Month: December 2003

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I’ve got a lot on my mind tonight!

First, H’s epic overview of Infinity Inc. continues at The Comic Treadmill, and, as always, when the man talks about Roy Thomas/Earth-2, I listen, and am moved to respond! Let’s do it point-form, shall we?

1. You win H, Infinity Inc. IS the worst team name in the history of comics. I’ve ruled Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. ineligible, since it was just a stupid toy line–I don’t think anyone ever wrote/drew adventures for Jimbo, the Whip, Warpath, and Dr. Steel… at least I hope they didn’t! Of course, there’s always Team America to consider…

2.Yes, Issue #2’s confrontation at the “MacTavish” restaurant was awful, and it pained me to read it. I’ve always loved the ol’ “super-heroes at the all-night cafe” scenario, but clearly, the spectacle of “Elvira bugging the freaks” pales in comparison to the immortal X-Men #47 (wherein Hank McCoy makes short work of a “motorcyclist” named “Cairo” while a guy called “Fat Man” chants poetry), and the even more fondly remembered X-Men #31 (written by Roy himself), in which “Bernard the Poet” hits on Iceman’s date Zelda, and has his espresso frozen but good. Both of these mutant classics are set at the “Cafe-a-Go-Go” (which ranks a close second to “The Coffee Bean” as my favourite Silver Age locale… Yes, I’m a troubled man–I’m fascinated by super-hero comics, but I have no interest in fight scenes, except insofar as they can be read as expressions of something other than mere playground scuffling!)

3.Speaking of fight scenes, Infinity Inc. #2-4 has way too many of them, and none of them make sense–which contrasts sharply with the first issue of the series, so promisingly free of fisticuffs, after the initial battle/misunderstanding…

4.About Norda–H, I’d love it if you found something in Alter Ego regarding Roy’s intentions with that character. As always, I was just guessing yesterday…

A Note on all of this “Team Comix” stuff

I usually don’t get involved in the whole “how do we save comics?” thing because… well… I don’t have any disposable income, and I don’t buy new comics, so who cares what I think, right? As I’ve stated previously, I’m not particularly interested in comics as a medium, and I had never participated in the sub-culture (outside of weekly trips to the comic store from about 1987 to 1991), until I started this weblog.

Now, Dirk Deppey has been very busy lately, talking about the pernicious effects of the Direct Market upon the prospects for diversity within the medium, and I don’t suppose I can fault him–after all, he’s got a personal interest in seeing that his company’s product gets maximum exposure. However, what all of the “comic stores are killing comics” people seem to ignore is that most “comic stores” have never been “comic stores” at all!! In Montreal, we’ve got retailers with names like “Captain Quebec”, “Heroes and Villains”, “Super-Heroes”, etc–do you see what I’m saying here? They are “genre stores”. We also have bookstores that specialize in stuff like New Age material, and Sci-Fi. I don’t have any interest in either type of book, and I wouldn’t set foot in either establishment–but I would never dream of telling the owners of these stores to ‘diversify’ their product! They are specialty shops!!

It seems to me that a lot of the griping is being done by people who went to comic stores as kids, and have now, for whatever reason, “outgrown” the super-hero habit (which they associate with children/immaturity), but wish to continue frequenting their fondly-remembered childhood haunts… Solution? Make your local super-hero guy sell (and promote) Drawn & Quarterly titles! What? That’s like becoming a vegetarian and then insisting that your favourite burger joint start selling samosas…

I wouldn’t have bothered with this rant, except that I read this coment/exchange, on the Comics Journal Messageboard in fact, and I felt it needed seconding:

Do you think the lack of confident males (creators/creations/community) in alternative comics could be the reason why alternative comics haven’t taken off in the mainstream as well as we all would like?

Define “mainstream”. The bookshelves at the mall up the road are groaning under the weight of the latest restocking of JIMMY CORRIGAN.

Yes Dirk, there is a “mainstream”, and I think it’s safe to say that those vital waters don’t flow through your local “Fortress of Comics-Dude”. That’s just a backwater (a fascinating backwater, as far as I’m concerned, but we all know I’m peculiar). At a “mainstream” store–like my place of work (a medium-sized genral bookstore located near a university), for instance–the Graphic Novel section is likely to have 20 copies of Louis Riel, or The Acme Novelty Datebook, Jimmy Corrigan etc for every super-hero TPB(we don’t even stock Watchmen!)–and forget about finding any Marvel Masterworks or DC Archives… What I’m saying is this–I shed no tears when “Nebula Books” went out of business, why do you care if the super-hero guys go under? There will still be outlets for Fantagraphics books…

Okay, now about all of these

PETA pans

Listen, I’ve avoided going into any great detail re:my Animal Rights views here, because this is a forum for discussion, and, as Matt O’Rama (check the comments) and I agreed recently, you cannot debate first principles… Either you “convert” or you don’t, and that’s all there is to it. Yeah, you can convince someone to become a vegetarian through reasoned argument–the health benefits, the whole “cattle farming takes up too much space on the planet” thing–but that’s not what PETA is trying to do! They are aiming for gut-level assent to the proposition that all of the sentient beings on the planet have the right to be treated as ends in themselves. It’s not about “being nice to the animals” (any more than rights-based democracy is about being nice to the average citizen). It’s about accepting them as real. What kind of planet would we have if everyone made this leap? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But that’s not the point–and remember, I have no interest in trying to convince anyone reading this that my Animal Rights propostion is in any sense “correct”. We’re beyond good and evil here. I’ve made a radical choice. So have you. What I’m interested in here is the notion people seem to have that PETA could act in any way other than they do, and whether they should be prevented from disseminating their message.

Consider this:

Young children need time and guidance to be able to deal with the world’s ugliness. Even if you agree with these idiots, you cannot seriously think it’s ok to give this crap to a 7 year old kid.

PETA is off the planet with this shit, and if they put it in my kid’s hand while I was standing there (or any other parent reading this) they’d draw back a stump.

This is pretty typical of the response that PETA’s pamphlet has generated, and it’s disgraceful. When “Dave-in-Texas” says “Young children need time and guidance to be able to deal with the world’s ugliness”, what he really means is–kids should not be forced to think about horrors until they are taught that those horrors are not horrors at all, but merely ugly realities… At that point, the battle for conversion is already lost. Congratulations “D-in-T”–your kids will wind up just like their old man: ornery bastards ready to chop off the hands of any pamphleteers that disturb their tranquility!

We protect our children too much. Exposure to visceral images at an early age opens us up to a whole universe of radical choices, and offers up at least a possible opportunity for the excercise of free will (not that I really believe in such a thing… but even the staunchest Calvinist believes that the Word is an important trigger of “conversion”, despite the fact that “Election” is predestined. Believe me, I am not making a flip comparison here–in both cases, a complete “transvaluaion of values” is effected.)

So anyway, believe what you want. And certainly, I don’t condone any acts of violence Animal Rights people might commit. That’s just insanity, you don’t make change by terrorizing the majority. Change happens when the majority assents to it… Moreover, I don’t have the slightest desire to “convert” anyone, I like just about everybody, and I’m not suited to delivering harangues, but I do think that, in our society, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that the “means of conversion” remains operative, and protected from the kind of violence that people like this other Dave are wont to invoke.

This is NOT “psychological child abuse”, this is an image–and a message–designed to provoke an existential crisis, and, as Bill Sherman makes clear, the crisis need not lead to the resolution that PETA is looking for… Either way, it’s fine with me, I just don’t want to see our children “protected” from ideas until they’re old enough (and blinkered enough) to just explain them away… There are no easy answers, and there’s more wrong with the world than just “ugliness”. I’m not saying that my choice is the only one possible. I’m just saying–let your kids decide these things for themselves, and stop polishing the sharp edges off of reality for them. You aren’t doing anyone any favours…

Good night friends & happy new Year!
Dave

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There are big doings re: Infinity Inc. over at The Comic Treadmill tonightH kicks off the new series by giving us his impressions of the young group’s roster… It’s very helpful, but I’ve got a quibble or two:

1. While I appreciated the critique of Northwind on a stylistic level (quoth H: “The way this character was written his name should have been milquetoast. He rarely spoke or exhibited any personality. And his power – flying. That’s it.”), I have to dissent from it. Just based on a re-reading of the first ten issues (I hadn’t read’em in about 13 years), I like what Roy tried to do with Norda. The way I see it, this is how a person from a closest-thing-to-Utopia kinda place like Feithera (seems like a version of Shangri-La to me) would behave in the human war-zone. He’s polite to everyone (even those who treat him abominably), eager to please, and displays a good sense of humour (which is not to be confused with “life-of-the-party” type clowning)… Actually, I see Northwind as a kind of trial run for one of my favourite Thomas-written (although not Thomas created) characters–Rintrah!!! Of course, Norda can’t shape-shift, which prevents him from doing fun stuff like turning himself into Fred Astaire when you least expect it (indeed, the bird-man lacks the bull-man’s convert-to-pop-culture zeal entirely–at least through issue 10)… Bottom line–there aren’t many Gandhi-style passive-resistance heroes out there, and I applaud Roy for trying to write one into Infinity Inc.. That’s not to say he was able to do much with him, of course…

2.The other high-point of H’s introduction was his discussion of Nuklon, particularly this observation:

Out of decency, I’m not going to mention that Roy decided a Mohawk for Nuklon was a hip haircut in 1984. Damn. I guess I have to mention it. A Mohawk? In 1984? If Roy was doing this to deliberately make Nuklon look like an out-of-touch social loser, he’s a creative genius.

Well, I’m going to plunge right into intentional fallacy territory here and argue that the haircut is an inspired bit of characterization, for precisely the reason that H states. I mean, Nuklon is an out-of-touch loser, trying hard to fit in with a new, rather self-assured crowd, and it’s pretty clear from his dialogue/thoughts that the mohawk is a bid for acceptance, rather than some kind of defiant gesture…

By the way, all of this talk about bad eighties hair got me thinking about one of my favourite bands, and the frontman’s Nuklonesque cry for help, after things began to fall apart in…yes, 1984:

That’s Joe Strummer folks (thank you Google search!!!)

Oh yes–and here’s some awfulness, courtesy of my hometown rag… I can’t believe Dirk Deppey gave this review the time of day! I mean, “Comic Books have grown up”? Come on! I thought it was already a cliche to make fun of cliched statements like that! And please, “looking at wars and hardships” has nothing to do with being grown up–all that entails is writing & drawing in a sophisticated way (read “sophisticated” any way you want, but I mean “susceptible to sophisticated analysis”–it’s the academic in me)… Besides–if you must write about “adult-oriented” comics (and believe me–it’s not a must), then for God’s sake have the decency not to gibber about Mythology! I have no problem with Love and Rockets, and I don’t know The Fixer, but I don’t see how anyone can claim that Alex Ross is doing anything very mature, particularly whilst arguing, in the same breath, that the artist “draws the superheroes of his childhood not as they appeared in print but as they lived in his imagination”… That’s my whole problem with Ross! He (& Busiek, & Waid, & Doc Nebula + ADD, in his own sneering way) is responsible for the “retroactive infantilization” (“re-juvenilization”? certainly not the rejuvenation–more like the cremation) of the Silver Age… Would anyone out there care to read a novel that represented a putatively grown-up man’s recreation of his juvenile encounters with the novels of Henry James? Of course not. But we’ve been through all of this before!

Good night friends!
Dave

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Just read Auster’s Timbuktu, and, though it was nowhere near as good as Book of Illusions or Oracle Night, I still got into it, and enjoyed it… It’s strange, but Auster’s work seems to become a tad constricted when he uses a “non-dramatized” (third-person) narrator, as he does in this book. Usually, it’s the other way around. In the two more recent novels, David Zimmerman and Sidney Orr tell us about themselves in such a digressive way that, by the time they’re done, they’ve set so many storylines in motion that your mind is aswim. And swimming, as we all know, is good excercise (and low-impact too)… The upshot is that you don’t have to take any one stop as an end point, and there’s no real way to connect the dots the narrator throws at you…

Timbuktu is basically just an in-depth look at how “loyalty” (read–monomania inspired by “ontological terror”) works, and that’s fine, but I expect more from Auster than a new take on Diogenes’ dog-philosophy for the ninteties. I do agree with Mr. Bones (no, not the Infinity Inc. “Mr. Bones”, but I’ll be talking about him soon enough!) that “memory is a real place”–but goddamnit it’s not a place to retire to! It’s more like a stage upon which to enact new dramas! And the book’s final plunge into gnosticism really bugged me–all of a sudden you’re reading “The Little Match Dog”, and that’s not what I signed on for!

Hmm… speaking of the relative reality of non-spatial places– check out Father Tom’s look at Thomism & Time travel. Link via Josiah at Christus Victor, who has some thoughts of his own on these matters. Personally, I’m an “A-theorist” (although I am very interested in time travel to the past, as a literary device–unless it’s done poorly, as it almost always is…) More on this from me if I ever manage to get caught up on my sleep!

Good night friends
Dave

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Readers of Relapsed Arcs

Bruce Baugh asks, in an e-mail, whether films/texts that form “closed loops” are more to my liking than more traditionally sequential works–given my problem with endings. My short answer? Not really. My problem with teleology stems from regret over the senseless untying of the beautiful knots writers work so hard to create. The novel I’m working on deals with a great many things–but it’s called Longing For Catastrophe, and it is primarily concerned with the human need to impose “denouements” upon experience. I’m not saying that there aren’t endings in life–but, as Jonathan Edwards assures us, we don’t have much say about when they occur. Oh sure, we can commit suicide–but that doesn’t change the fact that our experiences lead us nowhere (if anything, it’s an admission of the same)… So! I either like to see a work that keeps that tension bottled up somehow (Marvel’s Silver Age), or allows the tension to build up to an insane pitch that destroys all narrative logic (Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance is the best example of this–Paul Auster’s books aspire to the same thing).

Bruce offers up Memento and Lost Highway as examples of closed loops which avoid the problem of closure. And they do. But they cheat. Life does “progress”–or, at any rate, experiences do pile up on top of one another, despite the fact that they never add up to anything greater than themselves. The way I see it, trick films of the “eternal recurrence” variety leave the spectator in just as much of a lurch as those which come to an epic climax–because both are calculated to make us think in terms of patterns, rather than about discrete events/characters… That said–I do find these films interesting, Bruce. At least they’re trying! The one that grabs me the most is Dead Of Night. Check it out everyone, it’s pretty amazing! I wish I had time to write more on this topic–and I will. Soon!

Good night friends!
Dave

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Soundtrack: Smashing Pumpkins — Adore

Report from the Anti-World

Well now–all of this holiday conviviality is nice, but it’s not conducive to blogging is it? Then again, that’s what this time of year is all about right? I mean, writing is an awful lot of fun–and maybe I ought to place more emphasis on the “awful” part of that statement than I generally do–but it isn’t life. Or is it? (Can you tell I’ve been eating Paul Auster books?) At least in blogging (as with comic books containing letters pages) the “reader response” is consubstantial with the writing itself–but when you’re bashing away at a novel, you’re a complete cypher, no? At least, that’s the Keatsian ideal. Yep, it’s fun to be “in control” of a world you like to think you’ve made–but the line between “transcendence” and “dissociation” is no line at all.

I just watched my brand new Criterion edition of Carnival of Souls. The film is as good as Eve Tushnet says it is, maybe better. For one thing, I don’t think this movie is about “death” at all–which is all to the good, as far as I’m concerned, because, frankly, who cares about death? I care about life. And loss. But not my own end. Break out your Epicurus friends! “While I am, death is not”–and, more importantly, vice versa… Candace Hilligoss is one of the most astonishing people you’ll never meet (not to mention beautiful–she’s like Eva Marie Saint, with more expressive eyes and a much larger nose; that nose really makes a difference–it practically jumps off the screen at you, you can imagine yourself touching it, and her–hmmm, was that out loud?), and what she gives us is a perfectly realized portrait of a person who cannot “connect”, and, unlike your basic schizophrenic, is completely aware of this lack. The “mind” gives us the power to perceive the world, and to make guesses about how it works–but it’s the “soul” that allows us actually live in it… You got that self-help gurus? Soul= “intersubjectivity”. There’s nothing “spiritual” about transcendence…


Anyway–Hilligoss in this film is all mind–in fact, she’s got so much on the ball that she can actually see beyond the limits of the mental–but that doesn’t help her to cross the border!

I’ve had this kind of stuff on the brain a lot lately! Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past. George Bailey in Pottersville. Jabez Stone in The Devil and Daniel Webster (which Christine got me for X-Mas!). Jesus! I just bought the Carl Dreyer boxed set (I’ve gone Criterion crazy, thanks to some very generous X-Mas money)–just because Ray Carney, the greatest film scholar who ever lived, assures me that Dreyer’s films are completely devoted to this theme! We’ll see!

Oh yes, before I go–Aaron Haspel has a post up about “discomfiture” in art, and, for the record, I have to voice my dissent from his opinion that an encounter with a great work of art is like “a discussion with a person who is more intelligent that you are”. I do expect to be “discomfitted” by great works of art–but Aaron seems to yoke all of this to “learning”, and I don’t believe art has anything to teach us. At least about the nature of human existence–I suppose there is satire that can help us to think about social arrangements, but then again, I don’t think artists (I’ll put my cards on the table and admit that I don’t count satirists as artists) ought to bother their heads about politics–leave that to essayists (who can, of course, be artists on hiatus from their true calling). I experience “discomfiture” whenever I am confronted by something that I never could have imagined–a thing that is manifestly alien to my “mental universe”, and yet present to my senses. I don’t know about you, but I crave that discomfiture more than anything (and when I write prose, I strive for the impossible by trying to “discomfit” my own crazy self, usually by channeling the raw power of the people in my life who’ve affected me this way)! An encounter with a great work of art is nothing more than that–it doesn’t teach us anything, and it doesn’t “show us the way”, it simply provides us with evidence (just as a meeting with an exceptional person does) that there are other minds in the world–and man, that’s enough for me (and I’ll bet Candace would’ve settled for it too)!

Exhausted!

Good night friends!
Dave

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Season’s Greetings!!!

From a Very Delinquent Yule-Blogger

As you have doubtless observed, I lost control of my Christmas blogging project quite a while ago, but that’s okay, because, at this time of the year, we shut out nothing, and other stuff came up!

It all happens too soon, and, as you know, I hate endings (December 24th is my favourite day of the year–the 25th may be the day I like the least!)–but you can count on me to do my part to keep the goodwill rolling into the New Year (expect my thoughts on It’s A Wonderful Life at the stroke of January, a big post on A Christmas Carol to ring in the spring, etc.) In the meantime, you might want to check out my list of Christmas Stuff That Should Never Be Put Away (particularly Remember the Night, which not enough folks have seen…)

Oh yeah, and if you share my feelings of admiration for Capra’s masterpiece, drop by The Mediadrome and explain to Helen Stringer that she’s “off her nut”. It’s A Wonderful Life saccharine? It’s a life-affirming film noir! You can’t get any less saccharine than that! (I do applaud her pick of The Thin Man though…)

Christine wishes you, Dashiell wishes you, Simpson wishes you, the Husk is drooling, but I think he wishes you, and I wish you an enchanted holiday season, my friends!

Goodnight
Dave

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I have a dream

I dream that one day, a person will be free to express their disinclination to watch/read/think about The Lord of the Rings without making reference to their gender. As Sean Collins and Jim Henley have demonstrated–this NYT article is not going to help bring about the kind of world I desire. In fact, it seems to me that we, as a society, are going backward in this regard (I sound like AC Douglas!)

Now, I’m not saying that the phenomenon of “chick flicks” and “guy movies” is anything new, but consider this: back in the thirties, film executives might have taken it for granted that a Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck “weeper” would attract a predominantly female audience, and a Cagney movie would more successfully attract men, but the films themselves didn’t harp on this fact! (oh yes–“self-awareness” can be a curse!) Why is it that I love Stella Dallas and hate the Bette Midler remake? (other than the fact that Stanwyck is a genius and Midler is a bum, that is) I think it’s because King Vidor directed the film as if the audience would be “promiscuous”–and let’s just say that when John Erman made Stella in 1990, he clearly envisoned the material as fodder for a sickening “girls’ night out”…

Let’s get one thing straight: The Lord of the Rings is an Epic, not a “guy flick”–a narrative ram battering down obstacle after obstacle in quest of the big orgasmic Telos. Needless to say, I blame essentialist feminists (or “gender tribalists”, as I like to call them)–as opposed to political feminists (who are bascially just human rights activists, and I’m always in on that!)–for creating an intellectual climate in which the link between aesthetic structure and sexual function has come to be seen as a self-evident proposition, obscuring the fact that it is merely a flimsy analogy. Somewhere along the line, critiques of “authoritarianism” became critiques of “patriarchy”, and every consistent liberal lost the ballgame right there!

I despise Epics. I hate anything that moves logically toward closure (even–or maybe especially–pessimistic closure). I like my art messy–anti-teleological, epistemologically at sea, sometimes “emotional”, sometimes not, but always more concerned with testing out human motives and perceptions than documenting human achievement. So! I like soap opera (from Hawthorne to Stanwyck to Spider-Man) and hard-boiled mysteries that substitute accidents and attitude for “ratiocination” (from Hawthorne–again–to Hammett to Auster). I also like comedies that travel in ridiculous orbit around the black hole of “meaning”–with human attractions providing all of the “gravity”… The Lord of the Rings is right up there with Homer, Wagner, and Alex Ross on my list of things to avoid–and it has nothing to do with my sexual organs (or orientation, for that matter–but I’ll scourge “queer theory” another day, hunh?)

Good night friends
Dave