Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday morning toons: Special "48 Hours and Counting" edition

It's something of a toss-up this week: A lot of the political toons are devoted to the end of the Bush Reign of Error and the beginning (one is tempted to say "dawn") of the Obama Administration. Others are picking up on the alignment of stars that has Obama taking the oath of office on the day after Martin Luthor King Day (a holiday that Senator John McCain opposed in his home state of Arizona, it's worth remembering). Israel's on-again-off-again war on the Gaza strip is in the mix too, but US toonists can be forgiven for being a little nearsighted this week.

Let's get to it:

Well, except that Bob Geiger is still taking January off. Jeez--you'd think he was doing this for free or something.

So let's pick up with Daryl Cagle's round-up.

p3 Picks of the Week: Mike Keefe, Bob Henglehart, Jeff Parker, David Fitzsimmons, Monte Wolverton, and Henry Payne.

The p3 Award for Best Adaptation from Another Medium is shared by Jerry Holbert and Steve Sack.

The p3 Bridge to Somewhere Award goes to Eric Allie.

p3 World Toon Review: Most of the world is at least as happy as we are that there's going to be a new Current Occupant: Cameron Cardow (Canada), Patrick Chappatte (Switzerland), and--my personal favorite this week--Stephane Peray (Thailand).

"It couldn't fit more perfectly/Than to have a world party on the day you came to be:" Joe Heller, Milt Priggee, Sandy Huffaker, Bruce Plante, and Marshall Ramsey get the jump on the world party tomorrow.

The joy of small things: I think my favorite toon for this week isn't one of the syndicated big boys; it's this little drawing by Barry Blitt that quietly upstages Frank Rich's NYTimes online piece today. (We've featured Blitt's small, clean, pieces before here at p3 although, as befits his medium, you have to look for it a little.)

Ann Telnaes notes a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall (and the bells in the steeple, too).

Portland homeboy Jack Ohman points out Bush's most memorable line.

The Peanuts Code: Looks like DaVinci (and Lennon & McCartney) weren't the only ones slipping secret messages into their art: If you'd only seen the unending river of TV spinoffs of Charles Shulz's "Peanuts," you would be forgiven for thinking that Shroeder's musical hero was Vince Guaraldi, who wrote and performed all that great piano jazz from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and later programs that's still burrowed into your brain all these years later. But loyalists of the strip know that it was Beethoven that Schroeder worshiped, a running bit stretching back to the strip's beginnings in the early 1950s. Panels would depict him pounding away on his little toy piano (how did he crank that music out with painted-on black keys?) while the notes wafted rapturously over his head.

And it turns out that those floating notes weren't randomly drawn on the page; far from it:

[M]usicologists and art curators have learned that there was much more than a punch line to Charles Schulz’s invocation of Beethoven’s music.

"If you don’t read music and you can’t identify the music in the strips, then you lose out on some of the meaning," said William Meredith, the director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed "Peanuts" strips.

When Schroeder pounded on his piano, his eyes clenched in a trance, the notes floating above his head were no random ink spots dropped into the key of G. Schulz carefully chose each snatch of music he drew and transcribed the notes from the score. More than an illustration, the music was a soundtrack to the strip, introducing the characters’ state of emotion, prompting one of them to ask a question or punctuating an interaction.

"The music is a character in the strip as much as the people are, because the music sets the tone," Mr. Meredith said. […]

In a strip from 1953 Schroeder embarks on an intensive workout. He does push-ups, jumps rope, lifts weights, touches his toes, does sit-ups ("Puff, Puff"), boxes, runs ("Pant, Pant") and finally eats ("Chomp! Chomp!"). In the last two panels he walks to his piano with determination and begins playing furiously, sweat springing from his brow.

The eighth notes above Schroeder’s head are from the opening bars of Beethoven’s "Hammerklavier" Sonata (Op. 106), a piece so long, artistically complex and technically difficult that it is referred to as the "Giant" Sonata. When Beethoven delivered it to the publisher in 1819, he is believed to have said, "Now you will have a sonata that will keep the pianists busy when it is played 50 years from now."

(That 1953 strip is reproduced here. And if the Hammerklavier Sonata sounds easy to you, watch this and see if your opinion changes.)

Rule Number One: Never put on a glowing hat if it isn't your own! From Disney's 1940 "Fantasia," here's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

Back in my academic days, I once witnessed a discussion, at which no alcohol was present, as to whether this piece represents the Frankenstein Myth in contemporary culture, or illustrated Clarke's third law of prediction, or was in fact an example of Nietzsche's principle of the Master-Slave dialectic. This goes to show how a good graduate education can ruin a harmless and enjoyable experience.

p3 Bonus Toon: As the new legislative session in Salem kicks off, Jesse Springer places the inevitable debate in its proper perspective. (Click to enlarge.)

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