Monday, February 28, 2005

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I wrote this myself

(the accompanied musical beat, played on one's chest/legs/arms goes boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom, boom; repeat.)

Hey Em'ly
Is it your birthday?
I think it is
I hear your fifteen.

So Em'ly
Hope you have a good day
I think you will
So happy birthday

Comics Nerd-Talk

For as long as I've been aware of comics media and comics criticism, comics have been on the verge of collapse. Every moment, every issue is the one before the last. Prices are rising, talent is dwindling, the market is shrinking--for at least 15 years, comics news has been doom and gloom, doom and gloom. Even when the bookstore presence of comics is higher than ever, when teh mass of talent creating comic books is the most impressive it's ever, ever been: go to a comic book message board or read an article or column by someone who concerns themselves with knowing comics, and the question most often posed remains: "What can we do to save the industry?"

The industry.

It just occurred to me now, writing this in my journal, that this is a question that isn't concerned with the artform, the medium, or its practioners. It's about comic book stores and the people who shop there. Convention season is the summertime--outside of that, the big time in a comic nerd's life is when a comic book movie comes out. If Spider-Man 2 does well, comics are bound to look up at any moment. All we have to do is sit back and wait for the throng of the mainstream to exit the theaters and flock to the comic shops.

They never do. After Batman in 1989, Spider-Man in 2002, Constantine in 2005--the movies make millions of dollars, the comics don't even feel a bump. The reason is simple and seemingly impossible to grasp by the folks who complain--Warren Ellis sums it up by calling them Dad Comics. Spider-Man, Batman, whatever--they are essentially the same stories told as 40-plus years ago. The cadence has changed, the comics-vocabulary used to tell the stories, but at the end of every issue or every six-part story-arc, all of the characters are in the same place--they just had to bore through a few pages of angst and kick-splode to get there.

This is mostly transcribed from my journal, so there's no real closure here--except to say that the folks who write diatribes like the above, trying to fix comics, seem to be concerned with making superhero comics popular again. The folks who shut up and Do Good Work are putting out the comics that have the most depth, are the Next New Thing, and still get me excited about writing more comics.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005

He was a good fucker, you know? I'm glad he did things, and lied about things, and wrote about both.

Monday, February 14, 2005

It's kind of embarrassing.

A few weeks ago I opened my mailbox and found one of these inside:

I laughed and figured it was put in my box by mistake. But I checked the label, and there was my name, there was my address. I thought it was a sample issue or something (I do have an Entertainment Weekly subscription after all, and I'm sure it's all part of the same big conglomerate), I took it upstairs, I flipped through it looking for boobies, and was kind of grossed out when the only ones inside belonged to Tara Reid. I threw it away and didn't think of it again.

Not a few days later, another one showed up. I took it from the mailbox, turned it over so no one would see it if I ran into a neighbor on the way upstairs, and went to my apartment. I checked the address label again--my name, my address. I laughed again, but it was more nervous this time. I flipped through it, looking for boobies, but once again they were of they were of the gross Hollywood variety. The girls either not famous enough for Playboy, or not famous enough for Playboy anymore.

Today, I checked the mail. Another one. I was carrying my bag from school and had a handful of letters to juggle at the same time, and the magazine was packed with a free AOL disk, so it was hard to bend in half--I couldn't hide the cover and I was praying I wouldn't pass any cute neighbors on the stairs, or anyone at all, anyone who might think I was the sort of dude who had a subscription to Stuff Magazine. Only, I do have a subscription to Stuff Magazine. I've never received a bill from Stuff Magazine, nor have I ever even looked through a Stuff Magazine before the unfortunate Tara Reid incident. Nonetheless, my disinterest does not stop Stuff Magazine from coming directly to my home anyway.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

50 in 05: Lord of the Flies

#7: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. This one has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time, unread. I finally picked it up after stumbling upon the 80's-ish film adaptation on TV a few days ago. I remember watching the movie when I was a kid, when my folks rented it, and Piggy's fate still gives me chills. The aftertaste of that movie, and of the novel, is similar to that of Watchmen--after Watchmen, I didn't want any superheroes in my life for awhile. After Lord of the Flies, I don't think I want boys adventures stories in my life for a few weeks.

The language of the book was hard to get into at first, but I was quickly taken in by the subtly shifting POV Golding uses. Even when focusing on a specific character, we get fleeting glimpses of the larger world. Early in the story, as Roger tosses rocks at another boy, tosses to miss, "Roger's arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins." A war has gone on out there in the grownup world, a world that left these boy stranded on an island, but we only hear about it in pieces like this. The boys are aware of the Reds, of atomic bombs, of battles being fought, but mostly they're caught up in the reality of their environment.

I don't this book would have felt so repressive if I hadn't read it over the course of the last few days . . . the dangers faced by Ralph and Piggy and Simon are real and easily avoidable, one would think, but when reading this book, when you're in the thick of it with this new tribe, it's impossible to see quite how. The inevitability of their descent from civilization is morbid and scary and hard to look away from. The end is more chilling in the film than in the movie, I think--more abrupt. I like the chase better in the film, but--and I don't think I'm ruining anything here, as everyone but me seems to have read this book in high school--the appearance of the soldier is more of a gut-punch in the movie. I do enjoy the subtle clues to something else approaching the island, in the novel that is. Overall, I'm glad both of them are around to be compared and to tell a full story.

But the thing is, what I'm most curious about is what happens when Ralph and Jack go back to civilization. What happens when Ralph, ten years later, goes to the grocery store? Maybe I'll go write that story.

You know, it's true.

Superman is a dick!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

366 Days Later . . .

24HrsInAYear is officially one year old. I decided to keep it going for another year or two . . . it was enlightening to range over the last year's worth of pictures and see where I was at a given time on a given day. I wrote more about it a while back, so I won't get into the whole thing again. All in all, I'm really glad I did it, and thank you to my friends who didn't roll their eyes or groan too loudly when I pulled out my phone to take pictures at inopportune tiimes; and to Alfie and the folks at Moblog who are hosting the whole thing. Everyone should go there and browse around a bit--and if you have your own futurephone, set up an account for yourself.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

50 in 05: Superman: Birthright

#6: Superman: Birthright, by Mark Waid, Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan. Despite recent reading patterns, I am not a Superman fan. The Grant Morrison interview really got me thinking about him, so I've been doing a little reading to back up that interest. This book is a collection of a DC Comics mini-series that updates Superman's origin for, as Waid puts it, a 21st Century audience. If you're going to do superheroes, or any serialized characters, really) over a period of time that stretches over decades, you have to update their coming-out story every few years. That's why there will always be a new Tarzan movie/TV show as long as there is a Tarzan, and that's why John Byrne's redefining of Superman from the "Man of Steel" series of the mid-80's is being pushed aside in favor of Birthright.

Essentially, Birthright ties the comic book Superman into the version seen on "Smallville." Clark's parents resemble their television counterparts and Lex Luthor is Clark's childhood buddy again. Some of the details are tweaked, but the TV show is the thing that cements the early pages of this book. And that's fine--I don't have a problem with that part of how Birthright is told. What bothered me the most about the storytelling was a moment towards the end that was taken right out of both Spider-Man movies, when the crowd that had only recently been against Superman, come to his aid in spite of overwhelming odds. But more than that, now that I think about it, was that this was a 12-part series that really should have been told in six--it's the Marvel/Ellis "decompressed" method where you have a Superman comic where Superman doesn't show up until the third or fourth issue.

In Waid's notes at the end he alludes to wanting to modernize Superman, make him relevant to an audience that sees Superman on a level with Marmaduke, and not as a hero to be looked up to. But the only way to enjoy this comic is to already be familiar with Superman comics. The situations and circumstances in Birthright are simply reinterpretations of what has already been seen in other comics, on Smallville, and in the Richard Donner "Superman" motion picture. The only people who would enjoy Birthright are the folks who already like Superman, and want to see how their favorite bits are going to play out in this new interpretation.

As for the artwork, the lack of backgrounds was a distraction and the moment-to-moment action was hard to follow at times. Yu also employs a common trick these days in which certain panels (or specific figures in those panels) are copied-and-pasted for the sake of various effects. There are so many repeated figures or plain brown space on these pages that it's distracting.

I think my Superman fix has been met for the time being--I'll check back with the character once Morrison and Quitely's All-Star series is up and running.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Short Bits

-A really neat short film called Muppets Overtime.

-There's a crazy rumor going around about Al Gore running in '08--he supposedly thinks his populist message that was ignored in 2000 and beaten in 2004 (the one DEAN ran with) will find an audience thanks to a DEAN-led DNC. Color me excited.

-Also, Lord of the Flies is a really good movie.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

50 in 05: Forever

#5: Forever, by Judy Blume. I read a few Judy Blume books as a kid, but mostly of the "Superfudge" and "Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing" variety, not the "Are You There God, It's My Margaret?" titles. But a few weeks ago when I was looking for girl coming of age stories, "Forever" came up over and over again. I'm interested in fiction for kids, especially for teenagers, so reading this was fun. It moves really fast and mostly takes place through dialogue--even scenes where action is taking place, it is sometimes conveyed to the reader through the back-and-forth conversation of the characters. I don't know if it's ever been staged--probably not this book, due to the juices transferred--but some of Judy Blume's other work, perhaps.

My biggest beef with this book was the lack of physical detail. Most of the characters weren't described at all--Eric is short, Sybil is fat, Michael has hair the color of Erica's dog and a mole on his cheek--but I took that to be a choice Judy Blume made, perhaps to better allow a younger reader to fill in the faces with those already familiar to her. Scott McCloud talks about this method as it relates to comics, and I imagine it works the same way here. That's fine, but other things bothered me. Details about the physical world the characters live in are kept very vague, but the details that are given often puzzle me. In almost every home the kids enter, the style of furniture is described, but little else. In Katherine's home, we learn early on that it is adorned with tapestries designed by Katherine's little sister Jamie, but it's hardly mentioned again and is therefore pretty forgettable. We learn that Katherine hangs up photos of her boyfriend Michael when she goes away to summer camp, but I don't remember hearing anything about how she decorates her bedroom at home, even though she spends plenty of time there--at one point, laying in bed sick for four days. Some of the details are funny, though. The first time Katherine talks to her mother after Katherine has sex for the first time we are told, apropos of nothing else, that her mother is eating a hot dog.

The dialogue is a little aggravating at first--there's little self-consciousness apparent in anyone except Katherine. The characters are very willing to discuss their feelings openly and honestly, such as when Michael tells Katherine that he has come back to the scene of a New Year's Eve party expressly to see her, or when Erica and Artie deal with Artie's ambiguous sexuality. There's probably an entire essay in Artie's experience--he explores the question of his sexuality with an open and honest partner, finds no answers, attempts suicide, and is henceforth abandonded by most of his friends.

That said, the book can't be everything for everyone, and doesn't try to be. It has a very specific story that it's trying to tell, and it sticks to it. The talk about sex and the sex scenes themselves are open and honest and well done, accurately conveying the way it feels to discover someone else's body when you've never done so before. I was a little scandalized to learn this book was being passed around by some of my female friends when they were in third grade, at a time when I was still caught up in G.I. Joes and comic books and had no conception of wanting to lay down on a rug with a girl in her parent's den. So in theory, when I asked Patty Mayfield to go with me in the third grade, she had a whole other level of understanding of what that could mean some day. I just thought she was funny and liked her she-mullet.

At first I thought the language was a little condescending, but 30 years after the book was published it still lingers in the memory of girls who read the book 15-20 years ago. It's a shame that when I visited a handful of bookstores in Chicago, no one carried it--I think it's the perfect book for girls to read before they really know what it is they're reading about, if that makes sense to anyone. Maybe I'll smuggle a copy home the next time I visit and leave it laying around for prying eyes to discover.

Friday, February 04, 2005

50 in 05: Superman in the Fifties

#4: Superman in the Fifties, by various writers and artists. I picked this up after reading the Grant Morrison interview a few entries below. It contains 17 Superman stories from the 1950's, though none as delightfully strange as the one Grant mentions. When Superman first appeared in 1938 he was a social crusader who taunted and threatened crooks, killed them sometimes, and broke the rules; more than a decade later he had settled into his role as a super-policeman, with creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster working on other projects. Superman was one of the few superheroes still appearing in a comics medium dominated by Westerns, romance books, science-fiction and crime stories, and George Reeves was playing the Man of Steel and battling mobsters and crooks on television.

There are a few inspiring moments in the book. A two-parter featuring Bizarro features a number of twists--including the appearance of a "Handsome Bizarro," and a battle over a "graveyard of the sea"-- that I didn't see coming. But sometimes the twists were more convoluted than clever, such as when Mr. Mxyztplk arrives with a plan to humiliate Superman that involves plastic proxies of Metropolitan personalities, which Lex Luthor installs with robot engines to mechanize them.

It's hard to get a sense of an entire decade based on 17 stories, but many of these tales dealt with meteor showers and crashing rocket ships that also contained fellow Kryptonians--three space villains, Superman's supposed big brother, Superman's pet dog Krypto, and Superman's long-lost cousin Supergirl. But then you'll turn the page and find the story that introduces Brainiac, who has a scheme to repopulate his homeworld by shrinking and bottling the very best Earth cities and then transporting them across the cosmos. That's the story that introduces the bottled Kryptonian city of Kandor, by the way.

What I see most in this volume is potential--I'd love to see a collection of Superman tales that ranged over many decades, edited by Grant Morrison. I can only imagine the weird fever-dream stories that came from the 50's and 60's, and it's a shame there isn't a reasonably priced collection that showcases them. You get only a taste of that wonderful strangeness in this volume.

What We Blog About When We Blog About Blogs

There are so many things I want to link to in today's Bookslut blog, I'll just point you toward the whole thing. Go read about librarians in prison in Cuba, Jessica Abel, comics for kids, and copies of "Bless Me, Ultima" being destroyed by a high school principal.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Please, Go Vote.

Scott McCloud Vs. A Bear. So far, Scott is winning--but just barely.

50 in 05: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

#3: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I have, apparently, joined Oprah's Book Club. Thanks a lot, Amy.

I started this one from my search of a coming-of-age stories about girls. There's an aspect of that to this story, but I probably wouldn't have thought of it that way on my own. The one thing I wanted more of from this book was Mick--she's entering high school and leaving the inside room for the outside room with a depressing inevitability the further along you read. Carson McCullers is on the cover of my copy, sitting in the woods and thinking about the fact that she wrote such a beautiful, melancholy, hopeful book (and isn't that the best kind of hope?) at twenty-three. She puts language together in a way that carries a depth I don't think you can catch on a single read-through--but at the same time, re-reading this book any time soon is daunting and a little depressing. This is one I want to revisit, but maybe a few years down the road. Maybe a lot of years down the road. She seems to paint pictures that make sense in a dreamy sort of way, and I'm glad she trusted herself enough to do that. On page 198: "The winter afternoons glowed with a hazy lemon light and the shadows were a delicate blue." And page 273: "Harry held his stuffed egg and mashed the yellow with his thumb. What did that make her remember? She heard herself breathe." And almost at the end, on page 350: "He would not leave the South. That was one clear thing. There was hope in him, and soon perhaps the outline of his journey would take form."

The POV shifts between five characters and I was often anxious for it to return to my favorites. But all the same, the whole story couldn't have been told without the insight into each character's mind . . . the sheer aloneness of each character and the search they didn't know the others were on wouldn't have been clear, and the sadness inherent to the story wouldn't ache quite so much as it does. It's a hard, heavy ache, but a good one all the same. Carson, as a storyteller, dips into and out of memory in a way that is impressive and assumes the reader will be able to catch it. I'm glad she trusted herself enough to do that, too. Especially on page 273 up above.

I talked with my friend Melissa about this a few days ago. She's re-reading it after seeing it for the first time in high school. She said her high school teacher thought Mick was hiding a sexual awareness, but I have to disagree. I think Mick's reaction to her first time with Harry carry the weight of a full awareness of sex that Mick would have had if she had experienced sex beforehand. All the same, Biff is a pretty creepy character at times--and at other times very lovely and endearing. And that's an impressive trick for a storyteller.

The book is a real Georgia kind of story . . . maybe it's a real Southern kind of story, and I just don't know it. But it's slow and rich and subtle and deep, so that you won't know how much it means to you until long after you've read it. I feel like this is one of the ones that will be sitting in my brain for a long, long time.

(Twenty-three . . . good lord.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

DEAN make pancakes for imaginary children.

In case no one is paying attention, I think a certain Howard DEAN is on the way to becoming the next chairman of the Democratic National Convention. I think the only way for a viable opposition party to exist and stand a chance in the 2006 and 2008 elections are for the Democrats to enact drastic change on a local county and state level--and DEAN is a fella willing to do the legwork. He rubs a lot of established Democrats the wrong way, but in a manner that I like a lot. The standard Dems are the ones who lose elections and support, and I think that's obvious to everyone except them. After the November election I wasn't sure if the Democratic Party could do anything to get my faith back, but under DEAN I think they have a chance to do some of the right things. It means I'll have to pack away my DEAN 2008 signs, but if it means a stronger (or actual) opposition to Bush and the Republicans, I'll take it.