The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

THE BLOGGER WAS DAZED--HIS FOE: TRIUMPHANT!

Marc Singer bemoans the lack of captions in comics, narrative captions of course having been banished to basement of comicsdom as not being suitable for polite company. And I agree. Captions should not be a suspect tool. Used properly, they can be incredibly effective.

The problem, though, is that captions are incredibly easy to use improperly. Let's face it: there are not a lot of wonderful prose craftsmen writing comics. Lot's of people with good ideas. A fair amount who write good dialogue. Very few who are good with naked prose. And even fewer of those know how to structure a book so that the prose and the visuals complement rather than compete with each other. Not everyone is Alan Moore.

Thus, captions typically are at best redundant to the visuals, at worst....well, I don't want to willingly remind anyone of the horror that was Todd McFarlane's narration to Spider-Man, but in its purple turgid shame it was perhaps the nadir of captioning in comics. Even thinking about it now makes my skin tingle and my cat's ears perk up. Captions are like power tools; useful, but not for amateurs.
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THE ART OF SELLING OUT YOUR ART

I’ve been trying to stay out of the Great Superhero Wars of 2004; life is too short to argue about what is, essentially, a matter of taste. Either the genre conventions are distracting to you or not; either they work for you or they don’t. I can’t see the point anymore of arguing what are basically irrational positions; it’s like trying to talk someone into liking the color red instead of blue. Now, of course, if someone tries to inflate their own taste into an attack on the genre, or the industry, we’ve got issues…..

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to Jamie Rich. Jamie doesn’t much like the fact that people go work for Marvel or DC. It’s not that he hates superhero’s. Nope. He just doesn’t much like the fact that creators work on corporate superhero books.

To which I say: what a load of hoeey.

Rich makes it sound like DC and Marvel press-gangs troll artist’s alley at conventions; “Oi, you there, with us--you’ll be drawin’ Thor by nightfall you will, on behalf of Queen and Arad!” The poor bastards. Or something. Because, you know, no one would ever work on corporate property without coercion. Except of course, they do. Either out of love for the characters or want of exposure or because the corporate money is worth the opportunity cost of foregoing their own projects. People choose to work for Marvel and DC.

But maybe Rich is upset that folks have to make a choice. Maybe he’s mad that small press books don’t sell like superhero books do. Maybe he's upse that the gibbering horde that makes up fandom only wants more X-Men books. Maybe he’s upset that the streets aren’t made of chocolate. He might as well be. The world is the way the world is, and I can't see as how it makes any sense to begrudge creators for making choices based on the real world instead of some imaginary ideal one.

Look. I happen to think that the way the direct market has evolved makes it very difficult for non-superhero books to sell; the direct market is a product of fanboy taste, but also works to drive fanboy taste. The market does not simply reflect consumer taste but also shapes it. But the market doesn’t compel anyone to do anything; creators are still free to do whatever they wish. Is the direct market hostile to small press books? Yep. Can small press books still sell? Of course; as witnessed by, oh, say…..Jaime Rich’s Oni. It’s still possible for artists to self-publish; I think that Dave Sim had some success with that, though perhaps his is not a heartening example for artists looking for long term success. It’s obvious that--though perhaps not as lucrative as corporate work--creators are free to pursue their own idiosyncratic muses. Nothing is stopping them except themselves. Basically, then, Rich is just pouting; the kid who wants doesn’t want to have to choose between the brownie and the ice cream for desert. He wants it all, plus a pony.

I wish that we had better comics. I'd love it if creators could feed themselves doing trailblazing work that speaks directly to me, and yet also still somehow sells millions of copies. I'd also love it if I were a Supreme Court justice with thirty foot range on my jump shot. But I'm not going to whine if I don't wind up running games at the Highest Court in the Land; and Rich shouldn't whine that the world doesn't work the way he wants it to either.
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EARTH-PIG LOVE FROM SINGAPORE

Somehow missed in blogosphere wide eulogizing for Cerebus was this piece by John Holbo. See also various other posts on the madness of Dave Sim by Belle Waring.

John and Belle’s blog is one of the daily reads here at the Intermittent, and is yet another reminder that, really, you could be reading much better writing on comics or politics than can be found here. In somewhat related news, Marc Singer may not be the Beastmaster, but he is yet another in the seemingly endless supply of folks writing about comics at a much higher level than I can aspire to.

Bastards, all of them.
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Thursday, March 25, 2004

SECRETS

Why was I not informed that Mission of Burma has a new record coming out? What's the point of having a blog if people won't inform me of these very important things?
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YOU'RE A HYPOCRITE, YOU'RE A TARGET

Some brief thoughts on this whole Richard Clarke business; and recognize that these are coming from someone with no natural instincts towards Democrats, but with a real aversion, on national security grounds, to the current national security policy.....

Let's assume that the main charge against Clarke is in fact correct (not that I think it is, but let's play along): he has given two different versions of how Bush prepared against Al Queda prior to 9/11. One of these, the background version, is good for Bush. The other, the one in the book and all over the airwaves, is bad for Bush. Like I said, let's just assume that these two versions are not reconcilable; again, not that I think they are, but let's give Bush's defenders the benefit of the doubt. So we have two different stories, one of which must be false. Why is the one bad for Bush assumed to be the false one?

I mean, Bush defenders seem to think it enough to point out a possible conflict. It's not. They also need to point out why one version is more plausible than the other. I can see no intuitive reason why the version that just happens to be good for Bush should be assumed correct. Remember, Clarke was on staff at the White House when that briefing was given; and let's not kid ourselves that this Administration tolerates disloyalty or prevarication that is not to its benefit. Remember also that Clarke was serving as cybersecurity guru at the time, something he felt passionately about; and also that the Great Mistake--the invasion of Iraq--had not happened yet. Why would Clarke jeopardize his cybersecurity project to bash Bush at that juncture? Wouldn't it make more sense that Clarke in 2002 was more circumspect with his words than he is now, given that speaking freely would put him and his pet project at risk? Again, why should we assume that this background version represents Clarke's true opinions?

Broaden the scope. Lots of people--Beers, O'Neill, Diullio, Joe Wilson--have attacked the Bush administration after leaving its employ. These people are all either moderate Democrats or Republicans. The critique of these folks was the same as it is now for Clarke. Inconsistent. Hypocrite. Political oppurtunist. At what point does one stop suspecting political gamesmanship and start taking what these people say seriously? Can it be possible that the Democrats lured this many moderates and Republicans to the Dark Side? Convinced them to lie? One maybe. Four or more seems to me a stretch.

And what does Clarke gain by lying in his book? Book sales? Hell, he could have written an apologia for Bush and gotten book sales through the NRO/Regenery machine. Can't see as how being anti-Bush helps his sales. Fame? Maybe. Influence? Among who, Democrats? Because no Republican can touch him now; and had he stuck with the old version, he likely could have settled nicely into the talk show and think tank circuit.

In short, I see no particular reason for Clarke to lie now, and lots of reasons for him to have, shall we say "spun" in 2002. But of course, none of this matters; and the mere fact I've undertaking this exercise is in essence an admission of defeat. We're all of us spending our time trying to play gotcha with Lexis/Nexus, hoping that someone, someday will reprise Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men; and in the meantime, the substance of Clarke's points about Iraq and bureaucratic inertia (neither of which is addressed at all in the Fox News piece) sinks slowly from view.

I can't wait for what they say when the inevitable Colin Powell book comes out. Or the George Tenet book. Heck, let's just save us all some time: any critique either man makes of Bush is a lie born of political opportunism and pure inhuman malice. Bastards, the both of them. The Intermittent: Giving You 2006's Slimings Today!
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LEVELS OF ANALYSIS

Reading Sean Collins' letter, published at Steven Grant's column, makes me realize something. When we (folks here in the blogosphere, mostly) talk about good for "comics", I don't think we're very clear about what we're talking about. Let me explain.

We could be talking about good for comics publishers. We could be talking about good for comics retailers. We could be talking about good for comics consumers. Or we could, I suppose be talking about good for comics as an art form. What is good for one member of this fantastic foursome is not necessarily good for the other, nor are their goals the same; the consumer wants entertaining or interesting comic books, the publisher wants money. And the overlap between entertaining comic books and returns to the publisher might not in fact be very great. Similarly, what is good for the retailer (evidently, lots of superhero titles) might not be good for the art form.

So we can't explain why superheros are or aren't killing comics until we define what it is we mean by the term comics. We can't explain why comics need to be more or less adult unless we define what it is we're talking about: publisher, retailer, consumer, or art form. When we say bookstore distribution is good for comics, what do we mean? Are graphic novels good or bad for the consumer or the publisher or both? The shorthand lumping of all these disparate groups into the term "comics" is I think doing a real disservice to our discussions.
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Monday, March 22, 2004

THE MONOPOLY OF VIOLENCE. ALSO TASTE.

From your friends in Washington DC: the campaign to keep innocent readers of alt-weeklies from reading bad words. Because reading bad words dilutes our moral fiber, making us weak and unable to resist the swarthy hordes; or worse, makes us all, shudder, Democrats.

UPDATE: I read about this awhile back, via someone or other. No source because I can't remember who first pointed it out to me; but rest assured, I didn't find this on my own.
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DEFINITION OF A HACK

Someone who argues, with a straight face, that Richard Clarke, having a financial incentive in selling his book, can’t be taken seriously, while maintaining that Richard Perle can be, despite his financial interests in Trireme Partners.

At least have enough respect for us to tell us good lies, not merely the ones most pleasing to our betters.

More Fun with Richard Perle Fun Facts: or, Airplanes Have High Flying Friends.
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WORSE THAN ZOMBIE FLANDERS

This may only make sense to Dave Jon, and, perhaps, only three or four other people. Everyone else should file it away just in case: if there ever is such a thing as Zombie Rick, don’t bother running, cause we’re all doomed.
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HOW I FELL IN LOVE

When I was little, I read comics. Read them, not followed them. My dad would buy me one or two on Sundays, when he bought the paper. Sometimes my mom would buy me a couple while we were at Bookland. I would buy whatever looked neat; Spiderman one day, Batman the next. I enjoyed them, but I wasn't’t in love with them. I could wait for the next month.

That all changed with X-Men 166.

That was a Sunday comic. I was maybe eight years old. My dad and I drove to Waupaca; from there, he went to Red Owl, I went to the pharmacy to look at comics. Those were simpler times, in a simpler place, and the idea of letting an eight year old wander away was not as scary as it would be perhaps now. At the pharmacy I picked up that issue of X-Men, maybe another comic or two. My dad met me there, we paid, headed for home.

I started reading in the car, while digging into the long johns that he had bought for us at Red Owl.

It was the coolest thing I had ever read.

X-Men 166, for theuninitiatedd, is the end of the Brood saga. The Brood are the real poor man's version of Giger's Aliens, only with the powers of speech and a yen for using ray guns. The X-Men are lost in space, impregnated with Brood eggs. When the eggs hatch, the X-men will be turned into more Brood. Only Wolverine is free; his immune system killed the eggs. Salvation lay in penetrating the Brood mothership, a great enslaved spacewhale or somesuch, and basking in the glow of its soul. Or something to that effect.

This all sounds rather silly sitting here now, typing. But I can still remember the visceral thrill that issue gave me. It seemed like things were at stake. Wolverine contemplated murdering his teammates rather than seeing them turned into Brood; for an eight year old, the idea of intrateam murder was new. It was very much a "whoa" moment for me. As were the fight scenes, which seemed to me brutal beyond anything I'd seen before, comic or otherwise. Wolverine was pummeled and impaled; and Paul Smith drew every bruise and cut, or so it seemed. Every character felt pain, either physical or spiritual. And at the end, a shocker: Professor X was infected too-and on Earth!

I was hooked. For the next thirteen years, I didn't miss an issue. Anything else that addictive would be illegal, or available only via imporation from Canada.

Looking back, I think that what did it for me was that the story didn't pander; or at least not in a way I could see at the time. It wasn't written for kids. It wasn't sanitized. It was giving me something I wasn't getting in cartoons, or in kids books. More evidence of this: the way my friends and I were later fascinated by the three curse words in the God Loves, Man Kills. I am therefore somewhat leery of comics which are "for kids." I think that kids are pretty good at sniffing out things that are meant for them; and kids grow into adult themes much earlier than is commonly thought. Or at least I did; but perhaps I was an odd child. I probably shouldn't generalize too much from my own experience in any event. Maybe today the adult is so commonplace kids need something simpler. Maybe.

Later: how I fell out of love with comics.
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MATINEE OF THE DEAD

A group of elderly movie-goers snuck in to my Friday afternoon viewing of Dawn of the Dead, presumably to kill time before going to see Hidalgo. By my standards Dawn was certainly not over the top in the blood and gore category, but the two older couples managed a good four minutes before beating a retreat. Ah, the cinema.

At least this wasn't the only funny thing that happened during the show (there was also a brief point in which I thought the soundtrack had gone haywire and there were misplaced zombies-eating-flesh-sounds...Turns out it was my brother sitting next to me inhaling a jumbo tub of popcorn...Seriously, by himself, finishing a jumbo tub before the opening credits rolled.), though most of the humor is confined to the screen.

So, trumpet fanfare, I enjoyed Dawn of the Dead. I enjoyed it for most of the reasons I think I should. Some clever moments in a sea of predictability, two points at which I laughed uncontrollably (a modified version of "no-talent-celebrity-tag" being one), great head exploding effects, and most of all, the sense that the film knew it was not breaking any new ground in the genre and being comfortable in that knowledge.
This movie is not 28 Days Later, and it doesn't want to be. I picture the production meetings at Strike being much like getting together with my friends - having a lot to drink, coming up with stupid/clever ideas that should find their way into movies - but having the budget/equipment/time/talent to actually do something about it. When our rag-tag protagonists enter the mall scared, confused, and bloody and the Muzak is playing "Don't worry, Be Happy" - that's funny.

A negative note: Since when does a Wisconsin mall not have a sporting goods store with guns? I live 10 minutes away from Wisconsin's largest mall, and as befitting the largest mall it has the largest sporting goods store with the largest selection of guns.

I am curious to see how this new combination of B-movie script and bigger picture budget plays to the movie watching public. If Dawn does well...Really, how big a car crash could Roger Corman make if he had a Terminator 3 budget?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THE GOOD AND BAD, IT'S INDECISION TIME

So, let's say that you dislike the current administration because of the fact that everything is politicized as part of it's mad lust for power. Does voting that administration out:

a) teach the administration that power lust and politicized are bad things, and to be avoided; or

b) that it would still be in office if only it were more ruthless in the use of power or had it more fully converted policy into a tool of politics.

Discuss. And when a conclusion is reached, get back to me; preferably, before November.
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MIGHTY MARVEL TWO IN ONE: OR, SOLOMON READS A COMIC BOOK

Everyone, away from the precipice. Yes, it is stupid to assert that superhero comics are just for kids, or that adult fiction must be "real", or that superhero comics can't bear any sort of analytical/symbolic/narrative weight, or that creator owned superhero comics are inherently better than corporate superhero comics. Against superhero comics--as a genre--these charges are in fact obviously false. But against particular superhero comics or concepts....well, let's maybe think for a second before we start inputting the launch codes.

I mean, look at, say, the Silver Surfer. Nothing wrong with him, insofar as you want goofy tales of cosmic weirdness. As a Christ metaphor, though, the surf board sort of gets in the way; a bit of cognitive dissonance tends to creep in at the margins. Which is not to say it's impossible to do a Surfer as Jesus bit. Just more difficult, given that you have to work against the inherent goofiness of the character.

This is the only reason I can think of as to why creator owned works might--might--be superior to corporate works. The former is created as a whole, at once. And to the extent that the author wants to aim high, narratologically speaking, he can build his story on the high ground. To mix a metaphor. An author on the corporate book has less latitude on where to place himself and his story in the narrative terrain, which makes it more difficult to tell certain kinds of stories. Again, more difficult, not impossible. And of course, whether or not any story ultimately works is at least in part dependent on what the reader brings to the tale. This is as true of superhero comics as everything else.

I wish I had the analytical defenses to withstand the inevitable Dave Fiore onslaught, but such is life.

As it is, if we're going to keep having this conversation, let's at least bear in mind that beating on specific superhero books is not the same thing as beating on the idea of superhero books.

PREEMPTIVE UPDATE: Before I posted this, I noticed that Steve Berg pretty makes this same argument. Only better, and before me. Jerk. And to add insult to injury, Rose has a brilliant post up Dark Knight Returns, the kind of thing I wish I could write. Double jerks.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

INSERT WITTY TITLE HERE

DC solicits are up. Looks like it could be a good month for them, at least insofar as my spending habits are of critical concern to Time/Warner. Ennis' War Stories, new Planetary hardcover, new Sleeper. Hell, I may even pick up the Fallen Angels trade--that'll show Peter David.

I'd also consider picking up the Batman hardcover collecting the Risso/Azzarello run...but I'm not sure if it's any good. Someone out there who has been following this needs to let me know if it's worth my thirty hard earned dollars. After all, and despite the positive reviews, I heard the last big Batman event sucked, right Sean?
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Monday, March 15, 2004

MISSING ALL THE PEOPLE THAT I'VE NEVER MET BEFORE

I have nothing constructive to say about Spain; or rather, I do, but it just doesn't feel right to step up on a soapbox when the wood is still needed for coffins. The world can wait for my little dancing monkey routine.

I've been so dissapointed in the reactions, though. There was no point checking out the greater blogosphere; everyone made the noises you'd expect, with only one or two exceptions. Everyone plays their roles so well these days.
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Friday, March 12, 2004

DID YOU SHAMPOO MY WIFE?

I have a sickness. But I also have a cream for it, and it should go away in a few days...
I also have a wierd compulsion (yeah, bad set-up for another bad joke...), and that compulsion is stronger than almost anything I have experienced in my checkered life. I HAVE TO - HAVE TO- watch edited for content movies on broadcast television. The worse the better. Casino. Basic Instinct. Above the Law. OK, those are all movies that have Sharon Stone in them, AND bad to watch on regular TV. The Quick and the Dead. Now I can't stop. Good Lord, did she ever make a good movie?

Anyway...There are certain movies that have been made with the idea that some "mature content" or "adult language" is necessary to the plot, to the exposition of the tale. Certain TV Exec's seem to think that these same movies will retain their impact if you edit out or edit over those ideas.

I spent almost two hours yesterday watching Mallrats on TV. Though not the most aggregious of the "Let's put it on TV" pantheon, it was by all counts very very disturbing. So much so that I wonder if Kevin Smith may have had a hand in the butchering just to make a very funny point. Jay's dubbed voice is not even remotely close to matching, and it dubbs over almost 50% of his lines. Entire scenes are re-edited with loose footage that seem to be taken off the cutting room floor, or shot after "cut" had been called. And I had to watch every single minute. I could not look away.
I need help. Dogma is in rotation on Comedy Central.

Some of my favorite "edited for content" lines:
1. This is what happens when you find a friend in the alps. - The Big Lebowski
2. That better be one smilin' happy pig. - Pulp Fiction
3. Nico, get in the dad-gum car. - Above the Law
4. We were messing around, and when we mess around I get relaxed, and when I'm relaxed
I vomit - Mallrats






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Thursday, March 11, 2004

INNUMERACY

Ok, trying to play along with Silver Bullet Comics, which seems to be arguing that comics really aren't that expensive. In 1982 the average comic cost sixty cents. In 2002 dollars, the comes out to one dollar and seven cents. But of course the average comic in 2002 two didn't cost a dollar seven; it cost two dollars and twenty five cents. Or in other words, even after factoring in inflation, comics cost more than twice what they did once upon a time. This seems to me to be something worth exploring.
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TYPOS TYPOS EVERYWHERE TYPOS

For some reason the spellcheck on blogger isn't working tonight; I've tried it three times, and three times my browser has hung. Apologies for any spleling errors.
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BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS OF MEANNESS

It seems like I spend much of my time here bagging on various books or companies or positions, or some combination thereof. The Intermittent is often a bit of downer; which is not something I'm apologizing for, mind, just something that seems worth noting. So in the spirit of adventure, let's try something new: praise.

The new Lovecraft hardcover by Hans Rodionoff, Keith Giffen, and Enrique Brecia is really, really good.

Now, I say that not just as a big big fan of the Lovecraft mythos; I am (though not so much a fan of his writings, any one of which would be a great story but which taken together dissolve into a mush of perpetually teasing sameness), and that's certainly one reason the book worked for me. But fannish enthusiasm for the subject matter is not enough; as witnessed by my terrible aversion to film adaptations of the Lovecraftian Universe, Stuart Gordon's of course exempted. No, the real reason I loved the book was that it was simply bloody brilliant.

The book's conceit is that Lovecraft was in fact the guardian of the Necronomicon, and that he, and he alone, knew the terrible truth; that his writings were not fiction but warnings, calls to arms against the reality of the alien. Not the most original of plots, granted; the author who finds his creation is real has been trotted out by Steven King and, better done, by Jonathan Carroll (the non-British one), among others. But the execution here is wonderful. It helps that we don't have the scenes typical of this micro-genre, where the author slowly learns the truth; no, even as a little boy, Lovecraft KNOWS the truth. The horror isn't that these things might be real. The horror is human vulnerability in the face of this reality.

Now, it is of course an old axiom that horror doesn't work unless one cares about the characters. And it is to both Giffen's and Rodionoff's credit that in this case one does. Lovecraft is himself a tough man to make sympathetic; his backstory is frankly bizarre, replete as it is with cross-dressing, lunatic parents, and borderline agoraphobia. Though all biographically true, these traits could make him come across more a gothic grotesteque's than a three dimensional character. Giffen and Rodionoff avoid this trap by largely viewing Lovecraft throughout the prism of others: his grandfather, his mother, his editor, and most importantly, his wife. Because these characters are all lovingly rendered--and they all feel some affection for Lovecraft--we do too. All want to protect Lovecraft from his own peculiarities. His personality thus comes across as sympathetic. The irony of course is that it is Lovecraft protecting them from a horror beyond space and time. And when I say horror here, I mean it.

I've written before about horror in comics. I still maintain that shock horror doesn't work so well in comics. Fortunately, neither Lovecraft's stories nor Lovecraft the comic rely on shock horror; both instead rely on a more existential horror--the horror of placing a human in the same contextual frame as an abomination. And in these scenes, Lovecraft is in fact unsettling. The two creatures Lovecraft meets in Arkham are disturbing, updates out of fairy tales, menacing lost children. The dead cats; or worse, the counterpoint between the death of a cat and sex, interposing a determined nihilism on an act purported to be based on love and creation. Young Howard confessing to feeding mice and birds to a...book. Nothing in this comic was visually shocking; I never had the sudden instinct to throw the book across the room. But there were many moments were I felt the goosebumps and swore quietly.

Enrique Brecia deserves much of the credit for this. He illustrates the book in both paint and line work, the latter reminiscent of Gahan Wilson or Rick Geary, depending on scene. Line work for the "real world", paint for those portions were the monsters appear. It very nicely separates the mundane from the fantastic; especially in frames where the monsters appear against a foreground of normalcy; deep maroon paint becomes a visual leitmotiv of alien horror. It helps also that his line work is so very fine. His rendition of turn of the century Providence, or of New York in the twenties, feel right. And Brecia wisely knows when to pull back; what should be deeply unsettling can look comical when actually drawn, and so Brecia keeps much of the horror either in the shadows or buried under layers of color, obscuring the nature of the treat. His work here is very much different in style from his work on the Swamp Thing relaunch, but of very much the same quality. He is an artist to watch.

Lovecraft is one of the best books DC/Vertigo has put out in recent years. It would be a shame if it didn't find the audience it deserves.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

GREAT MOMENTS IN EUROPEAN TV HISTORY

Unless Steven King's Kingdom tv series features a character yelling "Danish Scum!" what's the point of the remake?

Alternately, in the spirit of remaking the Von Trier original for an American audience, I will accept "Canadian Scum!"

More thoughts on the Kingdom at Distorting the Medium. Little known fun fact: the Kingdom, original version, was so long and obtuse that the experience of watching it almost broke up my best friend and his then girlfriend. Many hours were owed for forcing that film experience on her. Though perhaps not so many as were owed after the Ed Wood Debacle, of which no more will be spoken.
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ALBOM DECLARES: BRING ME THE HEAD OF THE FALSE PROPHET BROOKS!

Thank goodness we have David Brooks to explain things for us. Here I was thinking that Mitch Albom's book The Five People You Meet in Heaven was merely an extended schmaltzy allegory. Turns out, pace Brooks, that it is in actually a cleverly argued religious tract that undermines traditional Christianity. Albom Akhbar! All hail Albom, who didst suffer many Tuesdays with Morrie to expatiate our Sins! Let us now kneel, and genuflect towards Detroit....

If you can't quite figure out that not all books with the word "Heaven" in the title are in fact religious, perhaps you should not be employed at the Paper of Record.

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AN ADMISSION

I may lose geek points for this but...I've never read any Michael Moorcock. Actually, that's not exactly true; I read some comics adaptions of Elric stories put out, I think, by First Comics back in the day. But that was I think more a Roy Thomas show than Moorcock. In any event, I've always felt vaguely guilty about this omission.

To sort of assuage this geek guilt, I started reading P. Craig Russell's Elric adaptation today. Very well drawn, as one would expect; Russell has few peers when it comes to [age composition, and the whole Chaos idea lets him cut lose with some set piece illustrations. The writing in the book though....well, it seems to me turgid in the extreme. Not to mention melodramatic. I have no idea if these are Russell's words or Moorcocks. And if the latter, I think I might have to pass on ever reading Moorcock. Life is too short for bad prose, mine included.

Incidentally, Russell's Elric book opens with a short vignette by Neil Gaiman on being a Moorcock fan growing up. A really beautiful piece, drawn on a much more human scale than one typically sees with Gaiman; and an interesting window onto the author, to the extent that it can be read as thinly veiled autobiography. It always shocks me how completely foreign the English school system, with its ties and tubs and levels, was from the American model; and still likely is.
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Monday, March 08, 2004

THE DEAD RISING FROM THEIR GRAVES, DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER

J.W. Hastings is spot on in his take on Warren Ellis' Scars: that is deeply flawed piece of work, on both the structural and philosophical levels. It is a cheap, exploitive piece of work that earns neither the horror nor the heft it aspires to. A more detailed critique is likely forthcoming (no promises); but in the meantime, a hearty amen for J.W. from the congregation.
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TALKING LOUDLY AND CARRYING A LARGE STICK

Okay. So it's not exactly shocking news that a North Carolina parent might find some manga objectionable. Who will look out for your children if not for some someone? If not someone else, then who? And before you answer, remember, legions of busybodies depend on your kids for their livelihood...would you want to put all those well meaning know-it-alls out on the street where the welfare queens and the perverts can get them?

What is shocking, though, is that it's a sheriff doing the complaining about Love Hina. Or perhaps shocking is the wrong word. Troubling; that's a better word. Because it's clear that Love Hina isn't obscene; which means that it's breaking no law. And one would assume that absent some law being broken, it's really none of the Sherrif's business what kids are reading. Evidently that assumption is wrong. The Sheriff has apparently made it his business. Which puts one in a weird position if you're a bookseller in that jurisdiction. Love Hina is legal; but what about everything else you sell? Anything that pushes the line--even outside the realm of comics? Anything that might get the eye of the police if they were to be motivated to find something? Or would it be easier to simply dump the manga and make friends with the discretionary enforcement authority...because, you know, even if the charges don't stick, arrests and confiscations are ugly things.

Look. We elect people who aren't sheriffs to make laws. We elect or hire cops to enforce them and to otherwise be invisible. And we let them forget their roles at our peril.

Link via Sean Collins via Franklin Harris.
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AVOIDING MALPRACTICE

I know next to nothing about patent law. And what little I do know suggests that the field is one--even moreso than most fields of legal specialty--where the facts of the case are dispositive.

So I'm going to respectfully pass on taking Jim Henley's bait. If and when I actually, you know, learn something about the print on demand case, I might post something.

And yes, I know that the Blogger Code requires that where I know nothing about a subject that I post something authoritative sounding and also wrong. But screw it. I'm going to follow Robin Law's blogging rules instead.
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Sunday, March 07, 2004

LITERATE CHICK DETECTIVE FIGHTS CRIME IN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE ENGLAND

I wish I could say that the above idea was my own.
I could say it, but would be lying. And the synopsis is not for a new comic or graphic novel. It certainly could be, but no, this gem resides in the world of contemporary fiction. In the head of a man in Wales. His name is Jasper Fforde, and yes, it is really spelled that way, and yes, it's because he's bloody Welsh.

The third installment of the Thursday Next saga is now on shelves at your local book depository. Thursday Next is the literate chick whom I refer to in the header, and the third installment is titled The Well of Lost Plots.
The series began with The Eyre Affair in 2002. It is ridiculously entertaining, and the subsequent books are no let downs.

The action takes place in an England of the mid 80's. A world in which the Crimean war has raged for nearly 140 years, zeppelins are the major mode of transportation (Unless you need to cross the globe. Then one would simply make a DeepDrop...through the earth's core and out the other side.), Dodos have been reegineered Jurasic Park style...
really there is too much to mention. Literature has become one of the world's most precious commodities (gangs wage war in the streets, assuming the name and atire of their chosen messiah: Miltons vs Willites, Brontes vs Austens) and Spec-Ops is there to protect the public from a host of (now commonplace) paranormal oddities. And then there's the Goliath Corporation...but I digress.

Extremely well thought out and executed (you can go to the website to "upgrade" your version of the book) and written with an incredible ease of language that makes me think of Gaiman and Pratchett at their iconic best, this is a series of books that deserve to be read and lauded. A particular favorite portion is an evening show of Richard II performed a la Rocky Horror. Characters crash from book to reality and back with a deft touch, tounge in cheek, a sly wink, kick in the groin...whatever is neccessary (members of Spec-Ops 5 tend to die frequently, and they are paired up with names like Deadmen & Walken...Lamb & Slorter...Kanon & Phodder).

I read for many reasons: information, entertainment, ideas, instruction - but it is a rare treat when something catches you in so many ways as do these books, on so many levels. The first two are available in paperback, the third is now out in hardcover. And if you don't like them, write to Jasper Ffforde. He'll probably give you your money back.
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Thursday, March 04, 2004

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TOO COOL FOR ITS OWN GOOD

I read Brian Wood's and Rob G's two Couriers OGN's over the weekend. Both are very professionally done. Wood can write both realistic dialogue and action hero one liners; and G has a real knack for page layout. And character design, for that matter; even the background characters look sort of like someone you might know, if only you traveled in circles frequented by heavily armed hipsters. The faux Trainspotting covers are frankly, brilliant.

Yet despite all the competence on display, neither book is ultimately all that satisfying. Both suffer from the same two flaws. First, the two couriers around whom the stories revolve--Moustafa and Special--are clearly too cool to ever be in any real jeopardy. They're both No Logo versions of James Bond; snappy dressers, snappy shots, masters of both car and comeback. And like Bond (or Batman, for that matter), you never really believe that anything bad could really happen to them.

Which brings up flaw numero dos. When your leads are--for all practical purposes--invincible, you better wow the audience with the spectacle, or otherwise show them something they've never seen before. The big action sequence that makes you lean forward in your seat. And Wood and G fail to do this; none of the action sequences are particularly gripping or unique. Not that this is necassarily their fault. The medium just doesn't do kinetic action all that well; at least not without lots more pages (both books clock in at around ninety six pages).

Take, for example, the opening motorcycle race in The Couriers: Dirtbike Manifesto. Two bikers race down crowded city streets, through live intersections. Conceptually, sounds like it could be good. On the page...not so much. It's tough to convey the immediacy of cross traffic in static images. Oh sure, it can be done, but to do it well takes more than a couple of panels. To really get into a sequence takes even more; the more panels devoted to an action sequence, the more visual information (and therefore action) conveyed. More panels also means breaking up the action in time, one of the few real effective ways to create tension in comics (talking here about tension relating to action scenes only). This is one reason why decompression shouldn't be a dirty word.

Same with a gunfight. To really set up a good gun fight you need lots of space for the choreography; where people are in relation to each other, where the bullets are hitting. Where the danger is coming from. If the reader can't tell any of these things, or is presented with a static image of two guys shooting at each other (and there is no inherent danger to one of them due to story structure), no one is leaning forward in their seat.

Superhero comics get around this problem mainly by focusing on the effects of fights; look, the punch has landed! Or else by trying to get by with special effects by the way of superpowers. Bullets are blase, but cold rays are cool, or at least not all that common. The other option is to go all Warren Ellis and simply start killing the leads. That does tend to ratchet the tension back up a few notches. Wood and G don't have any of these options. The books are thus just okay reads. But they could make really killer movies.

As always, the above is offered in the spirit of half-assed analysis required by the Blogger Code.
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GOD LOVES UGLY

"Still flowing, still maintaing, still standing in the land of snow and Purple Rain."

While digging through my big old CD binder, in part inspired by the New Kingdom posts, I need to throw a bone to my boys at RhymeSayers Records. Atmosphere still rips the roof off when Slug clutches the mic (currently on tour in Europe, so if you're in Europe, see them). Minneapolis has been the epicenter for some of the greatest explosions in music (Husker Du, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Prince...The list goes on), so here is hope that mid-western hip hop culture can break through. Take a dip in the frigid waters of the land of 10,000 lakes: Eyedeas&Abilities, Heiruspecs, Atmosphere.

Spin Magazine (which walks "the fine line between clever and...stupid") takes a look at "emo-rap" (a designation I hate, along with "emo-punk" and "pointilism", all for different reasons) this month giving, if not the national spotlight, at least a 50 watt bulb to the underground.
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DERN DerDELIE deeeDEEEAHH

I need to find a way to incorporate sound with these posts, as that
gibberish is the sound of the wailing guitar that fades out the final
seconds of the song Mexico or Bust.

With regard to DI's post on New Kingdom, Paradise Don't Come Cheap fueled at least a dozen illustrations through my sophomore year at "a prestigious art school", and to this day I still seek out that casino-chip colored CD from my stash when I just need to find a chest-deep groove. Strange enough, it is a lesson learned in art school that makes me think of the crowning glory of these Kings.

A professor once told me "If you're going to do something, do it big enough so people realize you did it on purpose. There is nothing worse that looking at a piece of art and wondering if it was a conscious decision or a mistake." Everything about this album is done on purpose. Vocals that bubble up through layers of sonic filth; distortion, wah, and phase shifts; raspy raps through a megaphone. So different from rap musicians today (and I use the term loosely), who I listen to and wonder, "Was this a conscious decision..."
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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

IF YOU LOVE A CO-CONSPIRATOR, SET HIM FREE

As is obvious from the posts below, Dave Jon has seen fit to drag his lazy butt back in the wild hunt that men call "blogging." Remember to check the author of the post before sending me cranky email. All emails praising the brilliance of a given post can still be sent to me, irrespective of actual authorship, so long as they refer only to a Dave of indeterminate surname.

Just what the world needed; another blogging Dave. Welcome back aboard!
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NA NA NA NA NA, NA NA NA NAAAAH!

Back in junior high, I knew a kid who transcribed Crazy Train for the french horn. It was...well, let's just be charitable and call it interesting.

On the other hand, I just downloaded this cover of Iron Man, as done by the jazz trio the Bad Plus; and it kicks out all the jams before dissolving into, of all things, a refrain of startling beauty. Go find it; I promise, there are no French horns involved.
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LONELY PRETTY THINGS

Over at Forager 23, a pretty good little debate is going on (with contributions by yours truly) as to the relative merits of Lost in Translation. I didn't like the movie, and have said as much in the comments to that tread; having thus exposed myself as lacking in the ability to appreciate good art, and as a hopeless philistine unable to navigate the subtle turns in that masterpiece, I probably should explain myself....

I didn't much like Lost in Translation because of its attitude: the film seemed, frankly, condescending and overly smug. And that attitude drove me nuts.

Both the leads--Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson--play characters who are suffering from ennui of the most profound kind. And why? Murray is set up as a character beaten down by domesticity; he receives the fax from his wife regarding paint colors like a condemned man his death sentence. He loves his kids, sure; he even says so. But the joy is clearly gone. There Must be More to Life Than That, the house and the wife and the kids. Johansson is different. She has the attitude of the overpriveleged hipster; a kid whose conception of herself is based on being smarter, wittier, and more cospmopolitan than everyone else. She knows that Life Should Be Interesting, unlike the herds who mill about grazing superficially on the platitudes set before them. Watch her as her husband and the movie star talk; the banality of their conversation drives Charlotte insane both times. In other words, both characters have--from any reasonable standpoint--very little to complain about; and yet each is somehow still lonely and desperate.

Now, I don't think that movies (or books) need to have sympathetic protagonists. They don't. Nor do I think that movies (or books) need to fully explain the motivations of characters. Hey, the heart is a mysterious things; sometimes, people are just sad. And that would be fertile ground to explore. Why is someone who, by all appearances, has it all, so sad? What should we think about someone who chooses to be lonely?

Lost in Translation ignores these questions. It instead suggests that the characters are justified in their disdain of the world around them; that they are lonely and desperate not because they have chosen to be but because the rest of the world isn't worth their time. People people everywhere and no one with whom to drink. Every other character in the movie is held up for ridicule. This ridicule is subtle, but it is real.
The movie star is apparently uncultured, and a bit of an airhead; and for this we are invited to scorn her. Charlotte's husband tries to involve her--hell, he took her to Tokyo, presumably to spend time with her--but isn't worth her time. She blows him off repeatedly.

Look at the way it presents the Japanese. Bumblers, fools, incompetents. A five star hotel whose staff speaks pidgin English. Maybe such a thing exists, but I've never seen it in my travels (which admittedly, have not included Japan). Murray openly mocks the director and the photographer he works with, pulling dumb faces in lieu of trying to comply with what are likely sincere, if poorly explained, requests. The only Japanese--in fact, the only characters other than the two leads--to come across well are the hipsters; dude, they're like, smug and insular, just like me! And they look so cool!

In the end, Murray and Johannson are drawn together because only they understand the terrible burden each carries, of deserving better than they've got. They never climb out of the little towers they've built for themselves to engage with the world--they merely discover a bridge between them. Murray and Johannson wind up close to each other, but still as far away from the world as they each were at the beginning. This is the failure of the film. It's hipster escapism; it doesn't acknowledge that there might be limits to it's brand of elitism, or that loneliness can be a choice. MH, in the comments to J.W. Hastings' piece, gets it exactly right: if either of the characters, or the movie, for that matter, had taken a step back from itself, it might have had something special.

This is, incidentally, why the Catcher in the Rye comparison cuts against Lost in Translation. Salinger doesn't endorse Holden's worldview; it becomes clear as the book goes on that while Holden is sincere in his beliefs, those beliefs are at least as large a cause of his grief as is the world around him. Salinger cares enough about its characters to be honest about their failings. He embraces this complexity and creates a lasting and interesting piece of art. Lost in Translation doesn't, and isn't.

Wrapping up: the usual caveats. Lost in Translation is a movie that does not spell out lots of things; I think it is unusually susceptible to multiple interpretations. My displeasure with the film perhaps says more about me than about the movie. Additionally, I don't speak Japanese; maybe if I did the Japanese come off better. Nor have I spent any time in Japan, though I have bummed around other parts of Asia by myself, which can be a disorienting experience. And the movie was very well put together, at the level of craft. Well acted and well shot, with a fantastic soundtrack. It's just that under the beautiful wrapping nothing of substance is there.

Finally, J.W. makes an interesting comparison of Lost in Translation with Punch Drunk Love, the latter of which I loved as much as the former irked me. I can't really explain why right now, largely because I've never given it any thought. Something to think about....
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(RE)NEW(ED) KINGDOM

It turns out that New Kingdom is not defunct; or so says their recently completed website. For us fans of fuzzcore hip-hop, this is a very good thing indeed. I hereby command all seven of you reading this to go check them out, now; the site has free downloads. In particular, try Horse Latitudes and Mexico or Bust. You'll thank me later, when that beat--you'll know it when you hear it--is kicking against the inside of your skull.
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STRANGER THAN TELEVISION

With the exile (or kidnapping...really, would our government actually do something like that?) of Aristide, events in real life have now finally caught up with The West Wing. I had no idea that "ripped from the headlines!" worked both ways...
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