The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

AND NOW, BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED INACTIVITY

Apologies for the vaguely hysterical political type posts below. It's been that kind of day, what with the constant buildup to the debates. More semi-comics posting in the near future: in the meantime, go here for some neat links to some interesting Lovecraftiana. Then go here for Kip Manley's take on Eddie Campbell's attempt to gain some distance between himself and Geoff Johns.
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AH YES, THOSE OVERCIVILIZED LATIN AMERICAN DEATH SQUADS.

John O'Sullivan, in the Chicago Sun-Times, claims that terrorist kidnappings are on the rise because we are too civilized to bring to bear the necessary violence to deter kidnappers. A rhetorically sound argument, and one that hits most people where they live; ask a person what they'd do to someone who stole their child. The logic of it, however, doesn't match up with it's emotional appeal.

O'Sullivan argues that

"40 years ago hostage-taking seemed a concept from the distant past -- something like slavery and piracy that Victorian imperialists had stopped in their old-fashioned self-righteous way. Like hostage-taking, however, piracy and slavery are making a comeback. Piracy flourishes in parts of southeast Asia, slavery in parts of Africa such as Sudan, and hostage-taking in the Middle East and Latin America. In general they advance where terrorism has blazed the way by revealing the impotence of law and government when they are not backed by the self-confident application of lawful force."

Perhaps you could make a case that Belgium has grown squeamish. I don't think you can say that Columbia is averse to gunning down kidnappers, or Peru. Or, really, any government in the Middle-East. If kidnappings are on the rise in these countries, it can't be because the governments shrank from responding in kind.

So why are kidnappings on the rise, you ask the guy who normally blogs about comics? If I had to guess, I'd guess it's a function of the media and improved communications technology. It's easy now for a kidnapping to get his demands out; easier still to pay. No one has to lug around a suitcase full of bills; ransoms are paid in electronic transfers, arranged on cellphones. This is a crime made easier by technology, not by a worldwide lack of bloodlust.
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THAT'S ONE DEAD CANARY; OR, IT'S HARD TO PROVE YOUR CASE WHEN YOUR MOUTH IS DUCT TAPED SHUT

You've likely seen this elsewhere. But it's important, and I'd rather bore you than run the risk that one of my eight regular readers hasn't yet read this: the Republicans are pushing a bill that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to send persons the government determines to ber terrorists to other countries. In these other countries they will be held, out of sight, out of pocket, out of jurisdiction of any U.S. Court, to be tortured.

Think about that for a moment. Think about what that means. Picture American officials proudly escorting someone into a dark room in Algeria, then stepping back as a dead eyed torturer steps forward with a car battery and clamps. Picture Americans doing this under color of law, bravely defending our freedoms by peeling off a man's fingernails under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security.

Is this the America you want to live in?

It gets better.

The best, most insulting part of the bill is the pretense to morality. For you see, if you can prove you'renot a terrorist, you can't be sent to some urine soaked hell hole. Rich enough you have to prove a negative; better yet that you possibly have to do so while being ushered out of the Country. Ask Maher Arar (Start at the top and work your way down).

Someone should ask Bush if this is his vision for us. Torture. Sanctioned by law. If torture is the canary in the coalmine, it's high fucking time we all start out of this dark, dark shaft we're in.
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Monday, September 27, 2004

HURRICANE REVIEWS: THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT

Went through my stack while I was cooped up inside this weekend. Got through a couple of floppies and one trade: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. This latter is a book that is oddly underreviewd given it's prestige; other than having a vague idea that it supposedly the crown jewel of British comics, I knew very little about the book prior to cracking it open.

It deserves its reputation. If for nothing else but the art, it deserves its reputation.

Bryan Talbot is not a name on the current comic scene, despite his obvious mastery of the form. In this he is in somewhat the same shoes as Steve Bissette: they are accorded a certain amount of respect but are otherwise ignored when people talk about the great comic artists. This is a mistake, a tremendous one in Talbot's case. Had he done nothing else other than Luther Arkwright, he would have to be acknowledged as artist of the highest caliber.

Arkwright is a story that spans both time and history; the story of a cosmic secret agent fighting against fascist forces across multiple realities (and yes, I suspect that Grant Morrison has a dog eared copy of this book hidden away somewhere). This is the kind of book that can easily jump the rails if unless the art can both convey a strong sense of time and place and also utilize page design to help the reader through the twists and turns. Talbot can do both. Talbot has a rare talent for using his page design to convey these reality shifts, a talent more impressive given that he is working in black and white, and isn't able to use color as a crutch. Action scenes are broken down into tight panels, accentuating the kinetics. There is a scene where the titular Arkwright slows time and opens fire on a roomful of puritans; those pages are broken up into a series of tight panels alternating between fluid action on Arkwright's part and reaction shots of the victims altered fractionally. The caption tells the reader that time is slowed, but that caption really isn't needed. The art simulates the effect. Tablot also provides strong and consistent design work for each reality, from a Dickensesqe London to a Austin Powersish spy-base. That these latter designs look sort of silly (okay, really silly) now is testament to the viral power of the Austin Powers franchise rather to the weakness of Talbot. I'm not sure anyone could redeem crushed velvet suits with fluffy collars as legitmate objects of non-camp fashion. Maybe Phil Bond. Anyway. Talbot's design and panel placement are both impeccable throughout the book.

Talbot can open the art up as well; pages open up into free form vistas which could serve as cover art for a Hawkwind album (and of course, given that Talbot is friends with Moorcock, you can get to Hawkwind in one move). The trick to these more epic pages is that there is an underlying structure. It's not self-indulgent; each piece is placed in the psychedelic soup with care. Relating the big floating head to the caption and the exploding sun is not the chore it could have been.

A last point about the art: Talbot has a knack for textures the likes of which I've never seen, except perhaps in Bissette. Everything in this book is textured: the fur in a color, the wood on a house, the viscera clinging to the once and future queen of England. Talbot uses cross hatching to create these textures, but his command of these fine lines is so superior that using the term seems somehow wrong. It's like comparing me to Norm since we both are known to use a hammer; there is simply no comparison between the way Talbot uses cross hatching and the way it is used by, say Jim Lee. Not to go on about it, but the texturing on the fur is a legitimate marvel.

The story follows Luther Arkwright, secret agent and Messiah figure, as he attempts to find, across multiple realities, and shut down a doomsday weapon being used by some sort of chaotic death cult. Luther is not a terribly well-defined character, though given that Talbot is working with the proverbial cast of thousands, it was likely that characterization would give way to spectacle. What we do learn of Arkwright paints him as the sort of typical Joe Cambpell hero: parents missing, powers beyond mortal men, lots of vaguely ritual sex, not one but two death and resurrection bits, one of which comes complete with the Shroud of Arkwright. A lot of this comes across as sort of lukewarm Morrison, but of course Talbot came first. In any event, the reader doesn't get much chance to contemplate the semi-rote nature of it all. This is a book that moves; Talbot runs through set-ups at a manic pace, jumping from a gun fight under the pyramids to machinations between the Kaiser and Czar to conflict in London between Puritan and Royalist forces. This book is compressed so much as to be some sort of narrative diamond.

Much of the action takes place on an alternate reality England where Oliver Cromwell's forces held on; Charles II never retook the throne. These latter day Cromwellians run the country as a puritan nightmare; color is banished as a luxury, an afront to God. It's tempting to read this regime as a stand in for Thatcher (fascist, scornful of anything unquantifiable except God). This was a tale written in the early Eighties, after all. But if so, it is surely the first critique of that regime to pine for restoration of a divine queen (subtly put forward as the true Iron Lady) as the way forward. I was under the impression that this didn't work out so well in practice; but then again, I'm a poor child of the public schools, so what do I know?

In any event, on the "How Well Does it Distract From a Weather Emergency" scale, it clearly merits hurricane reading. It would not, however, distract you from a tornado. Read at your own risk, with the proper advice of NOAA.
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Sunday, September 26, 2004

A BAD SIGN: LIFE-THREATENING WEATHER HAS GROWN DULL

So, we're still here. Again. This whole routine has gotten tedious; frankly, we were pretty laid back about things this time. In retrospect, this was probably a bad idea. Only a degree of longitude separates me from a future without power. And I'm spoiled enough to find the idea of living Little House on the Prairie style pretty unappealing. Three days without power? Yeah, done that. Sucks, but doable. Three weeks? Well...not so sure about that one.

Hurricane fatigue was pretty wide spread. Mrs. Intermittent and I went out to catch a friend's band on Friday night rather than put up our plywood, and the venue was pretty well packed. Lots of Jeanne chatter, but not much of it fearful. Resigned, combative, yeah. But not much fear. Of course, the bravado, at least on my part, could have been due to the Skullsplitter Ale. Not something I've ever had before, but something which I very definitely will drink again. Good stuff, and it has a picture of a Viking on the bottle. What more do you want out of life? Other than power, of course.
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Thursday, September 23, 2004

CANARY IN THE SMOKING, IRRADIATED COALMINE

John Mearsheimer has put out a new paper on lying and international relations. As a political science paper, it's pretty crap; as polemic, pretty damn keen. And really, the polemic is where the action is these days. If a rigorous exploration of the rationality of suicide bombing gets you laughed at by the folks in the cheap seats, might as well put the brass knuckles on and going in swinging rhetorically.

Mearsheimer is actually a worthwhile guy to pay attention to. He is perhaps the farthest thing away from the typical Donald-Pleasance-in-Animal-House version of a professor as you'll find writing articles critical of the Bush administration. Mearsheimer made his name thinking about kill ratios and tanks in the Fulda Gap; he's kept his name arguing that norms and international law are basically chimeras, that the only thing that matters when states look at each other is power. He used to delight in browbeating undergrads into grudingly accepting the idea that perhaps nuclear weapons make us safer, and that we should encourage certain kinds of nuclear proliferation. I think it made him happy to run the shiny happy ideology of the typical undergrad into the brick wall of reality. In short, he's not the guy who's going to get all squishy when talking about using military force; and yet, he's been pretty vocal in condemning Bush's handling of the War on Terror on the grounds it has left us less, rather than more, secure. Maybe he has points we should consider. Maybe when folks who should be natural allies for Bush are going around slagging him we should perhaps pause from carving his giant face onto the middle-east, the better to warn terrorist aliens away.

Nah. Much easier to continue thinking that everyone who doubts the President is spineless, yellow bellied, and lacking a penis.
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APOCALYPSE SOMETIME SOON

Or not. At some point, the growth in manga will level off; tulips don't stay popular forever. Leveling off is a far cry from implosion, though. I'm sure that Coke sales are growing pretty slowly, but that doesn't mean that half the world's not drinking it, to say nothing of the continual popularity of certain dutch flowers. Stores that know what they're doing should be in good shape, says the guy with no knowledge of the ins and outs of running a store (that guy being me and not Chris Butcher).

Which raises a question, at least for ignorant folks like myself: what criteria do the chain bookstores use when deciding which manga is worth their scarce and valuable shelfspace. It's all well and good for The Beguiling to push manga; it has folks on staff who are in fact conversant with the product, and who know what's crap and what's not. But what about the average Borders? There are, what, eight million manga series coming in 2005? How does the typical chain store bookstore know which are quality, much less which ones will sell? How do they avoid winding up with a store full of books written by the Japanese version Chuck Austen? I have a hard enough time keeping Tokyopop's monthly listings distinct in my head, and I'm actually somewhat hip to the product; or at least much more so than the typical guy doing orders for Barnes and Noble. Hell, most chains seem to have enough trouble stocking the American OGN shelf; if they can't see that maybe they don't need eight copies of Batman: Contagion I don't have a great deal of faith that the manga they stock will be The Good Stuff.
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BAD DREAMS OF JEANNE

Dude, Karma; when a hurricane does a one eighty to come back at you, perhaps it's time to rethink things. Or else to realize that perhaps Giblets speaks the truthm and that Florida might in fact be a "noxious wind-battered wasteland."
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HOUSEKEEPING

Finally got around to cleaning up the old blogroll. The folks to the left are the people I tend to read everyday; I cruise around the rest of the old comicsphereoverse at a much more leisurely pace. Folks not linked to should thus not be insulted. And in any event, a link from me is akin to getting a good review in the supermarket circular, and not even a good supermarket, but instead something like a Food Lion.

Eeeewwww. Food Lion.
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THE EVILS OF THE WORD WIZARD

Past couple of weeks I've been sticking my hand progressively further into a work related meatgrinder. Fun, really,and the reason I've been doing even less blogging than usual this month. My absence, however, hasn't stopped some folks from riding around on my old hobbyhorse: the atrociously confusing state of the terminology used to discuss comics.

Matt Maxwell has a go at the term "mainstream". Matt's analysis is pretty solid, and I've got nothing much in particular to add with respect to that specific term. His analysis could easily be extended to similarly amorphous terms like "art-comix" or "alternative comics", each of which are used to describe sometimes books produced outside normal corporate channels, sometimes books of a certain genre (cf. Marc Singer on the Literature of Little Ephipanies), and sometimes merely books that aspire to big A Art, irrespective of their realization of said goal. While not the sole cause of so much bad writing on comics (this site not excluded), it certainly doesn't help matters to have so many crucial terms essentially completely up for grabs in any given piece.

This is not an easy problem to solve. The comics community isn't really big enough for their to be a split between the suits and the critics; most people who write about comics cover the whole field, from the business end to the aesthetic. Terms thus get stretched to cover too many different types of analysis; context is never entirely clear, whereas, when a business analyst refers to a movie as a success it is immediately clear that he's using that term in very different way than would a film critic.

And while we're policing the definitional boundaries, this post at Mae Mai doesn't seem to me all that useful. Sure, the phrase Avant Garde had, at one point a very particular meaning. But it doesn't now; or rather, it still has a particular meaning, but it's not the same one it used to. Get over it. Words, phrases evolve; if a majority of people use a term to refer to something, that's pretty much what the word means. "Letting the cat out of the bag" used to refer to flogging sailors; it doesn't anymore, and yet its new meaning is still perfectly valid. If Jon wants to fight the good fight for original meaning, more power to him, and him and Scalia can share a trench on the front lines of that particular fight, but it seems to me to be both a losing and unnecessary endeavor.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

THE SECRET RETURN

Shhh. His hiatus hasn't been officially ended, and we don't want to spook him, but it looks suspiciously like Jim Henley is back blogging. My morning routine is once again complete: work, coffee, muffin, Henley. Yay.
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THE QUESTION IS WHY NOT?

I've never read Ditko's Question strips. Nor his Mr. A, work, for that matter. This is, I'm sure, a shocking revelation; who'da thunk I'd be ignorant of some of the seminal works of the art form, given the quality of analysis typically found here? I thus have little to add to the ongoing discussion as to whether Veitch's new version of the Question is consistent with Ditko's original conception of the character.

I might have something to add, however, on the normative issue. Or, if not something to add, at least a point to consider.

Implicit in most of this discussion is the assumption that there is some sort of moral obligation for later artists to respect the work of another creator. Veitch should not tinker with the Question because this tinkering does damage to a creation not his. For Veitch to do so would be wrong. This judgment seems problematic to me. I mean, I understand why it's held by otherwise smart people; the down-on-the-plantation style working conditions of historical superhero artists has rightly caused lots of folks to prize a rather strong notion of creator rights, which are presented often as a weird form of property rights: the creator has rights in the work that he can't contract away. And I'm very aware that many artists were not in a position to credibly bargain with Marvel or DC. You want to argue unconscionability, well, I might not agree with it, but it's not a frivolous argument.

But even so. The history of art is a history of theft. There is a reason that historically copyright only protects a creator for so long; absent the introduction of new works into the public sphere things stagnate. At some level, we encourage later artists to steal from their elders. To rework their concepts into new forms. This is a good thing; and it's not as if these later works somehow erase the source material. No amount of later work can unring that bell, though they can suggest that the original tone was off-key.

Look at music. Leadbelly takes old sharecropper songs, prison songs, songs written by someone else, and makes them his. His interpretations, which seep into the public, and are warped by others in ways both faithful and destructive to Leadbelly's, to say nothing of the original creators'. You know how many versions of "Goodnight Irene" are listed on Allmusic? 372. 372 separate takes on a single song. All the products of immoral choices? Devo destroyed "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Was Devo morally suspect for doing so? Certainly Devo had no interest in preserving or honoring the core of the Stones' song; the power of Devo's interpretation comes from tearing the heart out of the original, from making a human song mechanical (that, and a nice little electrogroove).

Change mediums. Look at any of the disparate takes on Shakespeare (and yes, I apologize for taking the easy route and doing the Bard comparison, but my time is short): I'm fairly certain that Shakespeare never contemplated Baz Luhrman folding, spindling, and mutilating his work, but there you go. Films? Let's just say that J.W. Hastings wouldn't be able to spend a post setting out a typology of remakes if filmmakers considered the past as sacrosanct.

Now perhaps a comic character is more fragile than a song, or a play. Stranger things, I suppose. But I doubt it. If Nirvanna can do their version of In the Pines, I can see no reason why Veitch can't do his take on the Question. And if all he keeps the same is the visual? Well, again, the Ditko works remain. Veitch is not going to sneak around America raiding libraries and longboxes. If the theft and destruction of earlier works are both necessary and harmless, I fail to see the moral issue here. Let the kids play.
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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

MAKING ROBERT MOSES CRY

The nuts and bolts of politics, especially local politics, is hard to make interesting to the average person; this is in part the reason why something like Kitty Kelly's book might have a bigger impact on voting behavior than Ron Suskind's. And yet, in the nuts and bolts of politics is found the stuff of great drama: greed, nobility, arrogance, power, money, race, class, ideology, to say nothing of the surreality of what passes for debate in most legislative bodies, transcripts of which could pass as avant-garde theater in many cases.

Which is why I was excited about Ex Machina; and which is why I'll likely stop reading the book with issue six, the last issue on my pre-order pull. I'd love the read a good fictional account of local politics. Ex Machina simply isn't it.

Understand, this book doesn't suffer (much) from looking at local government through the lens of a superhero comic. To the extent it does, it is simply because the pages devoted to superhero stuff are pages that aren't used fleshing out the context of Mitchell Hundred's administration; and in politics, context is all important. Who you know, who supports you, the issues of the day. The sewage lines that need to be built. Introducing a competing superhero narrative into the story, complete with an arch-villain, creates deep structural problems with the pace of the story. Events and character reactions thereto seem arbitrary in the absence of detail as to the political landscape. Nor does the superhero bit add anything fresh, leaving aside the final page of the first issue. I find myself in the somewhat odd position of agreeing with Tim O'Neill: if Brian Vaughn had wanted to write about local government, he should simply have done so and left the superhero baggage behind.

Of course, even had Vaughn written a straight political book it might suffer, given the storylines Vaughn has presented so far. Vaughn is writing this book as if it is the West Wing. This is a mistake, both factually and dramatically. Local government does not surf the waves of controversy in the same way that the Federal government does. The art gallery controversy of issue two is historical fact (in both New York and Cincinnati) but are rare events; what matters to most people are day to day service issues. Getting the roads built, repaired, and plowed, without causing any disruption to the public. Zoning: is that Wal-Mart going into that neighborhood? Police coverage, park land. Taxes. Oh lord, taxes. Sure, people care about art covered in elephant shit; but they care much more about getting rid of their own shit. Vaughn's version of local politics bears as much reality (in my limited opinion) as a Mac Bolan book does to actual military practice.

Anyway. This may be premature. Only three issues are out, the book might radically improve. If it does, I'll be thrilled. In the meantime, I guess I should keep hoping for a graphic adaptation of The Power Broker. For those who think that the story of New York's Parks Commissioner might be lacking in drama....take a gander over here. And then pay attention to the city the next time you're in New York. It's educational.
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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

IN WHICH DAVE INTERMITTENT LEARNS THE TRUE MEANING OF LABOR DAY

So, the Big Storm turned out to be considerably less Big than anticipated, at least for us; talk to someone in Palm Beach, you'll likely get a much different answer. We made it through more or less unscathed; my improvised plywood walls held, and were likely not needed in any event. A neighbor, though, lost a pretty good-sized tree on Sunday. Worse, it took a good portion of his fence with it. Which meant that Monday he and I got to play lumberjack (and it was okay), hacking away at the thing with axe and saw and sawsall. Slow going. And yeah--being in shape is a definite plus, since I did have to, you know, get out of bed today after my stint as a hatchet-man, and was able to do so without screaming in pain or reaching for the Thai strength tiger balm. This was, frankly, the most real work I've done on Labor Day in years. Not since the days of doing random projects with my dad, really, have I done as much. And those days were nuts, and long ago, and not missed at all.

The hardest part of the whole weekend was, to paraphrase the prophet Tom Petty, the waiting. Frances was supposed to get here Friday. Then Saturday. Then, finally, Sunday. There is only so much waiting one can do without getting slightly cranky. Sure, I got some reading done, but the looming possibility of impending destruction really sort of sucks the fun out of your weekend; makes it somewhat hard to really enjoy a good book. And this comes from someone who reads at the dentist, while the drill is going.

Anyway. Thanks to everyone who wished The Intermittent Wife, Puppy, and myself a safe weekend. It's good to have friends.
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Thursday, September 02, 2004

READY STEADY GO?

Well, the plywood is up, and a feat of engineering it is. The yard is clear. The water is ready. Flashlights. Batteries for the radio. I'll get my car in a garage tomorrow, after finishing up at Mrs. Intermittent's parents house. Hopefully this is all for nothing, and come Saturday I can bitch about all this work from the safety of an intact, dry house. Hell, I'd even settle for a couple of days reading comics by candlelight; perhaps it would build character. Really, so long as I don't flood out too bad and keep my roof, I'll call this a win.

South Florida is pretty much...well, it's pockets of frantic activity in a vast sea of calm. There are still lines at the Home Depots, still lines at at the stores for the remaining supplies. In the distance I can hear someone working a saw. But mostly folks seem to be pretty buttoned up. Not much traffic. Not many lights. The people who are leaving have pretty much left. Local authorities are trying to figure out who the stubborn folks are, the ones who think that their mobile home is someone magically hurricane proof; that way the cops know where to check for bodies. You'd think that having watched Charley go through, what? two weeks ago? would be enough to convince people to leave the double wide. From what I can tell utility crews are massing, ready to fan out on Sunday.

Anyway. Time to go to sleep. A long morning of activity, then a long evening of the waiting game. Stay dry, everyone.
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STORM RIDERS

I have bad luck with Frances and Frans; in either female or meteorological form, they tend to leave me generally the worse for the ware. C'mon, NOAH: why not a Felicia, or a Felicity. There's really no need to curse me like this. Anyway. Back to the Tapcons.

Sidenote: Shell Lumber, if you were a girl, and I weren't already married, I'd propose. I love you Shell Lumber.
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