A slew.

*Gad, what a fast day. Can't I slow down time itself with



Smoke and Guns (title really says it all in this upcoming AiT/Planet-Lar original)

Anti-Hitler Comics #1 (the glory days of superheroes were the glory days of Nazi-bashing, but they did it in different ways...)

Witchblade and Tomb Raider #1 (the Internet's most necessary review)

Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & Pirates (Bob Levin's excellent collection of essays on comics and their creators - read it!)

And over at Comic Book Galaxy (which, by the way, still has some great deals left in their summer fundraising drive) I reviewed the minicomics series Earth Minds Are Weak.

There it all is.

*Ongoing Feats of Comics Visibility Dept: From today’s AP wire, adopted by CNN

Bakri Mohammed has reportedly said since the July 7 attacks that he would not inform police if he knew Muslims were planning another attack and he supports insurgents who attack troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"No decision on charges has been made yet," the attorney general's office spokeswoman said, speaking anonymously because British civil servants cannot be named.

The spokeswoman said prosecutors may also seek access to taped recordings made by an undercover Sunday Times reporter who reportedly recorded members of a radical group praising the suicide bombers as "The Fantastic Four."”


*Surreality reigned supreme last night. I always keep my television dialed to Turner Classics (basically the only channel I watch with any frequency these days), so whenever I go to put in a dvd, that’s what’s on. Well, last night I was greeted with the shimmery b&w image of a bunch of young adults sitting on a stage, going through a remarkably cheesy “Oh, what kind of show to put on?!” routine. I didn’t know what movie it was, but it was definitely an older musical, and Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were the stars, which narrowed the field of possible titles down to three hundred billion or so. So all the kids go through their choices for what act to put on, from modern dances to ballet to a few stage-bound entertainment forms I frankly didn’t recognize, uncultured twit that I am, until finally it’s down to Mickey and Judy, who naturally arrive at just the right decision in the very nick of time.

Let’s put on A MINSTREL SHOW!!!”

Keep in mind, I’d just turned the television on a minute ago and was only half-listening; suddenly, my attention was locked on the screen. All of the kids raced to a dressing room and grinned and danced around as Judy and Mickey delightedly smeared blackface all over themselves, so carefree and vigorous, a dozen teenage (er, early-20s) hands scrambling for burnt cork, the lyrics reverberating over and over “A Minstrel show! A good ol’ minstrel show!”

And then, of course, came the last fifteen minutes of the film (which, scrambling through my television listings, I identified as 1941’s Babes Over Broadway, directed by Busby Berkeley): an all-blackface extravaganza, complete with amusing walks and rollicking ethnic accents - the whole hog, so to speak (granted, they omit most of the traditional speaking portions of such a program, obviously for purposes of pacing rather than sensitivity). And while I’m hardly surprised to see this sort of thing in a musical extravaganza of the period, I have to say that flipping on the tube at 9:30 PM only to be unwittingly greeted with such high-stepping foolery is… pretty much the reason I keep TCM on at all times, actually.

Queasy as it is from a contemporary standing, by the way, the performances were excellent. I mean, Berkeley behind the camera is generally an ironclad guarantee that the musical bits will flow superbly (even though 1941 is by most accounts already past Berkeley’s 1933-1937 prime), but the music itself was really great, and damn if Mickey Rooney can’t play the banjo like a motherfucker. Maybe the subject matter is even more queasy because I was genuinely entertained; it’s easy to laugh at outmoded entertainment tropes when you can view them as stripped of popular utility, not merely archaic in construction but in ability as well. But to be entertained, to be drawn in, in much the same was as audiences of the time; therein lies the conflict. Can such entertainments ever exert their palpable power without the dress of guilt? That’s one for the future, I think. This was not Berkeley’s first Mickey and Judy film, nor his first ‘Babes’ film, nor his first utilization of minstrel show tropes, nor even his first Mickey and Judy ‘Babes’ film to utilize minstrel show tropes (that would be 1939’s Babes in Arms; actually, were there any non-Mickey and Judy ‘Babes’ films?), so obviously he had a winning formula on his hands. I missed out on the rest of the film, something to do with putting on a show to aid children as part of the war effort.

At least it was for the children, eh?

*My initial bedazzlement stemming from another era’s nostalgic appropriation of a yet earlier time’s popular culture having duly subsided, I moved on to the actual purpose of my having turned on the television in the first place: Kino’s Thomas Edison dvd box set. It’s an interesting collection, structured as an ultra-long documentary on Edison-produced works, with assorted talking heads chatting it up between full-length presentations of countless seminal Edison films, often with excerpts of films we’ll see later in the set interspersed. There’s also an option to watch the presentation without any of the talking heads, or the ability to select any individual film or documentary scene on their own. There’s also a ton of production notes, although you’re forced to either read them on-screen or print them out from either the dvds themselves or Kino’s site. A hassle, but not a deal killer.

The whole set is about 12 hours long, so I’ve only gotten through the main portion of Disc 1 (there’s bonus features too). Seasoned fans of the infant cinema (or, as one wag on Amazon.com dubbed the included early camera tests, the embryonic cinema) have already seen the ‘big’ Disc 1 highlights, like The Great Train Robbery (early massive fiction hit, 1903) or Life of an American Fireman (also 1903, American landmark in intentional narrative editing) or The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss (very very shocking 1896 lip-locking) or that notable edge-of-your-seat homoerotic thrill ride, Dickson Experimental Sound Film (the oldest surviving sound film, an 1895 vintage).

But there’s a lot more than just the standards included; one of the interviewed experts notes that the Library of Congress archives, which started out as a means of legal documentation, proves through its period utility to be a marvelously democratic preservation site, with films ‘preserved’ entirely at the whim of the producers, looking for legal backing to repel piracy. Thus, plenty of ‘art’ and gobs of ‘trash’ were preserved right from the start. And if there’s anything this set will teach you, it’s that The Thomas A. Edison Studios were not only in it for scientific or aesthetic progress; they wanted to make money, and they did this often through shooting low. There’s illegal acts lovingly presented, like boxing and cockfights. There’s the world’s first simulated beheading, in 1895’s The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (how many of those bullet and train-dodging early audiences thought it was real?). There’s a trapeze-borne strip act from 1901, complete with lecherous fellers howling from a luxury box off to the side (no nudity yet, although hardcore pornography would become a domestic US product as early as 1915; none of that is on these discs). There’s a lot of (just to bring us all the way around) ‘ethnic’ humor, although a twenty-minute version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin does a valuable job of preserving key portions of the mid-to-late 19th century’s most popular stage extravaganza, complete with what looks like the Cakewalk, performed when it was still a relatively popular set of steps. There’s a gag film involving a woman’s skirt blowing upward via street grate. And there’s general disaster-leering, as firefighters dig through the ruins of a burnt-out riding academy. Oh, and that elephant gets electrocuted on screen, once again.

But there’s still fodder for the mind. Take this: Edwin S. Porter is generally credited with developing the basics of narrative film editing with Life of an American Fireman. But ‘editing’ as a filmic concept was actually devised by early exhibiters, who needed to create a full show out what (at the time) was mostly a batch of 1-3 minute snippets of stuff. So they spliced shorts together, and the best of them did it with a mind toward flow and attractive juxtaposition. Porter essentially extended this approach while cutting out the ‘middle-man’ of producing individual subjects; he just shot a bunch of little films (‘scenes’) and spliced them together into a bigger, ready-made juxtaposition for easier display. And thus - the art of editing! But you’ll note that Porter is still shackled by his viewpoint of individual scenes as single units; when a character exits a door in scene A. scene B opens with a shot of the door opening and the character exiting, not simply a shot of the character outside. The approach is still unit-centered rather than holistic. Still, Porter’s innovations can be read as a mirror of the development of film technology itself, which wasn’t a pure Edison devise. Edison (and his vital crew, especially the great William K. L. Dickson) adapted a slew of technologies, each at some stage of individual development, into a greater whole. So did Porter; the birth of narrative grammar in film is thus allegorical of the medium’s technical genesis.

More another time, probably.

*I think there’s some other art form this site examined at some point. Maybe we’ll remember what it was


Mome Vol. 1: Fantagraphics’ second ongoing anthology book, this one maintaining a fixed roster of talents for each chunky quarterly release of 136 pages. The talent (including Paul Hornschemeier, Jeffrey Brown, Anders Nilson, the long-missing Kurt Wolfgang of LowJinx fame, David Heatley, Jordan Crane, and many more) is formidable, though Fanta’s recent anthologies have been plagued with uneven execution, and advance word on this one isn’t sterling either. Still, it’s sure to offer a lot of variety in visual approach and storytelling tenor.

Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires: Ok, now this is the new book from Richard Sala, the all-new, all-original Peculia graphic novel. Featuring 80 big pages of wispy goth cheesecake and vaguely whimsical threats, everything delineated in a curvy, sophisticated line, seemingly more at home with bourgeois gag paneling than creepy things, but it works wonderfully. Lots of stuff on Sala’s site, including a nice cartoon.

Tricked: For those who loved Box Office Poison, here’s the hotly anticipated next work by creator Alex Robinson. I’ve not read the former.

The King: For those who loved Three Fingers, here’s the hotly anticipated next work by creator Rich Koslowski. I have read the former, though I wish I hadn’t wasted my time; loaded with clumsy racial allegory and cut-rate showbiz satire, I found it dull and ponderous and not 5% as clever as it so thoroughly thought it was. But it has a lot of fans, and I’m sure this similarly-structured book about a mysterious Elvis impersonator will attract them.

Concrete Vol. 1: Depths: The puzzlingly half-awake state of the Concrete trade library became obvious to me when I tried to search out earlier adventures of Paul Chadwick’s man-mountain, the only fantastical thing in his world, but far from all that’s fantastic. I wound up biting the bullet and picking up a lot of the material in semi-cheap pamphlet form (as you can see, the out-of-print status of the second short story collection hurt the most), but now that I’m mostly done with my search its natural for Dark Horse to revise the entire Concrete scheme, starting with this book. Apparently, this new low-priced (only $12.95 each!) series will collect the entire original 10-issue series and a whole slew of the short stories, in story-wise chronological order (not order of release), so if you haven’t caught up on old Concrete, here’s the way.

The Comics Journal Library Vol. 5: The Great Comics Illustrators: This is the series of collected Journal interviews augmented with new essays and stuff, not the now-defunct series of miscellaneous Journal specials with all the new comics in the back. Just so were all square. The subjects this time around are Frank Frazetta (oh man, Fire and Ice dvd coming soon, most expensive episode of Masters of the Universe ever in terms of visual approach, woo!), Burne Hogarth, Mark Schultz, and Dave Stevens. Good fellows the lot of ‘em, should be enlightening.

Promethea Covers Book: For the crazy Promethea fans that nevertheless weren’t quite crazy enough to shell out $50 for the autographed poster version of issue #32, now you all can pay a scant $5.99 for that lavish premium’s bonus volume, a collection of each and every one of the book’s homage-happy covers by J.H. Williams III and (usually) Mick Gray, sans autographs of course. Also features a value-added essay by Williams describing his creative process, which beefs the page count up to 48. Buy this book and place it on your altar as you pray for that Absolute edition of the series.

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna #3 (of 4): Gee, no sooner to I compliment this project for running the trains on time, but the whole thing gets pushed back a few weeks in wait for this. Klarion #3 is getting hustled out next week, and after that a quick appearance by Shining Knight #4 will get things right back on track; I didn’t really expect them to bump everything back in the event of one late book (I mean, I don’t know, maybe there were multiple late books), which speaks much of attention paid to the project as an overall work, rather than a batch of miniseries.

Iron Man #4: Has there been an announcement as to who’s replacing Ellis after issue #6? Is anyone thinking past issue #6 at the moment? Ah, irony; this is still easily the best thus far of Ellis’ recent Marvel work (and I honestly don‘t mean to damn with faint praise there - it’s a good book), from what my foggy memory can reconstruct.

The Punisher MAX #24: Wrapping up the current arc; last issue’s cliffhanger was a very nice bit of exploitation nonsense. Just thought I’d mention.