The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Monday, August 23, 2004

L'IL ORPHAN INTERMITTENT

Bad enough that the Blogpoppa is gone, now Sean(the Blogstitrician? Maybe not) is gone too. The Intermittent, all alone in the cruel, cruel world. It's a hard knock life indeed.

Actually, this last isn't really true. Neither Sean nor Jim is replaceable, but we're lucky to have tons of new and exciting writers out there; like Jog, for instance, or Steve Pheley, or Matt Maxwell, all of whom will go right up on the blogroll the next time I get around to updating. Now if only one of them wanted to adopt a wee little blog with no pupils...
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Thursday, August 19, 2004

'THERE IS A FLAW IN THE WORLD"

A thought, while reading Sean Collin's and Eve Tushnet's thoughts on New X-Men, and after finally finishing the run last night (yeah, we work slow around here; but the hardcover was worth the wait). Much--perhaps most--of Morrison's run is commentary on the past twenty years of the X-Men, and the increasing creative rut it ground itself into. For those of us who are have spent some years following the book, the sudden change is powerful; color coming to a monochrome world. For us, the book is rightly a classic.

But what about viewed from the perspective of someone coming to the book for the first time; is it still a classic? Maybe. But maybe not; can a comic that is essentially about other comics be a classic in the wider world? Is its reliance on twenty years of continuity a virtue or a flaw? And it very much does rely on continuity. It derives its power from continuity. Consider the climactic multi-issue Magneto arc; it's arbitrary, disjointed, and ends with whimper; three issues of build-up for four pages of conclusion. And of course that's all intentional; a signal that what we've been conditioned to expect from an X-book--the deadly dull pomposity, the seemingly omnipotent villain undone through personal sacrifice, the neverending ritual conflict--is not going to be delivered. The arc is a masterful piece of art disguised as vandalism. The beauty is in the destruction of the old continuity.

But of course, to see the art part one has to be able to read past the vandalism; to see the care with which the plot holes were placed. I rather doubt this is easy for someone without a history with the book; it would be very possible for them to look at the plot holes and see not freedom but sloppiness. You can't tell what's not there unless you knew the old landscape. And let's be frank; outside of our little cult, most people aren't that familiar with the X-Men's fictional terrain.

Anyway. I could be wrong. I'd be very interested to hear from someone whose first exposure to the X-Men was Morrison's run. As for me, I'll put it in the classic camp; classic at least, in the sense that it's a great piece of entertainment, which is good enough for me.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

YES, BUT WHAT DO MUSCLE CARS, GUNS, AND SEQUENCERS IMPLY?

"But it's also true that Kerry really wants to be known as one badass mofo. Look...the constant photos of Kerry with Harleys, guitars, guns, and soldiers"

Ah, the irony of it all. And by irony, I mean the Alanis Morrisette kind of irony. Unless that's the wrong kind. I get so confused sometimes.
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POST, HO!

My take on Wizard World Chicago is here. Enjoy.
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LOCAL BLOGGER DONE GOOD

Little earlier in the summer I was in the mood to read some good paranoid alt-history; it happens, from time to time. More, these days; paranoia is in the air, a gift from our President. And they say government doesn't give back to the people....in any event, I grabbed a copy of Jim Marrs' Rule by Secrecy. The hidden history of the world from Ur to to D.C.? Sure, sign me up. How can that ride go wrong?

Let me count the ways. Tedious, overbearing writing, even by the rather loose standards of this little micro-genre. Plot-holes, for want of a better term, and here I was even willing to let crazy-man logic, of the kind that draws connections between Kennedy and Lincoln, suffice; but no, not even crazy-man logic. It's a sad day when a book that draws connections between our alien creators, Babylonian creation myths, and World War One is boring. My mood was thus unsated.

Which is why I'm very happy that I ordered a copy of Matt Rossi's very excellent Things That Never Were: Fantasies, Lunacies, and Entertaining Lies. Paranoia done right, thankfully; a work that sketches out the secret connections between things with flair and, oddly enough, charm. Rossi is playing here; he is a storytelling showman, not a streetcorner preacher in a sandwhichboard, and the writing reflects that difference. It invites dissent, asks the writer for some indulgence in return for a good yarn. It's impeccably researched, even if Rossi has read only half the books he cites. Anyway; if you only know Matt from his entertaining blog, you really do owe it to yourself to go buy his book, and not just out of some spirit of Team Bloggy! It's really that good. Really; and that's no fiction.
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MORE CRISIS BLOGGING, NON-USUAL SUSPECTS DIVISION

Some interesting thoughts on Identity Crisis from some smart folks who exist apart from the overheated thinking of the comics blogosphere. Timothy Burke in particular is someone worth paying attention to; he pays a fair amount of attention to comics and has the critical chops to make that attention count for something. Go read.

And for the record, I still haven't read Identity Crisis, myself. Can't say as I intend to either. Not because of moral qualms, mind, but because I just don't care that much about the characters, the creators, or the stated premise of the story. Just not my bag.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

RETURN FROM THE SAVAGE LAND

Some thoughts on Wizard World Chicago. Bear in mind that this was my first big comics show in a long, long time; forgive my being a rube and staring. Anyway.

1. Didn't see Rick Geerling, Steve Pheley, the Doctor, or Chris Butcher, or Chris M. Or rather, I might have seen them and had no idea who they were. Damn secret identities. I'm assuming that it wasn't Butcher walking around in the Thing costume, but who knows? Not me.

2. For wee little men, James Kochalka and Craig Thompson are pretty much rockstars; but then again, being a dwarf never stopped Prince, now did it? Seemed to be pretty consistent action at the Top Shelf/D&Q booth. At times there were lines that rivaled those at the Image booth (though given Image's status these days, take that how you will). I picked up Clumsy (which my wife has since read--the first comic she's read--and very much enjoyed), Derek Kirk Kim's book, and a copy of 5 is the Perfect Number. I would have picked up Sam Hiti's new book, Tiempos Finales, there as well but I had already bought a copy from Sam; Hiti was not at the Top Shelf book, possibly because he is far from wee, looking instead like a young Jeff Goldblum on steroids. Jog's review of Hiti's book is pretty well spot on, by the way.

3. Robert Kirkman looks to be, like, twenty years old. He has at this point seventy eight comics to his name and a growing critical rep. I'm going to go stick my hand in a blender. Thanks for showing us lazy dreamers up, jerk.

4. The pornstars sort of freak me out. I can't imagine what it takes to hand sell nude pictures of yourself to people; how do you look at the buyer knowing that he's going to be whacking off to your photo later that night. What kind of insane willpower must that take? What a creepy life.

5. Man, Gil Gerard has not aged well.

6. Marvel's new Warlock series looks to be interesting; the story opens in traditional SlowMarvel style--the first half seems to be more about art school than cosmic powers--but it's quirky enough to maintain my interest. It's nicely self-aware of itself and the politics of the superhero as well; and the Adlard art is very well done. Speaking of art: I don't buy books for the art, but having read the preview of We3...well, I'd buy it even if Austen was writing it. It's that damn beautiful.

7. Andy Lee is a super nice guy, and he did a great painting of wife and I from a wedding photo I had in my wallet. Jim Mahfood is swell. So is Greg Titus, who took my request for a sketch of "The Old Man and the Sea" and really ran with it; I tried to find someone to sketch Moby Dick for me as well, but ran out of time. Oh well. Albert Moy had some great art with him; I got a Kyle Baker piece for cheap, which is frankly buy of the year for me so far. Also found a great Morse page. The original art is like crack to me, especially now that I can almost afford lots of it. Lots of angel/devil shoulder conversations as I flipped through the portfolios.

8. Bear in mind that I don't have any sort of previous baseline, so take this with a grain of salt, but: it seemed like there was a lot of manga out there. Tokyopop had maybe the biggest booth there (maybe DC's was bigger; I didn't pace them off). There was lots of manga in the vendor stalls. It was still outnumbered by superhero stuff, mind, but you didn't have to hunt to find it. The overall Japanese vibe seemed fairly high to me as well. Tons of anime for sale, lots of Japanese pop ephemera. One booth seemed to sell nothing but funky Japanese candy. Again, makes me wonder: is that general interest in Asian culture a trend driving or being driven by the manga trend, or are they totally separate?

9. The big Bendis/Wayne smackdown was...not felt at all on the floor. At least not by me. Funny thing about the convention that way; it was big enough that it took time to take it all in, time that didn't allow for sitting listening to panels. I found out more about the announcements reading Newsarama yesterday than I did while I was there.

10. Finally, the crowd. The crowd was what the crowd was; what I expected, frankly. The nerd quotient was running high. Not a lot of people who I'd go out of my way to hang out with, truth be told. And you what? That's cool. I don't have to hang out for them. They can have their taste. It's not hurting me; there are lots and lots of good comics out there--I found many of them at the Convention, as a matter of fact. Something to think about, as well all declaim our superiority to the great unwashed: this has been a great year for comics, measured by the quality of books that have come out so far. Maybe that's enough; maybe it should be.
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Thursday, August 12, 2004

CHARLEY AGAIN

So, maybe I'm not going to WizardWorld Chicago after all; it depends on if planes are flying tomorrow and if I'm allowed to be non-essential for the weekend. Way too contingent for my tastes, but what can you do, you know.

Why does God not want me to see the fanboys?
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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

TRAVELIN'MEN; OR B-BALL BOUILLIBAISSE, INTERNATIONAL RULES EDITION

Well, we've gotten pretty good at beating Turkey. So we've got that going for us, which is nice. On the other hand, the U.S. Men's Olympic basketball team remains deeply, deeply flawed. Deeply. I don't know why people haven't figured out that the international game demands very specific skills, skills that are more than simply being fast and jumping really high. So. I suspect that we'll still take home the gold but would not be at all surprised if we didn't. And don't be fooled by the Serbia game; the Serb's played a very vanilla game on both ends, and still stayed in the game. If they were running their offense and zoning up on D? A very different game....

Speaking of different games; watch how the international referees call traveling. They use a totally different interpretation of the rules. American ref's let players start moving so long as a downward dribble has started; international ref's will sometimes want to see the ball hit the floor before they consider the dribble as starting. I learned this the hard way. When I was in Australia, I played a lot of pick up ball; eventually, some guys asked me to join their city league team. I was all excited; here at home, I'm a role player at best. In Oz, I had visions of stardom.

First game. First time I touch the ball. Pump fake on the wing, drive middle; whistle. Traveling. Well, okay then. Maybe it was first game jitters. Second time I touch the ball I'm in the post; catch it, spin baseline and drive. Whistle. Traveling. I didn't touch the ball much after that, thus ending my one brief chance at basketball superstardom. Leaving aside of course the time I played against my little brother and his friends on an eight foot rim. That day, my friends, I was unstoppable.

So, Dwyane Wade? I feel your pain.
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OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD

Heading up to WizardWorld Chicago this weekend; I found a good fair through the magic of Site 59. Why am I going to Wizard, you ask? Perhaps I feel a need to press the sweaty sweaty flesh with thousands of fanboys, all of whose minds are closed and whose shirts are stained with drool. Or it could be that it's a good excuse to head back home, sort of.

U-Decide!

For some thoughts on last year's WizardWorld Chicago, here is Sean and Amanda Collins. and his wife. We were all so innocent then, weren't we; yet to endure the sixth blogosphereic iteration of the superheros are dumb argument. Better days, better days.

Also, this is my first experience with a big Con since, oh, 1985, when my dad drove me to some show in Dallas. Any suggestions or otherwise useful information I should have?
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THE RHETORICAL BEATDOWN, K'UN-L'UN STYLE

Iron Fist is one of the few characters I can think of that can pull off the badass-in-slippers look; turns out he got some worthwhile things to say as well. Go figure.

The Fist's perspective--that a healthy thicket of middle of the road fiction is both necessary to a viable market and an otherwise good thing on the merits--is borne out as well, if only impliedly, by Micheal Dirda, book critic for the Washington Post. Dirda looks at a recent survey of reading in America, and laments that hardly anyone reads "literary fiction" anymore. Dirda defines (and with a refreshing lack of genre condescension) literary fiction as:

"One that makes us see the world or ourselves in a new way. Most writers accomplish this through an imaginative and original use of language, which is why literature has been defined as writing that needs to be read (at least) twice. Great books tend to feel strange. They leave us uncomfortable. They make us turn their pages slowly. We are left shaken and stirred."

And hey! I largely agree; I even think this definition applies to comics. I'm not sure you can really appreciate Kalesniko's Mail Order Bride until you read it a couple of times, until you really dig into it. This work is of course rewarded; a work like Mail Order Bride pays you back in ways that something like, say Marvel Team Up (typically) can't.

So, Up With Art, then? Down With Entertainment? Well, no. Would cutting the workmanlike, the merely solid from the book trade, from the comic book trade, cause legions to read the classics? Frankly, no. While undoubtedly many people avoid literary fiction because they are lazy philistines, many, many more avoid it because literary fiction is hard and demands time that they simply don't have. How many folks have the time, in this world, to read Moby Dick twice? To read Watchman twice? Not many; or at least not many unless many other necessary or pleasurable activities are foregone. Nor are these types of works at all fungible, as they serve wildly different needs. Which is not to say that people shouldn't read literary fiction; they should, absolutely. But still; that injunction has to take into account the reality of people's lives. Take away "easy" fiction and most people will pick other ways to spend their newly free time.

Which, of course, is where the workmanlike comes in. The choice isn't between reading classics or reading trash; the choice is between reading trash or reading mostly nothing. Get rid of the Flash and you will create not thousands of new readers of The Filth but thousands of people who spend more time playing video games, or watching Friends reruns on TV. Iron Fist gets it; do you?
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Thursday, August 05, 2004

INTERMITTENT REVIEWS: YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE

It's not often that a work revolving around the undead, and featuring grave-robbing, sexual assualt, shootings, stabbings, lynchings, and soul-crushing loneliness is termed sweet, but there it is. Jason's You Can't Get There From Here is the sweetest book on the above topics you'll ever likely read.

Told in clean, simple lines, Jason lets his art carry the story; it says quite a bit that the story is mostly wordless, and no less effective for the lack of words. He has a gift for suggesting character through posture; the slump of the old lab assistant is more eloquent testimony to his character, to his resigned acceptance of his fate, than any exposition could be. There is moreover a sense of play in his art that one doesn't often see in indie books about alienation and the death of love. It's a fun book to read.

The story such as it is....well, it's really not worth summarizing; pinned down in a review, it would sound slight. And it is, actually. But this is not really a book where the plot is that important. It is rather, a book designed to give us frozen moments of emotion: love, despair, hope, resignation. In this it succeeds; it's a book you feel as much as read. It's utterly human, despite being a story about the dead. It sugarcoats it's more pointed observations of human nature with, as I noted above, a winning sweetness, a lightness of touch, that both makes them easier to accept and all the more sharp.

Or to take another tack: the book made me smile, not with laughter, but with a certain kind of hope and appreciation for its characters and by extension myself.

And there ain't nothing wrong with that.
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TIME TO REPRINT CAPTAIN CARROT, THEN?

So, it would be a good thing if more kids read comics. Who could disagree with that? That'd be like hating sunshine and fuzzy kittens. Answer: Mark Millar, Brian Bendis, and Brian Hitch, all of whom purportedly think that it is the height of stupidity to try and sell comics to kids. Maybe. The resulting melee, which has proceeded exactly the way you would expect, has made it somewhat hard to determine what people actually said, much less what they meant.

Let's be charitable, then. Let's assume that Millar et al aren't against comics for kids as a concept; that they merely think that this concept is unworkable in practice. Why would they think this? Frankly, I don't know. I don't make, market, or sell comics, so I'm sort of flailing about in terms of analysis. Not that it stops me: this is a blog, after all.

Maybe it's unworkable because kids don't like comics. My own experience is that this isn't true. Kids do seem to read manga, assuming trends at bookstores I frequent can be extrapolated across the country. Except if this is the case, what is everyone bitching about (leave aside the possible stupidity of the folks up above)? Kids do read comics. Case closed. Unless people are complaining that kids aren't reading superhero comics, or that DC/Marvel aren't being more zealous in pursuing kids, in which case maybe Millar is really taking on this attack. Onward.

Do kids read superhero comics? From what I've read, doesn't seem so. Would they read superhero comics if these comics were more available? I have no idea; but it seems just as possible that they wouldn't as that they would. Things don't say popular forever; kids don't listen to rock music anymore, they don't watch hand drawn cartoons anymore. But even if kids would read superhero comics, are there reasons why DC/Marvel aren't pursuing the wee ones? Well, stupidity is an option, I suppose. Or spite. The crowd seems to think that these are options, and how often is an unruly mob wrong?

It could be, I suppose, that the big two are, for various institutional reasons, not able to put out books kids like. Maybe they don't have a good handle on the market anymore. Maybe they can't get the content (though DC seems to be trying, with CMX); DC/Marvel can't make people bring them IP, even if they wanted to go after the kids market. Maybe DC/Marvel have the desire but lack the distribution channels to get the books to kids; maybe the lack the contacts to get it books into schools and libraries. Maybe they don't have the marketing expertise. I don't know. I simply don't know what it takes to sell books to kids. But it seems odd to me that two large corporations are passing up a possible market for no good reason at all.

Which is why it would be really interesting to hear from someone who likely does know--if not why Marvel/DC act the way they do--what it takes to get kids books to market. Scholastic seems to be entering the game in a big way. It would be very interesting to hear what they looked at before taking the plunge. What do kids want to read about these days (for Scholastic, the question would be what leads them to think that Bone will sell to kids)? What is the optimum price point? Where should the books be on sale: bookstores, school mail-order, to libraries? Where do you advertise to get the most kids for your buck? Presumably Scholastic has some critieria by which it answers these questions; after all, they've been selling books to kids for a long time, and seem to be pretty good at it.

Anyway. I'll give an "Amen" to the concept, but am agnostic as to the concept in practice, largely out of ignorance. Someone: convince me!
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Monday, August 02, 2004

LISTEN TO THE FLAVOR

Comic Book Galaxy has very quickly become essential; no surprise, really, given the talent involved. And not content to rest on its already considerable laurels, it unveils The Conversation, which allows us all to eavesdrop on ADD and Chris Allen, two of the whip-smartest writers out there, blog or otherwise, as they talk about comics. A great read.

But not one without some flaws. At the risk of spitting in church, there are some things implied in that conversation that raised my hackles.

Look. I love Grant Morrison and Alan Moore as much as the next man, unless of course the next man is ADD. I'm game to try just about anything Morrison or Moore chooses to put out; they've earned that. But while I'm willing to give what they do a whirl, I don't feel compelled to find it groundbreaking, fascinating, or a brilliant insight into the human and/or posthuman condition. Nor am I willing to give them points for ambition; it's all well and good to be sitting on the secret recipe to the starchild, but if you can't get the damn point across it's pretty bloody useless.

What I'm trying to say is this: a robust dialogue with the books can't start with a presupposition of brilliance. A book has to earn that; and we owe it to both the creators and the books to not call merely passable work a work of genius, merely because it fits our political views, or our views of what the market should support, or because some other book by the same creator was in fact a work of genius. We owe it to the work not to fall for marketing BS, even if that marketing BS is pushed by the creator. Hey, Morrison gives good soundbite; but unless the book lives up to the hype, it's all smoke and mirrors. Sometimes, when a first read doesn't reveal anything it's because there is nothing there to find, not that the reader is stooopid.

Now, this is not to suggest that either Allen or ADD are guilty of the charges laid out above. They're not, at least not usually. Nor is it to say that either Moore or Morrison aren't wearing any clothes. Both are, as I said above, frequently brilliant. Both have written books that have blown my little bougie mind. But by that same token, both have written their fair share of crap. Don't let the fact that Morrison talks a good game blind you the game pieces being moved on the page, to invent and then butcher a metaphor.

Also, if we're going to talk up creator owned work and Morrison, probably not a good place to bash creators as useless hacks who want to "reinvent...Doom Patrol." Just saying, is all.

NOTE: Blogger won't do spell check for me tonight, so this is like more typo-filled than normal. Apologies.
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