Saturday, February 04, 2006

Will Eisner

On Thursday night I went to the Cartoon Art Museum, which sponsered an illustrated talk by Bob Andelman about his new authorized biography of the cartoonist Will Eisner. Will Eisner's name constantly comes up in well-informed discussions about graphic novels & comics, but I've never really understood why he is so important. & unfortunately the talk did not clarify things for me. Andelman's description of Eisner's career made it sound like the comic book industry is made up of a bunch of crass shysters.

I did enjoy getting glimpses of Eisner's art work as teenager & of his personal sketches. You can see what a skilled artist he is.

Andelman was enthused about his subject but not so experienced at giving these sorts of presentations, so while he read from a copious sheaf of papers, he kept apologizing for having his slides out of order for going on too long. He peppered his talk with personal anecdotes, but I failed to find them amusing or revealing.

Before the event, I had a chance to look at the exhibits in the musuem, & they had a number of anti-American political cartoons. With the current flap over the anti-Islamic Danish cartoons, I wonder if the museum has considered putting these cartoons on display, perhaps along with a Danish flag that has been trodden on.

Swan Lake (SF Ballet)

On Wednesday night I got myself a dress circle seat for San Francisco Ballet's Swan Lake. I know hardly anything about ballet, but I know that at least I like Tchaikovsky's music for this one. The swan was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan, who looked just unnaturally skinny to me. You could see it was no effort for her male partners to lift her! In her best moments, she moves very smoothly, fluidly & elegantly. When she flaps her arms in imitation of a bird wing, it looks like she has more than the usual number of joints in her arms. I didn't get the impression that she was a powerful dancer, though. In the 3rd act she had one unsteady moment landing on her feet.

To my uninformed eye, even a full length ballet seems thin on story line. For long stretches, we watch peasant dances or ethnic dances that are complete onto themselves but aren't integrated in any way into the action. The characters of the mother & the tutor seem to just walk around a lot.

I was probably most entertained by watching one of the solo male dancers in the 1st act twirl & leap & sweep in a big circle around the stage & also by 6 children doing a dance together, especially when the 2 boys got out of sync & went jumping up in the air alternately instead of in unison. It was kind of charming!

The conductor did a good job of pacing the tempos for the benefit of the dancers, though at times this meant the music plodded along almost too deliberately. It was a little surprising to hear Tchaikovsky's Serenade for violin interpolated in the last act. But this provides the prince & the swan a chance to dance together some more before the end.