Tuesday, March 31, 2020

pandemix and cartoongraphix

A couple of book-related things, firstly one related to the last book review. My copy of Imaginary Friends was acquired, or so the label on the back suggests, from Richard Booth's bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, probably four or five years ago I would guess. The reprint date in the info at the front suggests my copy is from 1983 or shortly after.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that my copy has some interesting damage to some of the pages. This takes the form of thread-like patterns bored through several pages at once, with considerable variation in the amount of paper removed and the number of pages affected. A few examples are in the images below (click to embiggen, as always).

Note how the first image from page 75 resembles nothing more sinister than a long-tailed, bi-horned demon running towards the bottom-right corner of the page, whereas the wispy jellyfish creature from page 121 has already mostly made good its escape. Most worryingly of all note how the essentially-round-but-with-knobbly-protuberances shape in the last picture suggests another shape of a similar nature that's been in the news *cough* recently...

All right, I concede that it's unlikely that this particular book was the vector for the current outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK, and there are, perhaps, more plausible explanations for the holes. Contrary to what you might think of as the most obvious explanation, though, there is strictly no such creature as a "bookworm", except in the metaphorical sense. While there are creatures that cause damage of exactly this kind to books (the second picture on that Wikipedia page shows damage almost identical to mine, for instance), none of them are worms - lice and beetles mainly.

Elsewhere in book-related news this week I notice the obituaries for Albert Uderzo, who has died at the pretty respectable age of 92. Uderzo was half of the team responsible for the initial series of Asterix books, the other half being René Goscinny. They collaborated on the first 24 books in the series, from Asterix The Gaul in 1961 to Asterix In Belgium in 1979, published a couple of years after Goscinny's death in 1977. Uderzo then continued the series on his own (with, it is felt by many, myself included, a drop-off in quality), and more recently handed over production of the books to a team of younger artists.

There is a connection with the current pandemic, as it happens: firstly the family announcement of his death felt it necessary to make it clear that he had succumbed to a heart attack unrelated to coronavirus; secondly the Asterix book that Nia currently has out of our local library (Asterix and the Chariot Race, one of the later ones written by Uderzo's successors) features a major Roman character called Coronavirus.
I was a huge fan of the Asterix series as a child and I have enjoyed immensely rediscovering the series in parallel with Nia getting into reading them for the first time. Inevitably, given the age of the books, some of the portrayals of minority groups are a little on the, hem hem, "problematic" side for modern sensibilities.

Another thing that you notice when reading both the Asterix series and also the Tintin books (another series I loved as a boy) is the progression of the artwork style in both series from the early books to the later ones. You can see that in the Asterix example below - the earlier artwork (on the left) is slightly sketchier and Obelix in particular looks significantly different: thinner, narrower stripes on the breeches, etc.

With the Tintin books the situation is slightly more difficult to unravel: there are books in the series which have older, sketchier-looking artwork, but they're not the earliest books in the series. I don't own all of them but I have one, The Broken Ear, with the older artwork, while the earlier Cigars Of The Pharaoh has the newer, neater artwork. It turns out The Broken Ear and its immediate predecessor The Blue Lotus occupy a unique position in the Tintin canon: all the earlier titles were originally published in black-and-white and were redrawn in Hergé's modern style later, and all the later titles were drawn in the modern style from the outset. The two exceptions were presumably felt to be good enough in their original forms not to require re-drawing, although The Blue Lotus does have some later revisions and a slightly jarring transition between the two styles. The whole book is available as a PDF here and you can see the switch between pages 4 and 5, as below:

Needless to say the same reservations about "problematic" content apply as much to the Tintin books as they do to the Asterix ones. All I would say about that is a) it's not what this blog post is about b) it shouldn't be denied or ignored and c) it doesn't mean we should set this stuff aside and never read it again, since you'd have to apply the same rule to a whole raft of other stuff as well.

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