Archive for the ‘Venting’ Category

This is why we can’t have nice things

August 5, 2012

This is what happens when you view the entire history of comics through the lens of one very small genre which has, thanks to various accidents of history, become the dominant entry-point for a particular type of reader. You get asinine questions like this, about Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse:

One of the things that blew my mind was how those strips feel so much more modern than your average Golden Age super-hero comic, even though they started eight years before Action Comics #1.

That’s right, kids. We’re in a decade that had, inter alia, Prince Valiant, Krazy Kat, Terry and the Pirates, Popeye in Thimble Theatre, Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy, Alley Oop, Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner…and we’re asking why another canon-level comic strip seems modern compared with Action fucking Comics #1.

Comics!

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There really is no accounting for taste

May 23, 2012

Original version:

Recoloured:

Original version:

Recoloured:
…and so on, for 140 or so pages.

I find it — no exaggeration — genuinely hard to read Laura Martin’s recolouring of Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer, as it appears in the 2011 reprint volume from IDW. I cannot understand how anyone could possibly look at something like this:

and decide that what it needs is a bunch of slick, plastic-looking colour gradients to muddy up Dave Stevens’ linework.

My critical motto has become “different strokes for different folks”, but I look at this reprint and my mind just boggles. The people who published this — and according to the internet, Laura Martin was hand-picked by Stevens himself to recolour the work — thought this was an improvement? Some readers prefer it? Fuck it, any readers prefer it?

Are you shitting me?

Kuhn was right: I literally live in a different world from these people; it is impossible for us to understand one another.

[Images pilfered from: IDW preview art, Chris Sims — one of the readers who, mirabile dictu, actually prefers the recolouring, and Wil Pfiefer]

This post is flawed because it doesn’t contain several paragraphs on Norbert Weiner

December 19, 2011

So the great psychologist, and “Nobel” laureate, Daniel Kahneman has written a pop science book summing up his prodigious life of research — good for him. If he’d started his research career thirty years later, he would have written a dozen such books by now; so much of his research lends itself to the genre of  “Title/Subtitle: How One Half-Baked Idea Based on Other People’s Research Can Sell a Million Books”…except that Kahneman himself did all the research (with collaborators, of course), and his ideas are so very, very far from half-baked. We can only be grateful that we have the one pop book that he’s given us now. I hope he sells a zillion books.

Anyway, Freeman Dyson has a review of Kahneman’s book in the New York Review of Books, and his big criticism is…Kahneman never mentions Freud!

Not even in the footnotes!!!!!!

Shit, man, what about Skinner??? Does Kahneman have nothing to say about the humoral theory? Where my Robert Burton at, homeboy? I thought A Brief History of Time should have had at least two chapters on Ptolemy; The Selfish Gene, two on Georges Cuvier.

On the other hand, Dyson’s review doesn’t name-drop Malcolm Gladwell or David fucking Brooks, so there is that. (Speaking of “Title/Subtitle”…)

PS: Bonus points for Dyson for repeating the furphy that William James and Sigmund Freud were not scientists. Just because a lot of their theories were false, doesn’t mean they weren’t scientists — they were just unlucky!

Regression to the mean

January 19, 2009

Final Crisis #6. Grant Morrison and the entire Bullpen Bulletin. $3.99, 34 pages.

Warning: There will be SPOILERS in this review

This is a comic with plenty of sturm, lots of drang but precious little und. I mean, there’s a lot happening but very little connective tissue to tie it together. By my count, there’s over a dozen different plotlines running through this thing;* the reader is expected to give a damn about any of them because — well, let’s face it, it’s not clear why the reader is expected to give a damn. Most of the subplots over the course of this series certainly haven’t  earned any of the emotional heft that the similarly fractured threads in Seven Soldiers #1 had.

Given the way the series is constructed — all jump-cuts and tiny bursts of scenes — it seems almost inappropriate to give it a standard review. To match its pace and confusion, I should instead just write a series of declarative outbursts: Ungood! Rushed! Morrison better! and let the reader fill in the details. Morrison hasn’t really given us a story throughout the series; he’s given us a set of story notes in the form of bullet points: and then this happens! And then this! Oh, and did I mention this! And what about this! Oh, and I forgot to tell you this!

It must all be very Important and Meaningful to the DC Universe because characters keep telling us that it is. Indeed, without the occasional bit of expository dialogue this series would be even less coherent. For instance, the Big Bad for the series — Darkseid — apparently dies three-quarters of the way through, so you would think that the threat was over. Apparently not, though; it’s still “the end of the world” although God knows why, and we certainly wouldn’t have known that except for the helpful Hourman telling us. Thanks, Hourman!

Indeed, the fate of Darkseid is a low point in an issue filled with low points. IIRC, I’ve heard Morrison in the past say that he wanted to make the New Gods seem truly awesome, truly like gods, since they’d been cheapened by their usual appearances in the DC Universe. Accordingly, the coming of Darkseid was made out to be this great and terrible thing, the catastrophic peak to which the series was building; and so he only came onto the stage in issue 5. And then he’s apparently dispatched in two pages by a guy with no powers. Yeah, that was some awesome threat there. He came, he appeared in about three panels, and was conquered.

And what was the point of the Flash scene about how they’re going to race to Darkseid, if Batman could breach his singularity and take him down like a punk? And what’s up with that cover, promising a match-up between Darkseid and Superman? And, while I’m on it, what the hell does DC have against people of colour — viz. Renee Montoya and Shilo Norman?

As a superhero comic, this is bad stuff. As a superhero comic written by Grant Morrison, who can do so much better than this trash, it’s just fucking awful.

Recommended? Hell, no.

* Superman and Brainiac 5; the last stand of Black Canary and the Tattooed Man; Supergirl and the Marvel Family versus Mary Marvel; the JSA et al. holding the line; Tawky Tawny versus Kalibak; Mister Miracle and his Japanese pals; Renee Montoya, the Atoms and the Omega Offensive; Luthor versus Libra; the Flashes; Batman versus Darkseid; Nix Uotan and Metron; and the return of Superman. And that’s not even including the the Hawkpeople or Green Lantern bits.

I don’t just hate comics…

April 3, 2008

…I hate criticism too. Two sentences from the introduction to Fantagraphics’ Popeye Vol. II, by Donald Phelps:

1) It is extraordinary to reflect that in this comic strip, which calls to mind Gilbert Seldes’s dour reflection on The Katzenjammer Kids — they looked the way people who never read comic strips thought they all looked — what appear to be drawing conventions, and the most rudimentary at that, turn out, on close and serial scrutiny, not to be conventions in the generally acknowledged sense at all; nor the “style” to be any acknowledgeable style, even a bad one; least of all, the sense of any authority, any fanfaring of the strip’s personality, its worthiness and beaming future intentions, in terms of a visual plumage, such as the daft elegance of Bringing Up Father, the jaunty scurry of Jerry on the Job, and the slapstick swank of Polly and Her Pals alike convey.

Hey, I like asides and semi-colons, but you can have too much of a good thing. And, worse, the sentence is so long that, by the time he gets to the final clause, the author himself has forgotten to give it a verb. Seriously, parse that last clause–what is being predicated of “the sense of authority”?

2) He [Segar] evidently acquired early on in the Popeye sequences not only the grand operatic gravity which he imparted to the lovely little businesses, like the one with the pillow described above, or Olive Oyl’s kittenish-wistful tilting of Popeye’s sailor hat in the Skullyville adventure; but of Segar’s apprehension and general deployment (at once “primitive”, i.e. in its literalness, and sophisticated beyond most of his contemporaries) of “actual” time-space, his use of both attenuation (the longueurs, the off-stage sequences of action, chronicled in the characters’ reactions); the use of pause and double-take (in which I do not believe he was matched until the advent of intimate-toned comic strips like Johnny Hart’s B.C., Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and Mell Lazarus’s Miss Peach, and later, Momma); and, on the other hand, the excited jamming of conversations, interjected comments, hasty summaries of relevant information, or the conveyance of which he advanced the use of dialogue balloons in alternating tier or stair-steps.

…I’m sorry, what were we talking about again? First of all, something has gone wrong with the expression “he evidently acquired … not only [blah] … but of Segar’s apprehension”. He acquired of Segar’s apprehension? What? Second, “his use of both attenuation”…and what? Both blah and blah, right? What’s the second “blah”? Third, something has gone seriously wrong with this phrase: “or the conveyance of which he advanced the use of dialogue balloons in alternating tier or stair-steps.” Huh?

These aren’t cherrypicked examples. They are two of the particularly egregious sentences, but they’re far from the only frankensteins in the introduction. There seems to be lots of interesting stuff in the introduction. But I’ll be damned if I can get through the syntax.

I’m not just being an arsehole here (emphasis on just). I literally cannot parse these sentences; they do not make syntactic sense to me as English sentences. If it was just some blog-post, then the reaction would be “whatever” — god knows I live in a glass house, a glass house made of over-long sentences. And, uh, glass. But this should have been proof-read at least once, preferably by somebody concerned with whether the sentences, you know, actually made any goddamn sense whatsoever.

The strips themselves, of course, are the shit. Not least because: first appearance of the real Jones.

Spleenage

November 27, 2007

Oh God.

Oh, God, I’m not even halfway through The Black Dossier and I don’t know if I’m going to make it if somebody finds this note please tell my family I love them oh God I don’t want to die I don’t want to

***

Even before I got the book, I knew I was in trouble when I read the second paragraph of Jog’s review:

“If you’re the type that finds Moore’s various approximations of period writing styles to be cloying, whether via adorned prose, or his scripts for the fake old comics that tend to dot his sequential works – please, do not read this book. You may well take your own life, and I’d hate to have your blood on my hands, True Believer.”

Alas, I am exactly that type.

Still, I’d made it through most of Moore’s extended self-indulgences before. I even made it through Promethea. Mostly. (I just skipped any sentence with the word “kabbala” or “quark”). Besides, I enjoy his faux old-timey comics scripts, as in Supreme; it’s his prose that drives me up the wall. So I could make it through The Black Dossier, right?

Right?

Yeah, maybe not.

Later in his review, Jog compares the text sequences that form the bulk of The Black Dossier to the bits in Cerebus where Dave Sim would dump page after overwritten page on the long-suffering reader. That’s a fair comparison, but you know what they both remind me of? Well, you know when you’re playing a video game, and you make it to the end of a level (or whatever)…and the big “reward” is that you get to stop playing the game for thirty seconds, or five minutes, or whatever, and watch a shitty cutscene with bad scripting and worse acting?

That’s exactly what it’s like reading The Black Dossier. Come on, can’t I just press “escape” and skip back to playing the game already? The reason I bought this video game is–amazingly–that I wanted to play a video game, not watch a shitty movie. If I wanted to watch a shitty movie, I would have hired Mulholland Drive.

And that’s what it’s like reading the text sequences: come on, man, get back to the comics. Oh man, can’t I just skip ahead–nah, I’d better read all this shit now or I’ll have to read it later. That’s not a good way to feel about what you’re reading: that it’s a burden.

Look, I’m no droog who only wants to read words if they’re in speech bubbles. I write and read dry academic prose for a living. I’ve made it through the books that break weaker readers, and I can throw down with the best of them when it comes to the literary canon. Life of Johnson? A la recherche…? Moby-Dick? War and Peace? The Faerie Queene? The Man Without Qualities? Motherfucker, I’ve done all those, and Finnegan’s motherfucking Wake.

I’ve even read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

And let me say, Alan Moore, you are no John Kennedy Toole.

We get it already. You’re well-read. Congratulations, but that’s no longer as impressive as it was in the nineteenth century now that any dickhead with a modem can access most of the same information.

The worst thing about The Black Dossier is that the same self-congratulatory spirit clogging the prose seeps into the comics sections too. Hey, you know what would be really fun? A five page sequence in which some fat guy clumsily name-drops various fictional characters just to give Jess Nevins something to do. A sampling of the sparkling bons mots that fall from fat-boy’s lips:

Francis Alexander Waverly. He runs some spy-ring for the United Nations these days.

His father named him Kim after the famous spy who worked in Afghanistan.

Spider-Man can bench press 40 tons.

Oh no, wait, that last sentence is from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Bravo, Mr Moore. You’ve proved that you can write as well as Peter Sanderson and Mark Gruenwald.

And don’t get me started on Moore’s treatment of other people’s fictional characters here. In interviews Moore now decries the way so many unimaginative writers followed his lead after Watchmen by turning fun, light-hearted escapist fare into depressing deconstructions. Fair enough, he’s entitled to change his mind about the validity of that sort of aesthetic move. And he has famously railed against the treatment of his creations in stupidized Hollywood films; again, fair enough. The films do suck.

It almost makes you wonder whether it really is aesthetically valid to grittify the characters of popular fiction set in a broader continuity, and whether there may be some moral value in respecting creators’ wishes.

So what do we get in The Black Dossier? A rapist James Bond and sad, old, fat Billy Bunter. Excellent! Oh, and Ulysses, it turns out, was “a shifty little swine”. Making Moore just as reactionary as Dante, who placed the hero of the greatest epic poem in the eighth circle of Hell because, like, he lied and stuff. Yes, that’s the point. That’s why they call him Odysseus of many wiles.

***

I could go on, but why bother? Beside, I’ve still got another 7,000 of Moore’s thrilling pages to slog through. I’ll just add one more thing: it would be a drastic exaggeration to call The Black Dossier underwhelming.

Truth is, it’s not even whelming.

***

If I don’t post for a while, it’ll be because Jog was right. I’ll have killed myself.

Tempted out of the wilderness by a good old-fashioned fist-fight

September 14, 2007

That kooky firebrand, Noah Berlatsky, is once again taking potshots at comix’ sacred cows. Now, I should say that I agree with some of this comics comics critique of Berlatsky’s approach. In his criticism Berlatsky often seems to be trying to raise his arbitrary preferences to objective aesthetic standards by the force of sheer rhetoric alone (but, hell, doesn’t everyone?). It’s an exceedingly thin line between “Modern art comics suck!” and “Marvel is better than DC!”.

On the other hand, Berlatsky’s brief take on Clowes and Ware, in the comments section, is pretty spot-on:

“[Clowes’] visual sense seems very pedestrian to me; his layouts tend to be pretty boring, that monochrome color thing he often does strikes me as drab and ugly; his drawing is blandly half-assed in a way I don’t find charming at all. His stories seem magical-realist in a really perfunctory way that seems completely New Yorker ready. I don’t see much in his work that seems to use the comics medium impressively. Without his literariness, I don’t think he’d really exist, so yeah, it doesn’t make sense to suggest he’d be better without it.

Chris Ware’s another story; obviously he’s an amazing artist with a unique visual sense. Unfortunately, I think he’s been abandoning much of that in recent years in favor of…a drabber, more literary approach. His layouts are moving more towards grids, for example, his stories heading more towards New Yorker territory, rather than some of the absurdist or (really excellent) satiric stances he took in his early days. I think Ware has done less literary comics, and I liked them more, at least. “

Indeed, on both counts. Both artists have stultified as they’ve grown all respectable and stuff.

Take Jimmy Corrigan, for instance. A lot of the crazy Superman/Smartest-boy-in-the-world stuff from the original comics was left out of the book, and I think that was an artistic mistake. That material was far superior to the interminable but oh-so-respectable 19C flashback (“It’s a generational saga!”) that bogs down the second half. At any rate, I enjoyed it a lot more. I also find Quimby and the Big Tex/God/Robot Sam et al. collection far more appealing than the latter parts of Jimmy Corrigan, or his most recent Rusty Brown stuff.

Even so, what saves Ware’s recent work from falling too far down the New Yorker hole is that it’s still fairly unrelentingly bleak. I can’t imagine the New Yorker, or any other bastion of middlebrow literary respectability, publishing work that is as routinely vicious in its black humour as Ware’s work remains.

As for Clowes, I suspect I have more time for his earlier work than Berlatsky does. For instance, strips like Needledick, Suicide, Desert Island, etc were funny, startling bits that could only be done in comics. Even some parts of Like a Velvet Glove pack a strong visceral punch–not an effect often associated with Clowes’ work today. But I thought the quality of the Eightball back-ups declined markedly, starting with #10 or so. And once Ghost World was finished, Clowes’ stories all seemed to me like J. D. Salinger fanfic, at least in their tone and thematic content. David Boring was so well-named that I didn’t make it past the first chapter.

(Speaking of Ghost World, wasn’t the insertion into the movie of Steve Buscemi as a Thora Birch-screwing mary-sue just utterly creepy? I’m sure there was no squicky wish-fulfilment at all in Terry Zwigoff’s and Clowes’ decision to turn a physically ugly, anachronistic, older man and social misfit, dissatisfied with modern culture, into the obscure object of desire for a spunky, quirky teenager. No doubt they did it to make the story more commercially appealing; which may help explain why Art School Confidential didn’t exactly set the box office alight)

But Clowes’ worst flaws can be summed up in two words:

Adrian Tomine.

‘Nuff said, true believer.

Cheesy link-blog post

March 12, 2007

WordPress is misbehaving, and I’ve got spring fever. So no real post today.

To fill the void, check out this in-depth appreciation of Cerebus, which Mr Deppey linked to today. Go read parts 2-7 at least, which discuss the often brilliant covers by Sim and Gerhard. With all the (justified) hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing about Sim’s writing and general crackpottery, it’s easy to forget what a talented visual artist he is.

When will Sim release a collection of covers? Most of them aren’t reprinted in the other “phonebooks”, so many of Cerebus‘ readers have never seen them. Surely a collection of covers would sell better than the quixotic collections of letters and diatribes he has been printing since Cerebus finished.

In the meantime, there’s always this.

What is up with airline food, anyway?

February 9, 2007

Cartoonist Chynna Clugston is best known among comic-readers for her series Blue Monday. A teen relationship-sex-dramedy confection, Blue Monday showcases Clugston’s obvious and deep affection for manga, mod fashion, John Hughes and britpop. She also created Scooter Girl–more mod madness–and Queen Bee, for younger readers. Clugston is a talented cartoonist, with a keen eye for relationship comedy and deft comic timing.

So why is she slumming with gags about furries in the new, comic-centric issue of Nerve? Furries are so 2003. They were ridiculed in an episode of CSI, they’re such mainstream figures of fun. Rightly so–furries are ridiculous. But mocking furries in 2007 is about as daring, or relevant, as Monica Lewinsky jokes. That moment has passed.

If you’re going to mock wacko subcultures, at least pick an original target. Come on, Clugston, you can do much better than this.