Reaper days

For the dead season, Grim Reaper cartoons from Will McPhail. For today, Halloween, the GR goes trick-or-treating in the city:

(#1) ReaperWeen in McPhailia

And for tomorrow, the Day of the Dead, a whole series about the GR searching for a fashion look; the title image:

(#2) The New Yorker‘s Daily Shouts column from 1/28/19, “Death finds a signature look” by Will McPhail — in which the GR tries five experiments in fashion before settling on his signature black hooded robe and scythe

ReaperWeen. To understand #1, you need to have three sets of information — about the custom of trick-or-treating; about the ways of life in city apartment buildings; and about the conventions of Grim Reaperdom — which intersect crucially in a question about identity.

— On the first, from my 10/28/16 posting “Halloween exposure”, about a Bizarro cartoon and on trick-or-treating as a social transaction between a householder and a child, on:

transactions [in which]  children in costumes travel from house to house asking for treats such as candy (or, in some cultures, money) with the phrase “Trick or treat”, and the householder is expected to supply such treats and to guess at the identity of the costume (or at least to ask, “Who are you supposed to be?”)

— On the second, we have the door phone at the apartment building in #1. From Wikipedia:

A door phone … is a set of electrical and electronic elements used to handle two-way communication (street to home) in houses, apartments or villas. The device is connected to a secure communication system used to control the opening of the door giving access to … buildings, offices, or apartment blocks.

… A door phone in its most basic version is a two-way intercom allowing communication from the street to the house, with the possibility of driving an electric strike to unlock and open the door, allowing access to the interior of the building.

[A] door phone plate. …located at the outside of the entrance of each building, is composed by a matrix of buttons each of them driving a buzzer located in a unit inside each home, which has a button to activate the electric strike.

The visitor presses a button to buzz an apartment (set off the buzzer there). The resident presses a button to activate an intercom on which they can talk to the visitor, confirm identities, and if the exchange is satisfactory, press a button to buzz the visitor in (activate the strike to unlock the door and allow entry to the building).

The compound door phone plate appears to be a technical term for the external panel of an apartment intercom system, but in my experience people refer to the panel metonymically, as the intercom panel / system, the intercom(s), the buzzer panel / system, or (most commonly) the buzzers.

For the cartoon, the crucial moment in these arrangements is where the visitor has to identify themselves to the resident, — has to answer the (usually unspoken) question “Who is it / this? / Who are you?”.  In trick-or-treating, or at the buzzers, you stand at the door and have to explain your identity, say who you are.

— On the third, the pop cultural figure of the Grim Reaper: a personification of death as a tall male figure in a black hooded floor-length robe, either skull-faced or with a black void for a face, and bearing a scythe to cut the cord of life, often also an hourglass showing the sands of a lifetime running out. The GR arrives before his victim (usually at a door, symbolizing the boundary between life and death) as an apparition signaling the last moment, and announcing bluntly, “I AM DEATH”.

In any case, the transaction is necessarily a face-to-face event. Mortal scythes cannot be swept electronically.

The ReaperLook. McPhail’s GR essays five fashion presentations before hitting on a look that will sweep the runway clear:


(#8) DEAD at last!


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