Wednesday, 28 January 2009

This Blog Was Built To Self Destruct

Being a series of essays on a theme, which will eventually lead to this blog stopping dead/reformatting/finding a new groove.

Previously on This Blog Was Built to Self Destruct:

1. Faster than The Speed of Wall (tabloid reality and issue #1 of The Filth)
2. Like a Puppet on a String (The Filth #2, bad taste and emotional manipulation)
3. How to Manage Your Own Personal Concept Farm (morality and metafiction in issue #3 of The Filth)
4. This is a Low (self-deception and scale in issue #4 of The Filth)
5. Beware -- Cosmic Architect at Work (genre-fiction, self-expression and cosmic awe in issues #1-2 of The Eternals)
6. Remembering The Men of Tomorrow (on kindness & perspective in All Star Superman, and the death of David Foster Wallace)
7. Twisted Brainwrongs and One-Off Man-Mentals (sexism, pornography and black comedy in issue #5 of The Filth -- also, peep this addendum)
8. Success in Circuit Lies (giganticism in issues #3-6 of The Eternals)
9. OMAC, What Is Best in Life? (on the joys of Jack Kirby's OMAC; also, doing vs explaining)
10. (Man-)Meat is Murder (The Filth #6, escapism and the broken mirror)
11. Darkling I Listen -- Commonplacebook (David Fiore on the limits of scholarship)
12. Mercury Rev -- 'The Dark Is Rising' (more on escapism and its uses)
13. Andrew Hickey on Grant Morrison and Entropy -- Commonplacebook (in which the relationship between entropy and freedom is made poetic)
14. All You Need Is Fuck? (in which the relationship between black holes and pearly white semen is made poetic in Birdland... well, sort off!)

Coming soon on This Blog Was Built to Self Destruct:

15. Self Portrait in a Broken Mirror (on the the failing of the body and the limits of self-reflection in issues #7-13 of The Filth)
16. Clone Cycle (on text and meta-text in Superman Beyond and The Black Dossier)
17. Time Wars (blame this one on the Falconer: I'm gonna talk about shitey old Transformers comics, Elric, and how it's all my dad's fault that I give a damn about any of this in the first place)
18. Spaceships Over Glasgow (Vibrational Match: The Scottish Connection)
19. Welcome... to the World of Tomorrow! (getting 'Rock of Ages' in perspective)
20. Fuck This Blog! (Paul Pope's 100% and life beyond pulphope)

Also: more footnotes!

Note: Post titles and concepts may change! Fresh entries may be improvised! Nothing is certain in the current economic climate!

Feel free to ignore the existence of this series if it annoys you; I'm trying to complete a couple of thoughts here, but I'm not gonna stress out about tying it all together. This isn't a big superhero crossover, after all! Though now that I think about it, I do kinda like the idea of announcing the death of my blog in Plok's comments or something...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Alec - The King Canute Crowd - 'A funny notion...' -- Commonplacebook

(As always, make with the clicky to see this image at full size.)

It's hardly news that Eddie Campbell has a rare gift for capturing very specific thoughts and feelings on the comics page, but did you know that he'd already anticipated my current Birdland-derived musings? Seriously though, the fact that Campbell can bring pages like this together so elegantly, and with so much good humour, still amazes me to this day.

Music: Response

Readers, I've got a question for you.




I'm only asking because my general excitement about the upcoming Seaguy sequel has got me thinking crazy thoughts. Thoughts like "if Mark Miller had created Seaguy, would it have been less Prisoner and more Demolition Man?"* Imagine: the same longing for excitement and adventure, the same hints that there's something shady going on beneath the seemingly peaceful streets, the same panic over surveillance culture, only dumber, sweatier, and with a genuine hard-on for gun fights and fist fights. Is that what it would have looked like? Sandra Bullock says yes, and I say maybe. What do you think?

*In this hypothetical comic book, Sylvester Stallone = Chubby Da Choona.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

All You Need Is Fuck?

by Gilbert Hernandez

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to start out by informing you that this post is most definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK! I've edited some of the following images down so that they're a little more abstract, but it's still not the sort of material you want your boss to catch you looking at, you know? Okay. Sensible souls that you are, I know you've probably closed down this browser already, or at least flicked back to a less grubby web page, so let's get on with it shall we?

Alright, so while issues #5 and #6 of Grant Morrison's The Filth are all about the brutality of hardcore porn, they're very much about it, rather than examples of it. Or, to put it another way, The Filth's relationship to pornography is analogous to The Singing Detective's relationship with the musical.

Birdland, meanwhile... well, that comic's just plain filthy! The cover promises "Libidinous psychiatrists! Neurotic strippers! Horny little creatures from outer space!", and the pages within delivers all of these pleasures with some gusto. As always in Gilbert Hernandez's comics, women with huge breasts are freely and openly fetishised; in Birdland, the only difference is that men with huge cocks are given a similar treatment. [1]

Personally, I find Birdland far too gooey and overblown for any, um, practical applications (too much information? Yeah, I thought so!), so why am I bothering to talk about it here? [2]

Good question! Well, ever since I started writing my series of posts on The Filth, my brain has been rattling away in the background, making all sorts of stringy connections. So, for example, 2008's deluge of joyously HUGE Jack Kirby reprints sparked thoughts about how Morrison's discordant scripting style is an attempt to match the constant rupturing of sense and perspective that occurs in Kirby's artwork. Thinking about Kirby's artwork while pondering the 'Pornomancer' arc in The Filth led to a small explosion of thinking about Birdland, and so on...

You see, beyond the relatively demure covers that have so far graced this blog post, Birdland is full of some of Gilbert's most energetic and bugfuck crazy cartooning. If those covers linger a little more readily on the sort of zesty hornyness that is a constant feature of Hernandez's mainstream work, then the comics themselves take another feature of his work to its natural conclusion. Namely, the Jack Kirby influence.


I fully understand that this might sound a little bit weird, but trust me on this one. It's all about the spunk, you see. If I was being facetious I might claim that spunk is to Birdland as cosmic energy is to Kirby's oeuvre.

Catch me in a less playful mood and I'll tell you much the same thing. Birdland is all about bodies crashing into each other, sending off arcing jets of thick white semen as they twist into ever-more-unlikely shapes and combinations. Tongues grow, cocks twist, and the man milk keeps on flowing. Hernandez's busty heroines have always been imbued with Kirby-esque raw power (both in terms of physical shape and personality), and seeing them covered in such a ridiculous amount of gunk made me think of nothing so much as the way Kirby swathed his powerhouses in raw, crackling energy.

Just compare the image to the right to the one below. The former is from Birdland, the latter from The Eternals, and while they're miles apart in terms of content, there's a shared sense of overkill which makes me think we're dealing with kindred spirits. [3]


Of course, there's more to this post than that. While there's a certain juvenile frisson involved in writing a post about a hardcore porn comic, I wouldn't have let it run on for this long if the book didn't have certain other curious traits.

You see, while there are relationship problems, insecurities, infidelities and some deeply unethical therapy sessions in this comic, none of it matters. In Birdland, as in the feverish monologue that ends issue

#6 of The Filth, we're presented with a world in which there's no black hole that can't be filled, no problem that can't be gangbanged away. A world in which 'All you need is fuck.' [4]


Time for a semi-random tangent -- does anyone else remember the Silver Surfer: Year Zero mini-series that

was rumored to be happening way back in 2002/3? I think Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely were the proposed creative team, and Morrison's old, eye-scorching red website used to have some sort of blurb up about it. So... yeah, let's be honest, the only reason I remember it is because of this old Barbelith post:

Hope this hasn't been mentioned already. Please be gentle if I'm embarrasing myself...

Anyway, the guy who owns/runs AMAZING FANTASY in Hull was telling me he had Mark Millar down for a signing and mention this project in the pub afterwards.

Apparently it includes a scene where Galactus has one off the wrist and "out come lots of tiny little Silver Surfers", to quote the bloke in the shop.

"Marvel will never publish it", according to Millar.
As a fresh faced Bots'wana Beast points out at the bottom of that short thread, Millar was probably just having a laugh with the shop owner, but it's still a memorable image. What's more, its somewhat conducive to my point. Imagine that this hypothetical Silver Sufer: Year Zero started with this unthinkably silly image. Then say that this gushing horde of Silver Surfers flew off into the cosmos, not to herald the destruction of countless planets, but to spray their own cosmic energy into the atmospheres of these worlds, turning the matter of these planets horny. Let's also say that this plot was executed in a style that was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but still full of enough conviction to want to slide that tongue elsewhere at times. And while we're at it, let's just suppose that the creator of that comic was as talented as Gilbert Hernandez. If all of these things were true, and if the artist in question let the ink jet across the page with enough verve, then my point is that this imagined comic might just make a fitting sequel to Birdland.


Still with me? Good. Thanks. I appreciate it. For anyone out there who's not read Birdland and thinks that I'm being hyperbolic here, please be aware that the aliens and "metaphysical sex" promised on the cover are every bit as present as the strippers and psychiatrists. Also, did anyone mention that at one point we're jerked back into the age of rampant, inter-species dinosaur lovin'?

Still, for all that this pornographic fantasy has mad energy to spare, it's still just that: a deranged fantasy. And while its cast of characters don't quite manage to fuck each other into the Morrisonian supercontext, it's not through lack of trying. That said, perhaps the most interesting shift in perspective comes in the last page, where a post-coital Fritz & Mark Herrera stagger into the outside world, and Fritz says:
Perhapth... pehapth I wath too hathty about filing for divorce. It'th not too late to thotp the proceedingth... and try to work thingth out...
It's pure soap-opera, of course, but that's the point -- for all the bangs and drama and big passions that this story contains, it's this moment of small, ordinary emotion that closes the book. It might not seem like that big a deal at first, but it's changes in focus like this that allow Hernandez to use these two characters here and as part of his ongoing Love & Rockets saga. What's more, it's moments like this that show he's aware of the limits of such berserk fantasies, and that's an essential part of any adult's mental hygiene.

Thanks for sticking with me on this one! Hope no one out there feels too dirty...

Next Up: More on The Filth! Also: The Eternals!

[1] Anyone looking to read a rhapsodic account of Gilbert Hernandez's more... socially acceptable work in Love & Rockets should probably head over to The Tearoom of Despair right now.

[2] Hmmm... actually, I don't think I've properly crossed the line into "too much information" here, but this is exactly the sort of territory I don't want to get into on my blog!

[3] Old school comics fans please take note: I am not implying that Jack Kirby was a fan of semen-drenched hardcore pornography. I'm not saying that he wasn't, but... yeah, I'm just having fun with some unlikely juxtapositions here.

[4] This isn't quite true, of course, but don't worry, I'll get to that in a minute!

[5] The only disappointing thing about this section of the comics is that Acid Archie fails to make a guest appearance.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Marnie Stern -- 'Shea Stadium'

The above video comes from Pitchfork TV, who have an entire set's worth of excellent Marnie Stern performances online right now. Thanks again Sean!

Also: this song! I love the way it exists at the exact point where chaotic noise and genuine beauty meet. The way the lyrics keep on circling around the word 'center' makes me think that this is deliberate, because it's always suggesting a musical core without ever pinpointing it. And hey, here's an awkward truth for ya -- I originally thought that the lyrics to this song included the repeated refrain 'Fight/In-to/Flight', which seemed like a perfect encapsulation of the way the music turns this total war of guitars and drums into something beautiful, you know? In this reading of the song, it wasn't so much about fighting then running as it was fighting your way to takeoff.

According to Marnie's myspace and the album sleeve, the actual lyrics are 'Right into the night', which makes 'Shea Stadium' great in an entirely different way. The first time this refrain pops up, it follows the words 'Bigger than big/ That's how you start it', which makes it seem huge and optimistic. When it's repeated, it follows on from the line 'You said to me/ I'm empty hearted/Bigger than big/ That's how you parted'. In this context, it's a devastated goodbye, but the way Stern closes the song all riffs a-blazing suggests that no matter how big the situation gets she's got the power to plow on. What can I say, self-help rhetoric sounds real good when you replace words with guitars!

I wonder: is the stadium of the title a setting or a metaphor? At first I thought it was neither, but right now I think it might be both...

UPDATE: listening to this live version of 'Shea Stadium' again does interesting things for my interpretation of the song. It's ridiculously clear that the lyrics are 'Right into the night' during this performance, but I've also noticed that Marnie alternated the use of 'parted', 'started' and 'start it' freely during the 'Bigger than big' refrains. Deliberate or otherwise, this doesn't do much to alter the meaning of the song, but it does make it feel even more decentered. Which is good, because if you're going to play with chaos you might as well go all the way, right?

'Yes. It is happening.'

Written by Grant Morrison
Art and cover by Cameron Stewart
In 2008 alone, superstar writer Grant Morrison killed Batman, put the entire DC Universe through its FINAL CRISIS and concluded the unanimously beloved ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. But what does a writer who’s written every significant Super Hero do when he can create any Super Hero he wants? The answer, of course, is SEAGUY! Morrison (THE INVISIBLES) rejoins original SEAGUY artist Cameron Stewart (SEVEN SOLDIERS) in an all-new adventure starring the cult-favorite character!
In Seaguy’s cartoon future world, everyone is a Super Hero and no one dies. It’s absolutely perfect...Or is it? In this follow-up to the cult 2004 miniseries, Seaguy resurfaces with a sinister new partner, a hatred of the sea and a rebel restlessness he can’t explain. Why are Doc Hero and his ex-archenemy Silvan Niltoid, the Alien from Planet Earth, whispering strange equations? Why is Death so useless? And can that really be the ghost of Chubby Da Choona mumbling uncanny warnings and dire prophecies of ultimate catastrophe?
When the grotesque powers lurking behind the corporation known as Mickey Eye and the Happy Group attempt to erase Seaguy’s entire existence, can he possibly get it together in time to save a world so far gone it can’t even imagine the horror lying in wait? Find out here in Morrison’s own personal reframing of the Super Hero concept for the 21st century.
On sale April 1 • 1 of 3 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS

(Via Sean.)

Ok, so this year in comics = more Seaguy, more Demo, more Scott Pilgrim and more League of Extraordinary Gentleman? I can go with that!

Andrew Hickey On Grant Morrison and Entropy -- Commonplacebook

Now, the whole of Seven Soldiers, and Morrison’s work generally, is a meditation on entropy, information and life. Life has been defined by some as localised patches of negative entropy - using energy to create order from disorder. If there’s a real ‘anti-life equation’ then the second law of thermodynamics has a strong claim to the title, because all life is essentially a battle against entropy, and a battle that will always be won by entropy.

But having said that, entropy is the only thing that allows us any freedom at all - entropy is the reason that all iron hands must eventually succumb to rust, the reason none of us can ever be controlled at all. Which is why Darkseid’s search for complete control must go along with his search for immortality - change is both freedom and death.

(Andrew Hickey, Stepping Back a bit.... Yet more on Seven Soldiers)

Yeah, I'll be coming back to this quote sometime in the near future.

'I've been working on a piece that speaks of sex and desperation'

Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- 'Rich'

Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- 'Maps'

Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- 'Down Boy'

From screaming punk theater to bratty crowd chatter to genuine vulnerability to total big rock domination in three songs. And hey, I'm on a massive Yeah Yeah Yeahs kick now. I'd blame Sean, but I was already halfway there before he included the band in his Pantheon.

Mercury Rev -- 'The Dark Is Rising'

Hi readers, I know it's been a quiet month here, but my life's been pretty crazy since it was announced that I'm the new Doctor Who. I swear, I can't even sneeze right now without Jonathan Ross offering me a hanky, the fucking crawler. Anyway, I'm starting to get used to my newfound fame, so please bear with me while I get a little schematic...
Like I've implied before, I'm a sucker for escapist fantasy that is tainted by the very things it seeks to escape from. Since sci-fi and horror are Frankenstein's children, this trait is hardwired in their genes, but it crops up in other areas too. Indeed, you can see it in everything from the resolutely mortal fantasy of All Star Superman to the haunted rapture of Hercules & Love Affair via the way the Karen O's voice undercuts her whole persona.
The current incarnation of Mercury Rev are a perfect example of this phenomenon. The band have a seemingly endless supply of backwoods fairytale soundtracks at their disposal, but no matter how dreamy their keys-strings-drums get, the vocals can't help but mess the whole story up.

If you know me at all, you'll know I mean that in a good way -- there's a naive, cracked earnestness to Jonathan Donahue's vocals that reaches for wonder and frequently falls short. And it's in hearing the man try for something he can't always maintain that a lot of the real magic happens in Mercury Rev songs, the kind of magic that leads to lyrics like "And I know/ It ain't gonna to last" or "Bands/ Those funny little plans/ That never work quite right".

Mercury Rev's aesthetic is equal parts triumph and failure, and this split is made literal in 'The Dark Is Rising'. The music alternates between almost parodic, string-powered bombast and shameless lamentation, with Donahue facing up to the fact that his dreams don't match up to reality:
I never dreamed I'd hurt you
I never dreamed I'd lose you
In my dreams, I'm always strong
It's not a shockingly original sentiment, but it's so straight-faced that it feels new when Donahue sings it. And then the strings crash back in again and again, and the whole thing teeters on the edge of ridiculousness. The song's video matches these sections up to images of the band being blasted by storms of billowing confetti, but it seemed much more fitting to watch Donahue throw ridiculous he-man poses while his band played the song at last year's Connect festival. The instrumental parts of 'The Dark Is Rising' sound desperate in their hugeness, which only makes the moments where the pose crumples even more affecting:
I always dreamed I'd love you
I never dreamed I'd lose you
In my dreams, I'm always strong
Fantasy is almost always futile, but that doesn't mean that we won't keep throwing ourselves into it, trying to find fresh strength in its escapes. It's a goofy way to live, maybe, but Mercury Rev confront this weakness without blinking, and the result is unreservedly wonderful.

Next up: another script meeting with Stephen Moffat. I'm trying to put a bit of myself into the series -- my idea is that we'll alternate between ultra-compressed, Mister Miracle #4 style psycho-poetry and ponderous, Beckettian drama, but we'll see how it goes. Let's just hope that I can clear this head-cold sometime soon, 'cos I really don't think I'm capable of properly conveying my intentions right now...

Monday, 12 January 2009

Good News Everyone!

John Cei Douglas, indie comics heartthrob and shin-basher extraordinaire, is now on Tumblr!

Better yet, he's started posting short comics pages on the site. This strip has been linked to in a couple of places, but it's this one that's making me blush through chubby cheeks right now:

Go familiarise yourself with John's wonderful, Zelda-addled world, if you haven't already.

(Via Matthew Perpetua)

Battered Into Submission

So... the longlist of the most recent round of 33 1/3 pitches has just been posted. With just short of 600 proposals recorded, including many repeat pitches, it make for pretty interesting reading. Lots of proposals for Slint/Britney/Talking Heads, eh?

Andrew, did you get your proposal in on time?

And can anyone who's not Sean, Karen, Lynne, Liam, Scott or Matthew guess which proposal was mine?

This Was My 2008...

Back in the 90's when I was first starting to make 4-track tapes I had a game where I would make a fake version of an album I was anticipating. If Pavement's Brighten the Corners were coming out soon, I had to wait till release day to hear it. I would record a set of songs that I would want the Pavement album to sound like. Some of those songs ended up becoming Atlas Sound and Deerhunter songs years later.
(Bradford Cox, Weird Energy Why?)

Neuromancer is about adolescence and adulthood - it’s about developing a life outside of a family. Case is forced through circumstance to work within a group of people that could probably care less about him. Over the

course of the book they end up a makeshift family unit, albeit a dysfunctional one. Well, maybe that doesn’t work. At all.

But it’s interesting that there is no familial relationships throughout the book, nearly every character is singular. The only exception being the Tessier-Ashpool clan, which is shown as a group of infighting clones, insane and violent, freezing and unfreezing each other on whims. In a book with characters who are across-the-board dyfunctional, the Tessier-Ashpools stand way out. And they stand in contrast with the rest of the cast.

Thats the biggest thing about science fiction for me these days, how the guts work under all the surface details. Considering that scifi is meant to be “the literature of ideas”, or whatever the hell that phrase was, I never catch the part where people talk about the ideas.

(Sean Witzke, Essay no. 2 – cyberpunk… sorta)

So there's this story.

It's a story about a story. There's this guy, or girl, who makes up a story. Or they read somebody else's story. Or both. And they like the story. They believe in the story. They believe in it so much that they react as if it really happened. And because they react as if it really happened, and other people have to react to their reactions,pretty soon it's almost like the story really did happen.

I refer, of course, to Foucault's Pendulum. I refer, of course, to The Crying of Lot 49. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. "The Blue Hotel." The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Al Qaeda in Iraq. Episode 1F02, "Homer Goes to College."

I refer, of course, to the fifth and final season of The Wire.

It's only fitting that a show about the postmodern economy, and a season that looks at some of the cultural effects of that economy, would close by drawing on one of the classic postmodern plots (and one with some precedents in naturalism, the show's closest literary model)--the story of the believer who, through sheer force of belief, forces the world to behave as if his fantasies are real. Sometimes external reality reasserts itself with a vengeance, and sometimes these holy fools never rejoin "the reality-based community." Sometimes, as in Iraq, both of those things are true, but it's rarely the people who believe they create their own reality who pay the price.

(Marc Singer, "You ain't the only one who knows how to play this game")

...Morrison’s approach to the super-hero is polymorphously perverse in aspect... it recognizes in its subject matter, particularly the DCU, a like-minded beast. Superheroes kick-ass so bad because they can, have and do transcend the apparent constraints imposed on them by their ideological essence - men and women of Tomorrow who serve as more-or-less transparent ciphers for the latest scientific paradigm - by fixating, like soft SF, on the Tomorrow part of the equation. And the World of Tomorrow cannot be explained away as a simple extrapolation of modern technological trends. One also has to include revised and radical roadmaps of the self and the soul and, most importantly, the mysterious.

Because the future is hidden from us, behind the frontier.

(amypoodle, Candyfloss horizons forever!)

There’s not much joy in the Long Blondes’ cruelty. It’s a necessity. If they were a Marvel superhero, they’ll be the Punisher. That is, not really a superhero, not really a hero.

(Kieron Gillen on the Long Blondes)

Some of the hardest things in the world are also very simple like for example a sword or even a very big rock…This is really why Black Sabbath is my favorite band. They are not trying to show off all the stuff they can do even though I am pretty sure they could be as complicated as they want to be. They just put all of their energy into this one riff and let it loose like an avalanche. Dunn-dunn, duh-duh-DUNN DUNN, dunn dunn-dunn. Fuck, I wish I was in your office listening to it with you right now. That would be the best therapy session and would actually make me feel good for once!

(John Darnielle, Master of Reality)

DBS: What draws you to horror? What’s interesting to you about the genre?

John Darnielle: I think it’s the whole ancient notion of other orders which seem incomprehensible to our own way of thinking, and how there’s something really basic and primal in that. Lots of the horror I like sets Reality As We Know It against Another Version Of Reality and lets them have at it, and there’s something more satisfying in the escape I get from that than in, say, your possible-futures thing that science fiction’s into. Over time all old horror changes its flavor too – stuff that scared everybody becomes campy and then just moves into some nether-realm, sort of becoming its own subject in a way, and I’m really into that: how you can watch what’s left of the Edison kinetoscope of Frankenstein and just feel like everybody involved must have been insane, or from space. I like the lost quality of the whole genre, how everybody who writes & reads & engages it is in someway absenting himself from here & now – it’s kind of radical, I think.

(John Darnielle, interview with Dark But Shining)

I'm a gamer, and in my second year of college, I played Warcraft 2 against my friends every hour of every day of the month of January. It was all-encompassing, I went to sleep dreaming about the game, and I loved every minute. It was a gamer's paradise. (Yes, I know Warcraft is not a first-person shooter, but I've played those too, so I also know the thrill of chasing after my friends in a virtual world, blowing people away with lasers and shotguns and chainsaws while you shout at them from across the library's computer center.) Eventually, however, classes started again, people got busy, people graduated, people moved away, etc., and I don't do that anymore.

So, you see, I've been through what Glenn's been through. Like Glenn, I look back fondly and sometimes wistfully on my Warcraft 2 days, and like Glenn, I suffered through that sickening feeling that one gets when the jobs of everyone in the room are going up in a puff of smoke.

I don't know if I can be objective about how good Ganges #2 really is -- and I think it might be really good -- but it sure felt right. Huizenga nails both situations, rolling them up into one big woozy ball of nostalgia and remorse. It was an interesting trip down memory lane for Glenn Ganges and me, sort of enjoyable and sort of nausea-inducing at the same time.

(Sandy on Kevin Huizenga's Ganges #2)

The impact of this story cannot be divorced from its visuals; it all simply could not analogously exist outside of the comics form. Even beyond all I've mentioned, the rhythm of the pages grounds Campbell's & Best's plotting, which gallops through episodes from Etienne's advancing life in a manner that might seem vaporous otherwise. Or precious: characters often speak in an exclamatory manner, declaring intent and barking emotion with no fuss, like heroes in a youth adventure serial (and did I mention that among the circus' crew is an actual talking bear that walks on two legs and wears a top hat?). Indeed, reference is often made to 'the next episode,' even though the book wasn't serialized anywhere - what they're really talking about is the events that seem to define a life, the particulars that fill out memory's stuff and spark something in others, the fine work of a story.

Campbell & Best vary these particulars well, mixing swashbuckling challenges with the silent observation of some unique portion of a lover's body. There's a great, funny cameo by a character from a prior Campbell collaboration, but not ten pages away is a delicate, withering assessment of the racism and exploitation inherent to the circus life of the time, and an implied acknowledgement that while it's up to us to live our lives, so much of it is limited or exploded by circumstances of birth, tricks of time and place well beyond the painted color of our control.

Yet as the story bounces on springed shoes toward its conclusion, Campbell repeating his prior layouts and Etienne pooling his accumulated skills, both to good use, it becomes increasingly evident that no life in unlimited. That's hardly a profound revelation, particularly coming from an artist that's already shown us even immortality isn't forever, but it seems especially immediate coming from this work, in this manner, decades skipping by, life boxed away, so much beyond our reach.

(Jog, on Eddie Campbell and Dan Best's The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard)

The business we see in the author's life is small beer compared to the life and death struggles and cosmic forces at play in that of his fictional protagonist, but that's exactly what makes it so devastating. If all it takes to untether us so completely from the notion that our lives have and tend toward meaning is a shitty relationship with an emotionally unavailable and damaged person, what hope do any of us have? By the time you reach the alarmingly proficient prose sci-fi pastiche that ends the collection (it's about time travel's dissolution of the meaning of time and therefore life), or the uncharacteristically blunt and brutal political swipe on the back cover (it's about how the causes, goals, means, ends, and legal framework of torture are completely nonsensical), you've already gotten the point. Gotten it, in fact, the first time you failed to tell the difference between the surface of a world and the tip of a finger.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

(From David Foster Wallace's commencement address at Kenyon College)

At the end of my immersion in Celine Dion, I can't claim to have learned what it's like to be a Celine fan, but I've been confronted by how much is involved in not being a Celine fan. Though I now enjoy some of her music, it's never in the same way I like "my" music, which tells me that I have a way of liking it; it forces me to admit that I have a taste. Yes, it was vain not to want the neighbors to hear me playing Let's Talk About Love. But the worst part was feeling ashamed to feel ashamed. Try it yourself: Pick some music you find particularly unattractive and crank it up every day for a couple of weeks. Or go out in the evening wearing clothes you find ugly, but not in a funnt wau. Before having a dinner date, hang a painting from a Christian-art sale over your bed. (Really, do: reading about it is no substitute.) Shame has a way of throwing you back upon your own existence, on the unbearable truth that you are identical with you, that you are your limits. Which immediately makes the self feel incomplete, unjustified, a chasm of lack. It's the reverse of the sense of self-extension that having likes and dislikes usually provides. It is humbling.

(Carl Wilson, Let's Talk About Love)

Gone are the movie sets in favour of a modern day, 2D, comic book playset, possessed of such tangible verisimilitude we could almost reach into it….if we weren’t scared of our fingers getting burned by Doomsday’s heat rays. Because in ASS the action figures have a life of their own. Quitely’s art is like a window into a gorgeous homunculus mini-universe, a la Qwerq, where on the surface of things - at a glance - everything seems simpler and less dense, but then one’s eye gets drawn in, closer, by subtle nuances of gesture and facial expression, and closer still by the freeze framed trajectory of tiny dented bullets as they bounce off steel hard super-skin, and still deeper, into and across the suburbs, satellite towns, far away villages and mountain ranges of shrunken Kandor, and out… until we’re lost in the burning, lonely pink wastes and skeletal mining farms of doomed Krypton. Imagine the Kenner plastic Hoth set of your childhood sprouting the kind of fractal complexity necessary to transform it into a fully functional world - a real war zone, where the Force is a living thing and goodies and baddies really duke it out for the future of the universe and the heart of an alien princess. Imagine the functions your imagination performed every day as a child. That’s what Quitely, Grant and Morrison conjure here. That’s what this work reminds us of. We really feel, reading ASS, that we’re sand-pitting in an utterly immersive and convincing fictional world. The walls are solid, but the emotions are grander, more mythic primal and dreamlike. The impossible can happen and the laws of physics are shunted just a a little bit to the left. I mean, who could resist vacationing in a space like the Underverse, or PROJECT’s moonbase or the Daily Planet once every couple of months?

And Superman is playing too. Sure, there’s drama and narrow escapes, but the indestructible body can accommodate any environment, any wonder - it’s built to withstand the twin pressures of novelty and imagination - the sci-fi writer’s palette - and more than anything else, even when things get a bit tense, we understand we’re just exploring. We can go anywhere with him, even to the edge of death itself. Let’s get this straight - this is not a combat based narrative. Because we’re safe with Superman we’re allowed to be curious and open-minded, we’re allowed to care about the villains of the piece, we don’t have to view things through a thick shield of irony. And of course this is another of the book’s selling points. As I mentioned above, Superman is unashamed, and ASS likewise. Obviously this makes ASS rather hard to sell to your non-comics reading friends, but that’s just cause we’re living in a culture where Batman’s all R & D and where Harry Potter books have to sport special covers to make them attractive to an adult audience. We’re supposed to have put aside fairytales, aren’t we?

Well, perhaps until our lives turn into one.

(amypoodle, Always and forever: A quick, gushing rant over an ASS...)

Marnie Stern: But I don't sleep! It's awful. I stay up all night til 11 a.m., and I sleep from 11 a.m. to, like, 5. It sucks, though. I think it fosters depression. I still don't feel that I've ever yet written a song that's like, good. I just never feel...not in a good way, it's not cool, it's not good.

Pitchfork: Dissatisfaction?

MS: Yeah, like real dissatisfaction. Genuinely like, "Fuck fuck fuck fuck."

(Marnie Stern, interview with Matthew Perpetua)

The tendency when talking about art these days is to talk about its social significance, its expression of issues of identity or power relations or cultural conflicts. This happens everywhere, whether in the academy or among critics or just people talking. Is a movie too violent? Is an album fake? Does a TV show present negative portrayals of women? Does media attention to celebrities send the wrong message? That's fine, but it causes us to overlook perhaps the oldest purpose of art: to give some expression to our experience of the unknowable. Music, especially instrumental music, is perfect for this, because it is almost never literal. It's always abstract, and when it "means" something, it's because it's expressed a particular feeling or idea without actually saying anything about that particular feeling or idea. This is a pretty incredible thing. How does that happen? Why does that happen? Why do some things do it better than others?

Don't worry, I'm not going to get all fucking spiritual here. But if God is shorthand for "we don't know, but it's pretty impressive," then it's no accident that so many religions use music as part of their worship. Music can express that sentiment better than anything. And that's why musical expressions of hugeness are so affecting, I think. When a hundred-plus piece orchestra plays together, it's a model of that mammoth complexity that we look at with awe--urban populations and the vast variety of insects and the distance to the moon. And it's not a possibility being much explored these days, either in music or in the writing about it.

(Mike Barthel, A Big, Big Love)

I’ve heard it called “epistemic scope”; you may be familiar with it from looking at sunsets, or at the night sky’s awe-inspiring cascade of stars. At a certain extremity, our ability to conceive of scale abandons us. That’s where the awe comes from: we look up — wayyyyy up! — and suddenly realize we have no idea how high that is. It’s just too much bigger than us. The mind blanks out; the almighty ego-shield drops, and the sublime enters in.


Of course, it is very easy to forget about that particular awe, if you are not seeing it every night…easy to pretend that it isn’t “really” there at all. The experience of the sublime is not easily recalled to us, after the moment in which it occurs. We have to use tricks, to pitch ourselves back into it.

(Plok, on Scale)

Radical changes in scale, dream logic, chaos magic butting up against quantum physics against drug psychosis, religion and time travel and talking animals, death being colorblind, sentient universes being mined for technologies, subway pirates, swarms of death sperm, etc. Morrison is the arbiter of comics-as-chaos, interested in pushing the reader into a new space. His work seeks to elicit an emotional reaction by any means necessary, be it through profound characterization, structural trickery, or big fuckoff pink goo monster from the disney corporation.

In comics there’s hardly any way to violate the reality of the situation unlike film. Beyond that it’s a visual medium, so concepts which would be difficult for most people to imagine are simply presented the same way as the everyday. And because of this flattened learning curve even the most run of the mill crappy superhero monthly traffics in multiple bizarre and massive ideas. Comics are the place where the impossible makes sense, where scale isn’t a factor. It’s an artform built for big, insane shit.

Doesn’t life need more big, insane shit?

(Sean Witzke, Essay no. 8 – the overgrown super shit/ stop making sense)

And that’s the new science: it’s proliferation, within the native comics medium, and without, particularly - but not exclusively - onto cinema screens. The metaphysics of brand penetration. It’s a multiplicity squeezed out through a few specific lenses: the manifold reflection. In keeping with the image above that strikes as so summary - justification cometh! - I’m offering the coinage of this period, drawing to its close, in superhero books as: The Prismatic Age.

(Bots’wana Beast – A hall of mirrors 2: The Prismatic Age)

"Hallelujah," though, offers all those great, resonant Biblical signifiers and intense religious emotions without the proselytizing or the attempt at a modern updating. Spiritually, it keeps things at a nice distance and doesn't ask too much. In Cohen's hands, this makes sense, since it's explicitly a literary exploration into an alien culture. And for Buckley, it works as a signifier of depth, allowing him to take on the symbols of an old country preacher, in keeping with his attraction to Sufi mysticism: whirling dervishes are nothing if not pentecostal. In sum, "Hallelujah" is able to function as a kind of accessible gospel music, smart and beautiful and allusive to classic themes without demanding any kind of actual faith or any translation from evangelicalese. It presents the emotional experience of religion shorn of the cultural barriers.

And this particular--and particularly amazing--trick is a big part of why, no matter how it comes to you, "Hallelujah" always manages to seem like a discovery. It can pass through a thousand corporate paws and be marked by them all, arriving at its destination in the form of a TV show or a mass-market major-label CD or a bunch of pop idols. The song is just so strange--so alien, so smart, so densely packed with signifiers--that it doesn't seem possible that it's actually part of mainstream culture, no matter how much mainstream culture embraces it. Clive Davis himself could hand it to you, but this would just seem like evidence of Clive's human side rather than another slime-dripping part of the corrupt music industry. Its strange incursion of Biblical poetry (as well as, to be honest, Buckley's unusual guitar work, curse him) seems like nothing more than an anomaly. It's the Teflon song.

(Mike Barthel, Hallelujah)

Marnie Stern: So we went into this crazy little world. No socializing, just reading constantly, we were nerds, nerds, nerds. And that was when the biggest creative surge of my life happened, and nothing like that has ever happened since. My mind was open. Open to anything and everything, and that was the best two years of my whole life. You want to get back to it, but it's just not there anymore.
Pitchfork: Is it just like a leap that has to happen?

MS: I felt inspiration everywhere. Everywhere! Everything I heard, I was like, "That was for me." "That was for me." I was so positive and forward and yes, yes, yes. You know, and it was a great, great time, and she and I really fed off each other because she's a painter. It was really terrific. That's when I got the idea that I could do anything. There were no boundaries or rules or limitations, and that's when I started singing in that weird Yoko Ono voice. And I was like, I don't know what I'm doing! And I listened to Melt Banana and all that stuff. And I kinda loved all of those noise bands so much. I loved Hella! Oh my god! That's why when Zach Hill said he wanted to work with me, I was like, "Whaaaaaaaaaaat?" I loved all of those bands so much, but I knew that I wanted to put--

Pitchfork: The pop kind of hooks in there?

MS: Yeah. And then I had sent my demo in, to like, Load Records. I don't know why I picked the labels that I did. Load, and KRS. And then next year came around, and Bella, my friend was like, "Alright, send your thing in again." We were doing two things. One, we were sending in to get a NYFA thing for a grant, I put together this
whole thing for grant money, I'm still working 9 to 5. And I put together this thing for Kill Rock Stars, and I send it, it's ridiculous. Slim got in touch with me, and when I met him, he's got a good poker face. "I can't sign you. It makes no sense for me. You're solo. All this stuff, you're almost 30." And I was like, "Oh, okay, but can we just talk about music? I don't have any friends that talk about music, let's talk about Deerhoof!" So then we talked about it, and it was like, "Nice to meet you." And I was like, "Well, that was gooood." And he called a week later and was like, "So, we're putting out your record...," and I was like "Whaaaaaaat?" Craziness, huh?

(Marnie Stern, interview with Matthew Perpetua)

Los Camp’s problem’s never been a lack of emotion – but rather a surfeit. The problem – and this is where they lose people yet again – is that it’s married to an equal surfeit of ideas, albeit ones inside their own self-sufficient aesthetic universe. It’s never shown better than this title track, which is as internally-conflicting, confusing, overwhelming, graceful and contradictory song as life being lived.
Which is what I like about Los Campesinos – they’re unafraid to be Los Campesinos, to be themselves. Which is a different thing from the boring old issue of authenticity. This is about transparency, the idea that you can throw your obsessions into art’s frame and, by doing so, demonstrate the blessed democratic nature of experience and existence. And some people will never forgive you for that.
(Kieron Gillen, on Los Campesinos' 'We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed')

Show me yours.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A New View of Scotland/Love Poem

Down on her hands and knees
at ten at night on Hogmanay,
my mother still giving it elbowgrease
jiffywaxing the vinolay. (This is too
ordinary to be nostalgia.) On the kitchen table
a newly opened tin of sockeye salmon.
Though we do not expect anyone,
the slab of black bun,
petticoat-tails fanned out
on bone china.
Last year it was very quiet …

Mum’s got her rollers in with waveset
and her well-pressed good dress
slack across the candlewick upstairs.
Nearly half-ten already and her not shifted!
If we’re to even hope to prosper
this midnight must find us
how we would like to be.
A new view of Scotland
with a dangling calendar
is propped under last year’s,
ready to take its place

Darling, it’s thirty years since
anybody was able to trick me,
December thirtyfirst, into
looking into a mirror to see a lassie
wi’ as minny heids as days in the year’ –
and two already since,
familiar strangers at a party,
we did not know that we were
the happiness we wished each other
when the Bells went, did we?

All over the city
off-licences pull down their shutters,
people make for where they want to be
to bring the new year in.
In highrises and tenements
sunburst clocks tick
on dusted mantelshelves.
Everyone puts on their best spread of plenty
(for to even hope to prosper
this midnight must find us
how we would like to be).
So there’s a bottle of sickly liqueur
among the booze in the alcove,
golden crusts on steak pies
like quilts on a double bed.
And this is where we live.
There is no time like the
present for a kiss.

(By Liz Lochead)