The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

PASTORAL HIDE AND SEEK: MORE LINKBLOGGING

John Holbo unleashes a huge essay on the pastoral mode in fiction, touching on Don Quixote, Montaigne, Galaxy Quest, and Alan Moore. I leave it to Dave Fiore and Marc Singer to break this down into small words so that the rest of us can understand it. This has been your John Holbo link of the week. And remember, it's huge.

Also, Jeff Chatlos has a large post up (though not as long as Holbo's) on how cool comics aren't, and how that effects sales. The comment thread is interesting as well. Go read now; I'm out for ginger crabs and dumpings at my in-laws.
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WHAT HE SAID

While waiting for Jakala to post his promised Magnum Opus on the art of reviewing, go over here and read this; not per se on reviewing, but nicely punctures and deflates some of the attitudes found in the typical review. The notion that taste is a product of logic is pernicious and must be destroyed.
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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

ONCE AGAIN BACK IS THE DEFINITIVE

Via Graeme, an article explaining why some creators' runs on a character are definitive and others are not. And over at Otto's, a brief listing of some underlooked runs on various books; for what it's worth, I second very strongly his endorsement of Simonson's Thor.

Anyway.

The combination of these posts has me thinking about how and why certain runs establish themselves as definitive. Quality obviously matters, as does critical consensus; it ain't a classic unless and until the various critical gatekeepers (and they exist, even in this little backwater) give it the stamp of approval. There are some runs that everyone agrees are iconic, based solely on these two grounds. Miller on Daredevil, or Batman. Claremont/Byrne X-Men. Moore on Swamp Thing. These are easy. What's harder is pinning down one's personal list of definitive runs; because, honestly, all of us look back fondly on stuff that hasn't made the critical pantheon. And I wonder to what extent what we think of as definitive is contingent on age.

For example. I started reading X-Men around issue 166. If pressed--if I had to pick out what, to me, is the definitive X-Men run--I'd pick issues 160-200; the Brood Saga through the trial of Magneto. I, frankly, prefer this over the critically approved Claremont/Byrne run. Why? Well, it's actually pretty good stuff. I've written about the Brood saga before, but the Silver Samurai issues are also excellent, as are the Lifedeath issues, the "hey! let's have a fantasy epic" Kulan Goth issues, the Morlocks, and the Colossus/Wolverine/Nightcrawler drinking issue. Illustrated by the criminally underrated Paul Smith and later by a young Romita Jr. So, yeah, I'd stack these up against the Byrne issues in terms of quality. But quality isn't really why these are near and dear to my heart. At least I don't think so. I think I love these because they were my first comics love; these were the issues that captured my attention when I was ten. If I read these for the first time when I was fifteen, I rather suspect that I'd enjoy them much less.

So, in attempt to confirm this little theory (and to break in my comments feature) I'm asking you to drop me a comment stating what X-Men run you think is definitive, and the age you were when you first read it. I'm using the X-Men because everyone has read it at some time or another as its been popular across era's and fads; it's the comics measurement equivalent of the Economist using Big Mac's to measure inflation. Later, I'll collect the results and see whether age of exposure correlates to love of a run.
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COMMENTS, WE GOT COMMENTS!

Um, hopefully that is. Let's just see...

Yep, comments. Have fun, and behave yourselves.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

ROTTEN MILK, MAN

I may owe an apology to Marc Singer, because The Milkman just begs to be tagged as middlebrow....

Now, admittedly, my scorn is based on Newsarama's description of the series. Hey, maybe they've got the wrong take on things. But then again, Joe Casey describes his book thusly:

"I take things that are quintessentially 'American' and turn them on their head....this time I'm talking on the notion of the nuclear family, the white-picket fence, the two-car garage and the achievement of the so-called 'American dream'....I know firsthand about things that look calm and peaceful on the surface actually masking something very disturbing underneath. It was a goal to project an image to the world that, 'Everything is a-okay.' I think it's become obvious that behind every door of every house on every American suburban street, there's some dark shit happening that doesn't quite fit with the image of domestic bliss that America has always tried to market to itself."

Well. This is an original take on the suburbs; not at all a stroll down a path worn down by fifty years of lazy radicals and wannabe beatniks. Luckily we have a brave and hardy soul like Joe Casey to tear the veil from our eyes, forever shattering our foundation myth that nothing bad can happen so long as a family is protected by a white picket fence. God bless him, speaking truth to power.

I'll be honest. This sort of "shocking" expose on middle America simply infuriates me. The amount of condescension that allows someone to make a statement like this makes me want to stick my finger in a light socket:

"Barbara is your typical American housewife, which it seems is a dying breed in the 21st Century. She's an amalgamation of all my friends' moms that I'd see growing up. Painfully optimistic and all too eager to live in denial of the areas in her life that didn't work out the way she intended. She'd like nothing more than to be the kind of family she watches on old Leave It to Mother re-runs. Unfortunately, real life just doesn't operate in that antiseptic, wearing-pearls-in-the-kitchen, wrap-up-your-problems-in-22-minutes kind of way."

Leaving aside the fact that this doesn't even make sense--the typical housewife is a dying breed? Then it's not very damn typical in relation to the rest of the population, is it?--the above just screams superiority. Oh, those poor fools, deluded by the Great Electronic Teat. Only I, I and those of my urban hipster cohort know the truth; that the lives of suburbanites are a facade, their ideals a sham. We the enlightened ones see the truth that Middle American denies to itself.

What a load of shit.

I grew up in a small city. It pretty much defined Red State America. And I've since lead a fairly cosmopolitan life. I've met lots of other people who grew up in the suburbs, or who now aspire to suburban life. And I think that qualifies me to make a fairly broad generalization: people who live in the suburbs aren't fools. They by and large know the consequences of the choices they make, and they by and large know that things aren't perfect. The aspire to something better all the while knowing that the tools they have to build that better future are often insufficient. They try, hard, knowing that often trying is not enough. The idea that Red State America isn't perfect is not going to much surprise Red State Americans. Hell, it's a notion peddled on 7th freaking Heaven for crying out loud.

And the reality of suburban life could be the stuff of great fiction: the trade-offs suburbanites negotiate as they try and build a better life for themselves. See, for example, Kalesniko's Mail-Order Bride, which is heartwrenching precisly because you can watch how good faith and honest choices can lead to tragedy. But of course, to do more works like that would require that more creators take seriously the aspirations of Middle America; that some respect is extended, to them and their values. This is evidently too hard. Instead we get things like The Postman, or Holed-Up, or worse, the utter dreck of American Beauty. Works that aim to shock with half century old revelations, to kick around the corpse of a myth that has been dead longer than I've been alive. Good show, brave sirs, good show.

On the upshot, the Steve Parkhouse art sure looks pretty. And, for the record, I very much enjoyed W.I.L.D.Cats, and own a complete run of Automatic Kafka.
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YES, BUT WHAT ARE THEIR SAVING THROWS VERSUS INDIGNATION

Via Chun the Unavoidable, the alignments of various Administration officials:

President Bush (Lawful Evil)
Vice-President Cheney (Lawful Evil)
Rumsfeld (Lawful Evil)
Powell (Lawful Neutral [Evil Tendencies])
Rice (Lawful Evil [Neutral Tendencies])
Ashcroft (Chaotic Good)
Rove (Neutral Evil)
Card (Chaotic Evil)
Wolfowitz (Lawful Evil [Neutral Evil Tendencies])

Personally, I think that Rumsfeld is Neutral Evil, and Cheney is Chaotic Evil, given his hostility to domestic and international law. Now all we need is for someone to quantify the SAN loss of seeing the true form of the Administration, as well as the loss for realizing its effects on our safety.
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FINAL EXAM QUESTIONS, WARHAWK THOUGHT AND THE MODERN WORLD, POLSCI 244

Please answer the following questions with short essays. Essays will be graded on the basis of their analytical rigor and also their audacity. As always, feel free to invent whatever facts may be necessary to support your argument.

Question 1:

It has been said that the media is out of touch with most Americans, and that most Americans no longer pay attention to the national media. It has also been said that media reporting is causing Americans to doubt the wisdom and efficacy of the President's policies. Explain how both statements can be true.

Question 2:

American troops have been known to commit atrocities in wartime. Foreign troops, including troops operating under the auspices of the UN, have been known to commit atrocities. Explain how this last statement excuses US atrocities; also explain why inevitable atrocities should not be considered as costs of war, or a big deal.

Question 3:

Explain why news from sources biased in favor the Administration is more likely to be "objectively" true than sources biased against the Administration. Your answer must include mention of Iraqi schools.
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TWENTY YEARS OF SCHOOLING AND THEY PUT YOU ON THE DAY SHIFT

Shorter Ninth Art: the fact that no comics have appeared which analyze terrorism in precisly the manner I demand shows how limited the medium is. Also, I either don't know that Milligan is riffing off the saga of Sarah Olsen, believe it is very signifigant that Milligan has conflated the SLA and the Weathermen, or feel it is inappropriate the fictionalize actual events in the service of his larger thematic points.

Link via Neilalien.
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Monday, May 24, 2004

DA MYSTERY OF CHESS-BOXIN'

Haven't read Seaguy yet; didn't make it down to Ye Olde Comic Shoppe this past week. Informed comment, to the extent this site ever provides it, will have to wait. Something to think about though, in the interim: per the Curmedgeonly Chris M, Seaguy routinely plays chess with Death, in a game that's so rigged as to be meaningless. In the Invisibles, Dane plays chess with the Devil, in a game that's essentially meaningless. What's the significance of the repeated metaphor, if it is in fact repeated?
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Friday, May 21, 2004

OLDER, WISER

Found in todays Times, a wonderful essay by Nick Hornby:

"It's hard not to think about one's age and how it relates to rock music. I just turned 47, and with each passing year it becomes harder not to wonder whether I should be listening to something that is still thought of as more age appropriate - jazz, folk, classical, opera, funeral marches, the usual suspects. You've heard the arguments a million times: most rock music is made by the young, for the young, about being young, and if you're not young and you still listen to it, then you should be ashamed of yourself. And finally I've worked out my response to all that: I mostly agree with
the description...The conclusion, however, makes no sense to me any more. Youth is a quality not unlike health: it's found in greater abundance among the young, but we all need access to it...I'm talking about the energy, the wistful yearning, the inexplicable exhilaration, the sporadic sense of invincibility, the hope that stings like chlorine. When I was younger, rock music articulated these feelings, and now that I'm older it stimulates them, but either way, rock 'n' roll was and remains necessary because: who doesn't need exhilaration and a sense of invincibility, even if it's only now and again?"

Pretty well sums up why a lot of us still read comics, it seems to me. Sure, I may be older (thought not 47, thank you very much), with a job, a wife, a mortgage; a lot of the choices in my life have been made. But I still want to settle back with something that rips and kicks and doesn't acknowledge any limits. I want fiction that seethes with possibility and ambition. I want the bright and shiny superheros served up right. I want monsters. Mystery. Magic.

And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Later in the piece:

"It takes big business a couple of decades to work out how best to exploit a cultural form; once that has happened, "that high-low fork in the road" is unavoidable, and the middle way begins to look impossibly daunting. It now requires more bravery than one would ever have thought necessary to try and march straight on, to choose neither the high road nor the low. Who has the nerve to pick up where Dickens or John Ford left off? In other words, who wants to make art that is committed and authentic and intelligent, but that sets out to include, rather than exclude? To do so would run the risk of seeming not only sincere and uncool - a stranger to all notions of postmodernism - but arrogant and vaultingly ambitious as well."

Take it away, Mr. Fiore!
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Thursday, May 20, 2004

SO, LOGAN'S A HOBBIT, THEN?

I don't normally snark on solicitation copy but this simply demands it:

"X-MEN: THE END BOOK ONE:
DREAMERS & DEMONS – #1 & #2 (of 6)
It's the epic finale to the story of the Children of the Atom as renowned X-Men scribe Chris Claremont joins with star artist Sean Chen for a trilogy in the style of the Lord of the Rings movies, one that spans the length and breadth of the X-Men canon and brings the saga of Marvel's mutants to a climax!"


What could that possibly mean? In the style of Lord of the Rings? What, we find out that Morlocks now live in Moria? It turns out that Cyclops' ruby visor was a cursed gift from Sauron? Wolverine and Nightcrawler spend nine hours making puppy eyes at each other? Seriously, does this mean anything other than that it's a trilogy?
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LAST MAN STANDING

Another day, another legistlator wanting to, all together now, "protect the children!" This is of course necessary, given the frenzied behavior The Nipple created among adults; imagine the furor it could have created among the children....In any event, given the current climate, this bill (full text here) has a fair chance at passing, so it's worth taking a second to what, if any effect, it might have.

To start with, the law, by its terms, only applies to obscene materials. Yeah, it codifies an obscenity test for children, but this test is already being applied in the courts; so, at heart, nothing new. Anything with artistic or political merit continues to be safe. What is new, however, is that enforcement power is being spread from DOJ to parents. The law would allow parents to file an action for damages against persons or entities selling obscene material, if such material might be seen by large numbers of kids and if "the minor as a result of exposure to that material is likely to suffer personal or emotional injury or injury to mental or moral welfare."

I'm not sure this is legal. See, Federal courts require that a person have "standing" to file a lawsuit. To have standing, a person must have suffered some kind of concrete injury; absent injury, no case. This new law purports to allow a lawsuit without there first being an injury; that is, if the kid is "likely" to sustain an injury. I'm not sure this is enough. The Supreme Court has basically said that Congress can't invent an injury; Scalia in Lujan pretty much beat that idea to death. And in the same opinion, Scalia pretty much put down notions of aesthetic injury, which would seem to me to pretty kill the notion of showing an injury in fact through injury to morality. If wounded morality is sufficient to confer standing, the standing requirement is pretty much useless as a way to limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts. And anyway, what is an injury to morals? Lustful thoughts? And here I thought that everyone had sin in their hearts. Maybe I missed the revision in doctrine.

Basically, I'm not sure this law would allow parents to go into court unless a parent could show an actual injury to their kid; and this might be difficult to do.

Of course, saying that the law wouldn't allow most parents a day in court isn't much solace if it might in fact allow many parents into court. And it might. And even if parents are kicked out on standing grounds, that still means some poor defendant is in court for a little while. Costs are incurred. The threat of litigation might have a chilling effect. It often does. Even frivolous lawsuits eat up time and money, and who wants that?

The irony, of course, is that this is put forward by the same party that wants to limit the legal remedies of people with actual, honest-to-god medical injuries. The good news, I suppose, is that Big Telecom will have a vested interest in fighting this, given that most cable companies make a goodly amount of coin off porn. This might be the one time to pull for the well-paid lobbyists over the little guy; and in the meantime, I suppose stay tuned to the CBDLF.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A HUNTING PARTY; OR, DAYS GONE BY.

Ah, this takes me back. I note with some pride that under my leadership Matthews, a/k/a Team World B. Free lost with an attitude of surly pluck (a possible, if odd, combination, as we proved) rather that its prior surly indifference. Though we didn't top this (scroll down until you hear about the reactor), the crowing moment of Chicago geek glory, and therefore the crowning moment for geeks everywhere; when your exploits inspires urban legend, you've done something right.

Some of the lists are here. The only one I have personal knowledge of is the 1993 list; we got our asses handed to us, but on the upshot we did marginally freak out the judges by submitting a giant dildo for Item 242. So there's that. For my part, I drove through Ohio, to Toronto, and back to Chicago in forty eight hours, saying prayers to the God of the Highway, and his son, the God of Caffeine, along the way; I still have things I....acquired in Canada. It's disappointing that other lists are up: it would confirm that a bunch of college students did manage to finagle a a space suit and an armored personnel carrier for the day. Or that we managed to build a machine to fire twinkies over a hundred yards. Or that someone did in fact manage to memorize a page of the Chicago phone book in two days. Or that I did manage to survive two days in a car with Dave Jon, Pete T, and the almighty funk we created, as we made our mad dash through the South.

Ah, glory days, glory days.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

BRING OUT YOUR DEAD

As promised, further thoughts on The Walking Dead....

First, it is really is a good series. Perhaps not the wonder fans make it out to be, but good nonetheless. Kirkman has wisely chosen to focus on the people, not the zombies, which gives his story a much broader range than it might otherwise have; after all, there are only so many ways to show flesh being eaten, but the permutations of human drama are pretty much infinite. And this latter is what the book is really about--I half suspect that the title refers to the living in this story just as much as the dead. Kirkman clearly wants to use the idea of zombies to explore what people are really like when civilization is stripped away; he admits as much in his introduction. This is a more interesting take than simply zombie mayhem. And while most zombie movies do focus on breakdowns among survivors, TWD has an advantage those movies lack: length. Don't nobody say that decompression is a bad thing, because decompression makes this book. Kirkman has the space to let his story breathe, and to watch conflicts arise slowly, naturally. The explosion that ends the trade feels organic, not forced, largely because Kirkman had six issues to set up the conflict. Hell, the gun isn't even used until three issues after it's shown; that, my friends, is patience.

Tony Moore's art is also a credit. Moore's style veers from the cartoony to the grotesque; this shift is effective in creating tension. The zombies-drawn in a spirit of bloody awful realism--seem more jarring when contrasted to the more cartoon humans. It was a good choice for the book. It will be interesting to see how the more consistent tone of Adlard's pencils work on the next couple of issues.

Now, the bad news. TWD would really benefit from having an editor. This is, I think, a flaw in the Image system. Contrary to common conception, editors are not there to find ways to screw the talent, or to act as a roadblock between the creator and his muse. No, good editors are there to catch things the creators miss; to make sure things are thought out; to hide creative weakness behind creative strength. An editor--a good one--is your friend. Read here for more on the benefits of editors. I would love it if I had an editor here; and you all would be spared some of the more egregious typo's and the lapses in logic for which this site is rightly famous.

Anyway. Kirkman could use an editor. There are a couple of things which, while not fatal to his story, do distract from it. Things that an editor might have caught.

Some of the dialogue is far, far too expository. Look at the very first page; while people in comics may talk like this, people in real life do not. Not a big deal, except that this story wants to be an examination of human behavior, and artificial sounding dialogue yanks the reader (or me, at least) out of the story; or rather, it makes me appreciate the story in more superficial manner than I think Kirkman intends. Dialogue isn't a huge problem in this series. But there are moments it is; and maybe an editor would have caught them.

There is also a fairly major plot hole. Or at least something that seems like a hole to me, who has lived in red-state America for most of his life, though never Georgia. Guns. In TWD, getting guns is a real problem for the characters. It involves penetrating Atlanta to find a gun shop. Atlanta is full--full--of zombies. This is played as a major problem for the characters.

I don't get it.

I mean, in Wisconsin and Florida, you can buy guns at sporting goods stores. At some hardware stores. Ammunition isn't hard to come by. Walmart sells guns. All of which begs the question: there wasn't anywhere else the characters could have come by guns? There wasn't a Dick's Sporting Goods? A Walmart in the Suburbs? A hunting and fishing store in the sticks? Maybe there is a good reason in the story for having to go into Atlanta. But if so, it isn't explained. An editor might have pressed Kirkman on this point, made him either explain, support, or abandon it. Again, this is not a fatal flaw; but it does make the danger feel somewhat arbitrary.

None of the above should be taken as me saying that this is a bad book. Every book has flaws. I'm going to pick up the next trade; I just hope that Kirkman gets some editing between now and then.
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Monday, May 17, 2004

VIEWS ON NEWS

So. Comics news, or the lacktherof. This is a road I've been down before, but I'll go down it again, this time following Ken and Jeff's lead...

Jeff, I think, missteps and sets up a losing argument for himself. There is really no need to quibble about "what news is." News is: almost everything. Yeah, it's news when creators change books, or when books are cancelled, or when characters get new costumes ("But Malibu Stacy has a new hat!"). The personal pecadillo's of people in the industry are news, to the extent that the effect the product or the business. All news. Not news: close textual readings of books both new and old. Reviews aren't news. Which is not to say these things aren't important, or that there isn't still a crying need for good textual analysis. There is. But that need is independant from our need for news.

Do we have a need for better news? Yeah. Spend an hour looking at various comics blogs, newsites, forums, etc. Observe how much time people spend complaining/pontificating about The State of the Industry, or Ways to Improve the Industry, or Things that Are Wrong with the Industry. These various missives are presmised on factual assumptions. These assumptions might or might not be correct; we can't tell which in the abscence of good information. Which is when the nation turns its lonely eyes to news...."good" comics journalism would get at the facts that would allow us to look at the market. What are the restrictions, legal, economic, or personal, on various sales initiatives? Why, really, have the costs of comics gone up? Is there an edict in place at Marvel to take the edge off? What effect has it had on Marvel sales to pull its listings of of the main Previews catalog and putting them in the seperate insert? Why was that done? Is CafePress a viable way to print and sell small press comics? How are bookstores picking and choosing the manga they stock?

In the absence of answers to these, and lots of other questions, all anyone is doing is speculating. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind; if there was, I'd certainly be in trouble, as most of my posts are pulled directly out my ass.

Is it possible to get news like this? No idea. I would suspect it is. There are many more people working in comics then we think, when you aggregate publishers, distributors, retailers, printers, and various hangers on. It would be possible to sources that aren't Joe Quesada. Lots of information is public. All the various legal filings that Marvel and other corporations have to make. The indicia numbers. This stuff is out there. "Good" comics journalism is possible.

Is it likely? Maybe not. To do news the way I want would require a reporter with both time to track down sources and the intellectual wherewithal to put it all together; and this latter quality is harder than it looks. Sure, every bashes business as the refuge of little minds, but....it's harder than it looks. It takes a bit of specialized knowledge to get inside the curve of business decisions. I don't suspect many individuals have both the time and the inclination to develop both the competence and the sources to do good news. Maybe I'm wrong. Hopefully. We've got a much better chance of seeing the third way magazine people have been talking about by contrast; the entry barriers to people doing close readings are--in comparison to hard news and/or business analysis--much lower.

The only person I know of who is doing the kind of news analysis I can think of is Brian Hibbs with his Newsarama column. It's too bad there aren't more; when the second best analysis of the business is coming from the Motley Fool, it's a sad day.
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Friday, May 14, 2004

SCARY MONSTERS, SUPER FREAKS

Just got done reading the Walking Dead tpb. Thoughts forthcoming; but the short version is that the series is good, but needs an editor in the worst way. More to come.

In the meantime, here is the scariest picture of a zombie ever. As screaming will ensue when that link is clicked, you may want to use some discretion at work.

Seriously, that is a terrifying picture. I'm reconsidering the advantages of a straight edge lifestyle....
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Thursday, May 13, 2004

STICKING IT TO THE MAN, ONE PETUNIA AT A TIME

Continuing the Pick-on-the-Times theme begun below, I give you this: a story emphasizing hipster gardening as a blow to global capital. Evidently the Master's tools do not include a potting trowel. Money quote:

Ms. Acey may not fit the traditional image of a gardener, but she shares a passion that is blossoming among a certain segment of culturally plugged-in urban 20-somethings and early-30-somethings. They may not own backyards, but they are determined to make things grow. Many quietly cite Martha Stewart as an influence, while making clear that they disapprove of her "commercialism," as one of them, Briana Drennon, put it. And like
1960's hippies, some see what they are doing as an act of protest against the degradation of the environment and the spread of agribusiness. "I'm thinking about gardening as a radical political act," said Fritz Haeg, 34, an architect who teaches in the environmental design program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. "It means completely questioning the way we live, the way we get our food, the way we use and abuse natural resources, the way we occupy public space."

Well. On the one hand, I very much believe that large social structures are generated out of--and thus can only be changed by--individual decisions. So, I suppose, you go, scenesters! On the other hand: fuck you. I freely grant that this latter opinion is in large measure motivated by an irrational hatred of scenesters; though I think that this article gives support for a perfectly rational hatred of hipsters.

Consider the fact that they can't simply say: "Hey. I like plants. They make me happy." No, it has to processed into alternative gardening to differentiate it from what housewives do. Note how self-satisfied everyone is, as if they deserve a pat on the head for engaging in an activity which has occupied humanity for thousands of years. But of course, that prior activity was mere gardening; not the acts of resistance to crushing power of industrial America,on par with avante-garde knitting, that these kids engage in. Presumably this means planting tomatoes that are really Red, if you know what I mean. Or perhaps their flowers are extra powerful.

In some ways it reminds me of the aging of the hippies; the way that the counterculture defined its embrace of domesticity as a radical act. In both cases, it's silly. I like to garden. You like to garden. The liking is reason enough for me. Big kids don't think less of each other for having disparate hobbies. Trying to align your hobbies with some notion of "cool" is too much work, frankly; every minute spent rationalizing excuses for gardening is a minute spent not gardening, you know? What a bunch of clowns.

For more, see here.
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NO FUN

Found in today's New York Times:

"Art's job is to provoke thought in ways that are difficult to resolve
and uncomfortable; it's a relatively neutral place to experience the
unresolvable issues that dominate real life, to practice a kind of
abstract flexibility that might move us toward resolution in real life."

Sometimes it's good to remember that the intra-comics debate between the mainstream and the TCJ crowd is but a small little battle in a much larger war.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

STANDING ATHWART COMICS YELLING STOP?

Via Peiratikos, John Pistelli's look at Warren Ellis' work, focused on Ministry of Space. Pistelli tries to box Ellis in as a conservative, albeit one whose longing for the past is confined to yesterdays' visions of a liberal future. I'm not sure this definition really holds; it seems to me more a cute way to pin a label on Ellis than a useful way to view his work. It seems rather more appropriate to label his work as liberal, to the extent that it actually aims towards a liberal future, and to the extent one finds it important to categorize the political outlook of creators.

Actually, I'm not certain that the conventional political binary is a good fit for Ellis. His misanthropism excludes no one. In this he's really the converse of Morrison. The latter sees the good in everyone (even the bad guys serve their larger purpose), the former the bad in everyone, even those trying to do good. To the extent that Ellis leans in any direction, it's only because the alternative is worse; and this is a theme he's mined rather extensively, most recently in Red.

There are other points in Pistelli's piece I hope to get around to responding to, but I'll leave with this: Pistelli compares Ellis to Moore and Morrison, arguing that Ellis is unoriginal in comparison. This may (may) be true. It may also be irrelevant. Craftsmanship is a virtue, one that is sadly underappreciated these days.

POSTSCRIPT: Thinking some more, it might actually be possible to align Ellis with the conservative project; his dim view of human nature does tend to jibe with that offered by early conservatives, before they were scrubbed into and cleaned into electoral viability. Something to explore.
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HOW BROW NOW?

A very interesting conversation on the uses and abuses of the term "middlebrow," started by Marc Singer, and continued by Dave Fiore, J.W. Hastings, and closed out by Singer's reply to Fiore and Hastings.

All of these guys have interesting and valid comments on the term; and therein lies the problem. If Singer needs a supplemental post explaining his usage of the word, it rather suggests either that the word's meaning is so stripped of fixed content as to be basically useless, except as a sort of non-specific pejorative, or that the meaning he wants to ascribe to it really doesn't fit very well. And if either is the case, why bother using it? Wanting to be concise isn't much of an answer when it's appended to to a twenty paragraph definition of the allegedly concise term. Perhaps it's time to let middlebrow die.

Note that this is not at all a critique of Singer's take on faux-populist art, which I think are mostly spot-on. Also: I would love to hear, in detail, why American Beauty was overrated tripe, because that movie deserves to be dismantled and exposed as the sham it is, and because absent detail people assume you're a crank or a rube.
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TITLE BOUT

Sean Collins and Eve Tushnet are listing some of their favorite titles. I'll play, and skip right to the front of the class. Best title ever: The Iron Dragon's Daughter.

The book itself is pretty impressive as well; a work of vivid imagination, humming with dark conviction and illwill towards man. The sheer audacity of its nihilism is breathtaking. Like McCarthy in Blood meridian, Swanwick makes you not just observe horror, but push yourself closer to get a better work. This fantasy isn't just dark, it's absent light entirely.
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Monday, May 10, 2004

B-BALL BOULLABALISSE

Frustrating week basketball week, on both the hardtop and video fronts. I have no officially consigned the And1 mix tape series to the lowest circle of Hell; these damnable cassettes have wreaked more havoc than the tape in The Ring. Now every punk seventeen year old thinks that he's the second coming of World B. Free, flying down court, seven dribbles behind the back, two between the legs, a spin move into traffic, and a forced shot. All while I'm posted on a man five inches shorter than me. Listen, I don't expect the Hoosiers five pass offense playing pick up basketball. But still. When the only passes in a game are either behind the back or off the backboard, it's time for me to go home.

Frustration on the basketball video game front as well. I finally got around to renting NBA Live 2004. This game is, at best, problematic. It's gotten very pretty; the facial and player models are great. Hey, up close you can jersey's ripple, and that's pretty damn cool. But all that pixelated beauty can't disguise the fact that the AI doesn't know how to run a three on two break; if I had a dime for every time the computer player running wing failed to continue to the basket on a break, I'd be able to afford to buy the game. And the rebounding logic continues to be abominable, with offensive players making no effort to go after boards. I can't understand how these flaws endure, which should be obvious to anyone with even a casual knowledge of basketball.

Now, granted, I only had the game a week. Maybe there are nuances I failed to master which would have obviated these problems. Maybe. I rather doubt it though. In any event, it's not a good sign for a game franchise when the 1998 version is substantially more fun than the 2004 version.

Having said that, it remains immense fun to beat up on the Lakers with various generational all-star teams. Really, way too satisfying; and yes, I am very easily amused.
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Thursday, May 06, 2004

CONFUSED AS TO THE CONCEPT

Over at this thread, Mike M makes the following observation:

"Why do we need this much space, this much time, this much effort? Simple: I can do in one sentence what it will take a comic artist many inches of space, sometimes multiple pages, to do. Let's do some conversions from my novel. I'll just pick these pretty randomly. "He had retiled the bathroom floors, and the room with the sauna, and in the case of the kitchen he had removed the old tiles (yellow, white, and lime green, arranged in an endlessly complex pattern or, as some held it, no pattern at all) and replaced them with wooden flooring." Okay, so this would take, what...a panel showing him retiling the floors, a panel showing the sauna, a panel showing him stripping the kitchen and a couple laying down wooden flooring. It would probably be best if interspersed with some transition images, like finished work or at least finished tile patterns."

This seems deeply confused as to what comics are, and what storytelling in the comics medium entails. Of course a comic could get across the information in Mike's sentence; a comic could just have that exact same sentence overlayered over a picture of....well, anything; a picture of the character resting. A picture of him working at any one of these tasks. A picture of his hands, chafed and bleeding. A picture of used up bottles of liquid nails.

Comics aren't silent films. They can be as wordy as they want to be; the only limit are the needs of the story being told. Assuming that a comic needs to show artistically every action is a fallacy. In the ideal comic, words and pictures work together; but this doesn't mean that their work is redundant, or that each does the same job. They don't. Or at least, they don't have to.

I wonder if captions are allowed in this contest? If not, it seems sort of rigged to show that that comics are inferior to novels in terms of density and narrative complexity. If I could draw, at all, I would break that sentence up into captions and show, oh, I don't know, a shot of Quentin and Coldield in a room. If I was trying to be artsy and demonstrate the tedium of the afternoon, I'd use a shot of the sun, a floor level shot of two sets of feet sitting in two chairs, a shot of a picture of the dead Mr. Coldfield, a shot of Ms. Coldfield from behind Quentin's head, and a shot of the sun going down. If I wanted to highlight how dark the room is, I'd maybe cut back and forth from outside the house (maybe looking at the window from outside the house, watching shadows draw up it across panels as the sun goes down) with panels inside the darkened room. It all depends on what you want. But the point remains; the information in that sentence can be conveyed in....a sentence included anywhere on the page.

Incidentally, I think that author of the mystery paragraph has a name that starts with F and rhymes with Lochner.
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A GREEN AND PLEASANT POST

What passes for a light entry over at Matt Rossi's: a detailed historical mashup of British history and Robert Howard, Vikings and snake gods. This is the kind of thing that is just simply dispiriting, throwing into stark relief the difference between real genuine wild imagination, and the sort of tame self-satisfied concepts I come up with in my spare time.
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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

CORRELATION, CAUSATION

Via Franklin Harris, another story on the way Japanese culture is metastasizing through junior and high schools nation wide. Granted, the Washington Post bases this premise on a single anecdote, but lots more anecdotal evidence is quick google away.

Which raises the question (again): is Japanese culture piggybacking on the popularity of manga, or is manga's rise in popularity a function of a more general interest in Japanese pop culture? I don't think that either proposition is easily disproved; but it is a question that does bear thinking about, since the answer will largely determine what the American response to manga should be.
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THE GRAND....PRIZE....GAME!

Over at Ringwood, the next free comics contest; this time, up for grabs is a collection of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Demo, currently getting rave reviews from smart people all over the internet. Go over to Ken's, grab your ping pong balls, and see what you get.

Also, neat to see the contest pimped on Newsarama. Our little blogosphere, all grown up.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A QUESTION OF TRUST

Two weeks ago the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Hamdi and the Padilla cases. In both those cases, the government asserted that it had the right to detain essentially anyone it classified as an enemy combatant, without trial, without charges, without access to Courts or family. The government asked that we trust that these powers wouldn't be abused, and would be exercised in good faith.

Last week, we found out about Abu Ghraib.

I'm not saying that what happened there is happening at Guantanamo, or that this behavior is endemic to military prisons. I rather doubt it is. But neither do I believe that abuse such as this is unprecedented. It is in fact inevitable at some level; and this is given merely as a fact, not as a condemnation. Abuses will happen. The whole of our system of government is premised on this realization: abuses will happen, people are human and weak, and we therefore must place checks on the powers we give each other. Trust is not enough. Trust cannot be enough, because trusting that power will be used wisely and well in the absence of limits is a fools dream.

So. Trust the government that it will only detain the guilty; enemy combatants. Trust that in the absence of oversight, our wardens and interrogators and leaders will treat their captives with some measure of human dignity. Trust in the better angels of the thousands of people who constitute the execute justice and military system.

I can't give them that trust. But of course, in the grand scheme of things, I don't matter. Right now, nine people matter; and it will interesting to see how much they trust the government, and if the pictures out of Abe Gharib change what they imagine the consequences of that trust to be.
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THE POLITICS OF RETRENCHMENT

Ninth Art, on the recent moves at Marvel and DC :

""Don Quixote is entirely consumed with devotion to his ideal, for the sake of which he is ready to suffer every possible privation and to sacrifice his life; his life itself he values only insofar as it can become a means for the incarnation of the ideal, for the establishment of truth and justice on earth....What we are seeing with DC and Marvel's much- discussed "spandexification" is a conscious return to the superhero as Don Quixote, pushing the titles that suggest that our system or national character is weak back to the independent publishers where they are more usually found."

Later on we find out that this retrenchment is tied to events in the Mideast, as "Don Quixote rides forth in ungrateful Iraq (they're not listening either) with his little buddy Great Britain as Sancho Panza, to tilt for truth, oil and the American way. And we are given shiny spandex heroes to reassure us that Right Always Triumphs."

Read those sections again. Now tell me: how do we get from Quixote to superhero's to comics as conservative talking points? Because looking at her syllogism, I can't see the logic in those leaps.

I mean, Quixote is posited as someone in love with an idea, a conception of justice. Recent superhero stories are allegedly Quixotic, by which De Campi must presumably mean about individuals in love with an idea, a conception of justice. Recent superhero comics are meant to provide comfort to jinoists. There jingoists must also love an idea, a conception of justice.

Huh?

When was justice an exclusively jingoistic, or right wing, concern? Is crusading for racial equality a push for justice? What about attempting to free oppressed peoples? What about trying to bring about world peace, or an end to poverty? Which of these things are inconsistent with justice?

Now, any one of these things might be inconsistent with a particular conception of justice. But this suggests that De Campi is wrong to suggest that a quest for justice collapses into shilling for the Republican National Convention. I rather imagine that Rawls, Nozick, and Sandel would all imagine very different superheros; yet all would suggest that their imaginary heros were working towards something just. De Campi makes a pretty big leap to get from Quixote to American Power. Nor is it obvious that a simple concept of justice should be comforting to us complacent Americans; a simple story about universal human rights might perhaps not sit very well right now.

Of course, it might be that political considerations are pushing comics towards more conservative positions. Hey, maybe Ari Arad was paying attention to Ari Fleisher. I'm not arguing that comics haven't gotten less political. They may have. But De Campi's analysis provides neither evidence nor analytical support for this proposition. Her argument might be right, but its not rigorous.

See Dave Fiore and Marc Singer for other good responses to De Campi's piece. Also, I would be very much interested in reading a superhero comic by Rawls: perhaps a Fantastic Four tale: "To save the world, we must pierce....THE VEIL OF IGNORANCE!"
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Monday, May 03, 2004

INTERMITTENT REVIEWS: STONEHAVEN: MILK CARTONS AND DOG BISCUITS

When I was younger, I used to play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. Actually, play is perhaps the wrong word. For every hour I spent actually playing the game with friends, I spent two building and tweaking my own personal campaign world, which borrowed rather heavily from Fritz Lieber, despite the fact that I had never read any of the Lankhmar stories at the time; I got my Lieber third or fourth hand, via crap such as the Thieves World series and other overripe fantasy novels. I was rather in love with the idea of the multi-racial (in the D&D sense of the phrase, of course) big city, sprawling, crawling with intrigue and mystery and glamour; the things which seemed so distant growing up in small town Wisconsin.

Anyway. I had maps, and charts, and lists of characters. Plots and conspiracies. A racial taxonomy, a system of guilds, made up religions. I loved it. I played there in my head for hours. I loved it like a child; and other people liked it fine enough, I suppose. But they didn't love it. It wasn't their idea. They needed more than a concept, or a well designed system of money, before they'd get jazzed about it. Or rather, the concept could only carry them so far; they'd come to my little world, but would only stay and play if the story was fun.

Which brings us to Stonehaven: Milk Cartons and Dog Biscuits. I bought S:MCDB on the strength of its concept. Also, a New York Times squib for the author; I am a tool for the liberal media, you know. The concept is alright enough: elves and monsters in the modern day big city, sort of Shadowrun minus the William Gibson bits. But to get me to read more than two hundred pages? Well, that would take a good story, and a good story is what S:MCDB lacks.

S:MCDB tells the story of Dan Parsons. Parsons is a small town sheriff; his daughter has run away to Stonehaven, the big bad city. A babe out of the woods. Parsons comes to Stonehaven to find her, and finds that she's been kidnapped by a werewolf; a werewolf whose actions have drawn the attention of the Triad. Hijinks ensue, as would be expected.

It's not that this is a bad story. It's not. It jumps through the requisite thriller hoops in a competent enough fashion. The dialogue, though; that is, in fact, bad. Stiff, wooden, nakedly expository. It at times makes Claremont seem like a master of naturalistic dialogue. It is immediately distancing, pushing the reader out of the story and out of the world. And this is at its best. At its worst, you get lines like this:

"They say Stonehaven is a shining example of the best and the brightest our fair city-state has to offer. I say it's the rectum!"

I would expect dialogue like that from a badly dubbed Hong Kong action film. In that context, I could laugh it off. Here? Well, I still laugh, and this is not a good thing in a story that seems to want to be a drama. Seriously...rectum? And the exclamation point is the icing on the cake. Elsewhere the book aims for hardboiled narration, but its efforts in this respect read like parody, or the kind of tough guy narration that middle school kids write in study hall.

It's frankly asking too much of me to expect me to slog through two hundred pages of that kind of exposition and dialogue, no matter how neat the underlying concept and setting. Stonehaven is an ambitious failure, but a failure nonetheless. Hopefully next time out, the execution will match the concept.

For a contrary view, see Neilalien and Randy Lander.
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THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Okay, so maybe no one in North America has any idea on how to get the kids into superheros; but clearly, people in Singapore know the secret. Or at least John Holbo, who lives in Singapore, knows the secret.

If only more parents would use superheros to teach colors. And I can only assume that numbers will be taught the same way: fantastic fours, warriors three....
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A BLACK MARKET IS STILL A MARKET

I really want to believe this is a hoax; because, really, can it be possible that a business professor--at Columbia no less--can be this dumb? Really. The way to go after pornography is to make it illegal to give or receive money for sex, Professor Knee?

Let's leave aside the fact that this arguably, in a too cute way, makes marriage illegal (the ring as consideration for socially approved sexual relations; the super reductive old school view of marriage), to say nothing of dating. No, what is really jaw droppingly amazing is that you have a business professor, a man whom is presumably familiar with the basic laws of economics, who fails to grasp that a black market is still a market; or, in other words, criminalizing a commodity might distort the supply or demand, but it won't make the product disappear. Let's imagine what would happen if Knee's approach was tried. Domestic supply takes a marginal downturn, though perhaps not much of one; it's not that hard to have sex without other people noticing. Ask millions of teenagers. Demand is unchanged. Lots of men still want to look at porn, mostly online. Canny folks in Europe and Asia put up porn sites; American....talent...hops across the border to film in Canada for the weekend. Porn supply goes back up. Is this so hard to follow? Why would we think that this would be effective, when three out of four adult men look at once a month? This is the same wonderful thinking that has given us the lovely and effective war on drugs.

I hope that Columbia MBA students are getting better than this for their twenty large.

Incidentally, Professor Knee with the Op-Ed in the Times sounds like the solution to a particularily perverse game of Clue.
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A BETTER TAXONOMY WOULD HAVE PLACED ME INTO THE "PEOPLE LESS RELIABLE THAN ME" CATEGORY

So, Ken Lowery says wonderful and flattering things about this vanity sight, and directs his deservedly large readership over here, where they find.....well, the same posts they would have found a week ago. Or in other words, nothing new. Sorry, all; but there were couches to be moved and sleep to be had. Sweet, beautiful, dog free sleep.

Really, blogging didn't stand a chance.
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