Month: January 2005

Hate the Aesthetic Right

Hate the Aesthetic Right

(Soundtrack: Buzzcocks — Singles Going Steady)

From the Comics Journal Messageboard comes Robert Fiore’s Adventures in Nomenclature. Check it out and see what you think of his “liberal/literal” distinction (I proposed Dave Sim’s real-fantasy spectrum as an alternative). I find the whole exercise far too polemical (of course, he wouldn’t be the first Fiore to come under this kind of fire!), but I can’t entirely discount any system that places Alex Ross’ work at the “wrong” extreme of the aesthetic continuum… I just cracked open Kingdom Come–which we’ll be discussing in class next week!–and I must tell you that “wrong” is the only word that adequately describes my feelings at this moment. So…so…wrong…

The really interesting thing about this particular type of conversation is that proponents of an “anti-realistic” aesthetic in cartooning (with whom I am in complete sympathy) are often the same people that decry the kinds of “anti-realistic” storytelling elements in superhero comics (“dynamic stasis”, retcons, and the whole romance/symbolist mode in general…) that fascinate me. What does this mean?

Oh. Right. It means give ’em something “cartoony”, but straightforward, with clear “development” and a “payoff”–like, oh, New Frontier, for instance, and they’ll eat it up! (unless they’ve written off superhero comics entirely–which at least has the virtue of making sense!)

Good Afternoon Friends!



Spotting Superman Blue in the Black

Spotting Superman Blue in the Black

You know, every once in a while, it hits me that Frank Black really oughtta write the occasional superhero comic:

Billy Radcliffe didn’t go to town
And when we looked up
He was looking right down
Catching blue in his eyes that were brown
Billy Radcliffe
(Billy Radcliffe)

Billy Radcliffe owned by the state
From his first breath
To the cemetery gate
He was the first boy born in space
Billy Radcliffe
(Billy Radcliffe)

Billy Radcliffe very first one
He really had lived just a cursed son
A split in half man sang the cherubim
Billy Radcliffe
(Billy Radcliffe)

Billy Radcliffe saw what the Devil man he saw
He saw a spot of blue in black of the eye of the Lord Such a cruel love
Is the kind that has wrought oh Billy
Billy Radcliffe

Billy sadly didn’t live long
He had to stay there
Because he wasn’t too strong
He’s stepping out the door
Blowing up like bomb
Billy Radcliffe
(Billy Radcliffe)

Billy Radcliffe very first one
Really a hatched man a light switch son
A split in half man sang the cherubim

Billy Radcliffe very first one
A split in half man sang the cherubim
I bet you cried when he died now didja
Now didja ?

Now Billy Radcliffe saw what the Devil man he saw
He saw a spot of blue in black of the eye of the Lord Oh Billy
Billy Radcliffe saw what the Devil man had
And I feel very bad for
William Radcliffe

Of course–he’s pretty busy…

One thing I do know for sure–there is no better soundtrack for Grant Morrison’s work than a Black album (although I would be remiss if I failed to mention here that sometime-commenter Joe has argued that wonderful things can result from the combination of Animal Man and Tool’s Lateralus–I plan to test out his theory this semester…)

Also–over on Comic Book Politics, I waded into the problem of reading Watchmen allegorically (violently opposed–in a nice way, of course!–by Marc Singer and Steven Berg) by suggesting that:

I’m no more a fan of [this kind of reading] than Marc or Steven are, but I think that, in this particular case, the work almost begs for it! It’s kind of the Magic Mountain of superhero comics… but here’s the thing: if you pursue my analogy, Dreibeg & Juspeczyk (you left her out!) become a kind of dual-Hans Castorp… not stand-ins for any philosophy, but protean figures stranded in the labyrinth of allegories that Moore builds around them “while they were sleeping”, as it were…

now, what do we do with that assertion? (assuming that people don’t just discard it out of hand)–well, I’m not sure…but I’ll know more in a few weeks!

Whaddya think?

Over on my own courseblog, I’m still setting the stage for the discussions to come, with some good old-fashioned nods toward Plato, Anne Hutchinson, Jonathan Edwards, and the general direction of The Sublime. (I like to think that these will at least make a modicum of sense to the fine people who endured my two frantic lectures this week!)

Happy MLK Day (in advance) Friends!


Enlighten Up

Enlighten Up

(Soundtrack: The Distillers —Sing Sing Death House, featuring the first punk song that I’ve ever heard about the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, which contains the magnificent lyric–“The thing about destiny/Is it never sets you free”… “Bullet and the Bullseye” is pretty fucking amazing too, in a completely different way… Brody Dalle is definitely the new Courtney Love–and, believe me, there isn’t much higher praise that I am capable of bestowing upon anyone!)

Just a couple of things that caught my eye today:

John Commonplacebook, newly returned from one helluva trip, wonders about all of the Enlightenment-bashing that echoes through the halls of academia. I couldn’t agree more with his current position on the matter. There’s a lot to love in postmodern thought–but almost all of it has grown out of the “Romancing of the Enlightenment” that figures like Shelley, Emerson, and Nietzsche first undertook, back in the wondrous nineteenth century. John also has some interesting ideas about Henry James that will doubtless flower into characteristically fine future-posts!

The Wildcat discourses upon Mulholland Dr. (as a particularly fine example of “shrapnel narrative”) and Veitch/Edwards’The Question (as an instance of “sizzling Pop Art Beauty”) in the same post! Yes. Yes.

Good Evening Friends!


Get Out Your Dollies…And Your Demi-Gods

Get Out Your Dollies…And Your Demi-Gods

Fun piece here on the meanness and the sublimity of the human race, by Phoebe Gloeckner. (link courtesy of TCJ Messageboard … do yourself a favour–don’t read that thread!)

On a more technical note–I’m going to be putting a lot of time in on my courseblog for the next few months, so I really don’t expect to be posting here very often during that period; and when I do, I will most likely be on about Hawthorne, Melville, Emily Dickinson or the historiography of the New Deal, rather than comics…but please feel free to drop in on the conversation over there, once it begins in earnest, with Kingdom Come!

Good Night Friends!



Course Blog

It’s coming along now!

There won’t be much about comics for a week or two, and I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me–adding links/written material to the various course-material posts…but the foundations have been laid!

Meanwhile, I want to know–why on earth did Martin Scorsese go on making a film about Howard Hughes when he could have been making a film about Katharine Hepburn? And anyway–doesn’t Milos Forman handle all of the “crazy asshole bucks the system and accomplishes nothing but his own self-aggrandizement” biopics?
(Perhaps Milos ought to get to work on securing the rights to Dave Sim’s life right now, before Scorsese steals that one too! Frankly, Cerebus is a lot more impressive than the “Spruce Goose”–and I predict that it will eventually come to be regarded as one of the great works of the twentieth century…despite, or perhaps because of, its author’s insanity!)

Good Night Friends!


Get on the Syllabus!

Get on the Syllabus!

UPDATE: Just in case anyone’s interested–I’ve finalized the course “soundtrack” and there’s an itemized list of the songs down there in the “texts” section…Good night all!

Here it is! Now I just have to get cracking on that course-blog I’m pinning my hopes on for this semester! And if any of this wets your appetite for the combination of comics, politics, and academia, hie thee to Comic Book Politics, which is already in full swing!

WRAC 130: American Radical Thought

Section 11: Tuesdays & Thursdays 12:40pm to 2:30pm

Room: Bessey-312        

Instructor: David Fiore

Office Number: Bessey-301

Office Hours: Tuesdays 3pm to 5pm (or by appointment)

Course Description:

The thespian’s mantra, “acting is reacting”, holds just as true in the political and philosophical arenas as it does upon the literal stage. This is an indispensable insight for students of American radicals to keep in mind–i.e. what are these individuals reacting to? Is it the “power structure” (often referred to as the “military industrial complex”)? The complacency of an electorate which votes for the status quo every 4 years, regardless of which party they support? Or some combination of the two? Are these things even separable? At the heart of this question lies a radical chiasmus that marks the thinking of any proponent of a better world: in order to change the social structure, it is necessary to change the people; and yet, it isn’t possible to change the people without changing the social structure.

In this course, we will examine a number of figures, in a variety of texts, dealing with precisely this problem, in its most extreme form–and take up their cross ourselves. There is very little likelihood that we will emerge from the ordeal with any definite answers. However, it is my hope that our gain in mutual understanding will make up, at least in part, for this almost certain disappointment. You will be responsible for generating a great deal of our reading material, and, in a very real sense, your most important research this semester will be the investigation of each others’ thought. This is ideal, because our primary objective in this course will be to develop your writing skills–and writing is reacting.


Ralph Waldo Emerson — Complete Writings

Mark Waid & Alex Ross — Kingdom Come

Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall, Paul Ryan, John Buscema, et al.Squadron Supreme

Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons — Watchmen

Frank Miller — The Dark Knight Returns

Jaime Hernandez — Locas

Grant Morrison, Chas Truog, Tom Grumett, Paris Cullins, et al. Animal Man

An assortment of on-line readings (including your own writings!)– see

Our course soundtrack (which I will distribute on the first day of class):

1. “Rebel Girl” — Bikini Kill & Joan Jett

2. “Terror Mad Visionary” — New Kingdom

3. “Freakathon” — Red Aunts

4. “Pure Massacre” — Silverchair

5. “Hate the Christian Right” — Team Dresch

6. “Killing in the Name” — Rage Against the Machine

7. “Call the Doctor” — Sleater-Kinney

8. “Have You Ever” — Offspring

9. “The Masses Are Asses” — L7

10. “By the Time I Get to Arizona” — Public Enemy

11. “DemiRep” — Bikini Kill & Joan Jett

12. “Shut ’em Down” — Public Enemy

13. “Co Pilot” — New Kingdom

14. “Spawn Again” — Silverchair

15. “Screwing Yer Courage” — Team Dresch

16. “I Like Fucking” — Bikini Kill

17. “LAPD” — Offspring

18. “Down Rodeo” — Rage Against the Machin e

19. “TGIF” — Le Tigre

20. “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” — Public Enemy

21. “Paradise Don’t Come Cheap” — New Kingdom

22. “Fight the Power” — Public Enemy


Spike Lee — Bamboozled

Frank Capra — Meet John Doe

Frank Borzage — Strange Cargo

Kimberly Peirce — Boys Don’t Cry

David Lynch — Mulholland Dr.

David Fincher — Fight Club

Plagiarism Disclaimer:

If I discover that you have used another person’s material without citing it, I will give you a zero for the assignment. No explanations will be accepted.


(I will hand out more specific instructions regarding each of these assignments in class as the semester progresses.)

1. A short introductory piece–what is your definition of “radicalism”? What does a radical commitment entail? (5% of grade)

2. “Policing the World”: discuss the ways in which Kingdom Come, Squadron Supreme and Watchmen address the connected problems of radical change/maintenance of order, with reference to Emerson, Von Clausewitz, Thomas Hobbes, and the opinions of your peers–1500 words (15% of grade)

3. Music Critique: discuss one or more of the songs/bands on the sountrack, with reference to the opinions of your peers and the links I will provide — 1000 words (10% of grade)

4. Film Critique: discuss one of our films, with reference to the opinions of your peers and the links I will provide-1000 words (10% of grade)

5. Long paper on one of our texts. Must include references to peer discussions and at least three outside sources. The choice of focus is up to you (to be decided upon in consultation with me) -2000 words (30% of grade)

6. Written Participation (20% of grade)–This course will not function unless you contribute your opinions to our discussion forum! The grade will be assessed on the following basis: a maximum of 13 points for each “letter” posted to our weekly letters page (of course you are welcome to post more than once a week!), 4 points for posts to film discussion lists (4 different films–although, again, follow-up posts are welcome and encouraged!), 3 points for posts to three separate song discussion lists. Posts must be at least 100 words in length and demonstrate some evidence of thought in action, in order to receive credit.

7. Class Participation (10% of grade)–to be assessed based upon your participation in general class discussions.

“Typical Class”:

(excepting the first 4 sessions and classes devoted to film screenings)

12:40-1:05 Small group discussions, based upon the comments submitted to class forum–which I will print up and distribute (Tues); or progress on upcoming assignments–i.e. peer editing (Thurs)

1:05-1:30 I will deliver an interpretation of the day’s assigned reading, based upon references to specific moments in the text and insights gleaned from the larger philosophical, political, and aesthetic context.

1:30-1:40 Break

1:40-2:30 Class discussion, which will grow, initially, out of your comments upon/quarrels with my interpretation/choice of contextual frame, and hopefully spread into a more general, non-Fiore-centric debate!

Due Dates:

I will not accept any papers after the specified due dates.

Attendance Policy:

I will be taking attendance. You have a right to miss 3 classes-any additional absences will result in the loss of 0.25 per absence off of your final grade. (i.e.: a student who earns a 3.5, but misses 5 classes, will receive a 3.0).

Course Schedule:

Jan 11th: Introductory lecture; formation of groups

Jan 13th: Emerson, Nature

Jan 18th: peer-edit assignment #1; Emerson “Self-Reliance”, “History”

Jan 20th: Emerson “Circles”, “Experience”; Assignment #1 due

(weekly discussion forum postings begin–due before 11am, each Tuesday)

Jan 25th: Kingdom Come and the Myth of the Hero

Jan 27th: movie screening: Meet John Doe

Feb 1st: Squadron Supreme #1-3

Feb 3rd: movie screening: Strange Cargo

Feb 8th: Squadron Supreme #4-9

Feb 10th: Squadron Supreme #10-12; discuss assignment #2 in groups

Feb 15th: Watchmen #1-3

Feb 17th: movie screening: Bamboozled

Feb 22nd: Watchmen # 4-6

Feb 24th: Watchmen # 7-9; discuss assignment #2 in groups

March 1st: Watchmen #10-12

March 3rd: movie screening: Fight Club; assignment #2 due

****Spring Break*****

March 15th: Dark Knight Returns #1-2

March 17th: Dark Knight Returns #3-4; discuss assignment #3 in groups

March 22nd: Locas pages 7-245; assignment #3 due

March 24th: movie screening: Boys Don’t Cry

March 29th: Locas pages 246-542

March 31st: movie screening: Mulholland Dr.

April 5th: Locas pages 543-704

April 7th: Animal Man #1-4; discuss assignment #4

April 12th: Animal Man #5

April 14th: Animal Man #6-11, including Secret Origins #39; assignment #4 due

April 19th: Animal Man #12-17

April 21st: Animal Man #18-22; discuss assignment #5 in groups

April 26th: Animal Man #23-26

April 28th: full class peer-editing and general discussion of assignment #5

May 5th :  class evaluations; assignment #5 due (this is our exam period)

Bon Weekend les amis!


It Came From the Comment-Threads!

It Came From the Comment-Threads!

Busy again today (or, at least, busy procrastinating on Yahoo games or
somethin’!)–but I think this is important enough to rescue from
yesterday’s wild n’ wooly comment-thread!

Tim O’Neil wrote:

Well, it seems to me that when you’re speaking about
aesthetics, its easy to underestimate the effect your words have on
others. The reason for this is fairly obvious: even on an unconscious
level, if you think something is crap, you can’t imagine that anyone
else can seriously hold the opinion that it isn’t, and vice versa.

I try to keep a civil tongue in my head, because these things just have
a tendency to devolve too quickly. There have been too many times in my
history of using the internet that situations have gotten so
irrevocably bad that I have just had to foreswear whichever forum I was
on and never, ever return. In almost all cases, I have held true to my
word: and in all of these cases, the mailing lists which I left are no
more. The internet is a big steaming pile of anger, and quite frankly,
if I could give it up I would. But you know, its necessary, because
having a net presence is absolutely necessary for one’s career, in the
fields in which I toil. So basically I couldn’t leave if I wanted to.

(Although, I will note that I have not returned to the Journal boards
in… God, three years? Ever since they did away with psuedonyms,
basically. I always signed my posts with my real name anyway, but man,
that rule just teed me off.

But man, you need to learn that what is fun debate for you can quickly
turn into blood-curdling anger for another, and because you’re facing
the computer screen you have no idea. You know from our mutual shared
experiences how easy it is for people to misunderstand you even on a
more intimate basis.
Just remember: what you see as part of a friendly debate, is extremely
easy to be misconstrued as agressive baiting. There have been many
times I have felt you have been purposefully baiting me, and I know I’m
not alone. Just be careful.

My reply:

Tim–I really will take that under advisement!
One interesting thing to note, however, is that, with the exception of
Identity Crisis, I can’t really think of anything that I’ve posted on
here that I think is “crap” (yes, I said some fairly aggressive things
about New Frontier, but that’s because I was treating Cooke’s book as
an interpretation of the superhero genre that I disagree with…not
because I don’t think it has any merit–obviously, the guy is a very
good artist, and I never imagined that my post would have upset him or
his fans in the way that it did! Or, let’s just say that, when I did
imagine a response from him, I imagined something a little more
content-based than what I got, which was, basically, “damn you for
taking my work seriously!”)

So, yeah, how many times do I have to remind people that I’m not some
“anti-art-comix” fanboy? The problem, it seems to me, is that the
comics subculture really doesn’t have a place for someone like me–i.e.
seriously interested in superhero comics, but not hostile in any way to
the sequential art equivalent of “high lit”… Basically, what I’m
trying to do is make a space for myself in this culture, and there’s no
way to do it without going to war with the old categories!  (and
please note that it’s the categories that I’m at war with–not any
specific people!) Sure, lots
of people love all sorts of comics, but most of the people who fall
into this camp also perpetuate the notion that it’s okay to love
superhero comics, as long as you don’t try to make them (any of them!)
into something they’re not–i.e. “art”… Well, I can’t accept that,
obviously, but that does not, in my mind, necessitate any sort of
adversarial stance, on my part, toward the vast world of comics beyond
the confines of the corporate universes that have been my prime focus
for the past year or so!

Good Afternoon Friends!