Category Archives: Essays

Furor Over Basic Comics Criticism: Janelle Asselin and the Attack on Women


As many of you can imagine, there is a lot of cheesecake that makes its way into comics. As a critic, this is a can of worms that you open when you’re ready for the shit storm that follows when daring to criticize a major comics title. This is what just happened to Janelle Asselin, a seasoned professional in the comics industry after she dared to criticize the above cover for “Teen Titans #1,” published by DC Comics, home to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Can you guess what Ms. Asselin may have taken issue with?

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Filed under Comics, Essays, Janelle Asselin, Sexism, Women, Wonder Woman

Lost Cat: Fremont’s Grey is Missing.


Easter turned out to be a very nice day. I’ve just walked around my Seattle neighborhood of Fremont to surmise the current situation, take the pulse of the zeitgeist, and just get some fresh air. There’s a flyer I’ve seen a number of times and I thought I’d share it with you. Apparently, there’s this neighborhood cat, Grey, who loves to take strolls and just wander about. But he keeps getting picked up by well-intentioned people who turn him in to the local shelter! I had friends who were constantly compelled to pick up neighborhood pets they were certain they were lost only to find out that these pets were simply doing their own thing, not lost at all. Anyhow, as the above flyer makes clear, Grey, and his owner, have been dealing with this for quite some time and so a flyer went up pleading with people to just leave well enough alone. Here his Grey’s message in its entirety:

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Filed under Cats, Essays, Portlandia, Seattle

Justin M. Damiano, You Are One Of Us; We’d Embrace You, If You’d Let Us


“Justin M. Damiano” is a short work in comics by Daniel Clowes that appeared in an anthology edited by Zadie Smith, “The Book of Other People,” in 2008. As a satire on our current state of being, it should be required reading for anyone who regularly comments on the internet. Shia LaBeof is accused of, and apparently admits to, lifting this story and turning it into a short film, “Howard” Maybe LaBeof appreciated the story or maybe he just thought it was cool. His arguments, if they at least came from him and weren’t more of his prank plagiarism, might be interesting. What is most interesting is how this little story of Justin M. Damiano has come to light to a wider audience.

Clowes has proven to have an uncanny feel for contemporary alienation and the skill to say something…er, original. Here is where Shia LaBeof would take great issue with the “discredited” concept of originality. He would cry out someone else’s words about Duchamp’s recontextualizing and that would be that. Okay, so Clowes has not literally created something “original” but, then again, he has. LaBeof can skywrite his apologies but he’ll still be dealing with Clowes’s attorneys. That’s not to say that, in theory, LaBeof couldn’t end up a pretty decent provocateur. But, no, if you view his movie lifted from the Clowes story, word for word, you see a pathetic amateur move to steal someone else’s work. In other words, it’s an asshole move. That means Shia LaBeof is an asshole, not a bad boy artist.

But, whatever. Clowes (just like Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Adrian Tomine) has tapped into something sad and has plucked some gems of excellent satire in his day. In his story about a movie review blogger, Clowes gives us another character for him to hang his social commentary on. Justin M. Damiano makes it clear that we see the problem but we’re so much a part of it that we’re okay with letting out of big sigh, just before we plunge right back into the void: the world of gazing, self-importance, and blather. That is the world that Damiano is immersed in and so are the rest of us. We can pull ourselves away from it but it’s still there. It’s bigger than all of us. And, worse still, it’s not going away. That would take a whole new shift, a fundamental change in behavior, and we’re just not ready for that. He can’t help his compulsion to write movie reviews on his blog because that is who he is. He claims to be a champion of cinema but that’s just an excuse to hide from life. With a better balanced life, he might write better balanced reviews, perhaps less often, perhaps not at all.

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Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Essays

WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEROES GONE? Gloria Swanson and a Talk About How We Got Here From There

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.

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Filed under Commentary, Creative Living, Culture, Essays, Facebook, Henry Chamberlain, Heroes, Hollywood, Internet, Media, movies, Silent Movies, Social Media, Superheroes, writing

GUEST COLUMN: Webs in David Lynch’s Closet? by R.W. Watkins


Here is an unusual essay that argues that the screenplay for David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” was lifted from classic “Amazing Spider-Man” comics. Republished with permission, this essay originally appeared in The Comics Decoder by poet/cultural subversive R. W. Watkins:

Webs in Lynch’s Closet?
Similarities Between Blue Velvet and Early Spider-Man
by R.W. Watkins

Like the classic Stan Lee-era Amazing Spider-Man comics (1963-c.1972), the films and television series of David Lynch depend on a precise combination of suspense, melodrama and jet-black humour amidst a cast of extreme and offbeat characters. This is certainly more true of Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet than any of his other celluloid creations for the big and small screens. In fact, one can make a reasonably sound argument that Blue Velvet not only resembles early Amazing Spider-Man in its tone and aberrant dynamics, but indeed also owes a great deal to the actual early plots and characters of the classic comic magazine.

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Filed under Comics, David Lynch, Essays, film, Guest Column, movies, pop culture, Spider-Man, Stan Lee


1914 Christmas Truce

The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a moment in time that is an object lesson for us all.

The First World War (1914-1918) was six months in when a push for a cease-fire for Christmas took hold mainly between the German and English infantry. The men stepped out of their trenches and met the enemy on the No Man’s Land fields. And they discovered that this war, fought in the trenches was, indeed, fueled by entrenched hatred.

The fires were constantly stoked by each side’s propaganda machine. Entrenched hatred, whether on the battlefield or wherever, is a powerful force not easily overcome. And yet, the Germans and the British, on that Christmas of 1914, found common ground.

How many of us can find common ground? It is such a fundamental question applicable in a myriad of ways. Why don’t we try harder to find common ground? Is it because we don’t feel compelled enough to do so? Do we prefer to inflict pain and destruction? Too often, we want to maintain our position at all costs and find it difficult, if not impossible, to compromise. This can be in matters small and petty all the way up to matters of life and death.

The solution to many, if not all conflicts, is to step back: find perspective, see the big picture, do not take one’s self too seriously, and act in what is truly the best interest of us all. These are words but, for each of us, in our own lives, they can become acts of peace, love and understanding.

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Filed under Essays, History, Holidays


Mellon Collie CD set

“We only come out at night, we only come out at night, the days are much too bright. I walk alone to find the way…home.” The bumpity bump bump beat in the background reassures you that anything is possible in the world of The Smashing Pumpkins as you listen to the digitally remastered, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” that just released in time for holiday gift giving. As part of EMI’s extensive reissue campaign, you can now enjoy a deluxe reissue of the band’s career-defining 1995 double album. It entered the “The Billboard” Top 200 Albums Chart at #4 and earned the #1 spot on the Independent Albums Chart.

For me, it takes me back to more youthful days that I can hardly remember the exact details but that provide a hazy comfort. That was in the mid-90s during my year or so in Spokane. I had decided that I was going to try something different which led to many long nights out in a strangely and wonderfully desolate urban rural landscape full of decay and hope. The hipster crowd would gather at this 24 hour cafe in a huge loft space. The ceilings were exceptionally high. The couches gave way to more couches and nooks and crannies housed all manner of secret chambers for chess playing marathons and feverish reading and writing of novels. And this cafe had a ridiculously long list of espresso drinks, stuff like “Peppermint Patty’s Revenge,” “The Mad Hatter’s Surprise,” “Peanut Butter and Jelly Epiphany.” Something like that. The list went on and on so you could always have a different drink every time you visited. And music always played, of course. The Cranberries, Belly, Toad The Wet Sproket. And, particularly fitting, The Smashing Pumpkins. A cafe could chug along very nicely with only a Smashing Pumpkins music menu.

People, with no business doing so back then, wore flannel. Others did so out of practicality. Spokane got cold, much colder than Seattle. And, back then, even before grunge took off, my hair was already very long. Birkenstocks and Doc Martens have managed to hang on as part of my wardrobe to this day. I had always planned on getting more piercings and at least one tattoo. Maybe I will. Anything is possible, as I listen to this box set, and its relentlessly offbeat journey, from dreamy soft (“1979”) to crunchy and guttural (“Zero”), and always with Billy Corgan’s, and the whole band’s, distinctive sound. If you want to let your mind fly and get into the mood to do everything or nothing at all, then you need to own this box set and let it play, day or night, at home or on the road, all the way through. “I guess you’d say take the whole day. Do what you please, strumming with the leaves,” as the song, “Autumn Nocturne” suggests.

A question that used to be asked quite a lot was, “Why aren’t there any other bands like The Beatles?” The answer, in fact, is that there have been numerous bands that have followed a similar arc of success. You can switch it around to, “Why are there so many bands that have tried to emulate The Beatles?” And, again, a very long list of wannabes, some more successful than others. It’s nice to know that, with The Smashing Pumpkins, you have a band that clearly follows in the former list with a sound very much their own. Oh yeah, another question that will always be asked, “What kind of music do you like?” The short answer might be, The Smiths. Well, another mainstay you can’t go wrong with, The Smashing Pumpkins, especially since they’re still very much an active band. Check out the new album, “Oceania.”

“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” is a package of ambient, rocky, hippy dippy, poppy, crunchy goodness, full of hits and dubs and mixes, all arranged to transport you to another world. Get yours here.

Press release follows:

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Filed under Essays, Music, Music Reviews, The Smashing Pumpkins

Gail Simone and the Love for Comics

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.

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Filed under comic books, Comics, Commentary, DC Comics, Essays