Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Changing Lanes (Roger Michell 2002) - Well showbiz kids, when time comes for your contribution to The American Cinema remember: Don't hire an editor who thinks he's getting paid per edit. Any lines in the script that state the theme should be cut, no exceptions. People who already get it are irritated though people who didn't know are annoyed. You can imagine Changing Lanes being if not true termite art then worthy quasi-termite if it had ended with the night meeting at the office where two men see a better world but are too much cowards to create it. Instead it's the filmmakers who turn out to be cowards by adding two scenes that compromise if not negate the rest of the film.


Since I don't have cable I had never seen The Osbournes which apparently makes me an uncultured hermit. However I was visiting my parents last Saturday and MTV scheduled a full four hours worth; in the end they showed only one episode (friend of the son crashes for a while) and it was less than exciting. Needed more Ozzy and how often did you think that would be the case? Perhaps I should have expected the Real World style since that's what MTV knows and its audience is comfortable with. Still that doesn't make it any less irritating. I would prefer my reality TV closer to Jeanne Dielman if I preferred it at all.

Later that night MTV had a "special" on what they considered the 20 most controversial videos. Naturally MTV aims for that cutting edge aura while refusing to show most (any?) of the videos intact. The entire unspecial special was mostly designed to make everything seem quaint though the writers and script-reading hosts had nothing worth saying. One host said of Eminem's "Stan" that "he has his heart in the right place but goes too far," completely missing what makes the song something other than just a PSA. They "discuss" NIN's "Closer" video without once mentioning Joel-Peter Witkin and seem completely oblivious to the possibility (I'd say "fact" but let's leave it open) that "Baby Got Back" critiques the objectification of women.


The Voice has a nice--well not nice but nasty and honest--piece on Elvis Costello by Douglas Wolk at http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0218/wolk.php

Friday, April 26, 2002

I could never be a morning DJ because:

1. I can't wake up at 4 AM

2. I can't laugh on command

3. My IQ is three digits

4. I don't care what celebrities are doing

5. I don't think prank phone calls are a form of humor

6. I'm genuinely interested in music

7. Chatter is never pleasant and will eventually destroy civilization

8. I do have some self-respect

9. I realize nobody's interested in the details of my personal life except, sometimes, me

10. Wild and crazy DJs never are

11. Playlists and song requests are irrelevant (see #6)


No comment: "I knew I wanted to transcend into film..." former pro wrestler Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) quoted at http://www.dvdjournal.com/

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart: The Complete Collection (Motown) - Not what I wanted. In dreams I imagined Motown dragging the factory pop of another era (never mind the actual dates) back to its proper place in rock 'n' roll. Rockers have always preferred to think of themselves as the children of primal R&B and country: howling, feral, unbounded id. Elvis' admiration for Dean Martin was just a confusing, or at least cute, anomaly until years later the rockers could appreciate Martin through the haze of irony and camp. By then they were further away than ever. They prefer not to understand that when Jerry Lee says Al Jolson was one of the three great stylists that he was dead serious.

The Supremes showed up--if I remember correctly--to meet the Beatles with a chaperone. Were they rock, rock 'n' roll, pop, R&B, who cares? These songs are, at times, great songs and the Supremes could have done justice by them if only they weren't so comfortable playing dress-up in Mommy's clothes, which is creepy mainly because they're not children. Instead of Motown horns, tepid big-band charts; instead of three women singing as if they should own the world, tentative voices asking "Do you like me?"


Greil Marcus Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives (2000) - Nope, hadn't read it before, maybe because I'd read most of the pieces when they were first published. It's mostly great of course and as a special bonus gave Christopher Hitchens a hissy fit.


The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Woody Allen 2001) - Silly premise artfully designed to support a feature-length monologue, half of it delivered by Allen and half given to Helen Hunt.


Jean-Michel Mension The Tribe (1998, English translation 2001) - The back cover helpfully notes "Contributions to the History of the Situationist International and Its Time, Vol. 1" but this is barely a footnote. A book-length (a short book but a book nonetheless) interview with Mension it's actually more about the Lettrists than the Situationists and really more about some of Mension's buddies than either movement. Perhaps the intent was to place these now dauntingly abstract thinkers (they're not but that's the perception) back into their everyday environments. But since according to The Tribe they did little more than shoplift and consume prodigous quantities of alcohol and hash, there's not much of a connection to be drawn. What did they talk about? What did they read? Did they completely avoid other art? Other political groups? Dunno. But if The National Equirer ever turns its gaze onto the Situationists, here's where it will start.


I'd heard great things about an anthology put out by The Comics Journal (I think the title is actually the date: Winter 2002). But in the store this turns out to be about 14 inches long and 10 inches high and fairly thin; in other words it won't fit properly beside anything else on a shelf and even worse the large, insubstantial size means it will definitely be damaged at some point. Naturally I didn't buy it. Why should I encourage bad design?

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

OK: Not really Tuesday the 23rd but Blogger is incapable of allowing date changes (or for that matter correctly organizing archives).

Listen to jazz fans and you'll hear how much bigger jazz could be if it only got more airplay. (And if they say it's "America's classical music," slap them.) Poetry buffs will go on about how great things would be if only poetry could be put in front of more people--schools maybe, NPR perhaps or even sides of buses if that's what it takes. Folks interested in movies not in English will tell you "If only more Americans could see these, they'd really like them." Everybody in a subculture (perhaps not strictly the correct word but you can make allowances) has some scheme to get their favored object(s) to the masses. Sure most schemes might work to some degree but you know except for blips here and there jazz has never been popular and we're just not in a poetic era.

People concerned about the reach of comic books have the same kind of ideas. Usually it's stuff like making comics more realistic or less, fresher characters or more familiar, shorter stories or longer, on and on. Perhaps the only thing they all agree about is that there just aren't enough genres. (Probably much more serious is that comic distribution is a virutal monopoly and the comic store culture designed to reject outsiders--I've seen some more friendly than others but not yet a decently marketed one.) Basically in the US you've got superheroes and a bit of related matter. That's pretty much it. Fans rave about Japan where comics can be about almost anything, not just the usual science fiction/fantasy/samurai stuff but romances, political dramas, whacky comedy, transgressive avant-garde, high-school soap opera. And of course it wasn't long ago that on US stands you could find war, romance, horror, funny animals, straight comedy. Heck, a comic book about Jerry Lewis ran for almost ten years. Today I rarely even see the Powerpuff Girls books in comics stores.

This is a roundabout way to get to Greg Rucka & Steve Rolston's Queen and Country: Operation: Broken Ground and Frank Miller's Sin City. (And here's one problem with blogs: If I was getting paid for this I'd spend more effort getting that intro boiled down to the interesting essentials.) Not superheroes but still of possible appeal to such fans.

Sin City--the original 1992 book--is basically a parody of hard-boiled crime fiction. The sub-Spillane narration is full of "dames" and other keywords while the story involves all the usual lowlife characters and crummy dives. The further you go into the book, though, the less it looks like a parody but just something that Miller thought cool--mistakenly as it turns out. The protagonist, for instance, is not only the usual racist homophobe that so many hard-boiled writers thinks indicate reality but he's also a full-fledged psychopath. Miller shows his roots by making this guy more or less a version of Batman: he climbs up the sides of buildings, leaps across the roofs, takes phenomenal amounts of physical abuse and can disarm professional soldiers with only his hands (or a hatchet). Not stuff you would have seen Robert Mitchum do. So much for reality. There are obvious possiblities to such an anti-hero but he's stuck in a story of ridiculous twists that seems like Miller started without knowing where it was going. The ending in particular is intended to tie together the various story threads but is instead completely tossed off and psychologically implausible, mainly because Miller spends so little effort making it anything else. The main response will be "Is he kidding?" so maybe it's a parody after all. Miller uses a stark high-contrast style for the art which works fairly well once you get used to it; the major flaw comes when he shifts black to white which creates the impression that lights have been turned on. Consistency is what's called for.

Much better is Rucka and Rolston's Queen and Country: Operation: Broken Ground (Oni Press). This tpb collects the first four issues of the on-going comic (a complete story) plus a short from an anthology. This is a no-frills, realistic spy story focusing on a woman operative in a special ops department of British intelligence. By "realistic" I mean believable and plausible more than anything: I have no idea whether anything like this happens in reality but not only could the basic premise occur, it's easy to imagine (or read in some history years down the line) that this is actually how it happened. There are only a couple of action sequences; the rest of the story is about the repercussions within the department where loyalties, job descriptions, authority and objectives all conflict. Change a few details and anybody who's ever worked in a corporation or large office would recognize the dynamics. Rolston's clean, direct art works well with this story; I'm glad they didn't decide to go with something gritty and dark. It wasn't until reading the sketches at the end and the introduction--I always read introductions to fiction last--that I was aware of complaints that the art is too "cartoony." But it's really that sense of familiarity and the everyday that makes Queen and Country work so well. Especially impressive are the faces. I've been reading comics off and on for 30 years but it wasn't until now that I realized how much most comic art relies on costumes and clothing as the main identification. Many of the characters in Queen and Country tend to be dressed the same but the faces are so distinctive that they're easily distinguished (and just as important the faces are consistent: checking other comics it's easy to see that faces are rarely a real concern of most artists).

Sunday, April 21, 2002

A Cloud-Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak 1960) - I've always wanted to see a Ghatak film but none of them appear to be on video, not even on the traders circuit. But this showed at a screening in a beat-up 35 print. Would make an interesting double-bill with some Sirk film, All That Heaven Allows perhaps. Where Sirk approaches the melodrama as a form of excess, Ghatak prefers to strip melodrama to its essence. Or so it appears: he actually deploys some sophisticated use of music (nearly all digetic though there are some jumps into electronic UFO noise), depth of field, focus, stylized silent-movie-esque acting, etc all in a sort of counterpoint commentary (if that's not pointlessly mixed metaphors). The result is not emotional particularly--he wasn't aiming for Days of Our Calcutta Lives after all--but does create intriguing patterns and a meditation on suffering and sacrifice.


"In Visions in Meditation #2: Mesa Verde (1989) the black entrances to the famous Colorado cliff dwellings suggest voids in human understanding." Fred Camper on Stan Brakhage in The Chicago Reader, April 19, 2002.

This is confirmed by the following letter, previously unpublished:


In my function as one of the antennae of the race I understand that you do not realize the voids in human understanding. Not gaps, not lacunae, but Nietzschean VOIDS. Thus I have decided to suggest--not state, the artist must never be so blunt--this obscure truth by incorporating black entrances (doorways no longer) of a long-vanished people into my film. All 230 viewers--excluding myself: I seek no influences--should take the suggestion. I will insert an appropriate Renaissance reference when there is time to locate one. Perhaps Charlie Olson....alas he is dead. By the way, that closed-eye thing? Pounding my fists into my eyes produces the proper effect, oh why did I waste years attempting a filmic analogue?



Resident Evil (Paul Anderson 2002) - Solid addition to the soldiers vs. zombies filmography and certainly the highest grossing German-British film ever. Pop quiz: Compare and contrast to Ghosts of Mars (supermodel lead, train rides, corporate indifference, swarming opponents, enclosed spaces).


Small Time Crooks (Woody Allen 2000) - The script needed another rewrite. Or two.


Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (George Lucas 1999) - Not bad for a kids movie. You can amuse yourself imagining what it would be like if Lucas only had a brain or trying to figure out if he realized how racist it was to give the bad aliens Chinese/Asian accents.

Saturday, April 20, 2002

Ever notice how Indian restaurants always play Indian classical? Never any film hits or bhangra. And Mexican restaurants some kind of traditional music. (One exception is a Peruvian restaurant I go to occasionally which has plays phenomenally loud dance music beneath two TVs going full blast, one with Univision and the other always showing an old-school Hong Kong martial arts film.) Today I was at a Mexican restaurant and the usual trad band stuff was jumping away in the background when suddenly "ai yi yiyi," it's the Frito Bandito song! Now I have heard this apart from commercials and knew the song existed apart from the commercials but this is always a kind of real-life V-effekt.


Adrian Keith Goldsworthy The Roman Army at War: 100 BC - AD 200 (1996) - Goldsworthy describes in detail the Roman army's structure, methods, materials and tactics but instead of the usual synthesis he tries to stay very close to to sources both historical and archaeological. Unfortunately there are lots of gaps, some of which he can tentatively fill with data from other eras but he's always very strict about the limitations of that approach. (One of the spookiest ideas is that Rome could easily have fought entire wars that we now know nothing about.) The tone therefore tends to be argumentative, taking issue with earlier historians either in specific details (use of slings, for instance) or broader (Roman concepts about the nature of war). I love this stuff; most people would rather drill holes in their heads.


Encounters of the Spooky Kind (Sammo Hung 1980) - The name-only sequel which I saw years ago is lots of HK fun but this first film certainly isn't. Meandering from event to event, the film is slowed down even more by Hung's amateurish direction that's drawn to exciting lock-opening sequences. The fights have all the precision you'd expect but so what?


Carl Hiaasen Double Whammy (1986) - After the Big Trouble fiasco (well the movie, the book is passable), I wanted to go back to the source. You can see how much came from Hiaasen: the large number of characters each with a mini-biography, the intricate plot, the odd-ball crime elements, etc. But the novel Big Trouble was conceived essentially as comedy which made the attempted rape scene (omitted from the film) a severe miscalculation in tone. However Hiaasen's books like Double Whammy are violent crime stories with slight touches of exaggeration and grotesqueries to push out the humor. Big Trouble has the blunt characterization you might get from a newspaper item but Double Whammy goes if not deeper then at least more plausible and quirkier. One of Hiaasen's "heroes" is more unhinged than most of the bad guys which certainly adds uncertainty to the proceedings. While Hiaasen has focused mainly on providing a solid if mildly abrasive entertainment you can also see him quietly tinkering with more: the concept of nature, forms of obsession, law-justice relations.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Idiot Box (David Caesar 1996) - A story about Today's Disaffected Youth that from the opening credits to "shock" ending is stuff you've already seen before, sometimes in films 50 years old. Pretty much worthless on every level.
With The Osbournes a media-certified sensation, it's time to wonder what other musicians deserve their own reality show. Here are my suggestions:

Lou 'n' Laurie

Spears Survivor

Real-Life ODB Chases

Fugging with Fugazi

Tony Iommi: It Shoulda Been Me

Marilyn & Charles: The Manson Real World

There's Something About Magma

If This Is Tuesday, This Must Be Zorn's New Album

Acid Mothers Temple Road Rules

Who Wants to Marry George Jones?

Pop Group Popstars

Woodshedding With Derek Bailey

The Weakest Link: Pete Best, Chad Channing (first Nirvana drummer), any Spinal Tap drummer

Yo La Tengo: Iron Chefs

Asha Bhosle: A Day in the Life

The Jacksons Family Feud

Indie Rock Hollywood Squares

Francisco Lopez: Behind the Music

My Dinner With Braxton

Crumb II: George

Pan Sonic of the North

Eminem Macht Frei


Tell me again why we have local TV news? Today a plane crashed in Milan so the local station sent a reporter to the airport to interview people returning from Milan. They were all American tourists who left long before the crash so they knew less than most people who can't remember if there's an "o" in "Milan" and their insights were not remotely insightful: If the reporter asked random people off the street about a completely invented catastrophe the responses would have been literally the same. Of course this was all done in the afternoon (broad daylight) but the reporter stood outside the airport at 11 PM so he could make a live introduction to a taped piece.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Took a bag of CDs to trade in today. I got Bang on a Can Music for Airports: Brian Eno (Point), The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart: The Complete Recordings (Motown), Ice-T Greatest Hits: The Evidence (Coroner/Atomic Pop), Mel Torme At the Crescendo (Bethlehem), Mississippi John Hurt Live (Vanguard) and The Firesign Theatre Waiting for the Electrician and Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliars (both Columbia Legacy). The record store owner said he had a customer a few days earlier who picked up the Bang on a Can album and said she hadn't heard it since they recorded it. Turned out to be BOAC's cellist Maya Beiser who's apparently living in Atlanta now. I listed to the Torme album on the way home and it's quite nice: Torme backed by a quintet lead by Marty Paich that's quite loose, almost too much so. It's kinda odd, though, to hear songs I'm mostly familiar with through Sinatra's versions, not sure exactly why.


Hope yesterday's bit about academics on pop culture didn't come off as if I think that's a bad thing. Far from it: Let there be a thousand academic flowers in pop culture's garden (or compost heap if you're in an Adorno-ean mood). The question isn't whether Gilligan's Island is worthy of such attention--neither really is stuff like Gilman's Herland--but whether it can support it. I can imagine decent papers on technology, concepts of culture or even pop culture itself in Gilligan's Island. Or maybe not: The idea is only the start, the rest is up to the writer. Academics aren't any worse on the whole than the legions of critics and journalists, it's just that the flaws (stodgy style, unnecessary sourcing, pointless name-dropping) are greater barriers not to mention that one group is trained towards brevity, the other not.


Yet another cheerleading article on the blogging "phenomenon" (the headline's "revolution" is premature at best, more likely something for future generations' sneers possibly in just a few minutes) at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.05/mustread.html?pg=2. No surprise that the writer Andrew Sullivan resorts to distortions to make his case; if nothing else he's got plenty of company. For instance, "For as long as journalism has existed, writers of whatever kind have had one route to readers: They needed an editor and a publisher. Even in the most benign scenario, this process subtly distorts journalism." Certainly this isn't completely true since numerous writers from 18th century pamphleteers to I.F. Stone to hundreds of zinesters have done without editors and publishers. But the rest is wrong: this process doesn't distort journalism, it is journalism. It's the give-and-take, the conflict of opinions, the relentless fact-checking that creates something that can be considered journalism.

Or just see Sullivan claiming that writers and editors at The Washington Post are "no more inherently trustworthy than a lone blogger who has earned a reader's respect." I really wonder whether Sullivan could possibly believe that or if he's just filling space under a deadline. Elsewhere he uses the phrase "opinion journalism" which reveals where the confusion arises. Opinions are not journalism any more than remarks are literature. The Post's opinions may not necessarily be any more trustworthy than a friend's but that's the reason those opinions are on the editorial page (usually). The rest of the paper shows how little blogging has to do with journalism. How many bloggers can provide information that's not just recycled from other sources? Blogging is at the moment mostly just a fad; maybe it'll die down to the serious few or maybe it'll be fairly routine. It's possible to imagine a Pepys or Mary Chesnutt coming out of blogs (at least once that ugly name is changed) but making ludicrous claims like Sullivan's won't help anybody.
It's always amusing to watch academics grappling with pop culture. They have a shamefaced look about them like kids skipping school to raid the candy store in the mall. The amusement of course is that they have just as much right to be there as anybody but have to say that so very loudly to shore up their collective courage. Check out a guy named Paul A. Cantor at http://wwics.si.edu/outreach/wq/WQSELECT/CANTOR.HTM as he tries to justify his own excursion. It's the usual approach: a statement of his "serious" credentials, a feint about pop culture being just fun that actually resolves into "Well why shouldn't we study it?"; emphasizing that y'know Shakespeare was kinda popular; and then back to the High Culture. Cantor actually spends far more time with the ancient Greeks than anything resembling popular culture so he never really makes his case; in any event the value or not of writing about, say, Gilligan's Island can only be shown by actually doing it.

But Cantor tips his hand when he says, "Getting our students to 'read' popular cultural critically may well become our task as teachers in an age increasingly dominated by the mass media. If students can learn to reflect on what they view in movies or on television, the process may eventually make them better readers of literature."

In other words, the only point of all this is so students can read literature and what do you want to be that he's not talking about Elmore Leonard or Stephen King. The popular culture stuff is only a sugar-coating for the real deal that of course you'll need Cantor as a guide. Does this really work anyway? Does referencing or even showing The Searchers help students understand Greek notions of vengence when the film might actually be almost as strange to many students when Westerns have been sickly for a few decades now. (This isn't even getting into whether a Western might actually mislead students by making too familiar what might be a pretty alien concept. The Greeks may have built the foundation of our culture but they weren't us.)

Even more offensive is that statement that Cantor will have to be the one "getting our students to 'read" popular culture critically." He is talking about students that are already intimately familiar with full-assault satires like The Simpsons and South Park; who make hits of such genre-twisting films as Being John Malkovich, The Matrix and Memento; who read Naomi Klein and The Onion; who listen to Rage Against the Machine, The Coup, White Stripes and other stuff off the Top 40. The students are plenty critical, they just don't have to name-check Plato to do it. Certainly familiarity with the literary canon helps--you can never have too many tools and besides much of it is, well, fun--but some kinds of critical thinking may be of limited use. One of the key insights of the Situationists was that oppositional stances are always co-opted so the forms of opposition must always change. (I've heard they were enthusiastic readers of Clausewitz.)


Proof you can't always trust a reputation is the Peter David run on The Incredible Hulk. I've heard many people speak of this with reverence and I have to admit that David is usually a genuinely funny writer. But I just read most of the issues from 400 to 441 and this barely tolerable nonsense is certainly no cause for fond memories. At first it's somewhat amusing (well not really but go with it) to see how David twists and turns so that a fight occurs in every issue, regardless of whether there's any conceivable reason for one. It's like he's decided the plot is only life support for fight scenes. But then the whole thing just becomes tiresome, especially since the whole series is unfocused and rambles from one story to the next with characters all running together (remember The Hulk is the big green one). There's only a very few flashes of David's usual humor though maybe that's made up by the stories that tackle serious themes because they're pretty laughable. The whole thing is made irredeemable by a string of third-rate artists who can't really grasp the idea of the grotesque as they strive for realistic settings but create characters that look like bodybuilders about to explode. As a result the artists just look like amateurs who learned to draw only from other comics and not even the good ones. (A reply in the letters defends this as "their style" but y'know Ed Wood had a style too but that doesn't mean we have to take it seriously. A more likely cause is the artist-run Image which had launched about three years earlier and seemed to specialize in similar adolescent imagery.)

Monday, April 15, 2002

Influences? I've had a few but then again too few to mention. Harold Bloom famously built a literary theory or at least concept around the idea (wonder if he did any influence-influenza riffs?) but many jazz critics take it a step further. For them influence becomes a sort of elaborate parlor game: who influence who, how much, when? If they were off in their own little huts improvising prayers to the gods of swing that would be one thing but this approach has threatened to engulf any more reasonable criticism. Too many interviews with musicians try to track down the influences, a mostly pointless task since any musician tends to be the worst person to ask about his or her influences, not even counting the ones that would like to deny or hide them. You can see a different take in the message boards for The Comics Journal. Sparked by Wizard's recent list of the ten most influential comic book artists, the posters usually take the attitude that we can determine who's most influential if only, well, if only we could figure it out. Admittedly the Wizard list isn't completely ridiculous (it has Eisner, Kirby and Adams after all) but it's the more indefensible choices (Joe Madureira and George Perez over Carl Barks, Harvey Kurtzman, Lou Fine or Robert Crumb) that fuel the debate. When the posters aren't whining about who actually is most influential, the entire thing becomes more fruitful. Simply stating Barks should be on the list or Steranko not is of trivial interest but discussing why approaches true criticism.


There's little talk of influences in Ben Sidran's Talking Jazz: An Oral History (1992, expanded 1995). Despite the title this is a collection of interviews and not really an oral history (ie it's not establishing a broader history of jazz or actually always even describing a history of the interviewees). Having another musician for the interviewer makes it more substantial than most such books because Sidran knows more about what really interests another musician than a historian or critic often does. Sidran keeps the musicians focused on their career or details of the art, only occasionally allowing somebody to wander off into nonsense like the "healing power of music." Now I want to check out more of Pepper Adams who I'd never paid much attention to before and the real trick is that interviews of Steve Gadd and Dave Grusin are actually interesting even if their work still promises to be dull.


H. Rider Haggard King Solomon's Mines (1885): Despite a weakness for Victoriana, I'd always pegged Haggard as some Empire-apologist adventure writer which appears to be not entirely true. I'll admit that it was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that made me decide to read this--I've never seen any of the movie versions either--and surprise there's a reason it's remained in print this long. (Actually I checked a 1925 edition out of the library. Opposite the title page is a list of Haggard's works starting with a parlimentary report moving to history, autobiography, travel, novels and finally at the bottom a skad of "romances," the latter all the stuff he's now remembered for.) The novel is actually a reasonably fun one-thing-after-another tale complete with last-minute rescues, lost civilizations, war, wild animals and whathaveyou. Bits may be cliches but I suspect that this is where many of them got started and in any case the story is so quickly paced and solidly told that it doesn't suffer. Haggard has a real knack for detail, throwing in hunting stories, cultural oddities (how to innoculate your cattle) and other bits that give the novel texture. He even has a sense of humor about the whole thing: one character spends several chapters trouserless and with only half his face shaven because it impresses the locals. And perhaps it's a surprise that Haggard has a more complex attitude to black Africans than you might expect from a writer of that time. The narrator (Quatermain) tends to believe in the superiority of white/European culture and comes out explicitly against interracial marriages but at the same time grants a nobility to several black characters and doesn't remotely consider the rest subhuman, pointing out their courage, sorrow, intelligence, weakness, schemes, whatever the case might be. There have been more negative portrayals of Southerners by New York writers. Even the marriage thing is more because it wouldn't actually work out in any society rather than something that by nature shouldn't happen. Actually I suspect most modern readers will have more trouble with the long-abandoned genre (last active in the 20s and 30s with the pulps, E.R. Burroughs and Robert Howard (whose Solomon Kane stories have a real edge)) than with the political aspects.

Saturday, April 13, 2002

Will Eisner The Spirit Archives, Volume 1 (DC) - DC has made such a point of utilizing its older characters (think JSA, Starman, Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, Golden Age) that you'd think they would be better at actually keeping the original material available. Because the multiple volumes of the DC Archives series--full color, good paper, complete runs--which have one major drawback: the price. The $50 retail price keeps these stories out of the hands of all but the most dedicated readers which is a real shame. In the case of the now seven volumes of the Spirit Archives "shame" doesn't even start. It would be tough to overestimate the importance of Eisner's Spirit stories on the development of comics. The sheer visual imagination, the variety of themes and stories, the focus on character and the plain pleasure in storytelling are rarely matched even six decades later. So it's great to have them available, less great that most readers won't plunk down the money out of curiosity; at some point DC needs to do a thick tpb of the best stories. One reason is that even beyond the price, many readers will want to read in order but Volume 1 is not the best place to begin. (Incidentally, I borrowed it using an inter-library loan which may be the best way to just read these DC Archives.) Volume 1 collects all the 1940 strips (which were each seven-page stories running on Sundays) but they're most notable because you can watch Eisner's development; somebody who picks this as an introduction to Eisner won't understand all the fuss. Eisner's line is still a bit rough and the body positioning rarely shows the kind of elegance that came later. Over this volume you can also see the earliest examples of Eisner's famous splash panels. The stories also tend to be a bit haphazard, sometimes apparently just tossed-together. It's not uncommon for The Spirit's "intuition" to reveal suddenly anything he might need to know and there's a stream of such things as castle prison where the walls are apparently made of styrofoam considering that The Spirit tunnels out twice in one evening. Still, there's a bit more than pure historical interest here: one story where Dolans' daughter tries to trick The Spirit into attending her college prom is a comic gem (though it's hard to imagine a paper today running a fairly macabre corpse joke), the stories about an intelligent orangutan have real pathos (no lie) and there are some decent crime stories.


There's a good piece by Brad Leithauser on Walt Kelly in the New York Review of Books at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/15286

Friday, April 12, 2002

Today's listening: Jay-Z Vol. 2....Hard Knock Life; six hours of WFMU (including a great A Certain Ratio retrospective/interview); a local drive-time blues show; the first disc of the ELO Flashback box set, half of Husker Du's Zen Arcade, Flatt & Scruggs' Nashville Airplane and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai: The Album.


Is Reverend Lovejoy the only Simpsons character that wears a wristwatch? Is this some oblique joke or just a characterization bit? Come to think of it maybe Barney wears one but in his case it would definitely be a joke since he has nowhere to go and little reason to watch the time. (I just checked and Barney is not watch-equipped.)


The Authority: Under New Management (Wildstorm/DC), which collects issues 9 to 16, finally starts to live up to the series' reputation. Well not the first story which is a routine superheroes vs. tough monster thing. But it's written by Warren Ellis (with clumsy art by Bryan Hitch who's now much better on The Ultimates) so there are some feints towards something, y'know, better. The tough monster, for instance, is quickly labelled "god" by the various characters who congratulate themselves on heading off to kill God. Gosh how shocking. Don't know if this is exactly new (Galactus after all is pretty much God) but it's quite clear that this monster is not even a god let alone God. It's merely an enormous (almost planet-sized) animal who displays no supernatural powers and not many natural ones. In fact it shows no sentience at all even though there's a brain. Though that still offers enough potential for superheroic conflict Ellis isn't content with that. He has The Doctor's past selves function as a Department of Exposition and churn out all the backstory. Oh feel the tension build and the superhero genre crumble. No really, wake up and feel the tension....

The second story brings in the new creative team of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely. Here's where The Authority moves beyond the routine stuff, dealing in real moral ambiguity. Now The Authority decide to use their powers to stop political corruption and make the world a better place by overthrowing repressive regimes, housing refugees and trying to feed the masses, all the while enjoying the publicity, loot and groupies. Naturally there's some resistance which comes in the form of President Clinton (shown but not named) and his mysterious super-secretive higher-ups sending a superpowered hit squad to stop The Authority. Adding another level to the story, the hit squad is basically The Avengers with different names and evil-twin attitude. When the two teams face off in Singapore this isn't the usual WWF-type showdown but full-scale combat that leaves the streets strewn with superhero body parts and the city filled with 5000 dead civilians. (I read somewhere that Ellis claims he always thought of The Authority as the bad guys which you can't really tell from his stories where they sound more like high school principals, but this Millar story heads in that direction, only with the distinction that their opponents are clearly even worse.) No more issues have been collected in tpb yet but the series lasted another ten or so issues before DC pulled the plug.


Prodigy Music for the Jilted Generation - I'm pretty sure I reviewed this for Option when it first came out though am not absolutely certain (1995 seems a bit late). I did review some early Prodigy album and remember giving it what I thought was a scathing put-down though it was probably pretty tepid. However, a couple of months ago I noticed Christgau gave this album a full "A" claiming it's "stupid in the very best way" and promising much sound effects. This sounded right up my alley so when I had a chance to get the CD for $3 I picked it up. Who was right? Neither exactly: the album is decent enough but certainly not gripping. I'll give it another listen or two and if there's no improvement, it goes onto the to-sell pile.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

I'll have to admit that there was little reason for me to seek out more of Warren Ellis' work. The first two volumes of the collected Transmetropolitan are possibly the worst mainstream comics I've ever read; the first tpb of The Authority is as dumb as the run-of-the-mill superhero comic that it mostly is (plus its use of a racist Yellow Peril caricature--presumably irony that was never ironic--leaves a bad taste); and the first tpb of Planetary has some decent ideas that Ellis forgot to turn into actual stories. So learning that Ellis wrote a column about comics for a year was clearly not a must-read. However, I'm always a sucker for argumentative inside stories and the whole thing is free (at http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/archive.cgi?column=cia though there's a book available as well). The surprise is that this is mostly worth reading. Sure too many of the early ones seem intent on mimicking a Harlan Ellison vibe, never a good thing considering that Ellison has consistently compromised his art so he can adopt a Farwellian righteousness. But Ellis still had enough real edge for what he was doing and the later columns became more focused (maybe too much but heck am I gonna complain about everything?). There's some good nuts-and-bolts material here on things like methods of writing, Marvel's economic structure, promotion, the kinds of things usually ignored. And Ellis is a suprisingly convincing critic and even though he didn't dig up anything I haven't heard about, he has convinced me to check out Metabarons even if it is written by perennial nitwit Jodorowsky. (C'mon El Topo deserves MST3K if anything does.)


Today's "huh?" is the report that some Times Square building owners are suing Columbia Pictures because the Spider-Man movie replaced billboard images. One of the lawyers stated, "We think it's inappropriate to substitute your own image for the one that exists." This might be an odd statement at any time (jeepers don't these modern lawyers read Baudrillard any more?) but approaches downright stupidity regarding a movie centering around images of things that have never actually existed. Which means that there could be a court case hinging on the documentary nature of The Image. Book your film profs and ontologists now!


The Feb. 8 Entertainment Weekly has their list of Top 25 Modern Romances (movies). I've seen thirteen though of the unseen ones I've read three of the books so will that count for partial credit? There's also the Top 10 Classic Romances where I've seen five. Of course these are nearly all American films.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Ersel Hickey The Rockin' Bluebird (Collectables) - How many rockabillies were there? Hickey recorded for Epic so it seems like I should have heard of him before except that his mostly polished approach isn't to the taste of modern fans (though I'll take Ricky Nelson over Hasil Adkins any day). His best-known song is "Bluebirds Over the Mountain" which features a rhythm with emphasis on the offbeats that would today be called reggae-ish. For the rest you can hear Elvis, female back-up singers and lots of echo.


Salon has a sharp and funny piece by Steven Hart skewering George Lucas' grandiose claims. It's called "Galactic Gasbag" and you can find it at http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/2002/04/10/lucas/index.html. I would have thought all this obvious but perhaps not and a little reminder can't hurt. Artists stating they're tapping into grand themes, archetypes and that lot are mostly deluded or simpletons, at best simply giving profile writers little bones to gnaw while they go about the real work. The slip with Lucas came in Joseph Campbell's Power of Myth where Campbell praised Star Wars as an illustration of the hero myth (itself a dubious construct but that's another issue). The catch of course is that Campbell was fully aware that Lucas based--well claimed to have based--the film on Campbell's ideas so all it actually illustrated was those ideas. OK maybe this isn't an outright lie but merely a planned deception to increase his prestige.

Hart seems to know his SF and the only thing he leaves out, really, is that Star Wars isn't science fiction but science fantasy, a distinction that doesn't seem to be used much any more. At its most basic science fantasy is fantasy (princesses, noble warriors, magic, nasty monsters) dressed up in SF clothing (spaceships, ray guns, etc). The distinction is worth making at some level because SF has some connection with genuine science no matter now tenuous. Not that Star Wars should have stopped to explain how blasters work or how any society could have the economic and material ability to build a Death Star but the lack of any reasonable science removes it from the realm of SF. Take for instance the spaceships, which Lucas famously modelled after WW2 air combat movies, to those in Babylon 5. In Star Wars they perform like, well, aircraft banking on air resistance that doesn't exist in space while the ones in Babylon 5 move like genuine spaceships would.


You can hardly miss the news that Oprah is abandoning her book club saying, according to the Guardian, that ""It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share." Which can only raise a big "huh?" Admittedly I haven't read a single one of her 46 choices (hey I've been busy) but they seem to be reasonably respectable and at least not completely the middle-brow fluff most of us first expected. But to claim that there's little worthwhile out there is so ludicrous that she certainly can't expect anybody to believe it. Publishers Weekly has documented how her recommendations have declined in influence so perhaps it's a case of Oprah taking her toys and going home. Maybe there's some as-yet unrevealed behind-the-scenes activity. Or maybe Oprah's tastes really are so narrow that she can find little worth recommending.


The website of the sorely missed Lingua Franca is down if you go to the main page. However much of the site appears to be still active if you go directly to the correct location. For instance, to find the fascinating Breakthrough section of book recommendations try http://www.linguafranca.com/bookworm/breakthrough/index.html

Tuesday, April 9, 2002


Writers pick their favorite SF/fantasy and it's not only something of a memory trip but mainly good examples of extended blurbing turned into genuine criticism. (I now want to re-read Bradbury and there are a couple of unfamiliar but promising things here.) Particularly nice to see is Neil Gaiman's choice of R.A. Lafferty. I discovered Lafferty in high school along with Philip Dick, both at the time considered somewhat declasse writers even among the SF fans who bothered to consider such things. Now of course Dick is considered a Major Author and has the full backing of perhaps the US's largest publisher. Lafferty's death in March went pretty much unnoticed and in fact nearly all his books are out of print. Lafferty's stories were perhaps the first to hint to me that there's more beyond a plot (the "standard" short story) and cool ideas (the "standard" SF/fantasy short story). In fact Harlan Ellison once suggested that Lafferty didn't write stories so much as lafferties which may be the best way to describe something that seems to have no predecessors or for that matter followers.


"in the late sixties Ed Hanson played me

this song. although it filled me with a

vague sense of future memory, I really

didn't like it. it seemed to say that in this

field of honor, sooner or later, everybody

gets hurt and I just didn't believe it."

Patti Smith on "So You Want to Be (a Rock and Roll Star)"

In the Washington Post material referenced above, John Clute notes: "It is the same with science fiction as it is with opera. It is seriously stupid. At the same time, it is a storytelling frame -- a contraption for the enabling of stories not otherwise tellable -- that has been used by a number of writers of wit and intelligence and passion and craft who might not have otherwise created significant fictions." Consider superheroes a type of SF and you see where this leads.

So try this: A man with inhuman, unlimited powers and a flashy costume who was literally forgotten by everybody now gathers other ridiculously powered and costumed humans to fight an unstoppable entity called The Void. Yeah, stupid. But now try this: A melancholy book-length meditation on loss and missed opportunities, on the corrosion of time and things that can never be undone. That's probably just as stupid. But both are The Sentry, written by Paul Jenkins with art by (mostly) Jae Lee, and it's far from stupid.

The premise is simple: A lethargic ex-alcoholic suddenly remembers that he was once The Sentry, the first and greatest of the superheroes. The catch is that nobody else remembers this: not his wife, not his best friend (Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four), not his colleagues, not the fans, not reporters, nobody (with one exception). But now an old threat called The Void is returning; all the heroes combined barely defeated it before but now it's vastly more powerful.

That makes The Sentry sound like a familiar good vs. bad sort of battle but that's not at all what it's about. It's an adagio, a literary equivalent to CCR's bottomless "Walking on the Water." Nearly half the book consists of heroes standing and waiting on Liberty Island for the approaching Void, a battle none of them expects to win. (And to Jenkins' credit the book doesn't cheat on the ending; that most readers will have long guessed what happens at the end doesn't dilute the symmetry or appropriateness. Compare this to, say, Straczynski's first Spider-Man arc--collected in tpb as Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home--which creates an unstoppable, unbeatable enemy that Spider-Man stops and beats. He should have remembered more from his own Babylon 5 where to win doesn't necessarily mean you have to defeat an enemy.) During this wait the heroes remember: Richards remembers a best friend he had to sacrifice, Spider-Man remembers a father-figure who helped him gain now-unreachable money and prestige, Archangel remembers a mentor who taught him that to fly you must fall. The most striking is the Hulk, the only person who initially remembered The Sentry (or Golden Man as he calls him). The Sentry gave the Hulk something resembling a normal life with relief from his pain and loneliness. Unlike the rest, the Hulk has always known this just as he's always known it could never happen again. And that's why he's now standing beside The Sentry, facing the only enemy he's ever feared.

And more than the story it's the realization, the art, that brings The Sentry into focus. Most of the book is done in a textured but stark style. The colors are mostly grays, night blues and earthtones apparently done by watercolor, or at least partially watercolor since there's little of the preciousness and delicacy usually associated with that medium. A few inserts in earlier comics styles (a Kirby-esque 60s, an 80s Marvel house-style) create contrast. The imagery is mostly lone figures or subtly distorted ones; the stretching of Richards no longer has a Jack Cole cartoon feel but a long impossible pull as if he could go on forever. There are more subtle touches like how the man first attaches his cape with clothespins but his costume increasingly becomes that of The Sentry as more people remember him. It's the kind of thing other creators might have felt needed close-ups or dialogue comments but here it just happens and a reader might barely notice.

The question relevant to the Clute quote is whether The Sentry needed superheroes. Could it have been, say, a middle-aged man returning to the small town he left 20 years before and encountering rough equivalents? Perhaps. But there's a power to using such iconic characters that can't be replicated. Mr. Fantastic beside the Statue of Liberty's torch thinking "This used to be an adventure....Back before things went sour." Or Spider-Man confronted by his dead parents, murdered Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy, a failed marriage, an uncertain career. The Hulk who's "been given enough sense to comprehend your deepest fear" deciding that he and Bruce Banner are cowards. Put this bluntly there's probably not much to it but it's the resonance of these characters that give it heft. (In some senses The Sentry has parallels to The Dark Knight Returns though without the right-wing politics, in fact mostly without politics of any kind.)

Though The Sentry was first published as a series of ten comics it is definitely meant for book form. Since it's a long mood piece with a nearly irrelevant plot such serial reading could only have worked against it. Elsewhere in his piece Clute remarks about writers "whose works interact so intimately with the templates and the tintypes and the iconographies and the gaucheries of sf that they seem simply indecipherable to anyone not already versed in the genre." This is certainly even more true of superhero comics where you not only have the conventions of the medium (possibly the least "transparent" of any in pop culture) but an intricate set of histories, allusions, in-jokes, references, conventions.

Monday, April 8, 2002

Big Trouble (Barry Sonnenfeld 2002): An almost complete misfire that illustrates one peril of adaptations: trying to stay too close to the novel. The book put a large group of characters, each with their own backstory, through a Rube-Goldberg-ish plot. For the film this becomes ten minutes of clumsy voice-over narration and then little more than actors jumping through hoops. The whole thing needed to be rethought in film terms, perhaps focusing on three characters and moving all the rest to supporting status. So you can wonder whether the short running time is a blessing or not. (And was the line about 2100 being 10 o'clock a mistake or a set-up for something that never happened?)


On the drive home last night I was flipping through the radio stations when an unfamiliar 60s garage song appeared. I stopped thinking it must be one of the college stations but surprise it turned out to be the big classic rock station. There followed The Sonics, The Knickerbockers and a live Aerosmith track which was far from what they usually consider "classic" and/or "rock." Best I can figure is that this was a syndicated show done by Steven Tyler, hence the Aerosmith and good choices. But it's a shame that it took this to bring such stuff to the station: usually there's a better chance hearing genuine garage on the feel-good oldies station. Three or four years back this classic rock station even went on a genuinely interesting programming binge where one weekend I heard Hatfield & the North and Gentle Giant, on a commercial station! Perhaps that's why this lasted only a few months and they went back to the usual classic rock (ie mainstream white guys from about 1970-85). Give the people what the big money has decided they want. Just as a couple of years ago the music director for WNNX (the local "alternative rock" station) appeared on CNN saying his job was to find new and exciting things to play. How odd, then, that their playlist was practically identical to numerous others across the country; when I checked there were precisely zero songs from indie labels. Presumably the only reason the MD's nose didn't grow is because he really believed he was making discoveries and not panning a washed out vein salted by the major labels. As John Lennon asked, "How do you sleep at night?" But that's probably typical of the mindset. Who needs Big Brother when the otherwise arbitrary rules are considered natural by the players? A couple of other big-time commercial DJs last week got onto the topic of a local college radio station when one wanted to illustrate what they play and groping for the weirdest stuff he could imagine came up with...."Brazillian music." Huh? This is somebody who's supposedly been professionally involved with music for years and he can't come up with anything stranger or more outre than what is on the whole some of the most blatantly commercial pop music on the planet? (Yeah yeah I love Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes and Tom Ze too but you know what I mean.) Or take the student station where I had a couple of shows, WVUA at the University of Alabama. I checked their playlist recently after hearing that they're just a baby commercial station and sadly that's true. Nothing innovative, not even anything non-innovative but at least independent. That Brazillian-music college station (where incidentally I've never actually heard anything Brazillian though they do have an entire Spanish-language show) here has some imaginative, unusual and truly exploratory programming but even if much of that is pretty mediocre at least it's something they discovered and felt worth giving a chance.


The video arcade had a boxing game where the player wears gloves wired to the machine and stands on apparently sensitized footpads to "box" against the video screen. It's the low-end of VR that has always been talked about so perhaps it's only a matter of time before more sophisticated versions become commercially plausible. (This could have had a headpiece with force-feedback though perhaps there's some potential legal problems.) The interesting thing is how the players would quickly start ducking and weaving even though there's no way for the machine to detect such motions.

Sunday, April 7, 2002

Made (Jon Favreau 2001): Not quite the comedy I expected; more a character study with a high humor awareness. Looks like mostly a money job for Christopher Doyle though he certainly shoots night better than most anybody else. See how many actors from The Sopranos you can spot; Favreau did a spot in an episode playing an actor trying to see how real gangsters act.


JSA: The Liberty File: Here's a glimpse at the commercial aspect of comics. The story is basically a 1942 epsionage thriller set in Egypt and Switzerland concerning those ever popular Nazi documents. So why the JSA or even superheroes? Money, really. How many comics readers are likely to buy a "mere" spy story especially without big names like Rucka or Azzarello? (Not to slight writers Dan Jolley & Tony Harris and artist Tony Harris who create a complex but plausible story with inventive graphics.) Still, the use of the superhero aspect in the second half shows that it wasn't completely shoehorned into an existing framework. In fact the whole thing seems to have been given extra clout by the then-revived JSA name though the JSA per se isn't in it and the appearance of the alternate-world Batman even though he was never a member of the JSA (as far as I remember). I'm assuming this alternate-world thing also accounts for the fact that all the swastikas are backwards as well as some things you couldn't get away with using the current conception of the Batman ("Your name is 'Bruce'?" "Shut up.").


The new issue of ICE reports that this August will see another four-CD Elvis box set full of 100 previously unreleased tracks. Where do they keep digging this up and who wants to buy it? I've heard my share of Elvis alternates (my share for a rock critic, more than my share for a normal human) and to be honest they're usually not worth the trouble except for the ones that remove dubbed strings, vocals, etc. These people generally weren't toying with arrangements and certainly weren't jazz musicians improvising differently each time. Makes me wonder: where's the Elvis remix album? Turn Fat Boy Slim loose on "Kentucky Rain," RZA on "In the Ghetto," Cornelius on "TROUBLE" or whatever.

By the way, ICE has brought back their daily news updates which are well worth checking out. Try the main page at http://www.icemagazine.com. I'd link directly but they seem to use outdatable URLs and have continual problems with the archives.

Saturday, April 6, 2002

Michael Kennedy - Mahler (1974, second edition 1990): Intended as a short introduction in the "Master Musicians" series, this argumentative book does pretty much what's intended but suffers a bit from Kennedy's knowledge. Maybe there's a point in tracing a drum roll in one of the later symphonies to Mahler watching a fireman's funeral in NYC but do we really need to know the date, fireman's name and years of service? Still, stuff like this bogs down Chilton's Bechet biography to near-uselessness but Kennedy is at least always readable. One quote from Mahler: "Of Wolf's one thousand songs I know only 344. Those 344 I do not like." Mahler requested only his name on his tombstone saying, "Any who come to look for me will know who I was, and the rest do not need to know."


There will be a lot about comics on here for the next couple of months or so. There's a reason. The last time I paid much attention to comics was early 1988 but their expense and increasing conformity caused me to lose interest. Still I'd sample a few every couple of years just to see if anything was going on but it appeared that nothing ever was. So about three months ago I realized that it would be cheaper to sample some by buying lots on eBay which I did. The surprise was that there's been a lot of interesting things happening in comics recently. For one thing they're fun and inventive again. For another there's some serious work being done, even with superheroes: Astro City, Devin Grayson's Batman, much of Alan Moore's stuff. So there's plenty that I'm still exploring.

But let's start with the kind of thing that most people think all comics are and that's Savage Dragon (from Image). I'd heard this was moderately amusing and so picked up issues #6-10 from late 93/early 94 (the series is expected to hit #100 sometime this year), all written and drawn by Erik Larsen. Alas, these issues aren't even minutely amusing. They're about a big, apparently indestructible lizardman who even though he's nominally a Chicago police officer does little but get in fist fights with powerful adversaries. #10 even has the following exchange. Dragon: "You killed my best friend--and for that--YOU'RE GOING TO PAY!" (This last phrase all in red for extra emphasis.) Bad Guy: "Musclebound cretin. I tire of your interference with my affairs. This game no longer holds my interest. It's time that it ENDED." All while they're leaping about and smashing the stuffing out of each other. I'd like to think it's tongue-in-cheek but clearly it's not. Like I said, most people think all comics are this mindless. Still Larsen is a fairly interesting artist and has a real knack for layout so I wonder if the series improved any. Each issue also has an astonishing four to six pages of letters; I think most comics shouldn't have letters pages (creators pay way too much attention to fans as it is) but with something new like this it's probably not a bad idea.

Moving to the other extreme, perhaps, is the acclaimed Pistolwhip (published by Top Shelf). It's written and drawn by Matt Kindt and Jason Hall but oddly they aren't identified anywhere on the front/back cover, the spine or the title page. Even the "thanks" in the back only has their first names. The only place you can ID them is the copyright information. Anyway, Pistolwhip is a sort of noirish tale (though taking place mostly in broad daylight) with a PI, femme fatale, scheming musician and behind-the-scenes mover. I don't want to give too much of the plot away but will say it doesn't go in the usual directions you'd expect and thankfully avoids most of the "I'm more hardboiled than thou" attitude. There are several nested stories that intersect in some unusual ways along with odd radio script commentaries so in a way it's as much about the concept of narrative as character motivations, something I can't help but admire. I'm less sure about the art which is sketch-like and expressionist (lines for things like cabinets and doors tend to curve unnaturally). This gives the whole thing an insubstantial feel. Is that bad? Don't know. I'll admit I wasn't as impressed as I expected to be but suspect a second reading might change that. Supposedly there's a follow-up due later this year.

Don't know if this is an omen but I made my first post and Blogger goes down for about 20 hours.

Anyway, I wanted to point out a couple of good online journals. One is by Douglas Wolk at http://www.lacunae.com/noise.htm and the other is by Neil Gaiman at http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/journal.asp. Maybe it helps that they're not only professional writers but good ones as well. The annoying thing, though, is that you can't really read these starting at the beginning. Wolk's doesn't have a separate archive and while Gaiman's archive starts several months back, within each month the posts are backwards. There's not a whole lot of narrative flow but still it would be nice to read in order.

Friday, April 5, 2002

Well since my first attempt was eaten it's time to start over:

Welcome to The Funhouse Journal, name taken from my mid-80s print zine. I'd toyed with cutesy names like Awash in Media and ponderous ones like The Culture Journal but this seems to fit better. Very little autobiography but more information/thoughts on whatever books, films, music, etc floats my way. I'd tried a weekly email newsletter a few years ago that only lasted a few months. We'll see if this outlasts that one.

Since this first post is mostly a trial I'll start with the real stuff tomorrow.