Monday, 20 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I'm now taking a break for a short while, at least until after the big day, in order to fully appreciate what will hopefully be a disgustingly lazy Christmas. I hope you all have the opportunity to do the same, and would like to wish you all as happy and stress-free a Christmas period as is humanly possible.

I'll meet you all post-binge, in a state of blissful discomfort.

Merry Christmas!


P.S. Sorry, what was that you asked? Something about gifts? Why yes! I do of course accept gifts, in the form of donations. You don't even need to wrap them.

P.P.S. My present to you, as always, is love.

P.P.P.S. I may occasionally tweet in the meantime. It'll most likely be incredibly mundane.

I have put out a contract on Salman Rushdie

June, 1998: Kurt Vonnegut writes a light-hearted letter to Avatar Prabhu - pseudonym of the author Richard Crasta - in response to Crasta's controversial novel, The Revised Kama Sutra, being dedicated to the Slaughterhouse Five novelist. Vonnegut closes the missive by amusingly taking a swipe at Salman Rushdie who, whilst in hiding years previous, had written a less-than-glowing review of Vonnegut's 1990 novel, Hocus Pocus.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Richard Crasta.

June 1 98

Dear Avatar Prabhu --

I thank you for THE REVISED KAMA SUTRA. I am honored by the dedication, and salute you as a full-fledged colleague, as will Joe Heller, too, I'm sure. The only other book dedicated to me is a biography of the late Frank Zappa. Are you sufficiently acculturated to know who Frank Zappa was?

As for acculturation: Yours is the most fucked-up, bewildering case ever brought to my attention as a reader, starting, for God's sake, with a Roman Catholic upbringing in the famously non-Christian matrix of the Indian sub-continent -- an area, incidentally, and for reasons other than bizarre sexual attitudes, which is much in the news nowadays.

I have met Salmon Rushdie, your peer in blasphemy. While in deep hiding, he gave a corrosively unfavorable review of a book of mine, so I have put out a contract on him. If the Moslem assassins don't get him, my Roman Catholic Italian psychopath will.

Yes -- I am reading you, and finding you very funny.

Cheers --

Kurt Vonnegut

Friday, 17 December 2010


Above: The Wright brothers' 4th flight, Dec. 17, 1903; Image: LoC

On this day in 1903, following an unsuccessful attempt three days previous, the Wright brothers once again took their newly-built Wright Flyer to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and proceeded to make history by claiming "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight." In fact, they made four short flights that day — two apiece — with the last managing to stay in the air for 59 seconds and cover a distance of 852 feet. Wishing to inform their father of the good news and make the press aware of the achievement, Orville sent him the following telegram just hours later.

Note: During the telegram's transmission, '59' seconds mistakenly became '57', and 'Orville' became 'Orevelle'.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of American Memory.

176 C KA C8 33 Paid. Via Norfolk Va
Kitty Hawk N C Dec 17
Bishop M Wright
7 Hawthorne St

Success four flights thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas.

Orevelle Wright 525P

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Written with the hand of him who wishes he were yours

From the hand of King Henry VIII in 1527 we have a letter (the first part of which was written in English, the second part in French) to the second of his six wives, Anne Boleyn. At this point, Henry was reluctantly still married to his wife of 18 years, Catherine of Aragon, and still without the son he so desperately wanted; for the past two years he had been doggedly pursuing Boleyn - a woman who had, much to his frustration, resisted his advances whilst awaiting the annulment of his first marriage - and had recently found lodgings for her in London.

Six years later, in 1533, they married. In 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Vatican Library.

Darlyng thowght I haue scant laysor yet remembryng my pmes I thowthe it go covenyent to certefy yow brevely in what case oure affaires stande as tochyng a loggyng for yow we haue gotton won by my lord cardinall menys the hafe weroff colde nott haue bene fond her abowght for all causys as thys berar shall more shew yow as tochyng oure other affayres I ensure yow ther can be no more done nor more diligente usyd nor all maner off dangers better bothe forsene and unintelligible for so thatt I trust it shall be heraffter to bothe our comforte the specialltes weroff wer bothe to long to be wryttyn and hardly by messenger to be declaryd wherfore tyll your repayre hyder I kepe suyynge in store trusty it shall nott be long to for I haue causyd my lord your fader to make hys prisions wt spede and thus for lake off tyme derlyng I make a nende off my letter wryttyn wt the hand off hym whyche I wolde wer yours


Nenmoins il nappertiente pas a vng gentylle home pur prendre sa dame au lieu de suivante toute foyse ensuyvant vos desires volen tiers le vous ont royroy si per cela vous puisset revere moins ingrate en la plase per vous choysye qavez este en la plase par moy donee en vous marciant tres cordiallement quel vous plete encors avoire quelque sovenace de moy. B.N.R.I. de R.O.M.V.E.Z.

Henry R.
Modern Translation (Approximate)
Darling, though I have scant leisure yet remembering my promise I thought it go convenient to certify you briefly as to how our affairs stand. As touching a lodging for you we have gotten one through my Lord Cardinal's means, the half of which could not have been found around here, for all causes, as this bearer shall more show you. As touching our other affairs I assure you there can be no more done, nor more diligence used, nor all manner of dangers better both foreseen and provided for, so that I trust it shall be hereafter to both our comfort, the specialties whereof were both too long to be written, and hardly to be sent through a messenger. Wherefore till your coming here, I keep something in store trusting it shall not be long to, for I have caused my lord, your father, to make his position with speed, and thus for lack of time darling, I make an end of my letter, written with the hand of him who wishes he were yours


Though it does not belong to a gentleman to take his lady in the place of a servant, however, in following your desires, I willingly grant it, that so you may be more agreeably in the place that you yourself have chosen, than you have been in that which I gave you. I shall be heartily obliged to you, if you please to have some some remembrance of me. B.N.R.I. de R.O.M.V.E.Z.

Henry R.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


In 1986, having just completed some layouts for a Jonny Quest strip, professional comic book artist Steve Rude decided to fax his work to a personal hero - celebrated cartoonist Alex Toth - in the hope of garnering some productive feedback. Toth's brutal handwritten response, the reading of which must have been more than a little painful for Rude despite the inclusion of some undeniably sound advice, can be seen below.

Steve Rude's 2005 interview with Draw! magazine, in which he speaks about Toth's reply, can be seen here.

Transcript follows. Scans courtesy of the Concept Art Forums.

Re Page One (of 12) Splash — I won't mince words! You're too good to be so bad! Right up front! Your 'Quest' splash is fake everything! From palm tree, camel (!?), tarp', supplies, 'copter, shack, pumps, incidental props! Terrain, etc. You could have researched the lot (since it was your story's setting) via photobooks, mags, like Nat'l Geo', etc, etc, and your library or bookshop! The fakery's so obvious, in the most important splash, that it detracts from what follows — you cripple credibility at the start (yours! And the story's!) by sloughing-off the setting and integrity of your depiction of it —christ, man, you weren't asked to depict another planet! Just (what I assume to be) North Africa or the Middle East — (i can't read your copy!) — so why didn't you document the locale?! Authenticate it?! Or, fake it, one helluvalot better!

Re all this — and your odd diminution of the characters' importance by placing them so poorly (except for Jonny's dad) — Jonny's hardly identifiable, so far away, and his back to us (!!) and Tina Haaji and the pudgy guy with him; testing our eyesight, perhaps?

Look — this scene's meant to set up our cast, close enough, and posed, so as to be identifiable! Also to establish just where the hell we are! Thinking comes first, Steve — then drawing — to tell the story — intrigue the reader — delight, surprise, edify, inform, entertain him; in the context of the story! Tell the story, man! Don't throw away your opening shot! Your intro to all our key characters! Think! If you must fake what you don't know, do it better, be more clever about it, or don't fake! It's not difficult to get what you need to research a story! Do it!

I think you slapped out the splash with too little thought or care — and I don't understand it, kiddo! It wouldn't have been much tougher to do it right! It would've made drawing it more interesting for you, for the story, for the reader — you — and they — would've learnt something! About camels, their gear, the oasis (?!), the two 'copters, and the safari gear layed out and the terrain, its heat, fauna (palm trees, etc) of that region! You just threw out all the pictorial interest native to that locale — and substituted nondescript fakery! You don't realize that your sets/locales are vital to the whole job!


Page 2

P.1 — Who's the silhouetted guy in the bg, and why is he important?

P.2 — Faked bg, figures, confuse, don't reveal any story point or 'local color' — and when did you last heft a heavy box? Jonny + haaji are not carrying them as if they held weight! Fakery again!

P.3 — More of our mysterious background man in silhouette! Why? Who is he? Should we care? You make me wonder — and if i'm not meant to wonder, then you've distracted me from what I should've seen first and understood straight away, and you've failed as a proper storyteller! You don't think!

P.4 — Who's the woman? Where the hell did she pop out from? Is she important? Why don't we establish/intro her face/identity, clearly — if she is important, that is —?

P.4 — Faked Jonny/Haaji/'copter —(Ye Gods!)— poses of work!

P.5 — All fake, fg to bg — silhouetted nobody — tiny 'copters.


Page Three

P.1 — Tiny figures/unidentifiable/faked 'copters worsened by 3 different perspectives here — all out of whack!

P.2 — More tiny figures! Fake! Where the hell's Jonny, our hero? Shame on you!

P.3 — There he is! Squeezed him in, did you? But again, who's pudgy, with his back to us? Why can't we see what the Dr.'s bending to see? It's off-camera! Why? Show it! Bad!

P.4 — Okay — I guess —

P.5 — Where's Jonny? Why cheat our other leads out of the shot?


P.1 — What the hell kind of camera and tripod is this? Fake! Who's the guy behind it? Why's she hiding? Who's the gal? We've not yet seen her face clearly! She's with our 'keys' (principals) in the boonies, but always in the bg, or as in —

P.2 — With her face off-camera!!!! Why?!? Damn it!! Why? You call this storytelling?! You're not thinking! Why is her holster empty here, but filled with gun in P.6? (perhaps your unreadable copy might've explained this!?)

P.3 — Good pose on Jonny, but you've cheated his face down/back, so is unclear — only his hair (color) and turtleneck identify him — I know that — will a new reader have to figure it out?

P.4 — I pass!

P.5 — I pass (tripods telescope in reverse of your item!) I'm guessing that this is a remote-controlled or self-timed 360° rotating panoramic camera — but why the flash unit on it? It's serve no purpose by day, or night! Too small and just plain wrong! Fake!—(i'm a camera buff, Steve!)

P.6 — So's this shot — a photog's 'blind'? Well, maybe so! But, again, why don't we see/identify this gal's face?!!?


P.1. Oh, great! More rearviews (no faces!) of our leads! And two tiny figures again in bg — minimal, fake, setting

P.2 — At last, Jonny — overpowered by out-of-the-blue — antiquity not established in previous shots of the new setting — lousy unthinking storytelling!

P.3 — Why is this sculpture so damned important? To you? To the leads? To the story? I Think not! You've shrunk our leads for this slight shift of view of it, for no good reason!

P.4. Again — tiny, near-invisible figures! Fake ruins! Confusion, distraction, senseless, unfocused, framing!

P.5 — Fine Jonny — but confusing object he's leaning on! A well? Old stonework? I can't be sure? Can you? Ever see centuries' old stonework, in photos, films, in the real world? It ages, man! It erodes in deserts, by weather, wind, rain, sun's heat, etc, etc, etc — it's rough, pitted, deformed, and very interesting — in closeups! You've failed to make use of it — didn't research it — didn't think!

P.6 — Tiny figures again — poor fg figure (silhouette or not?)


P.1 — No teeth? No eyes?

P.2 — Back views of our heroes again! Confusing bg!

P.3 — Tiny, tiny, nothing, faked figures! No focus, no real center, to this mishmosh!

P.4 — Pass

P.5 — Pass (but this guy doesn't match with his P.1. Face!)


P.1 — Tiny, fake figures — confusing, pointless downshot!

P.2 — Face changes panel to panel!

P.3 — Fake! Tiny heroes again!

P.4 — Tiny — but passable —

P.5 — Unconvincing/confusing downshot/can't 'read' what's below! Skeletons? Too tiny! Unclear!

P.6 — Fake — all of it! Every really look at a turban? See how it's wound around a head? Is that a teepee/wigwam in bg? Are we in the 1800's west?


P.1 — Pass

P.2 — Pass

P.3 — What in hell's goin' on here?!! Downshot's wrong

P.4 — Pass

P.5 — "

P.6 — "

P.7 — Confusing — poor bg figure — black overlaps, etc


Page Nine

P.1 — Your downshots never fail to confuse and confound the eye! Clarify! Don't confuse!

P.2 — Pass —

P.3 — Another damned backview Jonny! Damnit! And where the hell did the pop-up tripod/camera come from? You failed to clearly set this up, previously!

P.4 — Your blacks only confuse figures' overlaps more!

P.5 — Damn! Running the wrong way on that bridge — they came in that way (L-R), should run back, the other way now (R-L) — you don't think!

P.6 — This directional switch confuses more again — but is, surprisingly, correct! If you reverse P.5!

P.7 — You've reversed again! Wrongly!

P.8 — Ditto —


Page Ten

P.1 — Oh, terrific! More unidentifiable tiny figures of our heroes in bg! And more gd backviews of equally unidentifiable fg figures in unclear, awkward poses on ground! If they're tied up, then, damn it, show that!! Your natives' garb are fake! Where'd the woman in her babushka, or kerchief come from? Who/what is she? Do you care? I Don't at this stage of confusion!

P.2. Whose face are you hiding now? The guy in specs! Who is he? Didn't you get enough H+B model sheets?

P.3 — Where did race bannon come from? Who's the gal? Is she in a beret now? Where are we? What's goin' on?

P.4 — I don't know where this radio set is! You didn't set it up previously — didn't think! Ahead — or back — to adjust, change, have it all tie together smoothly! If you saw a movie/tv show as poorly though-out and shot, you'd have fits too — like I am now! Mercy!

P.5 — Whatever — I can't figure out who's on first?! But the direction of toss is wrong!


Page Eleven

P.1 — So's this!

P.2 — Pass — hell, I don't know, nor care, anymore!

P.3 — So — ?

P.4 — ?

P.5. Okay, I s'pose — (but mg's at hip level, as shown)

P.6. And, here, needlessly hoisted up to eye level to blow away the gal right in front of/and below the baddie, no sense to this at all — it's a rifle pose, without cause — as an mg is a spray weapon — at close or far range!

P.7 — I can't 'read' all your black art — can you?!

P.8 — You've, thoughtlessly, reversed figure positions, so have destroyed action flow/followthrough here, in sequence! You don't understand visual continuity or directional flow at all! I'm amazed! Look, think! Once you've set up figures on left, and right, for a sequence like this, keep left left and right right! Orientation of all key figures will keep the action going in the proper, and same, direction. This is called action flow/directional flow/followthrough! Verstehst du?

If you'd think more, half your work'd be done for you! You keep shooting yourself in the foot! And destroy your tentative visual continuity! Don't you study movies/tv and notice these things? When it's right, when it's wrong — and why it is?!


Page Twelve —(Alas!)

P.i 'Spec's' head's down again —!!?! Who is this gal?! Is she the one with the pith helmet way back at the beginning of all this confusion?

P.2 — Pass

P.3 — Pass

P.4 — What's she doing?

P.5 — More tiny figures — I give up!

If you didn't have talent, I wouldn't give you .5 minutes' sweat at this, Steve — but I think you've cheated and faked your way through this whole story! As if you didn't care enough to think any of it through!

A few welldrawn figures in 12 pages, doesn't cut it, kiddo! Since you asked, I gave you the critique — if you're pissed, i'm sorry! But i'm dismayed that you don't concern yourself with what is vital/important to any story you do, to do it right — or not do it at all!

Forget technique, tricks, cheating, faking, and concentrate on how to tell a story as it should be told!

Clarify! Reveal! Don't conceal! Don't confuse! Show! Explain! Simplify! Economize! Open up areas! Don't clutter! For God's sake, if you don't know about a subject you must draw, then find out! You'll learn! So will your readers! Once drawn, you'll keep memory of it — so, years later, you'll recall it, if need be — photos help document/authenticate subjects, people, places, things, and we're swarming with sources for such info — there's no excuse for not using it — camels and palm trees and 'copters and deserts and costumes are infinitely varied — their differing types provides you with pictorial fun and interest — ditto your readers! Use it! Learn!

Think! Think! Think!

— before you draw — while you draw — and after — and redraw, if it doesn't work — be honest, with yourself! And your readers! Stop faking! You don't know enough to do it well, so don't! Learn! See! Observe!

I'm old fashioned, but I don't comprehend your (and too many other young cartoonists') disdain for designing all your captions and dialogue balloons' exact shape/size/positions in every panel and page — and, clearly, pencilling-in legible readable copy!?

I always did, and do — as did most of my generation of crocks! You're missing half the fun (and all of the responsibility!) by throwing that part of your job away, too! Copy, in strips, as in all graphic/aural media, is of vital importance, and part of overall design! It controls your reader's eyeflow, through your panels, up, dow, around, and pages! Why fob it off on a letterer who'll care less, know less, about such vital components and who may just mess it up more? I Don't get it!

The logo (title) placement's very important, too, and if you're given a 'Jonny Quest' stat for pasteup, or design your own, plus the story (episode) title, that's your job!

You've played fast and loose with this too! Disappointing! You don't care!

Or do you?

As it is, I don't see our title here 'Jonny Quest' in all of this splash page — just the backview of a kid who 'might' be him, unimportantly sized and positioned and posed — for a first-time reader to see this page, he'd wonder which character was the hero?

You give more importance to an incidental character in Panel 2, than Jonny in the splash? Why? And who's the guy in the bg? Study staging, in films/tv/and yes, the stage!

And remember!

And keep doing that all your productive life!

Always be a student! A scholar! Admitting to how little you know, how much there's still left to learn, is your key to learning! For a lifetime!

Study everything! Be curious/interested/in everything. You may have to draw it someday! You can't draw something credibly until/unless you do/can understand it! And vice versa!

Comic books print the worst junk art! 99% of it is cheap, vulgar, ignorant, ugly, senseless, fakery and trickery of characterless hue — if that's all you want, just do what you're doing — you'll be a mite better than the rest, but that won't be much!

Your growth is in your hands, not mine!

I hate giving critiques — an emotional drain! They anger me! And those I critique! Like you! If you're angry — don't waste it on me! Be angry with you! You are in your own hands, like clay, waiting to be formed — you must always be your own best teacher! Not me! I Refuse that — unless I hold classes!

No old pro, no teacher, no school, no book, no how-to film/casette will ever teach you as well as you can and must. But they help you to think!

To do that, you must be aware! Not smug, or complacent, or cocky, or relaxed, about how good you are! You've used 10% of your thinking skills thus far — you've got 90% left! For the rest of your career and life! How much of it will you use?

Forget all the fandom bullshit and kudos and hype and cons' groupies' adulation — and be true to yourself and your long road ahead to the top, or to wherever you want to go — and don't let ego stop you from learning to do better, best!

That's all, kiddo! Study our old masters of art, sculpture, illustration, strips, film, of the last 100 years and beyond, here and abroad!


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The lid is on in Packingtown

Over the course of seven weeks in 1904, journalist Upton Sinclair entered Chicago's meatpacking industry and worked undercover as a factory operative. The next year his resultant exposé, The Jungle, was serialised in the newspaper Appeal to Reason; in February of 1906, it was released in book form and became an instant bestseller. Shortly after its explosive release, and due in no small part to the public's disgusted reaction to the situation, a series of letters were shared between Sinclair and then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Below is the first of Sinclair's, in which he advises Roosevelt on the best way for any federal inspectors to approach the factories: in disguise.

Sinclair did eventually meet Roosevelt at the White House, and his muckraking ultimately resulted in the implementation of both the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, and the Pure Food and Drug Act of the same year.

Transcript follows. Scans of the letter's remaining six pages can be found at the National Archives.

The Jungle Publishing Co.
Publishers of the books of Upton Sinclair
P. O. Box 2064, New York City.

March I0, I906

President Theodore Roosevelt,
Washington, D.C.

My dear President Roosevelt:

I have just returned from some exploring in the Jersey glass factories and find your kind note. I am glad to learn that the Department of Agriculture has taken up the matter of inspection, or lack of it, but I am exceedingly dubious as to what they will discover. I have seen so many people go out there and be put off with smooth pretences. A man has to be something of a detective, or else intimate with the working-men, as I was, before he can really see what is going on. And it is becoming a great deal more difficult since the publication of "The Jungle." I have received to-day a letter from an employe of Armour and Company, in response to my request to him to take Ray Stannard Baker in hand and show him what he showed me a year and a half ago. He says: "He will have to be well disguised, for 'the lid is on' in Packingtown; he will find two detectives in places where before there has only one." You must understand that the thing which I have called the "condemned meat industry," is a matter of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. I see in to-day's "Saturday Evening Post" that Mr. Armour declares in his article (which I happen to know is written by George Horace Lorimer) that "In Armour and Company's business not one atom of any condemned animal or carcass, finds its way, directly or indirectly, from any source, into any food product or food ingredient." Now, compare with that the following extract from a formal statement transmitted to Doubleday, Page and Company by Mr. Thomas H. KcKee, attorney at law, (III Broadway, New York) who is a personal friend of Mr. Walter H. Page, and was sent out to Chicago by that firm to investigate the situation:

"With a special conductor, Mr. B. J. Mullaney, provided for me by Mr. Urion, attorney for Armour interests, I went through the Armour plant again. Mullaney introduced me to T. J. Conners, Manager, who called Mr. Hull, Superintendent of beef plant and said to him: 'I have just told Mr. McKee that we have nothing here to conceal and that he can see anything he wants and can stay as long as he likes. Please see that my promise is made good. ' I expressed my desire to investigate two points, 1st, the system of inspection; 2nd, the by-product food industry.."

"I saw six hogs hung in line which had been condemned. A truck loaded with chopped up condemned hogs was in my presence (I followed it) placed in one of the tanks from which lard comes. I asked particularly about this and the inspector together with Mr. Hull stated that lard and fertilizer would be the product from that tank. The tanks are in a long room. The East side is lined with tanks for manufacture of lard and fertilizer; the West side with tanks whose product is grease and fertilizer. The grease is for soap, lubricator, etc. Here is a clear infraction of the law, because it requires that such condemned meat be mixed with sufficient offal to destroy it as food. This seems to be done on the 'Grease' line of tanks; it is not done at the 'Lard' line of tanks. See Department of Agriculture Rules, June 27, 1904, Article IX. The excuse probably is that the inspector has not found the animal unfit for one kind of human food, to wit - lard."

"Of the six condemned hogs referred to two were afflicted with cholers, the skin being red as blood and the legs scabbed; three were marked 'tubercular, ' though they appeared normal to a layman, the sixth had an ulcer in its side which was apparent. Two men were engaged in chopping up hogs from this line. The truck load prepared while I stood there was deposited in a lard tank. I asked particularly about the line of demarcation between the carcasses used for lard and carcasses used for grease. No explanation was given by either the inspector or my conductor. 'It all depends on how bad he is, ' was the answer. I gathered the impression, however, that not very many carcasses were placed in Grease tanks."

So much for Mr. McKee. For myself, I was escorted through Packingtown by a young lawyer who was brought up in the district, had worked as a boy in Armour's plant, and knew more or less intimately every foreman, "spotter," and watchman about the place. I saw with my own eyes hams, which had spoiled in pickle, being pumped full of chemicals to destroy the odor. I saw waste ends of smoked beef stored in barrels in a cellar, in a condition of filth which I could not describe in a letter. I saw rooms in which sausage meat was stored, with poisoned rats lying about, and the dung of rats covering them. I saw hogs which had died of cholera in shipment, being loaded into box cars to be taken to a place called Globe, in Indiana, to be rendered into lard. Finally, I found a physician, Dr. William K. Jaques, 4316 Woodland avenue, Chicago, who holds the chair of bacteriology in the Illinois State University, and was in charge of the city inspection of meat during 1902-3, who told me he had seen beef carcasses, bearing the inspectors' tags of condemnation, left upon open platforms and carted away at night, to be sold in the city. I quote a few words from Dr. Jaques' statement, furnished to Mr. McKee, and would add that he has written an article which will appear in the "World's Work" for May, and of which a proof could possibly be furnished you, if you cared to see it.

"My education as a physician teaches me that disease follows the same law whether in animals or human beings. An accurate post mortem requires close inspection of all the internal organs together with the use of the microscope before a physician can say there is no disease present. How many post mortems could the most expert physician make in a day? Ten would be a big day's work; fifty would tax the endurance of the most strenuous. It is reported that one hundred and fifty thousand animals have been received at the Union Stockyards in a single day. How many animal pathologists are employed by the government who are capable of making a reliable post mortem and saying that an animal is not diseased? In round numbers, say there are fifty ?? a few more or less, for the sake of illustration, are not material. Say there are only fifty thousand animals killed a day at the stock yards. This would be a thousand to each inspector, a hundred an hour, nearly two a minute. What is such inspection as this worth? It is true, there is some inspection that is well done; it is that which is done for the sharp eyes of the foreigner."

"Inspection to be effective should include the entire twenty-four hours. Federal inspection is probably effective in day light. City inspectors work during city hall hours. The railroads and express companies bring animals into the city every hour in the day. When John Dyson has access to every room in the packing houses and knows what is done there every hour in the twenty-four; when his army of inspectors know the disposition of the meat brought into the city by more than thirty railroads; when he knows the destination and use of the refuse which the meat and liver wagons gather after nightfall from Fulton market, south Water street and other markets; when he knows the meat that comes to the city by wagon and other ways, then, in my estimation, he can give something like an accurate estimation of the amount of diseased, putrid meat that is converted into meat in Chicago. Until he has this information, he must confess to the ignorance of which he accuses others. No one has this information. There are a hundred streets and avenues by which diseased meat can enter the city and be put on sale in the markets. The public has made no effort to find out and it is left to the men who deal in this merchandise to dump what they please into the stomachs of the blissfully ignorant public. Neither do any of us know how much disease and suffering this food causes. The diagnosis of the best physicians is so often turned down at the post mortem table that the actual results of diseased food are difficult to ascertain."

Finally, I might add that I have a long affidavit from a man named Thomas F. Dolan, now at the head of the Boston and Maine News Bureau, who was for many years a superintendent in Armour's plant, and has letters to show that he was considered by Armour as the best man he ever employed. He makes oath to Armour's custom of taking condemned meat out of the bottoms of the tanks, into which they had been dropped with the idea of rendering them into fertilizer. It seems that the tanks are, or were then, built with a false bottom, which lets down on a hinge; and that when you stand at the top and see the meat dropped in, you are flooded by blinding clouds of steam which pour up from a pipe down in the tank. When this affidavit was published, Dolan was paid $5, 000 by Armour to make another one contradicting himself. He took the $5, 000 and went on to give away the whole story, which was published in the "Evening Journal," March I6, 1899. The fact that it is a Hearst story would tend to discredit it; but having investigated the whole thing, and met every man who was concerned in the expos?, I am convinced that the affidavit is worth attention.

Baker knows intimately a man who is high in the counsels of Armour and Company, and was present at a conference in which Ogden Armour personally gave the decision to bribe Dolan.

This is a very long letter, but I feel the importance of the subject excuses it. It would give me great pleasure to come down to Washington to see you at any time, but I would rather it was after you had read "The Jungle," because I have put a good deal of myself into that.

You ask - "Is there anything further, say in the Department of Agriculture, which you would suggest my doing?" I would suggest the following: That you do as Doubleday, Page and Company did; find a man concerning whose intelligence and integrity you are absolutely sure; send him up here, or let me meet him in Washington, and tell him all that I saw, and how I saw it, and give him the names and addresses of the people who will enable him to see it. Then let him go to Packingtown as I did, as a working-man; live with the men, get a job in the yards, and use his eyes and ears; and see if he does not come out at the end of a few weeks feeling, as did the special correspondent of the London "Lancet," whom I met in Chicago, that the conditions in the packing-houses constitute a "menace to the health of the civilized world." [The Lancet for Jan 8, 15, 22, 29 - 1905.]

Thanking you for your kind interest,

Very sincerely,

(Signed, 'Upton Sinclair')

P. S. I might add that when I was in Chicago I learned a good deal about the connections which the packers have in Washington, so that I think it most likely that before the Department of Agriculture got anybody started for the purpose of investigating Packingtown, word had been sent there to the packing-houses that things should be cleaned up. I know positively that this was done in the case of Major Seaman, who went out there for "Collier's Weekly."

Monday, 13 December 2010

Have you heard about the Toad?

Whilst holidaying with his wife in May of 1907, Kenneth Grahame wrote the first of fifteen letters to his son and ended it with mention of Toad, a fantastical character recently introduced to seven-year-old Alistair's bedtime stories, in part to better teach him right from wrong. His son was delighted and, over the coming weeks, his father's regular letters became entirely devoted to these stories. Within 18 months, following advice from his wife to further develop the tales, the general public were also introduced to Toad and friends by way of Grahame's now-classic book, The Wind in the Willows.

Transcript follows. Images courtesy of the Bodleian Library.


10th May 1907.

My darling Mouse

This is a birth-day letter, to wish you very many happy returns of the day. I wish we could have been all together, but we shall meet again soon, & then we will have treats. I have sent you two picture-books, one about Brer Rabbit, from Daddy, & one about some other animals, from Mummy. And we have sent you a boat, painted red, with mast & sails, to sail in the round pond by the windmill  — & Mummy has sent you a boat-hook to catch it when it comes to shore. Also Mummy has sent you some sand-toys to play in the sand with, and a card-game.

Have you heard about the Toad? He was never taken pris­oner by brig­ands at all. It was all a hor­rid low trick of his. He wrote that let­ter him­self  —  the let­ter say­ing that a hun­dred pounds must be put in the hol­low tree. And he got out of the win­dow early one morn­ing, & went off to a town called Buggleton & went to the Red Lion Hotel & there he found a party that had just motored down from London, & while they were hav­ing break­fast he went into the stable-yard & found their motor-car & went off in it with­out even say­ing Poop-poop! And now he has van­ished & every one is look­ing for him, includ­ing the police. I fear he is a bad low animal.

Goodbye, from

Your loving Daddy.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Do not hand over any tapes to Paul McCartney

Below we have two letters that perfectly illustrate the rift that ultimately tore The Beatles apart following the death of manager Brian Epstein and Apple Corps' subsequent failings. First, the draft of an undated letter in Lennon's hand that essentially bars Paul McCartney and his new manager, Lee Eastman, from accessing The Beatles' recordings without authorisation; followed by a 1969 letter to Eastman specifically, signed by Lennon, Harrison and Starr, in which he is reminded in no uncertain terms that, despite his managing of McCartney, he has no control over the affairs of the band.

Transcripts follow. First image courtesy of Alexander Autographs; second image courtesy of Moments in Time, where the letter itself is currently for sale.

Media Sound.

Please do not release hand over any Apple Record Tapes to anybody other person except either John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, or someone bearing a letter with one or more of their signituer.

John Lennon,
President, Apple Records
George Harrison, Director

Eastman and Eastman
39 West 54th Street
New York
New York 10019

18th April 1969

Attention Lee Eastman, Esq.

Dear Mr. Eastman,

This is to inform you of the fact that you are not authorized to act or to hold yourself out as the attourney or legal representative of "The Beatles" or of any of the companies which the Beatles own or control.

We recognize that you are authorized to act for Paul McCartney, personally, and in this regard we will instruct our representatives to give you the fullest cooperation.

We would appreciate your forwarding to

ABKCO Industries Inc.
1700 Broadway
New York

all documents, correspondence and files which you hold in your possession relating to the affairs of the Beatles, or any of the companies which the Beatles own or control.

Very truly yours,

John Lennon

Richard Starkey

George Harrison

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The first mail to be carried over the Atlantic

Alcock & Brown shortly after takeoff | Image: Wikimedia

On June 14th of 1919 at St. John's, Newfoundland, Captain John Alcock and his navigator Lt. Arthur Brown made history as they began what would become the world's first non-stop transatlantic flight. For their troubles they were awarded £10,000 by the Daily Mail, a newspaper then-renowned for offering various prizes for notable achievements in aviation. Below: a letter written by Alcock to his sister Elsie prior to the flight which, after then travelling with the two men in their Vickers Vimy bomber, soon became the world's first transatlantic airmail.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the British Library.

June 12th 1919

My Dear Elsie.

Just a hurried line before I start. This letter will travel with me in the official mail bag, the first mail to be carried over the Atlantic. Love to all.

Your Loving Brother


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Your draughtsmanship is beyond reproach

As creator of his widely-adored comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, the late-Harold Gray no doubt received many a fan letter during his lifetime. The following example of such a missive was sent in 1948 by an eloquent admirer named John, aged just 15; an aspiring cartoonist who, after lavishing four paragraphs worth of praise upon his idol's work, took the opportunity to ask boldly, and politely, for a favour in return.

A lovely letter, made all the more interesting by the fact that the 15-year-old boy was, in fact, a young John Updike.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Potrzebie. An article concerning the letter can be found at the website of Jeet Heer.

Image: Potrzebie

January 2, 1948

Mr. Harold Gray
c/o New York News Syndicate
220 East 42nd Street
New York 17, New York

Dear Mr. Gray:

I don't suppose that I am being original when I admit that ORPHAN ANNIE is, and has been for a long time, my favorite comic strip. There are many millions like me. The appeal of your comic strip is an American phenomenon that has affected the public for many years, and will, I hope, continue to do so for many more.

I admire the magnificent plotting of Annie's adventures. They are just as adventure strips should be--fast moving, slightly macabre (witness Mr. Am), occasionally humorous, and above all, they show a great deal of the viciousness of human nature. I am very fond of the gossip-in-the-street scenes you frequently use. Contrary to comic-strip tradition, the people are not pleasantly benign, but gossiping, sadistic, and stupid, which is just as it really is.

Your villains are completely black and Annie and crew are practically perfect, which is as it should be. To me there is nothing more annoying in a strip than to be in the dark as to who is the hero and who the villain. I like the methods in which you polish off your evil-doers. One of my happiest moments was spent in gloating over some hideous child (I forget his name) who had been annoying Annie toppled into the wet cement of a dam being constructed. I hate your villains to the point where I could rip them from the paper. No other strip arouses me so. For instance, I thought Mumbles was cute.

Your draughtsmanship is beyond reproach. The drawing is simple and clear, but extremely effective. You could tell just by looking at the faces who is the trouble maker and who isn't, without any dialogue. The facial features, the big, blunt fingered hands, the way you handle light and shadows are all excellently done. Even the talk balloons are good, the lettering small and clean, the margins wide, and the connection between the speaker and his remark wiggles a little, all of which, to my eye, is as artistic as you can get.

All this well-deserved praise is leading up to something, of course, and the catch is a rather big favor I want you to do for me. I need a picture to alleviate the blankness of one of my bedroom walls, and there is nothing that I would like better than a little momento of the comic strip I have followed closely for over a decade. So--could you possibly send me a little autographed sketch of Annie that you have done yourself? I realize that you probably have some printed cards you send to people like me, but could you maybe do just a quick sketch by yourself? Nothing funny, just what you have done yourself. I you cannot do this (and I really wouldn't blame you) will you send me anything you like, perhaps an original comic strip? Whatever I get will be appreciated, framed, and hung.


(Signed, 'John Updike')

John Updike
Elverson P. D. #2

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Love that color on you, by the way

Courtesy of a reader named Farrah, today we have a letter - purportedly written by Hugh Laurie - that was sent to a number of critics earlier this year along with advance copies of the first two episodes of House, season 7. In it, 'Laurie' attempts to sell the show by way of amusingly explaining the benefits of simply owning such a DVD.

Transcript follows.

Image: Farrah

princeton plainsboro
teaching hospital

Friend of House,

As an attractive and exquisitely dressed shaper of public opinion, you are no doubt showered daily with novels, movies, gadgets, tropical vacations, government policies - all whimpering for your approval: five stars, three check marks, two thumbs up, six garter belts, whatever your coin of gradation may be.

In acknowledgement of your burden, I hereby excuse you from any obligation to rate the enclosed DVD, containing episodes 1 and 2 of House season 7. I know you have your hands full with other, newer baubles, and don't have time to re-review the wheel. I understand this. I would only suggest that you leave the DVD in a prominent place in your home and enjoy the warmth generated by the good opinion of your partner/friends/employees as they soften towards you: "I knew it" their eyes will say. "He/she could never be swayed by faddish cable shows and their glazed sugar immediacy. My lover/friend/boss is far deeper than that. He/she is a constant, a rock of dependable good taste. Consequently, I will continue to provide him/her with sexual favors/play weekly ping pong with him/her, and/or remain in his/her employ, perhaps even at a lowered hourly rate."

And you won't have lifted so much as a finger.

This is season 7 of House, which makes us something of an oddity in this helter-skelter world. But I firmly believe that we are doing some of our best stories ever, and that we have not lost the power to amuse. On behalf of everyone at House, I thank you for whatever support you have shown us in the past and for whatever may be yet to come.

Love that color on you, by the way.

All the best,

(Signed, 'Hugh Laurie')

Monday, 6 December 2010

I greet you at the beginning of a great career

Now widely considered one of the greatest books of poetry ever written, Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855 and financed entirely by its author, Walt Whitman. Whitman - then an aspiring, unknown poet - immediately sent one of the 795 copies to Ralph Waldo Emerson, a highly respected man who, a decade previous, had publicly cried out for a great American poet by way of his essay, The Poet, and who, instantly recognising Whitman's talent, responded to Leaves of Grass with the following letter; a gushing, five-page appreciation of Whitman's work that was rightfully deemed so valuable to the poet that he later used it to promote future editions.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Library of Congress.


21 July

Dear Sir,

I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "Leaves of Grass." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork or too much lymph in the temperament were making our Western wits fat and mean. I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment, which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire. I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely of fortifying and encouraging.

I did not know until I, last night, saw the book advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the name as real and available for a Post-Office. I wish to see my benefactor, and have felt much like striking my tasks, and visiting New York to pay you my respects.

R.W. Emerson.

Friday, 3 December 2010

In search of a Komodo dragon

Between the years of 1954 and 1963, in what was his first major presenting job at the BBC, David Attenborough fronted Zoo Quest, a documentary series that saw him traipse around the globe in search of various animals; the objective being to bring them back to London Zoo where they would then be homed. Viewers quickly warmed to both Attenborough and the concept, and the show was a hit. Below: a letter from a frustrated Attenborough, written from Indonesia in May of 1956 to his boss at the BBC back in London, in which he describes the many obstacles currently faced by his production crew in their quest to film, and capture, a Komodo dragon.

Indeed the problems persisted and, although a Komodo dragon was eventually caught on camera, Attenborough returned to London empty-handed.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the fantastic BBC Archives, where you can also watch Zoo Quest for a Dragon.

c/o British Embassy
Djalan Modjopahit 9
9th May

Dear Leonard,

How I wish I were doing Party Politicals in London (please do not take this as a permanent wish - it will fade in 3 months time). We are however having a frightful time. In spite of all our letters and assurances from the Indonesian Embassy in London, everyone here is being as difficult as possible.

On arrival, our travellers cheques and English pounds were confiscated and all our gear and film impounded in customs. The Australian airline baggage officer who was looking after us told us with a forced smile that it would be cleared the next day, whereupon we should be 'set like a jelly'. That evening he changed his tune a little and implored us to go somewhere else as we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. As illustration, he quoted the radar equipments which QANTAS airlines had given to Djakarta airfield only to find that they had been charged 200% import tax. That, he said, was typical of the general attitude. Forms, regulations and restrictions are everywhere. So far we have encountered the following problems:

a) import duty on the equipment and film of £2,600

b) absolute refusal to allow us to catch the wretched dragon.

c) A state of terrorism in most of the places we want to visit.

d) a warning that each island has its own customs department which resents any instruction from Djakarta.

e) an artificial exchange rate which trebles the price of everything.

These at the moment are our major worries. We have, of course, numerous minor ones which need not detail.

To date we have visited apart from H.E. The British Ambassador, the Ministries of Immigration, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Agriculture, Finance, Education with many of their numerous sub-departments, and Indonesia Radio. As a result, we have achieved a total remission of import duty (on paper - we haven't yet got the stuff), permission to catch birds of paradise and a plan to fiddle an expedition under Indonesian aegis to catch the dragon (which is permissible). As fast as we hobble over the hurdles, however, new and more formidable ones rise in front of us.

If all we had to do was to bash through jungles and catch a few animals, our lives would be easy.

I know I am in no position to complain ("Well, the boy would go") and in fact I am not doing so with any seriousness for I feel sure that we shall at last get free of officialdom and into the islands. When we do I am convinced we shall get material which will knock ants into a crocked hat. Meanwhile, I am afraid our expenses are going to be more than I anticipated and we may be sailing close to the limit of our bank balance by the time we approach the end of our trip. For safety's sake, would it be possible for Lynt to arrange for another £500 to be put to our credit in the bank. I don't think we shall need it, but we should assuredly be in a frightful mess if we did and didn't have it.

Remember me to anyone in the department who still recalls me - I feel we've been here for years.

Yours as ever,


Thursday, 2 December 2010

It's all too exciting

23rd August, 1957: With his wife, Felicia, currently many miles away visiting family in Chile, an overjoyed Leonard Bernstein writes her a letter and reports on the successful trial run of West Side Story in Washington, D.C. The composer's relief is almost palpable, his genuine excitement infectious, as he recalls positive reviews; the regular attendance of dignitaries; and even lunch at the White House.

Broadway beckoned, and they opened at the Winter Garden Theatre the next month to similarly captivated audiences. West Side Story went on to become one of the most famous musicals of all time.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Collection.

Jefferson Hotel, Washington


It's all too exciting. I never dreamed it could be like this — reviews such as one would write for oneself — the whole town up and doing about the show — those delicious long lines at the box office — morale high — dignitaries every night — the senate practically in toto — parties — hot newspapers — all the atmosphere of a mid-season opening — gala — emeralds, furs — The works. Only thing missing — you. How I longed to have you there and share the excitement! Of course, as they say, it's only Washington, not New York — don't count chickens. But it sure looks like a smash, & all our experiments seem to have worked. The book works, the tragedy works, the ballets shine, the music pulses & soars, & there is at least one history-making set. It's all too good to be true.

I've just lunched at the White House — no más. Invited by Sherman Adams & the whole gang. Again — you should have been there! What a beautiful place — such credenzas, such breakfronts. I really felt "in". Adams & Rabb & Gen. Snyder — all were talking of nothing but West Side Story — I think the whole government is based on it. Jim Hagerty (Ike's press secretary) turns out to be a fan of mine! It's all so crazy and unexpected. Even Adams turns out to be an amateur musician!

Now listen! When are you coming home? I have a constant feeling you're about to turn up any minute — but look, the time is drawing near. Only 10 days to Labor Day. And the Summer's over. What I hope is that you'll all be back for the Philly opening (Monday the 9th) which is our anniversary, for Chrissake — or even for Jamie's birthday on Sunday. Please try to manage it, huh? Why stick around that plaguey place, bored as you are, after Labor Day? Let me know right away when you plan to return, and darling, hurry home. I can't stand not seeing the children, and I need my girl!

I love you


23 Aug '57
I'm 39 in 2 days!!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

All the ladies like whiskers

In 1860, having recently seen a picture of him without facial hair, an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell decided to write to Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln with a suggestion: to grow a beard. Her letter, and Lincoln's reply, can be seen below.

She met Lincoln a few months later, as the President-elect travelled victoriously to Washington, D.C. by train. He now had a beard. Grace later said of the meeting:
"He climbed down and sat down with me on the edge of the station platform," she recalled. "'Gracie,' he said, 'look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.' Then he kissed me. I never saw him again."
Transcripts follow.

(Source: Detroit Public Library; Images above: Lincoln in 1858, via, Lincoln in 1863, via.)

Hon A B Lincoln

Dear Sir

My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin's. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauqua County New York.

I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye

Grace Bedell

Lincoln's Reponse:

Springfield, Ill. Oct 19, 1860

Miss Grace Bedell

My dear little Miss

Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received—

I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters— I have three sons— one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age— They, with their mother, constitute my whole family—

As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?

Your very sincere well wisher

A. Lincoln