The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

STORY PROBLEMS

For ten points: Is it step forwards, backwords, or sideways if Little Black Sambo characters are replaced by Scowling Gangsters in manga titles? Please show your work.

Also, Raekwon was not the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan. That was the RZA. And thus I come to suspect that perhaps the Emm Ess Emm really has lost touch with the pulse of ordinary Americans.

Link via Tom Spurgeon.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

WHAT I READ ON MY SUMMER VACATION, REVISITED.

Forgot to mention Felipe Smith's MBQ, one of the newer American manga from Tokyopop. An interesting start, though anyone who complains about decompression best stay away; the book is 220 pages of set-up for volume two. Which is cool, of course, if you're in it for the long haul, but who can tell who is, these days. Anyway. Volume One arranges the players--gangsta's, beatific fast food giants, rookie cops, and wannabe artists--on the stage, and sketches out their connections to each other. That's basically it. Though in it's favor, the story does move; Smith keeps the non-happenings moving fast enough that the absence of action isn't really noticeable. The storytelling is crisp; particularly the way Smith orients his characters with respect to his backgrounds, and the what he chooses to reveal and obscure between panel cuts; he likes to make you focus on a likely outcome, segue into a reaction consistent with that outcome, then pull the rug back. Well done.

But.

The last segment of story is an(other) attack on the comics industry, on superheros, sci-fi, fanboys, the way that The Stan keeps the true artist down. And maybe he's right; hell, if Smith told me it's hard to get a manga Magnolia published, hey, I'm buying. But that I might believe him doesn't mean I actually care. Which makes me a bad person, one who is likely Dragging Comics Backwards, but I don't care about that either. I'm sick of reading comics about comics, or about making comics, or about comics culture. It's tedious and it makes the work feel small. It doesn't fire my imagination. There's a big world out there, and new worlds besides; comics, take me somewhere new. Please. (Note that this comment also applies to Wanted, in addition to the below).

Besides, complaining about how hard it is to publish your book in a book published by one of the more successful publishers out there is just stupid. The injustice of it all.

Oh, and there are some serious gender issues: the women in this comic are all, no lie, screaming maniacs or dehumanized sex objects. A possible milestone to note: the first American manga analogue to Dave Sim emerges. Maybe. But still a book worth reading.
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BUT MALIBU STACY HAS A NEW HAT!

So. A new color scheme, from light blue to a somewhat darker blue. With luck, I'll figure out how to get my blogroll and comments back. Current action is running three to two that I don't. New content? Not so much. But new colors! Shiny and new! That's not enough? You people just take and take and take...
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Monday, July 25, 2005

WHAT I READ ON MY SUMMER VACATION

Not many blogs, certainly. And very few comics, for that matter. I did read the Wanted trade. I know; I was warned. Even so, my expectations were too high; and I'm a man of simple tastes, who can be distracted by pretty explosions done right. I like my fireworks, narrative and otherwise. And the book fails at even this, which is a shame, because at least competent boom-bap would have partially disguised the abject failure of the books argument. The last two pages of the book are a standard issue, though more explicit than normal "you are all pathetic sheep who refuse to seize the power given you" critique of modern consumer culture; all of us sheeple are contrasted with Wesley, who, after an issue of enduring race, gender, and competency related humiliations, has freed himself from the bourgeois rules by force of arms; he (literally) stops being screwed and starts doing the screwing. But what lesson is there? Wesley has the magic ticket; he's in essence given his freedom when he finds out that he is The World's! Greatest! Killer! Which of course makes it much easier to get make your own way in the world. The rest of us? Well, I guess we continue to get screwed, since power is the coin that pays the way out. Odd that Millar, avowed semi-socialist that he is, doesn't seem to see that he's making the same argument as any number of right-wingers, the one in which rich men, many of whom did not earn their positions, rail at the poor for not helping themselves sufficiently.

What else? Steve Niles' Secret Skull. Competent, though man would I have been mad had I paid what IDW wanted for the trade; story value is perhaps a third of what was charged. Nice coloring job, though, a cartoon version of the graveyard palette. Street Angel was nice; not up the expectations the relentless internet hyping saddled it with, but still: nice. It was, at times, I thought, too knowingly wacky for its own good, particularly the second issue; this problem was minimized as the volume went on, and later segments felt much more organic. The broken up lettering was a neat design element, though overused. And I demand, demand, damn it, to see the basketball skills put to use.

And that's it for comics. Actually, not quite. I cranked through Thomas Ott's Cinema Panopticon prior to leaving. That book is an object lesson in the triumph of technique over content. A series of semi-horrific vignettes, told in wood cut, or so it appears. The stories are nothing special; typical EC style twisters. But the wood cut illustration lends these twice told tales weight they likely don't deserve; the stark, wavy lines are at once realistic and abstract. The art distorts from the real world in a way that highlights the surreality of the stories. Objects are recognizable but somehow wrong. I don't think that the story content could bear any sort of weight with a different art style.

I had substantially better luck with books. Flew through The Smartest Guys in the Room, about Enron, which turned out to be the scariest book I've read in years; a big red flashing reminder that the customer is not always right; that the customer is sometimes, in fact, really, really wrong. There's a lesson there for Alberto Gonzalez, should he choose to heed it. Less terrifying but still scary by virtue of personal interest is Evan Wright's Generation Kill, about Marines in Iraq; my brother in law should wrap boot camp next week, then on to Camp Lejeune. I wonder how much the soldiers in the book are products of the Marines, and how much of their attitude was concrete pre-enlistment. I wonder if it's even possible for him to come back as the same person I knew.

Read George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords. I'd resisted reading more fantasy for years, until the first book in this series. And now I'm nosing around the fantasy rack in Borders, sheepishly looking at spines. I know, just know, that I'm heading for a bad reading experience; several, likely. If the fourth book would come out sooner, I'd be able to better control this reawakened fantasy monkey on my back, but no....now release is in November sometime. Rats.

And lastly, read Melville's The Confidence Man. Who knew it was a non-fiction account of the Karl Rove era? Not me. Depressing, somehow, to realize that the tactics may change but the game never does.
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LIVING LIKE MACARTHUR

I have returned, though not by sea, and sans corn cob pipe; an overinflated sense of self did of course make the trip. In fact, I returned twice; once, to my old home, once to my new. The old is central Wisconsin; I can barely recognize the landscape now. What used to be fields we would play soldier in are now housing developments. A new Wal-Mart, a new(ish) highway. The foundry is, literally, gone; a whole industrial facility vanished. I can still find houses whose foundations I helped pour, but it's harder now; too much new hay surrounding the needles.

And yet it still feels, demonstrably, like home. The details feel right even if the stage has been rearranged. The styles of the houses, the types of trees. The lake, and how I miss the lake; how I miss freshwater. There's a quality to the light in Wisconsin that is observably different from that in the South; it feels more brittle up North, somehow, more fragile (though moreso in fall than summer). It feels like a place that I could slip into again, and perhaps will. Did I really want to leave, fourteen years ago? Is it failure to return? Ten years ago I might have said yes, to both questions. Now I'm not sure, which I'm sure blows my hipster credentials, such as they are, all to hell. But I've lived in the big city; I've done my time in black, thanks. I've lived in cities long enough to grow picky. I'll live in a city where I can walk places, but not one where I'm stuck in traffic all day; I'll live in a city without a yard but I damn well better have decent public green space. Do I love where I am now? No. I don't hate it, mind. I tolerate it. It's tolerable. I'm not certain what keeps me here, other than inertia and a fantastic job. Who is the bigger coward: the guy who tolerates where he is for the sake of a job or the guy who leaves the good job to run home?

A return to small town America? Why yes, maybe. Especially given the internet; I can get any book I want, most songs I want, delivered right to my door. The lack of good brick and mortar stores isn't the brick to head, culturally, it once was. So, we'll see. On Wisconsin. Maybe.
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