Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin

September 25, 2017 9:40 pm by Crocodile

Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin

translated by Charles Johnson

I got this a few years ago, and the reason I picked it up is that when I was in elementary school my hometown of Worcester Massachusetts had a sister city in Russia, Pushkin. Some kids from Pushkin came over and hung out, I guess we probably sent some kids over there too. The fact that Pushkin (town) was named after Pushkin (poet) made an impression on me. Not like I suddenly wanted to become a reknowned poet and have a city named after me, not that kind of impression. More of a “that’s nice” impression. Worcester had a good poetry scene, or, I don’t know if it had a good scene per se but there were a good number of poets that had spent time there in the past- noteable bards include Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O’Hara, Stanley Kunitz, and Charles Olson, although he hated it. Anyway Pushkin was on the radar with fond associations, and while browsing bookshops I found this at a nice price ($3), so I grabbed it.

It sat on the shelf for a while as most books do, and then, I forget exactly what happened but I got super super stressed out and needed a pleasant escape, so I picked it up and read a few pages, and it was great so I kept going. I might’ve picked it up because the pull quote on the back says “sublimely appropriate”, which was an astoundingly good hook for me at the time.

Long form poetry like this is nice to read when you’re sort of spinning out because you have to both fight and submit to the music of it. You can’t (or I can’t) read the whole thing in a sing-song way, pausing between each line, that’s too distracting, and seems overly-respectful in that way that’s rude. It’s like not wanting to get a shovel dirty, or letting food get cold while you take a picture of it. It’s rude to the food. I try to just plow through as though it has the same linebreaks as prose. Then the music just sneaks up on me, and rather than struggling with the format and trying to master it I find myself just swinging along, floating like a boat on the ocean. This translation is great, the poetry flows beautifully, and each stanza ends with a couplet that serves as a wonderful punchline pulling you across the gap into the next stanza. Pushkin rules, and this is a great (or at least fun) translation.

Anyway I was really enjoying it, really having a great time, and Onegin is a great character who I was enjoying hanging out with. We had laughs and smiles and long sighs looking out the window and regular low-key hanging out drinking tea moments. For your humble narrator it was just what the doctor ordered. Then (and I should’ve seen this coming) the hammer falls and all this bummer shit starts happening! I (and again the fault lies entirely with me) felt betrayed. My bookmark is still there, I got to chapter seven. Not far from the end, but I had to bow out.

Looking back I realize that I do the same thing (unfairly) when I watch a horror movie. It’s different because I know in advance that a horror movie has horrible things happen in it, that’s why they call it that, but the first 20 minutes of a horror movie are oftentimes so nice, just a bunch of people getting ready to go on a camping trip, or having a romantic getaway, or… being a leprechaun (?), and as the music turns dissonant, I always think “I would love it if the whole movie was just the part where everybody’s having fun”. Would I really like this? I don’t know. Let’s take an extreme example– would I like a version of the leprechaun movie where it’s just the end credits and he’s rapping in a hotel room wearing Ringo sunglasses, but for 90 minutes? It’s unclear. But would I invest my $3 and my however amount of time to a book about a funny idler that loafs, pines, bails on a duel, then loafs and pines anew? If it swings, then yes. Or maybe.

I would like to return to this book now that I’m not so adrift, even though I’d have to start from line 1 page 1. It’s good and I was being unreasonable. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially foot freaks, as there’s a nice passage about being a foot freak, which I won’t quote, just go out and get it. The main guy is great and even though he does stupid shit (has a duel), it’s just a stupid thing that happens. Others might disagree but I think the stupid stuff he does is not representative of his character. If there’s a lesson it might be “it’s ok to be a goof but not a goof with a gun”, or just “watch what you’re doing”. I support that.

I bought this for $3 but this 1979 edition is stamped $4.95, that’s $16.79 in 2017 money. Which is worth it! That’s like a movie at the theater in the mall, with popcorn. Or movies for 2 at the shitty theater and a 6 pack of not-even-the-cheapest beer. New Zealanders are advised to seek a cheaper copy- $NZ17.95 in 1975 US money is… $45? Did I do that calculation right? That’s too much. And twice as much as Australia??? There’s gotta be a pirated edition you can get. You’re not taking any food out of Pushkin’s mouth, he’s long dead (1837). Translator Charles Johnston did a great job but he’s also incapable of cashing royalties (1986).


Peace, Mommy, Peace! / For This I Went To College? both by Bil Keane

September 22, 2017 3:28 pm by Crocodile

Peace, Mommy, Peace! and For This I Went To College?

2 Family Circus Paperbacks by Bil Keane Sr.

Growing up I used to always read the comics, sometimes I would read 2 newspaper’s worth of comics a day. I read every strip, even the ones I didn’t like. I didn’t like Family Circus growing up, I thought it was stupid, though I realized early on that there was a sympathetic mind behind it, based on the sole clue that the dog’s name was “Barfy”.  Over time I developed an appreciation for it, and then I started to like it enough to pick up older paperback collections. The older ones are truly great, although I think I like them in a way that only underscores how the newer ones are bad.

“For This I Went To College?” is an extremely bleak title, and some of the early strips are kind of bleak. I don’t want to connect bleakness with sophistication, that’s a false equivalency. But let this serve to show that the intended audience for Family Circus strips of this era was adults. I think in later years and up to now the intended audience is kids just a little older than the kids in the picture, and grandparents. Or just “people who want something familiar”, that’s probably the large majority of the newspaper comics readership at this point (maybe all-time).

Below are a few pages I grabbed pretty much at random, but the thing I want to point out is how good the design of the panel is. When you put a picture in a square or rectangle frame, you have certain harmonies to deal with. There are relationships between the edges and the corners, and as a result there are certain areas of the frame where things pop (see: “rule of thirds” [wp]) Also you have to contend with a strong analog with the written page- you’re tempted to read a rectangular image from the top left corner to the bottom right. With a circle the rules are different, or the rules have yet to be codified. Things can spiral in, lines of sight can bounce all around, it’s more intuitive. No one in any field of flat design work does the circle better than Bil Sr., he is unmatched.

Also the circle frame, combined with Bil Sr’s excellent use of perspective, gives me a feeling of looking through a telescope at this scene. It’s something I don’t get from, for example, Dennis The Menace. Dennis The Menace feels like a play being put on for my benefit, whereas Family Circus feels more like a slice o’ life that I’m omnisciently observing.

Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik wrote a great article on How To Read Nancy, and I would like to invoke and expand their methodology a little bit for added appreciation of the following. Look at the whole thing, then look at the picture without the words, then look at the words without the picture, then look at the background without the characters, then look at the characters in groups (kids only, then adults only), and then look at the areas of solid black only. Try to think of balance- is the circle off-balance in some way? How does this make you feel? Try to think about how your eye moves around the circle, what it sees first, and what it sees last. Although this is just a one-panel comic, there is still oftentimes a sequence in which elements of the picture are read- what determines this sequence?

Great background diagonals here, nice balanced use of solid black. The Toy catalog is juuust about in the center of the circle, but it’s in motion, giving us a Matrix-like feeling of a bizarrely quiescent moment of frenzied activity.

This is the other grandma FYI. There’s a lot going on but still everything is clear and all the details are rewarding. The detail on this car is great and some would say unnecessary, but it gives me the feeling that they all just spent a lot of time there. Grandma’s apartment is kicked back at a little bit of an angle, which pulls her towards Billy emotionally and draws your eye in. It’s not hard to figure out who’s talking here. Even the little trees that separate Grandma’s building from the family are dashed through with an inexplicable but not jarring line of white-out. Maybe this is a printing error though.

Here’s a fairly flat panel but the flatness is fun, and active. It’s almost Egyptian. The door is flush with the wall which is parallel to our viewing lens, and even the little bit of diagonal we should see leading along the floor on the lower right is obscured by the vertical edge of the couch. The little bit of depth we get is the dismal void in the outside space behind Bil Sr, perfect for a Halloween theme. The perfect flatness of the door, just shy of being completely unobstructed, is an ideal frame for the Halloween decorations which are the focus of the gag.

Very tense design with nothing in the center! It’s pretty flat but the wall is kicked back a little, and there’s a corridor or something behind Dolly that she could escape down. The drawing on the wall at Dolly’s level is well-matched with the framed picture at Thel’s level.

Another kind of bleak one that only adults would get. I love Thel’s hair… I knew a lot of very wonderful 90s punks with this sort of hairdo. Jeffy’s coat is wild but if you try to think of this panel with a solid-color coat, it just doesn’t work as well.

Great detail on these turtles, and a great layout, right through the tank and then out the window of the pet store to another building! I remember someone telling me they hated how everyone in Family Circus only has 1 nostril at a time- I had never noticed this before. It’s kind of weird if you really think about it, but if you draw in another one it looks weird, and if you don’t have nostrils at all, that’s sort of weird too. It’s a toughie, but I think 1 nostril per instance of nose is a good call (for this style).

Thel (the mom) is the real audience for so many of these strips, which makes you (me) sympathize with and love her. She’s the placid eye of the hurricane, but she’s not weak or secondary or removed. She doesn’t get very many lines but she’s the person that the whole thing is for, without whom none of this would exist.

Here’s some real-life boss behavior, via Thel’s wikipedia page:

Thelma Keane worked as the full-time financial and business manager for her husband while he continued to draw The Family Circus. Her family credited Thelma’s business skills as the main reason that Bil Keane became one of the first syndicated newspaper cartoonists in the country to regain the full rights to his comic. She led the 1988 negotiations with King Features Syndicate to return the copyrights for The Family Circus. King Features finally agreed to return the rights to the cartoon to Bil Keane after long and protracted talks with Thelma Keane.

Damn, I can just picture a bunch of 1988 suits underestimating The Mom From Family Circus. Bad move.

Nowadays Jeff (aka Jeffy) draws the strip and all the interesting design work is gone. Every strip now is just a big head talking in the center of the frame. I feel like this is a classic example of what happens when you just get something without having to fight for it- there’s no pressure to explore, advance, or be good. Anyway it still makes me smile and the old paperbacks should really be sought out if you’re interested in setting an image inside of a circle.

In conclusion, I love the Family Circus!

These books were published in 1967 & 1977, and retailed for $.75 and $.95. $.95 in 1977 money is $3.86 in 2017 money. I bought these used for $2 apiece. I also have I Need A Hug, Mine, I’m Taking A Nap!, I Can’t Untie My Shoes, Can I Have A Cookie?, Wanna Be Smiled At?, and Any Children?.


Illuminations, Arthur Rimbaud

September 21, 2017 11:07 pm by Crocodile


by Arthur Rimbaud

Honestly I probably picked this up because it looks like an issue of Cometbus. Used to catch a lot of punk flyers that looked kind of like this- an old zoomed-in photo, white and black text. People used to have their own special ways of writing on top of the photo and keeping it fairly legible- it’s easy when you have large fields of white or black, but when it’s a busier picture like this one you need technique. Ray Johnson did this cover, and it’s a little hard to read but in this case I think that works for the design rather than against. If you wanted it more legible here’s my technique: you get your photo the way you like it, and then in black you write the band’s name kind of big and blurry. invert the image (black to white), and fill in the name (now white) in black, more crisply, leaving a border. Invert again, and you’re done. Piece of cake.

we, the punks, are out tonight


I like Ray Johnson but I also recognize that if he was alive today and in my circle I’d probably think he was kind of a pain in the ass. Case in point: signing your name in the top right corner of a book you designed the cover for. Pros don’t do this, Ray! Doesn’t exude confidence. Quite the opposite in fact! A: No one signs the covers; B: No one signs anything in the top right, that’s unreasonable.


Love it they do the translations face to face with the original. I don’t speak french but it’s nice to try and pick it out with the answers right there. Or not “the answers” but someone’s answers anyway. Louise Varese’s answers. Also this way you can quote a passage in the original, that never fails to impress. Picture me bowing out of a situation because it’s trop épineuse pour mon grand caractère. Swish.

new directions
I had breakfast with some poets the other day and kept giggling every time they said “New Directions”, they couldn’t figure out why. I thought hyperfocus on words and their high/low disjunct was a poet’s bread and butter but I guess not. Or not all the time anyway.


I got this book for $2 on account of the spine is torn, and I left the sticker on because it pops. Color sells. Kind of looks like a colorful band aid, makes the kid look tough, both in the “gets in fights” way and in the “not trying to hide” way (like a poison toad or flamboyant cuttlefish). see also Nelly:

I didn’t read this entire book but I do pick it up from time to time and read selections, and like all books of poetry in the collection, it spent a season in the WC.


Why Not Eat Insects? by Vincent M Holt

September 20, 2017 7:13 pm by Crocodile

by Vincent M Holt

“Them insects eats up every blessed green thing that do grow, and us farmers starves.”
“Well, eat them, and grow fat!”

Nice little hundred-page paperback, originally printed 1885, reprinted in 1967, 1969, and 1973. Three reprints! Outlines in plain language why the custom of eating certain insects should be encouraged, which insects to avoid, and which animals we regularly eat that are much grosser than insects. Honestly it makes a pretty good case! If you eat (for instance) lobster, why not crickets? Lobsters eat literal shit, crickets eat grass or whatever.

The Bible says it’s OK, but the Bible says a lot of stuff that society ignores…

The technical term for eating insects is “entomophagy”, here’s the Wikipedia entry: [link]. A contemporary term for insects raised as food is “minilivestock” but I find that name irksome because “microlivestock” means small-size breeds of conventional livestock (miniature sheep, etc.). You’re gonna make mini smaller than micro? come on. I realize that you can’t say “nanolivestock”, but why not “picolivestock”? There’s a lot of prefixes at our disposal and pico is the cutest.

One curious thing about this is how the last word on each page is repeated at the start of the next page. This can’t have been for the benefit of the printer, because there are page numbers too. Maybe this was to help the reader?

Hell yeah. Love to see a weird niche served. Entomological Reprint Specialists, I salute you.

I showed this book to my friend Cool Breeze and he couldn’t believe it. “Why would someone write a book about why you shouldn’t eat insects? Seems obvious”. I told him it was about the exact opposite thing, then we figured out that he had been parsing the title in Hulk-speak. ala “Why Hulk Smash” or “Why Hulk Not Trust Humans”.

I probably got this at a library book sale from my first job at the Worcester Public Library, sooo I probably paid under a dollar for it, and I’ve probably been carrying it around since… 1996? $1 in 1996 money is approximately $1.57 today, that’s still a great deal.

Generally my paperbacks are organized under: classics, sci fi, trashy, and weirdies. this one is filed under: weirdie

full scan of this one up on


100% publishing

September 20, 2017 3:32 pm by Crocodile

new blog! time to get back on the horse with a daily writing project. until i change my mind, this space will be reviews of printed objects or anything i consider “a published work”. ta!

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