I think that may have been the most flawless piece of genre TV I have ever seen.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I think that may have been the most flawless piece of genre TV I have ever seen.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
This was a leap too far for even the more intelligent quarters of Who fandom (aka Andrew Rilstone) who complained the programme traditionally addressed such questions through “allegory or morality play… Had I been briefed to talk about Iraq in the Doctor Who format, I would either have sent the Doctor to… some totally fictitious world on the brink of war, or else… used the real war as a backdrop to an alien-invasion story.”
As well as being ‘un-Who’, Andrew seems to take exception to the metafictional implications – the story is simultaneously set in our ‘real’ world and yet not. Well so is every other piece of political satire ever written! I have a vision of a puzzled Andrew sitting before Spitting Image or holding a Steve Bell cartoon, wondering why Thatcher is suddenly a puppet or Dubya now has a monkey’s body.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
If ever I utter an oath again may my soul be blasted to eternal damnation
In our culture, the strongest swearwords are those with a sexual reference; but words which refer to God and the Devil remain mildly taboo. At any rate, we retain a folk memory of the time when they were taboo.
Superstitious people feel that it is bad luck to use the names of God and Satan frivolously; and nice people think that it's bad manners to do so. So people swear using euphemisms. May God Strike Me Blind is clearly a very offensive thing to say, but Gor-Blimey! is okay; By Our Lady is disrespectful but Bloody isn't. And which of us hasn't said zounds and sblood from time to time?
Even if these examples are apocryphal, it's hard to think that expressions like jeez! jeepers! jeepers creepers! and gee whiz! (assuming anyone ever really said anything so silly) aren't euphemisms for or corruptions of Jesus! or Jesus Christ! It works with the other kind of swearword, too. Civilization would obviously collapse if anyone printed or pronounced the word shit but we are all agreed that shite is perfectly harmless.
Dealing with swearing in stories intended for children is always a bit of a problem. Characters in Grange Hill used to say flippin' heck but we all knew what they meant. J.K Rowling has people say things like Merlin's Underpants!, which corresponds to no sort of expletive that any human being has ever used. Characters in the Beano used to say Crikey! and Crumbs! both of which are presumably divine euphemisms. Great Uncle Bulgaria used to tell young wombles off for saying lummee! although he used it himself when severely provoked. It's obviously very rude indeed, because I have no idea what it means.
American comics sometimes allowed British characters to say bloody -- the Comics Code Authority being, one assumes, unaware of what a relatively rude word the English regard it as. I just came across a 1959 Superman story in which an allegedly English villain says "You haven't got the blimey point!" which is so wrong it's inspired. But native characters didn't get to say anything so filthy. Billy Batson would say Holy Moley! and Batman's special friend Robin would use expressions like Holy Mackerel! (Jimmy Olsen says Super Duper! which makes sense, since Superman is clearly his God.)
You may, if you like, argue that "moley" is a magic herb in Greek mythology, and that mackerel was the fish used by Jesus at the feeding of 5,000 (or the thing that you should eat during Lent) but one assumes that both expressions are really euphemisms for Holy Mary!
This highly stylized form of swearing was one of many aspects of the Batman comic that were affectionately lampooned in the 1966-68 TV series. Robin in particular is given the habit of creating ad hoc swearwords by attaching the word "Holy" to some innocuous noun. "We are going to have to travel to Africa, Robin!", "Holy Travel Agent Batman!"
It seemed funny at the time. Well, actually, no it didn't.
It would be interesting to know when the last time "Holy Mackerel!" was used non-ironically in a comic-book, or, indeed, anywhere else. The Comics Code is long dead and while you probably don't get that many four-letter-words in superhero comics, Frank Miller's current version of Batman swears so much that fans have taken to referring to him as "The God Damn Batman."
So, for frick's sake, guys. I realise that the arrest of an actor after a family fight is far more important than the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. But after 40 years, five movies, and a graphic novel that even the mainstream press thought was quite good, surely you don't have to introduce every freaking item about Christian bally Bale with phrases like "Holy Arrest Warrant Batman!"
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Dave Sim (1988)
Past the age of ten, I realized that the comic book medium was my thing. Superman was just something I read as a kid. As I said to Chester Brown, I have a bunch of my old Superman comic books. It's pleasurable to flip through them once in a while. But, Chet, if I ever read the stuff and say, "This is so good!" Please. Shoot me. For Wendy [Pini], it was her friends. The Fantastic Four were her friends. The Silver Surfer was her friend. Batman wasn't her friend. The way she connects with wolves. In her mind, she has more in common with wolves that she has with Richard. The more influence women are given in society the more pecular stuff like that gets moved to the center and the weirder everything starts to get.
Dave Sim (2004)
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
I asked Jonathan what he thought of Glamourpuss. He told me:
"I fell asleep reading it.
"Not because it's boring. It isn't boring. But it is like reading a technical manual. It's got that much detail in it. The words don't make much sense to me because I don't have much understanding of the material. I've got no interest in Rip Kirby. I'd never heard of it before. I've got no interest in the fashion industry. I would find it easier to read a computer manual.
"He's taken the device that this is an origin story for Glamourpuss, except Glamourpuss isn't really a character. At the same time he's saying that he wants to work out how Alex Raymond created comic books out of photos, because he was the best at it. So it's kind of a study on that particular kind of comic. And none of those are things which interest me.
"His writing is as good as ever. I got the feeling that he's just repeating gags that he's used before, but it did make me laugh. Evil Dave Sim realising that this was actually working and that he could perhaps use this -- with a lovely little caricature of himself presumably taken from a photo. I thought that was just very well done.
"He seems to be deliberately playing up to and teasing his critics. He's chosen the fashion industry knowing that people will jump to conclusions, because he's a famous misogynist. But lots of the digs at the industry are very funny. There are some nice jokes. "Top 5 signs you've already found Mr. Right" is one of his standard jokes. You just reverse something and make it funny. Of course once you get to the 5 signs they're all absolutely wrong... Which is an old Viz joke. The scenes with Glamourpuss are a bit funny. But they're not his best stuff; not the 'early funny issues.'
"Since he's taking pictures from fashion magazines and using those as illustrations, they don't connect at all. He's got very good drawings -- translations from photos -- but they are a stream of photos of models wearing designer clothes to which he's trying to add a thought bubble which fits. There isn't a narrative.
"It reminded me most of Alan Moore's "Magic Cards" which is basically a collection of poems, or plotless prose with very good illustrations -- basically a stream of consciousness. You come to the end and think "I have no idea what he was going on about." I could read the words; I could see what was happening in the pictures; but nothing happened in the story. He'd adopted a style to write it with, but it wasn't a character. I think the same is true of this.
"There are some lovely bits where he is quoting a particular piece of fashion -- dresses or gloves or handbags or shoes -- which sounds very authentic. I don't know whether he's actually gone and learned who the designers are and what goes with what or whether he's simply copied it all out of the fashion magazines.
"That's quite amusing: that Dave Sim is writing about fashion, apparently very knowledgeably. I assume he actually sat down, read about fashion, and found out about it. Because he's mad. I'm sorry, I mean committed."
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Judenhass is a 40 page comic book, with stiff card covers and shiny pages, with a few pages of text notes at the back. As everyone knows, it deals with the holocaust, or, as Dave Sim prefers to say, the shoah. According to the theory of the Unity of the Literary Virtues, I ought to say that Glamourpuss, being sexist, is Bad, whereas as Judenhass, which sets out to remind us that the holocaust was horrible, is Good. In fact, while I found Glamourpuss interesting-but-bonkers, I felt that Judenhass failed to cast what little it had to say into any particularly interesting artistic form.
Pages 1 - 7 depict six shots of the gates to Auschwitz: in the first frame it's in the middle distance, and it gradually gets closer and closer. Clearly, the point of view is that of a victim in a train to the camp. There is no dramatic narrative: the text consists of Lucid-Dave, (in his own voice) telling us why we still need to think about the holocaust -- especially if we are comic book readers, since the founding fathers of the American comic were, to a man, Jewish. The final panel of page 5 states that people often talk as if the shoah was inexplicable and unique to Nazi Germany, "Whereas I believe that the historical record of non-Jewish culture and its tolerance for and embracing of Jew hatred shows, instead that the shoah was very much..." We turn the page an are confronted by a 2 page spread of the gate to the concentration camp, accompanied by the single word "inevitable."
This may be a little mannered and obvious; but it's definitely making use of the comic book form to progress an argument. The big (and not at all small or cramped) panel gives an interesting rhetorical emphasis to the little word in the caption.
Unfortunately, this is the last page of comics in the whole pamphlet. Oh, the rest of the book is laid out like a comic, but there's no sequence and certainly no narrative. We are simply showed a series of pictures of holocaust victims. Pages 12 and 13 each consist of 9 panels. The first is an extreme close up of someone's eye and each subsequent panel "pulls back" until we are looking at a body on a pile of victims. (Because no context is provided, it isn't always easy to tell if we are looking at live people or corpses, which may be the point.) This sequence of panels doesn't have any particular point of view: it represents, if anything, a camera zooming in and out of the scene.
Page 33 and 34 consist of 2 large pictures of horribly emaciated children, and around 24 small close-ups of their faces. A photo realistic picture of Hitler, making the familiar Nazi salute is superimposed across the spread, along with three panels of text about Hitler's anti-Semitism and Europe's reluctance to accept Jewish refugees. So far as I can see, there is no sequential way of reading the comic book panels – the image of Hitler and the text completely disrupt any sequence. The comic book grid is simply one element of a montage: a well constructed and striking montage, but just a montage.
If Dave Sim chooses to spend his retirement sitting at a light box trying to work out how to translate satin gloves or leather shoes into pen and ink, that's his business But the idea of Dave Sim taking documentary images of dead Jews and trying to translate them into photorealistic pen and ink drawings... and then, presumably, scanning or photocopying the result and assembling a collage which repeats the same picture 20 or 30 times....strikes me as, if anything, a little distasteful.
Do the pen and ink drawings say anything that the actual news pictures would not have done? And do we in fact need to see the images to understand what the holocaust was? The book doesn't tell us about the scale of the genocide, or the cold-blooded industrial way it was carried out. It just shows us that people were treated appallingly and some of them were killed. But, surely, we knew that already? There might be some purpose in showing someone who agrees with meat eating, abortion, or capital punishment pictures of an abattoir, an aborted foetus, or an execution: It might be that they thought it was possible to switch a cow, a foetus, or a murderer off like a light, and need to be told how horrible the procedure actually is. (Mad-Dave would say that this was an appeal to emotions, and therefore invalid.) But is anyone in a similar state of ignorance or denial about the holocaust? There are a small number of nut-jobs who already know that no such event ever took place. I don't know why they would be impressed by pen and ink renderings of what they believe to be faked photographs. Everyone else already uses "holocaust" as a synonym for "human evil".
Throughout the comic, images of famous and in some cases reputable historical figures are juxtaposed with the death porn, along with captions quoting anti-Jewish remarks that they made. Sim's notes show that his research on this has been characteristically thorough: he has taken care to verify that everyone really said the things he attributes to them, and that they really meant what it sounds as if they mean. He says he rejected a widely circulated quote from George Washington, because it referred to war profiteers rather than Jews; he gives Aquinas the benefit of the doubt, assuming that a passage about usurers is a condemnation of people who charge excessive interest, not of Jews in general. He quotes famously inflammatory remarks made by Martin Luther, but notes in that nearly all modern Lutherans have repudiated this aspect of their leader's theology. If only everybody was this careful about their use of the internet.
Other than "the holocaust happened", does the book have anything to say? Sim rejects the term "anti-Semitism" -- after all, Arabs are "Semites" too --- and says that the Holocaust was the result of Judenhass -- Jew-Hatred. And he prefers the Hebrew word shoah (calamity) to the Greek holocaust (sacrifice by fire) adding:
"The shoah was done to Jews -- and yes, to others as well. But the fact that "to others as well " has become a universal interjection when the subject of the holocaust comes up it seems to me, points to a central and malignant evasion on the part of non-Jews."
Evasion? If you define "shoah" as "the massacre of Jews in Nazi Germany" then it is trivially true that only Jews were victims of the "shoah" I do not see why it is "evasive" to say that between three and five million non-Jews were also killed. And I don't buy his central claim that there is a specific thing called "Jew-Hatred" that made the concentration camps inevitable, any more than I believe that Diocletian, Stalin and Richard Dawkins are all infected with a single thing called Christian-Hatred. I think that at times of plague, war and economic recession, stupid people will look for someone to blame, and will generally pick on a small, easily identifiable group that looks or acts differently.(British Jobs For British Workers, and all that.) I think that similar fibs are always told about the target group. Romans said that Christians were cannibals; Christians said Gnostics ate babies; Gentiles have often said that Jews steal Christian babies to use in their sacrifices. Nick Griffin says that the Koran requires Muslims to molest white children; Richard Dawkins thinks that raising children Catholic is the moral equivalent of etc etc etc etc.) I think that saying that "the holocaust was caused by Jew-hatred" is like saying "Crime is caused by criminals". It tells you nothing; it gives you an excuse not to even attempt to understand the specifics of why it happened when it happened where it happened.
I wonder whether Sim's essentialist belief in one specific thing called Jew-Hatred is related to his increasingly shrill insistence that although he thinks that women should not be allowed to have jobs, should not be allowed to vote, and should be spanked when they disobey their husbands he does not in any sense suffer from Woman-Hatred?
As ever, some of the strangest stuff comes in the text epilogue.
Unfortunately in this age of diminishing attention spans it seems to me that there is also a need for distillations of the facts that allow even the slowest reader and the most reluctant teacher to comprehend and convey some measure of the enormity of the Shoah and the profound level of enmity against Jews which made it possible. I hope that Judenhass with roughly a 25 minute reading span will serve that purpose. It is to be hoped that 25 minutes could be found to teach high school students on the subject..and the on-going significance...of the holocaust."
Even when he means well, Dave still exists in his own parallel little universe.
I don't know anything about Canada, but I find it spectacularly unlikely that any child in the UK could get through school without knowing what the holocaust was. You can't avoid Anne Frank's Diary, for one thing. Don't some schools pay attention to something called "Holocaust Day"? There is a widely disseminated complaint that English History has been reduced to "Henry and Hitler": a curriculum that concentrates on the Second World War (and the Tudor dynasty) to the exclusion of everything else. We English can't resist mentioning the War because we single handedly won it without any help from anyone else. But maybe things are different in Canada.
It's an intriguing picture. The teacher, who is apparently reluctant to teach the children, possibly because he himself is an evasive non-Jew who thinks that the holocaust was done to other people as well as the Jews. The little emotion based beings, totally out of control since we stopped beating them, with no idea that such a terrible event ever happened. One morning they come to school. They sing a hymn or swear allegiance to a maple leaf or whatever happens over there. Teacher goes to the cupboard and hands out 30 copies of Judenhass, presumably neatly covered in brown paper and paid for by the Canadian government. The little emotion based beings put their heads down and start to read. The silence is broken only by the occasional question. ("Please Miss, who was Stan Lee?") Twenty five minutes later, the books are put back in the cupboard, and the children never hear another word about Hitler until they leave school.
I am not sure whether, during those 25 minutes, they will actually have learned very much.
Cerebus: How many of these off-limits cattle do you suppose your people mutilated and burned trying to please the living thing, the big light and the big fire in the middle of the earth?
Konigsberg: Once again, I decline to answer on the basis of feeling even more nauseous than I did a few minutes ago. [thinks] Millions, probably
Cerebus: There's the sad part. Someday, Yoohwhoo is going to demand that that "debt" be paid. And... millions, you said? Millions of your people are going to... um. [Long pause] [Clears throat] [Another long pause]
Cerebus the Aardvark, "Latter Days"
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
-- Do you think that we'd be as interested in these paintings if they weren't by Bob Dylan?
-- No, but they are by Bob Dylan, so let's move on.
News night Review, BBC2 13th June.
Glamourpuss is a 28 page comic book -- 19 pages of comics, 7 pages of text + covers.
It is packaged as a parody of a woman's fashion/lifestyle magazine. It is, it goes without saying, spectacularly well-drawn. In places, it is very funny. Almost everyone who has seen my copy has at least smiled at the strap-line: "The high fashion comic book that's SO six months ago"
Six pages of the comic depict the internal monologue of an airheaded fashion model named "Glamourpuss." Reading about Chinese culture, she exclaims: "These people make foot binding seem like a...a...bad thing. Don't they realise that an L.B.D by Vera Wang just looks wrong with size four booties?" Exegetes may take the view that, since it depicts a woman who is a self-obsessed idiot, "the comic" "says" that "women" are self-obsessed idiots. I found it quite amusing.
Many people have spotted that as Cerebus progressed, it became less and less about Cerebus and more and more about Dave Sim. It has also been noted that as the comic got more and more Simcentric, the art got better and better. Glamourpuss. is not about Glamourpuss. Nor is it, except incidentally, about fashion. It is about Dave Sim, and about drawing. It is about Dave Sim drawing. It is about Dave Sim drawing Glamourpuss.
Dave says that the title of the issue -- "The Top Secret Origin of Glamourpuss."("WHO she is! HOW she came to be! WHERE she gets all those great clothes") is a slightly cynical in-joke: "In comic book stores, if you have a No.1 and a "origin of..." story, no matter how pointless, it's going to boost your sales." But it is actually a pretty good description of the comic. The comic is about how Dave came up with the idea for the comic; and about the techniques he used to produce it.
Pages 1 - 5 are a series of pictures of a pretty girl in various outfits, overlaid with captions in which Dave speaks in his own voice. (The voice is that of Lucid-Dave, not Mad-Dave: the voice of the funny editorials, not that of the ranting essays.) Lucid-Dave says that when people asked him what he was going to work on after Cerebus, he always replied "photo-realistic pictures of cute teenage girls". This was, in fact, what he was drawing, but he had no way of coming up with a story to go with the pictures. (Exegetes may wish to spend some time wondering whether the comic "says" that it's ok for middle aged men to look at pictures of teenagers, and whether "cute" is a sexist word to apply to members of the opposite gender. The models in Glamourpuss. are all well over the age of consent.)
On pages 6-9 there are more fashion pictures, and copies of comic-strips by Alex Raymond, who he believes to be the past-master of the photo-realistic style. He comments in great detail about the techniques that Raymond used. I must admit that I had rather assumed that "photo realistic" drawing wasn't real art: it's simply a matter of tracing a photograph, isn't it? Sim explains that it's actually all about translation -- finding the exact kind of brush stroke that will represent a texture in pen-and-ink. And indeed, every one of the "traced" images in the book are instantly identifiable as "Dave Sim" pictures.
Sim uses Raymond's Rip Kirby as an example: a comic which I confess I've never seen. I enjoyed Raymond's Flash Gordon for the strange architecture and the inventive story-telling: although I can see that the realistic human figures are very pretty indeed, particularly in the Ice Kingdom segment. Sim uses pages from fashion magazines to experiment with photo-realistic work simply because they provide a ready source of reference material – and also, presumably, because the clothes themselves present an interesting artistic challenge.
On pages 10 - 15, he "demonstrates" that it isn't possible to turn this material into a comic because -- obviously -- a series of pictures of different models in different poses don't make up a narrative sequence. So he presents a series of montages of Glamourpuss. and her meandering thoughts about life and clothes – the last of which is interrupted by Lucid-Dave saying "This is actually pretty good! This could work!"
The remainder of the comic consists of more close readings of Rip Kirby, concentrating in particular on Alex Raymond's use of heavy black shading, breaking off on page 19 with a "Sorry, I seem to have run out of pages this time around."
The package is rounded out with text pages which are parodies (parodies) of women's magazine features, such as Glamourpuss's "five signs that you've found Mr. Right" which are, of course, five signs that the man you are dating is completely unsuitable for you. ("He stands you up and doesn't call to apologize....Horrified? Relax. He's just playing head games with you because he's finally realized how deeply and passionately and inextricably in love with you he is...") Exegetes may have a problem with this section, since it seems to "say" that men are selfish louses, but that women aren't clever enough to spot this -- which suggests a sexual politics which is slightly (slightly) more complicated than the single word "misogyny" might suggest.
I dunno. If you asked me "what does Dave Sim do well" I'd come up with a list along the lines of:
b: body language
c: voice -- using balloons and lettering to tell you what his characters sound like
d: Panel composition
e: Dialogue -- even the barking mad Torah commentaries were intermittently very funny
g: Big, overarching plots
h: Complicated political machinations
Glamourpuss. seems explicitly created to leave all of this out.
Not that one can't still see Dave's skill. Page 14 is a single image of Glamourpuss. against a white background. The captions are printed directly on the background, but the whole page is enclosed by a heavy black box. It is almost ostentatiously "not a comic." This is in contrast to page 15, which is a montage of three images against a realistic background. A small picture of Glamourpuss. is juxtaposed with a large picture of Gandhi (because she is thinking about him).This time, the page itself has no border, but Glamoupuss's thoughts are printed in boxes like conventional comic-book captions. I think that this draws us into a more sequential, less novel-like way of reading. At the bottom of the page, there is a small, inset frame containing a caricature of Dave Sim himself. The inset frame is black, were the rest of the page is on a white background; which makes the point that two different kinds of narrative, the fictional and the autobiographical, are being placed alongside each other. (We have Dave, who is creating Glamourpuss, Glamourpuss herself, and Gandhi, who Glamourpuss. is thinking about, all represented on one page, but in slightly different ways.) Sim's thoughts are in slanted text boxes to represent their "madness" and intrusiveness. The small "GP" insignia at the bottom right of the page indicates that this section of the story is "over", and we are returning to something which will at least look like a conventional comic. This represents an effortless, fluency in the sheer language of comic-books; a creator who is entirely at ease with the form; unselfconscious innovation.
Some critics objected to Cerebus on the grounds that a long work which includes both passages of comic strip and passages of prose is not kosher. I don't know whether Glamourpuss will similarly be accused of mixing milk with meat. The sections where Glamourpuss is thinking out loud are quite wordy and say "She thought" and "She said" instead of using speech bubbles and think bubbles. But the text looks like standard comic-book lettering. Perhaps we only feel that "prose" has intruded into our funny book if it is printed in Times Roman?
Glamourpuss reminds me of nothing so much as one of Harvey Pekar's less inspired days: when he spends three pages telling you that he got up, went to the toilet, bought some eggs, and couldn't think of anything to write a comic about. Of course, the whole point of American Splendour is that it's trying to transmute ordinary domestic life into art. I don't know whether the latest meanderings from Planet Dave are going to seem as interesting in the long term.