alexxkay: (Default)
I spent most of December with a cold, and thus got very little work accomplished. I did watch a large amount of Western movies, leading to significant additional annotations for Cinema Purgatorio number seven (see earlier comments about Art never being finished, only abandoned).

January, thankfully, has been significantly more productive. Notable accomplishments since last time:
• Annotated chapters two through five of Voice of the Fire.
• Helped annotate issue 11 of Providence.

Plus a lot of miscellaneous bits here and there. Still lots more to do, and a new issue of Cinema Purgatorio is due out tomorrow. Thanks for your support!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Alan Moore’s story in Cinema Purgatorio, “After Tombstone”, is pretty complex for the roughly 6 pages it takes to vivisect the gunfight at the OK Corral. I’m no expert on the subject, but I’m a lot closer now than I was a month ago, having spent a lot of time reading Wikipedia and watched the three main movies that Moore seems to be drawing on for this story (in order to annotate). None of these four sources agree with each other about what was really going on. And then, the clearly unreliable narrator of Moore’s story has yet a fifth account.

It seems to me that what Moore is getting at here is not just the now-familiar concept that history is another kind of fiction. Rather, that fiction overwrites history, often repeatedly. History becomes palimpsest, a hologram of all the different versions refracting with each other at once. As Dave Sim once quoted Moore as saying, “All stories are true.”

Of course, as we see in “After Tombstone”, this process of overwriting is an extremely violent one. Corpses are left on the street whenever it happens. In Moore’s eternalist view of the universe, however, being shot full of holes in no way prevents (or allows) those bodies to not continually repeat their roles. Dead (line) or not, the show must go on.

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Dear Marvel and DC,

Please stop creating stories which revolve around ethical debates about superheroes. It is impossible to honestly tell such a story without coming to grips with the fact that the vast majority of your protagonists are one or more of:

• extralegal vigilantes
• people who solve almost all of their problems with a combination of brute force and deceit
• people who routinely lie to their loved ones
• people who encourage minors to participate in the above activities

I’m not saying it’s impossible to tell good stories about superhero ethics – but I AM saying that it is impossible to do so within a shared corporate universe that is dedicated to maintaining the profitability of its trademarks. (And given that those corporations are direct descendents of organized crime cartels, getting them to ever put ethics or story values above profits is always going to be an extreme uphill battle.)

This rant brought to you by the fact that I recently caught up on a bunch of Marvel comics which were involved in the Civil War II crossover. A lot of characters had to suddenly be a lot stupider than they previously had been in order for that conflict to happen.

I note that Squirrel Girl was not involved. My personal headcanon is that she was off-planet during this mess. If she HAD been around, it would’ve been wrapped up in one or two issues, three tops, and would never have gotten so heated as to deserve the title ‘Civil War’.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
So, I have reached the infamous “Lucia Joyce” chapter of Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. It’s written as a pastiche of James Joyce’s Finnegan‘s Wake, with nearly every word misspelled punally, or mangled in some crossword way. Moore says that writing this chapter broke his brain, and he had to take 18 months off from writing the novel to recover. Even just reading it is doing odd things to my use and perception of language.

It’s a difficult read, but not without its rewards. I have laughed out loud more often during this chapter than any other; not merely because of funny events (though there certainly are some), but a rare sort of revelatory laughter, as I realize another layer of meaning snaking around the surface level of the plot.

But I really started writing this post to express my joy and amazement at one particular scene in this chapter. Reading and Alan Moore novel, one expects a great deal of intertextuality, and guest appearances by all manner of obscurely famous people. What I did NOT see coming, was an extended conversation between Lucia Joyce and Herbie Popnecker, a.k.a. The Fat Fury! Okay, TECHNICALLY, it was artist Ogden Whitney, but as portrayed by Moore, that’s a distinction without a difference.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
The new issue of Alan Moore’s Providence is out. I have some mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I am disappointed that the dizzying intensity of existential terror reached at the end of the previous issue is retreated from.

On the other hand, Moore has taken the well-worn Lovecraftian trope of the Clueless Narrator and driven it to hitherto-undreamed-of heights (depths? lengths? marls?). It’s so overdone it’s funny – which becomes horrifying in a very unusual way.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I have made an update to “Crisis on Earth-Sandman: The Uses of Continuity in Neil Gaiman's Sandman” (www.panix.com/~alexx/sandman.html), covering the (small amounts of) DC continuity used in Sandman: Overture. This update also includes a few corrections and expanded footnotes suggested by material in the last couple volumes of The Annotated Sandman.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
One of my favorite obscure comic book creations was a short-lived mashup of Siberian anthropology and noir, called "Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard Boiled Shaman". It was basically retellings of shamanic folklore, with a thin stylistic overlay of Hammett and Chandler.

I just found out that the creator revived the property a few years ago as a webcomic, that was then collected as a book (including reprints of some of the earlier stories from the 90s). I've read it, and it's still great. I encourage y'all to go out and buy copies so that he will be encouraged to do more stories!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
So I recently read yet another Galactus story (Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter, by Kieron Gillen). I’m coming to the conclusion that Galactus stories are like Joker stories: they were cool once, but it’s almost impossible to do any good *new* stories with them due to the corporate culture of American super-heroes. They can never be permanently defeated, because of their value as corporate trademarks.

In-story, there are lots of reasons given why Galactus shouldn’t be killed. He is a Cosmic Force of Nature. He Has a Destiny. His death would cause an explosion wiping out huge numbers of inhabited worlds. The justification seems to change pretty often. But it’s just as frequently established that Galactus *could* be killed, if you hit him with a big enough stick.

In my personal head-canon, Galactus has the power of Cosmic Hypnosis. He is able to convince people (and by “people” I include Personifications of Cosmic Forces) that there is *some* reason why they really shouldn’t kill him. Or even, in the case of his Heralds, that they should actively *serve* him. We don’t see him use this power on ordinary mortals because, frankly, he couldn’t be bothered. He only uses it on beings who pose a credible threat to him (or ones he wants to use as Heralds).

His story about originally having been an ordinary mortal may have some elements of truth to it – but that story also seems to change every time he tells it. I’m convinced that he’s just the most powerful sociopath ever. He found a way to become, literally “Destroyer of Worlds”, and thought that would be a fun gig. He’s not tragic, he’s actively evil.

I also now have some vague ideas about a story set in some unspecified Marvel future where someone finally realizes this, and manages to kill the Big G. I’m thinking maybe the daughter of Reed Richards and Loki. (Loki would totally shapeshift into Sue Storm for a good joke.)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
After years of dissatisfaction in the corporate world, followed by months of depressed unemployment, I've decide to take the plunge. I'm going indie, all-in, succeed or bankrupt.

On the cusp of that decision, I went to my local comic-book store (Outer Limits) for the first time in several months. I saw there an omnibus collection of Stray Bullets prominently displayed. This was one of my favorite indie crime titles from the 90s, but no new material had seen print in the last 9 years. The creator, David Lapham, seemed to have been seduced by the corporate side of the force, and had produced no self-owned work in ages.

I start talking about it to Steve, and discover that this collection actually heralds *new* material. In fact, there's not one, but *two* brand-new issues on the shelves. And they're great; Lapham has slipped back into the form like he was never away at all.

It's an omen. Now is the time to do My Own Art.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I said some of this in conversation recently, and thought the analogy worth expanding upon.

He produced a great deal of work in genres and formats that were widely considered to be lowbrow, disposable entertainment for the lower classes. Most of his work wasn't

collected during his lifetime. Shortly *after* his death, some of his literary disciples started getting his work collected and reprinted, marking the start of the genre and form being seen as (at least *capable* of being) "literature".

Some of his political attitudes are not in fashion today, which some readers can't get past. And he had stylistic quirks (including a fondness for long words) that are easily parodied (and arguably became self-parody in his own lesser works).

Of his prodigious output, about the top 5% consists of enduring classics, works that influenced *everything* that came after them in their "home" genres, and had considerable influence even outside those genres. The next, say, 10% of his output was also very good, though not quite *as* enduring as the first-rank material. After that, the work ranges from "good" down to "wretched".

Although only the cream of his work is widely influential, devout fanboys of his work (starting with his first reprinters) have been completists, including everything they could get their hands on, indiscriminately. This has inadvertently led to a dilution of his mass appeal. People often hear great things about his work, but are then exposed to (sometimes quite large) pieces of his work that is not at all impressive. This is, IMO, why so many people are willing to say, "I'm not a fan of his stuff", even if they generally like the genre he helped make respectable. I believe they *would* be fans of his if they read his best works, and avoided the vast sea of mediocrity around it.

[Of course, countless arguments could be made about *which*, exactly, the best works are. But if you compiled a list of many people's opinions, I don't think many people would put works in the top tier that anyone else thought weren't at least second-tier.]

I once had a conversation in which I drew a few comparisons between Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman. While there's still some validity there, when I look at the *whole* of the description above, the name Jack Kirby leaps out at me as the Shakespeare of superhero comics.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
For Kestrell's bedtime reading-aloud-to, we have started in, at long last, on Girl Genius. Tonight, she found out that any plen vhere hyu lose hyu hat iz a BAD plan :-)

Hoo'd Win

Sep. 16th, 2013 10:15 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Ever since I started reading comics, the canonical way of referring to obsessive fanboys was to raise the question "Who's stronger, Thor or The Hulk?" It turns out that that formulation goes back further than I thought, and became meta *very* early.

I've been reading a bunch of old Jack Kirby stuff lately, including early Thor material. Journey Into Mystery #112 (Jan 1965) opens with Thor noticing two groups of kids, with placards in the shape of Thor's head and The Hulk's head, arguing over which one is stronger. Thor lands, and tells them a story of how he fought The Hulk at length on one occasion.

Naturally, after a lengthy battle royale, it ends by *conclusively*... avoiding any clear answer. Thor has learned a bit of humility, in that, at the very least, this was a foe who he didn't decisively beat. Hulk, on the other hand, swears "Someday we'll meet again... and Thor will be smashed FOREVER!" As ever, Narrator Stan Lee gets the last word in a caption: "And in truth, they SHALL meet again! Perhaps not THIS month... perhaps not next... but meet they shall! And, when that epic confrontation takes place, we shall bring you every pulse-pounding incident... as you have come to expect in this, the Marvel Age of Comics!!" Note the careful lack of promise to ever actually *resolve* the issue of who is stronger :-)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Jack Kirby was one of the all-time great super-hero artists and story-tellers. Few people would acclaim him for his dialogue skills, however. I've just been reading "Captain America's Bicentennial Battles" from 1976. It's a time-travel story, and one section features Cap meeting up with Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. Ben is impressed by the costume, and calls "Miss Betsy" in to take a look at it, since the color scheme looks like it might be a good one for the flag they're working on. When Cap realizes the time paradox, he bursts out with the following:
"IT ISN'T POSSIBLE! IT JUST ISN'T POSSIBLE! I-I've been RIPPED-OFF by Benjamin Franklin!"

Also of note: while reading the first chapter, I kept remarking to myself "Gosh, there's a lot more texture and detail to this art than Kirby usually has. I wonder who inked it?" A quick look at the credits reveals that one of the inkers was "B. Smith", who would soon go on to use the much snootier name "Barry Windsor-Smith". Not a combination that would ever have occurred to me, but it works *really* well.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
This time it's in html, so should be readable by everybody. Comments welcomed. Especially comments of the sort "I know a great venue for getting this published for money". [If I *do* get it published "for real", I'll probably be taking down the web version at least temporarily.]

Crisis on Earth-Sandman: The Uses of Continuity in Neil Gaiman's Sandman

Barnaby!

Jun. 23rd, 2013 11:34 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Fantagraphics Books is, at long last, giving Crockett Johnson's delightful comic strip "Barnaby" a full reprint. The first volume is out, and anyone who likes to laugh should buy a copy!

It's not 100% perfect, but it's *miles* better than the previous reprint from the 80s, and that one never completed. I exhort y'all to buy this version, at least partially out of selfishness, because I want this reprinting to be successful enough to conclude.

"Barnaby" ran from 1942 to 1952. It tells the adventures of a small boy who wishes for a fairy godmother, and gets something rather different. A short, round man in an overcoat, pink wings, and smoking a cigar appears: J.J. O'Malley, alleged fairy godfather. He does seem to have magic powers, but not much understanding of or control over them. He's basically a con man in the W.C. Fields style, always on the lookout for a free meal or a get-rich-quick scheme. Barnaby's parents never manage to be in the same room as him, so they think he's imaginary, and worry about Barnaby's overactive imagination. (Yes, this strip was a big influence on Calvin & Hobbes.)

In his own day, Barnaby numbered Dorothy Parker and Duke Ellington among his fans. I highly recommend that you join them!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Some years ago, I had a research paper start banging on the back of my head, trying to get out. I started writing it down, to quiet the voices, and have worked on it on and off since then (though mostly off). Lately, a burst of productivity has happened, and I think it's first-draft complete. [Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] kestrell for her understanding as I went into "thesis mode" for the last few weeks.]

If you've read Neil Gaiman's Sandman recently (or often), I'd be very interested in your feedback.

The file can be downloaded from this link. (Note: Click on the gray "Download This File" button, *NOT* the big green "Download" button.)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I’ve been a fan of Eric Shanower’s work for many years now. His in-progress magnum opus “Age of Bronze” is a detailed retelling of the entire Trojan War. To quote his own web site: “While everything in Age of Bronze is based on existing sources, whether mythological or archaeological, the final product is a version for the 21st century. All the comedy, all the tragedy, all the wide canvas of human drama of the Trojan War unfolds within the pages of Age of Bronze.” It gets a strong recommendation from me.

I just recently read the latest issue in paper form. AoB is one of the few comics I still have to read that way, due to it not coming out in ebook form. But I discovered, in the back matter, that AoB is, sort of, available digitally. The digital version is not in the now-standard model, but is a standalone iPad (only) app that (so far) only covers the first four issues. But, balancing these unfortunate restrictions, the digital version adds a LOT.

Firstly, the issues have been colored, very well, by John Dallaire. Shanower’s B&W art was 9and is) excellent on its own, but color is a valuable tool, well-deployed. Personally, I have trouble differentiating faces (the trouble is more in my brain than in Shanower’s art), so having different colored clothes significantly eases my comprehension of the story, especially in scenes involving many characters.

Secondly, there is a “Reader’s Guide” by Thomas Beasley, a mini-essay accompanying (optionally) every page, with a wealth of commentary, questions to consider, and links to the sources that Shanower is drawing upon. These are *very* well done, and it can’t be an easy job. To properly comment on this story, you need an extremely thorough understanding of mythology, literature, archaeology, and the formal concerns of comic book storytelling. Beasley appears to have all these well in hand. I’m 3.5 issues in, and I’ve only had one minor disagreement with what he’s said, while his essays have enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the book from their already high levels. It’s informative and scholarly, while being written in language any layman could understand.

It’s not *perfect*, of course. There are formatting bloopers here and there, and the interface, though serviceable, could stand improvement. But at $0.99 per issue, this is astonishingly underpriced.

If you like comics, or mythology, or ancient history, or just good storytelling, I cannot recommend this app too highly. Buy all four issues – the fourth covers the seduction/abduction of Helen and is an absolute masterwork, not to be missed. Seriously, go buy this; I want to encourage these folks to continue producing new issues.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
PCR is an extremely talented comics artist who specialize in adapting prose and operatic works into the comics medium. For some years, on and off, he's been doing The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. Volume 5, _The Happy Prince_ came out recently, completing the set.

Though I am in general a big Wilde fan, these fairy tales are pretty depressing. They are full of christian moralizing, and a Han Andersen tone. As an anti-theist, I find the last line of this one to be a rather Lovecraftian horror: `You have rightly chosen,' said God, `for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.'

That said, PCR's adaptation is, in despite of the old Russian proverb, both beautiful and faithful. He's got quite a challenge in this one, as the title character is an inanimate statue for most of the story, yet he still manages to imbue it with emotion. There is room for a few touches of his sly humor. The expression of the little bird when the second drop of water hits it is priceless. And there's a shot of three sad princesses that are (in a quite naturalistic way) doing the "see/speak/hear no evil" poses.

The artwork gets a strong recommendation, the story, not so much.
alexxkay: (Default)
I've been reading [livejournal.com profile] kestrell Mike Mignola's Hellboy comic books. There's one line in particular that was a great joy to read aloud, and I think sums up the character to a T:

"Lady, I was gonna cut you some slack, 'cause you're a major mythological figure... but now you've just gone NUTS!" -- Hellboy, just as he punches Hecate in the face.
alexxkay: (Default)
Just finished reading the latest issue of Locke & Key (with [livejournal.com profile] kestrell). At a point a few pages from the end, I had to break out of my narrating voice and say, "Well played, Joe Hill, well played." Since the very first issue, there's a silly little background detail that just got revealed to be a critical McGuffin, and clearly has been there all along, waiting to be revealed, becoming the final bit of setup for the concluding arc. I'm *really* looking forward to seeing how this all turns out!

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Alexx Kay

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