for 8 December 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
I'm trying to figure out where you stand on the comic book front. You talk about things that most of mainstream writers ever touch. But you talk about the industry in such a manner that you have no reverence or respect for it at all.
Which is it? I really never got a feeling one way or the other.
I have to take exception with a few comments.
1.) The off-hand comment about how comic books are the source of entertainment for lonely teens and precocious children. The average age of the reader of comic book has been and still is typically in the early to late 20s. The reason they got a following was because they were read in the 30s and 40s by overseas GIs and they followed them after they got back.
2.) Comic books are a dead medium. Comic books have been written off for a long-time. I hear this every five years. I will give you this, it's a declining market. But this has more to do with inbreeding than it does with why people still read comic books. And there are resurges in the market when competition rears its head and puts out quality material. Comics predates television and is still one of the most viable mediums, when done correctly. Much like newspapers and magazines, I don't see a time anytime soon when the comic book will go out of circulation.
3.) There's a subtle string of inference that comic books are some sort of inferior 3rd-string medium. I take exception to this. It's different and because it's quickly associated with children's stories (no idea why when you look at the old EC Comics), it's written off as not good enough to cover in the mainstream press. Like Hollywood's constant cranking out of movies and schlock has a higher purpose.
Anyway, I enjoyed at least somebody talking about comic books, if not in the vein I would hope.
I have a lot of respect for the comics medium, which despite the market collapse for big company books is undergoing its finest year ever in terms of quality material for adults. It's a beautiful art form capable of everything from wonderfully elegant and nuanced expression to kick-ass, highly-involved narratives. The people who are really, really good cartoonists are some of the most uniquely-gifted artists working.
Let me address your numbered comments 1-2-3.
1. Comics' readership has traditionally been comics and teens even as there have been periods where a different consumer has come into the market in a big way. Returning G.I.'s buying comics did lead to a post-War sales spike (Chabon discusses this in his book), just as college students are believe to have bought Marvel comics in the '60s and early '70s in greater numbers than they did before or have since. And while I don't mean this as a insult at all I certainly learned to read in part by looking at Spider-Man -- comic books anecdotally enjoyed great sales success with functional illiterates before television came along.
My understanding is that both major companies believe their readerships skew older these day, which is what happens when you try to bleed more and more money out of a hardcore fan audience rather than recruit new readers. But I think this is really specific to the way the market has collapsed rather than an indication of where the long-term readership has been and will continue to be.
2. I don't think comics are a dead medium, but I do think the readership of comic books is so relatively small it can no longer be considered a viable mass-market format. There are many art forms that would kill for comics' audience. But if there wasn't licensing, there certainly wouldn't be a division of Time-Warner devoted to comic book publishing. And Marvel would be gone.
3. I don't think comics are a third-rate medium at all, and I'm deeply saddened that the best cartoonists particularly those working in the comic book format aren't recognized for their achievements in the manner of a quality playwright or author. I do think that the industry, particularly the superhero side of things and especially now as they're being outstripped as wish-fulfillment totems by videogame characters and their own movie adaptations, gives off a third-rate odor that appeals to writers, critics and arts-champions everywhere.
Anyway, Michael, thanks for writing such a long note and I hope that this reply makes my points a bit more clear.
40th Street Black
Wow. Did you really have to reveal the ending to Unbreakable in this first paragraph without a warning? Just because you didn't enjoy the film there's no reason to spoil it for others who haven't seen it and may or may not like it. You may have felt the ending was obvious or trite, but so what. A spoiler warning for a movie this new is just common courtesy. But than again that would deprive those people of your witty jibes.
"Least Efficient Job Recruitment Specialist" Hah Hah! "Poncho Man" You're killing me. Stop.
Can't risk you pulling this stunt again with something I haven't already seen. Count me out as a future reader.
Hey, you revealed my best jokes!
Chris, I sort of understand why movie reviewers play along with the studio's desire to withhold plot points of movie. If part of your approach either your own or dictated by the publishing context says that you're providing Consumer Reports-style information, you don't want to needlessly detract from someone's enjoyment of said product. I think critics have no such responsibility, especially when they're writing about broad issues like I was, as they're trying to engage the point of the movie rather than its existence as product.
And for humor's sake, I think there's almost no compunction to obey some unwritten contract. One of the greatest Peanuts of all time was Lucy's declaration to Linus watching Citizen Kane, "Rosebud was his sled." Not that anything I'll write will ever be as funny as direct as Schulz could write when he was on, but I feel free to stick my tongue out at the same things.
P.S. You've seen Citizen Kane, haven't you?
40th Street Black
Not 24 hours after your send-up on "decade-by-decade nostalgia," Chicago's only decent classic rock station, WXCD-FM 94.7, reinvented itself as an '80s station.
I blame you. Jerk.
I spent the summer of '92 working for the Resolution Trust Corporation in Elk Grove, and due to the ridiculous commuter traffic on my 110 minute commute back to my apartment in Edgewater ended up punching my radio in frustration. After that, the only station I could pick up was the sports talk station that featured as one of their hosts an ex-hot dog vendor. Some people experience summers of love or summers of fun, I got the summer of Wayne Newton's Bankruptcy Files and interviews with Dexter Manley.
As far as I'm concerned, any pain I can cause the Chicago radio market will never be enough.
Although I'm slightly sorry for any pain I may cause those living there.
40th Street Black
Hey, thanks for the cool comics article there 40, I've posted a link to it over at www.comicon.com/panels , so hopefully lots of comics folks will read it. Don't know if you've ever hung out over there, but it's a hotbed o' discourse (some of it unfortunately from evil fanboy types) involving seasoned pros and pink-faced neophytes and sweaty, grungy fan-units...
I've written to you before re: military personnel perpetual adolescence... but I'm also a cartoonist and comic book artist, did some ElfQuest and have my own book Mystic For Hire (www.pagancity.com) which is currently in limbo mostly because of the state of the industry web version on the way. My main site is www.starshipwright.com -basic, but the shoemaker has no shoes, ya know? I'm also the current Secretary of CAPS, the Comic Arts Professionals Society (members.aol.com/capsmembers)... and I'm trying to shake things up, get new blood into it (most of the other guys in CAPS are veterans like Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, Scott Shaw!, Bill Stout, etc.).
Anyway, great to see anybody besides Wizard and TCJ writing SOMETHING about comics! Thanks bud. Peace.
Thanks for posting that link on the Comicon.com site. By click my name on the Suck contributors bio page, you'll discover just how horrifying a familiarity I have with their message board which you describe accurately.
I would think lots of new cartoonists would want to belong to the same organization as Sergio Aragones.
40th Street Black
In today's SUCK you refer to a "negative drubbing" of Unbreakable, while all the reviews I have read (NY Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, among a few smaller weekly papers and websites) seem to like it quite a lot ("not as good as the sixth sense" seems to be the main point of contention).
Who's drubbing it? (I want to read the other side)
Thanks, and nice piece by the way,
You're just trying to get me in trouble. The movie certainly has a number defenders, you're right, although a lot of them are critics I can't take seriously, like Travers and Ebert. The negative reviews that did run were really snotty and contemptuous, particularly as opposed to the usual level of discourse around seriously-intended films and to the reviews I've encountered for Chabon's work.
40th Street Black
Shame on you. The other inspiration for the Matrix was Masamune Shirow's "Ghost in the Shell," which is considered to be one of the greatest anime's ever. Not to be a geeky nitpicker or anything...
Geeky nitpickers are cool with me.
Yeah, I have no problem believing that something as broadly-played as The Matrix could have been taken from a number of sources. And Hollywood's willingness to stare at Japanese comics and animation, blink twice, and say, "I don't see THAT many similarities" has always been hilariously scummy, no matter if that worship leads to a stateside distribution deal for the dubbed originals or not.
40th Street Black
"All things being equal, audiences prefer to see themselves as heroic artists rather than troubled readers. And critics may just live and die by that statement. Choose any hero you like, a superhero if you must, but always, always make a choice."
Shoot, I sure could have used this quote when I was writing my essay during a three-hour, in-class exam I took in my Renaissance literature class this week! A lot of my classmates, much more literary than yours truly, had been disparaging Spenser's "The Faerie Queen," not caring for its poetry. I tried encouraging them to not read it as poetry, or even allegory, but to consider an early form of the serial comic book--broad, two-dimensional characters, villains more fun than the protagonists, sexy femme fatales, funny sidekicks, etc.
Insightful article keep up the good work.
You know, if I had had the good fortune to ever go to school with someone named "Nicky Beer," I would have listened to every damn thing you said, too.
40th Street Black
The real problem is not the persistence of the comic book form (about which more) but the idea that any work in any medium is somehow "validated" by being made into a movie.
This is pointed out fairly poignantly in the link you supplied to Michael Chabon's X-Men proposal. A good and popular funny book is boiled down into two-hours of crap that can only fail to capture the true essence of the original. Chabon talks about this in his proposal: Weíre not going to get the whole thing, so what can we do and what do we save for the sequel. Chabon's treatment in fact was fairly sensitive to the values of the original, so of course it was passed up. No room for that sort of thing, let's make a movie.
This in fact goes beyond simply art, getting right into our lives. We joke about will play us in the movie version, and what our soundtrack is. Just as, "audiences prefer to see themselves as heroic artists rather than troubled readers," it makes us feel better to think of our sad little lives as if they were clever, tragic, or any sort of movies. As the Eagles say (dare I credit them with satire here?), "I know my life would look all right if I could see it on the silver screen."
All this began with books being turned into movies, with varying degrees of success or butchery. Think about it really, how many movies were better than the book they were based on? I can think of one or two. Things went fairly quickly from bad to worse: Now the movie industry feeds on itself with endless and unnecessary remakes, and worse adaptations of TV shows, especially animated ones (so much better in live action?). All of this shows the bankruptcy of the medium, yet like Kate Winslet's Titanic heart, it goes on and on and on.
Your citations of nostalgia for schocky or prurient culture are invalid since they are again perpetrated by Hollywood (barring Garrison Kiellor who is willing to be nostalgic for just about anything). Of course they are looking for anything for the mill to grind on, no matter how thin. Things in particular that the studio system can point to as their storied past or even seedy underbelly, self-servingly increase the sense of grandeur and moment of the Big Screen Myth.
I believe Woody Allen once remarked something along the lines of that, "success is ten percent luck and ninety percent just showing up." This is very telling of the perspective of someone from Hollywood. While the rest of us might actually need talent or study in our chosen fields, as Bill Maher recently and correctly noted of Hollywood people, "our jobs are not something ninety percent of people couldn't do." The recent commercial actors' strike was evidence of how low the bar is set: Did TV commercials suck any more with scab actors and crews?
Comic books aren't necessarily bad; as Neil Gaiman, one of the better comic writers to come down the pike in a while (who is a REAL writer because he's done screenplays, too) put it, "it is a medium mistaken for a genre." The genre of muscley superheroes in spandex is an unfortunate and persistent use of the medium, the one with which it is almost universally associated. Maus and the other works of Art Spiegelman, Love and Rockets, and many others have broken out of this cage. Japanese Manga are all pervasive there, and have very little to do with these themes (but, it should be noted, are other forms of shallow crap). Scott McCloud, like Will Eisner before him, is trying to make sense of how the medium works; what makes it unique what it can and canít do. Spiegelmans work prior to his acclaimed Maus, where he deconstructs the medium are his true works of genius.
Comics are particularly hard done by in the Movies as well. Where books are usually given some respect in their adaptation to film, comic books get none. The stories themselves are almost universally discarded, with the surface being all that remains. What's really sad is that the comics medium, frequently described to as puerile and semi-literate, is still way too much reading for the mass market. They'll wait for the movie, thanks.
I agree with the vast majority of what you write. One particularly depressing thing about comics in America is how its industry embraces the superficial elements as real contributions. When Neil Gaiman's work at DC became successful, for example, the corporate reaction was not to find other talented writers and build books around them but to encourage Gaiman-style stories in their faux-EC "Vertigo" line. The history of American comic books in the 1990s is best seen in the hundreds of characters and concepts seemingly created with the development deal in mind, from Rob Liefeld to Terry Moore.
These kinds of things aren't unique to comics, but when combined with the revulsion by their industry leaders for anything that's not a potential licensing bonanza and seen though the reality of their comparatively low sales, it fairly screams of an embrace of second-bananahood.
40th Street Black
The classic rock piece was hold-your-lighter-in-the-air, yell-woo-for-an-encore good.
While the music industry in general is beastly, I've always secretly wondered if there isn't a special area of hell for classic rock programmers. For those of us away from major markets, a good portion of our formative years were spent with classic rock (or quasi-classic rock) stations holding a virtual monopoly on the so-called "rock" franchise of the airwaves.
The modern rock music was a temporary respite, but things seem to have devolved. To wit: the Rochester (NY) modern rock radio station openly mocked dinosaur rock, then suddenly was under the same ownership as its main target of lampooning/harpooning, and now it's reverted to a nearly identical classic-heavy format. (You will be assimilated, indeed.) In other cases, the merger-happy market merely covers all its bases; in Syracuse (NY), the top (only?) modern rock station sits under the same roof as the most strident classic-rock outlet.
Perhaps the best truism on the subject came from an indie speaker at the Athfest Music Symposium earlier this year when he observed that "radio stations have nothing to do with music."
And Bono aptly once warbled: "You glorify the past when the future dries up." And it was depressing the first time I heard "Pride (In The Name of Love)" played as a "classic cut" on the radio.
I guess we'd better do as we are told/We'd better listen to the radio.
Thanks for the great piece!
I grew up with Q95 in Indianapolis, Indiana. And unless some radio-listening Hoosier tells me differently, I don't think there was a modern rock alternative until after I left the area in 1987. Let alone one in the same building.
40th Street Black
This Magick Moment
I used the banishing rituals steady for three years to get rid of some unfortunate personal habits. They worked. (the act of will to of course being the important first step).
I am still a Libertarian.
I think if you read Magic Without Tears his last book he sees the dead end of fascism.
You have to understand his early views were probably clouded by his work for British intelligence. And the Victorian view of Empire.
Dear Mr. Simon:
Thanks for your comments. I by no means meant to suggest that admiration for Crowley, or use of his techniques, precludes libertarianism; in fact meant to suggest that they should demand it. You are correct that Crowley's missteps in that regard are probably largely a matter of personal experience and cultural baggage. However, I still maintain that his emphasis on True Will as that to be unfettered leaves too much room for the idea that only the self-actualized Supermen deserves liberty. I'm glad the magick worked for you.
Why did you link the word "death" to a page about a book about Norwegian BLACK metal. Moron.
Hey ya big jerk
While I may perhaps be less versed in all the subdivisions of metal than you, to my understanding the two terms are analogous in most people's minds, while the "black metal" phrase tends to confuse Americans, who think it means metal played by black people which would be exactly the wrong impression to give about the Scandahoovians who dominate the genre.
We Crowley kooks (at least the ones of my acquaintance) are deeply impressed by your Halloween article at Suck. I run a modest website myself, The Beast Bay, a sort of Thelemic Slashdot, and I went to post a glowing mention of your piece, only to find that someone had already beaten me to it.
Your criticisms are well-taken. In particular, your analysis of Crowley, Modernism, and Fascism expresses something I've been trying to get at for many years. Thank you.
Incidentally, if you live in the Bay Area and are free this Monday (11/6), I'd invite you to our Samhain ritual and pot-luck as an honored guest. But we might be too ghastly for you; I'd completely understand.
Thank you very much for your kind words. I feared, given the flippant tone of suck, that Crowleyans might find the piece unfairly dismissive of Crowley, who I do admire in many ways. Were I in the SF area, I'd be pleased to attend your event, but alas I will not be. Thanks very much for the invitation, however.
Re: Al's old Scottish home overlooking spooky Loch Ness.
I actually saw (and have a picture somewhere) of that house. I was at Loch Ness in 1990 and my Uncle (who was a diehard zep fan) just HAD to see this house. So we climbed over a small fence and made our way up his back yard to get a good shot.
I remember the taxicab driver being a little nervous when my uncle asked about "the old Crowley house" and he was also quite unwilling to wait (and keep the meter running) for us but agreed to return 10 minutes later.
Anyway, good article.
Thanks for the interesting story. Glad the old man still inspires annoyance in the locals.
While I enjoyed your article on Crowley and learned many things about this intriguing figure, I must point out that his "central slogan" "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of law" is not derivative of Rabelais and St. Augustine, but is rather a mere paraphrasing of Kant's universal law formulation of his Categorical Imperative. Sorry to be so nitpicky, but I can't help myself. I'm one of those annoying people that corrects their friends' grammar and spelling, let alone their philosophy. Good shit though, keep it up.
Mark G. Anderson
It's most definitely derived from Rabelais, see his Abbey of Thelema in "Garagantua and Pantagruel". I don't at all see how it's a paraphrase of Kant's categorical imperative, which as I understand it says you shouldn't do anything that you wouldn't want to be a universal law don't do anything you wouldn't want everyone to do, while Crowley's Thelemic law says, do whatever it is your will demands.
I am willing to be further educated on this, but I don't see it so far. Do I misunderstand Kant?