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Category: Media

Family Circus Photoshopping

Family Circus Photoshopping

Yes, that is the actual caption on today’s Family Circus. Is it a joke about supermarkets marking up their prices? I do not know. Now it’s an HTML joke, go me.

Wonder Woman Action-Packed Laundry Issue

Thank you, Steven Wintle: Wonder Woman #246 is on my must-find list!

Wonder Woman

The Amazons don’t have good fabric softener! Who wrote this brilliance? Jack C. Harris.

… 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.

Sue Storm has a boy head!

John Jakala brings tidings of ugly manga art from Marvel. Mr. Fantastic is Billy Bob Thornton flashing gangsta-rap hand things!

Now, the idea behind the Marvel Age is to republish 1960s-era Marvel stories with new manga art. At least Marvel is being honest now about their creative autophagy.


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.

Jack Chick

Jack Chick draws alien demon children. They are scary.

Jack Chick is my blasphemous golden calf.

Sez Rose:

I don’t think people who think babies get put inside people know what virgins are. Hadn’t jesus made, like, LOTS of people come back from the dead?

Yes, and yes!

Political metaphors in New X-Men

Sources used in this post: Borges, Jorge Luis. Collected Fictions. New York: Viking, 1998.

How common is the idea that the X-Men are a racism/race-relations metaphor? Because I notice people seem to say it a lot (e.g. here), and why do people say it so much? I don’t see it. OK, I see it, but it seems limiting to suppose the X-Men are merely a racial allegory. There’s the gay metaphor too. But there’s more. The most common criticism of the racism and gay metaphors I see is that gay people and Hispanics don’t have superpowers. Oh, but it’s a metaphor! It’s something inside that’s so powerful, so liberating but also uncontrollable, and once you let it out there’s no going back. It’s pride, black pride, gay pride, whatever. The X-Men are a fantasy of political activism. When you’ve been silenced and made invisible for whatever reason, and then you decide to take pride in whatever makes you an invisible and you stand up and make people notice you and your pride, people will, yes, hate and fear you. That’s what the X-Men are about. I don’t see any need to make it about any one kind of pride/activism.

Does this have anything to do with my analysis of New X-Men in terms of “creation of self through narrative?” I think it may. If you’ve read any stories by Jorge Luis Borges or the novel Vurt by Jeff Noon (I’m not quite changing the subject here), you’ll probably know what I’m talking about when I say both these authors (and many other authors, but I’m using these two as an example) write fantastic narratives in which the world is a text. I mean, there is no illusion (or the illusion is exploded) that the world of the stories is “real”—the world of, say, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is no more real than an encyclopedia, and in fact it ends up being superseded by a fantasy world described in a fictional encyclopedia article. (I have some essays on Borges’s and Noon’s work that go into more depth, I should put them on the blog at some point.) Noon especially writes a protagonist who is empowered by the realization that his world is a textual world.

Borges’s stories aren’t just clever but inconsequential metafictional games. They propose a way of looking at our own world:

Then years ago, any symmetry, any system with an appearance of order – dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism – could spellbind and hypnotize mankind. How could the world not fall under the sway of Tlön, how could it not yield to the vast and minutely detailed evidence of an ordered planet? It would be futile to reply that reality is also orderly. Perhaps it is, but orderly in accordance with divine laws (read: “inhuman laws”) that we can never quite manage to penetrate. Tlön may well be a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth forged by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

Read the rest of this entry »

New X-Men narratives

…well, let’s just say some of us were born to kill and raised to kill and that’s the only damn thing we’re any good for. Everything else is just lies we tell ourselves.

(There are some New X-Men spoilers lurking in here.)

This is the beginnings of what I think will become an actual essay, with footnotes and everything. I am intrigued by Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, but I’ve not seen a lot of discussion on the Internet about the things that intrigue me (maybe I’m looking in the wrong places). What intrigues me is analyzing New X-Men in terms of Rose’s theories about narrative art, specifically creation of self through narrative. We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, and I noted that many (all?) the example narratives we came up with to talk about have as a central conflict the problem of who controls the narrative. I haven’t seen Capturing the Friedmans (which Rose talks about in that post I just linked to), but I gather that control (and ownership) of the narratives of people’s lives is at stake in that story. Paycheck (which Rose also discusses) is hardly about anything coherent, but it’s based on a Philip K. Dick story (Dick’s stories are incoherent in a much more interesting way than Paycheck the movie), and Dick was always writing about characters losing control of their narratives.

Right, I think New X-Men is about characters attempting to create themselves by creating narratives, and it’s about characters losing control of those narratives. Charles Xavier loses control of his political dream to his evil twin. Henry McCoy tells his ex-girlfriend a little lie and tries somewhat unsuccessfully to turn it to his advantage when it spirals out of control. Emma Frost convinces herself she’s a good teacher, a good lover, a nurturer, a strong independent person, only to see her life shatter around her. Quentin Quire, after his life is turned topsy-turvy by the revelation that he’s adopted, constructs a new life for himself out of every possible troubled-teen warning sign and teen-movie cliche (using drugs, bullying, getting in fights, rebelling against authority, turning to radical politics, trying to impress a girl, and much much more) but can’t control his own inventions. Scott Summers is deeply unhappy with his own (non-)personality but can’t manage to do anything but stand still as his life goes to hell. Weapon XV bursts through the dome of the World, transcending what was the whole of its existence, only to bindly acquiesce to the controlling forces he finds beyond. (If there are forces beyond comprehension (a military science team running the World, an omniscient god, anthropological determinism, the writer) that know the narrative better than we, can we have any control?) Wolverine gives up control of his own narrative—decides he’s the killing machine Weapon Plus says he is and can’t be more or other than that. So there are all these stories about loss of control and it’s not just control of power, but control of choice, of selfhood, of the right to be the narrative subject. Loss of control over the narrative of their lives.

There are several things I’ll be thinking and writing about, in addition to setting out arguments to support my thesis:

  • X-books may be read as very political. What are the politics of New X-Men, what do they have to do with creation of self through narrative (or failure to create self through loss of control of the narrative)?
  • New X-Men seems optimistic and hopeful (particularly in terms of the X-Men making progress in their political goals), and a lot of people seem to respond strongly and primarily to this in their readings. What’s the relationship between the surface political optimism and the darker themes of loss of control?
  • The aesthetics, particularly of the art. What does the sequential-art form do for the text in terms of the narrative themes?

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.