Sunday, July 19, 2015

Inventions, Rube Goldberg

This is a hilarious collection of comics by Rube Goldberg. I admit I did not know his name or his work before finding this book, but I understand he was one of the most popular comic artist in America, and based on the ingenuity and creative power of his art, I can certainly see why.

Goldberg's comic strips were published on newspapers in the years around 1920 and 1930. And that's part of the the fun of reading this collection: the feeling of "another world" that America was in the 20's.

Most of the drawings included in this book are "Rub Goldberg machines": fantastic creations that are supposed to simplify everyday life, but in reality they are impossibly convoluted ways to complete a simple task, like pouring a glass of water, getting out of bed, or even a "Simple way to take your own picture" (the grandpa of the selfie!).

Today, this cartoonist's work inspired even an ongoing educational event: the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (RGMC) is an annual national competition that challenges teams of students from middle school to college age to compete in building the most elaborate and hilarious Rube Goldberg Machine.

But what are we talking about here? Well, a Rube Goldberg Machine is an overly complex contraption, designed with humor and a narrative, to accomplish a simple task. Some of these machines are truly hilarious, and I found the written "instructions" next to each machine even funnier. Look at this one for example:

As I mentioned above, what I also enjoyed a lot is the sense of everything that was going on in Goldberg's times, as filtered through his drawings, the objects he chose to include, and the tone of his humor, delightfully cheeky and elegant.

Phonographs, old radios, hammers, springs, steam-powered machines are everywhere in Goldberg's mechanical world.

Vignettes that would be unacceptably offensive on today's newspapers are also found everywhere in his work: midgets and dwarfs are ever-present as parts of the machines, as something to be laughing at. Animal cruelty abounds as in dogs or birds being strangled or stabbed for the purpose of making the crazy mechanism function.

I enjoyed more the Goldberg machines that might potentially work in reality, rather than the ones based on nonsensical steps, based on abstract concepts or wordplay. I think that is the same reason why I prefer science fiction to fantasy: I find that creating a certain "believability" is a harder task and requires a bigger mental effort.

Read this book, it will at the very least improve your mood!

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