Monday, April 24, 2006

Have you got any ice cream without so much spam in it?

Vermonty Python is described as "coffee liqueur ice cream with a chocolate cookie crumb swirl & fudge cows." This doesn't sound very appealing to me; worse, it sounds as if someone just thought up the name and decided to slap it on the next random combination of flavors that came along, rather than trying to devise a variety of flavor that would be appropriate for the name.

Surely with "Vermonty" in the name, the obvious choice would be a maple syrup flavor. It would be perfect for that special someone who became a barber to overcome his crippling fear of hair, when all he really wanted to be was...a lumberjack! Or a strawberry tart flavor, without so much rat in it. Maybe three rats...rather a lot, really. No, the perfect flavor to go with this theme would be ice cream mixed with chocolate-dipped crunchy frogs!

And woe betide the Ben & Jerry's customer who orders a pint of Vermonty Python and complains about the dirty spoon...

Okay, that's enough. I invite anyone who's interested to post their own Python-derived jokes on this theme in the comments section. I have serious misgivings about one of the most precious things from my childhood being turned into a string of licensing opportunities and mass marketed to the point of inanity, but that's just me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Local news

I can't believe this cretin got off, you should pardon the expression, with a mere two years probation.

More than once, this jerk (hmm, another bad choice of words on my part) has said things similar to the quote provided in the above article: "she may like me and want to go home with's her call." He made similar comments in an article published in New York magazine. To me, that spells future stalker and/or sex offender. Loads of rapists say things afterwards like "I could tell she was enjoying it" or other filth from the depths of their self-delusion.

And when he gets arrested for doing something even worse -- like stalking or assaulting someone -- you just know what the authorities will say:

"No one could possibly have foreseen that his levees would burst."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Up against the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal has an article about the nascent trend of paid product placement in comic books.

The whole idea seems dubious to me on more than one level. Leaving aside my hippy-dippy crunchy granola sentiments about the ubiquity of paid advertising and endorsement deals and the implicit message they carry that everyone and everything can be bought and owned and even our fantasies can be colonized by I say, leaving aside that whole train of thought, it raises a lot of questions for me on a purely pragmatic and materialistic level. Does it make a lot of sense for corporate advertisers to move into comics now...when the audience size for comics is in decline?

Given that the diminishing market is moving towards trade paperbacks and graphic novels -- which don't carry ad pages -- one can see the logic of advertisers wanting to get their content into the story pages instead, which will end up in those collections. But in the best case scenario, those stealth ads and product placements will stay on the shelves for years -- do these companies really wants years- or decades-old products still being advertised? I suppose the answer is the same as with outdated product placement in movies and tv shows on DVD: the corporations don't really care if their advertising detritus hangs around for the rest of time.

And what about the money? It won't go towards offsetting production costs or lowering the cover prices of new comics. Does any of it make its way into the pockets of the writers and artists? If so, are they getting the same amount that a professional copywriter or illustrator would get at an ad agency for doing the same work, or is this a way for an advertiser to save some moolah?

And then there's this quote:

DC's Mr. McKillips says Pontiac will not have direct editorial oversight of the comic and its main character. "We're not seeking their approval on everything, and they trust us," he says. A Pontiac spokesman says the company is not involved in the creative process.

"They trust us." We're tame. We certainly won't do anything to threaten this cozy relationship, so they don't need to constantly look over our shoulders. You won't see any stories that implicitly question the corporate behavior of Dodge or Pontiac in refusing to strengthen emission standards, or embrace alternative technologies, or outsourcing their manufacturing facilities. Or any stories that skewer Nike for the corrosive social effects of fetishizing sportswear, or their sweatshops in Indonesia or Mexico or East Asia. (Oops, I said I wouldn't go all sandal-wearing and tree-hugging on you. My bad.) Well, there wouldn't have been that kind of story in those comics anyway, so no harm done...

I suppose this new trend won't really make any difference...which is kind of sad, don't you think?

But look, one good thing: there's a quote in the article from someone we know! I don't disapprove of the article itself...and I note with much approval that when it came time to get quotes from the fan perspective, both fans the author chose to quote were women. Holy stereotype shattering, Batman!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Is it First Comic Week already?

Following the lead of Vincent Murphy at Spandex Justice (though he got the idea from someplace else) here's my own act of personal archaeology...

The earliest DC comic I can remember reading was Justice League of America issue #60.

I suspect my early exposure to this comic may have made me a sexual pervert. Certainly, the cover imagery is powerful in terms of the developing libido of the prepubescent male mind. Adult men reduced in size, with a domineering woman towering over them and controlling them -- talk about sublimated maternal imagery! But the Queen Bee is a bad mommy, and sees other women as a threat to her supremacy: see how she orders her "drones" to attack Batgirl, who for all we know might be immune to the Queen Bee's control simply because of her gender.

Oy. I'm lucky this comic didn't make me gay.

(On the other hand, the art -- including the cover -- was by Mike Sekowsky, who drew the most absolutely gorgeous women ever seen in comics to this day. I would totally do the Queen Bee.)

I haven't read this comic since it was new, and I'd have to guess at the whys and wherefores of the plot. I certainly have no idea what weirdness it may have deposited in my subconscious. But I must have liked something about it, because I went on from there to seek out more comic books as single-mindedly as any drone bee seeking pollen...

Mind you, I didn't actually choose that comic or buy it myself; I expect one of my parents bought it for me as a gift. Before then, I would only have known these superheroes from Saturday morning cartoons. But both my parents had read comics as children themselves, and apparently saw no harm in introducing me to the medium; certainly none of the standard prejudice that comic books would keep me from reading "real" books existed in our household. But the earliest comic book I can remember actually picking out from a rack and asking if I could have it is Superboy #147.

Seen through adult eyes, it's a staid cover -- I've even heard it described as boring, which offends me irrationally -- but I remember how it looked at the time. The Neal Adams embellishments over a layout by Curt Swan, especially the shading on the bustlike heads along the sides, seemed positively photorealistic compared to anything I'd seen before in a comic book. When I saw this cover again for the first time after several decades, I was surprised to see that it hadn't actually been a painted cover as I mistaken recalled it must have been, and that it was actually fairly ordinary in production values. At the time, it seemed to me singularly moody and elegaic -- I thought perhaps a character had died (perhaps even Superboy himself?) and the oddly lit faces were paying tribute to a fallen hero.

And then the banners the other figures were carrying -- well, they promised several stories in this issue, and that meant this comic had to be worthwhile...even if it was priced at the exorbitant sum of 25 cents, far more than the usual comic book.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Everybody's doing it

Aguirre-Sacasa: Playwright's Path Is via Comic Books

The New York Times offers a profile of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, playwright and scripter of Sensational Spider-Man, Nightcrawler, and Marvel Knights 4. The article is a lot more accurate than the vast majority of comics-related features in contemporary newspapers, and worth reading. (The above link is registration-free thanks to the magic of RSS feeds.) One of the quotes that caught my eye:

"One of my comics is read by more people — around 70,000 — than will see my entire run at Manhattan Theater Club," Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa said. "That puts things in perspective."

The worlds of theater and comics have some interesting similarities. Both were wildly popular and significant mass media at one time...and both are now reduced to a niche market of "true believers" and cater to this insider audience, while the general public is being priced out by ever-increasing cost of entry. I can personally remember a time when a comic book that sold a mere 200,000 copies would be considered an abject failure and cancelled immediately; these days, 70,000 is a success story. And of course, both theater and comics as mass entertainment have been succeeded by other media competing for space in the consumer's wallet. It won't be too long before the idea of going to see a movie in an actual cinema seems as exotic and unlikely to the majority of the public as going to a play does now to that same group.

And too, both comics and theater are now produced by people who are driven by their irrational, passionate love for the medium rather than by people looking to reach the widest audience or hoping to make big bucks. I say this as an observation, not a value judgement: I'm not trying to say whether this is a good or bad thing.

There's also a whole other trend related to this of the major comics publishers seeking out and lauding writers from other fields -- novelists, playwrights, television producers and film directors -- as their new major stars. There are definitely good and bad aspects to that trend. It lends a little second-hand glamour to the tawdry industry of comics publishing (but it's always a bad sign when you have to borrow your glamour from somewhere else). It offers the chance of creative cross-pollination with more literary values and techniques enlivening the comics narrative form (but in practice these outsiders write very derivative and retro comics, referring to obscure stories they remember from their childhood and trying to write like the full-time comics writers they idolized; meanwhile the only literary innovation in comics comes from full-timers like Alan Moore or Grant Morrison). It brings professional writers accustomed to having their creator rights respected over to shake up the plantation mentality of Marvel and DC (but then they surrender their rights because massa is willing to let them write actual comic books at last! -- see the whole flap over Omega the Unknown for a particularly grisly example).

From another angle, this quote tickled me:

As it happens, Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa's family history is not without its own heroes and archvillains. His great-grandfather Juan Bautista Sacasa played a pivotal role in the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1920's and 30's and was kicked out of the presidency when Anastasio Somoza GarcĂ­a (his nephew) seized power. Now Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa's father, Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa, is running for president of Nicaragua in the November election.

There's something cool about the son of a Presidential candidate pursuing his dream of writing comic books rather than working on his father's campaign or getting involved in politics, don't you think? If only our current President had stayed with his dream of managing or owning baseball teams instead of going to work for his daddy, he'd be a much happier man today.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Up and away

Last week, the always entertaining and occasionally reliable and unbiased comic book gossip columnist Rich Johnston wrote in his weekly column for Comic Book Resources about a talk given by Alan Moore at the Tate Museum in London, relating to an exhibit on Henry Fuseli, William Blake and the Romantic movement entitled Gothic Nightmares. Johnston's report included the following:

Moore stated that he suspected he'd been asked to do a talk over the superficial similarities some people see between Blake's work and that often featured in comic books. Any other similarities Moore dismissed citing Blake's artistic intent and life experiences, placing all comic book creators below him. Moore would only allow two comic creators to be compared to Blake, Jack Kirby and Al Schroeder. The former, for his simple bold romantic religious strokes in both art, theme and story, and the latter for his eventual belief that Superman existed in a very real sense.

Moore's comparison of Jack Kirby to William Blake is a well-deserved compliment, one feels, to both men and does a lot to confirm my generally high opinion of Moore's artistic judgement. But the other name in that equation caught my eye. I knew the name Al Schroeder from my early days in comics fandom as another member of the amorphous mob of comics fans through which I circulated. I don't know that I ever met him, but I know he was active in fandom at the same time I was just beginning to discover that scene...and he wasn't the person Moore was talking about.

I dropped Johnston a line pointing out that Moore must in fact have been referring to Alvin Schwartz, one of the classic Superman writers and more recently author of the exceptional memoir An Unlikely Prophet: Revelations on the Path Without Form which explores Tibetan mysticism by means of (imaginary?) conversations between Schwartz and a tulpa in the form of Superman himself. The book was dedicated to an old friend of mine, the late Richard H. Morrissey, and I'd like to think he'd have been pleased that I was writing in his memory to make sure his pal Alvin Schwartz got the appropriate credit.

Anyway, the column was amended within a couple of hours; I don't know if it was my message or a note from someone else that prompted Johnston to make the correction...but it felt better to see Schwartz given his due.

In this week's edition of Johnston's column, I see the following:

Alvin Schwartz, known most for his Superman work in the 1940s, got in touch by e-mail. Seems the book that Moore cited, "An Unlikely Prophet" is getting a reprint shortly and Schwartz has written a sequel for publication later in the year. Schwartz asked me to put him in touch with Moore, which I've done. Who knows what the two will cook up together?

"An Unlikely Prophet" is an essential text for anyone interested in the history of American comics, the principles behind fiction and many of the themes Alan Moore has been exploring of late. Consider it "Kavalier & Clay" meets the Superboy from Earth Prime.

So it's possible, though I grant by no means definite, that my note to Rich Johnston played a role in getting Alan Moore in touch with a legendary comics writer who Moore has compared to William Blake. Whether it was me or someone else writing in with the same correction, the moral is clear either way: obsessively reading blogs and online columns and writing in with pedantic corrections of obscure errors can make good things happen and increase the sum total of goodness in the world. And I feel very good indeed about that.