The prodigal blogs!
It's a little hard to believe how far I have fallen as a Livejournaler (Dreamwidther?). Oh hell, call it personal blogger and be done with it.
I have been extremely busy. The driving gig alone saw me hit Montreal 13 times in the span of two weeks, along with a trip to Trois Rivières in the same period. And I've been struggling with the Mystery Ghost-Writing gig, as well as a long-form debate about socio-biology (I am, largely, fer it) when time allowed.
And of course, prettying up True North on a weekly basis and trying to give my sweetie the attention she deserves have also kept me on my proverbial toes.
And I have, finally, finished a review of the conclusion of Ottawa indie cartoonist Von Allan's children's fantasy, Stargazer. I bought the book back in December, if memory serves, finally read it about a month ago, and have (yes, 'finally') finished typing up my thoughts. (And Von, if it's any consolation, I bought a copy of Eddie Campbell's The Years Have Pants in January and haven't read even half of it yet. Of course, if you'd comped me, I would have felt obliged to be speedier ... But I digress.)
A black and white comic book featuring three pre-pubescent girls in the role of unlikely heroines, Stargazer features a Magic Doorway in the tradition of Alice's rabbit-hole and Narnia's wardrobe (and the Starship Enterprise's warp drive, for that matter).
What I called a "gentle adventure" in my review of the first volume of the story, proves in its second and concluding chapter to be considerably more than that.
What seemed to be turning into an exercise in that hoary old "And then she woke up!" cliché becomes something very different — and very memorable — by the time the story is over.
A little rough-hewn, Stargazer nevertheless has considerable virtues. This story of friendship and loss just might be a gateway drug to comics for that young boy or (especially) girl in your life — but keep a kleenex handy. My full review is at my site: The monster, the robot and the Artifact".
You're a dirty whore-monger, Chester Brown
Autobiography is a risky endeavour at the best of times; not only will the memoirist's craft be scrutinized and judged, but so too will his or her character. So it is probably a good thing for Chester Brown that he is one of the best cartoonists of his generation, because he really does have sex with prostitutes.
In fact, his latest book, Paying For It, is all about his decision to give up on romantic love in favour of sex for money.
It has become almost trendy to dabble in the sex-trade. Bookshelves groan beneath mounds of tell-all memoirs and fictions, and even relatively mainstream television has gotten into act, with no less than one-time Doctor Who companion Billie Piper disrobing on a regular business as Belle du Jour. But memoirs and fictions glamorizing the life of johns?
Maybe not so much
It is one thing to admit to taking money for sex; to confess paying for sex, on the other hand, remains quite outside the bounds of polite society.
If Brown doesn't make an explicit analogy between his "coming-out" as a john and the struggles of gay men and lesbians who braved arrest and assault when they refused to any longer closet their sexual natures, Paying For It certainly implicitly invites the comparison, if only by Brown's refusal to be ashamed.
As Brown's friend (and ex-girlfriend) Kris tells him, to most people, johns are "... creeps. Who knows what they're capable of? If I had a daughter I'd be worried about what would happen if she was in the same elevator as one of those guys."
So would you want to read a comic book by and about one?
Looking at the stars in black and white
Once a mainstay of popular culture, truly family-friendly or all-ages entertainment has become a rarity in North American media nowadays (with the notable exception of animated films).
That sort of inclusive work seems particularly rare in what ought to be as all-ages-friendly a medium as animation, its close artistic relative, the humble comic-book. But in North America, for a variety of commercial-historical reasons, "comic" has become almost synonymous with "super-hero", with a small (and happily, a growing) sub-set of "alternative" books addressing a broader audience than teenagers who love fight scenes.
So it was a great pleasure to discover Von Allan's Stargazer, an adventure story meant to entertain anyone "from eight to eighty", in glorious black and white, no less.
Read my review at Edifice Rex Online.
(Not-such) Fun hype
As every former child prodigy knows, high expectations are both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing, because past accomplishments open doors which might otherwise stay closed; a curse, because where others are free to hone their craft in obscurity, the prodigy is watched by every critical eye the moment they through that specially-opened portal.
Alison Bechdel was no child prodigy, but she had a long run as a strip cartoonist during which time she was able to hone her craft in a gradually decreasing obscurity with Dykes to Watch Out For, an episodic strip that managed (at least to some extent) to broaden Bechdel's audience from its lesbian (and gay) base to many people who simply liked good comics.
But getting your work noticed by The Comics Journal is not in the same league as creating Time Magazine's Book of the Year for 2006, as Bechdel's first graphic novel, Fun Home, was. My copy opens with three pages of review excerpts containing words like "Masterful" and comparisons to David Sedaris, Charles Dickens and Vladimir Nabokov, among others.
High praise indeed; not many books could live up to it all. Does Bechdel's?
No surprises: it doesn't. So why all the hype?
Read the full review at Edifice Rex Online.
What is art?
Pencils and pens and ink, o my!
|Details from page 1 of 'The Laughing Fish', Detective Comics #475, February 1978. Artwork by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. Batman copyright © by DC Comics.|
The meme continues ...
26. Let's talk art! Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them? Pick one of your OCs and post your favorite picture of him!
There was a time when I did a lot of drawing and I at least contemplated making a living as a cartoonist. That dream came to a crushing, tearful end, sometime in the very early 1980s, when I read an issue of Detective Comics pencilled by the late Marshall Rogers (see accompanying panel) and "realized" that I could never be the artist he was, and so threw down my pen.
At least, that's how I remember it, but the chronology according to the Wikepedia link above suggests my memory is once again distorting the truth to make a better story. But at any rate, it is true (I think) that in the early 80s I had what I believed was the profound realization of my own limitations as a draftsman and that I cried about the loss; and it is true (I know) that my last completed comic book was an issue of Captain Canada, numbered 22 and dated December 1, 1978. (Which actually parses with the Rogers memory, if I push the date back to about that time instead of placing it in the 1980s. But I digress.)
Whatever the exact date, I gave up on drawing, convinced I had at best only a talent which hard work could see me developing to a point of competence, not genius. I had no burning desire to settle for being the next Sal Buscema.
As I think the images show, I had actually grown significantly as a cartoonist and I am no longer so sure in my judgement at the time that I didn't have the necessary inate talent to make it with my pen.
But I did give up, and I don't think I'm likely to embark on the training that would permit me to develop my skills to a level I would find acceptable.
Which means that, no, since I gave up cartooning I have not drawn any of my characters and neither has anyone else since 1981, when Chris Graham (whatever happened to Chris Graham, I wonder!), illustrated a scene from "The Question", which I printed in the first issue of a school magazine I edited, The House of the Dying Tree.
Looking at Chris' drawing for the first time in quite a while (the man did it in ball-point pen!), reminds me that I do still fantasize about seeing my name in print on a book, complete with cover drawing or painting.
And in truth, should I get The Jewel of Eternity into publishable shape, I think I already know who I want to paint a cover illustration. Might you say "yes" to a commission, Nelly?
Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.By implicitly advocating the violent overthrow of the US government should same-sex marriage be legalized, Scott Card crossed the line for a lot of people and much discussion ensued regarding whether it is ethically or morally permissible to read and/or buy novels by a writer whose views one finds repugnant.
So it was with a sinking sense of déja vue that I saw that Dave Sim, the writer, artist and self-publisher of the 6,000 page graphic novel, Cerebus, had released a new comic, Judenhass.
Although over the course of the 30 or so years it took him to complete Cerebus Sim's politics shifted from being roughly in sync with my own to nearly the polar opposite (when I didn't consider them merely nonsensical), the fact remains that even when he was devoting nearly half of his monthly comic to prose propaganda, the comic itself continued to be a unique and often brilliant piece of work.
"A new Dave Sim," I said, weighing the garishly-coloured book in my hand. "How crazy is it?"
"Fairly crazy," the Beguiling guy replied (in my opinion wrongly, as it turned out).
I bought it anyway. Sim may have devolved into a strange political "philosopher" of eccentrically religious and intensely misogynistic views, but he remains a remarkable artistic talent. Were he a popular thinker, I might have decided against spending more of my money on his work, but as things stand I was willing to separate the artist from the art. (And besides, if one were to purchase work only by creators whose lives were politically or morally upright according to one's own standards, one's options would be limited indeed.)
So. Judenhass. Printed on slick paper and priced at $4.00 per copy, this is a clearly a labour of conviction and possibly not even designed for profit; I can't imagine Sim is making much, if any, money out of it. (Irritatingly, the cover, slick on the outside, bare cardboard on the inside, curls out almost from the moment you've cracked open the book.)
Judenhass is German for "Jew hatred" and the book itself is more of a Gentile's meditation on the Holocaust (or "the Shoa", as Sim prefers to call it, using the Hebrew word for "disaster" and for the Holocaust) than it is a narrative or a history.
Sim makes the common claim that the Holocaust was unique among the many "atrocities ever committed by man against mankind" and further claims it was "inevitable", due to the widespread and longstanding, cross-cultural judenhass that has undeniably existed in the West since the rise of Christianity and the collective blame apportioned to "the Jews" for the crucifixion of Christ.
I decided some time ago that the term anti-Semitism (a 'coined' term of late nineteenth century origin) is completely inadequate to the abhorrent cultural phenomenon which it attempts to describe. For one thing, Arabs are Semites as well and the prejudice as it is generally understood certainly doesn't apply equally to Arabs and Jews.I don't think he's made his case, that the Holocaust was a unique atrocity, but he does make a convincing argument that Jew-hatred is a uniquely wide-spread bigotry, arguably rivaled only by the almost universal bias against dark-skinned people by the light-skinned.
It was in the early stages of researching this graphic narrative that I first encountered the German term judenhass. Literally Jew Hatred. It seemed to me that the term served to distil the ancient problem to its essence, and in such a way as to hopefully allow other non-Jews (like myself) to see the problem 'unlaundered' and through fresh eyes. Europe and various other jurisdictions aren't experiencing a sudden upsurge in 'anti-Semitism.' What they are experiencing is an upsurge in Jew Hatred. So that's what I've chosen to tell this story."
Judenhass is not a narrative but, as I've said, a meditation and exposé of the historical "anti-semitism" that has pervaded Western civilization since the rise of Christianity. And in a world where the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Holocaust denial are still taken seriously in some quarters, there can be no harm in a primer that covers the basic facts of the Nazi's "Final Solution" and the rampant anti-semitism in the rest of the West that acquiesced to that horror. His sources are all noted and I noticed no errors of fact.
Drawn in a photo-realistic style, with the images almost entirely drawn from photographic references, it is largely a collection of horrific drawings interspersed with judenhass-laden quotes down through the ages, with an emphasis on those uttered during the 20th century and particularly during, and shortly after, the Second World War itself.
As an artist — draftsman and layout artist — Sim has lost none of his chops. His portraits eschew the caricatures he worked to such good effect in Cerebus and the scenes from the death-camps are appalling without resort to melodrama. The truth is horrific enough.
As befits its creator, Judenhass is an eccentric book, but one of undeniable power. If you are already historically informed, there will be little or nothing new to you (though some of the quotes from writers as diverse as Voltaire and Mark Twain might come as a bit of a shock). It would be a useful tonic for young people who have been exposed to some of the more lunatic websites and who, through genuine ignorance, may be taking Holocaust denial and other, related, conspiracy theories seriously.
Still, as a work of art rather than history/propaganda, I can't recommend it to any but the Sim completists among you. It's good work and well-meant, but not of any general importance or interest.