Higashi Day cartoon 1: grim Bliss surprise

Here at Ramona Electronica, the cartoons have been piling up haphazardly, making awkward barriers to even the smallest simulated movements around the labyrinth of virtual rooms. So now, a modest effort at house-clearing — to celebrate March 15th: Higashi Day, formerly known in these parts as (spring) Removal Day, marking the day when, for roughly 10 years in the fabled past, Jacques and I set off to car-trek east, from Palo Alto (and Stanford) to Columbus OH (and Ohio State).

(Its winter counterpart is December 15th, Nishi Day, marking the send-off for the corresponding trip west, from Columbus to Palo Alto.)

I note that, ominously, March 15th is also — oh, Julio! — the Ides of March, but that the preceding day is that edibly mathematical event Pi Day and that only two days later comes the spring green of St. Patrick’s Day (which J and I experienced annually on the road in northern Arizona).

The inaugural Higashi Day cartoon is by Harry Bliss, in the March 9th New Yorker. But first — surely you saw this coming — a note on compass directions in Japanese.

Pointing the way in Japanese. higashi and nishi are compass directions in Japanese, east vs. west. In a diagram (with the kanji), from the Hiragana World site:


(The secondary directions are transparently morphologically complex — hoku ‘north’ / nan ‘south’ + sei ‘west’ / tou ‘east’ — and this analysis is directly represented in the kanji.)

But the Bliss. The cartoon:


Many viewers will scan this scene by focusing first on its center, where a smiling group, armed with drinks, are shouting “Surprise!”. Almost immediately these viewers will follow the group’s gaze to the one large face in the strip (faces are incredible attention-grabbers), the object of their surprise party. Whose facial expression registers no pleasure, whether modest or full-hearted; instead, he’s notably disconcerted, nonplussed, so the viewers will follow his gaze — onto the second most prominent character in the scene, the dark figure of the Grim Reaper, martini glass in hand, waving his fatal scythe in congratulation. (Then they will notice the Grim Reaper figure echoed, grotesquely, in the little boy waving his arms and the smiling little dog wagging its tail.)

Moritūrum salūtō!

(‘I salute the one/man who is about to die!’, modeled on Moritūrī tē salūtant / salūtāmus! ‘Those / We (men) who are about to die salute you!’)

A beautifully composed cartoon. And a demonstration that the Grim Reaper cartoon meme is still available for fresh takes on imminent death.

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