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Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Apologies Offered, Accepted

My friend Becky writes:
My high school class is experimenting with writing our own comics this
week. We are reading chapters out of McCloud's "Understanding Comics"
and I just had Paul Sizer come in and talk with them about storytelling
(and his Moped Army book--woo hoo).

I want them to know that this is bigger than just me and my nerdy
friends--that people all over the world read and love comics. More than
a few are seeming quite lukewarm...hoo boy.

Would you be willing to write some kind of an open letter to them
talking about why you love comics and what they mean to you? Why this
medium is so exciting and worth looking into? (You know that
saying--familiarity breeds contempt? I think if they hear it from other
people than myself, they might listen.)
I sent her class the following answer:
Skeptical about comics? You’re part of a very select club…basically 99% of the U.S. population.

For many comic book readers, part of being a fan is having a complex about it. Many of us feel compelled to “prove” that our hobby/habit/whatever isn’t pathetic, isn’t a sign of arrested development or a way to get grade school kids into the back of the van. We blanket our non-comics reading friends with examples of comics we adore. “You have to read Watchmen!” “You’ve just got to check out Love & Rockets!” When they arch their eyebrows, when TV shows treat comics as shorthand for illiteracy, when people we love flip lazily through our favorite comic only to shrug and say “I don’t get it,” we take it personally. We passionately insist that comics can be as valid as art on one hand (poetry, serious novels, painting) and popular entertainment on the other (summer blockbuster movies, hit songs, etc.) Our love for something so unpopular makes us outcasts and we get defensive about it—even as we tell ourselves that comics’ very unpopularity proves our refined tastes. If you love a musician or a writer or a movie that the mainstream ignores, you might know the feeling. You want everybody to know about them, love them, give them the respect they deserve—but you also want to keep them to yourself.

Also, because comics aren’t that easy to find, they tend to attract devoted fans who care to make the effort to seek them out, while repelling casual readers who might pick up a comic now or then but can’t be bothered to drive to a special store populated by geeks, where it smells like a sandwich from Subway—even though nobody there has eaten one. That’s the stereotype, anyway. And it’s one that the big superhero publishers have catered to, producing comics expressly for the obsessed fans, with backstories so complex that it’s nearly impossible for a new reader to pick up a random issue of X-Men and know what’s going on without a decoder ring.

Because of this tendency, the problem comics fans face is that many comics really are junk—not worth wasting your time on even if your precise goal is to waste your time. There are many reasons why comics are no longer mass culture, no longer sold by the millions at every corner store and newsstand like they were in the 1940s and 1950s—some reasons include limited distribution, competition from TV and video games, CGI action movies that outdo any special effect a comic artist might draw. But one of the biggest reasons is that so many comics suck. It’s hard to see through the clutter. And the clutter exists at both ends of the spectrum: stupid yet obscure comics about steroid junkies in capes pounding each other into paste, as well as pretentious “art’ comics written by skinny white guys who never got over their anger about being shoved into lockers while the cute girls laughed.

Statistics show that if you don’t start smoking as a kid or teenager, you probably won’t as an adult. It’s not much different with comics, aside from the lung cancer. If you haven’t enjoyed comics or even read them by the time you’re through puberty, it’s a hard sell to convince you that you should try them afterward. Even after decades of serious comics for adults about sex, drug use, the Holocaust, growing old, getting sick, everything under the sun--most people still associate comics and cartooning with stupid little kids. That’s just how it is.

But I’m supposed to tell you why you ought to read comics. Because despite everything I just said, you absolutely should read comics—for the same reason you should check out MF Doom albums or see The Life Aquatic, watch Gilmore Girls or listen to Little Steven’s Underground Garage on the radio. Because you should always make an effort to seek out the best, smartest stuff in any medium. Because there are comics out there that will make you think, make you nervous, make you laugh, get you all excited, make you cry. And I mean YOU. You specifically. There are comics being published right now that address your particular interests. Comics can be about anything. All the manga from Japan proves that—giant robots, cowboys, high school romances, demons, pop music, ninjas, gay ninjas inside giant robots in a battle of the bands against cowboy demons at the high school dance. Comics can be silly or subversive, tragic or optimistic. Sometimes all at once. And as Scott McCloud explains, there are things comics can do that no other kind of artistic expression can duplicate.

For instance: the cartoonist Chris Ware has a comic strip called “Big Tex,” about a dimwitted cowboy whose father openly hates him. Takes him for rides and leaves him alone in the woods. Calls him stupid and worthless. One particular “Big Tex” comic strip is broken into a dozen panels, each showing a part of Tex’s house and yard. You don’t see any people, just the house, a tree, and the word balloons of Tex meekly absorbing verbal abuse from his father. Taken all together, the individual pictures add up to a bigger picture of the whole house. But each separate panel takes place at a different point in time—so as you read the strip from left to right, top to bottom, the panels also add up to a life, as you get the story of Tex’s entire miserable existence from childhood to adulthood. All within one unmoving picture of a house, broken into fragments, just as Tex’s life has been broken into fragments. My description can’t do it justice, can’t really explain the impact. In this case, you really do have to see it. But that’s the power of comics, what makes them special. They’re a separate language, visual and verbal elements intertwined into something different than either. Because comics creators can shape panels any way they want, and because you can read at your own pace, comics are free to speed up and slow down time in ways that movies can’t duplicate. They can show details that books are forced to explain.

I love comics because…well, I’ve never known how not to. They’ve been part of my life since I was three years old. I loved them then for their absurd invention—flying dogs from outer space, magic rings, heroes throwing monsters into the sun. I love comics now for some of the same escapist reasons, but also because many of the independent comics I follow these days offer the most personal expression you’ll find in the popular arts. There are far fewer layers of producers, directors, editors, management people telling a comic book artist what to say or how to say it in order to make more money. It’s straight from the artist’s head to the page to the reader—or at least closer to that ideal than anything else I can think of.

Skeptical about comics? Good. It pays to be skeptical about everything. But don’t let that stop you from trying a few. You might even like them.
An alternative would be James Kochalka's simple exhortation from SuperF*ckers: "Hey kids, get your dicks out of your Playstation and read some comics!" But let's throw open the floor to other comic fans. Frosty, Kevin, Dave, anyone: if you had the opportunity (or the burden) to talk to a group of skeptical high school kids about why you love comics, why they're worth trying--what would you say? What's your "elevator pitch"?


I Need To Do A Better Job Of Doing A Better Job

Is the Democratic leadership brain-damaged?(NYT, reg. req.) With their best electoral opportunity in years, why are they essentially setting up for their concession speech 9 months ahead of the election? What in the name of fuck is so hard about actually, simply being who you constantly tell voters you want to be?

Sen. Chris Dodd on the health of the Democratic party:
"A lot worse than it should be. This has not been a very good two months. We seem to be losing our voice when it comes to the basic things people worry about."

Sen. Barack Obama:
"I think that two-thirds of the American people think the country is going in the wrong direction. They're not sure yet whether Democrats can move it in the right direction. We have been in a reactive posture for too long. I think we have been very good at saying no, but not good enough at saying yes."

Evan Bayh on national security:
"I think the Republicans are ripe for the taking on this issue, but not until we rehabilitate our own image. I think there's a certain element of denial about how we are viewed, perhaps incorrectly but viewed nonetheless, by many Americans as being deficient on national security. As Democrats, we have a patriotic duty and political imperative to lay out our ideas for protecting America. Frankly, our fellow citizens have doubts about us. We have work to do."

John Edwards:
"What the American people are hungry to hear from us is, what is the difference? What will we do? How will we deal with the corruption issue in Washington? How will we deal with the huge moral issues that we have at home? This is a huge opportunity for our party to show what we are made of."

Get off the fucking couch, guys. Stop telling everyone what you ought to tell them, and just tell them. Hey, Barack, has it occured to you that by continuing to wallow in this pointless self-analysis in the pages of the Times, that you're still being completely reactive? You folks are wasting time that you could spend putting into practice all the shit you wring your hands over. You're wasting the country's time. You're wasting my time, not to mention the money I forked over to the DNC last week. The only way to break your addiction to these navel-gazing, self-deprecating process pieces is to go cold turkey. Every time you feel compelled to explain to people that you know you suck, but you also know that you have to do or say something to convince them that you don't suck, zap yourself in the genitals with a taser. The only result of this kind of bullshit is to convince voters that you're as calculating and insincere as Republicans say you are. You sound like they've broken you, broken your party so that all you know how to do is fight each other over who can do a better job of demonizing your own left wing, and maybe Master won't beat you so hard next time, even though you know deep down that you deserve it.

Or maybe Paul Craig Roberts is right, and Bush simply has pictures of all of you choking on dick, along with logs of all your visits to goat porn sites.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


The Wisdom of Solomon

"Dad, I punch you."

"Abe, that's not funny."

"It's so funny I might chuckle."


"Dad, I tie you up in rope, la la la, throw you out window."

"Did you just say you were going to tie me up and throw me out the window?"

"No. I sang it."


"Abe, say the alphabet."

"A, Q, C, W...hey, wait. I don't know the alphabet!"

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