Thursday, October 21, 2010

best "comic" of 2010?

I'm gonna call it early: Charles Burns' X'ed Out

Of course, it's still early in the game. As the classic pamphlet format of comics slowly dies out, the first to abandon ship have been "art" comics. Even in the heyday of the pamphlet format, art comics had a hard time making their mark. Now that comics, under the more PC / mainstream friendly term "graphic novel," are beginning to infiltrate regular book stores, many of the most "high brow" comics creators have been the first to switch to a yearly (hardcover) book / album format, and many of them seem to pick release dates late in the season. This year has already seen Seth's first such effort, Palookaville 20, but still to come are some hard-hitting front runners as Chris Ware's ACME Novelty Library and, a personal favorite, C.F.'s Powr Mastrs.

Nevertheless, much as I love Ware and C.F., I have a hard time imagining their efforts making the same kind of impact on me as Burns' latest effort. In particular, Burns has broken with past form in a fashion that's produced overwhelmingly positive effect. This takes courage and vision. And it's a damn compelling read.

"old" Cronenberg, The Brood, 1979

It's interesting to compare the development of Burns' style with that of David Cronenberg. Cronenberg started with grotesque horror, always themed around the body, modifying itself and rebelling in bizarre ways, and the effect these distortions have on identity. In his later films, however, the same fascination with body and the perversion of identity have remained, but become internalized. No longer is the grotesquerie on the outside in the form of mutations, now it is thrives on the inside in the form of secrets, confusions, and split personalities (e.g. A History of Violence and Eastern Promises). And, remarkably, as Cronenberg's themes have become internalized and more subtle, the power of his works has increased dramatically.

"new" Cronenberg, Eastern Promises, 2007

Likewise, Burns' oeuvre has always focused on the same collection of themes: self-consciousness and fear of body and the physical, teenage confusion about one's place in the world, conflict and mystery in interactions with parents and members of the opposite sex. In early works like Skin Deep, these themes are represented by surreal metamorphoses of body. As his career progressed, these themes progressively became sublimated. In his most recent epic, Black Hole (1995-2005), much of the action is more "realistic," a scathing tale of teenage fear (and cavalier lack thereof) about a weird sexually transmitted disease. Nevertheless, there are still many surreal and grotesque moments, just more smoothly integrated into a plausible narrative about teenage paranoia.

Hmmm, something in the eggs . . .

Now, in X'ed Out, Burns breaks new ground in several respects. The first, and most striking, is that the work is in color, whereas all Burns' previous work has been in stark black and white. Second, at least so far, the main narrative itself does not feature any "unrealistic" mutations or grotesque body morphing at all. The surreal shows up in a big way, but in the (apparent) drug fueled dreams of the main character. Finally, these dream sequences feature a brilliant and twisted parody of / tribute to Hergé's Tintin, complete with Inky the cat (instead of Snowy the dog).

The plot circles around the same collection of themes which define all of Burns' work: identity crises, teenage angst, self-doubt, twisted sex, poor parental relationships, etc. Just as in the case of Cronenberg, however, the imagery and themes seem to have subtled and deepened with age, feeling more real, and striking harder, here than they ever have before.

Of course, this is just the first chapter of an new extended work, and only time will tell how the story as a whole pans out, but damn I'm hooked here at the beginning!

This guy speaks in calligraphy.

Stylistically, it's remarkable how smoothly Burns has transitioned to color after a career's worth of black and white. Of course, in order to do a proper Tintin homage, it's almost essential. And these are beautiful, old-fashioned, Tintin-style colors, not the sculpted, CG crap which clutters most modern superhero comics. Furthermore, the attention to detail throughout is remarkable. A particular favorite of mine is the language spoken by an early character in the Tintin-parody dream world. Although it is basically unintelligible squiggles to the casual reader, patterns ("words") are obviously repeated (always a sign of attention to detail), though with slight variations (as whenever words are handwritten). Furthermore, the squiggles look suspiciously like Chinese grass-style calligraphy, or certain flavors of Japanese calligraphy.

I sure hope this one doesn't take 10 years as well . . .

Sunday, October 17, 2010

shaken, not stirred?

Apparently, 007's request that his martinis be "shaken, not stirred" is not (or at least need not be) shear posturing. Rather, shaking eliminates many bartender-related variables which can affect the quality of a stirred drink. So, insisting on shaking ensures consistency (plus, of course, aeration). See the full explanation here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

moebius in the desert

Moebius, Angel Claw, 1996

Jean "Moebius" Giraud is one of (perhaps the) greatest surrealists working in the comics medium. He is perhaps best known in America for Arzach or The Airtight Garage. His most surreal work, under the pseudonym "Moebius" is produced via a technique of "automatic drawing", wherein no hesitation or planning impedes the fluid production of the image.

Some of the most compelling and elegant of these automatic visions involve mystical transformations in the desert. intermingling the abstract and the representational, we can often see magickal symbols. Here for example, we see the wand, cup, sword, and shield—the four suits of the tarot deck, and also the symbolic tools of the practicing magician.

Moebius, 1986

Moebius may be influenced in this imagery by his spiritual mentor and collaborator, Alexandro Jodorowsky. Jodorowsky frequently employs alchemical and magickal imagery in his works. For example, the wand, cup, sword, and coin can be seen bestowed upon the initiate at around 2:45 in this clip from his mystical epic, The Holy Mountain.

Of course, lovely as it is for the images to have significance (or semantic value), the sheer beauty and elegance of Moebius' desert phantasmagoria is what elevates them to the status of art. Art, surely, with broader appeal than the arcana of its mystical underpinnings.

Moebius, Le Chasseur Dé prime, 2008

Unfortunately, many of Moebius' most significant works in this genre are not easily available in English. Even in French, many are now out of print, or were only ever issued in small-run deluxe editions in the first place.

What about reprints? Translations? New collections of the beautiful old? Apparently (see comments here) publishers have repeatedly tried to strike a deal with Mr. Giraud for reprinting his work, only to be rebuffed by his wife.

Moebius, 40 Days dans le Désert B, 1999

Thursday, October 7, 2010

the incredible growing man!

Eye of Infinity just finished the serial The Incredible Growing Mancheck it out!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

how fake? / why fake?

Offensive but catchy frat-rap sensation 3OH!3 have released a "documentary" to go along with their most recent album.

Now, anyone who has ever tried to make a documentary before (or any keen observer) can instantly tell that these scenes are staged. On the other hand, some of the drama depicted is relatively plausible given the band's stage in their careers.

For instance, fans have already complained about the apparent switch to a more pop-friendly sound aimed at reproducing past hit success, rather then the result of direct inspiration. And a decision to do such is depicted at the start of this "documentary." Even though the idea comes from a supposed record exec, the 3OH!3 boys are clearly portrayed as desirous of following his advice.

So, one question to ask of the "documentary" is how fake? (Although, embarrassingly, it seems a question which doesn't even occur to many of 3OH!3's fans.)

The most interesting question here though is why fake? 3OH!3's absurd posturing and excessively misogynistic / materialistic lyrics leave one wondering just how sincere the band is in these sentiments, and just how much is a carefully constructed ironic artifice. The decision to stage a "documentary" confirms the careful construction of the 3OH!3 image, but it does not reveal what exactly is being hidden. Was it necessary to fake these scenes because the truth is far more mundane: that the album and its lyrical excesses are simply a subterfuge constructed by subtle and acute businessmen? Or were they necessary to conceal a dark sincerity in the band's rank materialism and abject objectification of women?

Take the opening scene with the executive, for example - are 3OH!3 laughingly revealing a frustrating pressure which helped shaped the album? Or concealing their own cynical machinations?

Of course, a "real" documentary would have shed light onto this puzzling dilemma. The "documentary" on offer, however, merely confirms the worst of both interpretations: on the one hand, the boys' lifestyle can't be anywhere near as frat-party excessive as they portray it in their lyrics (and some of the staged scenes), or else they would a) be unwilling to take time out for such elaborate acting / memorization / staging exercises, and b) produce an even more compelling effect by depicting the actualities of their excess anyway. On the other hand, the fact that so much effort went into such a thing certainly confirms their intention, self-awareness, and complicity in their fabricated image.

Monday, October 4, 2010

authenticity and responsibility

"You've always gotta do things your way, don't you. No wonder Briggs stays on your tail."

"Do things someone else's way and you take your life into your own hands."

~Harry responding to his partner in Magnum Force

Harry seems to be making a counterintuitive remark here. To take one's life into one's own hands is to take responsibility for one's actions in the most extreme way. Yet Harry here implies that it is precisely when you are following the suggestions (in this case explicit orders) of another that you are most responsible for your actions.

Conversely, the claim seems to be that responsibility of the take your life into your own hands sort is avoided precisely by doing things one's own way.

Of course, this goes against common sense attributions of blame and agency, and is a direct converse of the "deep self concordance" model of blame attribution. That model claims that attributions of agency and blame occur when there is an agreement (concordance) between the agent's actions and his deeper commitments and value judgments (i.e. his "deep self").

Here, Harry expounds the opposite - when you act in a way that disagrees with your deeper ideological commitments, then you are the one to blame for the consequences of those actions.

I think the positive suggestion behind Harry's claim is that there is something blameless about acting in accordance with one's deep seated beliefs. If we act against our instincts / values / ideology, then we are violating a fundamental principle of authenticity - we have voluntarily given over control of our actions to another source, one which we, at a deep level, disagree with. This knowing abandonment of authenticity does not free one from blame, but rather that act itself places the weight of responsibility more heavily upon one.

As a corollary, acting authentically, i.e. in accordance with one's deep seated beliefs, frees one from blame—or, at the very least, constitutes itself an explanation and justification for one's actions: "I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do."


Anecdotal evidence, but...

Supposedly, the bathtub is the safest place in the house. If some kind of destructive event occurs (a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, whatever) the single safest place to be is the bathtub. This is because it is the most heavily shielded nook in the house.

Supposedly, the bathtub is the most dangerous place in the house. Statistically speaking, the most household deaths occur in the bathtub. Perhaps this is because it if a nook filled with water to which people go to relax—if that relaxation becomes too serious, whether because of overindulgence in some kind of relaxation enhancer or other

Friday, October 1, 2010

the physics of posters?

A week ago, I put two posters (both from the same source) on my wall with thumbtacks. I was very careful to smooth the posters along the wall so that they would lie flat.

Then, a couple days later, I was very dismayed to notice that posters hanging somewhat slack. I even considered moving the thumbtacks in order to stretch and smooth them more so that they would lie flat.

Luckily, laziness prevailed. Today, the posters are lying flat again, just as I hung them.

So, what's the cause here? When the posters hung slack, I assumed that either a) my recollections of hanging them were inaccurate, or b) the posters were heavy enough to widen the tack holes, and thus hang more loosely.

Now that the posters are lying flat again, the natural assumption is that some kind of expansion and contraction occurred. And, the posters are hung in a small room with a small window that is frequently open, so environment inside changes with that outside.

Here's the puzzle, though: In general, temperature change causes bodies to expand w/ increased warmth and contract with cooling. But, if anything, the intermediary period between the first hanging of the posters and today was cooler than either their hanging or today. What to make of this? Perhaps not temperature, but moisture is to blame? How exactly would this cause such contraction and expansion in a wall poster?