The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Doop Doop Doop

Posted by Matt on January 4, 2012

Well, can I officially say I’m retired from the whole blogging thing? When was the last time I posted, anyway? Ah, I’m too lazy to check.

Anyway, I just haven’t been particularly enamored with my recent contributions to this site. Too many uninformed rants, too little substance. I originally thought of this blog as an outlet, somewhere I can keep writing something, anything. But I just don’t see that working out so much anymore. Oh well.

I still want to keep writing, so it’s possible that I can convert this into a place with a purpose at some point, or maybe start another one? Ah, shit, who knows. I’m pretty busy now, so that might take a while.

For the people (who?) that read this crap and still want to see what I’m up to, check out my regularly updated Tumblr site, where I post things I find interesting, and my Twitter, where I post more concise versions of the pointless fuckery I had here.

Thanks?

Posted in Technical | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Jerks

Posted by Matt on November 16, 2011

What of separating the artist from their work? Is it ideal to not let the personality of the creator affect your judgement of their creation, or vice versa? Is it a simple line, or are there gray areas?

Just skimming the surface of the idea, it would seem to be a good path to take. There are going to be times when the person behind the pen/camera/computer/microphone is a colossal prick; you never really know what you’re going to get with them creative types. But if they are really good at what they do, and could put out something that is interesting and enjoyable even if they disagree with you/are a moron (because both can happen, people. It is possible for an opinion to wrong), it should not be an obstacle in enjoying it. And the reverse is also true: there’s no really point in judging someone based solely on their work. A shitty director could be a really nice person in real life, just simply inept at their craft. So the oversimplified answer to the question is yes, you should separate the artist from the work.

The more nuanced and worthwhile answer is…a little more complicated. I truly believe that any worthwhile art is going to reflect something about the artist, consciously or not. And it should be so; a creation not imbued with some aspect of the people behind it is simply a factory-churned non-entity, a product in the worst sense, and not worth discussing at all. Our own personalities are informed by our experiences, so why shouldn’t the products of our mental labour? Why shouldn’t our art be considered an extension of our personalities? It’s not like we simply decide to draw/write/photograph/film/sing/play for no reason: we each have our own motivations and goals for doing the things we do. Sometimes they are rational, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they are discernible, sometimes they aren’t. Art is a product of humanity, not something that just bubbles into existence, and that is a major reason why it’s fascinating.

So I think separating the work from the jerk often dulls the work, taking away the human element that is essential. So then, what happens when you find those mythical beasts, the unpalatable creators? Certainly, if we are to believe that the art is always an extension of the creator, what are we to do then? Well, on a basic craft level, it is still entirely possible to appreciate the technical skill of a director or artist, even if it is used for apparently ill ends. If the personality of the creator is evident in the work, and sometimes it is only faintly so, then we can say that we are judging the work based on the work, so the argument doesn’t really enter the equation. Of course, it is very possible to be a great artist who soaks his or her work with horrific hatred. It is then that it becomes a true personal judgement call: whether the craft can overcome the ugliness, or whether that ugliness can make the work more interesting as you try to determine where the artist is coming from, is up to you. It can enhance the work, but it is entirely understandable if it also deters you from it.

Where this argument most often comes up is when the artist works on something that is completely unrelated to their more controversial personality traits. Science Fiction and Fantasy are the primary ones, as the invented nature of the genres means that modern politics and ethics are not entirely blatant, although there are plenty of times where they are. It is also an issue when dealing with most artists before the 20th century. So we know that Lovecraft was a racist, Heinlein a closet fascist, Ditko a Objectivist, and Sim a misogynist. We also know that most the authors of the classics were any combination of racist, misogynist, authoritarian, and classist. (I’ve also seen it pop up in concerns to religious/non-religious differences. For example: can an atheist read a book by a fervent Christian and not object to it, and vice versa?) At times, this can make their work daunting to take in without violent retching, even when they’re dealing with space men from Mars or flowery poems about nature. At the same time, these disagreeable philosophies can still be an interesting part of the work, something for the astute reader to pick apart to see where they were coming from. Again, it’s entirely a personal judgement call, but I think in the grand majority of these cases, one should not try to completely remove the author from the reading. I think something is lost in there if one does, even if that something is terrible.

In the end, one must recognize that our reaction to the creator, and to associate their work with them even when the connection isn’t obvious, is an entirely human thing to do. What one does with that is entirely up to each individual. To completely remove that association is to remove the human element of the art, in my mind. Maybe to some that’s a good way to keep enjoying the art. But I wouldn’t want to have to remove anything to enjoy it. What’s in the art and entertainment, good and bad, is what makes it interesting.

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Posted by Matt on October 29, 2011

From my rather limited knowledge of the actual media involved:

The more I think about these days, the more I come to like the character of Superman. I have often heard people argue that he is “boring” for one reason or another; he’s too powerful, he’s too nice, etc. This may come from the many cases where the potential of Superman were squandered by lazy or small-minded creators; it may also come from a rather skewed sense of what constitutes an “interesting” character, one that has somehow had it been hammered into their skull that nice guys aren’t real, and that purplish angst and brooding and suffering are the signs of a developed personality. Of course, if you have ever talked to another human being in your life, you know that’s shit.

The most recent observation I’ve had about Superman’s character is one that not only makes him stand out among the legions of copycat superheroes (well, that might be going too far; Superman started the genre and all the associated elements, but it’s a pretty broad category), and one that has appeal to me and my own writing tics: Superman is one of the few characters I know of that chose his or her life, rather than having it imposed on them by events beyond their control. Now, you could argue that the cataclysmic event that put Superman on Earth was beyond his control, which is true. But for the most part, the destruction of Krypton has very little bearing on Superman/Clark Kent’s choices in life, a few plotlines involving bottled cities and the like excepted, and feels more like a convenient excuse to give him superpowers. For the most part, though, it went like this: Clark Kent found out he had superpowers, and decided to use them to help people. It’s simple. But it’s also effective.

Compare to that to most other comic superheroes: Batman has dead parents (and the absurdity of the whole origin story is often underplayed because of bat-favouritism, especially when you pile up all the Bruce Wayne exploits they’ve revealed over the years; it’s silly enough that a kid with dead parents decides to punch gangsters in a bat costume, but he also decided to become a word-class chemist and get ninja training in the Himalayas?), the Hulk and Fantastic Four are all blasted by made-up radiation (and the event being beyond Bruce Banner’s control is integral to the Hulk character, it must be said), the X-Men are all born in a world that hates them (turning what seems like every non-mutant person into a mini-Torquemada, a rather hilarious bit of melodrama), Iron Man got shrapnel in the heart, Thor is banished to earth for being a dick, etc. The closest thing to Superman’s situation in another comic character is probably Spider-Man; but even then, his powers are from an accident, and his decision to fight crime needs to be prompted by personal tragedy. All of them, to varying degrees, do what they do because of something that happened to them. It doesn’t feel like it was their decision.

That’s not the case for Superman. Despite being an alien, it’s only the powers he successfully keeps secret that separates him from normal people. There’s no prejudice keeping him down, no dead relatives inspiring him to do one thing or another (well, at leas that WAS the case), not even a big monstrous threat that needs smiting (initially). He simply made a rational decision (or at least as rational as it can be coming with a bright red cape and underpants) to become a vigilante hero using his powers (and also a journalist, something that a lot of people seem to overlook – he’s fighting the good fight on two fronts). This, to me, is rather refreshing. I think we need to appreciate it in these simple stories when they actually show someone actually being proactive and taking what they’re given and going with it, which is surprisingly rare.

Of course, that “simplicity” may be part of the reason people call Superman boring. But to me, it just opens up possibilities – and that’s one of the things I decided I like about Superman, the sheer number of possibilities. A character with that level of power, that kind of background, that kind of mindset? You could do anything with that. When it comes to these long-lived media properties, that’s a real boon, isn’t it?

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Monster is just another name for life

Posted by Matt on October 2, 2011

It’s back to class, which means back to actually reading books on a regular basis. I like reading books, even if it’s for reasons other than my own curiosity or enjoyment. It’s good to be exposed to material that you might not have checked out otherwise, which is why I really do enjoy these English courses. I think I might take them for the rest of my life.

But here’s what I’m getting at:

One of my recent reads was Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I had read Atwood’s most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year, so I have material for comparison, I guess. Oryx is certainly more sci-fi, in that old-fashioned sense where morals are explicit and technology dooms us all. That’s not to simplify the book, it’s certainly not another wailing lament of what a mess we’ve made. Atwood’s way too smart for that. It’s running with far sillier concepts than Handmaid’s Tale (it’s hard not to chortle at least once with names like Pigoon, Rakunk, Wolvog, and the like being constantly tossed about), but that is certainly a side-effect of the subject matter. You get silly names when you’re dealing with gene-slicing and corporate culture, but not when you’re talking about theocracy, you know?

It also amazes me that an 80-year-old woman can write material that reminds me of…well, me, and other people like me. You know, the kids of today. She’s pretty up with the youth culture.

It’s the aforementioned genetic science stuff that makes me a bit…apprehensive. I find the satire of corporate culture funny and fascinating, and it is often grappling with the same ideas I have found very interesting (the segregation between the ‘corporate citizens’ and the people in the cities is an idea I’ve had before, and it’s an idea that looks increasingly plausible). In a way, I want to simply dismiss the problems with the science aspect of the novel by saying it’s a byproduct of the corporate stuff. Essentially, that this is not so much a screed against genetic engineering entirely, but against the possibilities of genetic engineering under the control of for-profit entities. The relationship between science and commerce is a tricky thing. For every new thing we discover, there’s a capitalist asshole who’ll exploit it for money. As the novel itself points out, the scientists under the illusion that these discoveries help people will often ignore how the byproducts of their work are used to bilk the desperate. As a primary example, we know of many cases where advances in agriculture are almost immediately co-opted by evil corporations like Monsanto (and while the ‘evil corporation’ pejorative is a cliche for aimlessly angry youth and aging hippies, if you do any reading about what Monsanto has done in the past, you’d agree with me that those guys are fucked up) and turned into copyright so they can drain farmers for upkeep and sue if their hybrid seeds accidentally land on another’s guy land, if that guy actually owns his own land instead of tending official Monsanto Land.

Yes, that’s what I’d like to believe, just to make my brain happy. But I can’t. I know I need to face these criticisms head on.

I don’t think Atwood is anti-science. And make no mistake: the irrational fear of what can come about from genetic engineering is anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-discovery. The “Frankenfood” meme comes from people who seem to forget that all agriculture is based around altering plants and animals to our liking, with the only difference being that corn and dairy cows were bred into existence eons ago by simple farming folk, and the stuff today is being done by guys in lab coats, who they have been trained to dislike because they do…stuff. The creation of these animals are often based on real ideas being tossed around, but they are exaggerated. The thing is, things like man-animal hybrids aren’t real, and have no scientific reason to ever be real. Getting a skin graft from a pig is not the same thing.

A lot of people, including possibly Atwood, seem to have this invisible line between what is natural and what is artificial. Nature is sacred, even if you take spirituality out of the equation. You can learn and tinker with only so much in the ‘natural’ world before you’ve gone too far. Making life in a test tube is going too far.

Here’s the thing: those lines? They don’t exist. They’re made up. Because the brain we’ve evolved with lets us do stuff like that.

This is not to say that humans cannot fuck up with environment with their meddling. They most certainly can. But that shouldn’t be used against learning how the our biology and the biology of the things all around us works, and using that knowledge to benefit us. Nothing we do is entirely separate from the natural world, and testing out new ideas shouldn’t be seen in a negative light automatically. The same rational minds that genetically engineers corn will know that introducing a new species into the ecosystem can cause major damage if it’s not contained, and will attempt to connect it. We even see that in the novel, albeit it ends badly anyway.

I’m tired of the cliche of the cold, calculating scientist, screwing with shit in his or her lab, reveling in their god role. In the context of Oryx and Crake, this can be seen as a product of the corporate environment, where the goal in science is not for human advancement, but in creating products. This is an issue that we all have to deal with; but more often than not, it’s simply used as a justification for bludgeoning real science if it makes people uncomfortable. It switches the target, and let’s the real crooks get away. So while people hack away at the ethical/moral issues of genetic engineering, that issue of corporate control (which is brought up as an argument and subsequently dropped, or bundled into the case against the science itself, as if they will always be one and the same) gets away with minor cuts and bruises. Once again, one of the things I like about this novel is that it doesn’t immediately drop the criticisms of the corporate mindset just so we can gasp at how awful the very idea of genetically engineering animals is; both are targeted equally, each on their own terms.

But it doesn’t explain away all the attacks on genetic engineering. It seems to, what with the companies all mainly being about selling things like specially grown fried chicken (yes, that old urban legend), or creating vanity products and services. But as much as those are justly ridiculed, we are never presented with a positive alternative. The organ transplant pigs are not seen as any more beneficial, and the fact that they, as mentioned before, get out into the wild and wreck shit (alongside all the other silly names in the book), just seems to reinforce the idea that it’s all bad, even when it’s not immediately recognizable as a useless corporate product (even if it actually is, as it shows). I don’t think I should expect there to be a “well, that’s no good, but this is an okay application!” segment of the book, that would break up the narrative and muddy the point. But it brings that apprehensiveness back, because…well, I just don’t really think that genetically modifying plants and animals (human and non-human) is an inherently bad as this book seems to position it as.

The character of Crake interests me. Crake is, in my mind, a perfect example of a Aspergers supervillain. Now, “supervillain” may be a going a bit too far, even calling him a villain or antagonist in general is wrong, but the guy does kill everyone on earth except the protagonist, so we’re in the same ballpark at least. It’s a character type I myself have tried to work with, and both arise out of that previously mentioned scientist stereotype, but with less of the cold logic and Hollywood insanity, and more general social ineptitude and that very real kind of mania that this type of person can have. To a degree, both the protagonist and Crake share a lack of self-awareness that seem to come with the culture of the novel. They watch porn (including pedo stuff, which brings Oryx into the story) and what essentially amounts of to a combination of reality TV and shock sites, with little to no emotional impact, except at points where the mania seeps in. But the protagonist grows up to be rather petulant, idealistic in a sense but self-absorbed, Crake only goes further into the obsessiveness, eventually making his own race of humans, for no reason other than because he can. There are shines of other motivations in his character, an attempt to always be control being the main one, but it still seems to be simply part of that very specific, very modern-feeling kind of psychopathy. He’s not simply a mad scientist, he’s a guy who became a prodigy and can never stop doing what he’s good at. The urge to create overtakes everything else. It’s a condition that neatly fits into both scientific and corporate environments. I find it to be an interesting bit of characterization.

But that just leads back to the question of scientific ethics: if Crake is the best of the best in his field, what does that say about his field? As I said, I don’t think Atwood is trying to oversimplify things, “these guys are all bad!” or anything like that, but there’s not a whole lot of sympathy shown for them. All the geneticists are either entirely deluded and compromised (like the protagonist’s dad), scheming assholes, or genocidal nerds like Crake. The protagonist, who does not become a geneticist but is raised by them, ends up playing false prophet to a group of naive human spin-offs. In fact, about the only half-decent person in the book is Oryx, but she’s so fucked up mentally that you never really notice. All this seems to show that the view one could gleam from the book is a little more nuanced than simply “you guys are fucking with nature! stop it!”; there are people in the book, people whose actions and reactions are very human. It’s some musty old sensationalist story of science gone wrong. It does attempt to really get into these issues, not simply declare them off-limits.

But no matter how much I want to praise Atwood for her ideas, I just can’t shake the feeling that this delves into anti-science territory. I personally don’t think we should limit what we can learn about and how, even though we should be careful with it. So I have some trouble coming to terms with what this book might be trying to tell me. It’s one of those very difficult matters in art, where something seems to be on the razor’s edge between critical analysis and screeching propaganda. It’s definitely a good piece of dystopic fiction; but I still need to determine what people are taking from it, and whether or not that’s a good thing.

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This is indeed a disturbing universe

Posted by Matt on September 15, 2011

One of those curious features seemingly exclusive to genre entertainment is the idea of the shared universe (and the related concept of continuity), exemplified by Marvel and DC’s years of comic book world building. As far as I know, which admittedly is rather limited in many areas, they are the most successful examples of this concept; the expanded universes of popular franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, which are fairly vast, feel more like throngs of officially sanctioned fan fiction that are tossed aside by the folks behind the “real” product. This is likely a byproduct of those two franchises coming from more expensive mediums and being “expanded” by books, comics, and video games, which will always feel disconnected from the central parts of the lines. No, Marvel and DC’s comics have always been comics and only follow the lead of other comics, so they really come together as a whole.

There is certainly an appeal to the concept of the shared universe. There is the idea that it makes each story feel part of a greater whole, even though that really only exists in concept and not really in practice. Although I find the idea of superheroes as the new mythology to be misguided at best, laughable at my most cynical, there are parallels to be drawn there. For me personally, I kind of like the idea of all these disparate characters and ideas just existing in the same space. It feels…like breaking the rules, I guess? Wizards and space aliens and robots and modern street toughs just shouldn’t all converge like that due to some unwritten rules of fiction, and so knowing that they can and will is a delight. For silly people with silly imaginations like me, that is.

But you can’t simply have these characters and stories be able to come over for a visit, oh no. There needs to be synchronization. Giving other creators the ability to compromise the integrity of another creator’s story is bad for everyone. This hasn’t stopped them from doing this (see: New X-Men), but again, in THEORY, the idea is to make sure all the stories “count” (by which I mean their individual meaning, as little as it may be at times, should be respected by the other creators), and that means some content policing if one is to be part of the universe of stories. That is where continuity comes in. Removed from the imaginary context of these stories, it doesn’t seem particularly necessary – why should it matter how one thing is references or one character is described, as long as it serves the story at that moment? The individual stories are rarely ever harmed by a lack of line-wide continuity. But, considering that a lot of these publishers may want you, the reader of Book A, to think about picking up Book B, making sure those books don’t explicitly contradict each other and confuse you is a reasonable goal. Continuity can be both a hindrance and a help, depending on when and how it is applied.

Continuity can be limiting on some of the stories possible within that line’s sphere of influence, especially in the case of often well-deserved satire. The people upstairs have been known to tolerate such things at times, but push it too far and they may fight back. Things like that, however, are simply the sacrifice one must make when taking part in a grand project like this.

The fictional universe is at its best when all that policing is done by genuinely creative people, all who respect each other’s work, and who take part in the concept to essentially help each other out creatively. To riff and homage each other, essentially. A real communal atmosphere, and one that seems to be sadly absent from most examples of universe-building.

It wasn’t always that way. It’s hard for me to say that the environment was really less corporate in the past, I really have nothing to back that up. But I think the thought processes behind it were different. In the 60s, when Gardner Fox created the JLA and Earth-2 and all the other things, he was paying homage to the comics created by him and many others during the 40s. When Stan Lee (or whoever actually came up with the idea, it’s really hard to tell with early Marvel for someone less studied in the history and evidence like myself) had his characters meet up, it was because the idea of these costumed people filling the streets of Manhattan, and little nods like Spider-Man trying to get a job with the Fantastic Four were amusing.

The creator’s ideal in the fictional universe and the goal of those who take part in it should be that of a toy box: you have freedom to use the toys already in there in whatever way you want (just don’t break them), but the expectation is that for every toy you take out, you add one for someone else to play with. Take a penny, leave a penny. Contribute to the greater whole, etc., etc. It makes more a greater creative environment, where you know that not only will the others respect your contributions, but they are willing to further them and give you more story opportunities.

Where the problems creep in is when the contributors to the shared universe become too reliant on the elements introduced by their predecessors or contemporaries, warping a story into a arcane, spot-the-reference bit of purposeless fan wanking. If bits of continuity are used for their own sake, rather than to enhance the current story (or even another one), they make readers feel like they should be either paying more attention (for all the wrong reasons) or buying the other books (for all the wrong reasons). The latter is something economically desirable for the publisher, sure, but how likely will it be that they’ll create a sustainable number of obsessives? These things should be able to stand on their own, and can possibly be enhanced by taking part in the wider context of the shared universe; they shouldn’t need to be decoded. Which is not to say that obscure fan service is always a bad thing; it can be a great deal a fun for folks in the know. But it needs to be earned, and it can’t make the thing unreadable to a whole segment of the audience.

So, I’m a little wary of this approach. On one hand, it can lead to some great stuff, where talented folks can work on each other’s ideas and make them even better; plus, it can be kind of fun. On the other hand, it can also be terribly limiting. The appeal is definitely there, which is why the comics have been able to implement it rather successfully over the last few decades. But it’s not easy to create, and definitely not easy to maintain. I would say it’s a high risk, high reward idea, but is the reward really all that high? It seems more like high risk for a unique reward, one that is rarely seen and a little spectacular when done right. That sounds a lot like genre fiction in general, really.

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Away, Away, Away

Posted by Matt on September 5, 2011


(Fuck you, I don’t have a camera and my parents have a less-than-fancy one)

This was taken during my trip to Toronto, which I blathered on about rather boringly here. I have since grown very interested in the whole Toronto Island set-up. Something about a smaller community surrounded by water and just a skip from a modern metropolis, being able to see it right across the pond, has caught my imagination. Read the same shit I did about it here!

Places inspire me more than anything else. I look at a building, a park, a shopping mall, a street, an old hockey arena, and I start thinking about what could happen there, and how it could be used as a setting. If there was a martian battle there, what would it be like? I think locations have provided me with a basis for my most solid story concepts, because it anchors them to something real. It great being able to do whatever I feel like, but it often feels that with no foundation, nothing I can look at and feel like there’s a physical thing to base them off of, they can become a vaporous entity. Something that just drifts away, pointless and meaningless. I can think of a million silly things, but I just can’t seem to care about them without that connection to earth.

It often seems that this ideology I’ve developed has driven me to base most of my ideas on one or more of three things: character/personality, nature, and of course, places. All real things, things I can experience (in various ways and in varying doses). But location holds a special place for me, especially in the last few years, as it is something I’ve had the most experience dealing with. I don’t meet as many real characters I can turn into fake ones as I do step into buildings I can set a story in.

It’s one of reasons I enjoy just going somewhere else, not even having a real purpose for the journey (although when I do, there’s usually another story in that). While a lot of people I know have become jaded when it comes to vacationing, only feeling the need to go to places that live up to their high standards. Not me; anywhere I go, I can generally find something worth thinking about. Even in the dingy little villages that dot the provinces, only half-integrated with the modern world, usually home to an auto shop, a family restaurant, and a droning sense of monotony. There’s stories to be told about them, too.

At the same time, it also makes me appreciate where I come from, even when I want to escape. Familiarity breeds contempt, but familiarity also gives me the opportunity to employ nuance I just can’t with the big cities that leave me awe-struck, as an easily-impressed city slicker from the middle of the flatlands. I always pretend I want to escape, but what would I do without the schoolyards I know like the back of my hand, the hotel lobbies I once traversed and still associate with New Years Eve and lungs full of chlorine, or the city’s centerpiece, the hockey area where I once had to find my own fun while my siblings actually competed in sports. I’m quite curious to observe my own reaction if and when I finally leave this town for greener pastures.

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Because that’s not a topic I haven’t talked to death about

Posted by Matt on September 2, 2011

Hey, how about them digital comics?

I think Dustin Harbin brings some good points to the fore. At the very least, it’s a lot more considerate of what the stores and publishers want than people like me with our “it’s obvious, you dumb idiots!” diatribes. The fact is, Marvel and DC (and even the alternative publishers to a lesser extent) probably have every reason to be scared of losing the direct market, because it’s the only market they have right now. Until digital is a sure thing, and who knows what will convince them of that, they will be cautious, and make their digital offerings overpriced and out of date. I’m not saying they’re not stupid for being so hesitant, but there are rational reasons why they aren’t pursuing this avenue.

Then I remember what Warren Ellis said not too long ago, and he’s also right. Even if these publishers do get digital comics going, until they actually start commissioning original stories (that actually take advantage of being on electronic screens connected to the Internet) to be sold on them, they will be second-class, an afterthought. It makes me wonder why, if they are so afraid of making their direct market books available online and hurting the specialty stores, why not make your digital comics new ones instead? I mean, if the quality’s there (well, relative quality for some of them), then it won’t take as long for initial skepticism and brushing off as “silly experimental side projects” (which will inevitably happen) to subside. So you can try out the digital format, and won’t have to undercut DM until you have to (which will also inevitably happen).

I can see why they might scoff at this idea, though. Aside from that initial dismissal, there might be problems finding creatives to work on them, and it would really need some Grade A talent to make people really take notice (or it could take finding some new talent that could pull off something new and amazing, but that`s far less likely). Second, since these would be different books than the `main` lines, some readers might think they are superfluous. Even if DC published a Batman comic digitally, if it wasn’t THE Batman comic, then it might get ignored. This wouldn’t be a problem if the comics were really new, but readers probably would ignore them anyway, as they do with most new concepts in print. Neither of these are problems for publishers who aren’t reliant on established properties and hype, but those same publishers can’t buy New York Times headlines and get the idea out there. I want the alternative press to pursue this option too, but unfortunately they can’t quite get the blogs talking, and I think that’s something that needs to be done to get the rest of the pack to come out of their glossy paper shells.

****

All this digital/print comics derpderp really makes me appreciate my webcomics to-read list. They may just be scraping by a lot of the time, but they get to keep their integrity and avoid all the dumb bullshit the rest of the industry spews.

****

In related news, DC’s starting their new universe now. In the first issue of JLA: not a whole lot happens. Oh boy.

They also apparently set up some Dame-us Ex Machine in Flashpoint, who reset the universe for some reason and is now showing up in other comics. Like they’re preparing for something. Or making an exit strategy in case they have to. Real show of confidence for your big change-up in either case, guys. Either you’re going back into big crossover mode, or you think there’s a chance that you’ll need to go back to your old horrible universe if your new horrible universe doesn’t pan out. Neither option is terribly inviting to new readers, now, are they?

I’m honestly surprised by the number of people apparently upset by the new status quo. They really need to explain what it was they were getting out of the old one that makes it so sad if it goes away. I mean, the retconning nonsense DC is doing is utterly nonsensical patchwork, but again…how is that different than it was before?

They probably have a point when they say that this won’t really do much good to attract new readers, at least past the first three months or so (especially if JLA is indicative of anything, pacing and general quality-wise). It will almost certainly end up as just another short-term boost in sales before they plummet back to the same levels as a few months before, just like everything else DC and Marvel do. So what was the point of it, then? Well, there probably is no point, although it’s nice to see them acknowledge some of the problems that they aren’t going to do anything about. Pointless or no, though, is doing nothing really better than trying something slightly (very very slightly) different, even if they end up with the same results? At least one shows a little bit of thought on the publisher’s part. And really, who gets hurt here? A tiny cult of lingering carrion feeders? And even to them, how many amazing wonderful stories set in the old DC continuity are they going to be missing because of the reboot (recognizing that several books had to have certain runs and story ideas cut off because of it)?

I’ve heard a couple of people suggest that DC should have made an Ultimate-style line. This is a bad idea because (1) DC has tried that about two or three times now, and aside from getting an all-time great story and a curious relic of Frank Miller’s descent into insanity, nothing came of any of them, and (2) look at what actually happened to Ultimate Marvel: hot shit for a couple of years, and now…god, I don’t even know (I think the new Ultimate Spider-Man kid is a great idea, though: if you’re going to have two Spider-Man comics, might as well make them as different as possible. Plus, I’ve been convinced that a black kid being Spider-Man just makes sense). It’s pretty much verbatim what I said in the digital comics part of this post: once you start dividing it into “the REAL X” and “the other X”, it’s the latter that will get short shrift eventually. The Ultimate comics are pretty superfluous now (even more so because the ‘real’ Marvel universe began to look more and more like it over the last couple years), and would be the same deal for DC (again). Plus, this is far more headline-grabbing, no?

Plus plus, who cares what happens to the DC universe, what with all its five billion Legion of Superheroes timelines.

So basically I point is that the old DCU was a wretched thing, and putting it down was the most humane thing DC could have done. But apparently they still think they should make sure they can dig up the corpse if they need to. If it comes to that, though, maybe they should fucking give up.

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Behind the Curtain: An Excuse to Post My Wikipedia-Derived Knowledge

Posted by Matt on August 27, 2011

So, there’s that call for a boycott on Marvel products since the Kirby case ended. In principle, I actually agree with it. But I guess I also have to agree with Tucker Stone in that most sane people shouldn’t be buying Marvel’s shitty product anyway. I know I wasn’t.

Well, that isn’t true. While I don’t read Marvel comics or see Marvel’s movies (the former out of apathy, the latter out of laziness) or buy Marvel-branded trinkets (because I’m an adult), I did buy one Marvel product in the past year or so laden with Jack Kirby characters: Marvel vs Capcom 3. And there’s a new one coming out in a few months. Oh criminy, my love of fighting games clashing against my respect for creator’s rights.

It got me thinking, though: how much influence from beyond the grave does Kirby have on this game? I thought it was nice in the first version when the end credits listed the individual creators of all of Marvel’s characters, albeit not specifying who made who. How much of the game’s roster is from Kirby? Counting the new Ultimate MvC3 characters, let’s see:

(All characters, unless otherwise noted, were co-created with Stan Lee)

Captain America (with Joe Simon)
Dr. Doom
Galactus
Hulk
Iron Man (with Larry Lieber and Don Heck)
Magneto
MODOK
Phoenix (sort of: Jean Grey/Marvel Girl was created by Kirby & Lee, with the Phoenix persona and design created by Chris Claremont and David Cockrum. The Dark Phoenix was created by Claremont & John Byrne)
Sentinel
Super-Skrull
Thor

So, 10 of the 25 Marvel characters (plus the final boss) were co-created by Kirby. Let’s also recognize the creators of the other characters in the game:

Deadpool (Fabian Nicieza & Rob Liefeld, with the character’s modern comedy persona established by Joe Kelly & Ed McGuinness)
Dr. Strange (Lee & Steve Ditko)
Dormammu (Lee & Ditko)
Ghost Rider (Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, & Mike Ploog)
Hawkeye (Lee & Heck)
Iron Fist (Roy Thomas & Gil Kane)
Nova (Marv Wolfman & Jon Buscema)
Rocket Raccoon (Bill Mantlo & Kieth Giffen)
She-Hulk (Lee & Buscema)
Shuma-Gorath (Steve Englehart & Frank Brunner, with the name/concept first appearing in Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard’s posthumously-published short story “The Curse of the Golden Skull”)
Spider-Man (Lee & Ditko)
Storm (Len Wein & Dave Cockrum)
Taskmaster (Dave Michelinie & George Perez)
Wolverine (Wein, John Romita, & Herb Trimpe)
X-23 (Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost, who originally created her for the X-Men: Evolution animated series, and then adopted the character for comics a year later)

First thing’s first, I never noticed what a grand pedigree the new UMvC3 characters had until now. Thomas, Mantlo, Giffen, Kane, Wolfman, Englehart, and Ploog are all legends. That’s kind of neat. I also never noticed how prominent an idea man Thomas was at Marvel.

It would’ve been cool to do the same thing with Capcom’s characters. Unfortunately, video games, being more like film than comics, has many more people working on each title, so figuring who really was the brains behind the characters would be pretty difficult. I know the original Street Fighter team was also behind Final Fight (and thus Haggar). Shinji Mikami is the mastermind behind Resident Evil and all the characters you see in the game for the most part, Hideki Kamiya is the main man behind Devil May Cry, Atsushi Inaba the guy to blame for Viewtiful Joe, and all three combined to make Okami. Keiji Inafune was the co-creator of the Mega Man series, but was the main guy for both the X and Legends spin-offs, and thus essentially the man behind Zero and Tron Bonne. Inafune is also the guy who brought us Frank West and Dead Rising. Tokuro Fujiwara was the main programmer behind Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and also had a hand in the original arcade version of Bionic Commando (although Spencer in MvC3 has closer ties to the NES version of the game, and of course the American-developed modern remake). Shu Takumi is originator of the Ace Attorney series. But that’s about all I can say for sure.

But the point is, Kirby’s pencil marks are all over this game, alongside many others. Should I be a terrible person and make up some excuses to get my fix, or should I respect the creators who don’t get a cent from the use of their creations and abstain? Oh man, my morals are going to be put to the test come November.

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Me vs Me (Circa June 2010)

Posted by Matt on August 24, 2011

I decided to go back and look at my top ten favourite albums. For lazy people, here’s what I said in June 2010:

10. Revolver – The Beatles
9. Midnite Vultures – Beck
8. Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon
7. “Heroes” – David Bowie
6. SMiLe – Brian Wilson
5. Amnesiac – Radiohead
4. Pet Sounds – Beach Boys
3. The Mollusk – Ween
2. OK Computer – Radiohead
1. Low – David Bowie

There really aren’t that many changes I would make, but I definitely question some of my choices here. For example, why is Amnesiac so high? I still really like; it’d probably be my 3rd favourite Radiohead album. There was even a point where I would rank it higher than Kid A. But I could have sworn that was a few years ago, not last year. I am now pretty solid in my belief that Kid A is a far better album. I think it might have taken me longer to come to that conclusion; Amnesiac‘s best tracks, like “I Might Be Wrong”, I think are easier to get into. But after a few listens, I realized that Kid A really starts out strong, and basically never lets up. Those songs just sound so strange and alien, heights that it’s follow-up doesn’t reach.

The second upset would probably be replacing “Heroes” with Station to Station, which I think is a far more recent decision on my part. I remember having a hard time picking a second Bowie album for the list (and there had to be a second Bowie album because Bowie is the best at everything); Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane were both in the running. “Heroes”, like Amnesiac, is a great album, but I think having listened to Station to Station several times over the last few months, I think it edges out the rest of Bowie’s discography. I think what helps is that it’s a short album, which it doesn’t feel like because the opening track is 10 minutes (and 10 minutes of endless greatness). It’s got a feeling of conciseness; the Thin White Duke has a musical point to make, does it, and then leaves. There’s no missed beat on any of the tracks. And the songs are just so fun. “TVC15” and “Golden Years” and “Wild is the Wind” manage to find a halfway point between Ziggy/Aladdin Sane Bowie and Berline Trilogy Bowie, and it just took me a little bit of time to realize that. So yeah, that’s a definite switch.

Other than that, I’d move around a couple albums, too. But let’s actually look at what my favourite album list looks like right now:

10. Revolver – The Beatles
9. SMiLe – Brian Wilson
8. Midnite Vulture – Beck
7. Kid A – Radiohead
6. Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon
5. Pet Sounds – Beach Boys
4. The Mollusk – Ween
3. Station to Station – David Bowie
2. OK Computer – Radiohead
1. Low – David Bowie

Top two don’t change, because it’s gonna take a titanic effort from someone to take down Low and OK Computer from their thrones. Those two are PERFECT albums.

After that all that Station to Station talk, I decided that it goes in the bronze spot. I just like it that much!

The Mollusk is still amazing, another album I can listen to forever. I saw that AV Club had recommended it to people as well. Good for them.

Pet Sounds is Pet Sounds. Not much to say about that.

I ranked up Excitable Boy, because that’s another really fun, easily re-listenable album. It’s more than just “Werewolves of London”, folks. Any of these tracks could be an eternally remembered Zevon classic.

Kid A is lower-ranked than Amnesiac was on the last list, even though I do think it’s a better album now. It just didn’t have the impact the rest of these have, is all.

Apparently, nobody has told Beck that Midnite Vultures is his best album. Real shame. Because it is.

Then there’s SMiLe and Revolver, both albums I have nothing interesting to say about.

See you next year, me!

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The Legendary Hero is No More

Posted by Matt on August 23, 2011

Dear Mr. Morrison (or Grant, if you prefer),

I was a late bloomer, if you will, when it came to comics. I didn’t grow up with the modern mythos, the adventures of Marvel and DC’s line-up with costumed crime-fighters, like you and so many other people did. What I knew about them was gleaned from the licensed products: the television shows, the toys, and everything else. I didn’t know about all the things, great things, those comics contained.

I was given a huge load of comics in high school. Quite the variety, really. Classic Lee/Romita Spider-Man, Watchmen, Claremont/Byrne X-Men, Gaiman’s Sandman, at least one example of Kyle Baker…works both classic and modern. But none, none, affected me quite as much as your with Richard Case (and numerous other great artists!) on Doom Patrol.

When I first picked up Doom Patrol, I was taken in by the weirdness of the characters, the Scissormen, the Brotherhood of Dada, Danny the Street, et al. What delightful fun, I thought. My appreciation of your work only grew the more I read; it opened my imagination to all the possibilities comics had, the limitless number of images, the infusion of Burroughs, the rebellion against a world determined homogenize everything, and the way it can make you connect with its characters. Your characters were people I cared about, people whose adventures I wanted to read about. All of these things culminated in your last issue in that series, which is one the most sad, beautiful things I have ever read.

Doom Patrol, more than any other, has come to be my personal high-water mark for comics. It is the thing that inspires me the most. Part of my motivation for attempting a career as a writer is to give other people the kind of joy you gave me in those comics, and all the subsequent series of yours that I’ve read. I just want to thank you for that.

With that, I come to my main reason for writing this: I think we’re finished as artist and audience.

I haven’t read any of your recent Batman work (although I have read Arkham Asylum and Batman: Gothic, both of which I enjoyed), or Final Crisis for that matter; I’m simply not interested. I could gather in your early work that you really do love DC Comics and it’s characters; they seem to be as near and dear to you as your comics have been to me. You’ve probably dreamed for years of becoming the architect of some of the world’s best known fictional characters. I do not begrudge you for this; I simply skip that part of your output that does not interest me, and wait for the next Seaguy.

No, that’s not my problem. What my problem happens to be is the side of you that these last few years have brought out in you. This is has been especially troubling in the last few months, as you have been interviewed about your autobiography (which I have not yet read, and with all that has gone on, may never read now). To be honest, in a lot of these interviews, you’re come off as full of shit.

Let’s take your recent Rolling Stone interview, for example. Specifically, your controversial statement about Chris Ware. Now, I’m not a Ware reader (not out of indifference or antipathy, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), and to be fair, I think you sort of have a point. I think the critical corners in the comics world have spent far too much time setting up the world as the superhero crowd-pleasers at Marvel/DC with versus the lonely white boy stories told by Ware and others, as if those are our only two choices. They’re not, and the sooner we exit that dichotomy, the better off we’ll be.

No, where I have a problem is your calling them out on being “privileged American college kids”, and that this comes from your “Scottish working class” background. Maybe that would actually have been true when you were writing Zenith, or Doom Patrol, or The Invisibles, or maybe even New X-Men. But not now. Not when you own a house in Hollywood, get preferential treatment from a large corporation to keep their multimillion dollar trademarks in circulation, and get paid god knows how much to write movies about aliens fighting dinosaurs. You have no fucking right to criticize anyone else for being “privileged”.

Then there’s your statements about Siegel & Shuster in your book. You know, the guys who created the character you seem to think is so important, and are going to be writing about starting next month. You apparently don’t think their side of the story is very important, and that the half-century struggle for proper recognition and compensation for creating one of the best known fictional characters of the 20th and 21st centuries is trivial. Despite your attempts to convince everyone that superheroes are the modern mythology, you can’t make us overlook that Superman, Batman, and the rest were created by very specific people, and are now the property of another group of people who see them simply as a brand for them to sell. You can’t make them go away. The creator rights battle is a major part of the history of the so-called supergods, and I think people are beginning to realize that they may be the most important part.

You know, I don’t like to armchair analyze other people’s motivations, I really don’t, but all these things: the dismissal of people like Ware who aren’t big fans of superheroes, the dismissal of critical circles like The Comics Journal, the dismissal of the creators of the characters you write for, the dismissal of Alan Moore because he realized what a raw deal the superhero industry is and makes sure everyone knows it…it really sounds like your are trying to protect yourself from all the people that make you feel guilty for wanting so bad to be where you are today, the guy who gets to direct a superhero universe (under the auspices of the money men at Warner Bros). You probably need to make sure Alan Moore and all those other voices never get to you, because if they ever do, you’ll realize that, not long ago, you were one of them. Fighting corporate tyranny and it’s sadistic enslavement of imagination. You were once the solution to the problem. Now, you’re the problem’s willing servant.

But again, good for you for getting to live out your dream. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will continue to read and enjoy Doom Patrol, Animal Man, We3, The Filth, and all the rest. But I just don’t think I can take anything you write from now on seriously. Not like I used to. You’ve been compromised by the allure of the corporate superhero.

Thank you so much for all you’ve given me.

Now take your Batman comics and go to hell, old man.

Additional reading:

Dan Nadel at The Comics Journal
David Brothers at 4thletter!
Abhay on the Siegel & Shuster Thing
Comics Commentary

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