Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Al Jaffee's Mad Life; Lippman's I'd Know You Anywhere

Book Thirteen: Al Jaffee's Mad Life by Mary-Lou Weisman

In the prologue of her biography of Mad Magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee, Mary-Lou Weisman introduces the concept of the "plausible impossible." It's the concept that allows Bugs Bunny to run off a cliff, across a yawning chasm and onto the other side.

"It is the guiding comic principle -- at once thrilling and ridiculous -- that lies at the heart of cartooning," Weisman writes. "This willing suspension of disbelief has a logic all its own. What keeps Bugs aloft, what makes the impossible plausible, is not looking down.

"It is a talent that eighty-nine-year-old Al Jaffee has displayed in his life as well as his art."

Indeed. Born in Savannah, Georgia, Jaffee was reared for almost six years in a Lithuanian shetl. He lived -- vermin-infest and always hungry -- among extreme poverty and extreme neglect on the part of his mother. Before his 12th birthday and the outbreak of war, Jaffee returned to America, where he was reunited with his father.

But the reunion was brief.  His father, once a successful businessman, had fallen on hard times and Jaffee and his two brothers (a fourth returned to America months later) were shuttled between family members, where they were sometimes welcome, sometimes not.

Jaffee also had trouble adjusting to his American classmates as well as to the culture of his homeland that now felt like a foreign country.  He never truly felt at home and always feared that he would once again be uprooted.

Art emerged, both in Lithuanian and later in America, as a way for Jaffee to find acceptance. His talent also led to his admission to a special New York high school. There he met Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman, who became his colleagues on the Mad staff.

Before joining Mad, Jaffee worked at Timely Comics for Stan Lee where he wrote and drew Patsy Walker
Jaffee established his reputation as a great American cartoonist in the pages of Mad, principally as the creator of the Mad fold-in and the feature Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.

Weismnan's biography is an engrossing and loving tribute to a talented cartoonist and absolute proof that the plausible impossible is possible as long as you don't look down.

Book Fourteen: I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

I'd Know You Anywhere ranks as Laura Lippman's finest work. 

This tension-filled and disturbing novel, is the story of Eliza Benedict, the only survivor among a series of young girls kidnapped, raped and murdered by a West Virginia youth.

Since that event, years before, Eliza has managed to get on her life back on track. She is happily married, living with her husband and two children in Bethesda, Maryland. But there is a shadow looming.

Walter, who kidnapped and raped Eliza, and now grown old in prison, is scheduled to be executed soon. He reaches out to Eliza. It's clear he wants something, but what is not immediately apparent. Yet Eliza wants something too -- answers. She wants to know why the other girls were murdered and she was not. The question haunts her.

Lippman is skillful at ratcheting up the tension through the various assaults on Eliza's happy and orderly life. There is not only Walter's unwelcome intrusion into her life, but that of a woman who has taken up Walter's cause and is campaigning against the death penalty; an unprincipled journalist/blogger; and the mother of one of the victims, angry because Eliza might have saved her daughter, but did not.

I'd Know You Anywhere is a superb and riveting thriller.

No comments:

Post a Comment