Duck Duck Book

52 – tintin
03.24.2008, 8:03 am
Filed under: art & entertainment, comix

Tintin : the complete companion / Michael Farr.
San Francisco : Last Gasp, c2002.
[MCL call number: 741.59493 H545f 2002; 6 copies, 2 holds]

When I was a kid, my older brothers set the standard for comics-reading. They were dedicated, they were opinionated, and of course they were older than me so I spent a good deal of time trying to be like them. One brother read mostly superheroes: Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and the Batman; the other generally preferred war and horror comics: Sgt. Rock, House of Horror, and Tales from the Crypt. I diligently read their hand-me-downs, even though most of the time I couldn’t quite see what the thrill was, except that I really liked Daredevil and anything with a girl superhero. However, I was never fully satisfied with superheroes, G.I. Joe, and horror stories, so when I could get to the bookstore that sold used comics for 10 cents a piece I bought Archie, Betty & Veronica, Richie Rich, and 50s-vintage Katy Keene, brothers be damned.

But we all read Tintin. I read all the Tintins I could get my hands on, and I read them as many times as I could. I borrowed them, begged them for presents, and occasionally when I was unusually wealthy, I bought one for myself.

We knew that Tintin and his author/cartoonist Hergé were Belgian, although I always thought Tintin himself had a sort of English flavor. I don’t recall ever once thinking about how Tintin was created, or wondering whether there were any substantive differences between the French-language originals and the translations I read. Little did I know, not only have these and many other Tintin-related questions been seriously studied, but there are enough people firmly dedicated to this work that they have a special name: Tintinoligists.

In Tintin: The Complete Companion, Tintinoligist Michael Farr endeavors to tell the story behind the creation of each and every one of the Tintin books. Farr focuses partly on Hergé’s life; partly on analysis of the Tintin stories as literature and the story of Hergé’s source material for characters, plots, and images; and partly on the history of Tintin publishing. Although Farr’s prose is a little uneven, this combination of subjects makes very interesting reading, especially for anyone familiar with some of the Tintin books. In particular, the juxtaposition of finished Tintin panels and clippings from Hergé’s extensive source files sheds clear light on how the comics were made.

For example, page 32 is entirely taken up with a photograph of the Chanin Building in Chicago, reproduced, the caption says, in the periodical Le Crapouillot. Page 33 shows two versions of the scene Tintin in America when Tintin slips out the window and balances on the teensiest ledge on the outside of a building to escape detection, to listen in on the bad guys’ conversation — the black and white panel from 1932, and the color version from 1945. The book is filled with similar comparisons of source material to finished product: airplanes, automobiles, trains, ships, clothing and jewelry, religious artifacts, exotic fruit, whiskey bottles, city skylines, street scenes, houses, machinery, working harbors, and even people who were the physical models for characters in Tintin’s adventures. The story of how each book was created, the details of the transformation of early books from black and white to color and all the books from French to various translations, and the bits of Hergé’s biography are all interesting, but the evidence showing Hergé’s incredible commitment to accuracy in all the details of illustration is what I found most fascinating.

Each of Farr’s chapters discusses one or two books, and as you have by now gathered, each is liberally illustrated with panels from the early newspaper strip, the revised color edition that came out later, and source photographs and clippings from Hergé’s extensive picture files. Tintin: The Complete Companion has a modest index, but no other supplemental material. In fact, it suffers rather sharply from the lack of any bibliography of Tintinology or Tintin comic books. Despite this lack, I recommend it highly, especially for fond readers of Tintin.


52 – hillside letters
03.24.2008, 8:02 am
Filed under: history & geography

Hillside letters A to Z : a guide to hometown landmarks / Evelyn Corning.
Missoula, Mont. : Mountain Press Pub. Co., 2007.
[MCL call number: 917.304 C818h 2007; two copies, no holds]

In 1905, students at the University of California at Berkeley spent two days building a giant concrete letter “C” on the side of a hill facing the university campus. This was the United States’s first hillside letter, and it was followed in the same year by the University of Utah’s “U,” and then by Brigham Young University’s “Y” in 1906. Now there are hundreds. Hillside Letters A to Z introduces readers to the quirky history of these giant initials, and provides a kind of gazetteer to letters across the U.S.

Most letters were built out of school or community pride, but Corning reports a few unusual letter stories. In 1916, boys from Elko High School in Elko, Nevada built a 120 by 204′ “E” to memorialize an Elko High teacher who had died from hypothermia following a hiking accident. Other letters are more interesting for the rivalry they have inspired. The “O” at University of Oregon, is a good example:

“The O was stolen so many times over the years by the students of Oregon State University in Corvallis, just north [sic] of Eugene, that in the early 1950s it was reconstructed of concrete and wood. Unable to remove it, the students of Oregon State dynamited it in 1952 and again in 1953. By 1957, the students at the University of Oregon felt the Oregon State students had ‘contaminated’ their emblem to such an extent that they burned their own letter, and the following year they built a metal O embedded in concrete. Soon afterwards the Oregon State students cut the O into sections and took it to their campus in Corvallis. After several months it was returned, reassembled, and reinstalled, only to be stolen again. The last time anyone at the University of Oregon can remember seeing their O was in 1972.” (page 15)

Other letters have less dramatic stories, but Corning makes their histories interesting also, and photographs illustrating the different letters are particularly charming. The alphabetical directory of hillside letters that makes up the main part of the book is supplemented by a map of letter locations, an introduction relating the history of the hillside letter phenomenon and explaining different construction techniques, an index listing letters by state, and an excellent bibliography.

52 – ancient rome on five denarii a day
03.24.2008, 8:01 am
Filed under: history & geography

Ancient Rome on five denarii a day / Philip Matyszak.
London : Thames & Hudson, 2007.
[MCL call number: 937 M445a 2007; three copies, no holds]

Before Rough Guides and Let’s Go, before Frommer’s and the Michelin Guides, even before Baedekers, people traveled. How they managed it can be quite hard for a modern, first-world person to imagine. Can you picture going from northern Spain to southern Italy by foot, or at sea in a tiny ancient boat with a square sail? Even if you can imagine the toil of the journey, what about the practical concerns of feeding and housing yourself while traveling, avoiding bandits, or communicating with local people in farmhouses, villages, and cities? All of this is very different from a 21st century road trip across the U.S., a journey by night train, or a trans-Atlantic flight. And then, if you’re traveling in the past, when you get there, you’re still not in the modern world!

Rome has been a major tourist destination, on and off, for thousands of years, and if you’d like to fantasize about visiting the place in ancient times, classicist Philip Matyszak can be of help to you. In Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day, he provides modern readers with a travel guide to that city circa 200 A.D. — a guide engineered to help us cross the cultural gap of nearly two millennia. Readers learn how to get themselves safely to Rome, and, once there, how to enjoy and educate themselves, how to fit in socially, and how to avoid trouble.

Practical advice and cultural instruction is interwoven with quotations from Roman diarists, historians, statesmen, letter-writers, and poets. These bits and pieces, though certainly germane to the subject at hand, are not always exactly illustrative. However, they have a certain charm. For example, when introducing the chapter on shopping and the marketplace, Matyszak quotes Horace: “I ask the price of greens and flour and . . . as the sun sets, I’m off home for a dinner of leeks, chickpeas and flatbread” (from Satires 1.6, page 63). I thought this relatively mundane quotation was actually quite evocative, and it made me hungry myself.

Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day is illustrated throughout, and is appended with a map of the city, a nice subject index, and a two-page lexicon of Latin including practical phrases (In quantum parte templum Iovis est? / Where is the temple of Jupiter?), clichés (Vestis virum reddit / Clothes make the man), and even literary references (Deliriant isti Romani / These Romans are crazy).