Thursday, May 15, 2008

Punch and Goth-y

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of The Best Cartoons from Punch (Simon & Schuster, 1952) and xxxHolic vol. 1 (Del Rey, 2004).

One of the neatest finds I ever came across was a stash of boxes full of Punch, the long-running British humor/cultural/political magazine, dumped behind a door in UGA's Park Hall in 1990. I helped myself to one a day until I decided at the end of the year that nobody cared and helped myself to most of the rest of them. Much of it was over my head - oh, you Tories in 1965 and your plans for the Tarminster by-election! - but there was some damn fine cartooning on display throughout the magazines, which covered chunks of a twenty year span from about 1962-82.

A few months ago, I found a rather beaten copy of this book, assembled more than fifty years ago for American readers, in a wonderful secondhand store in Columbus. The humor is sometimes polite and obscure; this is comedy that predates almost all of our modern templates for British humor. So before Galton & Simpson, before Sellers, Seacombe & Milligan, it looked like... well, not entirely unlike The New Yorker, honestly. Some of this is very funny, and I was torn as to which cartoon to use to accompany this. (My copy lacks the dust jacket and the plain red-brown cover is dull enough to make an illustration a little pointless.) Some of it is really more notable in a historical context, however.

The link in the cartoon above takes you to a listing at an antiquarian site I found, where you may purchase what sounds to be a considerably better copy than mine for under $10. I'd certainly recommend you do so! You can also see a few dozen other specially selected Punch cartoons at the company's website.

Sometimes it takes me a while to try something. I spotted some merchandising from this comic, or its accompanying TV adaptation, when I was in Toronto a year ago. Shaindle told me it was from xxxHolic and I told myself I'd have to look into that sometime.

A year later, and it could've waited. In its favor, xxxHolic features some absolutely gorgeous artwork by the Clamp studio. It's sort of an inversion of their usual style from Sakura and Tsubasa, which are bright, ribbony and sunny comics. This is instead dark, lacy and smoky, with long-limbed figures reclining decadently in expensive surroundings.

But the list of strikes against xxxHolic is as long as your arm. I was perversely intrigued by the protagonist Watanuki's non-sexual, but nevertheless kinky, submissive relationship to the witch Yuka, but Yuka herself is as dreary a character as they come, a smug, superior bore with the drama-killing power of knowing everything that's going to happen. There's no sense of urgency or danger; everything just sort of plays out following a cryptic warning from Yuka. I found myself spending more time studying the intricate chapter-opening title page illustrations than the actual chapters, because nothing happens that will have any impact on characters who'll be around for more than two or three episodes.

This was my first Del Rey book, and I was a little appalled by the high price tag of $10.95. If they charged the same retail eight bucks that Viz charges for, say, Death Note, I could possibly justify cashing in a Borders coupon to get more of this gorgeous artwork, but eleven? I won't be bothering again. Your prices stink, Del Rey, and so does this story. Not recommended.

(Originally posted May 15, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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