Monday 11 January 2010

Two Books That Deal With Conformity

The year starts with a couple of books that are each somewhat focused on the issue of conformity.

The first one is the non-fiction book The Beats: A Graphic History.

With Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, Our Cancer Year; born: 1939) as the head-writer of a sort of ensemble creative team, which includes his wife Joyce Brabner, The Beats has many functions. Its primary ones are to present a historical overview of the Beat Generation (late-1940s to mid-1960s), its key players, and the other people involved in it (initially known as "beats," then "beatniks," before eventually evolving into "hippies") through a series of sequentially illustrated profiles.

The book paints the Beat World as a small one mostly due to the fact that all of its key figures and personalities knew each other. The most successful and celebrated members of the Beat scene were the writers Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), and William S. Burroughs (1914-1997).

The Beatniks were punk before the Punks and slowly crept up into mainstream consciousness after its underground beginnings. They rebelled against conformity by embracing individuality and free expression. Such behavior, especially of the aforementioned writers in the United States of the 1950s, helped to widen the doors of free expression in a manner similar to Playboy of the same era but without an emphasis on nude photographs. Unlike many authors of the time, the Beats wrote about drugs, sex, crime, homosexuality and other activities deemed to be "unfavourable" during the period while also freely using swear words, should the need arise.

Such communication brought unwanted attention to authors like Ginsberg and Burroughs from some US jurisdictions for Howl and Naked Lunch, both of which were the subjects of obscenity trials.

The book, among the writer profiles, has an autobiography of Tuli Kupferberg, one of the original members of The Fugs, a counterculture rock group primarily known for 1960s classics like Kill For Peace.

At the end of the day, The Beats: A Graphic History is a very well researched book with very few negative elements worth mentioning. The project naturally benefits from Pekar's involvement. He's been a freelance jazz critic since the 1960s.

However, as with any book, there are some negatives. In this case, the section titled The Janitor, by Jerome Neukirch, is one of such negative elements because sequential panel-based narratives are nearly ditched for a more traditional text-only storytelling.

The book's a fine introduction to the far-out, groovy hipsters from a long time ago.

The Beats: A Graphic History: 8/10

Editor: Paul Buhle

Writers: Harvey Pekar, Nancy J. Peters, Penelope Rosemont, Joyce Brabner, Trina Robbins, and Tuli Kupferberg

Illustrators: Ed Piskor, Jay Kinney, Nick Thorkelson, Summer McClinton, Peter Kuper, Mary Fleener, Jerome Neukirch, Anne Timmons, Gary Dumm, Lance Tooks, and Jeffrey Lewis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

199 pp., $22 US

Black and White, Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0-8090-9496-7

ISBN-10: 0-8090-9496-7

The second book we look at this week also looks at conformity, but it focuses in a humorous way towards those who choose (or are required) to conform. The book, titled 14 Years of Loyal Service In a Fabric-Covered Box by Scott Adams (born: 1957). It features Dilbert.

On the surface, the book's title may appear to indicate that it's some sort of "best of" collection. Instead, it's a comic strip reprint collection featuring all of the Dilbert strips originally published in newspapers between October 13, 2008 and July 25, 2009. Anyway, newspapers published the first Dilbert strip on April 16, 1989, which was over 14 years ago.

As with all things related to Dilbert, the strips in 14 Years of Loyal Service In a Fabric-Covered Box makes fun of the corporate cultures of offices where sheep-like behaviour is encouraged and, sadly, the norm.

The subjects tackled with humour in the strips were chosen because of real-life events happening at the time, like corporate bailouts by the American government.

As expected, many of the strips either explicitly or subtlety touch on the parallels jobs have to slavery.

14 Years of Loyal Service In a Fabric-Covered Box is an okay book for fans of the strip or for those with knowledge of business practices.

14 Years of Loyal Service In a Fabric-Covered Box: 6/10

Writer & Illustrator: Scott Adams

Andrews McMeel Universal

128 pp., $15.99 CAN / $12.99 US

Colour, Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0-7407-7365-5

ISBN-10: 0-7407-7365-8

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010