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Tuesday, Feb 14, 2012
Time was when you couldn’t move in a library in England for romance fiction: Dames Barbara and Catherine (Cartland and Cookson) dominated the shelves. Hundreds upon hundreds of copies of their titles (in large-print format very often) were loaned out by the armful.

For the second year in a row, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol is the most borrowed book in UK libraries, and James Patterson is still the most borrowed author overall, a place he has occupied for the last five years.

The Public Lending Right (PLR) is the organistion that tracks the frequency of loans for any particular author’s work and enables the royalty payments to reach them. Their figures, released 3 February 2012, represent the shifting trends in popular tastes, consistently moving towards crime and thrillers in the last ten years; and American (or US-based) writers are favourite.

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Thursday, Dec 1, 2011
I go, you go, we all go Pogo.

Walt Kelly’s Pogo, a daily newspaper strip that ran from 1948 to 1975, is justifiably hailed as one of the great achievements of the postwar comic strip. In theory, it belongs to the “funny animal” genre; in practice, it was a personal, whimsical combination of comedy and mood, dressed in linguistic wordplay and laced with sociopolitical satire. As such, it bears some affinity to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Tove Jansson’s Moomin, but with more of an edge. It was Kelly, through Pogo, who coined the famous parody phrase “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo is a possum who lives in Okefenokee Swamp and plays straight man to a wacky gallery of varmints, including the vain, delusional, quick-tempered, unscrupulous yet blessedly naive Albert Alligator (combining the worst qualities of both Abbott & Costello); the good-natured turtle Churchy LaFemme, who loves singing songs like the immortal Christmas carol “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie”; the gruff and backwards Porkypine, who pines (as it were) for love of the svelte French skunk Miz Hepzibah; the bespectacled pseudo-intellectual Howland Owl; and a dizzying array of others. Although Kelly was a Yankee, his characters pursued their delicate misunderstandings and pratfalling nonsense while babbling in demented mock-Southern Li’l Abner-ese, sometimes in heavily decorated dialogue balloons (especially for bear-empresario P.T. Bridgeport and buzzard-mortician Sarcophagus Macabre).

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Tuesday, Nov 15, 2011
Ducks Find Gold

“Barks was perhaps the most widely-read but least-known author in the world. Like other comic-book artists at the time, he was anonymous during the years he was producing his comics. At the same time, because his work was so exceptional, he developed a huge number of fans, who only knew him as ‘the good artist.’ His best work is ‘pure Disney’...and yet his work was so distinctive that it actually displaced the Disney vision in the direction of his own individual talent. His success thus depended on his anonymity as well as his autonomy.”

This insightful remark comes from Donald Ault’s introduction (more like a love letter) to this first in a series devoted to collecting Carl Barks’ Disney comics, over 6,000 pages from 1942 to 1966, reprinted in glorious color. This volume reprints tales from December 1948 through August 1949, when Barks was in high feather as a creator of breathless adventures and light comedies for his Ducks: Donald (handled by Barks as a resourceful Every-duck hero removed from his irascible screen persona), the billionaire Uncle Scrooge McDuck (a great creation of equal parts fantasy and frustration), the nephews Huey, Louis and Dewey, and supporting characters like the cursedly lucky Gladstone Gander.

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Friday, Jul 22, 2011
Generation X's obsession with their own entertainment hits the printed page, and it's totally radical!... if only the authors' ambitions weren't still lost in cyberspace.

Ah, the ‘70s and ‘80s. Or, strictly speaking, the mid-‘70s through approximately 1992.

But then, this was no time to be pedantic. This was the time when the survivors of the hard-nosed ‘50s and taboo-shattering ‘60s settled down to consolidate their gains – and proceeded to blow it all on the biggest, loudest, most over-the-top party Western civilization had ever seen. Yes, even greater than the Roaring Twenties. Did they have Atari back then? Did they? Huh?

They settled down, had some offspring, and bought minivans – that being the only vehicle that would hold all the offspring’s stuff. This (the offspring that is, not the minivan) is the origin story of Generation X. And thus this is their unique dilemma today, some 40 years later, as they begin to settle back and think about consolidation in their turn… and find themselves contemplating the shortcomings of “Greed is good!” as a noble contribution to societal advancement, never mind source of cool stories to tell the grandkids.

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Friday, Jul 15, 2011
This book is more than a historically interesting sociological artifact; it's a delight.

Captain Easy, square-jawed and two-fisted devil-may-care man of action, resembles Clark Kent and acts like Indiana Jones. He was created by Roy Crane in Wash Tubbs, which comics historians have pegged as the first daily adventure strip.

Its little bespectacled hero began his humorous exploits in 1924 and met Captain Easy in 1929. The captain was imprisoned in the catacombs of a castle while “revolution rages in Kandelabra”. The friendly, easy-going brawler with sang-froid soon spun off into his own Sunday strip.

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