Archive for September 30, 2010

Music Time: George Michael – “I Want Your Sex (Freemasons Vocal Club Mix)”

September 30, 2010

George Michael

“I Want Your Sex (Freemasons Vocal Club Mix)”

Sony, September 2010

promo release, as best I can tell

Does music make you laugh? It makes me laugh a lot, and I can’t remember the last time I laughed about a song as hard as I laughed over this one. As I heard it for the first time I was just chortling, out of sheer joy. Laughing is an involuntary “hooray!” a lot of the time, a physical “right on!”, and that’s what it is in this case. Every time this ten-minute-plus dance remix of George Michael’s seminally (pun intended; it always is) direct paean to the physical pleasures of monogamy took things just a little higher, just a little further; every time it re-cut and looped together his multi-tracked vocals to say “Everybody in the ‘hood, everybody should”; every time it just repeated the word “sex!” at intervals; when it slowed down to do a full-fledged ’80s-funk remix of the song as we know it; when it added a goddamn horn section, because apparently the original was insufficiently celebratory and flamboyant; when it kicked back into the four-on-the-floor crowd-killing temp it started with…every time it did one of those things, it demonstrated a willingness to have as good a time as it possibly could at every opportunity. To go all the way, if you will. (Those familiar with Michael’s oeuvre might compare it to that crowd-goes-wild moment at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert where his band suddenly morphed the bassline from “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” into the bassline for “Killer.”) In so doing it turned a come-on into a party, a strut into a parade. Hooray! Right on! LOL!

(Via Chris Conroy.)

Carnival of souls

September 30, 2010

* Tom Spurgeon link of the day #1: Spurgeon on the 5th anniversary of the Danish Muhammad cartoons. I think that the last time I spoke about the cartoons, in the context of how that dumb fuck in Florida’s threat to burn Korans made me reassess them, I didn’t express myself clearly, so let me try again. There’s a degree to which I think art, the act of making art, is an inherent good. There’s a lesser but not insignificant degree to which I think that blaspheming is an inherent good. And there’s a degree to which I think that doing something that pisses off assholes is an inherent good. So when the Danish Muhammad cartoons came out, even though they were pretty openly a disrespectful provocation first and foremost, I thought “Yeah, okay, right on.” But when the dumb fuck in Florida threatened to burn a bunch of Korans, well, that was just a disrespectful provocation. He wasn’t an artist making art, he himself was the kind of person who’d get really upset by blasphemy if directed at the right Abrahamic religion, and he himself was an asshole. Suddenly I could the cartoons’ underlying fecklessness and nastiness was something on their own and as their own unpleasant, inadvisable things, quite aside from my feelings about art and blasphemy and asshole-baiting.

* Tom Spurgeon link of the day #2: Spurge speaks with Robot 6 guest-poster Chris Arrant on the state of comics and comics journalism. Given recent events, this struck me as the money quote, no pun intended:

Arrant: And specifically the comics journalism field — what kind of kick in the ass does it need?

Spurgeon: I think more money would be good, Chris. A bootful of cash. An ass-kicking of filthy luchre. That sounds like a jerky response, but I think if industry journalism is valued the best thing that can happen to it is that it’s supported, and that it’s supported without qualification. I’d love to be able to work an eight-hour day on CR, but I can’t afford to. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way about writing comics articles and the like. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I do have, and I realize a lot of that is patronage rather than a cold, commercial transaction.

Tom goes on to warn people away from using comics journalism as a stepping stone to comics creation, a slap in my face personally that I will take up with him through force of arms when next we meet.

* Words I never thought I’d write: Kurt Busiek on Coober Skeber 2.

* A brief history of Ray Sohn’s True Chubbo.


* Whoa shit, get a load of The New York City Outlaws.


* Jason Adams on one of the things Tommy Lee Wallace’s It TV movie got right more or less in spite of itself.

* Well shit the bed with the lights on: Alex Timbers, director of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Pee-wee Herman Show, was in my sketch comedy group in college. He was funny!

* I got as far as this little number from Rich Juzwiak’s wall of animated gifs from Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers before something in my brain died.


* Your Real Life Horror Headline of the Day: “Army ‘Kill Team’ Leader Wanted a Necklace of Fingers”

* Just to end things on an up note, may I suggest that if you have not done so recently, you listen to the first Prodigy record? It’s a scream.

Carnival of souls

September 29, 2010

* Your must-read of the day: Peggy Burns on Tom Devlin and Highwater Books. Yes, they’re married, and no, that doesn’t matter to this essay at all. Peggy writes convincingly of Highwater as comics’ introduction to the sensibilities of emo and twee indie rock, not only in aesthetic terms but as a whole business and philosophical mindset:

I think, however, what affected Highwater’s sensibility most is that Tom was the first comics publisher to directly come out of the zine/minicomic/indie-rock generation, rather than before it, like Fantagraphics, or alongside it, like D+Q. With that DIY ethos in mind, during its existence, Highwater did more with less.

She also gets points for referring to Highwater’s Free Comic Book Day giveaway as their bestselling title. The fact that I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the existence of Highwater is an exceedingly minor entry on the list of its legacies, but it’s true. (Peggy played a pretty big role too, come to mention it.)

* Major layoffs at Vertigo. I don’t really know Joan Hilty or Jonathan Vankin, but I’ve done some freelance jobs related to several of Pornsak Pichetshote’s books and he strikes me as a guy with an editorial viewpoint worth watching. In general I just don’t like layoffs, especially not now and not in this business and not now in this business. I hope the people involved, and also anyone in similar circumstances whose departures aren’t seen as newsworthy, do well for themselves very soon.

* Rest in peace, Arthur Penn. One of my all-time favorite drug experiences was seeing Little Big Man while cataclysmically baked, a recipe for a memorable movie-watching experience if ever there was one. Every single wild tonal shift hit me like a really fast turn on the Cyclone.

* Paul Cornell is pitting Lex Luthor against Darkseid and Ra’s al-Ghul in an Action Comics annual? I did not know that. Count me among the mid-five-digit number of people who get quite excited about things like that. Also, after the Lex story is over, he’s allowed to write Superman!

* DC is publishing a Geoff Johns Flash omnibus. I’m glad about this for a couple reasons. First, I like Johns’s stuff and that’s a run I’ve been wanting to check out for ages; it seems like it could contain the seeds of the style that first made Johns click with me on his Green Lantern and Action Comics runs. Second, I think it’s good for publishers to put creators first and foremost and package runs of comics accordingly, especially given the dizzying profusion of similarly titled titles out there.

* Filing this away for later #1: Jeet Heer on Love & Rockets: New Stories #3. Can someone tell me if I need to be totally caught up on the Locas-verse to get “Browntown”? Please tell me NOTHING ELSE ABOUT THE STORY BUT THAT, if you would.

* Filing this away for later #2: Jason Adams on Monsters, the latest first-person horror jam.

* Interesting: A recap page done in comics format, assembled from previously seen panels. Also: an excuse to run Gabriel Hardman/Bettie Breitweiser Hulk art. (Via Agent M.)


* Today was a good day to like David Bowie, thanks to the recent release of a deluxe edition of Station to Station. Here’s Stuart Berman reviewing the set for Pitchfork; here’s Matthew Perpetua reviewing “TVC-15”; and here’s Perpetua wondering aloud if Bowie’s Klaus Nomi/Joey Arias-abetted performance on SNL was the weirdest in the show’s history. You tell me:

* I fully support the new My Chemical Romance song “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”, though I’d like to state for the record that nothing touches “Teenagers.” (Via Tom Ewing.)

* Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us of the Junior M.A.F.I.A./Jeru the Damaja player battle, which is always a good thing. Contra Coates I think “Player’s Anthem” remains phenomenal. That Biggie verse (eg. “Big Poppa never softenin’ / Take you to the church, rob the preacher for the offerin’ / Leave the fucker coughin’ up blood and his pockets like rabbit ears / Covet the wife, kleenex for the kids’ tears”) is one of my favorite verses by anyone on anything ever.

Junior mafia – player's anthem
Uploaded by dougpark17. – Watch more music videos, in HD!

* Happy blogiversary, The Cool Kids Table! Maybe Kevin will actually post something during the next two?

Comics Time: Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat

September 29, 2010


Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat

Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, writers

Jim Aparo, Jim Balent, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, artists

DC, 1993

272 pages


Buy it from

(Originally published on April 18, 2009 at The Savage Critic(s))

Knightfall was the big Batman event during my time as a comics reader in the early to mid ’90s. That basically means it was the big superhero comic event for me during that time. Batman was the character that got me reading comics. The first Tim Burton movie sparked my interest in the character, and The Dark Knight Returns–the first comic book I can actually remember reading–cemented it. The comic shop I went to was called Gotham Manor, for pete’s sake. And so, a multi-series crossover pitting Batman against basically his entire rogues gallery until some hulking brute takes advantage and breaks his back? Yeah, sign 9th-grade Sean Collins up. But how does it look now?

Unlike most of the straightforward superhero comics I read during that time, I actually remember Knightfall, and remember it fondly at that. This is not to say it doesn’t suffer from all the shortcomings you’d expect. The dialogue, the clothing designs, the hairstyles, especially for anyone we’re supposed to think of as “cool”…you almost wonder whether early-’90s DC writers and artists ever had any contact with the outside world at all. The book is also deep, deep in the shadow of Dark Knight, and not just in the obvious grim’n’gritty way; it occasionally serves up ersatz versions of Miller’s satire–a pop psychologist called “Dr. Simpson Flanders” hawking his book I’m Sane and So Are You! and glibly defending the rights of the escaped Arkham Asylum inmates, for example–with none of Miller’s sharpness or genuine comedic sense. Despite the overwhelming tonal debt to Miller and Burton, the character designs and color palette remain incongruously bright and buoyant. And while the newly created archvillain Bane cuts an impressive figure despite his many detractors at the time, the less said about his perfunctory posse of villain types (bird guy, knife guy, tiny brick) the better. This comic is not one of my favorites in the way that Black Hole is one of my favorites, in other words.

But! The book still somehow remains exactly what a big crazy Batman event should be. For one thing, it’s got that inner-eight-year-old appeal: What Bat-fan wouldn’t want to see Batman tangle with all his big enemies in rapid succession, with some minor ones given impressive tweaks and thrown into the mix for good measure? The very nature of Batman’s rogues gallery–75% of them spend their days right next to each other in a row of cells in Arkham Asylum, allowing both the comic and your imagination to pace the hall and peruse them like a set of action figures on the shelf–taps into a childlike desire to see a bunch of cool characters one after the other, and the story takes full advantage.

But it’s not just that Knightfall shows Batman fighting the Joker, Scarecrow, the Riddler, Killer Croc, the Mad Hatter, the Ventriloquist, Firefly, Zsasz, Poison Ivy and so on all in a row–many subsequent storylines, for both Batman (Jeph Loeb’s Hush) and other characters (Mark Millar’s Spider-Man), have gone back to that well with diminishing returns. Knightfall clicks because, as far as Batman comics go, it makes sense. If I were some criminal mastermind who wanted to take over Gotham and fuck Batman up, blowing a hole in Arkham Asylum and freeing all the crazy supervillains is exactly what I’d do. Meanwhile, if I were Batman, taking on all my crazy supervillain enemies in a row really would wear me down to the point of exhaustion. To Dixon and Moench’s credit, the labors they put Batman through are such that they emphasize the physical toll Batman’s heroic activities would have on his body. During one fight, he has to leap his way through a burning amusement park; during another he has to carry the wounded mayor through a flooded tunnel; he does an awful lot of hand-to-hand combat with guys with swords and knives or guys twice his size. And keep in mind that this is the Jim Aparo-era Batman, not a Frank Miller tank or a Jim Lee splash-page pin-up. He has a sinewy swimmer’s body that you can practically feel getting pummeled. His downfall–ahem, Knightfall–is perfectly plausible.

Then there’s the ending. Ninth-grade me wound up so upset about Bruce Wayne getting replaced that I stopped reading with that issue with the die-cut Joe Quesada cover where the new armor-clad Batman takes Bane down; the bad guy got his comeuppance, and that was enough of that for me. I’ve since managed to track down most of the KnightQuest and Knight’sEnd material that followed, and it seems to me that the mega-event couldn’t keep up the manic intensity of this opening arc. So in that sense, having Bane break Batman’s back so that a new guy could take over may not have amounted to much. But as an image? One of the highlights of the ’90s in superhero comics, certainly. Say what you will about Bane and Doomsday, but people remember them not just because of what they did (if that were so, everyone would remember all the Clone Saga bad guys too), but because of the memorable way in which they did it. And after issue after issue of histrionic overwriting, it’s how simple the end winds up being that makes Bane stick: There’s the famous splash page of Bane snapping Batman’s spine over his knee, followed by the words “Broken…and done.” After all this crazy build-up, Batman goes out like a sucker, and Bane drops him on the floor like garbage. It’s almost the opposite of the big final simultaneous punches that enabled Superman to “die” a hero. It’s appropriately more morose.

Knightfall is a book I return to often, but not to read. I flip through it, skimming a passage, checking out an image, slowly going through a sequence. The execution may often be wanting, which makes going page by page a slog, but the basic ideas are sound as a pound and a delight to light upon. When I’m in the mood for raw superhero action and thrills, there aren’t many books I like better.

Carnival of souls

September 28, 2010

* Recently on Robot 6:

* Buenaventura Press is now Pigeon Press. I think. Still, new Lisa Hanawalt, new Matt Furie!


* I kept forgetting to point out the comment thread on my post discussing Brian Michael Bendis’s comments regarding journalism and writing for free. Brigid Alverson, Laura Hudson, Heidi MacDonald, Tom Spurgeon, Dirk Deppey, Noah Berlatsky, J. Caleb Mozzocco, Abhay Khosla, Johanna Draper Carlson, Marc-Oliver Frisch, Alex Dueben, and Kevin Huxford are among the comics crit/journo types who weigh in.

* Digging the Craig Thompson vibe of Nick Bertozzi’s cover for his upcoming Lewis & Clark book for First Second.


* The good news: AdHouse is releasing a collection of Josh Cotter’s genuinely great, little-seen Send Help comic strips for the Kansas City Star, titled Barbra in the Sky with Neil Diamonds. The bad news: It’s a limited edition of 99 copies debuting at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest.


* Speaking of Cotter, this drawing of what looks like some horrible Transformers disaster is the kind of thing you could stare at for minutes on end.


* Really awful news: Sally Menke, Quentin Tarantino’s frequent editor, died a heat-related death while hiking with her dog in Los Angeles yesterday. I don’t know what it says about me that I raced through the article to see if the dog was okay, but I did. There’s an update on that score that I can’t think about too hard or I’ll cry here on the train. Anyway she was a real talent, that’s for sure.

* Here’s the trailer for the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit. I’ll be there. (Via Spinoff.)

* New Zealand Actors Equity appears to have joined Australia’s MEAA in advising actors not to sign on with The Hobbit until some kind of settlement has been reached, or something, this shit is totally baffling to me. The studios continue to make noise about shooting the movies elsewhere.

* Robert Kirkman says all of his comics are going to have same-day digital/print releases soon. Considering that The Walking Dead and to a slightly lesser extent Invincible are arguably the two sales success stories of comics over the past decade–they increase in sales nearly every month, something that is totally unique in all of comics–I’m really curious to see how this decision affects that.

* Trent Reznor’s Year Zero HBO miniseries is still a going concern. That’s nice. (Via Sean Belcher.)

* Greg McLean is apparently making a sequel to Wolf Creek. That’s a toughie, that movie.

* This Matt Zoller Seitz/Ian Grey debate over whether or not GoodFellas is overrated features some Breitbart-expose-of-Shirley-Sherrod-level mischaracterizations of the movie by Grey, but hey, Seitz on GoodFellas, you don’t wanna miss that. Also, even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day: Grey’s right, Casino is even better.

* Spiffy Daredevil Black and White art from David Aja.


* I don’t know why the heck something called the Wah Tung Matchbook Company made a bunch of mythological monster trading cards, but I sure am glad they did, and I’m glad that Monster Brains and Jacob Covery teamed up to show them to us.


Here’s the complete Flickr gallery.


* Ben Morse would like to know more about Maelstrom. And who wouldn’t?


* Real Life Horror: You title a post “Is It Good to Live in a Destroyed World?” and it contains not one single mention of zombie apocalypses or killer viruses or alien invasions or leather-clad mutant raiders roaming the wastelands? Dropped ball, Krugman, I don’t care how many Nobel Prizes you win.

* Mick Foley loves Tori Amos. Yes, that Mick Foley. Yes, that Tori Amos. (Via Maura Johnston.)

* Speaking of Johnston, back when I posted my list of 80 Great Tracks from the 1990s, certain persons who shall remain nameless scoffed at the inclusion of “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe” by Whale, saying it was a go-nowhere one-hit-wonder. But once you’ve seen/heard the video for “Infinity Guitars” by Sleigh Bells, well, who’s hobo humpin’ now?

Music Time: Steely Dan – “Time Out of Mind”

September 28, 2010

Steely Dan

“Time Out of Mind”

from Gaucho

MCA, 1980

Buy it from

You know something very un-Dan is going on with this song when you hear its first verse: “Son, you better be ready for love / On this glory day / This is your chance to believe / What I’ve got to say.” Wait–this is from the record that also contains “Hey Nineteen,” right? What’s more, Donald Fagen actually sings them with something approaching, dare I say it, conviction: “You better be ready for loooooove…This is your chance to belieeeeeeeve.” This over a relatively stark instrumental backing–drums (possibly programmed), a little electric piano and bass doing basically the same thing at the same time, a tee-tiny bit of Mark Knopfler guitar–so smooth that I heard Skunk Baxter recommended it to the Defense Department as a coating for surface-to-air missiles. This song is a more or less unreconstructed good time, something to dance and have fun to, which appearances to the contrary Steely Dan did very, very rarely. I think the most direct comparison can be made with “Josie,” the song that closed out Aja and represented to the band in particular what that album represented to them in general: their artistic high point. I know they’re less keen on Gaucho but this thing’s a marvel of production as well: the beat is so crisp, and any song that all but subliminally introduces the vocals of Michael McDonald until finally you’re like “Hey, where did he come from?” is alright by me. And like “Josie,” “Time Out of Mind” sings of having a tear-the-roof-off-the-sucker good time. But my favorite thing about both songs is that Fagen and Becker can’t quite bring themselves to sing about such fun in the present or even past tense. Awesome shit’s gonna go down “when Josie comes home,” whenever that might be. In “Time Out of Mind”‘s case, good stuff is gonna happen tonight: “Tonight when I chase the dragon / The water may change to cherry wine / And the silver will turn to gold.” Various online dictionaries assure me that “chase the dragon” does not necessarily mean smoking drugs, although clearly this is far from outside the realm of possibility where the Dan is concerned, but okay, fine; what’s more interesting to me is the way Fagen appears to psych himself up into believing he’s going to catch that dragon after all. “The water may change to cherry wine”–who knows? But then “The silver will turn to gold.” Tonight for sure!

Carnival of souls

September 27, 2010

* Another big few days on Robot 6:

* Bob Harras has been named Editor-in-Chief of DC Comics, a position he previously held at Marvel. Pretty sure that’s a first. I’m also pretty sure Harras is a well-liked figure–I know I like him–even outside the traditionally effusive “congratulations to the person who just got a job wherein they could hire me someday” phase of things, and that could be a piece of the puzzle here.

* Related: On the occasion of the death of WildStorm, my fellow R6ers and I run down six awesome WildStorm titles, or as I prefer to call the list after Matt Maxwell pointed it out, “Six awesome WildStorm titles that aren’t The Winter Men.”

* Behold: The oral history of the Coober Skeber Marvel Benefit Issue, aka ground zero for alternative/superhero comics mash-ups. Oh how I love Highwater Books, the Big Star of ’00s altcomix. Make sure to check out the comment thread at the actual Comics Comics post on the topic to watch history evolve before your very eyes thanks to corrections, de-corrections, and re-corrections by the participants.


* J.H. Williams III talks to Robot 6 guest-poster Chris Arrant about Batwoman and making the jump to “writer-artist” in mind of readers and editors. This struck me:

Arrant: DC has recently begun encouraging more artists to write, from you to David Finch, Tony Daniel and others. You mentioned some resistance from DC earlier about you writing more. Can you expound on that resistance and how it’s changed for you?

Williams: I think so, but it hasn’t been with any real sense of maliciousness — but rather not fully understanding your players. It simplifies things to classify people for one discipline: he’s a writer, she’s an artist, and so forth. When you get individuals who can do both, there’s a perception, real or imagined, that one of those skills will be lackluster due to time constraints or just being more talented in one area than another. I’m sure there’s some truth to that — we’ve all seen artists who begin writing their own stuff and it’s not as dynamic as it could be. But at the same time, I think the industry could benefit from publishers reaching out to artists and seeing what they’re truly capable of.

Question: Between Daniel, Finch, Williams, Darwyn Cooke, and Paul Pope, what is it about the Bat-characters that makes DC that much more likely to take a flyer on writer-artists? Other than Pope and Cooke’s non-Batman/Catwoman stuff I can’t even think of another one-creator run from the company in recent memory.

* Apropos of not very much, it occurred to me the other day just how many extremely lovely looking, well-drawn monthly comics came out last week. The debut installments of Steve Epting on Fantastic Four, Gabriel Hardman on Hulk, David Aja and Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano on Secret Avengers…the latest issues from Charlie Adlard on The Walking Dead, Francis Manapul on The Flash, David Lafuente on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Rafa Sandoval on Ultimate Comics Mystery…just a lot of fine-looking books.

* The New Zealand branch of Australia’s MEAA actor’s union is spearheading a movement by SAG, AFTRA and other unions against Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, based on what rules would apply for Kiwi actors on the production. I confess I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what’s going on here, but that Hollywood Reporter link (via Topless Robot) seemed pretty thorough, and Kristin Thompson’s Frodo Franchise blog has been an absolute machine on the topic. It seems that arrayed against the unions are Jackson, the studios involved, various NZ film-industry groups, and the films’ casting directors, and that the films are basically being targeted mainly as a pretext for unionizing New Zealand’s film-acting biz, heretofore a non-union shop. Jackson’s painting it as an attempt by an “Aussie bully” to muscle in on the Kiwi film industry.

* Your must-read review of the day: Craig Fischer on Geoff Grogan’s Fandancer (which was excellent).


* Jordan Crane’s “Unraveling” continues unraveling at What Things Do. This installment’s a doozy, with several subjects dear to my black heart.


* Gabrielle Bell’s San Diego Comic Con Comicumentary continues as well. I don’t think this is her intention necessarily, but I can easily see this comic being the thing fans and creators of alt/art/lit/underground comics point to when they want to explain why they’re not going to San Diego anymore, so neatly does it nail what the experience is like for certain non-nerd comics people.


* Eventually we’re going to have to ask Jim Woodring to stop.


* On a somewhat lighter note, my pal Alex Kropinak (animator extraordinaire of Marvel Super Heroes What The–?! fame) draws Captain Caveman, who as it turns out is an absolutely fascinating character to draw for some reason.


* I’m absolutely in love with the luminous black lines of these Disney Donald Duck posters. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)


* Considering that I had approximately zero interest in the subject beforehand, I found Ben Morse and Kiel Phegley’s dialogue on Smallville on the occasion of the start of its tenth (!!!) and final season absolutely fascinating. Apparently the show has had three distinct “eras” and slowly replaced almost its entire supporting cast, and last night’s season premiere featured both Brandon Routh’s costume and freaking Darkseid. But more interesting to me, as these things tend to be, is just hearing two smart, self-aware guys discuss their specific fandom.

* Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal interviews Trent Reznor and David Fincher about the former’s score for the latter’s The Social Network. I always find it entertaining how Reznor sort of recalibrates his caustic nature toward the funny end of the spectrum for interviews.

* Speaking of, I actually have a surprisingly spotty record of seeing Fincher’s films, but I still got a lot out of the intro to Aaron Cutler’s review of The Social Network for The House Next Door in terms of how it breaks down the way Fincher has grown to deflect or defray his characters’ central pursuits over the course of his career.

* Film critic Edward Copeland rounds up a variety of august personages, including the great Matthew Zoller Seitz and (quite awesomely) actress Anne Bobby of Nightbreed fame, to reminisce about The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the occasion of its 35th anniversary. Rocky is unfuckwithable ’round these parts, and not just because I met The Missus when we were the only people at a wedding reception who knew how to do the Time Warp. Richard O’Brien’s songs–especially “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” “The Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite,” and “Rose Tint My World”–are absolute monsters of glam, and the audience responses still crack me up, even context free. (Some favorites: “Where the women look like cupcakes and the men have bananas on their heads,” “Only…assholes…write on doors,” “And Betsy Ross used to sit at home and sew and sew and sew and sew…,” “What do you like on your corn flakes?”) Rocky Forever.

* Weezer is re-releasing Pinkerton with fully twenty-five bonus tracks. Fourteen years ago I’d have been pretty excited about this! Today I’m just sort of irritated with Rivers. Instead of releasing 25 tracks from the Pinkerton era and touring on the Pinkerton material, how ’bout just recording new stuff of Pinkerton quality?

* The great cartoonist Jason reviews John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the forgotten Sam Raimi/Coen Brothers joint Crimewave. It’s wonderful to write a sentence like that.

* Dash Shaw really loves Blind Date. This sort of thing makes me wanna get off my ass and do something with my Young and the Restless fandom.

* Woof.

* Real Life Horror: President Obama would like to summarily assassinate American citizen/douchebag Anwar Awlaki…just because, legally speaking. At least I know I’m free! And here’s your comics angle for this story: Awlaki is the fuck who issued the death threat against now-in-hiding cartoonist Molly Norris.

* Something about this silly story makes me so sad. I think it’s that for most of the people who will be involved, this is the most they want out of comics.

Comics Time: Dark Reign: Zodiac

September 27, 2010


Dark Reign: Zodiac

Joe Casey, writer

Nathan Fox, artist

70 pages

in Dark Reign: The Underside

Marvel, 2010

256 pages


Buy it from

Here’s a fun, nasty, wonderful-to-look-at comic about letting your freak flag fly, even or especially if that means murdering people. Yes, writer Joe Casey, who at this point has carved out a career in comics by dancing between other writers’ raindrops–he can afford to, since as a honcho at the studio that created Ben 10, he’s the one making it rain most of the time–is doing one of those “charismatic villain makes vaguely philosophical points about anarchy and society and shit while blowing stuff up” stories. And strangely, it works!

I think that’s because Casey keeps it so rooted in a villain-vs.-villain context, specifically the “Dark Reign” event Marvel did, in which former Green Goblin Norman Osborn assumed control of America’s defense, intelligence, and superhero infrastructure. Zodiac, who as best we can tell is just a guy in a suit with a bag over his head for a mask, sets out to be (in John McClane’s memorable description) “the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass.” It’s not just that killing people represents the ultimate act of a free man in an existentialist world or something like that–it’s that seeing a one-time whackjob who rode around on a glider dressed as a goblin with a purple nightcap throwing pumpkin bombs at people suddenly become Donald Rumsfeld offends his sensibilities as a proud supervillain. That’s a way to sidestep the been-there-done-that philosopher-killer thing and bring out the fun of watching different bad guys smack each other around, something superhero comics can always do well.

It also helps that Zodiac’s design and raison d’etre owe so much to Christopher Nolan’s uber-popular Batman movies: He’s basically just Heath Ledger’s Joker dressed up like Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow. Heck, Zodiac kicks things off by painting a sloppy smiley face on his mask (in blood, of course), and in the final issue all but quotes Ledger’s Joker: “What is being a super villain if not living a life of no rules?!” Why, he even blows up a hospital! (He also has scars, though he doesn’t ask anyone if they’d like to know how he got them.) Casey barely needs to paint in broad strokes, since we’ve already seen this particular painting. We can just revel in the Neveldine/Taylor-style grand guignol mechanics of it.

That’s where Nathan Fox comes in. Casey’s work has its adherents, but as with any writer, his stuff works best when he’s paired with a grade-A stylist. (Cf. Frazer Irving in Iron Man: The Inevitable.) Fox is certainly that. His work owes a great deal to Paul Pope’s, clearly–it takes Pope’s “What if ‘Guernica’ were a science-fiction action spectacular?” approach, dials down Pope’s Romanticism, and dials up the raw, testosterone-packed spectacle of it all. Considering how much ink is being slung around here, it’s really quite impressive how easy it is to parse both the action scenes (the Human Torch’s doomed attack on Zodiac’s goons is every bit as propulsive as a Human Torch attack ought to be) and the pacing (a scene at the Torch’s hospital bed flashes back to the attack and forth to his super hero visitors effortlessly). His character designs are a lot of fun, too: I’d imagine future Zodiac appearances will be made possible simply by Fox’s memorably rumpled take on him here, for example, while the existing heroes and villains we see–Torch, Ronin, the Wasp, Osborn’s Iron Patriot armor–stay on-model just enough for us to be able to appreciate the way Fox coaxes out the weirdness and aggressiveness of their original designs.

I also want to draw special attention to the colors of Jose Villarubia. It’s not just that they’re bright, buoyant, and practically glow off the page, particularly any time fire or explosions are required (which is often). It’s that flipping through the comic once again just now reveals an overall scheme at work: The heroes, represented by the Fantastic Four, usually appear in a world of blue, while Norman Osborn is red–as are the Torch and the giant robot Zodiac uses as a decoy at one point, i.e. the characters who engage in direct physical combat. Against these primary colors stands Zodiac, a dark and dingy brown and gray presence who eventually, for reasons I won’t spoil but which have to do with Marvel continuity minutiae so they’re probably not spoilerable anyway, glows with a sickly green. You don’t have to have read very many Vertigo comics to understand that that palette is supposed to represent edgy, grown-up concerns–it’s a simultaneous salute to and parody of Zodiac’s self-conception as the superior force to the brightly colored heroism and law’n’order ass-kicking represented by the prevailing order of heroes and villains. Which is something we’ve seen before, a lot, to be sure. But it’s fun to see again in this case, and fun is what matters.

Carnival of souls

September 24, 2010

* Must-read of the week: Tom Spurgeon’s twelve questions about DC’s announcements this week. It’s well-sourced and wide-ranging: theorizing that the announcements were staggered the way they were to dull the impact of the negative stuff; wondering if the attitudes of the respective areas’ circuit courts toward IP issues might have played a part; musing on the start-to-finish history of the DC/WildStorm relationship; including direct follow-ups with DC President Diane Nelson and the LA Times reporter who said 20% of the DC workforce would be laid off. This was my favorite part, which I hope he won’t mind my quoting in its entirety:

7. How Horrible Must It Have Been To Be A DC Comics Employee This Week — Heck, This Year?

One thing that’s been to my mind under-reported is how the lengthy period preceding Tuesday’s announcements must have had an effect on those that now must deal with the collective outcome of those decisions. Despite R. Fiore’s post-announcement assertion that the rumors of a total west coast move were only that because such a move made no sense, Diane Nelson has clearly acknowledged that such a move was on the table and considered, and the pervasiveness and certainty of the rumor was as ingrained in the day to day reality of its believers as any I’ve ever seen in comics. This was not a case of a few bloggers running around screaming things just to be heard. 

So, if you’re a DC employee, it’s possible you just spent several months thinking you might lose your job — a comics job! — in a shitty economy or have to move to California and away from your friends with an unknown incentive package, or none at all, as the basis for making this possible. This was followed by a couple of weeks just past where you were told that an announcement was imminent. This may have been followed by a moment of relief — that’s how it was described to me — when the New York publishing offices were announced as staying open. And yet this was followed by word that divisions are being closed, which was followed by further news that everyone is being evaluated — with firings on the table. 

Now, I don’t know if that’s a fully accurate view of the timeline, but if half of that stuff happened to me, if I rode on the first two plunges of that particular roller coaster, my morale would be at the sub-basement level. One can argue that DC Comics isn’t exactly a healthy culture to begin with; one can further argue that it’s been a particularly difficult place to work for the last few years. I can’t imagine what an injection of real drama might do to that group’s collective ability to function at the high level required of them by current industry circumstance.

* Meanwhile, up to 80 employees will be moved or let go, according to a filing made by Warner Bros. That number equates to about a third of the DC workforce, but as the comment-thread discussion–which involves myself, Chris Butcher, and Kurt Busiek among others–should make clear, it’s not at all clear how that will break down between “moves” and “layoffs.”

* On any other day, in any other week really, this would have been the big story: The Walking Dead has begun simultaneous print and digital release. The price point for each is the same.

* Over at Robot 6, I dashed off a few thoughts on Brian Michael Bendis’s ongoing commentary on the state of comics journalism and criticism. This time I focused on whether or not longform journalism is something you can do for free or not.

* It was only when reading the announcement that Clive Barker is developing an action-thriller called Resurrection Man that I realized there are fully three Barker-authorized adaptations I haven’t seen yet: Midnight Meat Train, Dread, and Book of Blood. Pretty sad.

* Holy god look at how stupidly attractive this Sally Bloodbath/Matt Wiegle comic is.


* And speaking of Wiegle, he brings us word of this scary Norse ghost by Marshall Arisman:


* Here’s a fine Tom Ewing piece on Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me).” It’s really quite something how much of the next decade of music that one song presaged. And the first comment from Punctum is quite something, too.

* Cartoonist Jesse Moynihan on Murakami, Lost Highway, and seeing his ex-girlfriend after a disastrous break-up. How often is a blog post moving?

* I love pointless blasphemy.

* Bruleception. Ride the krick back up the layers with Dr. Steve, won’t you?

Comics Time: The Whale

September 24, 2010


The Whale

Aidan Koch, writer/artist

Gaze Books, September 2010

64 pages


Buy it from Gaze

If his own Xeric Grant-funded book Young Lions and this inaugural release for his Gaze Books imprint are any indication, cartoonist and newly minted publisher Blaise Larmee could certainly do a lot worse than cranking out tastefully designed, inexpensive perfectbound softcover books with brightly colored covers containing softly pencilled, elliptically plotted comics about longing for however long he feels like doing so. Even with all the vitality artcomix has right now, this is an underserved aesthetic, overwhelmed by inkslingers whose work tends to be either tighter and angrier or choppier and wilder. I’d imagine that this material is going to click hard with a group of people who just aren’t getting the comics that might speak to them elsewhere.

I’m not sure how hard it clicked for me, for whatever that’s worth, despite it being a really lovely comic I’m glad I read. In a weird way the lettering, of all things, gives the game away in terms of why this story, of a young woman coming to terms with the death of her partner (whose gender is unclear, and unimportant), didn’t hit me the way it might have. (Or the way Anders Nilsen’s comics on this topic, for example, actually did.) Stick with me for a minute here: Koch draws like a slightly beefed-up version of Larmee–her sensuous, slightly tremulant line shored up by more detailed and realistic figurework and portraiture and a more frequent, textural use of light and dark grays. She has a knack for using filmic techniques like eyeline matches–between her main character and her tiny, adorable dog, to name one memorable example–to make panel transitions pop. And many of those panels are strikingly, intelligently composed: I’m fond of a splash page of boats along a dock at the bottom of the page, the water filling the rest of the page with just a few suggestions of waves and ripples, which echoes a similar “shot” of our protagonist’s bare feet protruding from the bottom of the page as she looks down at a rug partially covered with boxes of her late loved one’s possessions. We get bird’s eye views, seal’s eye views, close-ups, panoramas, and through it all the sense that we’re not just seeing some figures move back and forth in tiny boxes someone drew, but that we’re in a world someone inhabits, and which that someone colors and contours with her emotions and thoughts. It’s confident comics-making.

Then there’s that lettering. It’s not unpleasant, don’t get me wrong–nice simple all-caps block hand-lettering, in pencil, slanting slightly forward. It’s just that relative to the size and tone of the drawings, it’s a bit overwhelming. The handwriting might obscure that everything’s being said IN ALL-CAPS ITAL, but that’s what it is, and it wrings a lot of the nuance and quietness out of the emotional content of the words. This in turn draws attention to how several of the story’s beats are, if not cliches, then at least familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the literature of loss. Boxing up their stuff, grabbing/being grabbed by certain memorable possessions; survivor’s guilt (“THEY SAID I WAS THE LUCKY ONE“); the soothing and saddening presence of the sea; the fairly on-the-nose metaphor to which the title refers, and so on. It’s grief in all-caps ital, if you will.

This, perhaps, is a weakness of this style: losing sight of the fact that feeling something intensely is, in itself, value neutral. How you express it counts more than that you express it. There’s one genuinely moving bit here where that’s clear: The protagonist calls for her dog, and the second time she does so her word balloon has suddenly sprouted another tail, pointing to a ghostly figure who once would have done the same. It’s a killer detail, unexpected and immediately powerful. It’s worth more than any all-caps emotion.

Carnival of souls

September 23, 2010

* Today on Robot 6: Ivan Brunetti covers Strange Tales II (look, it’s Ivan Brunetti’s Nova!!!!);


* Becky Cloonan draws Grant Morrison;


* and Brian Michael Bendis hates the comics blogosphere.

* In case it wasn’t clear from yesterday’s link, that David Bordwell piece on the formulation of the idea of “classical Hollywood cinema” as (essentially) a school of moviemaking wasn’t just a blog post, but an introduction to this massive, delightful essay by Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson on the 25th anniversary of their book The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Tons of stuff that put a smile on my ex-film-student face in there, and not just the shoutout to my old professor Charlie Musser. Here’s Bordwell:

…literary academics often argue about terminology, insisting that the choice of a single word reveals deep things about an author’s conceptual commitments and biases. Perhaps this is one reason the literary humanities make so little progress in producing reliable knowledge.

Here’s Staiger:

I find symptomatic criticism (finding subtexts of race, sex, sexual, and class ideologies within films) a valuable critical project because I believe that many people see such ideologies while watching films. However, I also believe that Neoformalism has the greatest critical scope for describing and analyzing works of art.

Dig in!

* And now it’s Tim Hodler’s turn to weigh in on Douglas Wolk.

* Here, let me post that Anders Nilsen poster for the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest at a less tiny size.


* Josh Cotter returns…?


* Y’know, reading Ron Rege Jr.’s Yeast Hoist #4 on What Things Do makes Frank Santoro’s argument that they just ain’t makin’ minicomics like they used to a lot more persuasuive.


* Scott Campbell gets that Barton Fink feeling. (Via Nate Patrin.)


* I liked my friend Kennyb’s take on Underworld’s music in general and their new album’s standout track “Scribble” in particular a great deal.

* Mallory’s Clothes, a tumblr dedicated to nothing but posting pictures of every single outfit worn by Mallory on Family Ties? Sure, I’ll eat it. It’s a fine document of the days when tens of thousands of Vampire Weekend cover models roamed the American plains in huge hordes. (Via Matthew Perpetua.)


Music Time: The Walkmen – Lisbon

September 23, 2010

The Walkmen


Fat Possum, September 14, 2010

Buy it from Fat Possum

Buy it from

There’s a lot I could say about the Walkmen, a band I liked for their first album, then fell for hard for their second, then fell away from for their third onward. I could say that singer Hamilton Leithauser’s tendon-straining shouting and arrhythmic delivery totally undo the music-for-grown-ups restraint and professionalism the band’s spent the last few years dealing in, which in turn strikes me as too polite for the “stranded and starry-eyed” stumblebum charm it’s clearly aiming for. I could say that the way Leithauser’s vocals are recorded, as though they’ve been thrown atop the music like a towel hanging out of a hamper, also emphasizes the lack of memorable hooks and melodies the band’s come up with in recent years. I could say that the frequently tinny mix really doesn’t mesh with the drunken physicality you ought to get out of a band doing the rueful bards of the bar scene thing. I could admit that for all this I’m still intrigued by aspects of their work–the ongoing fixation with Christmas/New Year’s/winter, for example, or their “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” approach to incorporating a horn section. But I really just want to ask: Once you’ve discovered that you can sound like a barfight…

Walkmen – The Rat

…why settle for sounding like shuffling home after last call, over and over and over? Yes, that’s a special feeling, worth capturing, but if it’s always last call, it’s never really last call at all, right?


September 22, 2010

I really, really, really, really, really don’t like going to a movie mentally prepared to wedge myself against or behind conventional wisdom about that movie. I like writing about movies with that sort of thing in mind even less. But for once, in seeing Christopher Nolan’s much-lauded, much-backlashed Inception a couple months after it first came to dominate the pop-culture conversation, all that business had me in the perfect place as a viewer. I knew a lot of people loved it. I knew a lot of people, especially people whose taste I trusted, thought the emperor was, if not naked, then at least in his PJs. I knew I have a tendency to disagree with the people I trust. I knew I have a tendency to like Christopher Nolan movies even less than they do. And so I went in with not high expectations, not low expectations, not no expectations, but simply expectations. I expected it to be a fun time at the movies. And that’s what it was.

One thing I enjoyed to a degree that surprised me even in the moment was the young, or at least young-looking, cast. Starring as Dom Cobb, an expert dream-thief pulling One Last Job so that he can buy himself back into a life he was forced to leave behind for reasons to do with the death of his wife, Leonardo DiCaprio brings that same aging-babyface sourness he brings to all the parts he plays in this stage of his career. He looks like someone who’s aged more in mind than in body and the pieces just don’t fit together; his physicality has the rage and regret of someone who’s still living in his parents’ basement during his ten-year college reunion. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page look like they’re in grad school and college respectively; Tom Hardy looks like he just got back into town after blowing his trust fund. Put it all together and you’ve got a core group of stars who look, perhaps, like you looked when you first realized you were good at a certain thing, learned to respect yourself for it, and learned to expect respect from others for it. It’s a much more exciting set of casting choices than the umpteenth “band of grizzled operatives gets together for one last score” flick of the year.

I also dug the confidence with which Nolan draws us into the world he’s created–echoed, perhaps, by the mechanics of Extraction and Inception themselves, in which operatives create a dream world then basically knock their targets in and out of it with them. The technological advances that allow for this are cursorily addressed, mostly I’d imagine to head off questions from the sorts of viewers who would demand those answers, but for the most part you’re just rolling with it like this was the un-whimsical version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. True, the worlds these dreams create are surprisingly straightforward, maybe even disappointingly so–most of that cool-looking zero-gravity stuff you see in the commercials really is just run-of-the-mill bodies in free fall, and aside from some perfunctory M.C. Escher staircases there’s very little reality-warping of the sort you saw in the movie’s print and billboard ads. But while they don’t look wild, or particularly dreamlike, they do look nice, like cool places to chase and be chased. The worlds constructed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Arthur in particular come across like the Gordon Willis World Theme Park. And all of them make a fine, sumptuous home for Hans Zimmer’s subconscious hum of a score–it’s leagues beyond the almost aggressively forgettable stuff (the Joker’s cues excepted) he turned in for Nolan’s two Batman movies. (Batman movies without theme music! I still can’t get over it!)

And pacing-wise, Inception is crackerjack stuff. Nolan constructs a scenario that at one point had no fewer than five simultaneous countdowns built into it, each level of which had a crystal-clear entry and exit point for viewer and character alike. After seeing the mushy, nonsensical Expendables or the hero’s-journey-by-numbers Clash of the Titans remake, I can’t tell you what a relief it was simply to see an action-movie blockbuster where the directors and the characters clearly knew what they were doing and why they were doing it, let alone where all did it with such aplomb. (Iron Man 2 doesn’t count–it was basically banter interrupted with the occasional armor fight.)

Problems, you ask? Oh, for sure. It’s a damn good thing the structure was so propulsive, because Nolan again shows himself to be perhaps the least skilled director of action to have somehow forged a career making action movies. Chases through city streets–on foot in Mombasa, by car in Los Angeles–are flabbily edited, blurry, context-free messes, everything that everyone complained about, wrongly, in the rigorously, gloriously shot and choreographed Bourne action sequences. Later sequences involving sniper rifles and sneak-and-shoot maneuvers are stronger, mostly because quickly becomes clear that in terms of staging Nolan is relying almost entirely on the viewer’s sense-memories of first-person shooters. The film’s biggest setpiece, the storming of a snowbound fortress, feels so much like a level from GoldenEye or Call of Duty that I found myself imagining what buttons I would have had to press for each character to do what they were doing. (Sidenote: As best I can tell, the entire snow sequence tell was mercifully and wisely left out of any trailers or commercials; it was nice for it to come as a surprise all these weeks later.)

What’s funny is that the film also contains a…well, not a knockout, it didn’t light my world on fire like (say) the Darth Maul duel in Phantom Menace or the subway fight in The Matrix did, but the zero-gravity fight between Gordon-Levitt and various subconscious-security goons in the hotel hallway was quite strong. It’s the one action sequence in the film, if not Nolan’s entire career, where he just let the camera record the movement of bodies through space and the physical consequences of their actions without all the shake’n’bake smash’n’grab slice’n’dice. Clearly he knew he had something special here, and thus got out of the way of it; why didn’t he realize how much stronger that made it, and apply that technique to everything else?

Nolan’s also an enormously dour and sexless filmmaker. I laughed a grand total of twice during the entire film, which let’s be clear is not some exploration of soul-crushing sadness, it’s a sci-fi heist picture–once at the kiss Gordon-Levitt’s character steals from Ellen Page’s, and once because I thought, and thanks to the way Nolan shoots action I’m still not sure, the Chemist was flipping his pursuers the bird as his van plummeted off the bridge. The movie feels like one of the very classy brown suits the characters favor, rich and stiff. And forget feeling any kind of sexual chemistry between any of the characters (beyond my own budding crush on Tom Hardy, perhaps)–Nolan’s films are David Lynch for squares.

It’s also surprisingly emotionally flat. Over and over we are told how dangerously attached Cobb is to his memories of Marillon Cotillard’s incomprehensibly named character (Maude? Moll? Mauve? Maume?), but their final confrontation is simply a repetition, in some cases a literal one, of their previous scenes together–including one endless recitation of their history by DiCaprio to Page that grinds the film to a fault halfway through. Only Cobb’s believably blasphemous reaction to his wife’s suicide cuts through the fog of stylized regret that hangs over this supposedly pivotal relationship. Particularly compared to the relationships that formed the core of two films to which Inception is frequently compared, Lynch’s Mullholland Drive and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, the Cobb/Mal (I looked it up) amour fou wants for intimacy, heat, and in the end, genuine, frightening grief and loss. Other than DiCaprio’s cry for his suicided wife, the only emotional beat I really bought, ironically enough, was Cillian Murphy’s wide-eyed, wordless reaction to his fake father’s fake last words.

And then there are the usual Nolanisms: gaping plot holes (Fisher, who we learn has been trained to guard against Extraction and thus surely must be on the lookout for suspicious stuff, didn’t notice that his company’s chief competitor was flying in the same first-class cabin he’d be napping in for hours at a time on the way to his magnate father’s funeral?), hugely predictable “revelations” (the second Cobb told Saito he’d done Inception before, I knew whom he’d done it to), softball-hanging-over-the-plate “thought-provoking” stuff (wAs It aLL a DrEaM???). And of course it’s another movie about angry men in suits that only passes the Bechdel Test if you’re grading on a serious curve.

But it’s also stylish, fun, pretty to look at, crisply plotted, generally exciting. The entirety of the film gives you less to think about than the Winkie’s dream sequence in Mulholland Drive alone, but whaddayagonnado? I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do: I’m going to be happy to have enjoyed myself and call it a night. One of the great things about being a grown-up is that you don’t need Inception to decide to approach a given work of art precisely the way you want.

Carnival of souls

September 22, 2010

* The DC Entertainment restructuring story from yesterday continues to develop–internally as well as externally, I might add. For now, here’s Kiel Phegley talking to Dan Didio and Jim Lee about the moves, and Kevin Melrose with a roundup of the developments and reaction to them, the most helpful such post I’ve seen so far. The big question today is the provenance of the LA Times’ much-quoted figure of 20% layoffs for the company, a figure that didn’t, uh, figure into any of the other press the company heads did yesterday.

* The lineup for the second annual Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest has been announced, and it’s a killer, including ultra-rare East Coast appearances by Jordan Crane and Johnny Ryan. Paul Pope’s joining the fold this year too. Plus, dig the Anders Nilsen poster.


* Knockout installment of Brian Chippendale’s Puke Force today. You definitely wanna click the link to see this thing at full size.


* I wonder what Kevin Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges is up to here. Smells like adventure to me!


* Wow, Theo Ellsworth makes a great album-cover artist. This Flying Lotus cover he did is on some serious King Crimson/Gentle Giant shit.


* Jeet Heer on Douglas Wolk on comics. Go, read.

* And while you’re there, check out the voluminous comment thread for Frank Santoro’s post on SPX and the slow death of the minicomic. Frank’s taking no prisoners, and there are tons of compelling responses from Dan Nadel, Rob Clough, Brian Chippendale, MK Reed, James Kochalka, Tom Spurgeon, Matt Seneca, Jason Overby, and on and on.

* Fascinating David Bordwell Post of the Week: Bordwell on the evolution of the idea of classical Hollywood cinema as a school of filmmaking.

Not Comics Time: Scary Stories Treasury

September 22, 2010


Scary Stories Treasury

Alvin Schwartz, writer

Stephen Gammell, artist

HarperCollins, 1995

115 pages, hardcover


Buy it from

It was a red-letter day when I snagged this omnibus edition of the three collections of scary stories from folklore assembled and retold by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell: 1981’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, 1984’s More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and 1991’s Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. Honestly, I could skip this review and just post the collection of Gammell’s world-beating brain-searing images I gathered up from the Internet, and any point I’d have tried to make would probably be made at least as effectively. If you ever came across these books as a kid, you probably, and this is no joke, remember some of these illustrations better than the faces of your best friends. Like a proto-Al Columbia, veteran illustrator and Caldecott Medal winner Gammell found a way to depict a kind of evil that seems to have seeped into and corrupted those depictions themselves. Instead of deconstructing these images like Columbia does–using sketches, abandoned work, damaged or destroyed pages and so on to suggest that these things almost too horrible to truly commit to paper–Gammell uses washed-out black and gray inks to suggest forms slowly coalescing into being from…someplace else, someplace we can’t fully see and wouldn’t want to. On the memorable occasions when he comes right out and draws these things where you can’t help but look at them, and seemingly they at you, it can quite literally be difficult to sustain that gaze. I defy you to stare at this image, for example–astutely chosen as this omnibus collection’s cover; no effing around here!–without eventually just shaking your head and saying “Jesus.”


But Gammell is equally adept, and just as haunting, when he’s not depicting anything in particular. In a few memorable pieces–sometimes in illustrations for the front matter, sometimes for the stories themselves–he goes full-on black-psychedelic, creating images that suggest surrealism but which replace the traditional visual punning of that movement with disconcertingly decontextualized tendrils and splatters and parts of leering, screaming faces. My favorite of these is the below illustration, for the story “Oh, Susannah!”


Which leads me to the storyteller, Alvin Schwartz. A folklorist with dozens of collections under his belt, Schwartz displays here what I imagine to be a hugely underrated and underremembered proficiency with his prose. These are books for children and young adults, but Schwartz uses that to his advantage. In his best moments, he takes the economical prose typically used to communicate to these age groups–that “So-and-so was a person and this is what happened to him” factuality–and employs it to tell stories of not just the unexplained, but the unexplainable. Again, “Oh, Susannah!” is my favorite. A college student names Susannah comes home late at night and tries to go to sleep, only to be awoken by her roommate, already in bed, singing the old Stephen Foster song. When she switches on the light to confront the roommate, she discovers that the roommate’s head is missing. The story ends with Susannah telling herself “I’m having a nightmare. When I wake up, everything will be all right….” Who murdered the roommate? How long ago did it happen? If the roommate is dead, who was singing the song? Is Susannah having a nightmare? Will everything be all right? What does any of this have to do with the cosmic hellscape with which Gammell has adorned this story? We don’t know, and Schwartz’s all-business prose offers us no comforting room for interpretation. It is what it is, and what it is is horrifying.


Schwartz’s technique can make even the collections’ most familiar stories freshly disturbing. Consider his take on the old “the call is coming from inside the house” urban legend that gave rise to When a Stranger Calls. Here’s how he ends it:

Just then a door upstairs opened. A man they had never seen before started down the stairs toward them. As they ran from the house, he was smiling in a very strange way. A few minutes later, the police found him there and arrested him.

As adults, we know what might cause a stranger who’s spent the evening hiding in a house, menacing a babysitter and the three little children she’s been watching, to smile in a very strange way. Indeed, Schwartz states repeatedly, in introductions to the volumes and chapters and in the notes and sources sections at the back of each volume, that scary stories about the non-supernatural are a way for young people to warn each other of the dangers the real world contains once they leave the protection of their parents–a homeopathic remedy for all-too-real fears, if you will. But within the context of the story itself, the man’s motives and bizarre behavior–that strange smile, his apparent lingering long enough for the police to “find him there and arrest him”–is a mystery, both tantalizing and repellent. It’s up to the young reader to fill in the blanks, and nothing good’s going in them.


But it’s also worth noting that Gammell and Schwartz display a sly sense of humor in a lot of their work here as well, befitting the funny-scary tone of a lot of these summer-camp and tall-tale-derived stories. I’m thinking of the subtly grinning alligator with the human hand who accompanies a story of shapeshifting swimming fanatics that ends with the sentence “Everybody knows there aren’t any alligators around here.” Or of the juxtaposition of the extravagantly bloody, elegantly gesturing hand that accompanies “The Ghost with the Bloody Fingers” with the downright goofy story itself, which ends with a guitar-playing hippie obliviously telling the sanguine specter to “Cool it, man! Get yourself a Band-Aid.” This stuff works as a relief valve for the out-and-out scary stuff, obviously. But it also shows just how deft both writer and artist are in treading that liminal area–between funny-weird and funny-haha, between fact and fiction, between popcorn-spilling scary and afraid to get up and go to the bathroom at night scary–where all these folk tales dwell.

One last thing: Schwartz comes up with the best titles! Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark itself is brilliantly matter-of-fact, but the section and story titles really get good in vol. 2: “When She Saw Him, She Screamed and Ran,” “Something Was Wrong,” “A Weird Blue Light,” “Somebody Fell from Aloft,” “She Was Spittin’ and Yowlin’ Just Like a Cat,” “When I Wake Up, Everything Will Be All Right”…More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the best collection of titles this side of early Gang of Four–just one more delight to be found in this treasure of a book.


Two housekeeping notes

September 22, 2010

1) I’ve spoken with at least one person over the past couple of days who’s stayed away from this blog for the past couple weeks, afraid it would crash his browser like it had been doing a little while ago. I promise that problem is fixed. So if you’re like that person, please don’t worry, and if you know someone who’s like that person, tell them not to worry either.

2) I caught up another couple of perfectly legitimate comments in a recent spam sweep. They’ve been restored, but I can almost guarantee you that I’ve done this to someone else and never realized it. Please know that I have never ever deleted a comment from this blog for content reasons. So if you’ve left a comment and it disappeared, it’s my fault–let me know and I’ll put it back.

Carnival of souls

September 21, 2010

* Very busy day at Robot 6 today…

* First things first: There’s a huge huge Scott Pilgrim sale on right now, with each of the individual volumes going for either $3.99 or $4.49. As I said on Robot 6, you can buy six graphic novels, about a thousand pages of comics, for the cost of single Avengers story arc.

* Big changes at DC Comics–DC Entertainment (the non-comics stuff) is moving to Burbank while the publishing end is staying put, sans the soon-to-be-shuttered WildStorm and Zuda imprints. You can count Kurt Busiek among those who don’t know what this means for his series with the company.

* Related: Jonah Weiland interviews DC President Diane Nelson about the changes.

* Marvel’s moving offices within New York City.

* Hope Larson’s Mercury can’t get arrested in the Direct Market, even though it’s up to its third printing.

* And J. Michael Straczynski’s cover artists can’t quit the Vitruvian Man.


* Here’s a fine essay/interview by Mat Colgate of The Quietus on Underworld singer/lyricist Karl Hyde’s collagiste writing method. “It was a pact — a deal — I’d send the drunk me out on the streets to experience stuff that the straight me would never dream of going anywhere near. And all this technicolour stuff came back.”It’s interesting to hear just how much of the now-sober Hyde’s approach stemmed from his alcoholism. (Via Andy Khouri at Born Dirty, the new and quite good Underworld fan blog.)

* Well this sure is neat: A series of video interviews with Matt Furie and Will Sweeney upon their joint exhibition in London. (Via Dirk Deppey.)

* I clicked over to check out this strip “The Moon Monster” that Tom Spurgeon linked to mostly to check out that really inventive creature design, and indeed that and the rest of Bernard Baily’s art is really beautifully and dynamically drawn, but the strip also has a level of pathos I wasn’t expecting at all. Good stuff.


* A la the great Covered blog, Anthony Vukjoevich’s Repaneled features contemporary artists and cartoonists redrawing their favorite comics panels. Here’s James Ward Clark doing R. Crumb’s “Joe Blow.” Well, not literally. (Via Mike Baehr.)


* Ben Morse builds his dream Anti-Avengers.


* Real Life Horror #1: “Members of Stryker Combat Brigade in Afghanistan accused of killing civilians for sport”

* Real Life Horror #2: Wow, there’s something uniquely awful about the phenomenon of ant death spirals.

* Finally, I’m knee deep in GQ’s oral history of GoodFellas with no end in sight. Bliss. (Via Heidi MacDonald.)

Music Time: Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream”

September 21, 2010


Katy Perry

“Teenage Dream”

from Teenage Dream

Capitol, August 24, 2010

Buy it from

If Ke$ha is contemporary pop’s bottle-blonde body-glittered spray-tanned walk-of-shame-wardrobed yin, Katy Perry is its raven-haired porcelain-skinned candy-coated Rainbow-Brite yang. Ke$ha’s career is founded on obnoxiousness; Perry aims to please with the dead-eyed accuracy of a trained sharpshooter and the force of a shotgun. Indeed, with her enormous eyes, enormous breasts, enormously loud voice, crowd-pleasing patina of residual Christianity, and the lipstick lesbianism of her pleased-to-meet-you opening-salvo single “I Kissed a Girl” (one of two smashes whose titles she swiped from earlier hits), Perry is practically pop self-parody–she’s everything culture considers pleasurable cranked up to a ludicrous, this-goes-to-11 degree. As Ann Powers points out, Lady Gaga’s costume bra features machine guns–Perry’s shoots whipped cream. True, the other day I mentioned her occasionally bullfroggy croak, especially evident when she flips down past that atrocious break between her upper and lower registers, as one of Pop 2010’s annoying-earworm tricks, but it really strikes me as something she can’t help rather than something she hones. Put it this way: Ke$ha stabs into your brain like a parasite–Katy Perry steamrolls you. Or as my wife put it, our summer got measurably more tolerable when we decided to stop fighting it and just go along with “California Gurls.” She’s the juggernaut, bitch.

Needless to say, this inspires resistance just as surely as insidiousness does, because anything so clearly calculated to be appealing going to become almost impossible to like. So even though I kind of dig the sleazy Goldfrappian squirm-stomp of “I Kissed a Girl,”–even though it’s halfway between the Glitter Band and the Revolting Cocks version of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, two of my favorite things in the world–I could never just suck it up and enjoy it. The song’s ludicrously problematic sexual politics, its cynical titillation…whatever the music’s pleasures, on some level it’s just “ugh, gimme a break.” Similarly, for a dude like me there’s pretty much no resisting the candyland camp of the video for “California Gurls,” or the album cover above with which it shares imagery (best cover of the year that I’ve seen, in all seriousness), or even the ersatz Discovery-era Daft Punkisms of the song itself. But everything about it–the easy-peasy subject matter of having a good time with sexy people in California; the stated goal of being a response to the equally jingoistic, far more annoying “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys; the “Snoop Dogg needs a new pair of shoes” cameo to ensure crossover appeal with hip-hop-friendly ears–screams “I AM 2010’S SUMMER JAM!!!” to such a degree that even though you can enjoy the song, you can’t really like it. On an even more lizard-brain level, anyone who’s as into pale brunettes as I am is gonna think she’s absolutely stunning-looking–I mean, Jesus–but that only makes me even more suspicious of the Katy Perry enterprise, if you follow me. Like, do I prefer her music to Ke$ha’s partly or simply because I’m not as into blondes?

Into this mix comes “Teenage Dream”. It’s the title track of her record. It was quite strategically released as a single to soundtrack the end of summer. As Mike Barthel notes, the video for the song has the washed-out look of a teenage girl’s Tumblr photo posts, or the polaroid/instamatic vibe Eric Harvey chronicles as having taken over indie rock album covers. It’s a look of instant, enjoyable nostalgia, which of course is also the basic idea of the lyrics–the same forever-young Molly Young describes in her essay on Hollister’s prefab SoCal experience. It’s as shrewd as anything else Katy Perry has ever done.

So why does it work for me? Why is it possible for me to like, really like this song, listen to it on repeat and everything, in a way that I can’t do with her other songs? I think it’s just a better-written and recorded piece of music, mostly because it’s not trying so hard. Alright, I know that’s a weird thing to say about a song called fucking “Teenage Dream,” but stick with me. After the no-holds-barred attacks of all her other hits, I really appreciate how this song’s chorus doesn’t pound you in the skull–musically, it just does the exact same thing the rest of the song does, only a bit louder, with guitarish synth stabs tracking the not-really-a-bassline. It sounds to me, of all things, like the happy cousin of Daft Punk’s “Television Rules the Nation.” It’s not the usual onslaught of tricks and hooks. It kind of glides.

Lyrically, I’ll admit it has a lot in common with all the “let’s have a good time” songs by Perry and Ke$ha I don’t like in that it’s a stream-of-consciousness onslaught of unspecific, undercooked cliches, though these ones are mostly about romance rather than partying. “You think I’m pretty without any makeup on,” “Now every February you’ll be my valentine,” “I’m complete,” et cetera et alia–we’re not going to be winning an Pulitzers. But! But but but, there’s something so damn disarmingly direct about that lead-in to the chorus: “Let’s go all the way tonight–no regrets, just love.” Well, how about that? A straightforward expression of the desire to have sex in the expectation that it’ll be a fun, memorable, worthwhile, pleasurable experience for two young people in love? More of this, please! Somehow this makes the two following lines, “We can dance until we die” and “You and I, we’ll be young forever,” come across not as the staple sentiments of the over-the-top emotions of pop music since forever that they are, but almost like the intense, perhaps slightly embarrassing in retrospect, utterly sincere things you might say during lovemaking. It’s like the song tips you off balance and makes you more receptive to what it’s doing–the opposite effect of what Perry’s pandering usually does.

But I think the lines that really stick with me come toward the end. Over the inimitable wistful-joyful melodic progression of the glam descend, Perry all but shouts: “I’m’a get your heart racing in my skintight jeans / Be your teenage dream tonight / Let you put your hands on me in my skintight jeans / Be your teenage dream tonight.” There’s something actually poignant about that, and dead-on too! The repetition communicates a sense of involuntary urgency and expectation, a desperation, almost, that’s really endearing. I remember writing about the sex scenes in Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library #18 about how Ware captured young lovers’ “raw, almost manic hunger to have and give and demonstrate pleasure.” And that’s the teenage dream, or a big part of it–putting on skintight jeans to get someone’s heart racing and hands moving–or, your heart racing, putting your hands on someone wearing skintight jeans. The song captures a feeling I once loved feeling. Katy Perry’s music is a job, that’s impossible ever to lose sight of–but I call that a job well done.

Carnival of souls

September 20, 2010

* Grant Morrison plays a villain in this video promo for My Chemical Romance’s new album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Outstanding.


Also, wasn’t that, or something like it, the name of the graphic novel MCR frontman Gerard Way was doing with Becky Cloonan? Could this in some way mean Cloonan will eventually end up in Morrison’s stable of artists, which I think we can all agree is her rightful place?

* I’ve got a hunch that many readers of this blog will be intrigued by Baby’s in Black: The Story of Astrid Kirchher & Stuart Sutcliffe, an upcoming graphic novel by Arne Bellstorf. More on Facebook. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)


* Here’s a provocative post from Frank Santoro on whether the current generation of minicomics makers are falling down on the job. Frank’s thesis, with which I don’t disagree, is that cartoonists who work in minicomics mostly don’t work with the raised bar of previous “generations” of minicomics in mind–each one tends to start with the tabula rasa of plain white pages and builds from there. And that’s true–you’re not seeing the equivalent of the aesthetic arms race between today’s Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, PictureBox, AdHouse, Top Shelf, and (sniff) Buenaventura to release The Most Beautiful-Looking Graphic Novel of All Time. But I was hashing this out with cartoonist Dustin Harbin on Twitter, and he made me wonder: Should we expect that? I’ve always seen minicomics, first and foremost, as the pre-Internet era’s easiest and cheapest way to publish comics, and the Internet era’s easiest and cheapest way to print comics. It’s certainly wonderful when cartoonists who are publishing through minicomics experiment with format, printing, and suchlike, but it’s pleasant the way gravy on a tofurkey is pleasant. It’s gravy, not tofurkey. Now, if Frank’s arguing that he’s not seeing anything that delivers a knockout blow as comics, rather than something with a super-impressive silkscreened cover, that’s a line of argument I’d have an easier time engaging with, pro or con. But I think that as opposed to when Frank was starting out, there simply are a lot more full-fledged alternative-comics publishers around today–Fanta, D&Q, Top Shelf, AdHouse, PictureBox, Sparkplug, Secret Acres, Koyama, until recently Buenaventura and Bodega, even various big NYC prose houses–publishing a lot more comics by a lot more cartoonists and abrogating the need for young-ish cartoonists to keep working on their own. So that’s where a lot of that energy went.

* and my pal Ben Morse talks about (among other things) Justice League: Generation Lost, X-Factor, and Thor: The Mighty Avenger for our weekly “What Are You Reading?” feature. There are few writers on superhero comics, and certainly none who are primarily superhero comics readers like Ben is, whom I enjoy reading more than Ben; he just dials right in on what aspects of a given title or character work for him and why.

* Tom Spurgeon asks his readers to name five favorite Fantagraphics comics not written by Charles Schulz, Los Bros, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes or Peter Bagge. The result shows just how deep a bench that publisher can field. Greatest comics publisher of all time.

* On a similar note, my pal Ryan Penagos, aka the redoubtable Agent M, lists his favorite Marvel collections. That publisher put out a lot of quality work over the past ten years, a lot of which you can get your hands on relatively easily, and this is a pretty solid shopping list in that regard.

* Filing this away for later use: Jason Adams on Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go and Christian eschatology.

* Jim Woodring refers to this image from his upcoming Congress of the Animals as “spectacularly unpleasant goings-on.” Yep!


* Speaking of Woodring, it depresses me mightily that his receipt of The Stranger’s Genius Award for Literature was controversial because he makes wordless comics. That’s like saying Premier isn’t a hip-hop artist because he’s not an MC.

* Dan Nadel brings us a few tantalizingly tiny images from the Mat Brinkman art show now going on in NYC.


* Jason made homemade bubblegum cards of pop-culture icons. Jason is an international treasure.


* Closed Caption Comics member and erstwhile Attentiondeficitdisorderly blogger Zach Hazard has a new comic up at Vice. Memo to Nick Gazin: Please set up a comics-only RSS feed for Vice’s website.


* Not sure whether to file this under Real Life Horror or simply very good writing, but Ta-Nehisi Coates beats the living shit out of The New Republic‘s bigot-in-chief Marty Peretz and his enablers.

* Photographer Vee Speers’ series Immortal combines a couple of my favorite things: apocalyptic imagery and attractive naked people. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)


Comics Time: The ACME Novelty Library #20

September 20, 2010


The ACME Novelty Library #20

Chris Ware, writer/artist

Drawn & Quarterly, September 2010

72 pages, hardcover


Buy it from Drawn & Quarterly

Buy it from

What makes a life? Is it the narrative we assemble in retrospect from the sights and sounds we remember best? Is it like comics in that regard, a combination of words and pictures stacked together to tell a story? To what degree do we act as our own cartoonists, then, picking and choosing the right combination of words and pictures to tell the story of ourselves we most want to hear? Is it possible that the way we misremember things tells us more of that story? What about the words and pictures we skip entirely? When we come to a point in the story that makes us think “Wait a minute, shouldn’t we have seen Event X or Y or Z by now, why did we skip that, shouldn’t that have been a bigger deal,” what does that tell us? What does a jump cut mean? What does an absence mean? Or what does a presence mean? What do we make of recurring marginalia that pops up when the story is supposed to be dealing with something entirely different? Is that persistence a reflection of the original absence? And who are the characters in our story? Is it fair to see them that way? Do they have any idea that’s what they are to us? Do they know how big a role they play? Do we know how big a role we’ve played in their stories? Would we even remember? Would we ever have known in the first place, or did we forget? How does it feel to find out? How do their stories affect our own? What happens when they leave our story? What happens when we leave theirs? What gets in the way of our own story? What constitutes static on the screen, blots out the image as it really is and makes it something else, however briefly? What do we do and say and think and feel in those moments that’s different from all the other moments? In what new direction will those moments send our story? What happens when we prefer the way the story used to be told? What happens when we find ourselves in a new story of someone else’s making? What happens when a turn of a page to a new set of words and images stuns us, hurts us? What happens when we reach the end of the story? What makes a story worth telling? A life worth living? Looking back, can we ever be sure that the answer isn’t “nothing”?