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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Always remember... II 

Oh god, make it stop.

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Is there any doubt in your mind?

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Which really is very important. I mean, say what you want about the guy, but he's industrious.

On the other hand...

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And for all my blogger buddies out there who get a little, ah, embarassingly eager now and then:

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Always remember... 

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Thank you, Warren Ellis.

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Wow, eh?

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Good god but does Alex Ross make Jordan look like a smug prick.

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Hey. It's a resolution I made. (Check #21.)

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Or your ass makes your ass look fat. Either/or.

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And most important of all...

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As with so many things, I blame Dorian.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Get your Woody on. 

Saw Match Point last week, and after heavy recommendation sat myself down with a Netflixed copy of Crimes & Misdemeanors to see the previous "last great Woody Allen movie." Certainly most reviews cite C&M as such, though I find it odd that these same critics neglect to mention the many... shall we say, stylistic similarities... between the two films. I felt much the same after seeing Blood Simple for the first time a few years after the Coen Brothers' "return to form" in Fargo, the latter of which seemed to me to be a cover song rendition of the former. The dialogue, the camera angles, the questions asked and ruminated upon in both sets of films are much the same, so that I think it's a mistake to consider them anything but companion pieces from the same artist (or artists) at different points in their lives.

C&M is an altogether more optimistic film, though in both films the guilty party "gets away" with the crime he's committed. I say this because the differences between the protagonists in these movies -- remorseful and stupidly selfish Landau versus callously calculating Rhys Meyers -- are instructive. Meyers is young, aware, and carries a reservation in his demeanor that only reveals passion when engaged in an illicit affair. With Landau, we only see the tragic, bitter end of his extramarital affair: the inconvenient phone calls, the fights, the desperate kicking and screaming, even a grossly inappropriate confession to a nonetheless sympathetic patient. With Meyers, it's quite a different show: Heedless lust and sensuality enjoyed with a bombshell that has the air of the tawdry about her, quickly turned to annoyance, inconvenience, and finally desperation as his dalliances threaten his very comfortable and completely unearned existence. When Landau finally takes the immoral route -- choosing to silence the mistress permanently rather than confessing to his wife before she can -- he does so through proxies, and never once dirties his own hands. (Though it's important that he does force himself to witness her dead body, previous to its discovery by the police.) Meyers, though obviously moved by passionate desperation, concocts and pulls off the murder of his own devising completely by himself. Both succeed, but only one of them ever felt the need to reach out to anyone else, to cast about before solutions before acting.

Or, perhaps, Landau simply wanted to hear justifications to convince himself there was no other way to act. Regardless, Meyers saw no need to confide in anyone but himself. He is his own God, and it never occurs to him that any judge outside of himself might have an opinion worthy of consideration. Landau feels true remorse. Meyers only hopes not to be caught.

In the universe of both movies, there is an absence of objective morality -- or, at the very least, an absence of immediate retaliation by God or karma immediately after a grave crime is committed in order to cover up a longer-term sin. But in Match Point, luck itself takes central stage in the story, arbitrarily ruling in favor of this or that character with all the unpredictably of, well, chance. Roger Ebert is accurate in saying that the cops looking for the truth in MP are "too smart and logical to figure this one out." True enough. Allen's universe is one devoid of anything but action, reaction, and chance. At least, as far as the characters can see.

In C&M, there exists two threads of story tenuously connected by Landau's profession. Woody Allen's character and circumstances plays the (at first) comedic counterpoint to the tragedy of Landau's end-of-affair, though Allen's situation becomes progressively less funny and more and more pathetic and hopeless. (Comedy is tragedy plus time, the obnoxious Alan Alda character repeats throughout the movie. I was immediately reminded of this TCJ cover.) No such comfort of counterpoint exists in MP -- no blind rabbi with an optimistic disposition, no reasonable and articulated voice for objective morality, no lighter counterpart to suggest that even in the face of hardship one can soldier on without giving in to despair or villainy.

Perhaps it's the upbringing of the two characters. In C&M, we are treated to multiple flashbacks of Landau's rabbinic father -- in one stunning scene, Landau is even allowed to address the family of his youth as an adult, quietly pleading for some kind of final ruling that sounds convincing to him. Meyers' past is much more piecemeal, only spoken by the man himself, alluding to an upbringing devoid of anything but social climbing and personal social darwinism. I'm tempted to say this belies Allen's view of the new breed of young professionals, but I don't know enough of Allen the man. I couldn't say for sure.

Throughout C&M, the primary leads (Allen and Landau) never meet until the movie's epilogue "four months later." I found myself completely floored by a perfect meta moment -- Landau confronting the literal God of his existence, the writer and director of his every action -- to give his first confession since the murderous act was committed. Woody Allen, Landau's god, suggests that the 'perfect murderer' realize that if God will not punish him, he must become his own God and punish himself by turning himself in. Landau balks and walks away, scot free. It's been four months, after all, and there's no sign that Landau will ever be caught or punished for what he's done. He seems at ease now, all this time later: A man who's swallowed what he's done and is ready to move on with his life. No longer does he feel the nagging need to do the "right" thing.

Also instructive is the age divide between the two protagonists. Perhaps Allen means to imply that only a young man, someone not weighed down by decades of action and consequence, could pull off such a monstrous action because of his relative unawareness of the horror of his actions. Landau, as an older doctor who's spent much of his life helping people, and much more of it ruminating on his father's religious instruction. Meyers is devoid of any such upbringing -- or, at least, if he had any, saw no use for any of it.

Which is worse? The man who struggles and kicks and fights and finally settles into his comfortable villainy, or the man who never thinks to fight in the first place?

Anyone who's seen the movies and knows more about thematic trends in Allen movies, please chime in. I'm no expert and I'd like to hear more.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The joy of violent movement. 

1) Matt throws in his two cents about comics evangelism, and what titles work for him... and why the particular titles that do work would work. To wit:

Another observation. They're all self-contained stories. Granted, some of them are still ongoing affairs, but we can assume that there are endings for books like 100 Bullets, Fables and Y. These things have (or will have) a beginning, a middle (or a lot of it) and an end. It won't be an interminable soap opera of indeterminate length or just a string of standalone stories that are linked only by common characters, not pointing to a greater whole.

This is important, doncha think?

Indeed I do, and I think others have caught on to this fact. Even TV, the notoriously backwards popular medium, seems to be getting the idea that maybe folks aren't as stupid as all that, and a weekly half-hour Fight to Maintain Status Quo isn't what we all really crave. All hail the invincible sitcom, but you don't see a lot of them at the Golden Globes, do you?

The TV shows mentioned there -- Lost, 24, The Wire, The Sopranos -- regularly wrack up awards monopolies, gushing critical praise, and overwhelming public success. With the exception of the third part of that trifecta, that could very well be a description of any top-tier Vertigo or (perhaps) Wildstorm title on the market. I don't know, it seems like TV's catching on to the idea of MONEY AND PRESTIGE GOLDMINES, and you wonder what it'll take for comics publishers to make the same moves to reap the vast rewards.

(I know: The money isn't there, it's all in superhero comics that have no fucking ending ever. That's true -- so long as you continue to court the same fucking market.)

Seriously, I'm in the Warren Ellis school of thought on the topic: just because you've been publishing something for thirty years doesn't mean you need to keep publishing it. Characters going on way past their sell-by date is a hallmark of bad writing: the characters have taken control and the writer is just along for the ride. In good fiction, the author (that is to say, the fictional world's God) is still firmly in control. In that way, real change can occur inside the bounds of the story and risk exists. Contrast that to the shadow play bullshit like Infinite Crisis, where nothing but corporate's list of "disposable characters" calls any shots.

It's sloppy fiction. All signs point to large audiences wanting something a little more sophisticated. Complex, long-form fiction with discernible arcs; comics publishers seem to forget that an "arc" features actual endings. The "six issues per arc in an ongoing title" trend is nothing more than an elaborate form of the sitcom. Let's just hope this is a current method to wean people from interminable titles to something a little more mature, but one wonders...

2) This reminds me of that "I know a Canadian" cliché -- you say you're from Canada, and someone asks you if you know their Canadian friend "Bob," on the naive belief that everyone in Canada must know each other because it's some other place that lacks the complexity of the homeland.

So... Storm and Black Panther are both black, straight, and from Africa, and so therefore must have been in love at one point. Nevermind that Africa is fucking enormous and filled with a jigsaw of countries that routinely change names and sizes. No, really: it's fucking big.

3) I'm tapped. Talk to you later.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Obligatory comment about being a bandwagoner goes here. 

Via Heidi, the Batgirl meme, and my own contribution:


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I don't like to throw the word "genius" around, but...

Channeling Pat Robertson. 

So I'm talking with Matt last night (and in retrieving that URL, I find that Matt has no link to me -- you're going down, Maxwell), and it's one of those long rambling everything-about-comics conversations that late night, fatigue, and AIM generate in tandem so perfectly. The last bit was about a topic I find some fascination with, something I generally plug comics "peeps" about when I get the chance -- namely, do you preach the Good Word to your non-fan friends, and if so, what do you use?

Matt confessed that most of his acquaintances either already were fans or just plain didn't read. (He then stated he needed to get out more, and I secretly suspect he was weeping bitter tears as he typed this.) Nonetheless, his speculation on good "evangelical" titles overlapped nicely with titles I'd used to great effect.

Now, if you have a non-comics reader who seems open to the idea, it's a good idea to simply ask what kinds of fiction they like, what kinds of movies, directors, actors, writers, and so on. It's a good way to triangulate what'll work on the page for them. But I've found that certain titles have repeat success on a wide cross-section of people.

And so, for your edification:

Transmetropolitan - In my experience, this title is a lot like Sandman in that folks who don't normally read comics have a good chance of having read this, or at least have heard of it. Say what you want about Ellis or his protagonist (and god, have I heard it all -- and have no desire to hear it again), there's wit here, and smarts, and a particular brand of mass appeal. It works. This is a "blanket" title -- works with most candidates who seem open to the idea of comics.

Instances Attempted: 4
Instances Worked: 2
Instances Pending: 2

The Authority - For people who have some idea of superheroes and/or comics but aren't necessarily "believers." In one notable case, the woman I recommended these to (who had, to that point, only read Watchmen, Sandman, and Sleeper) spoke well of the first two (Ellis-written) volumes, but when it got to Millar, proceeded to spit the vilest vitriol, accusing the man of all the same pretentions, pitfalls, and hackeries that the blogosphere cites on a regular basis. It was a spot-fucking-on impression. Still makes me laugh today.

So I only use the first two volumes if I go this route.

Instances Attempted: 2
Instances Worked: 2, sort of, if you count the Millar incident

The Filth - Damndest thing, but it works. When I think someone'll be open to the idea of Morrison, I ask them a simple question: do you want to be eased in gently, or do you want a cock in your frontal lobe? (That's verbatim.) The people can scent the challenge -- this is why I pop the question in the first place -- and tentatively ask for the erection. And so they get The Filth.

(This is also why I've not yet used We3 on anyone: They all want to get head-shafted right away.)

Instances Attempted: 2
Instances Worked: 1
Instances Pending: 1

Y: The Last Man - I don't actually use this one anymore, because I don't want to disillusion people after they get past the first two well-done volumes and get into Brian K. Vaughan Twiddling His Fucking Thumbs Happy Hour. I think it would have been a virtue if this series had kept itself tight and lean, but fuck it: let's have ninja chicks.

Instances Attempted (pre-horse latitudes): 2
Instances Worked: 2

Sin City - Worked both before and after the movie's release, but people were a lot more into the idea post-Rourke. (I'm with Heidi on this one, though: Clive Owen owns me, and has since Croupier.) This, however, is not for beginners, or at least not for wide-eyed types, because it's going to fuck with them. In some cases it's better to insure the person has seen the movie first, because for some reason people will "understand" abhorrent acts and black-as-midnight humor if it's been filmed first. The hypnotizing, normalizing power of the movies in action.

(Anyone else find it amusing, and sadly telling, that the DVD gets Amazon precedence over the books?)

Instances Attempted: 2
Instances Worked: 1
Instances Pending: 1

Sleeper - I haven't actually used this one yet. I just know from anecdotes that it does work on the non-initiated, to the degree where a person without much spare cash is still motivated to go out and buy these overpriced trades. (What the fuck is with that, anyway?) Yeah, there's costumes and all that, but there's enough nose-tweaking (folks sitting around narrating their origin story in third person, for one) to make the semi-comics-literate comfortable. Ideally, this is a Phase 2 title, like Sin City.

Fables - Another that's worked in the past that I now hesitate to recommend due to its relative stagnancy. It's an entertaining stagnancy, but nonetheless, all sense of forward momentum is gone.

Instances Attempted: 1
Instances Worked: 1

Human Target - I'm real 50/50 on Milligan, but this one is a pure solid grand fucking slam if I ever saw one. Handle with care, however: I usually start people off on Strike Zones and give them some idea of what to expect. HT was topical with fair consistency, in ways that other fiction did not follow suit, and so that helps it reach an outside audience. Works nicely on people who want a good headbender.

Instances Attempted: 2
Instances Pending: 2

100 Bullets - ...is a tricky one. The first volume of this series positively hypnotized me, indeed is one of the primary reasons I got back into comics, but the later volumes are so saturated in overarching Conspiracy Story that I lost most of my interest. (Now I just keep an eye out for the nifty covers.) Those first two volumes are pure fucking art, though.

Instances Attempted: 1
Instances Pending: 1

Other Titles In the Reserves, Not Yet Attempted: We3, Hellboy, Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden, Planetary, The Goon, Gotham Central, Queen & Country, Whiteout, You Can't Get There From Here, and the first couple volumes of Promethea.

So what've we learned? Vertigo generally has the right idea, Marvel's S.O.L., and people want cocks in their brains, stat. Who are you to deny them?

This is the part of the program where I want you, the viewer at home, to chime in. If you've done your own bit of comics evangelizing, I wanna know what works for you, what doesn't work for you, your biggest success and your biggest failure -- so we can come up with a Unifying Theory of Comics Conversion. Only then can we truly become Star Children of the Nth Element and get MAINSTREAM ACCEPTANCE OMG R00LZ.

Comments below.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Partying like it's 2006. 

Cuz it is.

Because I believe firmly in the blogger school of thought that no good idea should not be plagarized openly, I have read a vastly entertaining list of new year's resolutions that I must now rip off.

1) Write a script page a day. At the very least.

2) Not so much with the bomb threats. It's not that funny, and I'm pretty sure the NSA's red-flagged me.

3) Find new bands to listen to.

4) I've already stopped buying comics with "Batman" in the title. Now if I can only do the same for Witchblade.

(That's a joke. Fuck you.)

5) I've gotten a passport. Use the fuck out of it.

6) SDCC... you and me, we're going ten rounds.

7) Blog more. I mean, I don't have a lot to say, but when has that ever stopped anyone? It's practically a pre-fucking-requisite.

8) Stop masturbating to EISNER/MILLER. Seriously. It's starting to interfere with my social life.

9) Defeat Tom Spurgeon in mortal combat.

10) Read more of them funny Japanese comics what read right to left.

11) Write a kickass zombie story without being Steve fucking Niles. It can be done.

12) Piss in public more.

13) Vacuum.

14) Stop buying Marvel books not written by Garth Ennis or Daniel Way or, I guess, Dan Slott. Really, there's just nothing going on there.

15) Read everything Will Eisner's done, except for the Army stuff... but maybe that, too.

16) Cut out and burn any newspaper or magazine article that has a pun for its headline. If the pun-titled article is a review, cut out and burn the reviewer.

17) Stop killing blondes. They're not all whores.

18) Talk more like Rorschach.

19) Go see a Reverend Horton Heat show.

20) Go absolutely fucking broke buying original comic art. It's worth it. Also, I'm a dork and should stop denying it.

21) Make more "your mom" jokes. Those never go out of style.

22) ...like your mom. OH!

23) Master chef. Oh yes.

24) Play hockey again. It's been far too long.

25) Get a hummer from a tranny.

26) Nonfic submissions.

27) New Orleans... it's been too long, my love.

28) Better about returning calls. Better about returning e-mails. Generally staying the fuck connected.

29) Actually find sci-fi and fantasy prose fiction I like.

30) Sweatpants. Why don't I own any sweatpants?

31) Actually get some grasp of noir novels and films. Fiore, I choose you!

32) Infect and overtake Dark, But Shining. Because why not?

33) Live more, laugh more, don't be so afraid... and stop watching trailers for Queen Latifah movies. Jesus.

And that's it, really. More as inspiration strikes.

I'm glad to have shared this with you. I feel.. closer, somehow.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Still running. 

Well.

That's the holiday season done with. I'm actually approaching Year 2 of Ringwooding at you, though last year's total content probably didn't match up to the volume of the blog's first month. Such is life.

I was pointed to this little blurb on Ian's blog, and was somewhat surprised to find that my lack of participation could be seen as a shift to quality over quantity, rather than what it was: stark apathy. But I'm all for that.

Some thoughts.

1) I'm a shitty comics fan, and have spent the past couple months catching up on reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman. People'd give me shit every time it came up that I hadn't read it, and if I'm completely honest those people are exactly why I didn't read the fucking thing -- I didn't want to become one of them. (This is why I avoid Starbucks. That, and I don't drink coffee.)

It's pretty good stuff. Intricate. Layered. Natural. Intelligent yet accessible. The constant artist changeover I found refreshing instead of annoying, as it was the kind of book that seemed to beg for a constant shift in vision. (If I was one of the people who waxed flakey in intros for the TPBs, I'd say something like "the shift in artistic styles reflects the metamorphosis of the dreamscapes Gaiman explores, and indeed that of the slowly-evolving psyche of Dream himself," but I'm just not that much of a ponce.)

But I don't know that I've read anything that's left a real impression. The characters felt authentic, the stories could be corny but never pandered, but I walked away from the final volume (The Wake) feeling like I'd just spent several weeks examining an exceptionally well-crafted bauble.

And a bauble is a bauble is a bauble, no matter how much you make it shine.

Maybe it's Morpheus himself. I'm biased toward protagonists who are emotionally distant and uninvolving; I'm enough of a plebeian that I still require at least a smidge of audience identification with the protagonist before I can give a shit what happens to him. As a result, the stories in which Morpheus makes little or no appearance at all were, I felt, universally better for it. Yes, he's very remote and cold and wants to change but can't, etc, etc, and it's all quite tragic, but the end result is that Morpheus is kind of a smarmy prick and I just can't get visceral over his monumentally fucked-up relationship with his son.

But that could just be me.

2) Just got done watching Talk Radio. I wonder, idly, how many times Warren Ellis watched this movie during the entire Transmetropolitan run. Spider Jerusalem is pretty sanitized version of Barry Champlain (and of Hunter S. Thompson, and of this and that and the other), but still, the underlying anger/optimism dichotomy remains.

Optimistic? Yes. You don't keep coming back if you truly think it's all a lost cause.

Though the film is set in an arena that is by now an obsolete, pale joke of its former self -- talk radio -- Barry's observations about his audience's general lack of imagination in its use of the world's most sophisticated communication system holds true for us internet types today. If the internet is, as Barry labels the airwaves, "the last neighborhood in America," what the fuck are we using it for?

To talk about our pets? Orgasms? Evil liberals and corrupt conservatives?

Anyway. Enough of that. Let's get back to ripping on Bendis.

3) I need to stop deliberating and just get satellite radio already. I don't know why anyone bothers with free radio anymore. I know from personal experience: there is no substance in free radio. Do you know why? Because we didn't fucking want any, apparently. But then, I wonder how long it is before Sirius and XM go the route of MTV2.

4) Rick Remender's been on the brain lately. I stumbled across and picked up a copy of Blackheart Billy and found it anarchic and shit-ass crazy enough to appeal to my closeted punk sensibilities. And it was funny. Also, I fucking heart Kieron Dwyer.

Picked up the trade for Strange Girl this last week, and am currently about halfway through it. Gotta say I'm a little disappointed so far. Largely meandering action with the occasional panel of awkwardly gigantic exposition on the usual, unoriginal questions re: religion. If God made us in His image, why do we constantly rail against yadda yadda yadda. He's out of his depth, I think, and this is pretty watered-down from the Billy days. I'm hoping this isn't the best comics can do re: religious ponderings outside of a Will Eisner book.

4) If you're a big fan of Tori Amos and have a penis, we'll probably never be friends.

5) I've subscribed to Entertainment Weekly for, I think, five years now. (Some people would say this is reason enough to write me off out of hand; their opinion is appreciated even as I wipe my ass with it.) So it was with some interest that I found the blog of editor Marc Bernardin and, even beyond that, a blurb for a proposal of something called Monster Action Network.

I will read your Alan Moores, your James Kochalkas, your Will Eisners, your Harvey Pekars. I appreciate what they bring. I appreciate their individual elevations of the art.

But that shit right there is why I read comics.

6) Nothing. There is no sixth thing.

7) I wonder what Banksy thinks about Smoke's rather blatant ripoff of his iconic graffiti art.. Or if he'd even notice. Or care.

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