WAR IS SWELL: A KID'S IDIOTIC VISION OF WWII
by William Anthony
(Smart Art) $25
A self-admitted "hare-brained, home-front Herodotus," William Anthony did what many mid-20th-century kids did -- drew pictures inspired by World War II. Unlike most kids, Anthony grew up to become an artist and then, à la Paul Klee, taught himself to draw like a kid again so he could revisit those thrilling days of yesteryear. As children, the then-Tacoma resident and his friends were fortunate in that none of their fathers got killed or wounded; for them, following the Allies was a bit like rooting for the Yankees: Heroes were glorious, enemies were vile, losing was inconceivable.
Since much of the kid's-eye view of the war versus the "Krauts" and "Japs" is, as Anthony says in the introduction, "simplistic, racist, and inaccurate," Anthony takes care to prepare contemporary viewers for the onslaught of the childhood home front. It's not unfamiliar territory -- Tobias Wolff surveys it briefly in This Boy's Life with cracks about Nazi cool, and Willie Smith invades it thoroughly in Oedipus Cadet with war-lover sex fantasies -- but rarely has it been so exposed.
The wonderfully demented and hilarious drawings are buttressed by commentary set in blown-up, old typewriter type. "Hitler was a paperhanger who got this job as dictator of Germany. He spent most of his time having tantrums," accompanies a sketch of a fat-headed, cross-eyed Führer on his knees, raving with fists twisted upward as his hat and some furniture fly around him. Full battle scenes of lop-winged airplanes and rumpled ships fill double-page spreads, with bullets meticulously shaped into cones or dotted into lines. Nazi officers are "born with dueling scars" and Japanese generals have to drag reluctant pilots into the cockpits of kamikaze planes. The women, whether they collaborate or resist, have acey-deucey breasts (one up, one down). The pictures proceed chronologically through the war and its theaters, careening with a ballpark historical accuracy as they depict the real and the apocryphal. Eva Braun dances to jazz records in secret, General Patton pisses in the Rhine, and a typical U.S. Marine single-handedly kills 15 Japs at Guadalcanal. As Anthony intends, the deliberate distortions of the figures match the distortions of the jingoistic views he represents. The visual perspective is often too sophisticated for even a precocious kid artist to have managed, and the intellectual perspective seems often disturbingly in line with that of Dick Armey or Strom Thurmond, but what the hell. War Is Swell is swell. DOUG NUFER
LET IT BLURT: THE LIFE & TIMES OF LESTER BANGS, AMERICA'S GREATEST ROCK CRITIC
by Jim DeRogatis
(Bantam Doubleday Dell) $15
Honestly, y'all... how long we been needin' a biography on thee "gonzo" rock critic -- WRITER -- that is the late Lester Bangs? Welp, we got one now, called Let It Blurt... and fer ONCE sumpthin' got done right... the first time!
Mister DeRogatis, thank you, you done did a damn fine job... if it was up to ME, I'd give you a raise! I'm serious! In terms of "good" writin', Blurt is well done; most folks who take license to write about "rock" often have their heads up their you-know-whats (read: ASSES), but this is heads 'n' shoulders above the other flakes. Straight away, the pacing and dynamics are sharply defined, and it keeps clippin' along with no draggin', overwritin', or sleepy-time underdetailed bits!
Now, in addition to smart writin', you rock 'n' rolla GEEKoids -- sorry... "hobbyists" -- take note, 'cause if you like "pictures," there's loads of exclusive illustrations, er... pictures, plus there's tons of contextual history, like stories of Bangs' incarceration at Campus de la Creem and all those involved.... Even if this WON'T about Bangs, the fleshy, fatty details of the peripheral characters and events warrant a read (Jimmy, I think there IS another book here)! But, above all, I was struck by the thoughtful presentation of the relationship Bangs had to his scritchin'... that is, this book testifies that Bangs' writin' is an explicit expression of HIS personality through a desperate, deliberate reach for an articulation of feeling. Duh. And, Jimmy, many more thanks fer NOT imposin' no writer's "editorial" hogwash on Lester's less-than-stable life. Yeah, Lester was a wee bit fucked in the noodle... but YOU, dear readers, will haveta read the book yerselves to find out WHY. M'kay? MIKE NIPPER