What do the critics know? What does anyone really know..unless they take the time to carefully take in the subject? The subject in this case is David Chelsea’s new collection of comics, “Everybody Gets It Wrong! (and Other Stories): David Chelsea’s 24 Hour Comics Volume 1.” Novelist Mary Robinette Kowal put an intriguing question to the master cartoonist. She asked him which piece in his new book is his favorite. His ready reply, “Jesusland.”
Keep in mind that this new collection of comics by Chelsea was created for 24 Hour Comics challenges. That, my friend, is a challenge created by another master cartoonist, Scott McCloud, who first proposed that an entire comic book be created in the span of 24 hours, one page per hour. The book collects the first six (out of sixteen thus far) that Chelsea has undertaken. It’s a very special set of circumstances that you enter into with a 24-Hour Comic. One of the liberating factors is the freedom you have to do whatever you want in real time. And it makes sense that Chelsea would favor “Jesusland” since he was riffing on the current state of affairs: the 2004 Presidential election and the Republicans mobilizing the Evangelical vote to secure Dubya’s second term.
You can read the interview by Ms. Kowal with Mr. Chelsea here.
“Ender’s Game” is a controversial movie for all the wrong reasons. As Jergen Hemlock reports, it is at risk of losing at the box office because the work it originates from is by Orson Scott Card, known as much for his science fiction as for his anti-gay comments.
What is a geek? The question seems simple enough but it is in that simplicity that lies an utter complexity. I’m sorry but, for instance, you’re not truly a geek if you “geek out” on discussing your favorite Merlots. Even if you get really nerdy about discussing letting your wine breathe, it doesn’t guarantee you’re a geek. In “Sideways,” Paul Giamatti gives a star turn performance as a miserable guy, at middle-age, with little to show for it. One thing that gives him solace is his encyclopedic knowledge of wine. He’s not trying to be a geek or even aware of the term. In his case, he has a passion that, by default, makes him a, well, wine “geek.”
Why does everyone now want to be a “geek”? I’m not sure they even know. It’s a cyclical thing, you understand. Something is underground, it is co-opted by the mainstream media, eventually everyone is in on it, and, then, when the general audience tires of it, it goes back from whence it came and thrives once more in the fertile underground until it is yanked back out for a whole new feeding frenzy. But that never means that, during this feeding frenzy, the general audience digs deeper into whatever is currently in the spotlight, like, for example, “The Avengers.”
“Geek” has gone beyond entering the mainstream, its tipping point has been reached, as CNN declared in 2009. It is common knowledge. Like George Washington, Babe Ruth and the Dalai Lama are considered common knowledge. However, it’s not like “geek” is as well known as, say, Britney Spears, which is ironic given that geek culture has been touted as being part of the pop culture. “Geek” has been equated with what is hot most fervently by those trying to profit off some part of it. You know that your favorite niche comic has lost something once it’s being featured on G4’s “Attack of the Show.” But, most likely, your favorite niche comic will go unnoticed by these expert show biz “geeks.” And, if they do catch on to something that has an intrinsically cool quality to it, for instance, “The Walking Dead,” then you grin and bear it or you can go all counterintuitive and be happy for a wider audience. Sometimes popularity is a good thing. Sometime everyone wins. But, getting back to my point, most viewers of this zombie show are not readers of the comics that the show is based on.
Is there something horribly wrong with “Attack of the Show”? Well, let’s just say, live and let live. There’s no harm if a show is helping to bring in a new audience. This is sort of a game of survival of the fittest for any media, big or small, that is connected with geek culture. Let the content providers do it for as long as they care to. Some will stay just for the love it and not even notice or care where they stand within current trends.
So, people who are geeks are not trying to be geeks but just are geeks. The term defines someone who is totally lost in a particular pursuit and, because of that, is oblivious to other things. This term neatly fits in with the tech savvy crowd. And it moved on to cover other subjects that attract a niche audience. To be a geek, by this definition, is to be removed from general social circles. However, as marketing departments would have it, it’s actually way cool to be a geek! That is the disconnect. But when has a marketing department been sensitive to the finer aspects of human interaction? That’s up you, my friend. And, really, you don’t have to be a geek. It’s all a bunch of hype, unless you know better.
There was Andy Warhol. And there was Marshall McLuhan. But, also leading the way at the dawn of contemporary pop culture, there was Cleveland Amory. This post is going to be personal. It’s going to be one that I highlight and refer back to and I hope might inspire you. Amory’s was a remarkable life. He was gifted with something any blogger would appreciate: a way with words. He was such a keen observer of his times and what lay ahead. When I was describing my blog to a friend awhile ago, I mentioned Amory. It made sense in that instance although I’m not sure my friend caught the significance. It felt like an epiphany to me: I hadn’t thought of Amory in years, and now, it was clear that I should look back to what I knew about him and learn more. I think, as I recall, my friend nodded, as we continued our conversation. For all I know, he had just nodded, did not actually know who Cleveland Amory was! And there lies the purpose of this post. I want you to know, or rediscover, Cleveland Amory and see why he’s such a big deal.
In the beginning, and that would be at the end of World War II and with the rise of American prosperity, there was pop culture and it was good–but it had a ways to go in defining itself. Cleveland Amory arrived at the party just as it started. Fresh out of college, Harvard no less, Amory wrote his first bestseller, “The Proper Bostonians,” in 1947, which chronicled the world of old families and their old money. Amory was describing a world that held to the highest esteem those that fit into what was then known to be “high society.” Amory, an honest social observer, was not hesitant about questioning the importance or relevance of the “blue bloods.” He was one of them. He was also quick to note their decline and the emergence of a new order, celebrity culture. And with each new bit of insight, Amory took it all with a grain of salt. He was not enamoured by any of it. He was amused by it which makes him such a healthy role model for those who keep up with and write about pop culture. The man had his priorities straight. In the end, what he really found compelling was the rights of animals. He founded The Fund For Animals, which would go on to merge with The Humane Society. Instead of only focusing on social commentary, he was able to parlay his formidable connections and skills to help animals in a variety of ways from harm by hunters, questionable practices in laboratories, exploitation and slaughter.
A book that opened my eyes to the multi-faceted Mr. Amory is the impressive biography written by Marilyn Greenwald, Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader. That book has gotten me to thinking about spreading the word about Cleveland Amory. The comic strip below is a taste of what I’m working on. Here is a moment of truth for Amory. He is enjoying one of his peaks of popularity as a regular commentator on “The Today Show.” He is already on the board of directors of The Humane Society and his animal activism is growing. With his platform to say whatever he wished, with no prior approval needed on his commentary, it was just a matter of time before Mr. Amory rocked the medium he was so much a part of on behalf of animals…
Suffice it to say, there are no more annual “Bunny Bops.” It was also the end of Amory’s free rein at “The Today Show.” His scripts would be tightly supervised from then on. His days at NBC were no longer so golden. But that’s when a new door opened at “TV Guide.” My interest in Cleveland Amory goes back to childhood when I read his reviews in “TV Guide” towards the end of his time there as chief critic. I’m just old enough to remember finding him to be a really cool dude in an upper crust sort of way. He was clearly someone of refined sensibilities who had taken upon himself the burden of making sense of the new untested mass medium. He wrote his “TV Guide” columns from the 1960s to 1970s, just as TV was coming into its own. It’s no mistake that “YouTube” takes its logo directly from “TV Guide.” Television and “TV Guide” used to go hand in hand, both leading each other into uncharted waters. Even “Entertainment Weekly,” today’s influential media weekly, can not truly compare with the impact of “TV Guide” in its heyday, with its analysis and support of television. I was just a little kid back then but I was already hip to what “TV Guide” was doing and the one person who most personified the effort to make sense of television was Cleveland Amory. Thankfully, Amory did far more than make sense out of television. He helped us all make more sense of how to live a worthwhile life.
I’m going to wax rhapsodic for you for a bit. I remain perpetually hopeful and fascinated with the comics medium. It bothers me when it is abused and misused to make a fast buck, prop up an ego or work out some issues. If it still somehow adds up to a hell of story, well, I’ll cheer it on. That’s not usually how it goes.
And then you’ve got all your stuff that comes out week after the week that just keeps meeting a quota. So, no, it’s not always great when Wednesday rolls around. But then you’ll find a gem. Or you’ll see something new being done with an old idea and you keep hoping, looking, for more. It’s there. You just have to look. It’s in more than just one place. And that’s part of what Comics Grinder is about. Truth in comics! That’s what I’m looking for. When it’s fakery in comics, and I feel it’s worth making a point, I’ll call that out. Anyway, that’s all. For some reason, I felt a need to say this. Carry on.
I love hoodies. I wear them all the time. I had no idea my life could be in danger from wearing one. That is, if I fit a certain profile, like being a young African-American male.
The media firestorm rages and a nation is galvanized over the story of 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, armed with a semi-automatic handgun, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17-year-old high school student wandering around talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone and who, in Zimmerman’s mind, looked like a threat. Geraldo Rivera, never one to miss out on controversy, blames the hoodie that Martin was wearing as an obvious threat.
Of course, wearing a hoodie is not a threat. Pointing a gun at someone, chasing them down and then shooting them to death, has nothing to do with hoodies. It does, however, fit in with the mentaility of the “Stand Your Ground” law, in force in 24 states, which allows for any “justifiable” threat to be reason enough to lawfully shoot to kill. This is what state prosecutors believe would make it difficult to convict Zimmerman. However, former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, says the law is to protect homeowners and not for chasing down someone to shoot them. ALEC, by the way, is the group that pushes their own fully written bills through state legislatures, such as “Stand Your Ground.”
ABC News provides a very useful timeline. In it, it refers to change.org and its petition to bring the killer of Trayvon Martin to justice. The local police force in Sanford, Florida, have yet to act and Martin’s family is pleading for action.
I live in a neighborhood full of disposable quality goods. It’s a combination of the transitory youthful demographic and some extra money to burn. Welcome to Seattle and my neighborhood of Fremont. I don’t know about where you live, but it is very acceptable to leave items out on the curb with a “FREE” sign or not. People know it’s up for grabs. The other day, it was a Krups coffee maker. I can imagine a hipster couple pondering whether or not to snatch it up:
Hipster dude: Hey, it’s a Krups!
Hipster chick: Yeah, but it’s been out in the rain.
Hipster dude: Sure, but it’s a Krups!
Hipster chick: You’re right. It’s a Krups.
So, they take it home. There’s no obligation to keep it. There have been plenty of items that are taken and then abandoned again. No one seems to consider or much care if the thing, whether an inconveniently tall bookcase or a somewhat outdated laptop, ever gets claimed or if there is a sanitation crew that ultimately picks it up. It’s a nice neighborhood. The stuff always disappears. Sometimes a box of assorted books will take awhile to be picked through. But always, always, the stuff finds a home. I suppose no one has to worry that these cast-offs will take anything away from the surroundings since these are quality goods, everything enveloped in a polite and discrete hue.
With just a little effort, I think, most if not all of these little treasures could be done away in a more proper manner. A yard sale is an option and we have our share of those. There’s always someone moving or someone who has reclaimed their basement. With a little more effort, there’s eBay but I doubt too many of my neighbors want to take the time for that. There’s a yoga class to go to or they are finishing up plans to go to the Himalayas, you just never know. Anyway, it adds to the character of the hood. And who doesn’t like finding a perfectly good night stand from Crate & Barrel, ready to be hauled away, just when you least expect it.
Gail Simone has a love affair with comics, we know that. Moreover, she loves to write, we know that too. If you’re a really good writer, you make your readers feel that you’re writing just for them but not only that, you’re also writing for yourself, your story and your characters. I think that’s what it comes down to: a love for the craft of writing and for comics. I see it clearly in how Simone keeps her characters moving. Like many a good writer, Simone has a distinctive voice and style. Her characters, who tend to be down-to-earth, even when they’re not from Earth, are people who like to talk, to open up, to reveal who they are or, if they aren’t so receptive, are in touch with who they are and can articulate that.
Opening up Simone’s recent return to her creator-owned comic about a retirement community for superheroes, Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in The Grave, #1, we find another jaunt into character-driven mayhem. Simone, in interviews, always likes to talk about her characters. For this new six-issue arc with Wildstorm, Simone has said she was interested in pursuing why Tommy, a young African-American woman, decided to become a cop. The story, ostensibly, revolves around Mayor Fury and his being accused of at least one murder and one attempted murder. But that would never be enough for a Simone story. Keep an eye on Tommy.
Taking a look at where we are with Birds of Prey, at Issue Three, Simone has hit her stride. I don’t know that I need to have those little hard to read neon captions anymore that repeatedly describe what the characters are about. I suppose they’re residue from Blackest Night/Brightest Day. As I say, Simone has hit her stride and we’re ready to fly with this new arc without further introductions. You can’t go wrong when the birds just get to talk trash and be themselves. That alone is enough reason for me to keep up with this series. In this issue, we have the added bonus of the birds mixing with one very foul bird, the Penguin. Again, just give us interactions with the birds and the Penguin and I’m totally there. Considering how steamy things can get with such sexy characters, this issue exercises just the right amount of restraint.
And next we check in with Secret Six at its latest, #24. I can feel that Simone has a really soft spot for this ragtag group of antiheroes. The latest arc has the gang thrown into a Western and what a throw down. Of the pile of comics I’ve read lately, this one really had me lost within its pages. It gives Jonah Hex a run for its money. Page per page, this is a standout. The whole thing with the Punch and Judy dialogue interlaced within the story is inspiring, not to mention way cool creepy. It is the perfect vehicle for the harlequin character, Ragdoll. And there is some formidable girl power with a dynamic force of three key women: sheriff, barmaid and prostitute.
Getting back to this love for comics, I can’t help but equate it with a love for superheroes. They do seem to go hand in hand, don’t they?
Gail Simone in her own words, from Women in Refrigerators:
I tend to like the bright shiny heroes the best, and when comics went grim and gritty a while back-that was a period where comics had lost their appeal for me. It was books like “Kingdom Come” (which was still fun despite the apocalyptic tone) and Grant Morrison’s “JLA” that brought me back. So, maybe I can admit to a bit of a bias regarding the really grim superhero stuff.
In any case, having a uterus myself, I found that I most enjoyed reading about the girl heroes, or Superchicks. And it had been nagging me for a while that in mainstream comics, being a girl superhero meant inevitably being killed, maimed or depowered, it seemed.
Well, that was part of one of Simone’s manifestos about a need for more Superchicks and not women stuffed into refrigerators. If I were to write a manifesto, and I believe I have already on occasion, I would say we’re always in need of good writing, period. I think I’ve gotten into a little trouble, or let’s call it a misunderstanding here and there, when I mention examples of bad writing in comics. Oh, yeah, there’s enough of that to go around. And why is that? I don’t know, maybe it’s a reactionary need to go for what is considered a known property without much or any thought to quality: violence, action, genre glorification and, well, whatever leads to women being stuffed into refrigerators.
This thing about comics and superheroes runs deep. It is hardwired into us. Take the camp in the old “Batman” TV series, for instance. That wasn’t just camp. That was, and is and likely will always be, our collective understanding of comics: Pow! Zap! Boom! It’s our modern mythology. Even in the world of alternative comics, the supposedly anti-superhero world, references are repeatedly made to superheroes. It’s part of the comics DNA. So, yeah, when superhero comics are done with care, with whatever elements of sex and violence and gore are required, and you go that extra mile with quality writing, well, you’ve struck gold. It’s a theme you can count on me coming back to again and again because the reasons for coming back to it are always going to be around. Thank goodness that Gail Simone is around to provide us with some of the good stuff we appreciate about comics.
Entertainment Weekly shows a lot of love for Comic-Con in its current issue. It’s fun to look back and see in its pages what I began to accept in person: Oh, look, there goes Joss Whedon right ahead of us. Yeah, and I’m over here, next to Kevin Smith. Now, alas, that is a thing of the past, until next year. Here are a few thoughts on the Comic-Con that was.
One of the first images that came into focus this year at Comic-Con was a guy dressed up as Indiana Jones. There he was in the middle of the ritual of allowing an approving stranger to take his photo. But once the photo was taken, the guy slouched and seemed to revert back to himself. Getting a better look at him, I concluded he didn’t look all that much like Indiana Jones except for a fair attempt at a costume.
He must have picked up on my scrutiny and tried to look away and hide himself. I meant no harm. I wanted to embrace his participation even though I needed my time to process. What I should have done was just smiled at the guy. That is how I approach Comic-Con. I will always be the critic but I will always search for meaning too.
Do comics still exist at Comic-Con? The tongue-in-cheek question is asked each year as Hollywood seems to take more and more space from what was originally a comics only convention. As silly as the question sounds, it can send chills down the spine of the cartoonist and/or dedicated fan.
There had been talk of doing away with Artist Alley, the section of the convention floor dedicated to new comics talent, to make way for more of the Hollywood promotion machine. That never happened and hopefully never will. To some degree, that would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg since it’s from that shaggy world of self-publishers that big budget movies and televison shows have emerged.
The fact is, I love Comic-Con and I’m happy with it just like it is, a true melting pot of pop culture. Go ahead, I say, keep mixing comics with movies and see where it leads. I think we’re all familiar with the gripes from the media that Comic-Con keeps allowing itself to be taken over by Hollywood. Here’s the thing, the hottest trend now is to listen to what people want and it should come as no surprise that people appreciate originality. Truly creative content does exist amid all the glitz that descends upon San Diego each year. It keeps rising to the top. James Sime, owner of the comics shop, Isotope, in San Francisco, pointed out to me that two of the biggest hits highlighted at the con, the movie, “Scott Pilgrim,” and the new television series, “The Walking Dead,” come from creator-owned black and white comics. Sime, an outspoken supporter of indie comics, thinks that far from Hollywood taking over, it is original talent that rules.
I come to Comic-Con both as a comics fan and comics creator. For me, it is a little slice of heaven being among so many people sharing common ground. Of course, everyone is not there for exactly the same purpose. Even among comics fans, interests branch off in various directions. For instance, I’ve read a fair amount of “Green Lantern” comics since the character’s reboot by Geoff Johns and, for the life of me, I can’t quite get into it. Looking through panel discussion options at the con, I chose to hear Johns speak. He bound up to the stage with a baseball cap and swagger and proved to be very likable and charismatic. But, in the end, I still wasn’t exactly an all-out fan. I began to think I may never become a true fanboy as a I sat among true fanboys and fangirls.
Throughout the presentation, Johns would give clues about this and that plot development and he’d regularly interact with the audience, “You guys want to see another Superman movie?” Cheers. “A Flash movie? Yes, we’re developing a movie.” More cheers. As the newly minted Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, I had to feel for Johns since he has more than a full plate. His specialty, love it, hate it, puzzle over it, is pure undiluted superhero stories, minus any quirky subtext. There had to be something to be said for that so l left the panel cheering with everyone else. Who can not like Geoff Johns, right?
Holding far more sway with me was when I wandered into the infamous Hall H, the gigantic pit that easily seats the population of a small city. You can go in and spend the whole day in there as you’re serenaded by one big studio sideshow after another. But, as luck would have it, I heard a truly inspiring call to arms by director Guillermo del Toro. He had me at hello with the two chilling clips from his upcoming, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” With the confidence of a maestro, he said, “You must respect genre on its own terms. You can go either of two ways: You can subvert it or respect it. Anything in between is of no interest to me.” He kept going, speaking about his distaste for postmodern irony. A good horror movie, in his view, needs to be about horror and not a smirk. So many Hollywood movies fail, de Toro explained, because there is so much fear to be bold while the truth is that the chances of screwing up are the same if you make a safe movie or a bold movie. Maybe his work did not seem to have a direct connection to comics but, then again, the con is also about pop culture and, in del Toro, you couldn’t find a more rousing supporter of the indie spirit.
You have to remember that, first and foremost, Comic-Con is a comics industry convention. That is what it was set up for some forty years ago and, at its core, that is what it’s about. There are plenty of young and not-so-young people dressed up as Storm Troopers, Wonder Woman, etc. but there’s also all manner of deeper appreciation for the comics medium. One place that you find it is at the annual Will Eisner Awards ceremony. This was a very good year. The show began with the entire cast of the movie, “Scott Pilgrim,” standing on stage as the first awards were handed out. You could say that such a high end display was worthy of the Oscars. And then, to top that, it was announced that there will be a new movie based on work by the legendary cartoonist, and the namesake of the awards, Will Eisner. One of the first graphic novels, published in 1978, “A Contract with God,” appears to be in good hands as it goes Hollywood.
As I made my way back to Seattle, I settled into reading over post-Con recaps. One moment I wished I had seen was during the presentation for the movie, “Green Lantern.” A little boy made an innocent request of Ryan Reynolds. He asked him to recite the Green Lantern oath. And that’s exactly what Reynolds did without a hint of irony! The boy then displayed his Green Lantern power ring and, in true Christopher Reeve mode, Reynolds returned the salute. Upon reading about that, del Toro’s giddy embrace of genre came to mind. And I was even willing to give Johns credit for doing something similar with his earnest take on “Green Lantern.” It was a moment of true Comic-Con clarity.