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Posted at 11:38 AM ET, 02/14/2011

The Internet equivalent of the Sunday comics

By Melissa Bell
cezanne

From my Sunday column:

Here's Tom Hanks's face - grinning, slightly goofy, those super-emotive eyes. You could say it's a face that inspires trust or, at the least, a certain comforting familiarity.

Hanks's body - well, that's something else entirely. It's the body of a bear. Or a penguin. Or a galloping horse. Welcome to "Tom Hanks is Lots of Animals," a single-subject Tumblr blog that manages to be both hilarious and soothing at the same time. (If you don't believe that's possible, take a look .)

The single-subject blog, which focuses on one niche topic, has been around in some form for years. But with the advent four years ago of the Tumblr Web site, which offers an easy template for creating quick, highly visual blogs, it may have reached a new pinnacle.

It works like this: Choose an image - Photoshopped or unaltered - and pair it with a line or two of humorous text . Repeat. Then you'll have what Tumblr editorial director Chris Price calls the Internet equivalent of the Sunday funnies - only you don't need to know how to draw.

A la Twitter, Tumblr users can follow individual blogs - known simply as Tumblrs. And one of the most effective ways to recruit followers is by using an arresting image.

"It's so visual. You're able to see it and process it almost immediately," says Maris Kreizman, the New York-based book editor who maintains the popular "Slaughterhouse 90210." The Tumblr features screen grabs from a variety of TV shows, each paired with cerebral quotes from novels.

After the panned halftime show of last Sunday's Super Bowl, Kreizman posted an image of the band the Black Eyed Peas in their outlandish costumes. Beneath it, she quoted Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince:" "The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar."

"Juxtaposing the high and low together - it kind of scratches two different itches," Kreizman said.

Many of the Tumblrs are not so erudite. Some of the most popular - such as "Tom Hanks is Lots of Animals" - walk a fine line between the merely absurd and the totally bizarre. Do Tom Selleck, waterfalls and sandwiches seem too crazy to ever combine? Check out Selleck Waterfall Sandwich.

Other Tumblrs use the form for biting social commentary.

kimjong.jpg

"Kim Jong Il Looking at Things" is hugely popular. Every few months, North Korea releases images in the media of its nearly 70-year-old communist leader looking at factories, schools, parades, you name it. The Tumblr blog presents these images with literal commentary: "looking at bottled water," "looking at pigs," and "looking at the wall."

The viewer is left trying to explain the unexplainable: Why is Kim Jong Il looking at these things? Why is he always surrounded by a coterie of suited men? What is he attempting to tell the world? The Tumblr - without ever being overt or crass - devastatingly mocks the North Korean leader's attempt to control his image.

In similar fashion, then-NPR commentator Juan Williams's remarks that "people who are in Muslim garb" made him nervous inspired the Tumblr "Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things."
aasif.jpg
Under the image of a man in an argyle sweater, the blog dryly notes, "This is Khalil Ismail. Khalil is wearing the traditional preppy Muslim garb of his native Baltimore, Maryland." Under a photograph of "The Daily Show" co-star is: "This is Aasif Mandvi. He is a Muslim wearing a chef's hat."

Williams lost his job at NPR. The Tumblr took off.

By Melissa Bell  | February 14, 2011; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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