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Peiratikos Live from Pittsburgh

[Edit by Steven: Fixed David’s URL.]

I’m writing this in our hotel room in Pittsburgh, because a certain member of the Peiratikos duo insisted on a hotel with free internet access. And we’ve come to Pittsburgh for the Pittsburgh Comicon, except not really. The con was fairly small and jammed full of vendors and pop culture icons (for lack of a better word) with a few artists interspersed. We came for the prospect of a blissful weekend away from reality, which really just means that there will be more bills and chores for next week than usual, and to meet fellow bloggers Ed Cunard and David Welsh, both of whom were delightful company and what I’d expected and hoped for and more. I’m amazed how comfortably real and online life parts can intersect.

I don’t really know what to say beyond that except that I was a thrifty spender (Steven is still in a mostly non-comics phase, plus I’m pushier) and we have a whole bunch of trade paperbacks to read now, although I’m strongly tempted to write something about each story in Project Superior. All of that is for later, though, since the night is young and there’s so much time for me to sleep! Before that, though, I need to preserve for posterity the photographic evidence of this historic meeting.

Rose, Ed, David
Rose, Ed, David, looking our best for this mug shot.
Steven, Rose, David
Steven, Rose, David: same setup.

And that’s it for me, happy tonight.

I’m not wincing alone

This time Ken set me off (you guys do know it’s conceptual art, right?) but this is a post I’ve wanted to write or maybe a better way to say it is felt I ought to write about once a week since at least last summer. I know I’ve asked before where all these rape jokes among comics bloggers come from, but what worries me more is where they’re going.

I was 17 when I was raped, not even a month into my first semester in college. I was Brilliant, Attractive Girl who seems a Bit of a Headcase, though I was dangerously scrawny under my too-large clothes and had lopped off my hair to try to undermine or circumvent any potential attractiveness. And so I ended up helping a dormmate, an international student, proofread a paper he’d written. I wondered what he was doing at the school with the level of English he had, since clearly he couldn’t keep up with even the basics of his classes. I wondered what I was doing there when clearly I would fit in better if I had the money he did and, like him, spent much of it on beer. And when he pushed me to the ground, I didn’t call for help because I didn’t want it, didn’t want anyone to see me being debased, didn’t want any evidence of the most humiliating, horrifying moment of my life. I sobbed and had a panic attack instead so that he had to pry my spasming legs apart. I went back to my room still sobbing and stayed in bed a few days and crumpled those sweatpants, underwear, turtleneck in the bottom of my closet. I threw them away when I withdrew from school not long after, well before he was forced out for failing grades and drug infractions. I didn’t tell anyone until it was too late to do whatever could have been done.

I know that was a long time ago. I don’t cry about it much, didn’t even feel that gnawing ache when the season came around last year. I did my suffering already, a year I don’t remember spent depressed almost to the point of catatonia, relationships where I tried to destroy myself or let myself be destroyed. I went back to my college and did my time making reparations, working as an educator and crafting policy with the administration, supporting others, being a visible face as the out survivor on campus. I did my forgiving pretty early on because it seemed like the only tenable option to me. I can understand (sort of) how sad and powerless he must have been to think that preying on me could give him any satisfaction or status, because I was the only person around who was lower than he was. When I learned at 17 that he’d told the guys on his floor about it, I had a breakdown. Now I wonder if they pitied him too.

And that was a long time ago and I’m over it to the extent that I’ll ever be, healthy, happy, in love and loved. And so it’s not that I feel personally hurt when I read rape jokes or have to hear guys (guys, always guys) talking about the vengeance they would take if the women they love were assaulted. (And by no means do I want to minimize the extent to which men can be victims of sexual assault, especially as children. But I think a lot of the people who make jokes about prison rape do, because sex and power and masculinity are all tied up in a little package that doesn’t allow them to think of themselves as ever being at risk or unsafe.) I don’t feel hurt but just annoyed, because I know when you talk like that you’re not talking to me. Because I know what it’s like, or know what it was like for myself to suffer at least and have heard others’ stories, and I can’t make the same kinds of jokes. But at the same time I don’t think I should be forced to avoid the Fanboy Rampage comments section just because it’s pretty much guaranteed there will be someone else there who clearly thinks he can. I’m not asking for deference or even really an explanation, because I’ve never gotten one before. I’m just shocked or surprised or amazed that so many bloggers live in a world where people like me don’t exist or at least don’t read their blogs, where the constant references couldn’t be seen as hurtful. I think there’s a reason I never heard a female student say, “Oh, that test totally assraped me,” and it has something to do with the education sessions we’d do where everyone who knew someone who’d been sexually assaulted was asked to stand. While few freshman stood up, by senior year it seemed like nobody stayed seated. There’s some line between gallows humor and something that cuts too close or is just plain disrespectful, and I think that’s another reason I sometimes feel left out of the testosterone stew in these parts of the web. It just doesn’t compute.

And I don’t really know why I’m writing this except that I’m sick of having it in my head every time I do read all this casual rape-talk. I’m not trying to police anybody and I pick on Ken because I’ve talked to him about this a bit before and don’t think what I say will hurt his feelings; he likes to be inflammatory and, I think, sees rape jokes as one more extension of that. And that’s his decision and it shouldn’t have anything to do with me and won’t and doesn’t keep me from reading whatever he has to say. This isn’t a situation where first they came for the rape jokes and eventually all we could joke about were elephants jumping out of trees, or at least that’s not what I hope I’m saying. It’s more that I’m jealous of all these people who somehow have the option not to care about it, not to have that word jump out at them, to be able to use it casually and metaphorically. It’s not that I want to live that way as much as that I can’t and I’m amazed they can. The problem is the way those words self-select similar readers. I can handle them with only minor annoyance, but there are plenty of other people with personal stories much worse than mine who can’t or won’t or shouldn’t. And it bothers me that this sort of talk deliberately excludes them from any conversation it infects. But maybe there just aren’t a lot of rape survivors reading comics and comics blogs and maybe I’m completely overreacting. The problem is that none of us have any way to know for sure.

And it’s not that I think my fellow bloggers are misogynists who live in isolation, either. I think most of them who mention sexual assault, especially in this post-Identity Crisis age do so because they think it’s worth reminding everyone of the extent to which it doesn’t belong in a sensical and healthy universe, but it’s easier to do it by joking about how the only way to have a blockbuster comics is on-panel sexual assault than it is to write an over-earnest post about why sexual assault is bad. So I realize I’m upsetting the balance by taking just that tack, but I figured this was worth saying and maybe now I won’t feel I need to say it anymore.

“All the books that were ever written in anyone’s head”

I’m really having trouble writing for this blog lately. I don’t know if it’s spring and the last few days of warmth before my life becomes all work all the time or what, but my brain is not here.

My body’s here, though (and there were body-related reasons for my absence, including a pretty spectacular blow to the head; from now on I’ll remember where the shelf is before standing up beneath it) and I guess that’s what I’m going to talk about. Our latest comics haul included the first girl-directed manga I think I’ve read, Paradise Kiss volume 1, as well as the first female-fronted floppy comic I’ve read in a long time, the first Seven Soldiers issue of Zatanna. There was something exciting and pleasant in reading about women for a change, even though neither is all that much like me. (Okay, I am going to confess later about how very, very autobiographical my reading of Paradise Kiss is, but probably not tonight.) It’s not that I think either was a peculiarly feminine book, but I did find myself responding differently and want to think about that.

The most interesting thing about Zatanna is that it’s not as much a story as a bunch of bits of other stories thrown together into one volume. I haven’t read enough DC stories to know if the people in her superhero self-esteem support group are standard characters or whether they were created just for this. And I can assume that the locust riders are the little fellows we met in JLA Classified, although I like the hidden implication that a plague of locusts just disguises the real invasion, the tricky riders. The backstory of any of the characters who accompany Zatanna out of the world might be more interesting than her solipsistic self-analysis, but I don’t know if we’ll ever find out why Taia’s body ages and regenerates. I assume we’ll find more about Baron Winter, the separate seventh member of the crew. And all of this would have been more interesting to me than Zatanna’s self-pity (and I think it is that, rather than guilt, that really drives her here) and it’s because of this that I assume the story is supposed to be annoying, that the support group frame story is a support itself.

Because really Zatanna’s problem is that she can’t realize she’s in a story. Even though she’s been to the world of unwritten books, she somehow still thinks she’s a free agent. And so while rational people who’ve been haunted by terrifying dreams would hear the background music rumbling ominously when considering a spell that says, “Bring me the man of my dreams,” that’s not how it works for Zatanna. She thinks that because she has the power to write the world with her spells, no one or nothing could be writing her. (And I do think there are hints enough even beyond the obvious one that the author is Grant Morrison that an underlying theme of Seven Soldiers will be something about fictionality and the way people long for and reject an author and a template for their lives.) And so she does what a person who’s been sleeping badly, haunted by horrible dreams might do: she makes a stupid, thoughtless decision that makes everything worse.

But really, that’s the problem with writing your own life. You get to sabotage your character development, get yourself stuck in ruts that would drive a reader crazy. And that’s Zatanna’s problem, that she’s become a dull character. If she can take the sort of drama that wins her a prize at the superhero support group, look the end of the world in the face and still think that it’s all about her, she has issues and she’s being aggravatingly human. To me, that’s refreshing. I’m not sure there are many superhero stories that are about the complete alienation from the doing stupid, self-defeating things that seem to comprise a lot of human existence, but they wouldn’t be very interesting to me even if there were. At the end of the book, Zatanna has lost her power to write, to create with magic, and is miserable thinking of herself as just another person, another character. I look forward to watching her embrace that more than I do the presumably inevitable return of her magic powers.

I’m getting repetitive, so I’m not going to go on about this anymore and will save Paradise Kiss (which I really enjoyed) for another night. I’ll just add that when I was a tiny girl, age 3 or 4 or so, when I’d get tired I’d start talking in a sort of third person. “‘I find myself getting tired,’ she said,” I’d say. The boundaries between fiction and non- would start to blur, and I’d be narrating myself. Luckily my relatives found this endearing rather than disturbing, but I think it was a telling sign about how I viewed the world. It was hard for me to believe that I wasn’t story fodder for someone (maybe God, although I hoped he’d have the decency to check in on someone else when I was in the bathroom) and that stories weren’t real in their own ways. I was convinced that because of the word-power of my name I could hide in wild rosebushes during hide-and-seek games and that they would accept me as one of their own. This seemed to work, but maybe would have worked for anyone small who was willing to move deliberately. Later I decided I was my own writer, which has its ups and downs. I wish I were more dedicated, more self-assured, more willing to let myself have great adventures, but I instead had to focus on Zatanna’s story arc, stopping myself from being a martyr and denying myself anything that could lead to happiness or satisfaction. Now I don’t know what I believe, but that doesn’t matter to me. I know how to treat myself and try to treat the other characters I meet with respect and interest. This goes for Zatanna too.

Movies for the ET Kids!

In honor of one year of Milo George and his quest to end Endemic Treponematosis, we’re stuck with a movie meme.

But we couldn’t quite follow the rules, especially since we have a policy of not passing on these stupid things. However, if you want to swipe a copy, this one wouldn’t be your worst choice. We realphabetized the list to get things where they belong to begin with and to treat numbers differently and ignore leading articles in all titles, English or not. Foreign movies are listed by what we deem as the most readily recognizable title here in the U.S. All movies have years associated, now including ones directed by Kevin Smith (which Steven wouldn’t let me remove). The Three Colors trilogy only shows up once instead of twice, although it’s a little crazy that the Matrix trilogy gets three entries when Kieslowski and Satyajit Ray get three-in-one treatment.

And speaking of three colors, movies seen by Steven and not me are displayed in red. Movies only Rose has seen are blue. Movies we have both seen, together or separately, show up in purple, which I realize is sickeningly symbolic and romantic and whatnot. Movies we own are in bold. Because of this, we apologize to any visually impaired readers, but you’re really not missing anything if you have to skip this post anyway.

  • Adaptation. (2002)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1939)
  • After Dark, My Sweet (1990)
  • Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
  • Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
  • Alien (1979)
  • All About Eve (1950)
  • Amadeus (1984)
  • Amarcord (1974)
  • American Beauty (1999)
  • The American President (1995)
  • American Splendor (2003)
  • The Animatrix (2003)
  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • The Apartment (1960)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • The Apu Trilogy (1955 - 1959)
  • Around the Bend (2004)
  • L’Atalante (1934)
  • Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
  • L’Avventura (1960)
  • The Band Wagon (1953)
  • The Bank Dick (1940)
  • Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen) (1983)
  • Batman (1966)
  • Batman (1989)
  • The Battle of Algiers (1967)
  • Battle Royale (2000)
  • The Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  • Beat the Devil (1954)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1946)
  • Being John Malkovich (1999)
  • Being There (1979)
  • Belle de Jour (1967)
  • The Bicycle Thief (1949)
  • The Big Heat (1953)
  • The Big One (1997)
  • The Big Red One (1980)
  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  • Blowup (1966)
  • The Blue Kite (1993)
  • Blue Velvet (1986)
  • Bob le Flambeur (1955)
  • Body Heat (1981)
  • Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  • Le Boucher (1970)
  • Bound (1996)
  • Bowling for Columbine (2002)
  • Breathless (1960)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
  • Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
  • Broken Blossoms (1919)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Casino Royale (1967)
  • Chasing Amy (1997)
  • Un Chien Andalou (1928)
  • Children of Paradise (1945)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • A Christmas Story (1983)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • City Lights (1931)
  • Clerks (1994)
  • The Color of Paradise (1999)
  • The Color Purple (1985)
  • Comic Book Villains (2002)
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982)
  • The Conversation (1974)
  • Cries and Whispers (1972)
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  • Crumb (1994)
  • Damage (1992)
  • Daredevil (2003)
  • Day for Night (1973)
  • The Day of the Dolphin (1973)
  • Days of Heaven (1978)
  • The Decalogue (1988)
  • Detour (1945)
  • Die Hard (1988)
  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
  • Do the Right Thing (1989)
  • La Dolce Vita (1960)
  • Donnie Darko (2001)
  • Don’t Look Now (1974)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  • Dracula (1931)
  • Duck Soup (1933)
  • Dune (1984)
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  • The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
  • Easy Rider (1969)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  • Ed Wood (1994)
  • 8 1/2 (1963)
  • Elektra (2005)
  • The Elephant Man (1980)
  • Eraserhead (1977)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • The Exterminating Angel (1962)
  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
  • Fanny and Alexander (1983)
  • Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
  • Fargo (1996)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
  • The Firemen’s Ball (1968)
  • Five Easy Pieces (1970)
  • Floating Weeds (1959)
  • Four Rooms (1995)
  • The 400 Blows (1959)
  • From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
  • From Hell (2001)
  • Gates of Heaven (1978)
  • The General (1927)
  • Ghost World (2000)
  • Gigli (2003)
  • Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • Goldfinger (1964)
  • Gone With the Wind (1939)
  • The Goodbye Girl (1977)
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1968)
  • GoodFellas (1991)
  • The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
  • Grand Illusion (1937)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  • Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
  • Great Expectations (1946)
  • Greed (1925)
  • Groundhog Day (1993)
  • The Hand (1981)
  • A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
  • The Hearts of Age (1934)
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
  • Hellboy (2004)
  • High Fidelity (2000)
  • Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
  • Hoop Dreams (1994)
  • House of Games (1987)
  • The Hustler (1961)
  • I ♥ Huckabees (2004)
  • Ikiru (1952)
  • In Cold Blood (1967)
  • The Incredibles (2004)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • Jackie Brown (1997)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • JFK (1991)
  • Jules et Jim (1961)
  • Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
  • Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
  • Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
  • Killing Zoe (1994)
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
  • King Kong (1933)
  • Lagaan (2001)
  • The Lady Eve (1941)
  • The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
  • The Last Laugh (1924)
  • The Last Picture Show (1971)
  • Last Tango in Paris (1972)
  • Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
  • Late Spring (1972)
  • The Lathe of Heaven (1980)
  • Laura (1944)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
  • Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
  • The Leopard (1963)
  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
  • The Lion King (1994)
  • Lolita (1962)
  • Lolita (1997)
  • Lost Highway (1997)
  • M (1931)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  • Mallrats (1995)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • The Man Who Laughs (1928)
  • The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  • Manhattan (1979)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
  • The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  • Mean Streets (1973)
  • Metropolis (1926)
  • Mon Oncle (1958)
  • Moonstruck (1987)
  • Moulin Rouge (2002)
  • Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
  • Mulholland Dr. (2001)
  • The Music Room (1958)
  • My Darling Clementine (1946)
  • My Dinner With Andre (1981)
  • My Life to Live (1963)
  • My Neighbor Totoro (1993)
  • Nashville (1975)
  • Natural Born Killers (1994)
  • Network (1976)
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Nights of Cabiria (1957)
  • El Norte (1983)
  • Nosferatu (1922)
  • Notorious (1946)
  • On the Waterfront (1954)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  • Orphée (1949)
  • Out of the Past (1947)
  • Pandora’s Box (1928)
  • Paris, Texas (1984)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  • Paths of Glory (1957)
  • Patton (1970)
  • Peeping Tom (1960)
  • Persona (1966)
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
  • Pickpocket (1959)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Pinocchio (1940)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
  • Pixote (1981)
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
  • Playtime (1967)
  • The Producers (1968)
  • The Prophecy (1995)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • Raise the Red Lantern (1990)
  • Ran (1985)
  • Rashomon (1950)
  • Rear Window (1954)
  • Red River (1948)
  • The Red Shoes (1948)
  • Reservoir Dogs (1992)
  • Return to Glennascaul (1951)
  • Rififi (1954)
  • The Right Stuff (1983)
  • Roger & Me (1989)
  • Romeo and Juliet (1968)
  • Romeo + Juliet (1996)
  • The Rules of the Game (1939)
  • Le Samouraï (1967)
  • Santa Sangre (1989)
  • Saturday Night Fever (1977)
  • Say Anything (1989)
  • Scarface (1983)
  • The Scarlet Empress (1934)
  • Schindler’s List (1993)
  • The Searchers (1956)
  • Se7en (1995)
  • The Seven Samurai (1954)
  • The Seventh Seal (1957)
  • Shane (1953)
  • Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • Solaris (1972)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)
  • Spider-Man (2002)
  • Spider-Man 2 (2004)
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Star Trek: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Star Trek: The Final Frontier (1989)
  • Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  • Star Trek: Generations (1994)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  • Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
  • Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
  • Star Wars (1977)
  • The Straight Story (1999)
  • The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977)
  • The Stranger (1946)
  • Strangers on a Train (1951)
  • Strictly Ballroom (1992)
  • Stroszek (1977)
  • A Sunday in the Country (1984)
  • Superman (1978)
  • Sunrise (1928)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  • Swing Time (1936)
  • A Tale of Winter (1992)
  • The Tao of Steve (2000)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
  • The Thin Man (1934)
  • The Third Man (1949)
  • This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
  • The Three Colors Trilogy (1994)
  • Three Women (1977)
  • Tokyo Story (1953)
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
  • Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954)
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  • The Trial (1962)
  • Trouble in Paradise (1932)
  • True Romance (1993)
  • 12 Angry Men (1957)
  • 28 Days Later (2002)
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • Ugetsu (1953)
  • Umberto D (1952)
  • Unforgiven (1992)
  • Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002)
  • The Up Documentaries (1964-1998 [so far!])
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Victim (1961)
  • Walkabout (1971)
  • West Side Story (1961)
  • Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)
  • Wild at Heart (1990)
  • The Wild Bunch (1969)
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • Wings of Desire (1988)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Woman in the Dunes (1964)
  • A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
  • A Woman’s Tale (1992)
  • Written on the Wind (1956)
  • X-Men (2000)
  • X2 (2003)
  • xXx (2002)
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
  • A Year of the Quiet Sun (1984)
  • Yellow Submarine (1968)

“In the world of the super-cowboys, there’s always blood.”

And I’m driven to post again! Have I mentioned yet that I think I’m in love with James Smith’s blog? Clearly the best blog source for non-stop really good writing on comics is Jog - the Blog, but I’ve really been enjoying James’s takes on comics and blogging. And then today’s installment was so full of things I find interesting that I finally felt compelled to actually write a post of my own rather than just spout off in the comments thread (though I may find myself doing that anyway at some point) to talk about sex, violence and recent Grant Morrison. I’ll start by saying I’m going to disregard everything Grant Morrison says, because I think he’s really only useful when writing fiction. His interviews seem manipulative and ridiculous, though I read and enjoy them anyway.

I think I’ve always been public here about my discomfort with overt violence in life and art. I (used to) go berserk watching movies with car chases because there are never any repercussions, never any reparations for the property damages. And I care more about all the fictional people whose lives are being ruined when their stores are destroyed and their cars smashed and so on than I do about the perfect-haired protagonists. And it’s not that I’m trying to hide from the fact that violence exists in reality. As a kid, I was obsessed with reading about the Holocaust and dressing like a WW II war orphan. After a few years, this led into stories about nuclear holocaust, and from there to nonfiction accounts of life in warzones of several sorts. There are some nasty (although not really violent) episodes I’ve suffered in my own history, and I’ve ended up doing a lot of counseling for other sexual assault survivors and tons of education on the topic. It’s not that I think any of this should be glossed over, but that I think the standard portrayal of violence does just that. It’s because I know how real the real world is that I don’t like rape jokes or movies starring automatic weapons or anything in which people get kicked in the crotch. Other people know about the real world and like these things; I’m really just talking about me.

And then there’s sex, which I’ll touch on quickly before dropping (I hope). I wrote about breasts in Sgt. Frog, and I keep thinking back to that in the recent discussion of gender roles and sexual violence in manga and for manga readers. I had surmised that some young, female readers might not see the breasts as offensive but be willing to read against the grain for a more liberating version of events. I don’t know what girls actually do think about this sort of thing, and that seems to be the question everyone is wondering about. Having been a girl not long ago, I can only assume the answers would be ambiguous and passionate and a bit muddled, or else that the speakers might change or expand their opinions in a few years. I know that sounds awfully dismissive, but I imagine in a few years I’ll be able to look back on this post and see it as not only uncharacteristic of what I’ll believe then, but not wholly aware enough of my situation now. Anyway, the point is that I’m sure there are plenty of problems with sexism and non-consensual sex in manga, and that this is something manga fans should be analyzing and addressing. I don’t like the idea that just because the problem may be different and bigger in American comics, particularly the superhero ones, there’s no room for people to be critical of issues in manga and among manga readers. (This is all an aside I did not mean to make.)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about sex in the way James talked about sex, looking at The Whip from Seven Soldiers #0. This is completely my own crazy bias and I realize it makes no sense, but my general thought is that characters who are wearing more fetishy clothing (The Whip, new Batgirl, especially in her sewn-shut mouth days) seem more self-assured, as if they have made choices about their attire. I’m not sure what I’m comparing them to, but The Whip is much more palatable to me than Phoenix, at least costume-wise. The self-aware characterization helps, of course, but I’m more comfortable with sex and sexualized bodies when they’re not also being sold as wholesome. (And maybe Phoenix isn’t the best example there, but instead The Wasp or something. I dunno.) Since I’m not actually making an argument here, I’ll just add that I’ve been wanting to make a joke about how the real reason I read superhero comics is because they make me feel normal for having scoliosis. But even my body doesn’t twist the way superheroines’ often have to. And of course the best place for an abstract joke is way in the middle of an unrelated post. Maybe I’ll resuscitate it someday.

In mentioning Vimanarama #2, I said that I wasn’t sold on the coloring, and was reminded of that when James talked about the uneasy mix between romantic comedy and fairly grisly violence. Because the violence is just as shiny and pretty as everything else, I think we’re supposed to infer that there is no break, no real division. And despite talking about the place of violence in the fabric of reality right above, I’m going to say that I don’t like its place here. I don’t like that it’s as cartoony as everything else, that head-smashing has the same weight as the moment before a kiss. Maybe it does in reality and maybe it should in some stories, but I’m just not convinced that this is the right story, the right balance. But maybe the problem, too, is that I fear I’d like the story more if the fighting took place farther off-panel and the other sorts of conflict got more pagetime.

And yet I don’t have the same problem with The Manhattan Guardian #1. The violence is lurid and vibrantly colored but I was able to skim over it without feeling bad for not being more invested and without feeling like I was missing out, as in Vimanarama. It was just a violent backdrop, an extremely violent backdrop, to what is probably going to be a violent story. Like James, this elicits no real emotional response from me. Am I supposed to be horrified? Intrigued? Aroused? Beats me, and not just because I don’t go in for that authorial intent stuff much. I just don’t go in for watching people beat each other up, have never found it cathartic to read about a pivotal punch. So why do I read this stuff? Beats me, at least to some extent. I guess I find it interesting to see what gets built around the violence, what the rest of the story is. I let myself believe/pretend that everything else is the real story with the violence as some sort of metaphor-heavy frosting. I’m not sure if those of use who read this way (James, I think, and David Fiore and myself) all do it in the same way and if our readings differ greatly from the normal ones. I guess the more important thing is that it doesn’t matter to me and that I keep on doing mine. So this is some sort of segue back to blogging, I hope.

Rose’s Book Picks

Yes, I’ve been gone for a million years. No, I don’t have a good excuse. For those who had behind-the-scenes information, Steven’s wisdom teeth came out successfully with only minor weird snags. I’ve got ideas for several posts I’d like to make, but first I have to play along because Lyle Masaki hit me with the little book meme, although I’m considering doing the big book meme too, although with a certain amount of commentary to make it a little more worthwhile and to disobey the rules.

Anyway, here’s the best I can do bookwise:

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Ian Brill said that he wouldn’t want to have to recite all of Infinite Jest, which has convinced me I would. It would be so much fun to figure out how to deal with all the footnotes and footnotes to footnotes that I’d never have to recite it the same way twice.

When I was a tiny kid and had a better memory than I do now, I could recite full pages of several of the Narnia books, but I don’t think that’s what I’d want to keep with me for all time. I’m not sure David Foster Wallace is either, but I’m hoping that if I ever get stuck inside Fahrenheit 451 it’s a pretty safe bet that this post won’t be considered legally binding.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I know I’ve written here before that I’m really bad at having celebrity crushes. It just doesn’t seem plausible that anyone I don’t know would want a relationship with me, nor would I with someone I don’t know well. So while this all seems like nonsense to me, I’m going to give this my best shot and Steven will probably tease me later for being inadequate and lying. Anyway, I’m not really sure. As a child, I was very taken with Ernestine Gilbreth of Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes, although since they’re basically autobiographical that probably only counts on a technicality. I certainly idealized and adored and yearned for all three main characters in Emma Donoghue’s Stir-Fry, which might be as close to a crush as I can get. I was often convinced as a child that if I could only meet the characters I was reading about, they would be better friends than any live children could be, and I suppose it’s this sense of cosmic rightness on an adult scale that’s what constitutes crushes of this sort. Boy, I’m not answering the question. Maybe I should move on and come back if I actually think of anything.

The last book you bought is:
Not counting comics/trade paperbacks, it was probably when a trip to a used bookstore in Knoxville netted me a whole load of feminist theory stuff, especially several books on eating disorders for well under $1 each. Oh, and a very cool-looking book, The Medieval Greek Romance, which I haven’t begun yet.

I tend not to buy myself new books much because they’re so expensive and I’m so stingy. My rule used to be that I only bought very cheap books or books I knew I’d lend out, but I’ve loosened that rule a bit.

The last book you read:

Again, excepting all the comics I’ve been reading, I think the last book I finished would be The World According to Mimi Smartypants, which is a collection of posts from the blog of Mimi Smartypants. I’d already read all the posts in their original, more fun and hyperlinky context, but while I won’t go so far as to call this a character crush, I do sort of think of Mimi Smartypants as an alternate universe version of me, if I’d managed to do cool things and have better friends and druggier experiences and a different homelife, but with the same violin background and dorky Greek obsession. I can’t believe I’m admitting this on the blog, which is yet another proof that even if I’m right I am indeed the doofus version.

I read Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in fairly quick succession a few months ago and haven’t read much fiction since then, although I’m about to swing back in that direction.

What are you currently reading?

Oy. This is embarrassing, because as I said I’m very much between novels and so have a bunch of different things going and going slowly. Bedtime reading has been Kim Chernin’s The Hungry Self: Women, Eating, and Identity, which is not too exciting but still a seminal eating disorder book. Various articles from Feminism Beside Itself and The New Feminist Criticism show up as bathtime reading when I’m not featuring manga or a frivolous magazine. And then I really need to get back to Victorian Sappho, a book by Yopie Prins on reinterpretations of Sappho’s poetry and biography/identity by Victorian poets, because I haven’t even gotten to the argument about how my beloved Swinburne’s uses of her meters have more to do with the way they sound like flogging than the extent to which they are direct homage. And of my birthday books, I must admit I’m only reading Epileptic and slowly for some reason, I think to savor it. Usually I’m an unstoppable reader who devours things, but I’m taking my time here and haven’t even gotten out of the material covered in the first volume I’d already read.

Five books you would take to a deserted island.
(Was anyone else annoyed by the way this quiz started with full sentences and fell away from it quickly?)

Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. Adam Stephanides is rereading it and now a blogless friend is reading it for the first time and I’m tempted to go back into it. It’s a book that could sustain many rereadings and hold me for a long time.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. Maybe Cassandra should count as a crush, because her voice is one of the most amazing and consistent of any I’ve ever read. This book makes me laugh every time I read it.

I’d need some giant poetry collection, Norton or something. I used to have an amazing two-volume set of 20th century poetry, Poems for the Millennium, but I’d need it to cover more time than that.

And since I think I’d want something to keep me cheerful, I’m going to go for a massive P.G. Wodehouse collection of Jeeves & Wooster stories over Robert Benchley’s My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew, but it’s a tough decision and one I’d probably regret a bit eventually.

Fifth is going to be my cheaty one. I want The Odyssey in Greek, but of course my Greek isn’t good enough to just read it, so I need a dictionary and maybe a grammar and some pens and notebooks, which would help pass the rest of the time anyway. I figure this is no worse than people bringing the complete works of Dickens or something like that. And I won’t even try to sneak in The Iliad on analogous grounds, because they clearly have different authors and I clearly prefer one to the other. Although both Andromache and Hector give some potentially crush-worthy speeches….

“Careful! It’s razor-sharp.”

So I haven’t been here in a while, it seems. I’ve been sick a lot this winter, but also just completely worn down. I don’t know when either of those will relent for good, but I’ll aim for weekly posting and see if I can work up from there. If I have anything to say (and I do have a big post on identification festering, but it’s not written yet) I’ll try to get it up here somehow. For tonight, though, just a few quick truths with little analysis.

Vimanarama #2 made me cry a little, but only a little. Dig the Taj Mahal interior, though! I’m not sold on the coloring and I read a lot faster when the Fireborn are doing their thing. I wish this were going to be more than three issues long.

What’s up with the (potential) total depletion of other Kentucky comics bloggers? To make up for the gaps in my pseudopeer group, I’m pushing for a clique of comics bloggers who read manga in the bathtub. It looks like there may be some overlap with the comics bloggers who enjoy gin (a more casual grouping that exists only in my head, as far as I know) which suggests some clear options for socializing that I’ll bet we’ll never try.

Steven is on spring break and thus did a Wednesday comic run, which still seems sort of weird and obscene to me, but I hoped it would net us Project Superior, which the store had not ordered. They should have one for us next week, and I do realize that if we weren’t so passive and uncomfortable talking to people we would have had one now. So there was none of that and no manga for my bath, so I resorted to feminist essay collections. From Feminism Beside Itself, I liked Elspeth Probyn’s piece, “Perverts by Choice.” She writes of belonging/be-longing as “a loose combinatoire of being and longing, becoming and nostalgia, as composed of lines of desire that run along the singularities of sexualities, bodies, spaces and places.” (264) I quote this not to scare anyone off from drinking gin or enjoying bathtime manga, but because it’s something I’m going to be thinking about off-blog and possibly but probably not on-.

I know not everyone liked I ♥ Huckabees, but I think the mud sex scene was one of the most emotionally realistic portrayals I’ve ever seen in a movie. Anyone who disagrees is wrong, but that’s ok; I know beauty when I see it. I got the double-disc set as a birthday present (thanks!) and am looking forward to rewatching the film itself this weekend. I got very close to finishing a major in philosophy before dropping it, in large part because I hated so many of the other students, so I’m not sure if that means I’m more sensitive or less sensitive to dopey philosophy stuff, but nothing in Huckabees bothered me.

And continuing my trend of no real segues, I’m probably going to be teaching a class on sock knitting, so I’ve been doing a bit of it myself. I have a really hideous pair I made to test some techniques and a cotton/wool yarn (I’ll have to teach on larger than sock yarn, though, because apparently size 0 needles terrify new knitters) and I should probably put a picture of them up here so that the ugliness will be a good incentive to post something substantive to get it off the top of the page. The plus side is that they fit me perfectly and keep my feet warm when it is too, too cold in the apartment, which has definitely been the case over the last few nights.

I haven’t yet done any blogger interviews because I haven’t really done much of anything except work ridiculously long hours and try to sleep (well, and knit socks). I think I’m getting close to having my research done for the first, though. I’m hoping I live in enough of a shame culture that my commenting on this will push me to do it, but past performance has not been a positive indicator, to use work-speak. Maybe soon.

“How can you be so shallow at a time like this?”

I think you can probably take it as a given that I’m going to remain a bad blogger for a while, but I’m not actually giving up. Instead I’m going to rant a bit (at least tonight) and that’s making me really excited. Rant!!

Steven and I got Vimanarama last week, since it was one of the few comics that needed to be bought the day it was out. Of course, it’s taken me almost a week to talk about it, but at least I’ve got an angle. Grant Morrison and Philip Bond have created the first segment of a three-part story about a young South Asian British guy, Ali, who meets his betrothed, Sofia, as they set off what may become the end of the world. I think the idea is sort of a Bollywood manga with Muslim leads, which was enough to have me sold on the story, but I’m afraid it may be just too alien for some readers. Even Jog, in an otherwise excellent analysis didn’t notice that the characters were in England, not India. Of course other readers didn’t notice that soccer is played with the feet and a black-and-white ball (I tease, Johnny! But is youth soccer not huge in your part of the state?) so maybe I shouldn’t write it off as cultural disconnect issues. Anyway, I very much enjoyed the book, but that’s not quite what I’m going to talk about.

Still, there’s one thing that’s getting to me, and that’s the issue of hijab, or Muslim dress (I use it here to mean specifically women’s headcoverings, but it’ll go a little beyond that). I’ll be quite open in saying that I’ve never been to the UK, but I think I can speak with a fair amount of certainty about young Muslim women in the American Midwest, and so that’s mostly what I’m going to do. Now, this is only the third mainstream comics story I’ve even read that involved veiled women to any major extent, the most recent previous being Morrison’s introduction of Dust in New X-Men. I know Dust is still an active character in the spinoff Mutant Academy X stories (or whatever the official title is now; it had two colons when I was reading it) but I haven’t kept up with those, despite being interested in what becomes of her, since what became of the rest of the characters didn’t mean anything to me at all. I was a little annoyed by the outfit she wore, since she’s from Afghanistan, which was certainly a topical locale, but where the blue burqa has taken on an almost mythical symbolic status, and yet she wears all black, scarf, gown, and face scarf (niqaab) which is a look I associate with Saudis or women from the Gulf states. It’s visually different from the Iranian chador, which generally includes a blanket-like rather than self-closing headcovering and no face-veil. So Dust was dressed this way because it made a good visual counterpoint to Fantomex, who had a similar amount of skin showing beneath his white helmet and bodysuit. I was just never convinced there was a good cultural justification and kept waiting for it to show up. I know modesty and self-respect are issues that are playing out for her in the newer X-Men book, but I’m not sure how well that will work.

The prior instance was a story written by Brian K. Vaughn for the JLA Annual #4, in which the JLA meet Turkey’s defender, young humanitarian doctor Selma Tolon a/k/a The Janissary. Her costume incorporates the Turkish flag and includes both a face veil of sorts and a red hijab. This made me laugh a lot, since part of Atat????rk’s secular revolution involved outlawing headcoverings for women in public schools or civil service positions. So Turkey’s great defender is a scofflaw! But this is an interesting point that ties into Vimanarama, because women who think that exercising their religion means covering their hair are stuck in a situation where they have to either leave the country or get some sort of religious schooling. So the Turkish women who study in the U.S. will disproportionately wear headcoverings, because they don’t have options at home. In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, I don’t have anything against hijab and actually can understand the appeal. It’s really empowering to be able to make yourself un-sexualized, to force people talking to you to look at your face, but of course there are practical drawbacks both in the Midwest and, I assume, in Britain, where Vimanarama is set. I do think it’s only a good choice if it is a choice, though, if there are legitimate and legal options (e.g. not Turkey and not Iran, pre- or post-Islamic revolution) .

And that brings us to Vimanarama, where seemingly secularized Ali wonders about God’s plan for him while threatening to kill himself if the girl he’s supposed to marry is ugly. He’s bringing a prayer rug to his injured brother, even though I think we can safely assume that traumatic head injuries are the sort of thing that exempt you from required prayers. And somehow Ali’s father, who is traditional enough to be arranging a marriage for his teenaged son, isn’t traditional enough to require that he change out of his tracksuit. It turns out Sofia’s parents are equally lax, letting her travel unaccompanied in capri jeans and a midriff-baring top beneath her hooded sleeveless sweatshirt. This strikes me as a little odd just because I think it’s not a culturally specific situation for parents to press their children to dress up for high-pressure situations like this, but we’ve still got 2/3 of the story to go and I won’t be sad if this point is never explained. As it is, I think it’s meant to set up Ali and Sofia as something new, both aware and accepting of their South Asian heritage while not keeping all the markers of Muslim identity, which is going to create a nice triangle with what seem to be Hindu god-beings they’ve roused. But I want to get back to those markers of identity, because while I realize there’s a re-veiling movement going on worldwide (not unlike the Turkish example above, in part as a way to mark the wearer as separate from secular society, to make a political statement) but, at least in the area I know, it’s not big among the Pakistani population. That’s why I was a little surprised that Ali’s home looks like this:

Ali's family, featuring two differently veiled women

The woman with the white headscarf is his sister Fatima, but again her outfit is just a little odd. In my experience, South Asian women who wear headcoverings wear loose, colorful scarves that may not even totally cover their hair (or they may have another tight hair cover beneath that) and often a salwar kameez, or loose pants with a tunic. But anyway, not only is she wearing some sort of jilbab (long coat) with her white scarf, but it’s a black one. And the other woman, potentially Ali’s mother or Omar’s wife or someone else entirely, has a face veil as well and in all black. I don’t know if this is common among British Muslim women who veil, but it is not the standard here and struck me as odd. I wouldn’t think it was all that strange for this one family to be more formal about covering or even to be part of a group that keeps stricter than standard dressing requirements, but I’m not sure how it fits into the story and what exactly is being portrayed. Is this a literal representation of the clothes women in a family like Ali’s would be wearing, or is it supposed to be symbolic of the roles they play as Muslim women? It’s because this is such a powerful symbol that there are arguments about veiling and control of veiling in post-revolutionary Iran and Turkey and the recent school legislation in France. It’s an issue of personal choice, but also more, and I’m interested to see what the “more” in this case will turn out to be. Of course, there’s good reason to disagree and say that Vimanarama isn’t set in a world that’s like ours but for the magic stuff, but in one that’s fundamentally different in many ways.

Ali meets Sofia

Wrapping things up a bit, Marc Singer already noted what I was going to comment on, that the Adidas-like logo on Ali’s jacket approximates the shape of the magical lotus. I do still want to point out Sofia’s first appearance, above. Covered in darkness, her hair and upper face are covered as if by a veil, her eyes pupilless slits. And so the focus is on her mouth and neck and shoulders, a sort of anti-hijab that at the same time draws Ali to her face, although he definitely later gets around to checking out her body. Her still face seems like an allusion to the masks Morrison so often uses, a reminder that all of these women are bodies onto which things are being projected. Ali’s eventual task is not just to find Imran (and wow, “Looking for a baby?” is some pickup line!) but to find the real Sofia beneath her collected facade and, along the way, to find himself. But beginning with this scene, Sofia is in control, the more secure and active of the two. Until that point, Ali had been the go-to guy in his family, the one who could be depended on to take charge (even if with some sighs) and do whatever needs to get done. And yet as the world shifts, Sofia is the one who finds the clues to get to Imran’s location, despite being new to the region, not to mention this magical area. Yet with the appearance of the Ultra-Hadeen, there’s another shift, and both Sofia and Ali are unsettled, among strange beings who are not their God, and ready to embark on something very, very new. I know I’m right with them.

Rose Music

I was asking Steven the other night whether we participate in question memes making the rounds, since my instinct would be to ignore them. He was interested, though, and since I’ve been called out by Dorian Wright AND because it was a birthday present, I have no choice but to comply.

1. Total amount of music files on your computer:

I seem to have 1.14 GB right now, but this is a new computer. And all of it’s legal, or at worst semi-legal mashup downloads. But I haven’t had this computer long and have other music I’ll eventually add, since my iTunes listening is getting a tiny bit predictable.

2. The last CD you bought was:

Two New Pornographers albums, Electric Version and Mass Romantic. The Christmas gift certificate didn’t really cover both, but I couldn’t decide between them fast enough before the store closed and so bought both. I used to buy cds all the time, especially weird ones from the 4/$10 (and once, on a happy day, 15/$10!) bin at my now-closed local store, but for several historical and financial reasons I’ve totally fallen away from new and interesting music. Someday I hope to go back, but it’s almost depressing to go into a store and see how far behind I am. Same with fiction, really, except that was library-based then and now.

3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

I thought it would be cheating to put something on this morning, knowing that I’d have to answer here. Steven had on Queen in the car last night, so something from Queen’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1. None of us can recall what it was and I made him turn it off because the cd is about 20 minutes long which means it’s impossible to play it in the car without hearing everything 20 times, especially if Steven insists on skipping songs.

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

I’m going to take the historical approach of pivotal songs that have meant a lot and choose only songs and only songs in English, which I hope will let me narrow things down to 5. Can you tell I’m not good at this? I might do an instrumental set later or even one of songs where I don’t or only partly understand the language. That could be fun, too.

Leonard Cohen’s “Story of Isaac” got me seriously started on folk music and song-as-poem stuff at age 13 or so.

Over the Rhine’s “Within Without” was a local-band-makes-good(ish) song I listened to every time I had to leave my room for a year or so in high school. I still like them on the whole, but maybe other songs more than this one.

Veda Hille’s entire album Spine, but maybe “One Hot Summer” if I had to pick just one song: “there’s so much beauty that I don’t believe in / god knows that my moth holds more teeth than wisdom.” It took me forever to bring myself to buy the album because the cover art was so grisly, but no one else was willing to get it even for $2.50. I would probably say it’s my favorite album.

Rose Polenzani is another favorite, and I think today I’d choose “Flood” as the one I hold onto most strongly, but it probably changes. Hers were just about the only cds I bought in college and she’s lovely and smart and charming in person. Yay!

While I can’t find a satisfactory link, “Midnight Radio” is probably my favorite song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch , or maybe “Random Number Generation.” I think that’s as close to new as I can get.

Honorable mentions who really deserve to be up there include The Incredible String Band, Robyn Hitchcock, Dar Williams, Ani DiFranco, Richard Shindell, Erin McKeown, Aimee Mann, The October Project, Eric Bogle, Cornershop, Jane Siberry, Lisa Germano, Pooka Blonde Redhead, Laura Nyro, Talking Heads, Nick Cave, The Rheostatics, The Klezmatics, and really lots more people I really love and can’t distill to a top 5. I’m probably cheating by having two men in my top 5, since mostly you can boil me down to female voices with sharp, haunting lyrics, but maybe there really is more to me than that.

5. Who are you going to pass this stick to? (3 persons) and why?

This is part of the reason I’ve been holding off, because I don’t want it to be a popularity contest or make people feel pressured or anything like that. I suppose Steven had better do it to even things out around here. Beyond that I’m not going to make it mandatory, but I’d really like to hear anything about music that other people want to say.

Now we are sick

This post has been stagnating for over a week now. Other posts that wait unfinished for so long I just kill because I can’t pick up my thoughts well enough to keep going, but I’m hoping I can weave this together topically. See, I haven’t written here because I’ve been sick and I don’t know why. I had a flu a week (two weeks?) ago and have just been exhausted ever since. No fever, though I have more nightmares than usual, but I spent this weekend taking 3-hour naps and then wanting another one a few hours later. I’m just miserable and completely drained, which I’m sure has been a lot of fun for all the people who have to spend time with me, too.

At any rate, I stayed up a week ago Sunday reading It’s a Bird…, Steven Seagle’s fictionalized account of his personal crisis when offered a job writing Superman. It’s a physically beautiful volume, a comfortable size with fascinating art, but it was the story I’d wanted to read for a long time. In the story at least, Seagle’s family has a history of Huntington’s disease, and so his first tie to Superman is an issue of the comic he and his brother share in a hospital waiting room while the adults confer about his grandmother’s condition. Huntington’s is a family secret he hasn’t discussed with anyone growing up, something he was aware of without understanding at all, and the Superman gig and the news that his father has disappeared bring it to the surface.

Apparently Seagle (again, at least in the story; from here on out I’ll just treat “Seagle” as the fictional character since we have a Steven on the site already, and I’ll deal with Seagle-the-author-guy as needed when he shows up) didn’t learn about Huntington’s when he took biology, which is strange because I know we covered it as early as 7th grade. I was 12 and I was obsessed, because it seemed like such perfect story material. While Seagle says it lacks a celebrity face, there’s Woody Guthrie, whose frailty in his son’s movie Alice’s Restaurant apparently made quite an impression on viewers at the time, if my mother is to be believed. I mention this also because the parent/child relationship is at the core of the tragedy of Huntington’s, so while Woody’s decline is in some ways that of his generation (and Arlo’s drifting and trying to avoid the war is supposed to be characteristic of his decadent, passionate generation) it is also part of a story about what it means to be watching your father die young and painfully while your classmates are doing the same thing half a world away. Huntington’s, as I recall from my long-ago studies, is a real O. Henry disease; by the time you realize you have it at age 40 or so, you’ve already passed it on to your children. It’s practically the only (certainly the only I know) major genetic disease that is dominant rather than recessive, which means that there are no carriers. Either you have it or you don’t. If one of your parents has it, there’s a 50 percent chance you will, too.

Seagle didn’t really play with that aspect of it, didn’t talk about the odds, which seemed, well, odd in a story in which he worries so much about his own chances. He doesn’t tell his girlfriend that there are genetic screenings available now (another messy, tough issue that would make good story fodder) perhaps because he doesn’t know, but also because this is the story of his myopically private anguish. And really that’s what made it interesting. The book is comprised of vignettes, glimpses of Seagle with his girlfriend or with his editor or looking for his father or writing about Superman or the comics versions of the Superman stories he was writing. Seagle’s initial argument in wanting to turn down the Superman gig is that he has nothing to say about this invincible man, but he realizes that Superman works best as a foil for our flaws, as a way to safely understand the limits of our doomed bodies. It’s a Bird…, in addressing this head-on, is probably a more successful Superman story than most I’ve read, which isn’t saying much. It creates a sort of universal appeal because we all (I hope) worry occasionally or often about the secrets our genes and our families hold and what will happen when they get out.

Maybe I was just a receptive audience because I have to do a daily checkup on my mystery ailment to figure out whether things are getting worse (nope) or better (possibly today, I hope). Other people have to worry about cholesterol or tendencies toward cancers. And then there’s the history we know we hold, the times lately I’ve had to assess my ennui: is this normal stress and sadness or a return of the sort of depression from which there seems to be no escape? One part of what makes reading fun is that it’s a way to get out of my body a bit (when the books aren’t too heavy or my arms too tired) without pretending I don’t have one or that it has nothing to do with what’s going on in my head.

What was going on in my head as I read It’s a Bird… was initially disappointment that Seagle (author and character) didn’t seem to have more than superficial insights into Superman, that there were potentially some factual errors I don’t even remember anymore (I’m not sure about a connection between the Nazi-mandated Star of David and Superman’s outfit) but also hope that something more would come of this. It’s not as deep as what I would have wanted, but nothing much seems to be lately (and is this a symptom of laziness and overwork and intellectual stagnation on my part? I think so!) and I’m not the one who got to write it or even wanted to. It’s a beautiful book and a thoughtful one, a story about superheroes that strives for harmony, peace, a calmed self. For all that I enjoyed it and would have liked it even more if I’d waited until this week to buy it in paperback, but that’s not really an option. We do what we choose with the time that we’ve got, and if that means I occasionally buy a hardcover book at full price, so be it. And now I’ll wind some yarn and rest.