September 2006 Archives

Common Interests

After my long, hand-wringing post about Susan Sontag's homosexuality and my feelings about outing, Jon Stewart had a hilarious joke last night on the Daily Show that cut to the heart of the matter, referencing Sontag's lesbianism and slamming the mainstream press for being less than honest in writing about it.

The focus of his joke, however, was really something entirely different. Stewart was commenting on Newsweek's recent decision to run a hard news cover story on three out of their four localized national editions, but run a soft piece on celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz as their cover story for the U.S. edition. Stewart ridicules the magazine for not only shielding the U.S. from real news, but for also trying to obfuscate the nature of the Liebovitz's long term relationship by describing Sontag as "the person she was closest to" for a decade and a half.

Jon continued, "They just have a lot of common interests....photography, literature...each others' vaginas." You can watch the whole clip after watching a short ad.

The Pages Stick Together

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A monk bows before a pirate.I received an email from one of the creators of the new erotic graphic novel Sticky, requesting a mention. I'd seen coverage of the graphic novel in several places, including at Journalista, (postmodernbarney), and Jockohomo, but I like the endeavor so I figured I'd mention it. (Incidentally, I don't accept review copies or freebies, but I do look at press releases and e-mail pointing to things I might be interested in.)

The interview with creators Dale Lazarov and Steve MacIsaac over at Comics Nexus has been linked in other coverage but I thought I would call out a point that interested me in particular. Artist Steve MacIsaac notes the merits of pornography in comics format as opposed to video or prose, stating,

"Prose is great for immersing you into the scene psychologically, while video has motion and visuals, which are sexually arousing for obvious reasons. I think comics combines both strengths--they're more immersive and participatory than video while still stimulating arousal through visual appeal. Plus you can play with temporality, setting and story complexity more than with video since people can spend more time with each panel."

I've shown an image from Sticky that's part of a Halloween-themed story in which a costumed monk hooks up with a pirate. (I guess this can double as my belated "Talk Like A Pirate Day" post. When will we see Hallmark Cards?)

Serial Ownership

BookMooch concept illustrated by Andrice ArpNow that I've both sent and received books successfully through BookMooch, a service that allows people to swap books through the mail, I thought I'd let my readers know that I've tried it and liked it. PC Magazine just gave a positive review to a similar service called PaperBackSwap, but I find the BookMooch interface a bit less hectic. Incidentally, the two books I've traded so far have both been hardbacks. I don't know if you can trade hardbacks at PaperbackSwap, but you can at BookMooch.

There's a nice graphic on the front page of the site by Andrice Arp, which I've shown here. I like the way the book is running into the arms of a new reader, as if they're long-lost friends.

Baseman and Biskup at the Beach

Painting of a painter by Tim Biskup The Cute Little Red-Haired Girlfriend and I went to Laguna Beach for a few days. Not the Virtual Laguna Beach, which seems to quite hot with the young'uns, but the actual Laguna Beach. It's startlingly gorgeous, and remains so, despite being a tourist attraction.

We stayed at a secluded inn, and on our first night there, went to dinner at a restaurant recommended by several travel websites. I didn't know when I chose it that, in addition to being a very fine restaurant, it also happened to be a very friendly gay bar. We found this out while the girlfriend and I were driving by, looking for a place to park. Seeing two men standing in front of the building, the girlfriend leaned out the car window to ask, "Where should we park?" Before the words were out of her mouth, one of the men walked towards her crying out, "You're gorgeous!" and embraced her in a boozy hug. Seconds later, the other man ran out into the street screaming, "LESBIANS!" and began nuzzling the girlfriend like a puppy. I've decided this is how I would prefer to be greeted in public from now on.

While we were in Laguna, we attended an exhibit of work by Tim Biskup and Gary Baseman called "Pervasions" at the Laguna Beach Museum. I like both artists, and was pleased to be able to see their work away from the hubub fo L.A. I took a picture of my favorite piece from the show, a work by Biskup called The Demon Painter.

Sergio Solo

A happy dog with a bone in his mouthI'm sad that DC's Solo series is coming to an end, because it was a great project and the issues produced were of high quality. The comics series was a showcase for a single talent, though sometimes other artists played a supporting role. I appreciated seeing what an artist might produce when unleashed from the constraints of writing or drawing a specific hero or brand. I'm also a fan of the multi-story comics title, so I enjoyed that fact that Solo was comprised of a series of short pieces.

I was completely taken with Sergio Aragones's Solo title, which appeared this past summer. I find it impossible to look at his drawings and not feel happier as a result. I mean, just look at the picture I've put up of a dog drawn by Aragones. Is that a happy dog or what? I wish I was as happy as that dog just one day a week. I think it's actually a representation of Aragones's dog, so I guess what I'm saying here is that I would like to be Sergio's dog on a part-time basis. I read on Mike Sterling's blog that Aragones came into his shop recently, so Mike, if he comes in again, please let him know of my interest.

The story I liked best in Aragones's collection was called "Heroes." It showed how a hero in one country might end up looking like a villain in another, or else forgotten entirely. To illustrate, Aragones's tells the story of Irish Catholics in the United States who fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American war. This San Particio Battalion became heroes in Mexico, but deserters in U.S. history books.

The detail in Arragones's artwork is a great source of visual humor. In "A Batman Story," there's a wonderful image of the Batcave, with every nook and cranny stuffed with crime-fighting doo-dads and bat paraphernalia. There's joyful chaos everywhere you look.

Hair Horror

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Hair creeping up a wallI just finished reading Hino Horror #12, Mystique Mandala of Hell by Hideshi Hino. It's a simple tale involving a demonic girl, an eyeball from hell, a bloodsucking crow, and runaway hair. I found it enchanting.

One of my favorite parts of the story is the adventure of the runaway hair. In the course of events, a young girl is badly hurt in a bicycle accident. We see her lying unconscious, her face badly scarred. Then the hairs on her head begin to detach, cluster, and start to move as one. In the image I've reproduced here, you see the hair starting to climb up the side of a house. Note how stealthily it moves towards the window. I won't spoil it for you by saying more.

Another interesting element is the face-off between the demonic girl and the bloodsucking crow. In fact, this is meant to be a symbolic battle between the demonic forces of the West (crow) versus those of the East (girl), who are vying for control of the underworld. The character differences between the two demonic sides were very distinct, with the forces of the West seeming very self-important and impressed with their own capacity for evil, while the forces of the East seemed more fun-loving and just out for a destructive good time.

O Mighty Isisisisisisisis

A woman transforms into the goddess IsisA lot of attention has been paid (including by me) to the presence of Batwoman in the comic 52, but I was incredibly excited and even charmed to see Isis making an appearance in the week twelve issue of the title.

I'm not sure where the story is going with this character, or even if her story will be developed, but I see an enormous amount of potential in the set-up. So far I like the contrast between her seemingly altruistic intentions and the awesome power that has just been handed to her.

Of course, I had to trundle over to YouTube and immediately watch the transformation scene from the old Shazam/Isis hour, a TV show which was on when I was a kid. I had completely forgotten that the character who turns into Isis was a schoolteacher. Somehow that fact makes it more ridiculous to watch and at the same time kind of hot.

Sontag's revealing journals

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My jaw dropped down to the floor when I read Sunday's New York Times and realized that Susan Sontag's private journals are going to be published. The Times was running an excerpt from the first journal she kept, and they promised there would be more to come--many more.

According to the Times, Sontag kept a journal intermittently for most of her life. I quickly scanned down the article to see what Sontag's journals might look like. Would they be like ordinary journals, revealing the interior life of the public figure, or would they be more studied, almost like notes for her written works?

When I finally sat down to read the excerpt in full, I was even more amazed by what was revealed. For example, in this excerpt, from 1958:

Dec. 24

My desire to write is connected with my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me.

It doesn't justify my homosexuality. But it would give me--I feel--a license.

I am just becoming aware of how guilty I feel being queer. With H., I thought it didn't bother me, but I was lying to myself. I let other people (e.g. Annette [Michelson, film scholar]) believe that it was H. who was my vice, and that apart from her I wouldn't be queer or at least not mainly so.

I had already heard Sontag was a lesbian before reading this excerpt from her journals. I knew it the way gay people know these things, through the gay grapevine. I also knew she was known to be reticent about discussing it, even though her sexuality was considered an open secret among her peers.

When Sontag passed away, I wrote several posts about how much I admired her, but chose not to mention her lesbianism. I guess I felt protective of Sontag's desire for privacy. It seems increasingly like gays and lesbians get called on the carpet for gossiping about celebrities or for saying someone's gay. For instance, take the recent rumors about Oprah. But what many people do not appreciate is how often we stay silent, because we know what the costs of exposure are.

I don't think I necessarily made a good decision in choosing not to mention Sontag's sexuality. In hindsight I think my protectiveness was misplaced. But then, I can point to my betters and say they did the same thing. For example, I noted that the obituary in the New York Times failed to mention Susan Sontag's longtime companion, even though it is ludicrous to suggest that the paper of record was unaware of the relationship. When asked about the omission by the gay press, the Times replied that they could not get confirmation regarding her lover's identity before press time.

I'd like here to make a distinction that often gets forgotten in discussions about outing. (If you are interested in the subject, I suggest reading the book Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing by Larry Gross.) The intent of outing is usually not to out people, it is to out the press. Outing points out the bad faith exhibited by the press in reporting "news" about celebrities and other personalities which they know to be factually incorrect.

In this way, outing shows that the press is not always committed to objective reporting of the facts. It also shows that the press is complicit with practices that oppress gays and lesbians. I don't necessarily agree with the practice of outing, but I think people need to understand what it is and what it is not. It has political and social implications outside the somewhat frivolous context of celebrity gossip in which it is often discussed.

Back to Sontag. I'm excited that Sontag's journals are going to be published, and that I will get to read about her own understanding of her sexual identity, perhaps as it evolved over decades. I hope I will also learn more about the decision to publish posthumously. I did some investigation before writing this and discovered that Sontag's son, a writer and book editor, is the executor of her estate. So I imagine it was a conscious decision on her part to publish the journals, which in turn prompted me to publish this reflection on my own writing decisions.

For 9/11, I decided I would post three big things that have changed in the U.S. since the event. These three things are not necessarily related to 9/11, they're just changes I've marked since that time. And one more thing: I've made these three things be changes that I never imagined would happen. I call them the unthinkables:

1. New Orleans is gone.

2. In the mainstream media, and in peoples homes, Americans debate the extent to which the U.S. has become a fascist country.

3. Due to the passing of the bankruptcy bill, indentured servitude has returned to the United States.

I'd like to invite you to share your three things, about the changes that have happened in your country. If you do so, please consider leaving me a comment so I and my readers can find your three things, too.

Book Mix

Today O'Reilly Radar writes about changes in publishing brought about by new media. Although the particular medium being discussed isn't mentioned by name, I assume Tim is talking about the Internet. He writes, "Many of our popular series, like our programming cookbooks or the Hacks series, are actually collections of shorts, rather than full-length connected narratives."

The shift Tim sees occurring is from long-form composition to short-form collections. I'd noticed this shift in my own reading patterns lately. In the past, I had never been a big fan of short story collections, especially those by a single author. Now, I find myself downloading short stories, articles and pre-published book chapters that are made available for free on the Internet, composing my own mixed fiction/non-fiction reading sampler as I surf.

Tim predicts, "I think we'll see this phenomenon all over publishing: the rebirth of short-form content and collections, with the user in charge of the playlist." I'm not sure how playlists would work in print, but I load the material I download onto my Zaurus PDA, which I use as an e-book reader, among other things. I think that as people adopt new reading habits, this will build demand for devices that make these new styles of reading possible. That device may take the form of a dedicated e-book reader, or it could very well turn out to be something else.

Bronteana

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While browsing the links over at When Fangirls Attack, I ran across a reference to Dame Darcy's rendition of Jane Eyre. I clicked through--not to a comics site, as I had imagined--but to the Bronte Blog. In addition to offering an interesting write-up on Dame Darcy's endeavor, I was pleased to run across a Bronte fan site on the web. It seemed well-stocked, too, with links to free e-book versions of the Bronte's works, and quite a lot of information about the upcoming BBC production of Jane Eyre.

I don't know why, but I somehow got it in my head to check if there were any more Bronte fan blogs out there. And as it turns out, there are Bronte blogs to suit many styles and occasions. For example, there is Bronteana, heavy with news regarding adaptations; and Bronte Studies Blog, more in the academic vein; and the surprisingly hip Bronte Parsonage Blog, with its recent report on a Wuthering Heights graphic novel.

Just a few days later, I ran across Heathcliff in the news. In the BigBagRead poll held by Bloomsbury Press in the UK, Heathcliff came in 17th in a list of top villains in literature. I don't usually think of Heathcliff as a villain, so that really surprised me. I mean, what's so wrong with digging up your dead ex just so you can hold her in your arms and scream at her one last time about how she ruined your life?

Dark Knight of the Soul now concluded

I enjoyed reading the interview with Grant Morrison that Neilalien linked to recently. Morrison discusses his recent writing in the Batman title and offers some interesting thoughts on the development of Batman's character in the DC universe.

Although I'm partial to Batman as a hero because of his capacity for suffering, I found myself agreeing with what Morrison had to say about the limits of portraying the Dark Knight as a grim hero haunted by his desire for vengeance. I think he is correct in saying that comics have pursued this direction as far as it can go. I was also greatly intrigued by Morrison's suggestion that other characters in the Batman universe had assumed the role of expressing those elements of Batman's personality that had been lost through such unrelentingly dark characterizations.

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