Next week, for three evenings, James Hudnall, Bill Willingham and I will be speakingat various Las Vegas area libraries on writing comic books. They'll behopefully lively freeform discussions, and we encourage anyone in the areaor passing through it (or, if you're terribly masochistic, driving or flyingin specially for the event) to drop by. Did I mention it's free?
Here's the official press release:
Get the Scoop on Comics!
As part of Teen Read Week (October 17-23, 2004), the Las Vegas-Clark CountyLibrary District welcomes bestselling writers Steven Grant (The Punisher,X-Man), Bill Willingham (Batman, Robin, Fables), and James Hudnall(Superman, Batman, Espers, English versions of Mai the Psychic Girl and MegaDragon & Tiger) into our libraries. They'll talk about their experiencesand answer your questions about creating and working on some of comics' mostpopular characters.
They will be appearing at the following libraries and times:
West Las Vegas Library
951 W Lake Mead Blvd
Sahara West Library
9600 W Sahara Ave
25 E Shelbourne Ave
These programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visitour web site.
I hope to see you there. It'll be fun, trust me.
TALES TO ASTONISH prose hardcover by Ronin Ro (Bloomsbury; $24.95)
A surprisingly compelling biography of the inventive and often fractious lives of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, from their childhoods through the creation of Marvel Comics to the 1997 death of Jack's wife Roz. Though Ro's facts waver a smidge, particularly in his recitations of Golden Age comics, the book becomes a lively dissertation on the development of the comics industry in America, a study of its often capricious workings as Jack peregrinates between Crestwood, Harvey, Archie, DC, and a horde of other companies as well as Marvel, and an evenhanded tribute to both Stan and Jack, though he clearly believes Kirby was the key player in their creative partnership. Well worth reading.
XXXHOLIC VOL 3 b&w trade paperback by Clamp (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)
Easily the best of Del Rey's manga series, XXXHOLIC is also the best Clamp work I've seen (I'm not terribly partial to them) and one of the best manga available. The latest volume stays perfectly in character, as spirit-haunted high school student Watanuki continues his servitude to the mysterious, impish witch Yuko, while pining after crush Himawari and resenting partner-in-peril Domeki as they deal with various occult crises. Beautifully written and translated, it gently imparts often sophisticated moral messages, and has what can only be described as elegant art. There aren't many comics from any country this can be said of, but: just lovely, all around, a damn near perfect comic.
COMICS INTERNATIONAL #177, magazine, ed./pub. Dez Skinn (Quality Communications Ltd, 345 Ditchling Rd, Brighton BN1 6JJ England UK;$2.50)
They send me COMICS INTERNATIONAL every month, and every month I forget to mention it. It's my favorite regular comics news magazine, a real throwback to the old days of THE COMIC READER and COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE when it was still readable, but with more wit and better production values. Somehow the magazine even almost keeps pace with Internet comics news sources, and often with greater detail and a marginally more jaundiced eye. Its main focus is "mainstream" comics, but it's got a more flexible definition of the term than most outlets here, with a parochial glee in British material that's hard to come by elsewhere. With a good selection of info, humorous features, tons of fairly intelligent reviews and a refreshing lack of star****er hubris, it's WIZARD without tears.
ARGOSY #2, magazine, ed. Lou Anders & James Owen (The Coppervale Company International;$12.95)
Another excellent magazine. To all appearances, a return to the prose pulps – ARGOSY was a long-running men's magazine my father used to buy – it's more of a NEW WORLDS style literary magazine as NEW WORLDS became under Michael Moorcock's leadership and later: a slick, eclectic literary magazine, though one that embraces "genre" fiction, as well as non-fiction and modern-style painted illustration. They also sport an impressive and eclectic array of contributors, including Cory Doctorow, Carol Emshwiller, Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick and Mike Baron and, posthumously, Dr. Seuss. The stories are all over the map – horror, science fiction, crime, adventure – but the writing's universally tight and strong. I'm glad to help get the word out about this one. Get it.
SLEEPING DRAGONS: BECCA'S SCARECROW b&w trade paperback, by Kevin Mason, Alex Szewczuk, Craig Taillefer and Bob Richardson (Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics;$14.95)
This one was a surprise. With a medieval setting and talk of dragons, it was gearing up to be everything I hate, then turned into first an unexpected parable about thinking rather than acting stupidly in the first story, then has a long, fairly rousing tale about courage, adventure and duty. Though a bit corny in parts, overall it's pretty good, with decent, restrained writing and open, expressive artwork reminiscent of Joe Staton's. It's almost undermined by a really bad pun, but overall it's a big step up over most material of this sort simply because it's thoughtfully handled; Mason and Szewczuk are about telling stories, not wild, bloody adventures, and both stories are really about how myths and legends are born. Worth a look.
ANGRY YOUTH COMIX #7, b&w comic by Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics;$3.50)
I'm sure there are frat boys out there who think Ryan's lethargic, scatological –ist humor (pick your –ist) are genius. I don't, though I did like the "Comics Code Authority" story, which is a lot closer to the truth than Ryan probably realizes. The cartoony art's okay. The book would be better if it was funny, but it just sort of sits there. Pass.
EVIL EYE #12, b&w comic by Richard Sala (Fantagraphics;$3.95)
This is apparently the 12th and final chapter of a long story called "Reflection In A Glass Scorpion," which puts me at a disadvantage. I can tell what's going on easily enough, and Sala's art, a strange cross between Herge and Lynn Ward's woodcut novels, is appealing enough, but everything happens o quickly it's impossible to put any emotional investment in the charactersm so it's like reading a storyboard. It's good enough, though, that I assume I'll have a different reaction to the presumably forthcoming trade paperback collection.
NAUGHTY BITS #40, b&w comic by Roberta Gregory (Fantagraphics;$2.95)
Unfortunately, this is the last issue of Gregory's very funny series. It's in the great underground comics tradition, with stories chronicling both Gregory's travails and those of her main heroine, Bitchy Bitch. Gregory's a deft cartoonist and a natural humorist, with sharp timing and a great ear for dialogue. (There are also a couple contributions by others which aren't quite as good but they're not bad.) There aren't many titles that are a tragedy for the industry to lose, but this is one of them.
LUBA #8, b&w comic by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics;$3.50)
Gilbert's big-chested heroine Luba, a central player in his great graphic novel/collection, PALOMAR, (if you haven't gotten it yet put it on your Xmas list; you won't regret it) is back in new adventures in Los Angeles with her family in this series, where she's a cultural outsider, unwilling to learn English because she doesn't like the sound of it, while everyone around her integrates into the American lifestyle with hungry enthusiasm, particularly if sex is involved. Structurally, it's as amazing as most of Gilbert's work, an overall story involving Luba's (and everyone else's) temptation by a gold-hearted gigolo named Fortunado breaks down into a number of Archie Comics-esque vignettes and short stories about various characters, forcing us to see the story from different points of view, but it all fits together messily. Like life. Excellent.
LOVE AND ROCKETS #11, b&w comic by Gilbert, Jaime & Mario Hernandez (Fantagraphics;$4.50)
What's left to say about LOVE AND ROCKETS? If you haven't figured out what a great comic it is in the last 20 years, I probably won't convince you. The Hernandez Brothers remain among the most culturally astute creators out there, absorbing and reconfiguring all kinds of material, while focusing on character over all else. Best feature this issue is Jaime's nourish "Life Through Whispers," about a man hanging onto himself in a world of violence and lost dreams. But everything in this issue beats the hell out of most comics, for sheer vision, imagination and delivery.
ROBIN: UNMASKED, color trade paperback by Bill Willingham, Francisco Rodriguez de la Fuente, Rick Mays & Aaron Sowd (DC Comics;$12.95)
This is an interesting departure for Robin, as Willingham attempts to flush a thousand years of continuity by suggesting that just maybe the point of Robin is to be Batman's successor rather than just an appendage to throw at bad guys. As a result he slows things down a bit, forcing Robin to actually train and even follow instructions, while he stares down feelings of guilt over killing an enemy and meets with Batman's uncharacteristic but refreshing cold-bloodedness about the matter. Willingham seems a little uncomfortable pushing his square renovating peg into the round hole of the Batbooks, but I don't remember Robin having a character before, so that's a good start. But the way the artists continually draw Tim Drake and Bruce Wayne to look Asian is really distracting, and the coloring doesn't help.
NIGHT #1, b&w comic by Troy Hasbrouck & Buddy Prince (Jester Press;$2.95)
Some things are just awful, and NIGHT's one of them. Cliché cops and cliché FBI agents hunt street gangs and werewolves, with bad dialogue, squat art and not an idea in sight, with all characters (including one of those laughable multicultural street gangs that only pop up in comic books and movies) seemingly cribbed from those bad action-horror flicks that only appear on The Movie Channel at 2AM. I'm sure these guys are sincere and all, but there's really nothing to justify this book on any level.
SWORD OF DRACULA #6, b&w comic by Jason Henderson & Terry Pallot (Image;$2.95)
Uh. Okay. SWORD OF DRACULA just peters out, as vampire hunter Ronnie Van Helsing illegally teams up with the King Of Vampires and his undead and zombie legions to stop renegade angels attacking Dallas. Dracula shows a number of impressive new skills, like the ability to finish off his previously seemingly invincible opponents in the blink of an eye. Really! He just shows up and [SPOILER WARNING] they're destroyed, no explanations necessary. Or maybe the art botched it, I dunno, but it's a letdown conclusion for what was potentially a decent Dracula concept, rendering the entire mini-series little more than a set-up for the next SWORD OF DRACULA mini-series, if there is one.
STREET ANGEL #3, b&w comic by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca (Slave Labor Graphics;$2.95)
A pleasantly goofy story, as the teenaged skateboarding street person heroine recuperates from multiple fractures in a church under attack from callously violent satanic cultists. Rugg & Maruca continue to play fast and loose with all kinds of pop iconography, as Jesus intercedes both figuratively and literally. Hard to tell whether they're mocking Christian mythology – Street Angel has a puzzled, abortive chat with Jesus about the nature of the Trinity – but it's fun work, and the art and storytelling keep getting better and more stylized with each issue.
THE CHASE #1, color comic by Adriano & Inaki Miranda (AP Comics;$3.50)
The art's really nice, but it's wasted on a horror-crime story that also feels like it's ripped from the taglines of dozens of movies. Gangsters pursue a mysterious briefcase that ends up in a cabbie's hand. Way too familiar archetypes – there's not enough to them to call the characters -- talk like they're in movies, react like they're in movies, put us to sleep like they're in movies. If Howard Chaykin were pure heroin, this'd be the street level stuff that's been cut about 40 times. Pass.
B1NARY #2, color comic by Richard Emms & Jim Sutherns (AP Comics;$3.50)
Man, AP Comics has nice production values. Too bad they haven't been putting that level of intensity into their editorial concept. Art's okay, story – about a hacker pursued by Mysterious Agents who turns into a virtual superhero – is underwritten gibberish. I feel like I've seen all this before in some Wildstorm book that got cancelled. Pass.
MONSTER #2, color comic by Richard Emms & Jim Sutherns (AP Comics;$3.50)
Jeez, what is this? Everybody listen carefully: character types aren't characters. And that's all that are in this book, and even then they're damn hard to tell apart. A crew of youthful and too-cute-by-half monster hunters pursue an apparently unstoppable demon, who [SPOILER WARNING] is finally stopped when he's kicked in the balls. This is the sort of tripe we're all supposedly to cheerfully laugh at and not take seriously. Congratulations. It worked. Except for the laughing part. Art's okay, but what saves the book is the production, and when the production's the best thing about your comic you know you've taken a wrong turn somewhere.
ASSASSIN SCHOOL #4, color comic by Richard Emms & Enrique Corts (AP Comics;$3.50)
Rounding out AP Comics little quartet of terror is ASSASSIN SCHOOL, a braindead "spy" comedy about an evil scientist who brings the US government and military to a standstill with giant lethal robots that can only be stopped by a teenager girl trained in violent counterterrorism. How does she stop 'em? [SPOILER WARNING] She blows them up. Rather effortlessly, too. Yeah, the military could never have thought of that. An utterly vapid, horrible book. With good production.
Friday's debate is a bit handicapped against the Hand Puppet, at least in theory, since it (again theoretically) eschews foreign policy for domestic issues, but I expect a lot of reference to "the war on terror," since that's the only area the administration scores high points on with the public in most polls. I also expect lots of focus on Kerry as a "tax-and-spend" Democrat, since the Republican attack ads all seem to be fixing on that now. (I love the "Kerry and the liberals in Congress!" litany portentously intoned over and over.) The Hand Puppet may claim to have cut taxes, but, as with Ronald Reagan before him, he really didn't. The drop in federal taxes just forced states and municipalities to jack up taxes, so most people are actually paying more taxes than they were five years ago. They're just not paying them to the federal government. Meanwhile, government spending jacked way up – much of it to pay for the war in Iraq, and to bribe various countries into standing alongside us in our invasion – meaning even federal taxes aren't really lower, they're just deferred to a later date, when the bill comes due. It's government by credit card. Forcing, of course, another raid on Social Security funds for working capital, necessitating the "fixing" of Social Security that Republicans are trying to make a cornerstone of second term policy. If corporations can be prosecuted for looting employee pension plans, or "borrowing" from them for risky ventures, why shouldn't the Feds be prosecuted for looting Social Security? (Just out of curiosity, has anyone out there who makes less than $100,000 per year really noticed a vast improvement in their lifestyles or working capital as a result of the Hand Puppet's tax cuts? Has anyone noticed a significant deterioration of public services? Inquiring minds want to know.)
So, anyway, what's the Hand Puppet got going for him domestically? Tax cuts and the war on terror. The main result of the "war on terror" was the passage of the Patriot Act, predicated on the notion that the only to be free is to give up our freedoms. The administration has gotten a lot of use out of their new ability to incarcerate without prosecution or even accusing a "suspect" of a crime, though they've continually faced the annoyance of courts throwing out parts of the Act, resulting in two contradictory pushes: the Administration push to "strengthen" the Patriot Act by passing a second one that grants them even more repressive powers, and a bipartisan push in Congress to "refine" the Act. There's probably no politician willing to come out and call the act a flaming un-American piece of crap, and certainly not Kerry, who now proudly reminds audiences that he wrote part of it. (I know this is true, but does anyone happen to know which part?) The administration likes to claim lots of success from the Patriot Act, but they also like to fudge a lot. Remember their claims that Jose Padilla, still incarcerated, planned to use a "dirty bomb" (radioactive material spread by a traditional explosion; the US has actually used dirty bombs in Iraq) on an American city? Bet you didn't hear their quiet admission that there's no evidence tying Padilla to dirty bombs after all. They've jacked up their "terror" successes with curious cases like a drunken businessman getting too loud and demanding more drinks from a stewardess while flying back from Japan; this got written up in the DoJ listings as "an act of domestic terrorism."
The upside to third debate rules for the Hand Puppet is that it gives Kerry, and querants far less opportunity to bring up embarrassments of the past week or so: the CIA and Donald Rumsfeld admitting a complete lack of connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Queda/the 9-11 attacks, even as the Hand Puppet and Cheney continue to draw connections in their speeches; the known void of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before our invasion (more on that in a moment); the recent botch of "free" elections in Afghanistan, obviously rigged to assure the "legitimate" reign of our chosen flunky, Hamid Karzai. (The manipulation had a few aspects. Afghanistan had already admitted the ratio of registered voters to eligible voters was about 8:1. Aside from the "disappearing ink" that allowed Karzai "supporters" – reportedly many of them paid for the votes – to vote over and over (voters had their thumbs marked with "indelible" ink to prevent ballot stuffing, but the ink washed right off), the Afghan government preambled the elections for a few days by threatening to withhold supplies and food from citizens if Karzai didn't win. In one province citizens were threatened with having their houses down and being refused burial or having the women in their families allowed to marry if Karzai wasn't voted for. The election was mostly a public relations ploy by the US anyway, since the country's mostly split back up into warlord territories again, with many of the warlords back full tilt into the heroin farming the Taliban had put a stop to. The message to the world was obviously supposed to be: see? We liberated this country and now they're a Free Democracy, just like Iraq will be! Instead the message coming out is that, as Phil Ochs put it in his song "Cops Of The World," "we'll find you a leader that you can elect.") The House Of Representatives was forced to rush a vote on their draft bill to prove, in the face of rapidly spreading rumors (covered here a couple weeks ago) that a both sexes/no exemptions draft was on the boards for next summer, that no draft was being contemplated, but the mistrust, fueled by dwindling numbers of available troops and the continued existence of a virtually identical Senate bill, continues to grow, especially among young, newly registered voters who haven't really been taken into account by major polling organizations. Then there's Tom DeLay, Representative from Texas and key Hand Puppet ally, being hauled before the House ethics committee for major influence peddling. In theory, only the last might come up as an issue in the final debate. But I doubt it will. If it does, the Hand Puppet can simply deny any connection to DeLay, as he denied his good friend Kenneth Lay when Enron's scandals hovered near the White House door.
Too bad, too, that when the Hand Puppet inevitably calls Kerry a "flip-flopper," his own flip-flopping won't come into question. Iraq remains his ultimate flip-flop, which war supporters have unquestionably accepted as resolution. Let's review. When the war in Afghanistan bogged down (it's still going on, by the way) into a long trench fight against the remnants of the Taliban (created by our Pakistani "allies" from the Mujahadeen "freedom fighters" we'd armed against the Russians during the Reagan years) and al-Qaeda, the administration flipflopped priorities and aimed at Iraq. (I'm reminded of Dan O'Neill's epitaph for Werner Von Braun: "He aimed for the moon and hit London.) Remember that post 9/11, the world had flocked to the American banner; there was little international questioning of a need for a war in Afghanistan. Iraq was considerably more problematic, not because other nations depended on Iraqi oil (though you can believe it if you like) but because, aside from obviously nutty and self-aggrandizing blather from Saddam Hussein, there wasn't the slightest indication Iraq presented the slightest threat to America. Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were known to hate each other. The administration claimed Saddam had the now notorious "weapons of mass destruction." Saddam claimed he did not. The Hand Puppet agreed that any invasion of Iraq would be a team effort by the United Nations. The UN agreed that a) if weapons inspectors were not allowed back into Iraq and b) if weapons were found and Saddam refused to destroy them, the US could lead an invasion of Iraq. The Hand Puppet agreed. That was the deal. The problem was that no weapons were found. There weren't any. So he flipflopped again and decided, despite earlier agreements, to "unilaterally" invade Iraq. At this point there can be no doubt that an invasion was always planned, regardless of provocation, since Cheney himself in his debate with Edwards said we had to invade Iraq because we had to see for ourselves. >From the start, that was our stated reason for invading Iraq. To prove to the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction: to prove that he was lying and we were right. Funny thing happened: the UN was right. There were no WMDs. Then came a horde of flipflops, as the administration struggled to justify its presence in Iraq. To remove Saddam from power. To save the Iraqi people. To rebuild Iraq. To drive "the terrorists" out of Iraq. He said Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people (so why doesn't American oil belong to the American people?), then flipflopped and started selling it off. He even flipflopped on the "unilateral" thing, bribing a handful of nations (over the objections of their citizens in nearly every case) into joining a "coalition of the willing" to create a myth of international support for the action. He publicly stated we had nothing against Muslims and there was no religious aspect to the invasion, even as he was angering Muslims around the world with talk of a "new crusade," then flipflopped and quietly authorized his own private minister, Franklin Graham (son of Billy), to start a program to convert Iraqi Muslims to Christianity. Etc. etc. (Even Cheney has flipflopped, pushing Congress in the mid-'90s to slash military and intelligence spending and now staying silent while Republican ads condemn Kerry for voting with Cheney on the matter.) And that's not even getting into domestic issues. When it comes to flipflopping, the Hand Puppet knows what he's talking about.
Political footnote: they just surfaced a little scandal here in Nevada. Someone was registering new voters here, then weeding out the Democratic registrations (you have to declare party affiliation in Nevada) before he turned the papers in, so that only Republicans would be registered. No telling how many people think they're registered to vote and aren't, but it's clearly an attempt to rig the vote here, since Nevada's a swing state swinging Kerry this year. No idea how they discovered it, but when they tracked him to his office, it turned out he'd fled just ahead of them to Oregon. Where he's currently registering voters.
This notice from the Democratic National Committee just came in, and it's abit time-sensitive so I felt I should run it:
"Stop the Right-Wing Smears Against John Kerry
The Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a conservative broadcasting company thatruns television stations in dozens of major television markets nationwide,has ordered its stations to preempt other programming and air an anti-Kerryprogram days before Election Day. Sign our petition demanding that Sinclairtake their negative smears off the air.
I know what all you Hand Puppet supporters out there must be thinking rightnow: "So how come he isn't telling us where to protest the rumored decisionto air FAHRENHEIT 9/11 on pay-per-view days before the Election?Isn't that just as bad?" Let's skip the comparisons of pay-per-view andbroadcast TV: you've got a point. If someone wants to send a link to aprotest site against the F911 airing, I'll be happy to run that nextweek.
Until next week, then...