead of its time as far as the comic structure is concerned. In content, it was delightfully very much of its time, full of outrageous melodrama.

Things continued to evolve in the second half of the 19th-century, with picture broadsheets for children, such as the ones starring Wilhelm Busch’s wildly popular Max and Moritz. (See an English translation here.)

Bleck traces the birth of modern comics, whose storytelling vocabulary continues today, to the beginning of the 20th century, with American newspaper strips and particularly, the Sunday funnies:

The newspaper format was much larger and cheaper, providing a lot more empty space to fill. The audience was less sophisticated, but (possibly because of this) more open to a particular type of experimentation, despite the dumb and lowbrow humor… these American Sunday pages became the breeding ground for something new. Weirder, rougher, slapdashier. Also easier, for children, but not childish. More popular. More … somethingier.

Maybe it was that new type of human being, the urban immigrant, who was most prepared and eager to pay for all this new visual goings on.

Andy’s Early Comics Archive can be searched chronologically, or alphabetically by artist’s name. Enter here.

Related Content 

Read The Very First Comic Book: The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (1837)

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Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

Draw Along with Beloved Cartoonist & Educator Lynda Barry: Free Drawing Exercises Online

How do you rescue a day that’s gone pear shaped?

Stopping to drink a glass of water is one of our longtime go tos.

If there’s a box of matches handy, we might perform Yoko Ono’s Lightning Piece.

Most recently, we’ve taken to grabbing some paper and a trusty black felt tip to spend a few minutes doing one of beloved cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry’s all-ages draw-alongs.

Barry began uploading these videos early in the pandemic, for “friends at home who are about to turn four or five or six or seven or any age really.”


Each demonstration begins with an oval. There’s no prologue. Just dive on in and copy the motions of Barry’s slow moving, refreshingly unmanicured hands, captured in a DIY god shot.

Less than four minutes later, voila! A smiling crocodile! (It’s magical how a facial expression can be changed with one simple line.)

The soundtracks to these little narration-free exercises are an extra treat. We’ve always admired Barry’s musical taste. It’s a real mood booster to cover a cheetah in spots to the tune of a marimba orchestra.

Barry’s also a big cumbia fan, conjuring a kitty to Lito Barrientos’ Cumbia En Do Menor, a lion to Los Mirlos’ Cumbia de los Pajaritos, and a Stegosaurus to Romulo Caicedo’s Cumbia Cavela.

Now that you’ve got a cheetah under your belt, you’re ready to progress to a ScorpionLeopard, one of Draw Along with Lynda B‘s “strange animals.”

Barry does offer some commentary as these cryptids take shape.

We suspect her pioneering work with a group of four-year-olds in the University of Wisconsin’s Draw Bridge program leads her to anticipate the sorts of burning questions a pre-schooler might have with regard to these beasts. Her classroom experience is evident. Whereas others might think a steady stream of bright chatter is necessary to keep very young participants engaged, Barry’s thoughtful words develop in real time along with her drawing:

This is a tough animal. It has a big stinger on the back. This is a rough animal… angry.  Put the eyebrows like this. It makes them look angry. What kind of teeth do you think this animal has? I don’t think they have little bitty teeth. I think they have big fangs.

Others in the “strange animal” family: a CatDogSealFish, an octophant, and a catterfly (featuring a cameo by Barry’s inquisitive pooch’s snout.)

Draw along with Lynda Barry on this YouTube playlist.

Related Content 

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

Watch Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s Two-Hour Drawing Workshop

Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Enduring Appeal of Schulz’s Peanuts — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #116

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Animator/musician David Heatley, comedian Daniel Lobell, and academic/3anuts author Daniel Leonard join your Pretty Much Pop host Mark Linsenmayer to discuss Charlie Brown and his author Charles Schulz from Peanuts’ 1950 inception through the classic TV specials through to the various post-mortem products still emerging.

What’s the enduring appeal, and is it strictly for kids? We talk about the challenges of the strip format, the characters as archetypes, Schulz as depressed existentialist, religion in Peanuts, and whether the strip is actually supposed to be funny.

Some articles we used for the discussion include:

Also, RIP Peter Robbins (the day before we recorded this). Here’s the 1982 Rerun comic Daniel Leonard reads us near the beginning. The biography that we keep referring to is David Michaelis’ Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography. Yes, Dondi was a real (bad) comic strip.

Check out David’s new album and other projects at davidheatley.com. Follow him @heatleycomics on Twitter and @davidheatley on Instgram.

Get Daniel Lobell’s Fair Enough comic at fairenoughcomic.com and read about the rest of his activities at dannylobell.com. Follow him @DanielLobell on Twitter and @daniellobell on Instagram.

Read Daniel Leonard’s 3anuts, and buy Peanuts and Philosophy, which contains one of his essays. Follow on Twitter @3anuts.

Here’s a 3eanuts example. Leaving off the last panel leaves us in despair!

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Taschen Publishes the First 21 Stories of Spider Man in a High Resolution, Extra-Large Format Art Book

Marvel Comics and art book publisher TASCHEN have announced an agreement to publish Marvel’s rarest classic comics “in their original glory, in an extra-large format.” And it all starts with Spider Man. The first volume in the Marvel-TASCHEN series reproduces the first 21 stories of Spider Man, originally published between 1962-1964. TASCHEN has attempted to “create an ideal representation of these books as they were produced at the time of publication.” The editions feature super-high-resolution photographs of each page, “using modern retouching techniques to correct problems with the era’s inexpensive, imperfect printing.”

You can explore the new Spider Man editions here. The next titles in ‘The Marvel Comics Library’ series will be Avengers. Vol. 1. 1963–1965, Fantastic Four. Vol. 1. 1961–1963 and Captain America. They’re scheduled for release in 2022 and 2023. Keep an eye out…

If you would like to get Open Culture post’s via email, please sign up for our free email newsletter here.

And if you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

Related Content:

Every Spider-Man Movie and TV Show Explained By Kevin Smith

Hear an Hour of the Jazzy Background Music from the Original 1967 Spider-Man Cartoon

The Mathematics of Spiderman and the Physics of Superheroes

Free: Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

How to Make Comics: A Four-Part Series from the Museum of Modern Art

How to Make Comics: A Four-Part Series from the Museum of Modern Art


A painting? “Moving. Spiritually enriching. Sublime. ‘High’ art.” The comic strip? “Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work. ‘Low’ art.” A painting of a comic strip panel? “Sophisticated irony. Philosophically challenging. ‘High’ art.” So says Calvin of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, whose ten-year run constitutes one of the greatest artistic achievements in the history of the newspaper comic strip. The larger medium of comics goes well beyond the funny pages, as any number of trend pieces have told us, but as an art form it remains less than perfectly understood.  Perhaps, as elsewhere, one must learn by doing: hence “How to Make Comics,” a “four-part journey through the art of comics” from the Museum of Modern Art.

Created by comics scholar and writer Chris Gavaler, this educational series begins with the broadest possible question: “What Are Comics?” That section offers two answers, the first being that comics are “cartoons in the funnies sections of newspapers and the pages of comic books” telling stories “about superheroes or talking animals” — or they’re longer-format “graphic novels,” which “can be more serious and include personal memoirs.”


The second, broader answer conceives of comics as nothing more specific than “juxtaposed images. Any work of art that divides into two or more side-by-side parts is formally a comic. So if an artist creates two images and places them next to each other, they’re working in the comics form.”

That second definition of comics includes, say, Andy Warhol’s Jacqueline Kennedy III — a work of art that conveniently happens to be owned by MoMA. The museum’s visual resources figure heavily into the whole “How to Make Comics,” in which Gavaler explains not just the process of creating comics but the relationship between comics and other (often longer institutionally approved) forms of art. And to whatever degree they juxtapose images, the works of art in MoMA’s online collection — rich as so many of them are with action, character, narrative, humor, and even words — offer inspiration to comic artists budding and experienced alike. The better part of two centuries into its development, this thoroughly modern medium has the power to incorporate ideas from any other art form; the high-and-low distinctions can take care of themselves. Enter “How to Make Comicshere.

via Kottke

Related Content:

Take a Free Online Course on Making Comic Books, Compliments of the California College of the Arts

Follow Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s 2017 “Making Comics” Class Online, Presented at UW-Wisconsin

Watch Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s Two-Hour Drawing Workshop

Download Over 22,000 Golden & Silver Age Comic Books from the Comic Book Plus Archive

Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

MoMA’s Online Courses Let You Study Modern & Contemporary Art and Earn a Certificate

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Cartoonist Lynda Barry Teaches You How to Make a Visual Daily Diary

Cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry is a favorite here at Open Culture.

We’re always excited to share exercises from her books and intel on her classes at the University of Wisconsin, but nothing beats the warmth and humor of her live instruction… even when it’s delivered virtually.

Last week, she took to Instagram to inform the fourteen lucky U of W students enrolled in her fall Making Comics class to prepare for a new way of keeping their required daily diaries, using a technique she calls “sister images.”

Those of us at home can play along, above.


Grab a composition book, or two blank sheets of paper, and a black felt tip pen. (Eventually you’ll need a timer, but not today.)

Rather than describe the ten-minute writing and drawing exercise in advance, we encourage you to jump right in, confident that teacher Barry would approve.

There are plenty of resources out there for those who want to learn how to outlinescript, and storyboard comics.

Barry aims to tap a deeper vein of creativity with exercises that help students embrace the unknown.

The sister diary’s purpose, she says, is to “let our hands lead the way in terms of figuring out our stories.”

Whether or not you seek to make comics, it’s an engaging way to document your life. You can also implement the sister diary technique for discovering more about characters in your fictional work.

You’ll also pick up some bonus tips on drawing backgrounds, using all caps, allotting enough space within a panel for full body renderings, and staying in the moment should you find yourself at a temporary loss.


Related Content: 

Watch Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s Two-Hour Drawing Workshop

Cartoonist Lynda Barry Teaches You How to Draw

Take a Road Trip Across America with Cartoonist Lynda Barry in the 90s Documentary, Grandma’s Way Out Party

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

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