Left: Portrait, probably of Arcadius, about 400 A.D., from Wikimedia Commons user Gryffindor (GNU Free Documentation License). Right: Anime image generated by StyleGAN, from Wikimedia Commons user ToaruRailgun (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

If you look at Roman portraits from late antiquity, you will be struck by one singular characteristic. The eyes are enormous.

Theodosius the Great, from the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., http://www.cngcoins.com, GNU Free Documentation License.

You may have noticed a similar phenomenon in Japanese cartoons, and in the American cartoons that imitate Japanese cartoons. It is Dr. Boli’s contention (which he offers to start a discussion in the art world) that these two stylistic phenomena are related.

Head of Constantine, photographed by Jean-Christophe BENOIST (GNU Free Documentation Licesne).

These large eyes, then and now, are meant to sacrifice realism to expressiveness: they make the characters more human to the viewer. In a statue of an emperor designed to be seen from some distance, they allow the viewer to make a personal connection with the image that would not otherwise be possible. In a drawing meant to be hastily executed and printed on cheap paper, they have the same use.

Dr. Boli will put himself outside the limits of current art criticism by saying that they are also a substitute for talent. A really good artist makes the face expressive with the features at natural sizes. An artist without that talent magnifies the expressive features.

Clearly, however, once the big eyes were accepted as a technique, they became a style, adopted by the best artists as well as the mediocre ones. (We make the reasonable assumption that emperors would have their portraits done by the best artists, because there was no more honorable commission to be had.)

Dr. Boli does not know how important this observation may be to art historians or cartoon fans; but the connection between late-antique art and Japanese cartoons, if it has been made before, is at least not widely discussed. Once you have made the connection, though, you will probably find it very hard to unmake.


The advertisement for Stanfield’s Unthinkable Underwear in Thursday’s Dispatch was incorrect. It should have read “Stanfield’s Unshrinkable Underwear.” The Dispatch regrets the error, but not half as much as the late Assistant Director of Advertising does.


Sir: Several of my neighbors have yard signs with the appallingly provocative slogan “WATER IS LIFE.”

“Water is life!” Try telling that to the two thousand people who died in the Johnstown Flood! Try telling that to the passengers who went down with the Lusitania! I’ll bet they didn’t go down singing “Water is life” while the stuff filled their lungs. What’s wrong with these neighbors, anyway? Can’t they see through this transparent pro-water propaganda? I don’t know who’s behind this, but I’ll bet it’s the Public Utilities Commission. They’ve been trying for years to snooker me into connecting my house to running water, but I prefer to drink from the pothole down the street. Do you know that the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority keeps a reservoir with enough water to drown every man, woman, and child in Highland Park? I bet you didn’t hear that in your pro-water propaganda, did you, Mr. Water-Is-Life? I bet they didn’t tell you that 90% of the damage in Hurricane Sandy was caused by water, according to plausible figures I invented myself, did they?

Also, this flatware said it was “stainless steel,” but this knife has dried peanut butter all over it. What’s up with that?

——Sincerely, Nebridius Gasket, Mount Oliver (borough).


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Dear Dr. Boli: I always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been reading quotations from famous writers to inspire me. Like I just came across this one from some guy who was, like, a writer, I think.

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.

——Charles Bukowski, So You Want to Be a Writer.

So I wanted to know if this is like good advice, or what? —Sincerely, Olivia, Mr. Cramer’s 10th-Grade Creative-Writing Class.

Dear Miss: Professional writers often give advice like this to aspiring writers. You must be sincere above all, they say. Every word must force itself out of the depths of your soul, and you must never set pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, until you cannot bear to keep silent. Professional writers give you advice like this because they know that, if you follow it, you will never be a professional writer, and thus their competition will be reduced in the marketplace. Professional writers can be very devious.