The Circus Is a Terrible, Wonderful Thing

by John Holbo on May 29, 2009

But first: why aren’t you reading more Squid and Owl. It’s cheap and morally improving. For example, last night’s exciting episode:

52 - Squid and Owl steal furtive looks ...

What we learn from this is, for example, that we should read comics. But which? (you gesticulate approximately and therefore helplessly?) Some are good, but some are bad. I have recently enjoyed the Eisner-nominated The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard [amazon], by Eddie Campbell, who has a blog. Since First Second has a generous preview online, you could sample before buying.

And, under the fold, I’ll just tuck a few circus-related images I’ve stumbled on on Flickr:


That one is from here. It’s apparently a poster from the Vermont State Fair in 1944. Obviously you have to love the sheer Boteroesquerie. Beyond that, it’s nice that she is just plain ‘Ruth’. And her specialty is neither being fat nor being a contortionist.

Here’s another one from the same section of the Smithsonian Collection. Not a circus picture, per se, but faces do tell a hard story:


Finally, I like this old cover.


Getting back to Campbell’s book: there are some fine Fantastic Four jokes between its covers, but there’s a Zarathustra theme as well. So I’ll close with a passage from Tertullian, who liked to watch. Nietzsche quotes him in Genealogy of Morals. The Greatest Show On Earth is nothing to the Greatest Show After Earth.

However there are other spectacles—that last eternal day of judgment, ignored by nations, derided by them, when the accumulation of the years and all the many things which they produced will be burned in a single fire. What a broad spectacle then appears! How I will be lost in admiration! How I will laugh! How I will rejoice! I ‘ll be full of exaltation then as I see so many great kings who by public report were accepted into heaven groaning in the deepest darkness with Jove himself and alongside those very men who testified on their behalf! They will include governors of provinces who persecuted the name of our lord burning in flames more fierce that those with which they proudly raged against the Christians! And those wise philosophers who earlier convinced their disciples that god was irrelevant and who claimed either that there is no such thing as a soul or that our souls would not return to their original bodies will be ashamed as they burn in the conflagration with those very disciples. And the poets will be there, shaking with fear, not in front of the tribunal of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the Christ they did not anticipate! Then it will be easier to hear the tragic actors, because their voice will be more resonant in their own calamity (better voices since they will be screaming in greater terror). The actors will then be easier to recognize, for the fire will make them much more agile. Then the charioteer will be on show, all red in a wheel of fire, and the athletes will visible, thrown, not in the gymnasium, but in the fire, unless I have no wish to look at their bodies then, so that I can more readily cast an insatiable gaze on those who raged against our Lord. “This is the man,” I will say, “the son of a workman or a prostitute, the destroyer of the sabbath, the Samaritan possessed by the devil. He is the man whom you brought from Judas, the man who was beaten with a reed and with fists, reviled with spit, who was given gall and vinegar to drink. He is the man whom his disciples took away in secret, so that it could be said that he was resurrected or whom the gardener took away, so that the crowd of visitors would not harm his lettuces.” What praetor or consul or quaestor or priest will from his own generosity grant you the sight of such things or the exultation in them? And yet we already have these things to a certain extent through faith, represented to us by the imagining spirit. Besides, what sorts of things has the eye not seen or the ear not heard and what sorts of things have not arisen in the human heart (1. Cor. 2, 9)? I believe these are more pleasing than the race track and the circus and both enclosures.

As the great Leotard says: “May nothing occur.”



Salient 05.29.09 at 7:29 pm

I admit to having been ever-so-slightly disappointed that “Monkey and Whale” was not the title of the righthand comic book. Still fun.

Also, alas, just went to click on “comics” to find your old post about the breakfast cereal land webcomic which I didn’t bookmark and should have, only to realize CT doesn’t group posts by topic or maintain lists of post topics anymore. Guess someone broke the water pitcher for good.


John Holbo 05.30.09 at 1:04 am

Breakfast of the Gods, latest page.

Yeah, our archives are a bit messed up.


Carney 05.30.09 at 11:42 am

Deeply appreciated finding your circus-related images which stand alone as eye candy, without me even being aware of their context. Which proves I can enjoy the small treasures illustrating the article while being blissfully unaware of the author’s intent. The images are straight from from my own childhood as a circus performer in the early 1960’s in the furthest antipodean islands of New Zealand – where circus advertising hadn’t changed in decades…


Martin Wisse 06.02.09 at 8:49 am

Why I’m not reading it?

1) It’s on flickr, which I find too annoying to deal with (pictures are too small a size by default, site’s often unresponsive, etc.)
2) Don’t like the artwork as featured here (too twee)
3) Where’s the payoff?

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