It was comics from my childhood plus a fascination with anything cartoonized which attracted me to this set of books. When I downloaded it on Amazon UK in April last year (free at that time) I made rather a lot of notes. Last August the impending demise of the Dandy - a comic that has been 'there' all my (very long) life - inspired me to go through them and write a review on the UK site. As Philip Chen has expressed a wish for it to be reproduced on this US site, here it is (slightly adapted) for anyone who may find it of interest.
To start at the end: the most valuable asset within this collection is the goldmine of internet links to the true stories upon which many of the cartoons are based. I learned so much from these articles and felt much greater appreciation for the cartoons once I had read them.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CARTOONS
As young children my sister and I weren't allowed to see the news but cartoons were fine, they being regarded as unreal, harmless and humerous. Of course, this couldn't be further from the truth in a lot of cases but it meant we could read the comic strips in the Mirror (!) such as Andy Capp, have the Beano, Dandy, Topper and Beezer comics and watch animations like Tom and Jerry.
Cartoons can depict reality or provide an escape from reality, or they can simply entertain us irrespective of any agenda. Somehow, unacceptable behaviour in real life, such as violence, is construed as funny and is even applauded, when portrayed in cartoons. More constructively, there are cartoons which manage to get across important messages that 'real' pictures and/or the written/spoken word often fail to do, such as those for road safety.
Cartoons are an essential ingredient of life, never more so than in this extreme politically correct society; a great deal of artistic licence can be used which would be prohibited in factual essays and suchlike. We are (usually) allowed to enjoy, without reproach, even the most indelicate of them.
MORE TO DO WITH LATERAL THINKING THAN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE
Going through these cartoons a smile did occasionally cross my face - the nerdy bull with his nose ring comes to mind - and the 'flasher' made me laugh out loud. Some were impressive, some thought-provoking, but many left me puzzled. I may well have misinterpreted some of them but they were still mostly enjoyable. There are some sequences (such as the 'Polar') where the thread is taken up again later and what seem to be random ones thrown in amongst them.
To my mind, the first cartoon Philip Chen ever drew (at the age of 63 he notes) is his best; not artistically but philosophically. It considers that leaves are as worried as humans about their finite lives. Many are old-hat or green or corny or done-before topics - the Nigerian 'you are trustworthy give me your bank details' con, for example.
This is supposed to depict the inhabitants of a parallel universe. If it does then I just didn't 'get it'. It seems more to be playing on the literal meanings of words and phrases - the furniture stripper, for example - or simply swapping our conditioned opinion of what is normal with the abnormal - what we regard as ugly is beautiful and vice versa, for example. In a naive way I suppose some would see that as a parallel universe.
THE KINDLE EXPERIENCE
The Kindle experience was good when displayed on my desktop PC. The pictures can be enlarged by stretching or maximizing the Kindle window in normal mode or by using full screen. At their maximum they are still quite small, each sitting within the top half of the page for the most part. Many have explanations above them which pushes the pictures down. Obviously it depends on the font size you choose and the length of the text how far down the page they are shunted. The second book's comments appear on separate pages to the pictures, sitting at the top with lots of white space below; maybe better to centre them if they have to have their own page. The cartoons are all in black and white with the exception of the colourful 'Box' covers. Many are outlines only, though there are a fair number with shading (greyscale) and some are very elaborate. A stunning one is of the orca whale but it's also quite a tiny picture which is a pity.
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
As this is also sold on the UK site I pointed out to fellow Brits in my review there that...
...this is American and thus a fair number of the news-related items are American and to expect also to see the occasional 'Mom', 'Faucet', and other American speak. One word that surprised me was 'equipt' instead of 'equipped' but it is apparently a past participle of 'equip' in American English (archaic) according to the merriam-webster dictionary. I also didn't know what a shoo-in was (a sure winner; a sure chance of being chosen). So you learn something every day!
THE IMPORTANCE OF BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
I don't know if the following could be regarded as spoilers (!) but just in case...
*** SPOILERS: these notes mention actual articles that the cartoons are based on ***
oooOOO There is Strangeness in the Universe OOOooo
This has a list of links (AT THE END) to websites, the true stories upon which some of the cartoons are based (some loosely). There are quirky stories such as the closing of the banana museum and the man who punched a camel (if you're interested in these two stories the links lead to 'Page Not Found' messages because '%20' gets added to the end of their paths (I've no idea why); just delete that from the end and >go) and squeamish ones like the mouse given a human liver. I wasn't sure whether to believe the one about the 'first sexually active organisms' at National Geographic as it was published on 1st April (2008)! The bear and tiger stories are a bit gruesome and the one about the pigs absolutely shocking. Why a flamingo stands on one leg is fascinating, brain-based learning mind-blowing and the naked office reality series ludicrous. Plus many more. All are food for thought but not for vampires which do not exist as it would take just one vampire only 30 months to transform the entire human population into vampires according to an article in the Huffington Post! And, who would have thought that these could have led me to the intriguing decision-making microbes and the feelings that bacteria have when trapped alone.
oooOOO Happy Holidaze and Other Tragedies of Life OOOooo
This has the links mixed in with the cartoons - much better than listing them at the end. (Note that there's a link in the middle of comments for two burglar/Facebook/Twitter stories which is a repeat of that for the previous story (Jupiter didn't ignite). I'm not sure if there should be a link to the burglar stories.)
'Current' oft-changing scientific and technological topics have been included. Brave or foolhardy? The neutrinos being faster than the speed of light 'discovery' has, of course, been refuted since this book was published in 2011 - see Geoff Brumfiel in Nature 16 March 2012. This makes the tying in of Einstein to another story, that he "might have done better" if he had chewed gum which purportedly produces better results from students, a mite embarrassing.
The (fictional) written story of a weapon-bearing geriatric who had had enough was a bit of a surprise in the midst of an otherwise briefly annotated book. There's no doubt it is written to be humerous, albeit black comedy. As I covered earlier, portraying such scenarios in cartoons seems less grim whilst still getting the message across but this was mainly text and quite sobering. Even less funny was being taken by the link to 'palmpistol'. The domain is locked and I may be paranoid but maybe going to a website about a weapon (even innocently) is not such a good idea in this day and age. But, too late for me so I then browsed online for the information and found it on arthritis.about.com (original article December 2008 updated 1st April (again!) 2012). In case you don't know (and don't want to go to the site) the Palm Pistol is for US residents with arthritis or similar conditions and you push a button instead of pulling a trigger. It was claimed that the FDA had approved it as a medical device but "the FDA concluded ... the Palm Pistol was not a medical device, and insurance such as Medicare would not cover the item". The story says the gun is approved by the ATF and gave me the impression it was covered by Medicare.
oooOOO Bonus Pack OOOooo
The fact that this has no internet links made it less appealing for me (I did not feel the urge to go searching for the sources - I like to be spoon-fed such things) but it is what it says - a bonus pack of cartoons. The cartoons on their own were fine and pretty much of the same standard as the other two books.