Monday, January 31, 2005

The 12 Labors of Superman

It might be a few weeks old by now, but there's an excellent interview with Grant Morrison up at Newsarama about his upcoming All-Star Superman project with Frank Quitely. I like Grant's interviews almost as much as his comics--he's always interesting and entertaining and storytelling. I've never thought about Superman very much, being a Marvel kid growing up and all, and he's always seemed to be a pretty boring character. When I was 18 or 19 I came up with a very involved Golden Age to the modern-era storyline that involved a cast of superheroes that mirrored the Marvel and DC lines, but played out in what I thought of as the Watchmen mold--I took fantastic ideas and then tried to play it straight. The only thing that made sense for the Superman-style character (I named him "Mr. Victory"--he showed up in 1939, keep in mind) was to have him fly off into space for a few decades, traveling the cosmos, before returning with the intention of re-molding human civilization to his liking. Something Grant touches on in this interview is that in our world, the real world, we tend to view people who are different and/or successful with mistrust and hate. But the thing about comics is that you can write about a world that *isn't* ours. Hell, that's the thing about all fiction, and it's something I think a lot of people forget about.

"That would never happen," is probably the most common complaint, ever, lobbed at any piece of fiction. Whether it's teenagers going into a dark room, a couple staying together when it seems like they should part, a rocket ship from another world crash-landing in Kansas and being discovered by a loving, but childless, couple--"it would never happen like that." But the thing is, it doesn't have to--hell, it's not supposed to. It's a made-up story. Everything you read on the page or see on the screen is a choice the writer makes, and makes for a reason. So in comics, and specifically in DC Comics, most folks love Superman, super-powered stranger from another world or not.

As far as writing about Superman, one comment from Grant really got my brain working. He was at the San Diego Comic-Con a few years ago, out front talking with then-JLA editor Dan Raspler. Someone in a Superman outfit comes walking by--and if you've been to a comic show you know the sort of dude I mean--and Grant and Dan started asking him questions, which he answered in-character. Things like what he thought of Batman, stuff like that, and the dude in the suit was all about it. But what struck me was when Grant said this:

"The thing that really hit me though, wasn't so much what he was saying as how he was sitting. The guy was perched on a bollard with one knee drawn up, chin resting on his arms. He looked totally relaxed...and I suddenly realized this was how Superman would sit. He wouldn't puff out his chest or posture heroically, he would be totally chilled. If nothing can hurt you, you can afford to be cool. A man like Superman would never have to tense against the cold; never have to flinch in the face of a blow. He would be completely laid back, un-tense. With this image of Superman relaxing on a cloud looking out for us all in my head, I rushed back to my hotel room and filled dozens of pages of my notebook with notes and drawings."

And somehow, that's how I've never thought of Superman. As a guy sitting on a bench, a guy I could write about. That image, plus Grant's overarching idea for his All-Star story--"The 12 Labors of Superman"--that gets me excited to see what Grant and Frank are going to do with this character and in this comic book. Well, that, and this statement:

"I just read - yesterday in fact - the story 'Superman's New Power' which appeared in Superman #125 from November 1958. And guess what Superman's new power was in the 'conservative' ‘50s. That's right - it's a teeny-tiny little Superman who shoots out from the palm of the big Superman's hand and does everything better than Superman himself, leaving the full-size Superman feeling redundant and worthless. Holy analysis, Batman! It's mindbending, brilliant and eerie work. This is what it would be like if Charlie Kaufmann wrote and directed the Superman movie and it's far from goofy or childish, it's genuinely affecting and slightly disturbing to read Superman saying stuff like 'Everyone's impressed except ME! Don't they understand how I feel -- playing second fiddle to a miniature duplicate of myself...a sort of SUPER-IMP?'

"And people think I'M weird ? I %$%$^ wish I was weird like this! I wish pop comics today had the balls to be as poetic and poignant and truly 'all-ages' again, and a little less self-conscious. I feel a little ashamed for not even daring to think of a magnificent tiny Superman who makes the real Superman feel inadequate every time he springs from his hand. Those kinds of stories were like weird fever dreams and they sold millions and millions of copies every month."

And THAT'S what I've been thinking about lately, even before I read this interview. That's the thing I started to tap into when I wrote "She's the Speckle," which a few of you have read--I didn't think about the kinds of stories I write or where I wanted that particular story to go, I just let it go where it would. I let weird ideas come into my mind and I put them on the page, not bothering to think about short story structure, or what the flow of the piece as a whole would be. And the story I wrote is strange and has a weird rhythm to it, but it's a rhythm all the same. And it feels like I'm on to something with it. It's missing in some of the things I've written since, when I've fallen back into old habits of storytelling, when I've held back from something--not when I've thought of something and not written it down, but when I've thought something and not pushed myself to think of something stranger, or something bigger or slightly beyond what I was willing to settle for.

In 1958 someone wrote a Superman story--and it couldn't have been more than 20 pages--where a tiny Superman shot out of the palm of the normal Superman, and made the normal Superman feel inferior. I know a whole lot of really good writers these days, but none of them have done anything lately as weird and as wonderful as that. But they should be--I should be--and like Grant, we should all be a little ashamed that we haven't dared to think of anything like that yet.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

50 in 05: We3

#2: We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. A serialized graphic novel not yet available in a collection, We3 is all the same the best comic book I’ve read in a long time, and the most technically proficient. We3 is part of a movement that doesn’t have a name yet, but I bet it will before the year ends. It takes an animal adventure story (think Homeward Bound) and mixes it up with a cyborg adventure story (think Universal Soldier) and plays it straight. It’s some sort of popular post-modern fiction blend, and Grant’s doing it well before the trend even hits.

I’ve loved Frank Quitely’s work since he teamed with Grant on Flex Mentallo, another brilliant comic that will probably never be available in a collection. There’s a page in the third issue of We3 that literally made my mouth drop open—two of the animals that have escaped from the government’s military program that created them are fighting another that has been sent after them. The resulting combat breaks through a brick wall—and through a panel at the bottom of the page—and the result is an almost 3D effect that leaves the characters about to rocket off of the bottom of the page. Another page is made up of at least 20 panels, some big and some small and some overlapping and yet it reads like a dream. I’ve been reading comics for more than 20 years now, so it’s hard for me to think of how this book might look to someone that didn’t grow learning the language of sequential art (and if you don’t know that there is a language of sequential art, pick up Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics—and really, you know you should have done that a long time ago), but to me it’s a welcome evolution in how the interiors of comics should look.

As a writer I’d love to know more about Grant and Frank’s working relationship—the same day I picked up the last issue of We3 I picked up JLA CLASSIFIED #3, also written by Grant Morrison, but illustrated by Ed McGuinness. It’s a straight superhero story, but it’s sub-par for Morrison. It’s vague and unclear (and not in a good way) and moves too fast—the flow of the art doesn’t help the story, and in fact makes it more confusion. In the 90’s Grant Morrison was one of the innovators of “decompressed storytelling,” which pushed characters aside in favor of big plots and big action. Grant was really good at it and this JLA story was a return to that kind of storytelling—but next to We3 (and in the face of the upcoming Seven Soldiers of Victory project), it proves that Grant is better off when he’s trying his hand at something new instead of returning to something old.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Real Quick-Like

RQL is back on the fast track, and this is what you need to know:

* * * * *

Real Quick-Like

Topic: Last to see them alive.

Ready and go! Procrastination is not your friend, dear writer. From the gut, stories, essays, fiction and non. You write ‘em, we want ‘em. Let the topic inspire you, and then send it on.

No time for writer’s block. We are looking for original, unpublished work from writers of all shapes and sizes, deadline February 14, 2005. Adhere to the date, stick to the topic, keep it under 3,000 words and all other rules be damned.

No, you will not be paid. Not just yet. But you will see your work in print alongside other talented writers and distributed to every web ring, zine shop and department store bathroom from Jersey to Sausalito.

Please send submissions and questions electronically to with your name and contact information. Published work for first publication rights only. Accepted work will be compiled into a real pretty-like journal, with funds determining whether pretty means tri-color glossy or stapled together on neon green copy paper. Winners will receive one complimentary copy.

No excuses! Submission is free, with no limit to the number of pieces you can submit. Now go make your mama proud.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

24 Hours . . .

Some of you might know and some of you might not, but for nearly a year I've been working on a project at 24HrsInAYear. The plan was to take one picture a day at a set time, and moving that time forward by an hour every two weeks or so, so that on the first day I was taking the picture between 12 and 1 in the morning, and by the end I would be taking it between 11 and 12 at night, giving me 366 views of my life that ranged an entire day. I've been taking the pictures and posting them and not going through to check my progress as I worked. But the project is set to end on February 8th, and I don't have the pictures saved anywhere except the website, so this past week I went through and saved them all to my computer, arranging them in folders, and labeling them.

I wasn't sure, when I started, how the whole thing would turn out. It's strange to look back over them and see where I was and who I was with at a given time almost a year ago. Looking over the pictures, June comes back the clearest--looking at those pictures, those 5-6AM shots, I can really feel June and early summer. There are pictures of open windows and bookshelves--mine, and other people's--that make me think of the breeze. In Jill's bedroom, at night, it sounded like the ocean, and I told her so. Today, in late January, and with a different girl on my mind, I'd forgotten a lot of what June felt like. I'd reorganized it in my brain, maybe. Even though Jill isn't in many of those pictures, physically I mean, I see a lot of her all the same. Those pictures bring back the abstract feeling of summer.

There are a lot of abstract feelings in those pictures, and a lot of nights that I can remember clearly only because of the pictures. When I go on vacations, I'm the sort of guy who never brings a camera, but is glad when my friends do. I think the experience of a new place is best taken in when you're focusing on being there NOW, instead of taking a picture to savor later. That's why I liked this project--most of the pictures are pretty mundane. Most of the pictures are from my apartment, of empty dishes or bathroom towels drying. I'm shaving in one of them. A few are from classrooms and a few are in cars. Some are of other people, strangers and friends, and sometimes I told them what I was doing and sometimes I didn't. Once, I was yelled at over what was in a picture, or what was perceived to be there.

As of today, being Monday, January 24th, I'm in the 11-12 slot that will wrap the project up. I still haven't decided if I'll keep going or not--most of the people who enjoy seeing the pictures and have told me so have been strangers, and that makes me want to continue. I also think it would be interesting to have another year to compare this one to, to see if I get out of the house more, or to see who sticks around and who leaves, or to see what abstract feelings I can capture over the next 365 days. In any event, if anyone has ever checked in on these pictures from time to time, I think this is an interesting point to look at them again. I'd love to hear what patterns other people see, if there are any to be seen.

Here are a few pictures I really liked when I was going through them again:

The Stars Are Right

I'm posting some of the pictures I took during my moblog hiatus--I just put up some Halloween pictures, including video of the Great Cthulhu.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Question of Our Time . . .

Tackling a new letter, I'd first hit the find and replace key and change every "cum" to "come" (an average of 19 changes per letter). As per my style sheet, I'd make sure every "doggie-style" was hyphenated, every "bunghole" was not, every "blowjob" was one word, every "daisy chain" was two. Picture, if you will, all of this being dispatched with a 10-month-old baby draped over my lap. In our cozy, kinky domesticity I enlisted my wife to proofread, which she'd do during commercials of "20/20." "Honey," I'd call out from my study, "is 'dream cock' hyphenated?"

All of this and more musings from a porn magazine copy-editor in the link. Found via Bookslut.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Everyone is Barefoot Except Him

The strangest thing, to Ricky, was the garbage can. Out in the woods, in a clearing in the woods, all pine trees and up the hill from a stream, and there, just inside the trees again, a metal garbage can like you'd see in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game, all lines up the side and dented lid.

"That garbage can is so weird," he said.

"Why?" Mary asked, digging in her backpack for a toothbrush.

"It's the woods," Ricky said. "Nature!"

"It's a campground," Mary said, finding her toothbrush and standing up. "It cost seventy-five bucks just to stay here tonight."

Splashing and laughing drifted up the hill from where Ben and Samantha were flirting. Ricky wondered if this was a set-up. Ben and Sam had been sort-of-dating for years and when Ben invited Ricky on an overnight camping trip (Ben had a knack for putting together last-minute adventures) he knew Sam would be here, but Mary was a surprise. She was a friend of Sam's and pretty, but had not been talkative on the three-hour drive. Ricky thought maybe it was a set-up, and maybe she was disappointed. He had a goatee and a paunch and wore a brown button-up shirt in the woods.

As she walked away from him he held up his cell phone, looked at her ass on the viewscreen, and took a picture. He looked at the frozen image, denim from the waist down and trees beyond, and he pressed the phone against his nose and smelled it. It was new. He liked to take pictures with it, but he was embarrassed for people to see him take pictures with it. When they did he mumbled something like, "Just gonna take a picture here," and then he did, not taking time to aim it, hoping it came across like he meant not to aim it, like he didn't like aiming it.

He sat alone, giving Mary enough time to get down to the stream, before standing up and following her. He'd wanted to go down before, but he didn't want to be the one to interrupt Ben and Sam; then he didn't want to seem to be following Mary too closely. He held his phone in his hands and walked down the hill. Ben and Sam had their pantlegs rolled up and were jumping from rock to rock in the shallow stream, kicking water at each other and laughing, holding their arms out for balance. Mary sat at the edge, barefoot and watching them and smiling. Ricky smiled too, leaned against a tree and took a picture of them. No one notices, so he took a picture of Mary watching them. She was smiling and holding her knees and Ricky liked it. He decided that if he liked her later and if she wasn't mean to him, he'd show her the picture.

He pushed buttons on his phone and followed the menu to the option marked "Games." He opened one called "Fortune Teller" that was marked with the pixellated picture of a blue turban with a red ruby in the center.

Mary looked up and him. "You're out here in the beautiful world and you're playing with your phone?"

"It's telling me my future," Ricky said.

"What's it say?" she asked.

Ricky read it and smiled. "You will be eaten by a bear," he said.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Score One for Science!

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A federal judge in Atlanta, Georgia, has ruled that a suburban county school district's textbook stickers referring to evolution as "a theory not a fact" are unconstitutional.

In ruling that the stickers violate the constitutionally mandated separation between church and state, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that labeling evolution a "theory" played on the popular definition of the word as a "hunch" and could confuse students.

The stickers read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

The disclaimers were put in the books by school officials in 2002.

"Due to the manner in which the sticker refers to evolution as a theory, the sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life," Cooper wrote in his ruling.

(. . . more in link . . .)

Futurephone is Go!

I was having trouble emailing pictures with my futurephone for the longest time, but I finally sorted it all out last night. So everything other than my 24 Hrs. project are going back up right here. Viva technology!

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Ben Folds and I would like to congratulate Meredith . . .

. . . on seeing another birthday. For a brief moment in time, she's way older than I can ever imagine being myself. Congrats, Mer!

Sunday, January 09, 2005


I walked to the grocery store because I don't have a car. I feel pretty good about not having a car, but I seem to be the only one who feels that way. It was snowy and slushy and icy, all the more reason, thought I, to be glad that I don't have a car. The only slipping and sliding I have to worry about is from my own two feets.

There was an old man trudging through the parking lot behind me. He breathed like an old man. He was 60something, 70something. He had a wrinkly old weathered face and he wore a thin brown jacket. He wore brown pants too, really tight ones that showed off his surpringly plump butt. There were cowboy-style curley-somethings on his back pockets. He wore cowboy boots and a white cowboy hat, a tall one, that was not the least bit dirty. Someone in an SUV came driving our way, the wrong way down the parking lot lane.

"Yer goin' the wrong way, dummy!" the old cowboy yelled. The driver honked.

I laughed and I thought, yeah, you are going the wrong way, dummy.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

50 in 05

#1: Chronicles Volume One, by Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan has been floating around the periphery of my musical tastes since high school, when I found the Beatles and figured out that musicians my parents' age might have known what they were doing after all; but all the same, I never found the right way in until this past summer when a friend made a few mix cds for me filled with nothing but Dylan. Even then I didn't get it at first, but I listened a few a times and let the songs roll around in my head. I kept going back to a few in particular, "Positvely 4th Street" and "Love Sick" and "Tangled Up in Blue." I got out the three-disc set I'd bought back in high school, listened to once and never gone back to, three of the early pre-electric albums. "I Shall Be Free no. 10" tickled something that it hadn't tickled before and I went back to those mix cds again. I downloaded "Like a Rollin' Stone" and the album "Desire," listened to "Wigwam" from the Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack. I started to wonder about Bob Dylan as an artist and his book kept popping up on "Best of 2004" lists, so I walked to my friendly neighborhood bookstore and took one home with me.

It's not straight autobiography, and thank goodness for that. It jumps around in time and he allows himself the freedom to let his language roam, to write about what he wants to write about when he wants to write about it. It's all interesting and he talks a lot about process and about living with the fame, or trying to avoid it, about opening up to friends and living around and through the songs he writes. My favorite parts where the beginning and the end, the two chapters that dealt with his early years in New York and how he first found folk music and Woody Guthrie. It was when he seemed most open to the world. The other chapters dealt with the recording of certain albums, of trying to evade fame, and he seemed cut off from something, struggling to find the way in to whatever it was he'd hit so effortlessly before. Maybe he went wrong somewhere and became the sort of man he hadn't anticipated . . . he makes few references to the motorcycle accident that seemed to have changed his life, but in one telling reference to it he says it was the day Robert Zimmerman died. There's a lot still unsaid there, but that's okay. You don't need to say it all.

All told, I'm glad I read it. I could see going back to that first chapter again, and to the last one, but probably not to the rest. I can't even say I'll go back to the other two volumes that are supposed to be coming, but there is a lot more in his music to sift through and discover. I'm glad I have these mixes as a touchstone, a place to start. As to one of the best books of 2004, hell, I don't know. Who thinks like that about books?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Kyle Gets Into Trouble

I finished my meal (and that pie was good!) and Carol approached, scribbling on her pad again. I was learning that I was a common man after all, and that what I needed most was a common meal cooked by a common wife. I asked her, “Carol, are you married?”

She cocked an eye and looked at me. “No, I ain’t married.”

“And how did you manage to escape some gentleman’s eye for all this time?”

“For all this time? Well gee, I just don’t know. A lady learns some tricks in her old age, I reckon.”

The construction workers laughed, and I knew at last they had accepted me. But I longed to become more, to transcend the plateau where they had crested.

“Gonna be anything else, hon?” Carol, sweet Carol asked me, wiping the countertop with a rag in one had, looking up at me lazily with her eyes.

I looked down at the crumbs of my pumpkin pie and felt the bubbles of romance in my tummy. I looked back up at her saggy eyes and said, “Carol, I think love you.”

“Aw, honey.” She shook her head and wiped her nose with the same rag she had used on the counter. “No honey, you sure don’t.”

“I do!” I said. “I’ve thought on this hard and long, eating my meatloaf and my buttered roll, and my pumpkin pie most of all. Carol, I want to make babies with you. I want to take you to my office Christmas party. I want to have daughters, I want to have six daughters, and I want to fold down the business section of the newspaper to see you teaching them how to apply eye shadow.”

Carol avoided my gaze, no doubt, I thought at the time, to hide from me her tears of joy. The construction workers were silent behind us.

Carol collected my empty plates. I was beaming my love into her brain. “Aw, shit,” she said, and I loved her for her simple, profane ways. “Shit honey, stone-cold disturbed.”

The construction workers laughed, but it was restrained. Even they could sense the change that was coming.

I clenched my jaw, I clenched my fist, I leaned forward on the counter. “Carol, I want to make sweet love to you. On this very countertop.”

“Okay honey, I think you got to go.” She turned to step away, plates in hand, and I couldn’t bear to let her go until she understood. I grabbed her wrist and she dropped a plate. It broke.

(The plate, that is. Not her lovely, bony wrist.)

“Hey!” she said, and struggled, but I held fast. She yelled, “Phil!”

But before Phil could materialize from the back, the gaggle of construction workers arose from their booths. There had to be a dozen—no, a baker’s dozen—of them, and each rose to sweet Carol’s defense. They meant well, I knew, and I was certain we would all laugh over this in the end, but there was not time to make them understand. I swept up the ketchup bottle with my free hand, and the bottle was red and squeeze-ready. I held tight to my love with other. I pointed the bottle at my foes.

“Stay back!” I said. “This doesn’t concern you!”

The construction workers tightened into a single mass of opposition and neared me. I thrust the bottle at them. They retreated. Others came from behind and I spun, and pointed the ketchup anew. “This will stain!” I said, and they knew it was true.

I heard a squeak from the direction of the kitchen as the door swung open and Phil emerged from its depths. He was an Asian man, a small one and fat, and he hurled an orange, and his aim was true. I struck my temple and darkness took me.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Will Eisner, 1917-2005

I will miss Will Eisner. He died today, a few days after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery. is his official website and had a lengthly biography and such. Will wrote and drews the Spirit and a Contract with God and Comics and Sequential Art. He knew a lot about comics and he thought a lot about comics and he elevated the art form just by being in it.

Monday, January 03, 2005

More from the Horseshoe Cafe

“Hey there, hon. Ya lost?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. No indeed. I am here for a piece of pie.”

“We got pie. That all you want?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“Meatloaf is on special.”

Meatloaf is on special! I hadn’t had meatloaf in years! Not since I lived at home, not since before I left for college.

“Meatloaf,” I said. “Meatloaf sounds marvelous!”

“Whatever you say, hon. Comes with mashed potatoes and gravy and a drink.”

“Please, yes. The meatloaf special, and pumpkin pie for dessert.” I rapped the countertop with my bare knuckles.

“You got it,” she said, and she scribbled on her pad, and she pinned it to a silver rotating wheel sitting in the window to the kitchen. “Meatloaf, Phil!” she called.

Phil, who I presumed to be the cook, grunted unseen and made up my meatloaf and mashed potatoes and gravy.

Egads! Never had a loaf of meat entranced me so. It made the colors of the café dance in my eyes and it made the speckles on the countertop move in my heart. And Carol, she was the speckle of them all. She was the dancey, curvy thing against the flat surface of my heart. She was older than I, to be sure, by a good twenty years, but she bore her experience like a beauty mark. She wore glasses that were tinted peach and a barrette in her hair that kept it from falling in her face as he wiped down tables and countertops. The construction workers smiled at her and gave her sass, and she sassed them right back. An example:

“Hey there, honey. You got some pie for me?”

“All the pie you’re gonna get is in that spinnin’ case right over there.”

“How ‘bout you spin that case over here to me?”

“You better watch the door don’t close on your fingers, you go reachin’ for it.”

“Aw, come on now, Carol. I just want a little piece.”

“Yeah? Well I want me a big piece, so I guess I gotta keep lookin’.”

And all the other construction workers laughed, and I laughed too, loudly and with a mouth full of meat. They looked at me warily as I did so, not quite sure what to make of me yet. They’d figure me out in time, I was sure, but I already knew in my heart that I was one of them.