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… and says, “Hang on a minute….”

Dirk Deppey sez, in attempting to refute John Byrne’s arguments against original graphic novels (a noble, if not difficult, endeavor):

Moreover, consider the notion that no one will pay for a $20 book without having read it in pamphlet form first. Can anyone who’s given the bookstore market even a cursory examination do anything but laugh? How does Byrne think hardcover prose novels sell? The argument’s equally idiotic where graphic novels are concerned. Picture Craig Thompson, Joe Sacco and Marjane Satrapi smacking their foreheads and crying, “Why, God, why didn’t I listen to John Byrne when I had the chance!?!” Mind you, Thompson, Sacco and Satrapi produce works that the average person in the street might actually want to read

While I understand the argument he’s making, that people choose what to read largely based on reviews and recommendations rather than just wanting extra copies in different formats of books they’ve already read, it might have been a bit stronger if more than one out of the three examples worked primarily in original graphic novels. Maybe 1.5, if we count making two volumes of French Persepolis into one book for the anglophone market as still dealing in graphic novels. It’s a story told in segments, of which the version I read is one, but so are its constituent books and the other parts of the series. Maybe the issue is that 80 pages in French b/w does not a pamphlet make? I don’t know how anyone could claim Sacco was saving is work for his graphic novels, though, since Safe Area Gorazde (and I apologize to any linguistic purists that html doesn’t seem to allow me to use the proper “z”) had the preceding comics journalism he had published in various venues during the war serving as a teaser for discerning readers and Notes from a Defeatist is a collection of previously published works. I don’t follow Deppey closely, though, and I’m not sure how limiting his definition of a graphic novel is. Is Persepolis a limited series? Is Notes from a Defeatist not a graphic novel in that it’s not a novel by standard criteria, whatever those are? I really don’t know and it’s not a question that interests me.

Anyway, yes, it’s good that people read works that are interesting and getting a lot of critical attention, like the books of all three cited writers. I also believe it’s bad to take John Byrne seriously, but perhaps someone’s gotta do it. The truly horrifying thing is that people do, and concur.

And on a last and unrelated note, Deppey says Byrne “stands athwart history and says ‘Stop!’” a quick search shows that perhaps Byrne should have been yelling, but maybe he just doesn’t have as much energy as the young William F. Buckley, Jr. I’m frightened I caught the reference and want to know whether it was supposed to have political implications about Deppey’s already uncloaked opinions about John Byrne or whether it’s a throwaway line. Both, probably.

More Decadent Baby Talk

Tiffany jewelry offers the perfect reward for a hard-working mother, a $7K diamond watch suitable for diaper changing!

I’m really not sure who the target audience is. I assume it’s not 1950s-era glamour girls with new babies, and it’s presumably not for people who imagine themselves that way, since that seems like a fairly specialized fetish. But do people who appreciate irony spend thousands at Tiffany? Some must, I suppose. I certainly don’t. And yet I’m fascinated with the picture. I’d appreciate a poster, even. But it doesn’t make me want a watch, only an explanation.

I guess fashion photography has its own idioms. I enjoyed the New York Times weekend magazine spreads in my early teens for their sheer lunacy, the high-gloss hideousness they portrayed with a poker face so that I never knew if people really wore parts of these outfits or if the whole industry was a colossal joke. Even crazier are the ads for perfumes, since anything beyond the despised stinky envelopes in magazines or mailings is only about conveying a mood, and I really don’t see the connection between my self-esteem and scented water, but perhaps that’s a personal flaw. I’m also wondering who’s sold on the right-hand diamond phenomenon (temporary link, requires free login), a marketing campaign designed by the diamond cartel to get women to buy themselves diamond rings, since engagement ring sales aren’t doing enough for the industry. I’m sure it’s terribly liberating not to wait around for a ring, but why not just ditch the diamonds altogether if the symbology of the engagement ring is so oppressive?

Then again, I’m not immune to the power of advertising images. I went head-over-heels for a car commercial (I thought Volkswagen, but I can’t find anything about it on their website) showing a South Asian American family. There wasn’t anything special about the commercial, but it was so refreshing to see a “different” look from what’s usually given that I got all excited and happy. This is yet one more reason I don’t watch much tv.

Is no news good news?

This just in! Jessica Simpson isn’t pregnant! Not only that, but she doesn’t even plan to become pregnant any time soon! Moreover, if she were pregnant, she probably wouldn’t star in a show about it on MTV. Stay tuned for more updates in this shocking turn of events.

I realize celebrity worship is big and that I’m utterly unamerican for not having a celebrity crush (and maybe for other reasons) but I really hope there was some context to this other than “Britney’s in the news; better put out a press release.” That still doesn’t explain why anyone would publish it, though.

And just for the record, me, I’m not pregnant. Not even looking for a dog. Everything’s just a-ok, not that anyone asked me either.


So far, the major drawback to Quicksilver is that it doesn’t lend itself to bathtub reading. The deliberate (I assume!) anachronisms are endearing and the story trips along steadily. I’m ashamed I’m not breezing through it, but I save it for bedtime reading. Since my Christmas hints went unnoticed, I might as well toss out that an excellent birthday present would be a little shelf that fits over the bathtub and facilitates safe book-balancing. It makes a perfect gift for someone who hates my writing, since I’d never bother with the internet if I could live in my bath.

Prolegomena to a theory of why I like stuff

I watched more movies in 2003 than any year before, and that seems to be a continuing trend. I’ve never been good with movies, neither an ideal nor indulgent viewer, but I have strong views and tastes. I’m still not sure I can explain or excuse or codify these, but I have a new way of looking at it. When thinking about what I would teach in a film studies course, I thought I’d focus on the creation of self through narrative, and I realized this would be a way for me to fit in basically all my favorites.

I’d start the course with one of my 2003 finds, Capturing the Friedmans (registration required), which collects personal testimonials from participants in a child sexual abuse scandal of the 1980s. Memory is fickle, and we get to see stories change, move towards or away from verifiable “truths” in different tellings, and that doesn’t even include all the places where truth can’t get in, real and imagined and reimagined motivations.

A police detective describes stacks of pornography strewn around the house where police photos show there were none. One student speaks of suffering extreme, public sexual abuse, while a classmate denies witnessing or experiencing any of this. Then there’s the family of the accused, trying to figure out what went wrong and where and how, and how to allocate and accept guilt. It quickly becomes clear that no one has the whole story, no one is a totally sympathetic character. Yet everyone is presumably being honest and forthright and trying to make a public record of The Truth from their perspective. This messy conglomerate gets closer to any sort of truth or understanding than any single narrative could.

I was thrilled with the film for several reasons, but mostly because it makes its postmodern unease so natural and inevitable that no one watching can hope to figure out what really happened, since that whole idea has become nonsensical. Instead, it’s a story about how the characters decide for themselves what happened, based on what they experienced and also what they want or believe or need to think to keep living as they do, and the audience is complicit in this endeavor. I would like to think even reticent students would be inspired or tempted to continue such evaluation in their own worlds.

So we are the stories we tell, both narrator and protagonist, as well as (un)written product. We are what we see in ourselves and what we refuse to see. I prefer art that acknowledges this, evaluates it, extends it. This trend and focus is antithetical to the Oedipal trajectory, the Hollywood happy ending. Being a creating/created subject means not giving in to that closure, not accepting closure at all. After watching a movie this summer (and I won’t give away its name for fear of too much spoiling, and because it basically doesn’t matter) I’d said that every human story ends in death. What I meant by this in that particular case was that it should never be a surprise that death comes to a character, only when it does. Beyond that, there can be a rightness to a story’s conclusion, but no certainty, no predestination.

As a counterbalance, we watched Paycheck last night, perhaps a mistake. Ben Affleck is Michael Jennings, a reverse engineer of the future (in this case, December 2003) who, awakening with his memory wiped, realizes he’s sent himself clues to destroy the world-rending machine he’s created, not to mention stopping the Evil Corporate Executive who set him up, as well as Getting the Girl. It was painful to see all the clues available, see how long it took the characters to make banal and obvious observation and then wait for the inevitable conclusion. I laughed a lot, and did not stifle it as well as perhaps I should have. This was a movie with no narratives at all, really, just a mess of cliches, and certainly with no selves to the characters. Because of this (and other things, including truly inept dialogue) I found no way in, nothing to care about, no way to invest myself in the characters or the story or anything at all except the movie’s (be/a)musing pseudoclockwork.

I’m not sure I’ve gotten at what I like or what I mean, but I’ll come back to it later. I like my plots tight, my writing literary or sharp, but most of all my protagonists self-aware. I sometimes take “self” loosely and am not even sure this covers everything I like, but it seems like a good start and a safe barometer so far. At least I have some nascent theoretical explanation for my snobbishness now, and a new year in which to develop and test it.