The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Sunday, November 30, 2003

NO TOKYO, NO LONDON, NO BANGKOK, NO FILTH

The list of Vertigo trades for the first part of next year. No trades for the Filth, nor for any of the Vertigo:Pop! series, all of which were good with moments of brilliance.

The day of the print on order trade can't come soon enough.
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THOUGHTS AMONG THE DEBRIS

A long time ago I did CD reviews for my college newspaper. Frankly, I sucked at it. Beyond saying "I liked it", I didn't feel all that comfortable passing judgment on a CD; I couldn't muster up the gall to say that one piece of music was objectively better than another. More difficult, more ambitious, more historically signifigant? Sure. Done. Those are judgments I could make. But more pleasurable? Nope. All I could do was tell how the CD effects me; any other listener may hear something totally different.
But of course, this is the opposite of what most reputable critics do; they exist to make judgments. They want to police the line between good art and bad art, or hip art versus lame art, or high art against low art. Compared to the jeremiads that others wrote, my less forceful opinions came across as tepid. Sure, the paper kept running me--but the good, important CD’s went over to the other reviewers.

The fact that these other reviewers, like seventy four percent of the blogoverse, were better writers than I also likely played a small role.

Oddly enough, lots of folks have been having thoughts about what makes a “good critic.” First, John Jakala very kindly put on the table the criteria he typically uses to evaluate a work. This is a good and helpful move, and one more critics should adopt; when the audience is aware of your critical biases, the review becomes a tool instead of a command. It democratizes the process. Instead of a pronouncement from on high, the review becomes a piece which the audience can take or leave depending on whether or not they agree with the reviewers biases.

Hopefully whoever answers Steven Grant’s call for more comics criticism will take John’s example to heart. I’m actually not sure that criticism of the kind that Grant seems to envision is what the medium really needs; but then again, my exposure to what passes for litcrit was not a fun on. Of course, for the record, my bias against any long-winded paper which either cites Derrida or uses the term “Problematic” is very, very strong.

Instead of formal criticism, I would suggest that what Grant wants is essentially found here in the comics blogosphere. Sure, very few of us are writing seventy thousand word treatises on the role tabloid wood cuts on the evolution of the comic; but collectively, you have a very high level ongoing discussion on what makes “good” comics, what structural devices work, and how the medium is perceived. All it takes is patience to make a few clicks, and a willingness to ignore the occasional crank. I defy anyone to go read Dave Fiore and then claim that no-one is doing high level comics analysis; and I say this in spite of, and not because, I sometimes find him completely impenetrable.

There’s a ton of really interesting conversations going on here. All you need to do is listen.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2003

BUILDER'S RISK

Here at Casa De La Intermittent we're in the final stages of renovation. Time that could be spend blogging is instead spend cleaning the dust from my carpet and lungs (I'm devloping white lung, I think), putting the tools away, and doing touch up painting. A kitchen is evidently like sausage, or a law; it's great to see at the end, and no fun at all to watch when it's being put together.

When we come back, a response to John Jakala and an expansion of some of his points; also, some thoughts on whether it's time to retire the term "manga."

In the meantime, I leave you with this, the last refuge of the lazy scoundrel: a list, in this case the comics in my too read pile currently. LoEG II. Blankets. The Path v. 1&2 (and yes, I can hear you sniggering). Sienkievics' Hendrix bio, Voodoo Child. Spookshow. Luis Riel. Lots of good looking stuff. Man, I've gotten way behind on my reading. Hopefully, the holiday will allow me time to get back.

Anyway, happy holiday, all.
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Friday, November 21, 2003

IT'S DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

So it seems we've established a bit of a pattern here at the Intermittent. I come home from work to a torn up house and post some ill reasoned and poorly worded post. John Jakala looks at it, restates my original position far more cogently than did I, and proceeds to bash the hell out of it, until Shawn Fumo delivers the coup de grace. It may be time for a new schtick. Or to take a deep breath before posting on certain days.

In any event. I have no problems with kids reading either manga or superheros or Archie, for that matter; more young readers equals more potential readers for the work I tend to read, per the trickle-down theory of comics. Whatever the merits of the work, if it gets kids to read comics, it's at least arguably good thing, measured in terms of potential audience.

What I find interesting, though, is the fact that manga gets a pass that superhero's didn't, even when Marvel and DC books were selling, and selling to kids. At one point, superhero books sold better than manga sells today; and during that time, their popularity did not insulate them from fairly pungent criticism. There were some people who argued that their popularity was in fact a disadvantage, since people would look past good books on the assumption that all comics were was four color beatdowns for kids. Too popular; go figure.

Now, obviously, conditions have changed, and maybe people aren't in the position to be so picky anymore. But I was just curious if the spandex bashing that goes on at certain highbrow sites (and not without some merit) would stop if those books still sold. Or to put it another way: if some of the people who are pushing manga now (and please, please, don't assume I'm talking about anybody in this little community) are using different standards to talk about what makes a "good" manga book versus a "good" mainstream book, they should at least try and be upfront about it. Otherwise we wind up having circular discussions where we don't know if "good" is a proxy for quality or sales or ambition. Or worse, we have discussions where people move the goalposts to hide their prejudices for or against various kinds of books. Again, not accusing anyone here of doing that. It's more a presidential perogative, in any event.

Anyway. As a peace offering, I give unto you a warning of true crap: Gothika. Woe betide the person who sees any horror movie in which Fred Durst covering the Who is the most disturbing thing to be found.
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Thursday, November 20, 2003

HOW WIINDIGOO JAMES GOT HIS GEEK BADGE BACK (part II)
Quinine? Naw, just do it Brits in Burma style by downing gin and tonics: it's the tonic that wards them off, and the gin...well, that's self-explanatory. For any of the mosquito-born horrorshow illnesses (Dengue being one of my top picks in terms of a bad day, or month) I would recommend prevention rather than internal suppression, since most anti-malaria concoctions leave one feeling very late-period Jim Morrison. If you are in a malaria-infected area, get yourself a pair of those light nylon pants (I've got these tan ex-officios, which I dubbed 'the super pants' - the only pants necessary when traveling light). Wash them in the sink every night and they dry in minutes) and wear socks rather than sandals, ya friggin' hippies. Remember, transporting the merciless peppers of Quetzlzacatenango is not yet a federal offense. Finally, the good folks at the Wisconsin Pharmacal Company, Inc of Jackson, Wisconsin make a lovely little bottle of Repel 100. Medical "studies" be damned, this product is 95% N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET). Do what the bottle says though, "Do not use on synthetic fabrics. MAY DAMAGE FURNITURE FINISHES, LEATHER, PLASTICS, PAINTED SURFACES AND WATCH CRYSTALS...Do not spray directly on face." Also, avoid touching your camera until you've washed it off your hands - it'll eat right through and leave you with a sticky rubbery mess.

BELLOQ
And you thought I'd given up.

INDY
(eyeing the Hovitos)
Too bad they don't know you like
I do, Belloq.

BELLOQ
(smiles)
Yes, too bad. You could warn
them...if only you spoke Hovitos.

After a series of furtive and increasingly-awed visits over the course of a few months, one cloudless and breezy day, I wandered up the unpaved street to what was fast becoming one of my favorite places in the city. That early afternoon, I was the only one in the shop, save the young Khmer clerk the owner had hired from a nearby language school. The owner explained later, "In her last job, she wanted to do the books and accounting, but the older women treated her as a threat and wouldn't let her touch the books. Here, that's not a problem." Drawn by reasons beyond my control, I picked up the Preacher, sitting in its acid-free bag, ordered a pineapple juice and sat down on one of the huge black imitation leather sofas in the front of the store. Dave Intermittent recommended this title to me somewhere in the mid-90s, and I remember liking the plucky Irishman with his delicious little 'quirk,' but recall little else. The clerk put in a fresh CD into the boombox - James Brown assuring me that he feels good - and I proceeded to get blown away by a comic book for the first time in a half a decade. As the store soundtrack went to Paul's Boutique to Elephant to (God bless that clerk) Television, the afternoon faded blissfully. The only patrons circulating in the shop that day were single foreign women, drawn to this clean oasis in Phnom Penh's white man wonderland. I was reminded that anyone in a comic book store will welcome, rather than judge, a woman walking into a comic book store, and though women there might get hit on or ogled ineptly, they probably won't feel too threatened. The same can not be said of all-out sleaze-fest in the bars and clubs of the city at large. Comic book aficionados and role-playing game fans might verbally lay waste to your pop-cultural choices, but largely, they are the last people to make lifestyle judgments on female fans.

I was about three trade paperbacks into the Preacher series when I realized the store has an extensive delivered food menu. There are no regulations about taking food from one business to another getting in the way here, resulting in the rare, but simple pleasure of ordering a burger in a comic shop. The cheeseburger and chocolate malt (malt, not shake: a distinction normally lost in this part of the world) I ordered were delivered 15 minutes later by motorcycle. It came from a nearby steak restaurant, owned by a retired Montana ranch owner who imported a bunch of Montana steer to Cambodia, and started what is assuredly the only corn-fed Montana steak operation in Asia. "Organically-raised free-range beef" doesn't due justice to the pure taste produced by this operation. Like the fried chicken in the McDonald's bootleg Happy Burger franchise down the street (the best I've ever had, including the Harold's Chicken Shack temples of Chicago), you can tell that the meat you are eating was running around for most of its life. Damn, I wish I had access to farms like this back home. That's the thing about Cambodia: the divide between Khmer and Expat cultures is fairly deep, and they exist largely unadulterated by the other in many aspects of society. An essentialist statement for an anthropologist to make, but one that I observed was true for the most part. For example, in Bangkok, most pizza sauces are loaded with sugar, deferring to the sweet-tooth palates of most Bangkok Thai residents. No such compromise necessary in Cambodia, "Hey, you got your snakehead soup in my duck pate'! You got your duck pate' in my snakehead soup! Tastes hideous!" With places like Fantasy Planet complementing the Khmer options for good times, Cambodia is a notoriously easy place to get used to and an equally difficult place to leave. The second time I visited, I planned on staying five days. Three weeks later, I was still there, getting fitted for, yes, an Elvis costume with a number of like-minded individuals; I knew this was somewhere that gets under your skin.
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GOODBYE TO THE JUNGLE?

So am I a big boogie city-boy if I'm worried about contracting Chagas on my upcoming trip to Belize? Should I start taking Quinine to ward off malaria? Am I being just a little too paranoid about these things?

I just figure that it really ruins your day when your organs rupture, you know?

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ENTER THE WIINDIGOO

The long promised debut of the third (and for now, last) member of the site is below: Enjoy!

And please do note that he really might in fact have a team of costumed vigilantes at his disposal. Seriously. Don't tell me I didn't warn you when a large sweaty Scandinavian in an Elvis costume shows up on your doorstep....
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HOW WIINDIGOO JAMES GOT HIS GEEK BADGE BACK

Heap big thanks to Dave Intermittent for allowing me to rant here. And rant I shall.

Like many of my generation, I haven't read many comic books in a while. I'm just finishing Sin City, that's how pathetically out of the loop I am ("Turn in your geek badge and Simpsons tapes, you no longer have a right to call yourself one of ours"). Perhaps I can regain my club privileges with this comics-related story from the international fringes.

Life and vibrancy returned with a crazy vengeance to Cambodia. Over the last decade, the country is warming up culturally to a brisk simmer, and Man is the place Kicking. Ever wonder what it would be like to witness the energy inside Sun Studios in 1955 when Elvis was laying down Mystery Train? A similar energy seems to be inside every disco, where the Khmer pop karaoke singers are all three octave professionals and every live band seems to have a Khmer Hendrix in it. What did it feel like in the theaters of Smalltown, USA in 1960 before Psycho screened for the first time? I don't know, but I felt an electric hush in residence at a Khmer Vedic-Buddhist horror film - a contagious feeling of anticipation that's missing from most theaters purveying post-millennial horror. During a scene involving a divine baby crawling feet first out of the severed head of its mortal mother, there was a palpable sense of shock in the audience. Cambodian cinemas and pop music joints are places where, unlike so many of their foreign equivalents, people are not afraid to dance like fools and laugh their heads off. The whole country, it seems, had a near death experience, and now that they've had their first few years of peace people finally have a chance to Carpe friggin Diem...with extreme prejudice.
One of the best things about this revitalization is that most non-Cambodians haven't quite caught onto just how cool the place is right now. Precious obscurity: the currency of coolness. The backpackers keep flocking to the Phnom Penh's Heart of Darkness nightclub if they go to the city at all, and most expats shun Khmer pop as derivative of the Thai/Japanese/American dance tunes that spawned it. Well too bad for them - the cinemas are insanely entertaining even if you are the only white person there and don't know a word of Khmer; and the pop tunes start with three-part-howling-at-the-moon-Tarzan-style wailing and then relentlessly pound the listener with infectiousness until you are melodically compelled to hum along with the droning "boom boom boom boom boom chicka boom chicka boom" harmonies.
It was with this new song in my heart that I was escorted to Fantastic Planet Books and Comics, 220, St 276, Boeng Keng Kang 1 in Phnom Penh. Its sinister-handed (fellow Ned Flanders lefty) and native Wisconsinite owner came up with the idea for the store during a revelation inspired by Mary Jane (not the oft-dancing, modeling and scantily-clad McFarlane wet dream, of course, but the other reoccurring muse of comic book dreamers). As comic shops go, the basic offerings are standard: a good selection of classic back issues, a case of action figures, conspiracy literature and books with rabid cult followings. It's the location, amenities and sense of community that elevate the place from a standard shop to a shrine of geekdom. After all, a Punisher figurine becomes a hallowed object when it's probably the only one in a 1000 km radius, maybe further. Combine this with the store's basic operational 'secret' and it becomes apparent that this is pure entrepreneurial genius at work (incidentally, anyone who visits the store and reveals this rather hilarious secret to the world will be hunted down by my growing team of costumed vigilantes. Just let it ride, man, let it ride).
(CONTINUED MOMENTARILY)
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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

AND HERE I MISSED IT WHEN THE GOP ENDORSED INTERRACIAL THREE WAYS

If you're calling South Park a "conservative" show, it's probably safe to assume that you've never actually watched it, right?
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CONFUSED ON THE CONCEPT, PART TWO.

Johnny B asks what the appeal of manga is, what with the cliched giant robot samurai soap-opera seeming to make up a good chunk of what's out there. Dirk says that yes, it is in fact all cliched: but its a cliche that sells to the kids, dammit. Don't worry that it's trash, the kids love it.

At the same time, everyone all over the comic scene is bitching about the low quality of DC and Marvel comics. How cliched those comics all are, how melodramatic they are, etc. How they're books for children bought by adults who...just...can't....let...go. The gratuitous bashing of Brian Bendis.

So I'm confused. If kids still read superhero comics, would everyone shut up about how crap those comics are? Do we care whether kids read manga or superhero books, as long as they're reading comics? Are we pulling for sales or for quality? And yes, I recognize that the former subsidizes the latter. If kids are reading crap manga, shouldn't we still call it crap manga? Shouldn't adults who read crap manga be subject to the same scorn heaped on those who read crap Marvel books? Is it more or less embarrassing for an adult to be seen reading a kid's manga than reading a Batman book? Are Japanese cliches inherently better than American cliches? Is there anything we wouldn't complain about?

Somebody help me out here. I mean, I don't really have a dog in this fight, seeing as how I don't buy any of the monthly superhero books (though I will pick up trades of things that I know are good), and I really have no problems with increasing manga sales; I just want to be able to keep score right. And apologies to Dirk for taking what was intended likely as a throwaway point and going off on it.
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CONFUSED ON THE CONCEPT

In the same article in which he advocates comics as the new drugs, Steven Grant quotes Warren Ellis bitching that he might as well sell comics in headshops. Man, make up your mind already.

No word on whether smoking Orbiter can get you high, or how many copies of it Tommy Chong managed to sell prior to his arrest.
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THE MARCH OF PROGRESS, GENDER DIVISION

The people in this article are all kinds of fucked up, both sides. Alternate morals: a) successful women act like men and desire a trophy husband for status purposes, b) both women and men are the same and just want trophy mates for status purposes, or c) man, I'm really glad that job in Manhattan fell through and I'm spared the agony of these people's company and they're spared the agony of my pen in their eye. Eyes. Whatever.

Link via Jim via Matt.
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Monday, November 17, 2003

LOST, NEW KINGDOM

Dave Fiore, in a post comparing silver age Spider-Man to a movie I've never even heard of, much less seen, gives a nod to New Kingom's Paradise Don't Come Cheap. And from this section of the congregation comes a big honkin' "Amen", because that album is astounding; a brilliant overlooked totally addictive record, through and through.

I'm not entirely sure I can talk coherently about that album; I'm not even sure how I would begin to describe it. A pissed off Biz Markie rapping over outtakes from Swordfishtrombones? The ODB, strung out on cough syrup, rapping over crunked up RL Burnside riffs and organ runs? There was no reference point for this record when it came out in 1996; and nearly eight years later, there still isn't. None of these comparisons are at all apt. Imagine instead the soundtrack for a revivalist tent meeting in the Thirties; dirt, lightning, sweat, booze, the congregation lurching back and forth, speaking in tongues, salvation in the air and demons on the trail. Only with rap, and some of the deepest beats I've ever heard. There is a strong dub influence in the beats. Chasms of silence between the bass, then the hammer; and the production is crisp as pressed slacks. No one has ever made a record that sounded like this before, and none have attempted it since. It would make a brilliant soundtrack for Ennis and Dillon's Preacher.

Everyone who likes rap, or noise rock, or dub should go buy this, now. And everyone else should give it a listen, because, really, you owe it to yourself. But good luck finding it, as it's out of print, and New Kingdom has broken up. More evidence that the music biz ain't fair, as if we needed any.

Postscript: the remnants of New Kingdom reformed as Truckstop. Truckstop put out a single EP, and only in Europe; I assume this was all orchestrated to make my life as difficult as possible. Given that the EP is out of print, and was not in any event offered for sale in my hemisphere, would it be unethical to use the internet to track down these songs? Isn't this justified theft? I leave this for the moral theoreticians among us, as I am a more practical man.
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BUSTED

Johnny Bacardi is kind enough to not only link to but also to agree with me regarding the potential overlap of the Shonen Jump/"mainstream" audiences. Us Daves must stand united, or surely we will all fall alone. Or something to that effect, anyway.

Also, a confession. Johnny notices that I didn't give him a sidebar link. This is because I stole my links wholesale from Johnny when I set up my page, and he, inconsiderate to lazy bastards such as myself, failed to link to himself. Thus, no link to The Johnny Bacardi Show, despite it being a wonderful site and daily stop on my trawls through the web. This heinous omission will be rectified forthwith, or perhaps this weekend, once I'm done painting my living room.
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Sunday, November 16, 2003

IN THE STRANGEST PLACES

I've gotten fairly used to hearing unexpected songs in commercials. Even so, I was still a little shocked to hear Fox using Bad Brain's Re-Ignition as bumper music for its football show this weekend.

We live in the damndest times. And for what its worth, I cheefully submit "Youth Are Getting Restless: Live in Amsterdam" into the Best Live Album Ever Sweepstakes, Punk Rock Division.
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Friday, November 14, 2003

THE INCOHERENT

Reading Dirk's response to my post below (and later, John Jakala's), I'm thinking maybe I didn't express myself very well. Let me try this again, in light of their comments, and without the rhetorical fumbling of the earlier post.

First, I agree that manga is good for comics defined broadly; that is, for comics defined as any kind of sequential art. Hard to argue against this point, as manga is the only style of sequential art that seems to be growing instead of shrinking its fan base. Again, this is a good thing.

Second, I agree that manga's successes in bookstores will allow other comic styles an opportunity to stick around, in much the same way that Steven King books subsidize "quality literature." This is a good thing.

Third, I agree that manga will tend to expand notions of acceptable subject matter for "mainstream" American comics, since what's being pushed now isn't selling. This was in fact the point of my previous post: to the extent one is a fan of either superhero comics or D&Q style art comics the Shonen Jump numbers are irrelevant, as that market is not one which is penetrable by either Jim Corrigan, Spectre or Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth. To try and argue that the manga numbers are good for those particular kinds of comics is like trying to argue that increasing SUV sales spells good times ahead for KIA. And while I think that consistent trade dress for mainstream books is a very good thing indeed, I don't think that aping manga production values will give up that audience to the mainstream.

Therefore, the companies that publish spandex or indie better be able to survive as niche marketers, and with current, or worse sales levels. If they can't, those books will disappear.

I agree in principal with John's trickle-down argument; I'm sure a percentage of today's manga readers will eventually wind up reading indie books and/or wind up creating new, non-genre works. Obviously, the exact percentage of readers won't be known for quite some time. Anecdotally, at least, one wouldn't expect that number to be that high; I mean, the bulk of the audience of indie books today grew up reading X-Men in an era when that book sold in the millions. Shonen Jump, for all its successes, sells much less. The pool of potential converts is smaller than it was fifteen years ago.

Finally, big thanks to John for doing the research on sales of Vertigo's Death manga. According to Publisher's Weekly, Death is the eleventh best selling bookstore graphic novel this year. This is good news for American comics. Better news is the fact that the Lizzie McGuire manga is the third best selling OGN this year. The success of these two books suggests that the manga market will read American-made manga; and if that is true, a smart publisher could use a strong manga division to balance out more idiosyncratic fare, be it indie or superhero. Whether or not any will be smart enough to try it...
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Thursday, November 13, 2003

USE YOUR ILLUSION

So, the big news is that Shonen Jump did boffo numbers. Huzzah. Bully for Shonen Jump. And this should make Warren Ellis happy why? The kids are going to Shonen Jump on over to Transmet?

Maybe I'm being naive. But does anyone really think that the market for Shonen Jump overlaps that much with, say, the potential market for Luis Riel? Even if we assume that, magically, there is a series of Batman trades even with consistent, manga style dressand stocked at your Borders, do people really think that the Shonen Jump crowd will buy Batman in those kind of numbers? That the people buying Chobits would buy Avengers? I just don't see it. Not a lot of overlap in those Ven diagrams. I just don't see either superhero books or upscale arty books ever doing Shonen Jump numbers in the bookstores, no matter what happens. If the folks who publish those books can't make money off minimal sales, prepare to say goodbye to those books.

Might American knockoffs of Shonen Jump sell? I don't know. Maybe. I still sort of suspect that one factor driving manga is the fact that it's not American, and is wrapped into a whole foreign cultural milieu, complete with anime and card games and video games. In that event, maybe the knockoffs won't sell as well, lacking that element of goofy Japaneseisity (and cross-promotion). I'm not in touch enough the manga zeitgeist to know if that's the case or not. Someone should look at the numbers for the Death manga that came out little while ago. Since it's been out for a couple of months now, and is, as near as I can tell, stocked in with the rest of the manga in most bookstores I've been to, it would be a pretty good proxy for whether or not Amerimanga sells.

And this is not to say that neither spandex nor art publishers should shift to bookstores as the primary source of funds, preferably with good consistent trade dress, which I think would be a very good idea indeed; only to say that, I think, the best case scenario of such a move is to remain a distant second (or third, or fourth) to Big Manga. The past couple of times I've been in Borders, I've seen kids bugging their parents to get them a DragonBall-Z comic, or reading a Yu-Gi-Oh comic. I've never seen a kid holding one of the well-displayed floppies. Or even reading one. To expect these kids to buy anything else is like expecting the girls who spend money on Avril Lavigne to suddenly start buying Liz Phair records because because she bit Lavigne's production team. It's not going to happen, no matter how much people might wish it would. Phair and Batman are going to have to survive on their cult audience; any other consumers are a bonus.

Hopefully, this is all wrong, and the golden age will soon be upon us, wherein our bookstores overflow with quality titles and the aisles are crushed with excited consumers, where Rex Mundi trades sell next to Trigun, where Love Hina is sold with Lucifer. And the great unwashed will see the light and reward good artists and writers, and abandon to the wolves the crap books which prey upon their wallet. But I doubt it. Take Shonen Jump for what it is and also for what it is not: a beacon to the American comics scene.
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SHORTER INTERMITTENT

For those of you without the patience to wade through my post on the Michigan prude law below, the condensed version. The law isn't Constitutional. It will never be enforced. Stop the heavy breathing about it. If the CBLDF challenges this and loses, they don't deserve your money ever again.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

MY BILL IS IN THE MAIL

Because YOU Demanded It.....a quick and dirty look at the Michigan law causing all the commotion.

First impressions: man, this isn't at all Constitutional. The general rule is that a state has the inherent power to keep obscene materials out of the hands of kids, in much the same way that a state can, if it wants, keep obscene material out of the hands of adults. And the Supreme Court has held that there are materials which are not obscene for adults, but are obscene for kids; again, a state has the power to regulate access to such materials.

But not all offensive material is obscene. In order to determine that something is obscene, a court is Constitutionally required to make certain findings. This is true for kids as well as for adults; kids get their own version of the Miller test (which is not the same thing as the Little Miller Act, incidentally). Thus, the state can regulate the access of minors to materials which, and here I paraphrase: (a) depict sexual content prohibited by state law, (b) would be viewed by the average adult person, applying community standards, as unsuitable for kids, and (c) which lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to a reasonable seventeen year old. In other words, the Bible isn't obscene. Nor is Watchmen, or From Hell, or that recent Avengers with the weird size fetish angle.

Michigan jumps the rails, though, in that the new law just ignores this test and the bulk of the Supreme Court precedent that go along with it. It criminalizes the display of any materials that include depictions of sex or nudity; and it does so without regard to the artistic, literary, political, or scientific value of the materials or community standards. Michigan should know better. It's been down this road before. In People v. Neumayer, 275 N.W.2d 230 (Mich. 1979), the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the state's obscenity law precisely because it did not conform to Miller: "a cursory comparison of the Michigan criminal obscenity statutes with the detailed requirements set forth in Miller reveals that the statutes lack the specificity required of a statute which seeks to regulate speech and thus unquestionably fail to pass Federal constitutional muster." This is not the sort of precedent you want to arguing against if you're the poor attorney who has to defend this law.

Given this, I cannot imagine that this law will survive any sort of review; it appears to me to be facially defective. I am therefore am not horribly concerned about it, except insofar as it shows that dumb people still exist and serves to drain the litigation coffers of the CBLDF and/or the ACLU. I think it's exceedingly likely that this law will either be redrawn to cover only obscene materials, or be read judicially to cover only obscene materials. Redrawn or read in this way, it becomes very very similar to laws already on the books in many states: see, for example, Chapter 847 of the Florida Statutes, banning the display of obscene material to children. And comic book stores in Florida, and in many other states, carry on business as usual, albeit perhaps stocking less tentacle porn than they used to. Note that all I'm saying is that obscenity laws, properly drafted, are legal; and something can be legal and still odious and dumb.

Second impressions: man, given how obviously unconstitutional this is it has to be that this is a way for Michigan politicians to score points. It is dirtly little secret of politics that sometimes, politicians do things they know will be smacked down by Courts or other governing bodies just so they can appear concerned, or to create an issue; re-elect me and I'll fight to get rid of the damn judges that won't allow us to protect your kids. Seen this way, Michigan comic stores might still want to watch what they order. An obscentiy law is still on the books, and this might herald increased enforcement of an existing and presumably (per the patch applied in Neumayer) Constitutional law. If politicians think they can score points keeping the kids from looking at nude folks, odds are some prosecutor might also.

As always, this is intended only as a lay opinion, and is not intended as soliciting or offering legal advice to any person or entity. For a better discussion of general First Amendment issues by someone more qualified than I, go see a Volokh. Full cites are available if people really want them.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A PRIEST WALKS INTO A BLOG...

Christopher Priest has a blog. It looks interesting.

I've always liked Priest, even when he was Jim Owlsey; I would very much love for him to have a chance to wrap up the dangling heroes for Hire threads he left. The Crew looked good too, though I only read one issue of that series. For what it's worth (and to Priest, it's worth very little indeed) I was waiting for the trade on the Crew. I didn't want to buy the singles; I'm trying to cut down on the damn things--when my soon-to-be wife moves in, closet space will be at a premium, and the singles don't store well on a bookshelf. And Marvel had more or less said that the Tsunami books would be traded, in any event, so waiting didn't seem like much of a risk. My mistake, and Priest's loss.

Incidentally, I thought that Priest's Panther was one of the most overrated comics out there--and I bought it to the end. It started out well, but jumped the rails completely around issue thirty five or so. Having established T'Challa as, basically, the smartest man alive, Priest got lazy. He started cheating. The storylines would be built up to the point of incomprehensibility, only to be resolved through horrible examples of deus ex machina. And we were supposed to accept it, because it wasn't lazy plotting but an example of T'Challa's brilliance. There was, after a certain point, no set-up to the payoff. How or why people decided that this was an example of "complicated" or "smart" plotting, I've no idea.
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Monday, November 10, 2003

PROMISES, PROMISES

Since this is, at least nominally, a comics blog, I promise this: in the next couple of days I'll have reviews up of Artesia and also Epicurus the Sage. Scout's honor.

Goodnight Miami!
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FOUND IN THE VICE

Vice Magazine would not be the first place one would look for hard-hitting interviews with Yale law professors. And yet, here is a very good interview with Yale's Amy Chua on the subject of democritization and its discontents. Chua's basic point is that springing democracy on a previously non-democratic country will often result in intracountry conflict; the fluidity of power in nascent democracies encourages politicians to engage in demogaugery, leading to asset flight and/or ethnic tension. Parties test the system, trying to reverse electoral losses with violence. That democracies are unstable should not be news we need a Yalie to remind us of; it's not as if either the American or the French revolutions went off without a hitch.

And yet, our leaders sit in front of Congress blithely asserting that Iraq can be made a liberal democracy in less than a year. And our Congress buys it. Evidently, some children were left behind, and some of them are holding elected office.

Note: this is not to say that democracy is a bad idea for Iraq, or that Iraqi's are incapable of democracy. Clearly, neither of these points is correct. Clearly, Iraq can become a democracy. But that transformation will not be without risks, and may not be without costs. To think otherwise is to engage in base wishful thinking; but we're smarter than that, right?



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THE CURSE

I should have known. Or someone should have warned me. Blogger should have let me know, at the very least. The curse. It's worse than the Madden box, it's worse than the SI cover. The Blogger curse.

People of Green Bay, this is all my fault. I will now go and find my hairshirt.
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TWO PERSPECTIVES ON FOURTH AND ONE.

Perspective one: Yes, it would in fact appear as if going for it on fourth and one is a viable gambit, one more coaches should try. Once again, recieved wisdom is wrong. Perhaps it is time for a libertarian football coach.

Perspective two: AHMAN MOTHER LOVING GREEN!

I'll sit down now.
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Saturday, November 08, 2003

PORN AGAIN

Sean Collins has good and thoughtful post on the Wolf-Porn (and doesn't that sound like a fetish video waiting to happen...) article I mocked a couple of days ago. Sean is much fairer to the article than was I; but then again, I was really only interested in taking a cheap shot at the part of the article that seemed most dumb to me--the idea that porn makes men uninterested in sex with real women. While willing to concede that perhaps the guys I know and hang around with are statistical outliers, I would suggest that her idea does not at all conform with my observed or lived reality.

Having said that, I have no comment on whether or not porn creates or feeds into an image problem for women; and intuitively, I would tend to suspect that the prevalence of porn would tend to put more pressure on women to both look like and also act like porn stars, and that this pressure is harmful to some extent, especially when it runs smack into the countervailing pressure put on women to be 'proper.' I think that might valid and productive discussion, albeit one I've got no time for now, as I'm off to a wedding. Not mine.

Postscript: trucker hats are indeed crushingly boring.
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LIKE A FOOL

Note to Chad Orzel: Superchunk was, to my knowledge, never on a major. They were on Matador for a couple of records, and Matador was almost like a major given its status as uberindie label; but technically, Matador was still indie. I think. To those who still care about the distinction....

Also, if you like Cup of Sand, make sure you go out and get, well, really, the whole backcatalog; but start with their other singles collection Incidental Music. I'll second the person in your comments in that 'Chunk's version of the "100,000 Fireflies" is just an indispensable song.

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THE DIVISION OF LABOR AT WORK

John Holbo gives David Frum the analytical version of the dreaded Rear Admiral in the course of trying to figure out just what, exactly, Frum and other conservatives are on about. A very good, if long piece, and everyone should go read it.

Note also that Holbo's analysis of Frum applies with equal force to Kim du Toit's weird paean to Wild-West style manhood; it is, at heart, an essay (and movement) that elevates a gag-reflex into a worldview. The girly girl state is bad because it makes us less manly, snappier dressers, and more apt to own small dogs (though this latter scourge is almost sufficient to make me conservative fellow traveler). If life were made less pleasant, we would be more manly, wouldn't have time to worry about fashion what with the constant threat of terrible violence, and would need big slobbery working dogs. And everyone who likes little dogs will thank us later, once they see the error of their way; of they'll starve or be beaten to death. Either way, really.

Like I said, go read Holbo's piece; it's smarter and better written than anything you'll find on this site. And I'll return to trying to smuggle analysis into half-assed parodies. It's the division of labor at work.
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A PAGE FROM GENERAL LOTT'S BOOK

This rampage is a turn for the worse, both the cause and the effect; and given that it's reported on Fox, I think we're allowed by our betters to presume it is accurate. I hope we have the strength of will to not go down this path. See Flit for more information and analysis.

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TODAY'S HAUL

Picked up in this week's shipment.

Spookshow OGN.
The Art of Chip Kidd

The Kidd book is pretty cool; damn, his design sense is sharp. It's also a good reminder that people browsing books pay attention to the cover; a sharp looking cover is real plus. Thankfully, people in the comics biz realize this, and we've seen an avalanche of excellent cover work in the past couple of years--including some by Chip Kidd.

I'll post on Spookshow when I get around to reading it.
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THINGS TO PICK UP

I remember agonizing over whether or not to order Mother, Come Home when it was solicited in Previews. Can't remember exactly if I did or not. Based on this preview, I hope I did.
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Thursday, November 06, 2003

COMICS POST OF THE DAY, ALSO AN APOLOGY

I think that Dirk Deppey is right about the long term risks of Marvel's current position. My question, though, which perhaps I didn't express very well below, is whether investor confidence in Marvel dropped because of Deppy-ish concerns regarding Marvel's long term viability, or because of some other disclosure made in the Q3 statement; in other words, did Marvel disclose new threatened or actual litigation that caused the price drop? Alternatively, the market might think that the new Mutant X suit is viable and cause for dinging Marvel down. Even with their improved cashflow, and even assuming the 100 million number is inflated to induce a better settlement, damages in that neighborhood would be a real blow to Marvel. I'll try and find a copy of that complaint online, see how it reads.

Also, apologies to all the little children reading this blog. Sometimes here at The Intermittent we get a little 'blue', especially after long days at work and when faced with really dumb things written by dumb people. We apologize for stealing your innocence.
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MANLY MEN, DOING MANLY THINGS

Found in Sioux Falls Banner Tribune, 1895.

Letter to the Editor.

Yea, I'm sickened mightily to be a man today. Sick unto my heart, which is clogged with the fat of animals, animals I hunted and skinned and ate raw because cooking is for sissies and Frenchmen. Also without spices. Spices are for pussies. Men today aren't men. I mean, living in cities. Living in houses with shingled roofs. As if sod and tarpaper were something to be embarrassed about. Men need to feel the wind on our bare asses when we sleep, mainly because manly men are very gassy, and without the wind we would all suffocate. But no we can't even cut one, not even during dinner, because women get all offended. Women, what with their rules. These days, they get upset we find a guy walking home alone and beat the hell out of him. But we're men; we need to beat the hell out of people weaker than us. They should let us have another war with one of these other weaker, browner countries. Don't fence me in, sis. It's bad enough they tell us we can't sell our children to the factories anymore. How are my kids going to grow up knowing right and wrong if they don't learn what backbreaking labor is like when they're six? How will they learn to keep their fingers and legs clear of large shearing machinery? They won't. They'll grow up to be pussies, just like women want them too. It was bad enough when they told us it was wrong for boys to drink moonshine, just because it made them blind. Men love risk, and drinking, and risky drinking especially. And don't expect me to get one of those new fangled automatic carriages either, just so you can ride along like some damn Queen and tell me where to go. Real men ride horses and beat their women when they get uppity about it. Oh, they cry, but they know it's for their own good, and they apologize really nice to you later, if you know what I mean. And if they don't, hell, they got sisters, sisters who won't try and tell me to take of my tooth. Take care of my tooth? Might as well tell me to cover up my musky manly scent with soap. And don't talk to me about this new fangled electricity. Why not just admit you're a sodomite, sissy. Real men use kerosene. Or whale oil. Preferably from a whale they speared themselves, right after killing a Polynesisan man and fucking his widow. I'm moving out west, someplace where men can be men and the namby-pamby government won't get in my way.

I'm going to California.

Sincerely,

Joseph Jones Jabado, Junior.

Subtext: This is really dumb. Really.
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THE GHOST OF RICHARD TAUB; ALSO, BURTON-JUDSON MEMORIES

Dan Drezner offers Graham Allison's The Essence of Decision as a good book on how government makes decisions, noting that it might help explain how we gots ourselves in the current situation in Iraq. That's a good one, but I prefer Wildavsky's Implementation, in which he explains why any human endeavor that involves more than seven people will inevitably brake down into chaos and inefficiency and a deluge of cover-your-ass memo' and Administration officials going on and on about all the reasons they never gave for invading Iraq.

Also: Jeezum H. Crow, what's this now about easy women at Chicago? Shit, I knew they were pushing fun now, but still. What ever happened to the old days, when dirty undergrads would contemplate converting to homosexuality just to get some? If that's not hardcore, I don't want to know what is. Hook-ups? Bastards. I'm done giving that place my money, they clearly don't need it anymore.
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DON'T GIVE IT TO ME BABY

Well, this must be true. I mean, I know that movies ruined girls for me; and the SI swimsuit issue only hastened my fall. Damnable Paulina Porizikova. Damn her and her firm, luscious breasts. After seeing her, why would I want to date a high school girl? And college girls? Please. I had Skinemax in the dorm.

In fact, this is so true, the baby boom was a damn miracle. I mean, all those soldiers looking at nothing but pictures of Betty Grable and Ava Gardner. Like regular women could compete with those gams. Hell, I'm surprised most of those guys didn't just keep on masturbating when they got home.

Thank god wartime rationing made petroleum jelly a rarity, or none of us would be here today.
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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY

A second thought regarding Marvel's Q3 statement. It's been obvious for a while now, and the Q3 numbers confirm, that Marvel is basically an IP holding company these days. The money it makes off of actually publishing books is peanuts compared to what it makes off of licensing the characters. The books are a loss leader not for the trade paperback, but for the licensing; a way to keep the characters in circulation to maximize their visibility for the licensing. The comics are a form of advertising.

With that in mind, I would assume Marvel would want to maximize its potential pool of licensable properties--which is why it seems so odd to me that Marvel seems to be wrapping up the Epic imprint. Epic, at least as originally described, seemed to me to be a great IP land grab. Marvel would take your material and appropriate more or less of its IP value, depending on the structure of the deal; the creator would in return get a comic book, and Marvel would get another concept to leverage. This makes sense from a diversification standpoint if nothing else. At some point, the clamor for superhero movies may fade; and if that happens, the movies Marvel has in the pipe might tank. And if that happens, Marvel is sh*t out of luck. Had Marvel a more diverse group of properties, it might be able to weather that storm. A Ghost World might offset the failure of a Ghost Rider. Look at, say DC. I assume that DC takes a cut, albeit a small one, of profits off something like the new Global Frequency series. Dark Horse must see some cut of the Hellboy money, and a small cut is better than no cut. I absolutley agree with Dirk Deppey that this is Marvel's greatest weakness.

But of course Marvel decided that Epic wouldn't accept any creator owned material. It shrunk the pool. Then it rolled up Epic all together, basically draining the pool. Marvel is left with essentially its core characters, given how hard its been over the past ten years to launch new ones. I rather doubt the world is clamoring for a Maggot tv show. And of the characters Marvel does have, few are non-superhero characters. Iron Fist, if played right. Man-Thing, maybe. Some of the old monsters, like Fin Fang Foom. Compare this to DC, or Dark Horse, or Fantagraphics, all of which have a more diverse line and all of which are therefore better prepared in case the superhero movie trend collapses.

It will be curious to see how Marvel, and its movies, do over the next couple of years.
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THE REST OF THE ICEBERG

Marvel released its third quarter numbers yesterday. Evidently, the numbers were better than expected, largely due to a one-time cash dump; income was otherwise more or less flat, it seems. This has been hailed as either good or bad news, depending on whether or not one was expecting Marvel to do better or worse. Investors seem to have chosen the latter, as Marvel's stock price dropped.

No eplanations are given for the drop. It makes me wonder what, if any liabilities, Marvel disclosed yesterday. It's been a while since I did any work on corporate filings; but it seems to me that public companies are required under various SEC rules to list possible liabilities when it projects out numbers. If a company doesn't disclose known possible liabilities, it opens the door to stockholder lawsuits in the event those undisclosed liabilities materialize and the stock price decreases. Note for the corporate attorneys in the room: this is the thumbnail sketch version. The particulars obviously matter, but maybe not so much for the purposes of this blog post.

In any event, Marvel has at least one pending lawsuit. There may or may not be others. Hibbs' lawsuit would need to be disclosed as well. It would be interesting to see what other liabilities were out there; I don't see how anyone can get a good sense on the financial health of Marvel without taking a look at those issues. No one in the comicosphere has mentioned this issue, to my knowledge, and I can't find an original of Marvel's filing online right now. Has anyone seen a hardcopy of the Marvel release? I'd appreciate it if someone would shoot me either the information or the link.

Obligatory disclaimer. I am not a licensed securities dealer. I am not licensed to practice law in the state of New York. The above information was provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended as offering either financial or legal advice to any particular client or person.
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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Horror.

I have always, and without psychological treatment will always be terrified of spiders. Archnaphobia scared the crap out of me. When I lived at home many years ago, my bedroom window was at ground level and had no lock. Through our back yard was the Valhaven Senior Center. The old folks home. This situation caused the movie Excorcist III to be one of the most horrifying features I have seen. I would lie awake staring at the ceiling...waiting for some possesed withered crone to come scuttling across it.

The Blair Witch Project was not scary. I do not camp and unexplained noise doesn't trigger a "fight or flight" response.

Regardless of intent, context is what makes something frightening.

Shock horror works in comic books. It works for those who find the context and content shocking. Conceptual horror works under that same pretense, and both fail under that very same pretense

All the arguments, notes, reviews, etc. I've seen recently seem to miss this elemental point.
What is "horror"? Some dictionary definition? An entry in the encyclopedia? No, it is simply that which pushes your appropriate buttons.
Why does Ellis script seem to pack more punch than the finished art? Your head knows what scares you, and will complete the picture in that vein. Higgins art can't do that for everyone (though I'm sure it does well for many.)

D.I.'s lament that some comics have "yet to find a way to generate scares" needs to be qualified.
So far, they don't scare him. Maybe they should try...sock puppets.

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SLOW NEWS DAY INDEED

We just got our first mention on Journalista! The Intermittent should really just close up shop now; it can only go downhill from here.
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Monday, November 03, 2003

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF BLACK LIGHTNING

I really don't have much to add to the whole Tony Isabella mess, it being fairly late and all, and since most of the usual suspects have weighed in. For what it's worth, here's my thoughts....

The notion of some sort of responsibility to a character's essence is nonsense; and the kind of nonsense that one only seems to find in the comics community. Bands aren't pilloried if they cover an older song, even if the cover is destructive to the original. The Gun Club and Uncle Tupelo can both do versions of 'John Hardy', both of which are completely distinct from the old Leadbelly version, and no one cares. Leadbelly fans aren't up in arms bitching that it's not a punk song, dammit. Julie Taynor's version of Titus Andronicus imports imagery and subtext into the play that I'm sure Shakespeare never contemplated; and her film is hailed, not knocked. Hell, even in comics, Alan Moore takes old public domain characters, warps them waaaaay beyond their original concepts, and people applaud. I rather doubt the original version of Alan Quartermain was a drug fiend; and if any of Quartermain's seven living fans cared about Moore's changes, they didn't make much noise about it.

The only other time people react this way is with movies about God; if you mess with people's vision of Christ, people tend to get ticked off. But Black Lightning is a far cry from Christ. Comics fans need to stop treating comics as holy texts. They're comic books, for pete's sake, as much as I love them. Just skip it if you don't like the story. This tempest in a teapot stuff is just such a joke.
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Saturday, November 01, 2003

INTERMITTENT REVIEWS

Yukiko's Spinach
Spoilers, to the extent that there is in fact a plot to spoil

Frederic Boilet caused some stir a little while ago, by publishing an English translation of his Nouvelle Manga Manifesto. Unsurprisingly for a manifesto, Boilet slams both the buyers and creators of French and American comics for producing and consuming, essentially, adolescent tripe. Per Boilet, all the mainstream cares about is pretty pictures and heroic spectacles; bread and circuses for pimply faced geeks worldwide. Boilet calls for artists to overturn this applecart, and re-yoke art to stories; and not just any stories, but slice of life narratives. Comics as French cinema, or perhaps a film from the Dogma 95 canon.

With his manifetso in mind, it's instructive to look at Boilet's nouvelle manga Yukiko's Spinach. The first thing one notices is that it's very well drawn; Boilet's style is reminescent of Jay Anaceleto's. The second thing one notices is that, over the space of 159 pages, very little happens. The book is the story about the narrator's (presumably a stand in for Boilet) romance with the titular Yukiko. But as told, the romance is crushingly uneventful. The narrator meets Yukiko. She loves a Japanese man instead of the narrator. The narrator and Yukiko eat dinner and decide to have a fling. They make love, twice. Maybe three times, depending on whether you're using Clinton definitions or not. She confesses that she still loves the Japanese guy. Narrator leaves. This is not the condensed version of the story; this is all there is. Those are the scenes. And of those scenes, half have four, maybe five lines of dialogue. The book is essentially nothing more than a collection of pretty pictures.

Why does Yukiko sleep with the narrator? Don't know. Why does she love the other guy? Not explained, or even alluded to; she treats it almost as a mandate. Why, does the narrator abandon her? Ennui? Maybe; the story does ooze with cliched French-ness. But the evocation of a cliched national attitude is not a story. Why does the narrator yearn for Yukiko? Beats the hell out of me. She's a cipher; I could give you only the barest outline of her personality, and I read this thing this morning. In fact, Yukiko is defined more by her looks than by her personality. Her defining characteristic is physical--a chickenpox scar the shape of Bora Bora. A scar creates a characteristic, not a character. There is nothing otherwise distinctive about her; any other woman could play her role--to be cute and somewhat unattainable-- in the story. This is a problem for Boilet, given that his Manifesto requires him to, in fact tell a story about the lives of actual people. Boilet gives us pretty pictures and actions that happen for no discernable reason.

Yukiko's Spinach is a failure, on its own terms. The book is all sleek surfaces and pretty pictures with nothing underneath; pretty much exactly what Boilet complains about, only his topic is fickle love instead of giant robot death. Individual scenes are touching, but there is nothing beyond the most rudimentary of narratives to hold them together. Though Boilet's art is phenomenal--almost photorealistic, but with a soft, blurred edge that conveys the evanescence of the affair much more powerfully than the words do--there is no more or less content or story here than in an issue of, oh, say, Witchblade. If Yukiko's Spinach is the revolution, I'm sitting this fight out.
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IT MUST BE A WHAT IF ISSUE

From the Marvel Comics January Previews:

"Ant Man 2 of 4
Ant Man digs deeper to find out who is leaking secret information that threatens our national security."

Ant-Man versus Karl Rove? I'm so there.
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