Continuing with my graphic novel binge from our Snow Day the other day….
I dug in my shelves and found “Ethel and Ernest: A True Story” (1998), a GN by English author Raymond Briggs. (You might know Briggs from his work, “The Snowman”, which sometimes comes on TV at Christmas.) This was a wonderful read, poignant with crayon drawings (as opposed to the harsher pen/ink) and closely follows the biographies of two ordinary people who get married and live their lives through the twentieth century. Based on the story of his parents’ lives, this is structured so that the reader sees UK history through the lens of these two people as it happens: WWII, rationing, austerity, stereo, TV, buying their own car, Labor government. They move on as best they can with the husband having stronger political views and the wife pretending to not know and just agree when she really does understand events. Her gentle teasing of her long-time husband, familiar to anyone in a long-term comfortable relationship of any gender combination, will ring true along with a realistic portrayal of aging which, in this case, eventually shows one of the pair having Alzheimer’s. The couple lived in the same house for 41 years which provides an unchanging backdrop to the ever-changing world about them. A lovely and poignant story written with love.
Then, I found another Raymond Briggs’ work, “Fungus the Bogeyman” (1977). I had read this when it first came out and when I was 14 and I enjoyed it then, but this reread was a much deeper appreciation as I saw Briggs’ many literary and word-related sly jokes which had gone right over my head when I was younger. The actual story is presented as a “Day in the Life…” of Fungus the Bogeyman who, with his family, lives in dread of clean and dry places up above his home in the open air. He’s not the only Bogeyman, but lives in a community of others, most of whom go up to do their daily jobs of scaring unassuming quiet vicars on an evening walk and waking up babies from their sleep. However, along with this fairly humdrum life, Fungus is also dealing with an existential crisis of his own, pondering the meaning of his life and asking himself: What was the point of being a Bogeyman? He analyzes his life: a lovely dirty wife, a lovely dirty boy called Mould (respecting the UK spelling there), and pets called Mucus. But what more was there for him in his life? Readers are given a detailed field guide (of sorts) to how the Bogeys live and it really was very sly witted on so many levels. Bogeys love literary quotations, but always misquote them so it was fun (and tricky!) to try and work out which ones he was quoting on his bicycle journey to the outer world. I enjoyed this when I first read it in 1977, but I really appreciated the clever wordplay when I read it on Friday.
Scab and matter custard,/
Snot and bogey pie,/
Dead dog’s giblets,/
Green cat’s eye./
Spread it on bread,/
Spread it on thick./
Wash it all down with a cup of cold sick.*
(Children’s rhyme from England, oral tradition.)
(And related to not much — look what I found in my bookshelves the other day looking for graphic novels…a 1974 Star Trek Annual with scary illustrations of Spock and Kirk and co.)
* The word “sick” (in my English childhood) referred to the actual product of vomiting (i.e. the vomitus). It wasn’t the verb (meaning “generally feeling unwell”) that it is in the U.S., and so when I first arrived in Texas and people referenced that they were (or had been) “sick”, I just thought that there was a lot of throwing up going on which I found to be confusing as ‘Mericans tend to be quite healthy. (I know this small nugget of memory is fascinating and amazing for you all.)