As I Read About A Merry Subject


I’m reading a book about the medical profession in the United States Civil War, and how all those people needing medicine changed the way doctors did things. It’s in that weird halfway stage. It isn’t quite a pop-science book, since every 25 words there’s a citation and the corresponding endnote might go on for half a page. But it isn’t quite an academic book, since you can read the prose without feeling your life-force drained and left in a puddle that’s then photographed with reticules and analyzed by component square or portion of a square.

Thing is, it’s from the city library. And someone went through and made little notes in the margins. Not a lot of notes. Like, one or two every chapter. I don’t know how this person had the courage. I feel weird enough writing in my own books that are mine and that I have owned since college and figure to go on owning, even if I’m just correcting a typo that confuses me every time I see it.

Thing about this thing that is, is, the comments seem just aimlessly contrary. The note-writer put in the margin “post-hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy ?” and nothing else for thirty pages in either direction. It’s almost sneering at the argument being made, but the ? doesn’t even commit to the sneer. It’s just encouraging the reader to sneer if she or he chooses to. There’ll be twenty pages go by and the only note is underlining “new elite” in the text. There’s usually something in the conclusion section of any chapter, but it’s a comment like “plausible, if not shown”.

It’s almost a work of art laid upon the text. I can picture this little frowny character, maybe looking like a caricature of Red Skelton’s Mean Widdle Kid from 1948, sticking out his tongue any time the author tries to summarize things. So I don’t know what mid-Michigan reader chose to have this terse, slightly passive-aggressive quarrel with a semi-academic book about medical science in the United States’s Civil War. I have to conclude that it’s somebody with a pencil, though, so I’m on the lookout now.

Is There Life After Apartment 3-G?


My love asked if I planned to keep doing comic strip reviews now that I don’t have Apartment 3-G to fill a weekly essay. And if I’m not, then what am I going to do instead? They’re good questions. I don’t know just what I’ll do yet, although I don’t figure on regularly snarking on another comic strip.

There’s plenty to snark about. And there are many fine, quality comic-strip snark blogs, and Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips. RACS is a bit more likely to talk up the good side of comics, and the business and other sides, I should say. It isn’t all the making fun of any one comic strip, not since the glorious fiasco of Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse‘s end, an event known throughout all comic-strip commentary communities as the Foobocalypse. We still look back on it with glee. (“Here’s the strip where Johnston warns Elizabeth that if she doesn’t give up her life and marry Granthony soon then she’s going to start killing supporting characters, starting with Grandpa Jim.”) And a bit of snark is a healthy thing. It deflates self-importance, it melts pomposity, and it binds disappointed audiences in giddy consolation.

I came by my Apartment 3-G coverage honestly, when I was entertained by how baffled the comic strip left me. There hadn’t been anything so engagingly dadaist since the last years of Dick Locher’s run on Dick Tracy, when very few plot points were endlessly repeated and abstractly illustrated. There isn’t anything like it now. Even the stodgiest story strip (Mary Worth, by my lights) or the slowest-moving strip (Rex Morgan, in which June Morgan’s 27 months of pregnancy have just ended with her delivering a way overdue baby elephant) are relentlessly understandable. Apartment 3-G I was trying, honestly, to work out what was happening and why it was happening. And I meant to try understanding what was going on both on-panel and behind-the-senes. The jokes were flavoring used to make that more palatable.

So while I’m certainly going to toss jokes off in the direction of misfired comic strips (mostly in RACS, I figure), I don’t expect to make that a regular feature here. There’s nothing going on in Judge Parker that needs earnest explanation. Compu-Toon maybe. But I fear there’s something uncharitable in searching out a target for evisceration. If I’m going to put too many column-inches into ridiculing something, it should be with the hope that something useful will come of it. It should be for a better understanding of the bad, or to share with an audience that wondrous sense of strange outsider-art that true ineptness has. Sneering is an individual right, as quirky and as personal as the set of things we delete from our search histories. Nobody needs to be told to sneer at things. We need it to be at least a bit celebratory.

That said, yes, Mary Worth is getting a little creepy lately, and the dialogue reads ever-more like spies passing messages. (Mary Worth: “We can be more aware of how we affect each other and the environment.” Eight-year-old Olivia: “I like to think that change for the better … and not just the worse … can happen very quickly, too!”)