Three Points of Interest

1. I'm through with doing Show Notes, at least in their current form. They've clumped together magnetically and turned into a small millstone around my neck; I just don't have time anymore. Sorry to those of you that liked them. I liked them, I think some of my better short-form criticism has been squirreled away in bits and pieces, but - I just can't keep up!

2. Earlier today I made my Comics Alliance debut, through the good graces of Sean Witzke and Matt Seneca, and editor Andy Khouri. It's part of Sean's & Matt's comprehensive reading of DC's 2004-06 Solo anthology, specifically the issue (#8) dealing with Teddy Kristiansen. In case you're curious as to the European stuff Kristiansen's been doing, Image just released an English edition of his 2007 album The Red Diary, with a bonus flip-side alternate localization titled The Re[a]d Diary, in which Steven T. Seagle scripts the comic from simply 'reading' its visual attributes rather than consulting a textual translation. Anyway, thanks to Sean & Matt for having me on board for the discussion.

3. I also did a longform essay the other week, a tricksy thing I'm really happy with. It's a supplemental piece for the gaming webcomic Project: Ballad by Michael Peterson & Kevin Czapiewski, which necessarily (voluntarily!) brushes up against the strip's concerns, though I'll admit I conceived it primarily as a homage to a slightly older thing: the reflective (windy), personal (indulgent), searching (tedious) mid-'00s internet realm of the New Games Journalism -- a term coined, I believe, by also-a-writer-of-comics Kieron Gillen -- specifically invoking the style of infamous scene presence Tim Rogers. *Actually* though, it's an attempt to trace my own critical impulses back to certain traits of my youth, and talk about religion and shit; I think it's the first video game review of 2012 to reference St. Augustine of Hippo. I also hide a Eurocomics review in the middle. Thanks a million to Michael & Kevin for having (tolerating) me!      


CBABIH 5 - Show Notes

Being a series of comments on Episode 5 of Comic Books Are Burning In Hell, a podcast, from which something seems to be missing, by Tucker Stone, Chris Mautner and myself.

00:00: Hey, can you guess which one of us has kids?

00:52: That's right! I was going to structure this note as a homage to the beloved children's programming of my early days, but all I ever liked was Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats, which is to say bouts of dubiously animated violence married to rampant consumerism, thus setting the stage for a life worthy of Comic Books Are Burning In Hell: Your Garth Ennis Source. I am, however, doing a behind-the-scenes ThunderCats tribute right now, in that it's the beginning of the post and I am fully nude.

01:11: This wonderfully succinct joke I'm telling is actually the story of the Warren comics magazine Blazing Combat, which was cancelled after four issues when Army PX (post exchange) locations declined to carry it, apparently due to the anti-war stance of the publication during the escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War; this wasn't a singular factor -- there were wholesaler concerns to deal with too -- but it gave Warren enough of a public reaction sample to decline to weather its considerable losses on the early roll out. Fantagraphics has since collected the entire run, which I understand did a little better than Willie and Joe: The WWII Years, a Bill Mauldin collection I think you used to be able to purchase from Amazon by blowing the right kind of kiss into your monitor.

02:42: "[T]he last Hitman collection" is vol. 7, Closing Time. It arrives just over 15 years after the '97 publication of the first trade, later subtitled A Rage in Arkham. We don't mention this, but the series was technically a spin-off of a prior Ennis superhero effort, his 1993-95 run on The Demon, which began toward the end of his Hellblazer tenure and terminated just as Preacher was starting up.

04:00: DC/Vertigo's Sandman Mystery Theater collections made it up to 8 volumes' worth of the original 1993-99 series, leaving 18 issues loose. Shade, the Changing Man only got up to vol. 3, leaving more than 50 issues of writer Peter Milligan's original tenure uncollected. Maybe they'll get to them later? My mention of a final Jamie Delano Hellblazer trade is an estimate; issues #34-40 of his run remain uncollected, which would add up to one more good-sized collection. That said, the newly-numbered reissues of the previously-collected Delano stuff should be up to date by November, which suggests the rest of the material may follow in 2013.

09:13: What I'm alluding to here is issue #34, Of Thee I Sing (in the fifth trade, Tommy's Heroes), in which the title character and Superman discuss the symbolic charge of the Superman concept in a basically straightforward manner. It remains maybe the most classic go-to example of Ennis writing 'straight' superheroes, which possibly makes it the highest-profile issue of Hitman by default, although I'm sure even the least of those issues outsold much of the current Direct Market mid-list on initial publication.

11:03: Specifically:

"The Shadow worked best, I judged, as something akin to a force of nature. Readers had to accept as a given that he was always right, at least about what was evil and what was not. He killed because he knew, to an absolute certainty, that his enemies deserved death. Which created a problem. Human beings, even fictional ones, are not capable of such godlike insight if they are to be believable. So we were not permitted to know The Shadow's thoughts, nor his motivations, nor his background. He was, period.... Unthinking obedience to a man is fascism; unthinking obedience to a deity is merely good sense."

Dennis O'Neil, from his introduction to The Private Files of the Shadow, 1989.

12:02: The Shadow, by Garth Ennis & Aaron Campbell, presently up to issue #4. Apparently, Ennis & Campbell will only be sticking around for a kickoff storyline; the creative team as of issue #7 is Victor Gischler & Jack Herbert. I'm not familiar with anything by those guys, but it's worth noting that similarly-positioned Dynamite stablemate Jennifer Blood has transformed completely into a bleakly comedic bloodbath melodrama (somewhat thematically reminiscent of the old '80s horror movie The Stepfather) under writer Al Ewing, so it's not like Ennis leaving is necessarily the kiss of death.

15:27: It doesn't come across all that well in this trailer, but my chief recollection of Highlander/Resident Evil: Extinction director Russell Mulcahy's 1994 movie of The Shadow is that it sort of managed to approximate the lushly artificial art direction of Warren Beatty's 1990 Dick Tracy while also (primarily) availing itself of a peculiarly late-'80s/early-'90s visual sheen I like to call "storybook noir," insofar as it marries obsessively detailed hats-'n-trench-coats period production design to a kind of glossy back-lighting or color correction scheme, as if to foreground the artifice of the visual data and place it in quotes. I'd even place the date of the style's death to a bit later in '94, with the calamitous release of Mel Smith's Radioland Murders; the obligatory hidden gem of the scene is Howard Franklin's 1992 The Public Eye, a genuinely strange Joe Pesci vehicle that spikes the mix with surprising gooshes of lollipop-red blood. (In contrast, Sam Raimi's pointedly Shadowesque 1990 film Darkman may have a similarly goofy tone, but it lacks this special glow.)

16:56: Fury: My War Gone By, by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov. Presently up to issue #5, maybe to run to #13, if publishing hasn't shifted beneath Tucker's comments. Technically, the series is a spin-off of Ennis' much-admired run on The Punisher MAX, which itself was arguably an adjunct to a 2001-02 Fury MAX series, although the continuity is a bit Judge Dredd - best not to focus on for very long. Listener "Frank" has observed that much of this stuff can be traced back to Ennis' 2006 Fury: Peacemaker miniseries, which Ennis did with Darick Robertson right before The Boys launched; it was firmly in the vein of Ennis' war comics, and somewhat more sedate than his MAX works at Marvel (it was in the Marvel Knights line), though it could easily function as 'his' Fury's true origin.

21:21: Further discussion of Ennis' James Ellroy fascination can be found here, and in the attached comments.

24:08: Black Kiss 2, by Howard Chaykin. A secret history of the 20th century in six issues. I'll cop to some personal involvement in this one; my very first-ever piece of published-and-paid-for writing was a short steampunk story I wrote as a teen, which concerned a somewhat similar sexually-driven 'movies as agents of physiological change' scenario, complete with the climactic intervention of a tentacle creature upon the worldview and anus of a hapless man. Seriously! Although mine had another dude in a steam-propelled jetpack, whereas Chaykin has ejaculations on the Titanic...

24:36: The original 12-issue, 1988-89 Vortex run of Black Kiss weighed in at 12 pages per issue, sealed in plastic. The same publisher then released three bumper issues in '89 under the title Big Black Kiss, and then a softcover collection in 1993 titled Thick Black Kiss. The Eros Comix softcover (now simply Black Kiss) dropped in 2000, followed by a Dynamite hardcover in 2010. I've since seen its lipstick smear spine, and I kind of like it; seems deliberate, which I can't say for many of the publisher's not-uncommon production gaffes.

31:22: Indeed, a male 'succubus' is properly called an incubus.

31:39: I wrote a little bit about Chaykin's 2009-10 Dominic Fortune here; the other comic I'm trying to remember the title of is Avengers: 1959, released 2011-12.

35:01: Detail from what I'm talking about (check the guy in the row between the front pair):

The term I keep grasping for is 'resolution[s].'

36:39: "... people who are saying Dark Knight Rises is 'supreme cinema art,' I don't think they know what the fuck they're talking about." - David Cronenberg

37:34: I swear to god Sucker Punch is genuinely underrated and Zack Snyder's best movie in a walk. That doesn't make it somehow not deeply flawed, but I do find it depressingly predictable that the contortions certain writers crunched themselves into to justify Snyder's bottomlessly awful Watchmen adaptation were nowhere to be seen once he put out something actually somewhat weird and embarrassing and personal and vaguely risky. Oh well, no more of that; every comment section of every movie blog prays steadfastly that Christopher Nolan will keep him on as short a leash as possible, though the results might still be something...
39:41: I realize I'm simplifying in terming The Dark Knight Rises as politically "right wing"; in fact, I'm conflating U.S. politics with those of an English-born-and-educated director/co-writer. Likewise, the Occupy Wall Street language I'm using is anachronistic, given the film's actual production schedule. Nonetheless, I continue to fail to see political ambiguity in the text itself; it is a paean to authoritative power as the very preservation of society against the ignorance of the populace, albeit a localized power brewed from individual accomplishment; how Robin spits the word "appeasement" at the black federal representative toward the movie's climax, prior to the man's capture and hanging(!!) at the hands of mobbish terrorist Bane. You could call it a certain strain of superhero Objectivism -- the utter adoration of the police in this thing is très Ditko -- though the little altruism subplot (note that the *only* effective charities in Gotham are privately-run) then jars.

Interestingly, there's a certain anti-libertarian bent to Bane's 'spread out the detonator' scheme, which is similar to triumphant plot flourishes in the anarchist/libertarian flavored likes of Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination and Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100; the excellence of Batman's brand of justice is as much in the security he represents as his personal aptitude, demonstrated via the classic, apolitical trope of the white dude who gets stuck in a foreign land, learns the ways of the inhabitants, and then totally bests their accomplishments, I mean of course! Anyway, what I'm saying is, when Robin (briefly) chews Gordon out for lying to the people of Gotham about the means by which he's stripped prisoners of the possibility of parole, the problem is only in the moral lapse insofar as it tarnishes the reliability of authority, which is all that keeps the fucking moron class from handing us over to international terror.

42:10: Tim O'Neil's writing on the film is here. Anthony Lane's writing on the film is here. A Bane vocal comparison is here. My spare time is laying dead there in the corner, but let's see if I can't get Episode 6 out a little faster, huh?


CBABIH 4 - Show Notes

Being a series of comments on Episode 4 of the now-established, faintly boring Comic Books Are Burning In Hell, a *yawn* podcast by Matt Seneca, Tucker Stone, Chris Mautner and myself.

00:00: It was really big of Philip Roth to do this introduction, despite his sore throat. He was played in this instance by Tucker. Wait, was I supposed to say that? Is that what people want to read in the show notes? The walrus was Paul, gang.

00:48: Somewhat unexpectedly, we (read: Tucker) managed to improvise a bookend joke around Tucker cutting me off when I'm trying to say my name. I wish I could say we were furiously pursuing this new frontier in comedy via texts while laying down the hottest (comic book review-style) licks around, but it sort of just happened. Now that I think of it, the true function of these notes is clearly to draw attention to stuff like that, as my houseplants can only take so much internet audio-related boasting.

01:12: This line of Pennsylvania reverie is strictly aimed at Chris; episodes 3 and 4 were recorded on Friday, July 20, a slightly irregular date for us, because (among other things) Chris had wanted to see Dawes that Sunday. Note that I totally fuck up my podcast kayfabe by referring to the concert as "this" weekend, as opposed to a temporal designation applicable to the episode's date of release. Apologies to any brokenhearted Dawes fans in the Lancaster area that only get their concert updates from comic book podcasts.

01:43: Phoenix, by Osamu Tezuka. Tucker wrote a little about vol. 5, Resurrection, here. Viz's 12-volume edition of the material contains a small readers' guide in the back of most copies filling you in on the circumstances of the series' creation. The earliest iteration of the project dates to 1954, although it didn't 'officially' (retroactively) debut until 1967, making Tezuka an early master of yet another vital comics skill set: the relaunch. The most recent storyline was completed in 1988, the year before Tezuka died.

04:54: Garo launched in 1964, COM in '67. Of course, by that time Garo had shucked off its initial incarnation as a vehicle for leftist education for Japan's comics-hungry youth and become more of a forum for less-commercial (or simply amateur) manga, although the recurring socio-political point(s)-of-view among the contributor base have been a matter of study.

05:24: To wit:

"For all his humanism and gentleness, Tezuka was an extraordinarily competitive person. Although he rarely faced serious intellectual competition in the manga world, fads in art styles changed regularly, and he constantly had to struggle to remain current. When gekiga... became popular among increasingly older readers, and when Tezuka's traditionally rounded, Disney-esque style fell out of favor, he began drawing more realistically. When young artists, such as the French-influenced Katsuhiro Ōtomo... became the darling of manga critics in the eighties, Tezuka had a hard time hiding his jealousy, for he had a burning desire to be at the top of the popularity list in all genres for all age groups at all times. It was certainly this competitive spirit, in addition to his talents, that allowed him to so dominate the manga industry for so long."

- Frederik L. Schodt, from Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (3rd ed. 2002)

06:40: The full title of the earlier Schodt book is Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, first published in 1983 and almost immediately deemed a foundational text for Japanese comics fandom in the English-speaking world. Copies are still fairly easy to come by, though the text is now as interesting for how utterly divorced it is from the aesthetic tastes of contemporary fandom as its still-relevant historical information.

07:01: Phoenix was also perhaps intended as a summary of Tezuka's life on the page; in his 2007 collection The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution, Schodt notes that "[o]ne of the most intriguing rumors circulating in the Japanese manga industry is that Tezuka planned to merge the Mighty Atom [Astro Boy] characters into a final volume of his beloved life work, the Phoenix." This concludes my survey of the Frederik L. Schodt writing-on-manga trilogy, all portions of which are commended to your attention. The notion of the last Phoenix as a potential "autobiographical" comic is my own conjecture.

09:27: Not that I recommend watching entire feature films on YouTube, but the first reel or so of Phoenix 2772 (1980, dir. Taku Sugiyama) is worth seeing for its total absence of dialogue, in a rather Fantasia-like symphonic manner. Certainly the Disney influence had not dissipated from co-writer Tezuka's mind; the Firebird Suite sequence from Fantasia 2000 might also be read as a nod back, although famed Tezuka skeptic Hayao Miyazaki makes for a handier reference point.

10:04: The creator and director-for-life of the Armored Trooper Votoms television and OVA franchise is Ryosuke Takahashi, who adapted another vintage manga -- a war story by Leiji Matsumoto -- in vol. 3 of the 1993 OVA series The Cockpit. Link not in English!

13:33: Schodt also liked Resurrection quite a lot; a capsule review can be found in the aforementioned Dreamland Japan, if you're curious. You should read it anyway!!

14:18: Future, the second volume of Phoenix, is probably the easiest to track down, as Viz released a slightly different edition of it before the rest of the series, presumably gambling on the sci-fi content acting as a special draw. This earlier edition was much larger -- about the size of one of Dark Horse's Akira releases -- while later printings adopted the digest size of the remaining volumes. Second hand copies of Karma, the best of 'em all to my mind, is presently going for roughly $50.00 on Amazon, although some other volumes can still be had for under cover price.

17:00: You can enjoy some limited interaction between Tezuka and his studio assistants on the bonus dvd to Helen McCarthy's all-around excellent The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga; it's a mid-'80s NHK television documentary on Tezuka's day-to-day life that manages the fine trick of making the artist seem like the most endearing, loveable dude ever, while also not demanding too much reading-between-the-lines to convey how he could be an absolute terror to work with.

17:47: Thickness #3, eds Ryan Sands & Michael DeForge. The old Same Hat! blog (est. 2005, w' Evan Hayden) is still accessible. I remember when it was all Koji Aihara scans, sob cry! Matt & I discussed the first two issues with Tim Hodler on a 2011 episode of Robin McConnell's Inkstuds. Folk mentioned: Lamar Abrams; Edie Fake; Andy Burkholder; Sean T. Collins & William Cardini (it's Hyperbox); Gengoroh Tagame; Jimmy Beaulieu; Julia Gfrörer

23:11: This would be my primary criticism of the Thickness project as a whole (not a big criticism, I do love these things) - there's a lot of fantasy elements, a lot of comedy, mark-making, horror, genre riffs, etc., but not an enormous amount of tactility, or even verisimilitude to the sex, which is too bad. When I look at smutmaster supreme Guido Crepax's work, there's a lot of usage of the comics form to slow down tantalizing moments, to draw attention to crucial, erogenous contact to as to express the scattered thinking and feeling of sex, the little plumes of excitement and the honing in on specific touches, textures - granted, some of the Thickness contributors don't work in an anatomically solidified enough of a style to perhaps communicate this (and the expression of their marks is typically put to alternate use, like conveying absurdity or anxiety). It's not a matter of subject matter, at least, since Brandon Graham's Dirty Pair comic in issue #2 came closest to what I describe; query whether Graham's background in commercial comics porn didn't come into play. To be fair, though, there's some of this in Beaulieu's piece in #3...

24:03: The technical term for Tagame's type of manga is bara, which is sometimes used as a catch-all for adult manga aimed at gay men, although the understanding in North American readerships typically carries some suggestion of ruggedly masculine, muscular characters.

31:14: The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, eds Bill Blackbeard & Martin Williams. First published in 1977, in such quantities that you can still get "good"-graded used copies for under two bucks on Amazon (before shipping). It's 14.4" x 10.5", in sturdy hardcover. Charles Forbell was the creator of Naughty Pete, which ran in 1913; he was later a major contributor to the design of Pennsylvania favorite son Mr. Peanut. I forgot to mention that Chris Ware actually writes an essay about Naughty Pete in Sunday Press Books' completely awesome Forgotten Fantasy: Sunday Comics 1900-1915, which reprints the full run at 16" x 21".

37:14: Listener Jeet Heer notes that The Smythes creator Rea Irvin -- an OG at The New Yorker who developed the look of Eustace Tilley -- was, in fact, male.

38:41: Fantagraphics recently published a 14" x 18" best-of collection for Mr. Twee Deedle under the title Mr. Twee Deedle: Raggedy Ann's Sprightly Cousin - The Forgotten Fantasy Masterpiece of Johnny Gruelle; I suspect it'll wind up a real contender for 2012's 'thru the cracks' award for most sadly obscure release, although I haven't obtained it myself.

40:52: This was not planned. Tucker genuinely latched onto my wishy-washy Mort Walker joke-apology and on the fly transformed it into the episode's earth-shattering finale, which additionally calls back to his cutting me off waaay back at the beginning of the show. That is how you do it. We even tried to have a 'proper' ending afterward, and immediately decided that we'd happened upon our very own Gengoroh Tagame hook-down-the-urethra denouement, and that there was nothing left to do but just... end.