Random Thoughts! (August 3, 2010)

Random Thought! I spent from early Friday morning until Monday night out of town/without internet/not reading comics, so... you'll get what you get this week. It's random thoughts time! Get excited!

Link Thought! GraphiContent for comics. butterbeatleblog for popculture.

Random Thought! In case you missed it, Sean Witzke filled in for Tim on last week's Splash Page Podcast. It's good stuff.

Random Thought! And, in case you didn't see this yet: in October, Sequart will be publishing Minutes to Midnight: Twelve Essays on Watchmen, a collection of, well, essays on Watchmen (obviously!). I have an essay in the book, "Mr. Moore, Meet Mr. Chandler: Watchmen and 'Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story,'" which adapts a post I did on the two works on my blog. So, you'll want to get yourself a copy (or, at least, check out the list of contributors besides myself and notice that, yeah, it's a solid list and THEN order a copy).

Random Thought! Instead of comics, I spent the weekend reading the second two books of the "Legions of Fire" Babylon 5 trilogy by Peter David and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sadly, I should have taken another book to the cottage, because I finished Gatsby on Sunday afternoon, leaving the evening and first half of the car ride home empty of the written word.

Random Thought! Why no comics? Limited space in my bag. And, because, well, writing about comics is something of a 'job' for me in some ways, so a vacation means a vacation from them to a degree. Anything that I really felt like rereading would have been too massive to fit into my bag... and would have prevented me from the prose reading. Normally, I have tons of time for comics and not as much for prose, so I always use something like Cottage Weekend 2010 as a chance to focus on prose.

Random Thought! The Babylon 5 books were good if you're a fan of the show and want to know what happens with London, Centauri Prime, Vir, David Sheridan, the Drakh, etc... after the show ends. Peter David is a really solid prose writer, able to hit the dramatic moments and interject some light comedy at times. The books don't match up entirely with the little bits of the future we see in Babylon 5, but that's to be expected. It works well enough; it's just not as smooth as it could be. Especially the stuff with David Sheridan. That goes a whole lot of nowhere, honestly. But, it does set up a fantastic line by Garibaldi. One that makes me laugh every time I read these books and even made the girlfriend laugh when I told her about it.

Random Thought! I read The Great Gatsby originally in... 2007. Sometime between January and April, I do believe, since it was for a seminar on TS Eliot's The Waste Land. (We began with The Waste Land and then branched off into works that influenced the poem, like The Tempest or some of Wagner's operas, and works influenced by the poem, like Gatsby or In Parenthesis by David Jones.) As you may or may not know, reading something for a class kind of sucks, even when the work is good. It's the being forced to do it, I think. That part has never sat right with me, which is why I spent a large part of my six years in university reading what I wanted and doing only enough of the assigned reading to be able to seem like I knew what I was doing. But, that Eliot seminar was one where I read everything assigned and enjoyed most of it. Of course, Gatsby lost a little bit of the magic because it was rushed and stuck between a bunch of stuff both in the class and in my life.

Random Thought! Then again, I read The Great Gatsby in an afternoon (Sunday afternoon to be exact, with the introduction included in this edition), so it's not like it's a work that requires a lot of time. And I read it trying to savour the prose a bit since Fitzgerald wrote some great sentences in that novel. Very purposeful and economical. You could spend a while unpacking the advice that Nick's father gave him (and is shared with us in the second paragraph).

Random Thought! I almost brought along The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway in case I finished the three books I took... and I should have. I thought it would make a nice complement to The Great Gatsby. I have also read The Sun Also Rises... but that was before I read Gatsby. Probably a year before in the January to April range of 2006, for an American lit class. I remember, I wrote an essay for the class comparing The Sun Also Rises to The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson. I often did essays like that when I could. Partly, because it was a way for me to bring in works that interested me; partly, because doing something different was always a good thing. I knew that before I had to mark essays as a grad student. If you're still in school and there's an option to come up with your own topic, do it. Delivering something different at all automatically makes the grader more inclined to like your essay. I'm pretty sure the great grade I got on a different essay in that American lit class was due to my picking a topic that no one had ever picked, but the prof kept putting as an option year after year.

Random Thought! Another essay-writing suggestion: come up with good titles. I recommend the format of "interesting/entertaining phrase: what the essay is about." It's a solid two-part format that communicates the necessary info in the second part, while also giving the grader a moment of levity to break up the sheer mundane act of grading essays. Stupid puns work for the first half, too. Anything other than "[title] Essay" or "[class] Essay #whatever." Any sign of originality and actual thought is a good thing.

Random Thought! Then again, here's something to watch out for: if you pick a somewhat obscure/difficult topic/topic on a work that the grader really likes, you may be held to a higher standard since you offer a brief moment of hope amongst the dozen of essays on the same topic. Delivering a mediocre or bad essay could cause the grader to lay into you... not that I ever did that to the two morons who chose to write on "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in that American lit class I assisted one semester... (To be fair, one student did pretty well. The other did poorly because his essay was cursory and only discussed the allusions mentioned in the footnotes of the anthology used in class, which was hardly a comprehensive list. And he didn't do much 'discussion' beyond saying "Here, Eliot references [whatever]." And, worst of all, he kept getting the title of the poem wrong. This was the same class where over half of the people who did an essay on Hemingway spelled Hemingway wrong, though.)

Random Thought! My favourite grading story came from that class where one student was doing a paper on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" and argued that Poe used Freudian theory in his writing. That would be a great idea, except that Freud was born six-and-a-half years or so after Poe died. Kind of hard to incorporate theories created by someone never born. Those papers allowed for rewrites, so I commented that should the student choose to rewrite the essay that the thesis should be altered to state that the student was applying Freudian theory to the story, not that Poe used Freudian theory in constructing the story. A subtle, but crucial difference. Of course, the student didn't alter the thesis at all.

Random Thought! Man, I went way off topic there... so, began rereading The Sun Also Rises last night after I got home. (Last year, my cottage reading was Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, which I found a little too heavy for that relaxed environment, so I purposefully went the other way this year somewhat...)

Random Thought! Not that The Great Gatsby is simple. It's not difficult in its language or how the plot is given to you. Understanding the subtext and where characters are coming from requires a little bit more... life experience, I guess? I'm surprised that it's given to high school students since I think it may be a little too subtle for people that age. I think it's a little too subtle in places for someone my age, actually.

Random Thought! Though, the endless hypocracy of Tom Buchanan amuses me to no end, I must admit. So much is said about humanity and American in particular in how he reacts to Gatsby.

Random Thought! There's something in that hypocracy that I find relates to superhero comics. I haven't fully developed the idea since it only occurred to me on Sunday, but look at how superheroes started out and where they are now, especially Superman and Batman. There's a certain element of selective memory and embarrassment of those early days of violence and murder that just seems... right. Right in that funny/sad/heartbreaking way. Move on, forget what happened, what built the foundation for the present, pretend it never happened, and criticise anyone who represents the same ideals now. Incomplete, as I said.

Random Thought! There's also something so amazingly Gatsbyesque about the continued efforts of creators to recreate cherished moments from their pasts in superhero comics today...

Random Thought! Gatsby's green light across the bay... Geoff Johns's Green Lantern... coincidence? (Yes, of course, shut up.)

Random Thought! You heard it here first, folks: The Great Gatsby is the key to understanding superhero comics, how they work, and how they're made. (Unless someone already said that... if so, you heard it here second? Maybe third or fourth?)

Random Thought! To summarise, I'll just let the last line of the book say it all: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

No comments this week. Thanks for reading. See you next week. Later.

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