Archive for August 30, 2003


August 30, 2003

I’ve noticed, from time to time, that some loved ones of a woman with an eating disorder (usually the parents) all but insist that the ED sufferers they encounter produce some sort of “positive” subject to talk about–an aspiration, a goal, something that would make them happy, something that currently makes them happy–basically, anything but all that gloomy gus talk about pain and resentment and being pissed off and miserable and slowly dying that tends to dominate the discussion about ED.

Maybe their intentions are good: the power of positive thinking, the cup is half full, et cetera. But my theory is that the barely unspoken subtext is twofold: 1) “Please tell me that it’s not all pain and hurt and anger so I don’t have to feel like I’ve done a lousy job loving you”; 2) “Quit your whining and snap out of it already.” If all it took to overcome ED were to turn that frown upside-down and ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, we’d all be skipping family therapy sessions and chowin’ down at the Cracker Barrel.

I thought about this (unsurprisingly) in terms of Star Wars. In the Lucas cosmology, the Dark Side of the Force is driven by anger, hatred, fear, agression, and jealousy. The message is to refuse to let those feelings take over your life. But the message is NOT that those feelings have no place in your life at all, that such feelings are invalid, shameful, inappropriate, bad. We’re human, and we feel, well, pissed off sometimes. We shouldn’t let that run our lives, but nor should we try to eliminate those feelings from our lives altogether.

I’ve found that many women with ED use their symptoms as a way to sublimate the negative emotions they won’t allow themselves to feel and express–or that their families forbid them to feel and express. When their loved ones, in the guise of encouragement, try to goad them into don’t-worry-be-happy mode, focusing on long-term aspirations that would make them feel good about themselves in some theoretical future, they (intentionally or not) discourage or even prevent them from feeling and expressing the anger, sadness, frustration, and hurt that are just as much a part of human nature as the happy stuff, and just as valid a part as well.

I’ve watched family, friends, and lovers attempt to comfort their loved one with ED, all the while transmitting wave after wave of needy “please act happy so I don’t have to worry so much” vibes like an enmeshed-family version of the RKO tower. I’ve done it myself. But when the ED sufferer is ready to be happy, she’ll let you know. It’s not a process you can force them to focus on, nor should you try. To do so is to send yet another message that a woman who isn’t happy is a bitch, that anger and sadness are not something good people feel, and that expressing negative feelings is something to be avoided at all cost. Avoiding the expression of those feelings is what got them starving or bingeing or purging in the first place. Now, it’s important for everyone involved to acknowledge and appreciate those feelings for what they are–not part of the Dark Side, but part of being human.

Comix and match

August 30, 2003

Let’s look at this post as an object lesson in how steadily partaking of your little sister’s fridge full of Coors Light affects your blogging, shall we?

Does Milo mystify you? Does Fiore freak you out? Does Groth leave you gasping? Fear not! Take this quiz and find out if you live up to the stringent critical standards of the Comics Journal. Team Comics beware!

If you read all the links in this Eve Tushnet post in order, you get a pretty clear picture of why the American comics industry is in such a sorry state. It’s almost as if folks are deliberately trying to burn up any vestiges of consumer goodwill.

Dirk Deppey deflates my theory that Chris Ware is the Thin White Low-Self-Esteem-Having Duke of Comics. I don’t know what’s more depressing: the fact that the greatest cartoonist in the world thinks he’s for shit, or the fact that the greatest cartoonist in the world is only 35 freaking years old.

I know it’s about a week old, but this Newsarama story on the long, strange trip of Silver Surfer artist Milx is a real bring-down, since it means that the guy will pretty much never get work in the business again.

A tale of two visionaries: Terry Gilliam vs. George Lucas on evil in fantastic fiction, courtesy of Big Sunny D.

This is the kind of pragmatic criticism comics needs more of: the Comics Journal’s online criticism column, Dogsbody, offers practical advice to Expo, the ambassadorial anthology of America’s premiere altcomix convention, SPX. Personally, I enjoy the like-a-box-of-chocolates nature of this yearly collection, but the hit-or-miss quality of the material included therein means that I’m unlikely to ever buy myself a copy.

It’s been a banner week for NeilAlien. I can’t wait for these plotlines to progress, so that at long last I can truly see the ‘Alien in his element.

Like pouring Lemon juice on the papercut that is mainstream comics, folks.

I hate to call out Johnny Bacardi (and yet I’ll be doing it twice in this post alone!), but Sean Phillips in the pantheon? C’mon. He’s quite good at what he does, but what he does, at this point, isn’t much more or less than depicting tough guys killing each other pretty well. And he doesn’t do it with the arrogant style of a Quitely or the square-fisted exuberance of a JRJR or the OCD intricacy of a Geof Darrow or…well, my point is, we can enthuse all we want about really good mainstream comics, but we’re not doing anyone any favors if we start talking like solid entertainment is on the same level as great art. (This really isn’t to single out Sean Phillips, who I like quite a bit–it’s a reality check more than anything else.)

Silver Bullet Comics represents for Rubber Necker: here’s their interview with indie wunderkind Nick Bertozzi.

You know, the Comics Blogosphere really is an interesting place to be right now. I say this not just because it’s playing a big role in keeping me sane while the Missus is indisposed, but because it’s been regularly churning out interesting, ongoing conversations about comics lately. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen Eve Tushnet make the link between the stylistic spectacle of comics and opera; Jim Henley challenge other writers to comment on Neil Gaiman’s much-hyped return to comics, 1602; Alan David Doane single-handedly raise awareness of the work of cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier; Elayne Riggs break the story that CrossGen’s financial straits were leading it to stiff freelancers; and yours truly advance the theory that, to paraphrase Cabaret, tomorrow belongs to manga. All of the above stories generated a slew of blog entries, messboard posts, comment submissions, email messages, and so forth, all of which help make the blogosphere my favorite place to talk comics. (With the exception of a plus hotel room paid for by a certain major American clothing retailer, of course.)

Finally, c’mon, Johnny–you’re acting like you’ve never seen lousy pre-fab pop singers pretending to be lesbians on an MTV awards show before!

Two reasons why I love my wife

August 30, 2003

Amanda on CrossGen Comics: “How did they not realize that their name sounds like some sort of reference to transsexuals?”

Amanda on me: “You’re the white Humpty Hump.”

I think that’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever said to me. (It almost makes up for the fact that she’s thwarted my every attempt to get busy in a Burger King bathroom.)

You know, the great thing about the VMAs is that anything can happen–and usually does!

August 29, 2003

Wasn’t that outrageous? Of course it was! It was that kind of zeitgeist-defining moment that only the VMAs can produce! Like the snake dance from a couple of years ago–dude, that’s ALL we would have been talking about if it weren’t for, y’know, that whole terrorism thing a few days later. And one time they had, like, a million Eminems! This is not your father’s award show, people!

Anyway, nothing spells sexy like Women Pretending To Be Lipstick Lesbians In A Very Public Fashion In Order To Get Guys Off While Nominally Purporting To Strike Some Sort Of Blow For A ‘Pro-Sex Feminism’ So Corrupt And Male-Dictated As To Be Actively Detrimental To Actual Women’s Sexuality! So let’s all go masturbate like bonobo monkeys, and then talk about it on VH1’s I Love the Naughties in 20 years, okay? Okay. Gosh, remember the first season of The Real World? And then they played “Billie Jean” and killed racism forever! I want my MTV!


Morrison, Bowie, and Ware–oh my!

August 28, 2003

David Bowie changed my life. This is not news for longtime readers of ADDTF (or ITCOTCB before it), of course, but I think it bears frequent repeating, because of the depth of influence the erstwhile Mr. Jones has had on me. It’s not just that I love his music, or admire his life-as-art project, or think he’s the coolest looking man ever to walk the Earth, though all these are true. Rather, it’s the fluidity with which he adopted, adapted, and discarded modes of behavior, style, creativity, and indeed personality, whenever it suited him.

Though I’ve been a fan of what for lack of a better word could be described as alternative music ever since Nirvana blitzkrieged their way into my brain during middle school (though in fairness to myself I was already listening to Jane’s Addiction, R.E.M, and the mother of all experimental rock bands, the Beatles), I always found the keeping-it-real, support-the-scene, don’t-be-a-poseur mentality bequeathed to underground music by the remnants of the punk years tremendously limiting and intimidating. I didn’t understand why it was tantamount to a moral shortcoming to be a 14-year-old from Long Island rather than a 21-year-old from Seattle, but that’s how it was when you went into a record store and showed some interest in snapping up Soundgarden’s back catalog after Badmotorfinger came out. I found myself lashing out at bandwagon-jupmers and defending myself against similar accusations, depending on the band or movement in question, with equal (and equally distracting) regularity.

Then along came Bowie, exploding my notions of the “real” in art and therefore rendering “keeping it real” obsolete. Inspired by Bowie’s constant zeal for self-reinvention, I began truly following my musical bliss, letting record-buying explorations take me everywhere my happy little ears wanted to go. No longer feeling tied to scenesterism or “the Spirit of ’77,” I delved into prog and punk with equal gusto–and didn’t feel guilty about being Johnny-come-lately (or in this case, Joe-Strummer-come-lately). Bowie showed me that identity was amorphous, that all influences could be incorporated when useful and abandoned when outlived, with no shame or guilt or anxiety attached. For a music obsessive and would-be artist, this is burning-bush stuff.

This attitude truly crystallized for me during two interviews I conducted for my magazine. The first was with Portland’s glamedelia elite, the Dandy Warhols. Lead singer and bon vivant Courtney Taylor-Taylor exuded so much anxiety-free enthusiasm for any and all good rock records that he came off, in keyboardist Zia McCabe’s words, like “the rock professor.” Though he’s an incredibly stylish gentleman, style, he said, was not some attempt to live up to the trend of the moment, but (when done correctly) is simply the outward manifestation of what you are on the inside. Here was a man who, like Bowie, had detatched himself from outdated notions of working hard on being this or that, his own personality dictated not by rigid self-placed constraints but by nothing but love for music and art and a willingness to go where it led him. I was duly impressed.

The second was with comics’ own rock star, Grant Morrison. Nattily dressed and extremely friendly, Morrison began relating to me his concept of the “personality upgrade.” He described how, as a young buck in the arty-mainstream comics scene, he found himself resenting Neil Gaiman for his success in the corporate milieu that provided expat UK writers with plush Vertigo jobs. He found himself reacting against Gaiman’s methods–and, not coincidentally, acheiving much less success. Suddenly, he said, he realized how stupid this was. First of all, Gaiman is a nice guy, and had done nothing to merit resentment. Secondly, why waste all this time and energy on jealousy and anger? Why not simply figure out what Gaiman is doing right, and then do it oneself? The brain, explained Morrison, is essentially a computer. When you encounter someone who’s smarter, better, further developed than yourself, simply “upload” those traits of theirs that you yourself wish you possessed. In other words, rather than fret and piss and moan and sit around eating sour grapes, get a personality upgrade. You’re not altering yourself–you’re improving yourself. You’re adapting. You’re evolving. You’re You Version 2.0!

So this is how I try to live now. I wasted so much time in the past trying to define myself with what I stood for, what I stood against, who I liked, who I hated, and so forth. Now I try to take each sensation, each experience as it comes, evaluate how it will work for me, incorporate it into myself, grow, change, evolve, adapt, improve. It’s a life lived with a lot less fear, I’ll tell you that–less fear of self-contradiction, which to me used to be the gravest sin. I guess it’s nothing that the multitudes-containing Whitman didn’t figure out a century and a half ago, but it certainly felt like revelation to me–hazy cosmic jive, if you will…

Postscript: How does Chris Ware enter into this, you ask, since you so observantly noted his name in the subject? I’ve just been thinking for some months now (a thought reinforced by his almost frantically self-effacing Datebook) that wouldn’t it be amazing if his sad-sack “I’m terrible” schtick were a Bowie-esque persona? In real life he’s perfectly well adjusted, thinks he can draw a pretty fine comic, and so forth, but for the sake of his art he’s become the Ziggy Stardust of gloomy self-abasement. How cool would that be?

How busy have I been?

August 28, 2003

Busy enough that I bought The Two Towers on DVD on Tuesday night and still haven’t watched it. Folks, if you know me at all, you know that means I’m pretty motherloving busy. An unexpected visit from my old college buddy/artistic collaborator last night and a delightful dinner at a pub with my grandparents tonight are both extremely pleasant ways to be busy, however (as was putting all the comics I’ve bought in the last two months or so on the kitchen table, as there’s no room for them anywhere else. A movable feast indeed!).

Once again, I’ll be visiting Amanda this weekend (actually from Friday to Monday this time around). I should be blogging from the road, though, so, y’know, take it easy.

Not comics, not eating disorders

August 27, 2003

(I guess I had kinda forgotten that there was anything else to talk about.)

Instapundit produces a nice omnibus collection of quotes by the Founding Fathers explicitly stating that the United States is in no way a Christian nation. This is useful for people who couldn’t manage to figure this out on their own by, I dunno, reading the Constitution–a task apparently beyond the ken of Alabama Chief Justice Ray Moore, who’s far too busy making an embarassing spectacle of himself and pimping Christ in order to make a backwards-ass Talibanesque political point. Shame on him, shame on his supporters, shame on the “conservatives” who feel that the government is well within its rights to extend a giant middle finger to its non-Christian constituents, and (especially) shame on people who claim to support the war on theocratic fascism in which we are engaged and yet encourage this kind of ostentatious phony hotline-to-Heaven above-the-law grandstanding at home.

Also, the BBC is full of BS, but you knew that already.

Generally I think that the definition of conservatism as “standing athwart history shouting ‘stop!'” shows exactly why conservatism is so dopey. But if that’s really the way to define it, then Charles Johnson’s indefatiguable efforts to publicize the mad mullahs of Iran’s (repeatedly and explicitly stated and genocidally intended) drive for nuclear weapons is “conservative” in the best possible way. This post on how IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei sees no difference between the American nuclear program and the one currently being pursued by the seething murderous terrorist theocrats in Tehran is as good a place as any to start reading up on the subject.

Forager has a thoughtful post on how far the word “liberal” has strayed from its original meaning (in much the same way that “conservative” has done, making them both equally meaningless in terms of real descriptive power). He goes on to talk about the gorgeous Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich, and that’s always a good thing.

Forager also had a good post a while back on the Big Apple’s left-liberal groupthink. Forager, try talking politics in a room full of stylists, photographers, and PR flacks. You’d want to jump out a window.

Want to see the principles of Ingsoc in action? Go here and here. Remember, when I close my eyes, you can’t see me.

Worst Mainstream Article About Comics: The Race Is On!

August 27, 2003

Now the New York Times gets into the running, with this embarassingly bad look at the industry by Dana Jennings. Once again, we’re presented with ridiculously classist notion that the best comics can do is stoopid popsploitation; once again, we’re treated to the glaring inaccuracies that only lazy NYT reporting can produce (this sounds like a minor point, but the Hulk really doesn’t say “Hulk smash!” anymore); unlike his condescending compartriot Dan Rajdu over at the New York Review of Books, however, Jennings rejects the notion that there’s only been three or four good comic books in the history of mankind–in favor of one-upping him by completely ignoring any comic with any kind of ambition whatsoever.

The layman can’t be blamed for thinking that most comics are stupid–walk into the average comic shop, and most comics you see are stupid. But for the love of Pete, this is the newspaper of record, at least when they’re not just waging vendettas and making stuff up. Shouldn’t we expect their reporting to be at least as accurate as, say, Jim Lee’s sense of anatomy?

A Public Service Announcement

August 27, 2003

I think it should be pointed out that The Acme Novelty Datebook by Chris Ware is not, in fact, a datebook at all. I actually went for a long time without buying the thing because I was like, “Well, it’s Chris Ware, so I’m sure it’s gorgeous and brilliant, but I can’t stand having a datebook that I couldn’t bring myself to write appointments down in and such.” But it’s not a datebook at all, so don’t worry.

Thank you.

Memo to NeilAlien

August 27, 2003


Precious things

August 27, 2003

At her concert tonight, Tori Amos played two songs, “Caught a Lite Sneeze” and “Carbon,” specifically for Amanda.

Basically, we have a friend in the right places.

Manga says “frog,” we (shonen) jump

August 26, 2003

More responses to the manga essay are filtering in.

Johnny Bacardi notes several ancillary benefits and drawbacks stemming from manga’s ever-growing influence. He points out that if the book-sized manga format were the industry standard, mainstream creators would have a practical incentive for sticking with a book until a book-sized story arc was completed. But he’s a lot less enthusiastic about the influence of manga storytelling, which he feels resembles an Irishman’s diet and genitalia insofar as it’s all potatoes, no meat; he worries that much of manga’s success in the States is attributable to the insanely popular anime-slash-card-games the kids are into these days; and he’s concerned about the price point of bigger collections as well. I don’t think he’s got to worry about that last problem, though: Manga collections appear to retail for about ten bucks a pop, which is more in line with the price of a softcover novel rather than the expensive traditional trade paperback collections the American industry produces. (Kudos should be given to Marvel for keeping the price of their trades affordable, by the way.) Finally, he seems to grok the fact that adopting clean, uniform, well-designed trade dress is just another tool in the arsenal to effectively communicate your ideas–i.e. by getting people to buy the book that contains them.

Bill Sherman, meanwhile, offers follow-ups to his follow-up, sparked by comments from Shawn Fumo (who also chimed in at Johnny B’s comment section) and Darren Madigan, who analyze the long strange trip of American manga editions to the format in which they’re currently enjoying so much success and the possible long strange trip that American comics will take as they struggle to break free of the dead-end floppy format, respectively. Intriguing stuff, though I think Madigan’s proposed multi-title magazine editions would likely fail to catch on. Indeed, Marvel did try to publish magazine compendia that included a month’s worth of a particular group of titles (I think they tried this with mags that reprinted the X-books, the Spider-Man books, the Ultimate books, and the Marvel Knights books, though this may be a couple of magazines too many), and newsstands adamantly refused to shelve them anywhere but with the regular old comic books, which no one’s buying.

Via email, former Comics Journal editor Tom Spurgeon writes to say that chasing the bookstore dollar is a fool’s errand for comics, and that success stories like Ghost World and the most popular manga books are the exceptions, not the potential future rule. While I think comics could and should do a lot better in bookstores, I do agree that it would be suicide to completely abandon the Direct Market, or to let it go under–which is why I’m humping manga so much, since it seems like the DM’s ticket to ride.

Finally, I received a translation of that Spanish-language blog post on the manga essay (courtesy of the illustrious Michael Suileabhain-Wilson). This fellow’s argument is that the success of manga in countries where superhero comics traditionally dominate is not much more or less than the fact that they’ve got virtually all the genre bases cover. This obvious point is nevertheless one I failed to make: American comics, focused as myopically as they are on superhero comics (and, in the altcomix realm, on bleak tales of man’s inability to successfully connect with man) are very clearly limiting their audience to people who want to read those kinds of stories. And while there happen to be a lot (of both), I think comics’ tent needs to be a little bigger, don’t you?

Rising Suns

August 25, 2003

I’m happy to see that while I was away my gargantuan manga post was quite a hot topic throughout the comics blogosphere. For those of you keeping score at home:

NeilAlien, Tegan, Alan , and Franklin all give it a big thumbs-up, which makes me pretty happy (“wisest words I’ve seen,” “big must-read”–p’shaw). Dirk, Forager, and Big Sunny D also thought it was very strong, though they’re not necessarily convinced; Sunny, along with Johnny Bacardi and (via email) Jim Henley, are mulling over more considered responses (Jim’s promises to be an emperor/clothes angle that I’m looking forward to perusing). Eve seems to have liked the post more than she likes manga itself; at the board Andrew Farago takes the opportunity to question blogging in general as a medium for idea transmission; and finally Bill Sherman has the most skeptical take of the bunch vis a vis the ideas in the article themselves.

Though Bill agrees that manga could and should be an important part of the business plan for any direct-market retailer who wishes to remain in business, he’s wary of attempts to artificially graft manga-style storytelling onto American comics, citing Jill Thompson’s “Sandmanga” (nicely done, Bill!) Death: At Death’s Door as a half-and-half book with some grating culture-clash moments. He also bemoans the manga format’s small size, which can be murder on the eyes of folks weaned on the larger-than-life artistic progeny of Jack Kirby. Finally, he scoffs at my enthusiasm for the big manga publishers’ proficiency with uniform trade dress–Bill don’t need no stinking homogenous bookshelves!

Going point by point, I too feel that American comics’ attempts to assimilate Japanese style have been of spotty quality up until this point. I’ve not seen Thompson’s book, which from what I gather is a lot less “anime” and more actual “manga” than most American attempts at tapping into the Japan-fans market. Most times the big companies take a crack at these things they do indeed seem to rely on big-eyed big-gunned watered-down Japanimation knockoffs. That’s why I focused on format rather than content: the big US publishers haven’t proven even to a tyro like me that they really understand what makes manga manga.

And I’m just as worried as Bill is by the loss of page size that switching to manga format would necessitate. Most of the time I really wouldn’t care, but reprinting, say, Brian Hitch or John Romita Jr. at half-size is almost criminal. As someone who is working on comics projects of his own, I’m at war with myself, since my belief in the superiority of the manga format is in conflict with my selfish desire to see my one-day comics projects printed on great big pieces of paper. But generally speaking, the most proficient artists will look good at any size. Though it might pain you to think of a digest-sized New Gods reprint, for example, Kirby’s sense of space means that his art is “legible” no matter how small it gets. At any rate I don’t think a switchover to manga format as the main method of publication would or should preclude special large-size projects like Marvel’s big, beautiful hardcovers or DC/Wildstorm’s Absolute editions, let alone idiosyncratic alt-comix projects like Quimby the Mouse, Blankets, or The Frank Book.

Finally, Bill, Bill, Bill–you got me all wrong! I’m certainly not some “nouveau-riche” leather-bound slipcase-buying snob who looks at his library as more of a bit of interior decorating than as a collection of literature. Indeed, I actually dislike hardcovers, since I feel that by buying a hardcover you’re making a value judgment about the book: “I like this book so much that I’m going to spend a ton of money to buy it in a super-deluxe edition that I’ll nevertheless be terrified to actually read because it’s so nice-looking and expensive.” Buying a hardcover edition is essentially an accolade that I reserve for very few books indeed.

What I find appealing–and smart from a publishing perspective–about manga-formatted books is almost the opposite of what’s appealing about hardcovers: they’re light, they’re durable, they’re meant to be read and re-read. As for the trade-dress issue, that’s mainly a bookstore consideration: since even the thickest mangas are still on the small side, you need to get them to stand out on the shelf somehow or else people’s eyes will glide right over them. Having volumes one through twelve right next to each other, all the colors and text lining up, sometimes with a picture continuing from one volume’s spine to the next, makes the books practically leap off the shelf at the buyer. My objection to traditional trade paperbacks is not just that they’re so heterogenous, but that their spines are so freaking thin that because of this heterogenoeity you can barely tell what’s in them. Taking a cue from the manga publishers in this case is a matter of common-sense readability, which in a bookstore translates to buyability as well.

While we’re on the subject, I’ll suggest a problem with my own argument: As the more and more frequent and common trade paperback collections of superhero titles have made clear, not every superhero writer has it in him to tell an extended story. Besides being a straightforward issue of quality, this also heightens the risk of switching over to a higher-cost collections-only publishing model. Individual issue sales give the big publishers a monthly gauge of how well a given creator is doing saleswise; if the big companies were to move to the manga model, they wouldn’t have these canary-in-a-coal-mine indicators and might get stuck with some real turkeys.

I think that about does it for now. Looking forward to hearing what other folks have to say about this…

Comix and match

August 25, 2003

Yes, Virginia, there is an unfavorable review of Blankets. It’s by the Pulse’s pseudonymous hatchetperson, Jess Lemon. This one isn’t a hatchetjob per se, because obviously we’re not talking about something along the lines of Vampirella/Witchblade, but it is pretty harsh. I think that much of the criticism of this book stems from reader uncertainty as to whether the breathless “I was sensitive, the girl was perfect, our love was magic” tone of the narration is Craig Thompson’s actual current view of the situation, or an incredible simulation of his view at the time. I think there’s enough self-knowledge visible in the story (the fact that the Craig character “missed” Raina even when he was with her, indicating that he’s already idealized her to the point where he can’t actually interact with her in any real way) to give lie to Lemon’s claims to the contrary.

Anyway, I can’t wait to see where The Comics Journal will come down on this book. I’d also be interested to see what they think of this as a marketing strategy for it. (As someone who saw the check in person, all I can really say is “damn!”)

Forager has an interesting article on how our culture’s aversion to heroism leads it to write off superhero stories. As anyone who’s spent some time on the Comics Journal messageboard can tell you, he’s right.

According to Newsarama, Chuck Austen’s sleazepic The Eternal has been cancelled. Damn. When the guy stays away from The Big Issues and instead uses Marvel characters and concepts to navigate through his twisted psyche, he’s good. But actually, I’d assumed this was going to be a miniseries anyway, and it looks like that’s basically how it’ll pan out–I couldn’t see these characters sustaining an ongoing title. My real concern is that since it was “cancelled,” it won’t be collected in trade–a fate that also seems to have befallen Darko Macan’s beautiful meditations on heroism as contained in his ill-fated run on Soldier X.

Also according to Newsarama, Entertainment Weekly will stop running its occasional comic review section, spinning it off into their subscriber-only music supplement. So much for mainstream exposure. Now I see why Joe Quesada complains so much about Paul Levitz’s reluctance or inability to use the AOLTW superstructure on his company’s behalf.

I just want to point out how beautifully readable NeilAlien’s blogging format is.

ADD offers his short list of comics masters. Tough to argue with, though I’m unfamiliar with Hornschemeier’s work. For the record, my run-down of the best–not just my favorite–English-language comics creators working today is as follows (in no order except the number one):

1) Chris Ware

* Phoebe Gloeckner

* Daniel Clowes

* Frank Miller

* Charles Burns

* Mike Mignola

* Jim Woodring

* Dave Cooper

* Craig Thompson

* Joe Sacco

And there are a ton of runners-up, boy howdy are there ever: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Julie Doucet, Paul Pope, Jason, David B., Hans Rickheit, Renee French, Ben Katchor, Brian Michael Bendis, Geof Darrow, Erik Larsen, Chester Brown, Will Eisner, Tony Millionaire, Mat Brinkman, Ron Rege Jr., Jordan Crane, Nick Bertozzi, Marc Bell, Frank Quitely, Jeffrey Brown, John Romita Jr., Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb–some of whom are just a case of close but no cigar, some of whom I love but I don’t think have either done quite enough or quite the right thing to merit inclusion in the list, some of whom just aren’t doing as much work as they used to, some of whom are personal favorites whose place in my personal pantheon may or may not outstrip their place in the pantheon at large. And then there’s my big gaps in knowledge, Los Bros Hernandez and Dave Mazzuchelli’s European work being the most obvious examples.

Johnny Bacardi talks about some good new comics, including Pete Milligan & Javier Pulido’s Human Target. Though sullied (as are a good many DC/Vertigo comics) by colorist Lee Loughridge’s muddy, acidic green-brown palette (and his work on Kingpin #1 was so thoughtful and evocative! what’s up with that?), Pulido’s art is just beautiful–so simple, breezy, European. It’s a joy to look at.

(Speaking of Kingpin, I’m still enjoying the series, but any pretense to depicting the reality of criminality (which I lauded quite a bit in my review) has been chucked right out the window in favor of broad, almost tongue-in-cheek pulpisms. Writer Bruce Jones’s take on the character sets up an extremely interesting contrast with that of Brian Michael Bendis. Speaking of which…)

Both Johnny and Jim Henley are altogether too hard on Daredevil #50, which for my money is the best single issue ever done for the character that wasn’t written by a guy named Frank Miller. It really was everything I wanted out of a climax issue, and from what Bendis has said at the last couple of conventions, this really is it for the usual suspects. And yes, I liked the cameos by artists from DD’s past–it made sense in the context of the “when will it end?” mentality of the characters. Though if you’re doing this sort of thing for Daredevil it’s tough not to notice the absence of Miller, Mazzuchelli and Romita Jr. (particularly when Mike Oeming is inserted in their place–I like his work, but when did he work on Daredevil?).

Personal to Tegan: Doubt not! And thank you, as well as everyone else (and at this point, it really is everyone) who’s wished Amanda well.

Anyone interested in tedious anti-genre bias? The messboard’s got you covered.

Finally, the gents at Ninth Art manage to have a discussion about the state of the industry in which almost nothing relevant to the state of the industry is discussed, beyond the controversial proposition that in order for the industry to thrive, people need to buy good stuff. Um, yeah….

Bang! Pow! The New York Review of Books Isn’t Just for Competent Critics Anymore!

August 25, 2003

Anyone in the mood for a grotesquely condescending, often wildly inaccurate portrayal of the comics medium as written by a guy who wants us all to know that he’s just as surprised as we are to find him reviewing the things? Then check out this monstrosity by David Hajdu for The New York Review of Books. His rundown of Joe Sacco’s Palestine & Safe Area Gorazde and Dan Clowes’s Ghost World will make you want to chew your own foot off, especially when he mentions how Sacco’s work is particularly jarring since its disempowered protagonists are so at odds with the rest of comics, in which everyone is powerful all the time, or something. (You’ve really got to read this howler to find out just how smug that bit comes across, how patronizing it manages to be not just to comics, or even superhero comics (the best of which deserve much better treatment), but even to the people in Palestine and Gorazde!) Insulting not just to comics in general (and rock and roll while he’s at it) but to the brilliant creators whose work he’s denigrating by likening it to making a beautiful sculpture out of poo, Hajdu’s screed gets my vote for the year’s worst mainstream article about comics thus far.

Note: I see from his author page that Hajdu is working on a book about comics’ early days. That he is apparently, in some sense at least, a comics “fan” makes this dopey bit of snobbery even more inexcusable. Comics readers who claim that the best the artform can do is produce exuberant trash deserve a life filled with no more than the kind of comics that would prove them right. They’re like music critics (cough Rob Sheffield cough cough) who claim that the apotheosis of rock and roll is brainless pop stupidity like Britney Spears’s version of “Satisfaction.”

August 25, 2003

Anyone speak Spanish? This Spanish-language comics site (which looks quite good) is apparently talking about the big manga article. I’d be much obliged if someone out there could provide a translation to sean *AT* alltooflat *DOT* com.

Speaking of cultural exchange, messboard user Shawn Silverthorn mentioned my post on another board he frequents, this one at It didn’t generate a lot of discussion, but I did get plenty of hits from it, so some cross-pollination is ocurring…

Things that are enjoyable

August 25, 2003

* De-Loused in the Comatorium (CD) by the Mars Volta

* The Stand (book) by Stephen King

* The Stand (TV miniseries) directed by Mick Garris

* Out of the Races and On to the Tracks (CD) by the Rapture

* “The Mist” (short story contained in book Skeleton Crew) by Stephen King

* St. Anger (CD) by Metallica

* Surviving an Eating Disorder (book) by Siegel, Brisman, and Weinshel

* The House on the Borderland (comic) by Hodgson, Corben, Revelstroke, and Loughridge

* Fever to Tell (CD) by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

* Give Up (CD) by the Postal Service

* “Such Great Heights” (Postal Service song as performed for my answering machine) by Amanda Collins

Long Distance Runaround

August 24, 2003

How many times can a person say “things are going well” in relation to their spouse’s illness? I guess we’re going to find out, because, well, things are going well. That is to say they’re going as well as they could under such circumstances. As I may have said in th e past, I now truly feel able to say that I’ve been on an “emotional rollercoaster.” I can only imagine how Amy feels.

She’s so brave, it’s just inspiring. I wish she could see how genuinely remarkable and fascinating and brilliant she is, but this is what this disease does (as well as the underlying depression/anxiety)–it prevents her from seeing her own excellence just as completely and effectively as a blindfold would prevent her from seeing what’s right in front of her.

Some things to note about eating disorders:

1) They’re never about food, weight, or appearance, despite the obvious appearances to the contrary.

2) People with EDs should never be engaged about those three things–don’t say “please eat this,” don’t say “honey, you know you’re thinner than that woman, why are you worried about it?”, don’t cajole or plead or threaten or otherwise attempt to get the person to eat–these are all battles you will not win.

3) Sadly, a lot of women have family members who see treatment centers as “the easy way out” of facing the difficulties of real life. Believe me, I’ve seen it first hand, and treatment sucks. The treatment center is not the escape hatch–the eating disorder is the escape hatch. The treatment center gets the ED sufferer back to the point at which they CAN face those real-life problems, rather han hide from them in the womb of starvation, binging, or purging.

4) Women with eating disorders want to hear that you are proud of them for seeking treatment. They don’t necessarily want to hear this when they are voicing a very specific complaint about the treatment that any reasonable person might have. They are NOT their disease, not 100% of the time, and treating their every thought as a possible symptom is not helpful. This is one of the most difficult tasks for the loved one–to stop second-guessing every interaction with the ED sufferer and simply love them.

5) Tofu wears thin after a while.

6) Pretty much every person with an eating disorder is highly intelligent, highly articulate, kind, driven, successful, and beautiful. This should only highlight the fact that this is a disease, not some sort of deliberate attempt to sabotage their own lives or the lives of others.

7) Consider yourself very, very lucky and blessed when someone with an ED wants you close to them. They’re showing you that they trust you more than they trust their eating disorder. When that person is as amazing as you know them to be, this is an honor like no other.

Come on, shake your body, baby, do that manga

August 21, 2003

My manga posts seem to be generating a lot of attention, to the point where I feel I need to expand on my theory a bit.

Yes, I do feel that manga is the future of comics. Why? For starters, it’s what real people are actually buying. The industry (and by that I mean the five big superhero publishers, the indie companies that ape them, and the retailers that sell their wares) try very, very hard (or at least talk a great deal about trying very, very hard) to get young kids, girls, and other atypical comics readers to read comics–but the thing is, they’re already reading ’em! They just happen to be reading comics from Japan. So in a very simple sense, comics stores need to be selling the comics that people want to buy. Like Dirk always says, the longer it takes the Direct Market to realize this, the worse off the DM (and by extension the American comics industry) will end up. I do see some inroads being made–both of the big comic book stores in New York City, Midtown Comics and Jim Hanley’s Universe, now have manga featured prominently either on their very popular website (in the former case) or in their heavily trafficked store window (in the latter). However, it’s safe to say that Midtown and Hanley’s are on the leading edge of smart-retailership in general, so this doesn’t necessarily indicate industry-wide foresight.

At this juncture in the argument, many people say that, in fact, manga will not save comics–the only thing that manga will help the American companies sell is more manga. By manga, such pundits are referring to Japanese comics written and illustrated by Japanese people in Japan, then at some point translated into English and sold in America. (At this point, the big manga companies aren’t even “flipping” the stories to be read from left to right in Western style–that’s how into the Japan-ness of the material the audience is!) This is to say that to them, manga really is a “genre”–when, as many have pointed out, to say that is akin to saying that Hollywood is a “genre.” (Technically they’re both modes of production capable of producing work in a wide range of genres, but, I suppose, with a proscribed range of affect. At a certain point, though, that proscribed range doesn’t really matter–Hollywood has produced both Taxi Driver and Spy Kids, and manga has produced both Screw Style and Yu-Gi-Oh!) Right now there’s little evidence to contradict this assertion about the provincial nature of manga readers, since the attempts at cross-pollinization have been fairly sporadic, and since the places where, in the main, manga is bought and sold are NOT direct-market comics retailers where buying patterns could be anecdotally, if not statistically, monitored. My own extremely limited experience with manga-reading kids does indicate a certain degree of over-the-top cultishness that brooks little deviation from the norm of big-eyed Japanese-style drawings done by people with Japanese names. Moreover, much of the manga phenomenon in America is tied to anime cartoons and gaming of both the card and video varieties, which would appear to provide even more ways for the manga consumer to spend his every entertainment dollar on stuff from the land of the rising sun.

But I’ve never intended to come across like I think that manga readers would jump to The Incredible Hulk or Black Hole the second those books are published in little squarebound softcovers. My proselytizing for manga-formatted comics is more a question of removing unnecessary obstacles to readership than it is of creating some sort of tesseract that’ll transport fans of Love Hina or Dragonball Z to Hellboy in the blink of an eye.

What do I mean by “removing obstacles”? Let’s look at New Marvel for some for-instances. When Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada took over, they slowly instituted aesthetic and business changes that are now largely line-wide. Here are a few:

1) Stop writing continuity-heavy or continuity-dependent stories that require a familiarity with the characters unattainable to the casual reader

2) Stop doing multi-title crossovers that require readers to purchase and be up to speed on several titles

3) Start writing in 3-8 issue story arcs that will make for smoother reading when collected

4) Start publishing those collections as often as possible

5) Stop doing text-heavy, visually “busy” covers featuring tons of characters and replace these with simple, iconic images of the main characters

6) Start printing the books on high-quality paper line-wide

7) Stop using ALL CAPS lettering and switch to the same kind of mixed-case fonts that most publications use

Now, we’ve all got our opinions as to the overall character of the New Marvel regime, and as to the success of their initiatives. Certainly, no one (not even Quesada and Jemas themselves) thinks that every single book Marvel has put out since 2000 with these guidelines in mind is a rip-roaring success. Indeed, none of the above are guarantees of quality in any way. But that’s not the point at all–they’re not intended to be construed as guarantees. Rather, what these measures (and some others) actually did was remove several long-standing and frustrating obstacles to acquiring a larger readership for Marvel’s books. They made the books easier to read, easier to understand, easier to find, easier to afford, easier to follow, easier to hold, and easier to look at. Even if you believe that 99% of what Marvel does is total dreck (and I don’t, at this point not by a long shot), at least that 1% has a much better shot of attracting an audience.

This is what I’m getting at when I talk about the strength of the manga format. Manga collections look like–and read like–books. They’re the size and shape of a regular old paperback novel, and since you’re getting a couple hundred pages of story at a shot, they’re pretty much the length of a regular old papeback novel as well. Even if what’s inside is utter crap, at least someone who comes across it in a bookstore can say to herself, “Yep, that’s a book, alright.” (The price point is far more in line with regular paperback books than most trade-paperback American comic collections’ are, too.) Moreover, manga companies go to great lengths to ensure uniform, attractive trade dress throughout a series’ duration, meaning that they actually look nice when put next to each other on a bookshelf. In a bookstore, where you need to do whatever you can to catch the eye of the buyer, this simple step is a godsend. And you’re never gonna see a manga collection that needed to be reissued after Volume Two came out because the publisher never bothered putting Volume One on its spine. (Folks, this isn’t some act of hubris like Eddie Van Halen prematurely assuming he’d eventually be able to release a VH Greatest Hits Volume Two without people pointing and laughing at him–go ahead, put Volume One on the the first collection you publish! We won’t mind!)

Compare and contrast with the standard American comics format, the pamphlet. (For the record, blogosphere, I prefer the term “floppy,” but pamphlet seems to have stuck.) It’s much bigger than a book, but also much thinner and, well, floppier. In that sense it’s closer to a magazine, but it’s thinner than most magazines as well. Outside of Marvel, chances are good that its paper quality is closest to a tabloid or newspaper. Of course, it’s work of literature (broadly defined, for the most part), though, so it’s alienated once again from its magazine and newspaper similarities. And of course, there’s no spine to speak of, so you’re stuck with sticking them in longboxes if you want to keep them around and in reach. The pamphlet comic book is this weird non-thing, in a twilight zone of bad design, bad size, bad durability, bad quality. Plus, now that most mainstream publishers have switched to telling genuinely serialized stories (as opposed to more-or-less complete tales with a “to be continued” thrown in during the last half page, or installments in ongoing soap operas with no beginning, middle, and end), the pamphlet is being used as a containment device for one-fifth of a story, and it’s one hell of an awkward container. I happen to think that mainstream comics have, in the main, improved in quality since this new mode of storytelling took effect, and to me the pamphlet is now an obsolete mode of delivery for the kind of stories even the big superhero characters are being used to tell–not to mention an expensive one: prices for most pamphlet comic books hover around $3.00, which means you’re paying quite a bit for not a whole lot of story.

Now, I know that fanboys (and we’re not just talking about superhero people here–I’ve seen altcomix titans talk about the dusty books in their longboxes with a level of nostalgic sentimentality that’d make a Norman Rockwell retrospective look like a 24-hour live reenactment of the making of “Piss Christ”) talk about the charm that these objects (the pamphlet comic books) have. In addition to the “that’s how I read ’em as a kid” factor, there’s the “monthly fix” element in terms of storytelling method. But in business, charm is for cereal-hawking leprechauns. And comics is a business, protestations of the “it’s art!” crowd be damned. It has to be, or everyone from Brian Michael Bendis to Chris Ware would be reduced to xeroxing minicomic copies of the new Powers or Acme Novelty Library and swapping them over the internet. The pamphlet is an obstacle to selling comics to non-traditional comics fans.

(And yes, I think a lot of these complaints still apply to trade paperbacks, and in some cases even hardcovers. Though the range in size of literary fiction and prose nonfiction hardcovers means that comics hardcovers don’t stand as far out from the crowd, in many cases they’re even more expensive than a fat first-run hardcover novel. And the trade paperbacks suffer from that same “what the hell size am I trying to be?” problem that besets the pamphlets which comprise them. Of course, don’t even get me started on how haphazard and slapdash trade dress is for these things. Christ, my shelves look like they were stocked with books from a printing press run by the zombies from 28 Days Later. Production values at art-house publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf, and (real bookstore publisher) Pantheon tend to offset these drawbacks, both because the books are thoughtfully designed and formatted and because the content within them tends to be so self-evidently good that idiosyncratic packaging is less of a distraction or impediment.)

To sum up, Direct Market retailers need to get manga books in their stores, prominently display them, do their damndest to sell them and to get the people who already buy them to do their buying there instead of elsewhere. That’s pretty much a bare-minimum industry-wide bankruptcy preventer at this point. But beyond that, the publishers that depend on the Direct Market for an obscenely high percentage of their profits (despite some legitimate inroads being made into bookstores) need to remove obstacles to their readers (and to those bookstore inroads) by experimenting with publishing their books in manga format.

No, they shouldn’t do it all at once–they’re still too dependent financially on the Direct Market’s audience of fanboys, for one thing, a crowd notoriously resistant to change and one that’s unlikely to buy anything that even looks like “that crap from Japan”–but certain books would actually make sense for demographic, aesthetic, or storytelling-style reasons. I’ve suggested Ultimate Spider-Man because it basically is shonen manga, in pacing, characterization, tone, and content, if not in artistic style. I’ve also suggested Sandman, because that book’s anomalous audience–teenage girls and young women–is one that snaps up shoujo manga with gusto, so I imagine that, in the immortal words of Egon Spengler, the door swings both ways. I’ve seen folks suggest not-quite-mainstream, not-quite-altcomix books like A Distant Soil and A Thousand Ships, which make sense because of the clear-line black-and-white art the books employ (theoretically this should reduce in size well without losing much in the way of comprehensibility or attractiveness), the epic/romantic feel of the stories, and (oddly enough) the queer-friendly tone that is (increasingly obviously) appealing to the teen-girl manga-reading audience.

There are some promising signs in this regard. DC has published a Sandman spinoff involving the insanely teen-girl-popular character Death that not only employs manga-style art, but was released in actual manga format. I’m unaware if further volumes are planned, but the addictive serially-released nature of manga volumes means it would behoove DC to get cracking in that department one way or the other. Meanwhile, Marvel is at the very least trying very hard to use manga content, in several ways: On big books like Uncanny X-Men (an actual Japanese person!), in their now-largely-defunct Marvel Mangaverse titles (which usually related to the original Marvel characters only in name) and in their kinda sorta manga line, Tsunami (well, at least that was the idea at the time; for the most part it’s now the pacing that’s manga more than the art or the creators). Rumor has it that, indeed, Ultimate Spider-Man will be collected the manga way; I’d speculate that when the first Tsunami collections bow, they too might be manga-sized; the Epic books may get that treatment as well. Dark Horse already has manga books, so they’re in okay shape, but it seems criminal to sit on books like Hellboy and Sin City (not to mention their teen-girl friendly Buffy tie-ins) without putting them into what’s become the popular format. Image has the benefit of a high profile name with virtually no central administration, so individual Image creators appear to be exploring the possibilities–Devil’s Due’s Semantic Lace was published directly into manga format. CrossGen may do a lot of things wrong, but I think they’ve been right on the money with their incessant experimentation with format; aside from manga-sized collections of individual titles (called “travellers,” I believe), they’ve also gone a route that few American publishers have dared, and published big omnibus collections featuring issues of several different series for relatively little money. This, of course, is the publishing model available at newstands all over Japan, where a guy on his way home from work can spend a few bucks on a big collection, and even if 80% of the (often 40 pages or longer) stories in there don’t tickle his fancy, he’s still gotten his money’s worth with the other 20%. Unfortunately, CrossGen’s publishing savvy can’t change the fact that these well-packaged, well-formatted volumes contain CrossGen comics. (I appreciate that they’re trying to cover all the genre bases, but it’s amazing how so many books that are supposed to be so different all look and feel exactly the same: “You know what this line needs? Another book featuring female characters with heads of really full wavy hair!”)

The case for manga is often obscured by what amount, I think, to fears that the Japanese Invasion will crowd out all other forms of storytelling and art. Which, of course, it will–if the American publishers that produce those forms don’t get their act together and adopt the aspects of manga publishing that they can–that is, remove the obstacles to readership that the more successful manga books have proven to exist–while still retaining the qualities that make their own books different and, in those wonderful rare cases, special. If the American comics industry doesn’t want manga to close the book on American comics, they would be well advised not to close the book on manga.

(Update: I just want to say this within this actual post–I should note that for all my pontificating the only manga I read is Battle Royale, the grand guignol dystopian kids-killing-kids tale. I’d hope that any gross inaccuracies found above are due to my unfamiliarity with much of the material, and not simple stupidity on my part (not that I’m saying we can rule that out).)

Looks like I’m feeling a little more energetic, huh?

August 21, 2003

Boy, that was a doozy, huh? I’m pretty proud of it, actually–I think it ended up being pretty comprehensive and, dare I say it, insightful. I should note that for all my pontificating the only manga I read is Battle Royale, the grand guignol dystopian kids-killing-kids tale. I’d hope that any gross inaccuracies in my manga article are due to my unfamiliarity with much of the material, and not simple stupidity on my part (not that I’m saying we can rule that out).

Things are going very well with Amanda, as you might have guessed from my improved mood. I’ll be travelling to visit her once again tomorrow. If I’m lucky I’ll get a chance to blog from the hotel.