January 2003 Archives

The Hours is now a film


I went to see the movie The Hours this past weekend. The movie is based on the excellent novel by Michael Cunningham. I previously wrote about sequential art and the book The Hours in April 2002; if you're interested, you'll find my post in the archives.
The movie is a faithful representation of the book and does a neat job realizing the time shifts that occur in the novel. I'm a bit surprised that Kidman won an award for her role--in my opinion, it's Moore who steals the show.

Anti-War Show


War is not healthy for children and other living thingsA friend of mine, Vicki, kindly alerted me to an exhibit of anti-war graphic art posters taking place at Track 16 Gallery. So I went to see it, along with my friend Joe and the Cute Little Red-Haired Girlfriend.
The Anti-War Show -- U.S. Interventions from Korea to Iraq is a fantastic exhibit of political protest posters covering the last half century. The posters were arranged according to the area of U.S. involvement (e.g., Iraq, Guatamala, El Salvador, Korea), allowing the viewer to appreciate the number and range of countries in which the U.S. has "intervened." As I moved from one group of posters to the next, I had the impression of moving through time from one devastated country to the next.
The Vietnam posters were the most recognizable and for that reason the most potent. We all had memories of the poster I've reproduced here, which got all of us thinking and talking about our experiences of various U.S. conflicts. We were also struck by some of the posters produced during the last Gulf War, which reminded us of the casualties incurred on both sides as well as some of the issues likely to come up again during the coming "intervention."
The posters from the exhibit are part of an archive of political graphics maintained by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. I was pleased to learn of their existence and to browse their online galleries of graphics.
I've noticed that graphic resources against the war have cropped up in many places online. I used United for Peace to track down .pdf file posters and other graphics ready to print and distribute.

Old Masters meets cartoons


After seeing the Daniel Clowes art show last week, I hopped over to the Shoshona Wayne Gallery a few doors down to see an exhibit of Nicole Eisenman's latest work. Eisenman is a lesbian artist whose work combines aspects of drawing and painting.
I was first attracted to Eisenman's work by the influence of comics and cartoons in her drawings and paintings. She often blends these pop elements with drawing styles and subject matter taken from Old Master works. In another nod to sequential art, she sometimes uses a series of small drawn panels to frame and comment upon her central subject matter.
One of the pieces on display was called Achievement Distracted from Ambition by A Clique of Bitchy Sluts. At first sight, the drawing appears to be a traditional allegory, enacted by Greco-Roman human figures within a pastoral setting. Closer scrutiny of the picture reveals a more cartoonish aspect, as well as the contemporary accoutrements of the Bitchy Sluts.
Her pictures are often funny or parodic, but there is also a quality of real joy in drawing that comes across in her work and makes it a pleasure to look at.

Clowes' World


I recently visited the Richard Heller Gallery to see an exhibit of Daniel Clowes work. The show consisted mainly of original black and white drawings for Clowes comic books and collections. It was interesting to see the work close up and be able to discern the pencil marks, the white-out used to make a correction, or the thickness of the ink. Oddly, there was a woman in attendance who looked very much like Enid from Ghost World.
One of my favorite pieces on display was a five-page comic on sports that used psychology, folklore, and really graphic drawings to demonstrate the sexual underpinings of popular sports. I also really liked what little color work was on display; Clowes color choices are very nuanced and definitely contribute to his themes. It was easier to appreciate that seeing the original works in person than on the printed page.

Firefly on last legs

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The Johnny Bacardi Show points to some sad news: the TV show Firefly has been turned down by the sci-fi channel, as well as a number of networks. I actually wrote to UPN begging them to pick up the series. There's still a slim chance HBO or Showtime might pick it up.

One of the greats


It is with great sorrow and regret that I acknowledge the passing of Monique Wittig, lesbian writer, and one of my idols. Her book The Lesbian Body is one of my favorites. She is one of those great and powerful artists whose qualities were greatly underappreciated in her lifetime.
I met her once, around 15 years ago, over coffee. She was very generous to me with her conversation, and I remember her eyes as being incredibly piercing, though not unkindly so. I admired the strength and tenacity of her mind, as well as the poetic qualities of her prose.

The electric thread

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Alan Moore seems to have become the James Joyce of the comics world, with annotations to his comics series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen appearing on the net almost as fast as the issues are published. I like the League, and I also enjoy the short prose stories that are appended to each comic. A nice short story in addition to the main comic certainly makes me feel like I'm getting my comics dollar's worth.
I also enjoy reading the fake Victorian ads that run in the front and back pages of the title. I couldn't help noticing that in issue #4, Vol. 2, Moore seems slightly obsessed with electrical belts. There are three for sale in the ads, including the "Polychromatic Energy Belt," "The Alan Moore Patented Electro-Reminder," and "Dr. Sanden's Electrical Belt" (intended for those suffering from "seminal weakness, shrunken organs)".
I became curious as to whether electrical devices were an ongoing concern of Moore's, so I dug out my back issues of League and scanned the pages. It turns out that electrical devices are present in several other issues. There is a very large ad aimed at women in issue #3, Vol. 2, which addresses the problem of "superfluous hair," offering a "perfectly safe treatment" that "supersedes electrolysis." "Electropathic belts" are also for sale in Vol. 1, #5, as is an "electric aurophone" for treating deafness.
A few years ago I wouldn't have known what to make of this electrical theme. Since then, I've discovered a conceptual connection between electricity and comic books. Michael Chabon weaves this theme into The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay through Sammy's hero-worship of Nikola Tesla, whose ideas and manias still fuel passionate discussions over at Slashdot and in other places. Electrical storms are also a backdrop for Sammy's romantic tryst atop the Empire State Building.
I clued into some of the imaginative history of electricity through the work of Erik Davis, whose hallucinatory explorations of popular phenomena have exposed me to many new ideas. In his book Techgnosis, there is a chapter dealing with "electric theologies," amalgams of science and religion influenced by Tesla. From the magical thinking of these theologies, it's a short step to the practice of magic--another theme that figures prominently in Chabon's novel and, not coincidentally, another comic title by Moore, Promethea.

And your point would be?


I've raved before about the comics title Automatic Kafka, which started with great daring, but with issue #4 the story wandered into incoherency and I haven't returned to it since.
I've also recently stopped buying the comic series The Filth due to more complicated story issues, which I thought I'd take up here. I know several of my readers are Grant Morrison fans--and probably have more experience with his work than I do--so I'm hoping this post elicits some commentary.
When I began reading The Filth, I was very excited by the range of ideas presented. But as with Automatic Kafka--which I started reading around the same time--I was afraid that author might not be able to sustain the wild story ambitions that the first issue suggested.
In Automatic Kafka, the story succumbed to a loss of control after a few issues. That is not the case with The Filth. In fact, the story that troubled me, "Pornomancer" #5, is tightly written and does an incredible job of conveying--in the same way that the movie Boogie Nights does--the tone of the pornographic underworld.
In brief, "Pornomancer" concerns an amnesiac porn star, Anders, whose claim to fame is the ability to shoot black sperm. This talent puts Anders on the radar of the Federal authorities, as well as the mysterious underground agency known as the Hand.
While making a film for hardcore mogul and madman Tex Porneau, Anders black sperm is somehow turned into a kind of superweapon, which Porneau hopes to use for his own devious ends. The story ends with images of Anders' sperm--now supersized--flying through the air, piercing women's bodies, and killing them.
That's the story in a nutshell. It was well told but it disturbed me when I read it. I decided to check out #6 to see how I felt about it, but I didn't get much farther than the first page. Again, there were close-ups of women dying, stabbed through the chest by deadly flying sperm.
In fairness, I didn't read issue #6, so I don't know how the story turned out. Generally speaking, I am fairly liberal-minded and free-thinking and don't usually take offense at violence towards women in comics. I understand that representation is more complex than a simple reflection of or prescription for reality.
In addition, I don't like any form of censorship, and I often think that discussions of violence against women in the media (for example, the recent hullabaloo over Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) detract from pressing real-life women's issues such as a women's right to choose, or equal pay for equal work.
However. A girl's got to draw the line somewhere. And for me, giant flying sperm ripping through women's bodies is that line.

Return of Aquaman

I enjoyed the first issue of the new Aquaman comic book series, and will likely stick around to see how it develops, now that the hero is stuck on land. If you've seen the previews you know Aquaman has his hand back, although he looks as grungy as he did last time out. Did anyone else notice that the device that gives Aquaman his hand back appears to be magic garter belt?

Rip off lesbian kiss

I went running out to my local comic book store today, after hearing that a lesbian kiss made it into the latest issue of Global Frequency. I am dismayed to report that the so-called kiss is actually an air kiss, or maybe more like a suggestion of an air kiss. This is a complete and blatant rip-off of the lesbian-watching public, but alas it is quite typical of lesbian love scenes in mainstream media.
In my experience, the hand-strategically-placed-in-front-of the-mouth kiss is the technique most often used to block the viewer from seeing actual lesbian lip contact. (See, for example, Glenn Close in Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story for an artful hand-in-front-of-mouth kiss.)The gay movement has truly gone back a few paces if we are now reduced to exchanging air kisses.

An Amazing Novel


This past summer I read so many gushing blog posts about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay that I decided the time had come for me to read the book myself. I approached the book with a certain amount of trepidation: because it had won so many awards, because it was a "big" book, because I felt I should have read it already, because its greatness and relevance to me, personally, seemed overwhelming.
So I hunkered down this fall and began reading Michael Chabon's novel, which relates a good chunk of the history of comic books in the U.S. in its story. Having concluded the project, here now is my assessment: there are books that I love, books that I treasure. And then there are books that are so precious, so dear, they make me want to run out, find a quarry, load up some rock, and build a memorial to its author. That's how deeply I feel about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
If you haven't read it, go, go now. You don't have to be a comics lover to enjoy it (although it helps, sure). Besides being a great book about comics, it's also a beautifully detailed novel of New York during a certain period. If you have ever had ties to the City, this book will tear at your heart-strings.

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