Opus 167 (August 14, 2005). This time, a report on the recent disturbance in Chicago, Wizard World, and reviews of Clyde Fans: Book 1 and the 22nd collection of Baby Blues comic strips. In order, here's what comes next, in order: The Wiz -Alberto Ruiz and Andy Lee in Artists Alley; NOUS R US -Animated editoonery, Alex Ross's methods, Gumby's 50th, Linda Carter at 54; Comic Strip Watch -new strip, Humble Stumble and twins in Jump Start; Funnybook Fan Fare -reviews of Kyle Baker's daring Nat Turner, Amanda Conner's visual comedy in JSA Classified No. 1, sex and violence in The Ride (both TPB and No. 1); Baby Blues book reviewed; Grafic Novelz -Clyde Fans: Book 1; and, at last, GeeDubya's mysterious appeal explained and more duplicity than we should have to tolerate. Don't forget, in your haste to consume all these tasty tidbits, our "Bathroom Button": when you get to the Members' Section, click on our useful "Bathroom Button" (also called the "print friendly version") of this installment so you can print off a copy of just this installment of Rancid Raves for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu-
THE WIZ AND OTHER DISTURBANCES
For the first time in memory, Wizard World Chicago Con did not feature professional wrestlers at work. In previous years, a wrestling ring stood at the edge of Artists Alley, and wrestlers cavorted in the ring all day long, grabbing at one another and flinging each other around. The usual murmuring din of a convention was punctuated by the thumps of bodies falling on the canvas of the ring-a regular chorus of thuds and groans. This year, however, we were spared this grotesque cacophony; we could bask, quietly, in the steady aural hum of a milling crowd. It was a blessed relief.
Probably there were more people at this year's Wiz than there were last year. It is a Truth about comicons that every year's con is more successful (which means, "attended by more people") than last year's. What these sky-rocketing numbers are this time I don't know. The Sandy Eggo conclave purportedly reached 95,000. The Wiz is always smaller. It is smaller in part because its venue, the Rosemont Convention Center, is smaller than the San Diego Convention Center. That's scarcely unusual: the known universe is smaller than the San Diego Convention Center. Being smaller, the Wiz is homier. You can actually stroll down every aisle in a single day; in two days, you can stop and shop at almost all the booths that might interest you. In three days, you can also browse Artists Alley.
According to one report, the Sandy Eggo extravaganza is now about movies based upon comic book characters; it is no longer about comic books, which, alas, were the basis of the Con's being for its first two decades. I didn't go this year, but I went last year, and even then, you had to work at it to get to the comic book parts. Movies, toys, T-shirts and games have nearly elbowed four-color fun off the exhibit floor. The same is true of the Wiz, but since the Wiz is smaller, it's easier to find the comic book parts. And you know the con is still about comic books when you wander Artists Alley.
There are collected an array of professional and amateur talent such as you'd seldom find under one roof anywhere else. And most of the artists are flogging books of one kind or another as well as "original art." Some of the specimens on display are startlingly crude and ugly, the work so amateurish that I can't imagine anyone paying anything for samples of it. Here we see the logical extension of Cathybert in a parade of self-published scrawlings that are worthy of the name of Art only because such things are never found in nature: if it's man-made, it must be Art. Against all odds, considering the environment, I always find two or three (and sometimes more) artists whose work astonishes me. This year, for instance, I happened upon Alberto Ruiz, whose sketchbooks ("observational drawings of the female figure from a cartoonist point of view") present renderings of the figure that are triumphant works of graphic design. Ruiz has both flare and confidence, and his work, which appears often in the pages of Draw magazine, is unique in pin-up art. In Draw, you can find his finished art-fully rendered and colored, serving as a lesson in computer coloring. "I use flat colors," Ruiz told me, "because I can't paint." But his deployment of flat colors is sweetly expert. The layers of flat color achieve a nuance many painters would envy. Ruiz wild inventiveness in a array of rendering approaches is stunning in its variety and consummate skill. He doesn't merely draw the figure: he interprets it in terms of graphic design and, sometimes, in loving geometry. He claims to be retired now from a career as a graphic designer, but I say, he's still a graphic designer-an exemplar of the profession even. (Draw is published by TwoMorrows, 10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; $20/four quarterly issues. And the magazine also regularly includes lessons in figure drawing from Bret Blevins, a champion at his craft.)
For more Ruiz, visit www.brandstudio.com
Elsewhere in the aisles of Artists Alley, I watched the performance of Andy Lee. Lee was producing several commissioned drawings, and his way of drawing was, indeed, a performance. The blank sheet of paper lies on the table before him; on the right, a pan of water colors and several glasses of water, each discolored in varying degrees from black to gray. Lee dips a Chinese brush into a glass of black ink, then stabs at the drawing paper with the brush, creating a swoosh of a stroke. Then another and another. Then, before laying down the next stroke, he swipes the point of the brush on his shoulder quickly, lightening the load of ink by depositing some of it on his t-shirt. The shoulder of his t-shirt is wet and black where he has daubed with his brush repeatedly as he paints. "What happens to the t-shirts?" I asked. "I throw them away," he says with a grin. The next stroke is almost dry-brush. Then another dip into a dish of black ink. After laying down another stroke, he smears the result with his fingers, smudging the edges and spreading the black until it turns gray. More stabs at the paper's surface with the brush-a jab here, a hook there. You don't want to stand too close: Lee doesn't draw so much as he splashes, flinging his brush at the paper. Another stroke with the brush, another swipe at his shoulder. He mixes a shade of green by dipping into the green first, dabbing his forearm with the color, then into the white, dabbing it again on his arm and then mixing the two colors on his forearm. Preparing another sheet of paper for a drawing, he dabbles his fingers into pots of gray wash at his elbow and then pats the paper with his fingers, creating a dappled background. Sometimes, in a growing ecstasy of painterly passion, Lee hits the paper with his fist, flattening the color, smearing it. Later, detailing a woman's face in the drawing, he draws a profile of nose and lips carefully, slowly; then, that done, he begins splashing color and line around the profile, adding smudges for hair and a red blush for cheek. After two or three pictures, Lee is a mess. He's got paint on his fingers and hands; his t-shirt and trouser pantleg are soaked where he's swiped the brush to remove excess paint. But Lee is obviously having great fun, and his pictures are wonders of line and texture-fat lines and thin, smudges and shades of color.
NOUS R US
Byron Preiss, who made a career of publishing high-quality comics and graphic novels, was killed in an automobile accident on July 9. The industry was thereby robbed of a pace-setting connoisseur of the arts of cartooning who dared to do something different and inspiring. ... Time magazine has been running a page of the Five Greatest Somethings for a few weeks. Five Fantastic Graphic Novels are Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes, Ordinary Victories by Manu Larcenet, War's End by Joe Sacco, Why Are You Doing This by Jason, and Little Lulu by John Stanley, this last, one of the current on-going series from Dark Horse reprinting the moppet's comic book adventures, not, strictly speaking, a graphic novel at all. Time posts regular reports on graphic novels at www.time.com/comix. ... Political cartoonist Scott Bateman announced early in August that he will produce and post on his website, www.batemania.com, a short animated film every day for a year. "Am I nuts?" he asked, rhetorically. "You bet!" Bateman recently parted ways with a syndicate which he felt was not aggressive enough in marketing his work. Not all of his next year's work will be political, he said, "but I'm sure a good portion will turn out that way." ... For more animated political 'toonery, check www.markfiore.com : Mark Fiore is a pioneer in the genre, and his animations are often accompanied by music and songs. ... The New Yorker, having experienced some success publishing its entire cartoon content as book and CD last year, will bring out a similar production this fall embracing all the published magazine in eight DVDs containing high-resolution digital images of every cover, every piece of writing, every drawing, listing, newsbreak, poem and advertisement -every page of the 4,109 issues from February 1925 through last year's 80th anniversary issue; cover price, $100. Cheap, considering the encyclopedic content.
The financial state of the cartooning industry is, depending upon who you talk to, great or not-so-great. Pixar reported a dip in its financial fortunes last quarter, due largely to there being no major release of either film or product during the period. The Comics Buyer's Guide waxes forever enthusiastic about the forever spiking business, and at Diamond, Shelley Myers says comic shops did over $550 million of business in 2004, a good thing, surely. Meanwhile, Marvel is reported to have limped through a lame quarter. It depends, as I said, upon which set of statistics (and which explanations thereof) you use. But whether the business is spiraling upward or has reached a plateau, it is probably not slowly sinking into the West. These outfits wouldn't still be in business if they weren't making money.
The London Times online announced a few days ago that manga will, at last, be available in Britain, released by Orion Publishing Group. Up to now, most manga in England have been imported via U.S. sources. The article's focus is on the seeming pornographic content of manga: "The content is not aimed at, and is usually unsuitable for, children." The author of the piece has clearly not researched his subject very thoroughly: while some manga is risque and some outright erotic, much of it is entirely innocuous, seems to me. Osamu Tezuka is invoked as "the father of modern manga"-an incurable Disney fan, rumored to have watched "Bambi" more than 80 times. The current issue of The Comics Journal, No. 269, is a vast symposium on the subject.
The first issue of a 12-part Justice League of America mini-series, Justice, another of Alex Ross's incredible painted masterpieces, is, by now, out. Interviewed at the Plain Dealer by Michael Sangiacomo, Ross said he hopes someday to move beyond merely co-plotting and painting his books. "I want to write, draw and paint an entire work," he said. "I want to do everything from start to finish. I don't know when I will get to do it. I just want to." He has story ideas for many of the characters he loves-"I want to work on everything I was exposed to in my childhood"-particularly, Captain Marvel. But not Wolverine. "I'm not interested in Wolverine," Ross said. "A guy with claws that slaughters people is not high morality. I love the purity of the great heroes and what they represent. That's why I do this." Ross works 10-hour days; it takes about two months to paint a complete issue. For this series, he enlisted Doug Braithwaite to do the initial pencils in order to speed up the production. "Our styles are similar," Ross said. "Doug penciled the pages, and I do my photorealistic painting over the top of his work."
Gumby, that animated asparagus with arms and legs, will be 50 next year, but the celebration has already begun. Special exhibits in two art galleries in San Francisco and at the Museum of Moving Images in New York opened earlier this year. The character first appeared on tv's "The Howdy Doody Show" in 1956 and got his own program a year later. Gumby's "tilted, bumped" head came from an old photograph of creator Art Clokey's father. Taken when the senior Clokey was a teenager, it shows a cowlick sprouting from one side of his head. Says Joe Clokey, the creator's son: "If you superimpose an outline of that portrait over Gumby, you will see that the heads coincide perfectly." ... Scott Roberts' comic book creation, Patty Cake, a genuine cartoon character, is ten years old. "Genuine" because she behaves like a cartooned kid ought to behave. Nifty stuff. ...
Scott Hinze is a 25-year-old comic-book evangelist, "passionately preaching his message that comics are culture and not just little-boy stuff," writes Robert Philpot at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Hinze conducts a twice-a-week radio talk show, "Fanboy Radio," on Forth Worth's KTCU/88.7 FM, a non-commercial college station, where he launched the show on Thanksgiving Day 2001 "more-or-less by accident" when he started talking about comics on the air. "Radio Fanboy" airs at 6 p.m. on Sundays and 1 p.m. on Wednesdays; and there's a website, www.fanboyradio.com. Hinze has entertained such guests as Mike Wieringo, Brian Michael Bendis, Stan Lee, and Joe Quesada. Hinze gave Philpot his list of the five best current comics: DC All-Star-Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder; The Goon; Fables; The New Avengers; and, at the top of the list, Ex Machina.
Linda Carter at 54 is making a come-back. The one-time Wonder Woman (at the tender age of 24, too young perhaps: her fame doubtless exacerbated a tendency to alcoholism) plays a principal at a superhero school in "Sky High" and a family friend who helps the Dukes escape Boss Hogg in "The Dukes of Hazzard" (originally, she was to be the love interest for the Boss and Uncle Jesse). But she'll never escape being Wonder Woman, a role she fell into after wining the 1972 Miss World USA pageant. "Fame," she says, "is a vapor. You can't grab hold of it." But she doesn't mind: "I think Wonder Woman is fantastic for women, and I think she's fantastic for the gay community, and she was great for young guys seeing a beautiful, strong woman." Wonder Woman is a great role model, she believes. And being identified with the character is fine with her: "It's much easier to embrace than to resist-and what's not to like?" At the same time, she told Jonathan Padget at the Washington Post, she welcomes the prospect of a new Wonder Woman on celluloid. Whoever plays the part, Carter said, "I hope she's warm and wonderful and knocks 'em dead. I think it's time. I think it's good there's a new Wonder Woman."
Quips & Quotes
"Whenever I look at a coin, I instinctively want to look at the other side." -Peter Jennings
"I lived for a long time in the Middle East, and it taught me that there is no one absolutely essential truth for all people." -Peter Jennings again
As I've been saying for years (borrowing from someone else)-it's all true. All of it.
I miss Peter Jennings. I've missed him ever since he announced his cancer on April 5 and disappeared from the evening newscast into chemotherapy. He gave tv newscasting a gentlemanly tone. (Dan Rather was doggedness; Tom Brokaw, grim youthfulness.) I'll remember Peter Jennings for his elan, for his relentless curiosity (he wasn't afraid to ask questions that revealed that he didn't know everything), for his matter-of-fact reassurance, for the way he cocked his head to one side and looked at us, just a little bemused by it all.
COMIC STRIP WATCH
Last time, I mentioned the "anniversary" continuity that is running in Blondie this summer. The earliest publicity spoke of a "three-month" storyline but never got beyond September 4 as the culmination of the story, so I supposed the "three-month" part was merely promotional exaggeration. Not so. Turns out that the third month of the continuity, the rest of September, will carry us through the Bumsteads' "anniversary" trip to Hawaii.
In Funky Winkerbean, John's comics store goes to court in November, and Tom Batiuk takes his turn at unveiling just how ludicrous the censors are when they assume that comic books are always for children and that anything not infantile in comics must perforce be corrupting the youth of America. ... The Humble Stumble, a comic strip about a single father and his daughter, begins August 15. The strip's creator, Roy Schneider, took his inspiration from his own life: in 2000, he found himself, after twelve years of marriage, single and responsible for the rearing of his nine-year-old daughter. He found the best therapy for the trials of his new station was laughing at himself-while grocery shopping, for instance, "stumbling" back and forth from one end of the store to the other, spending an hour-and-a-half finding six items. Now, we are assured, "Schneider lives in South Florida with his daughter (now 14) and nas successfully learned to cook, clean and shop (although the shopping must wait until every conceivable scrap of food is gone and the two of them are starving)."... On July 15, Joe and Marcy Cobb, the African-American couple who star in Robb Armstrong's Jump Start, become parents again, this time, of twins, Tommi and Teddy, who join sister Sunny and brother JoJo. Said Armstrong: "My original idea was to expand the strip by just one new addition to introduce a little humorous tension between Joe and Marcy. Suddenly, I thought that it would really stun Joe if, just when he got used to the idea of having one more kid- twins! Two babies are twice as much fun to write about because they 'converse' about life, and bounce ideas and future plans off each other. Tommi and Teddy have been full of surprises from the very beginning and Jump Start is like a brand new strip to me. I hope my readers are as excited as I am about the twins." Speaking as a father of twins (and we were expecting only one baby)-yes, Robb, twins can change your life.
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
The second issue of Kyle Baker's telling of the life story Nat Turner, the slave who led an armed rebellion in early 1800 America, is listed in this month's Previews. The first issue, which came out a month or so ago, is a stunning launch. Entirely wordless, the issue depicts the horrors of the slave trade-the capture of Africans in Africa, their branding and their exportation to the New World under the most brutal and inhumane conditions. Although the pictures are in Baker's caricatural style, he has give them a texture in both line and tone that raises the drawings to Art. Turner doesn't appear in this issue except in a concluding text paragraph in which he alludes to slave trade customs that he seemed, as a child, to have knowledge of without have experienced them directly himself; his fellow slaves, hearing these tales, thought "I surely would be a prophet as the Lord had shewn me things than happened before my birth."
Adam Hughes provides the decorative cover of JSA Classified, No. 1-a picture of Power Girl apparently flying prone on her back shot from her feet upwards, a perspective challenge of no small order, but she is, even from this absurd angle, a beautiful and voluptuous representative of the curvaceous gender. I'm tempted, from this evidence, to suppose that Hughes is getting tired of drawing zaftig women. There are only a few hundred ways to depict feminine embonpoint before you've exhausted the possibilities and are therefore driven into a cycle of endlessly repeating yourself. To prevent this graphic boredom, talented artists often seek out unusual angles and poses. And Hughes is, without a doubt, a talented artist. Hence, my speculation. The interior of this book is as visually delightful as the cover. Written by Geoff Jones and drawn by Amanda Conner, who is faithfully inked by Jimmy Palmiotti, the story displays Conner's customary comedic sensibilities and, probably, Jones' too. Conner's humor is revealed in the facial expressions she gives to Karen Starr and in Karen's hand gestures. The puzzle here is that Power Girl isn't Superman's cousin, as she was once introduced, but, it turns out, she doesn't want to know who (or what) she really is. She undergoes some tests, though, and which she doffs the testing costume and dons her own costume, Conner gives us some charming poses, including the one where Karen has to stuff her considerable bosom into that tight one-piece Power Girl tunic. The best joke, however, combines word and picture. Explaining why she never wears a mask as Power Girl, Karen says, "It's because most of the time, they aren't lookin' at my face." And at that self-same instant, Conner focuses out attention on Power Girl's brimming decolletage.
Gun Candy, No. 1 is a flip book, the other half of which is The Ride, No. 1. I recently finished reading a graphic novel with the latter title-a collection of short pieces that perhaps appeared, unbeknownst to me, in single issue comics before being compiled. All in black and white, another manifestation of the grim and gritty school so deftly exploited by 100 Bullets, The Ride is equally adept in both story and exemplary art, both from an array of writers and artists; about which, more in a trice. The concept, by Keven Gardner, is the automobile that the personages in these stories use or encounter, "a particular 1968 Camaro," he explains. The car is passed from person to person, and while it is not responsible for the ensuing violence, all the blood and gore is spilled in its immediate vicinity. In Gun Candy, we meet a thoroughly a-moral young beauty in a schoolgirl's mini-skirt and short T-shirt, lovingly and beautifully rendered by Brian Stelfreeze in crisp-lined black-and-white-and-gray. The action in Doug Wagner's story is non-stop, violent and spectacularly conceived and executed. The flip story, written by Chuck Dixon, is likewise well-served visually, although Sanford Greene, in the first part, should have used a dot-pattern gray with smaller dots because these biggish ones actually swallow up the line-art and often obscure the visual narrative. The second part, though, drawn by Jason Pearson, is expertly done, as most of Pearson's stuff is. (And it's a delight to see him back in comics: I'm assuming he's been away because, as a fan of his work, I'm sure I'd have picked up anything he'd done since Body Bags.) In the compilation tome, we meet the same writers and artists, plus Cully Hamner, Rob Haynes, Adam Hughes (covers), Georges Jeanty, Dave Johnson, Ron Marz, Rico Renzi, and Dexter Vines. In the first stories, the McGuffin is established: a couple of cops go off on a private errand of do-gooding, using the senior cop's personal auto, the aforementioned Camaro. Hamner's pictures are every bit as crisp as Stelfreeze's, his blacks as dramatic and stunning. In Stelfreeze's story, we meet the teeny bopper assassin Laci, the "gun candy" of the later comic book, and Stelfreeze manages in a single picture of flaming wreckage to reveal unambiguously sexual thrill that her passion for violence is forever fomenting. As a truck capsizes and explodes behind her, Laci is depicted holding her pistol aloft with one hand while she reaches ecstatically into her panties with the other to fondle herself. Explained Stelfreeze: "At some point we decided that there was something seriously wrong with her. Dressing up like a bat and fighting crime is crazy, but dressing up like a Catholic schoolgirl to kill people is a whole new category. ... When I started doing the pages, I made it a point to push [the sexual side of the character] back to the front. The exploding bus was our maximum level of gratuitous violence so I also thought that this should be the point of maximum gratuitous sexuality." Stelfreeze says he wasn't sure Gardner would publish the page so while transmitting the art via e-mail he phoned him in order to get his initial reaction. "Silence," Stelfreeze reports, "followed by an occasional 'oh man' then he slowly started laughing. That's when I realized we had a winner. That page always created a visceral reaction. ... I enjoy watching someone flip through the story for the first time. It's great to see that bloom of realization. As an artist, it makes me feel like I've done my job." The story rendered by Pearson employs a somewhat grittier manner than his usual clean-cut linear treatment. Said he: "My style needed to change to fit the brutality of this chapter. ... You can't have a dirty fight with a clean style." And so he didn't. Great decision.
Just as DC is getting going on its latest Infinite Crisis series, here comes Marvel with a 12-part Spider-Man cross-over arc that we can properly fathom only if we can follow the sequence through twelve successive issues distributed among different titles, written by three writers over four months. Dunno about you, but my enjoyment of such epics diminishes the more complicated it gets to follow the narrative, and jumping back and forth and sideways is pretty complicated. Okay, it involves successive issues of only three titles (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Marvel Knights Spider-Man, and Amazing Spider-Man), but it still seems a little more convoluted a proposition than it should be for storytelling. Oh-I forgot: we're not talking storytelling here; we're talking marketing. No wonder I'm confused.
OUT AT THE STRIPPERY
Comic Strip Reprints
Baby Blues, the comic strip that finds parenting hilarious instead of harrowing, is approaching that hyperspace threshold of 1,000 newspapers. Fewer than twenty of the approximately 200-250 syndicated comic strips and cartoons appear in more than 1,000 papers, a number that, once Baby Blues attains it, will certify the strip's stratospherical status. Its popularity has not been in question since it started in 1990; since most of the world's population originates in families, the universality of the strip's appeal was guaranteed from the start.
And the latest-the 22nd-collection of the strip, Driving Under the Influence of Children (244 8.5x11-inch pages; paperback, $16.95), amply demonstrates the enduring appeal. It's another "Treasury" tome that recycles the content of two previous volumes of reprints, Two Plus One Is Enough and Playdate: Category Five, this time with the Sunday strips in color. Once again, the wonders of adulthood pitted against infancy. Here's Zoe, the eldest of the three MacPherson offspring, explaining to her younger brother Hammish why showers are better than baths: "If you're careful," she says, "and stand really close to the wall, you hardly get wet at all." Father Daryl, overhearing this fragment of juvenile wisdom, yells for help, calling on his wife, "Wanda!!!" And here's Zoe, working on her coloring book; annoyed by her brother's presence, she tells him to "scram." He leaves. She watches him leave. She looks after his departing form. In the last panel, she approaches him: "Oh," she says, "so now you're just going to ignore me!" The pictures often contribute information vital to understanding the joke. Sometimes the pictures just time the action. When Zoe, asking her father for an allowance, explains that an allowance is "money somebody gives you that you can spend on whatever makes you happy," Daryl goes to his wife and says, "I need an allowance." That's mildly amusing: the cause-and-effect relationship is, in itself, funny. But in staging the strip, writer Jerry Scott and his drawing partner Rick Kirkman put one panel between Zoe's explanation and Daryl's request of Wanda. It's a silent panel: Daryl is depicted staring at Zoe as he ponders what she's said. We can almost see the wheels turning in his head-"money you can spend on whatever makes you happy." This long pause which gives us time to imagine what Daryl is thinking enhances the logic of the sequence and transform amusement to comedy.
Scott and Kirkman invented Baby Blues shortly after Kirkman's second child, a daughter, was born. "She was a handful," Kirkman remembered. "She was very colicky and didn't sleep through the night until she was three-and-a-half years old." The two cartooners were brainstorming ideas for a new comic strip but were making little progress. "Every time we got together," Kirkman recalled, "the conversation degenerated into me spilling my guts about what was going on at home with the baby." Suddenly, the two men realized that the best idea for a new strip was lying there in that crib, screaming her head off. With that experience as an object lesson, Scott and Kirkman have mined their family life for ideas ever since. Kirkman's two kids are now grown up, but Scott filled the void by becoming a parent himself. Said Kirkman: "He'll do anything for a gag."
This Treasury comes equipped with a page of stickers depicting the strip's characters and two bumper stickers that warn other drivers: "Caution-Driver Under the Influence of a Baby." The Baby Blues strips are more than enough for the price, but the sticker material is a gratifying bonus and will surely contribute to parental sanity somewhere. Still, the mind boggles in contemplating what might happen if this sort of superfluity represents the birth of a trend, adding appendages to reprint volumes.
CIVILIZATION'S LAST OUTPOST
A 28-year-old South Korean man died of exhaustion in an Internet café after playing the battle-simulation computer game "Starcraft" non-stop for 49 hours. The man had been fired from his job last month because he kept missing work to play computer games. After he collapsed at the café, the man was taken to a hospital but died soon after arrival, presumably of a heart attack. ... The Portsmouth Herald in New Hampshire reported that an emergency operation to remove a padlock from a man's testicles was successful. The man explained that a friend had put the padlock on him while he was passed out, drunk; then the so-called friend disappeared. The man tried unsuccessfully to remove the padlock with a hacksaw, but after two weeks, he gave up and turned himself in to the local police, seeking aid. They took him to the hospital where a locksmith removed the padlock. All this time, I didn't know locksmiths were on-call at hospitals.
Pepsi Cola is available in a new "patriotic" can with pictures of the Empire State Building on it and the Pledge of Allegiance, the latter without the words "under God." Management said it didn't want to offend anyone, which prompted several of my friends to say: "We don't want to offend anyone at Pepsi either; so if we don't buy any Pepsi products, they will not be offended when they don't receive our money that has the words 'in God we trust' on it." The lesson: you can't take a political position by saying you don't want to offend anyone.
In Clyde Fans: Book 1 (160 6x9-inch pages in hardback; duotone, $19.95), we find word and picture blending unobtrusively, almost unnoticeably, to enhance and complete the portraits of two brothers, Abraham and Simon Matchcard, who, for years, have operated a fan business out of the building at No. 159 King Street. Air-conditioning has supplanted the fan as a way of cooling interiors, and the brothers' Clyde Fans enterprise, although ostensibly producing a superior product, has withered and, finally, died.
Our storyteller, who gives his name as Seth on the title page but who supplies what he claims is his given name, Gregory Gallant (surely as phony a monicker as his monosyllabic pen name) on the dust jacket, divides Book 1 into two parts. In Part One, set in 1997, we meet Abraham, who has living quarters in the back and upstairs at No. 159. We spend the better part of a day with Abraham, watching as he gets out of bed, makes and consumes breakfast, takes a shower, steps outside the shop to watch the snow fall for a short time, visits the storeroom where boxes of Clyde Fans are piled up, and putters around the office of the faded enterprise. Abraham talks constantly as he goes about his routine. He discusses the secrets of good salesmanship, saying he was a good at it despite lacking a certain personality trait normally deemed essential to the role-"I just didn't like people enough," he says; "it's not that I hated people. I often liked them just fine. It's simply that I wanted to get away from them. A client can sense that sort of thing in a salesman. And let me tell you, it's not an attractive trait." He knows he could never have been a great salesman because of this failing; but he believes he was fairly good: "I had to be smarter, more inventive. I had to work much harder to make it. And I could sell! ... I was good at deluding myself," he goes on, "slipping into the roles of salesman, wheeler-dealer, pillar of society. I could play the game."
Abraham also talks a great deal about his brother, who, as Abraham puts it, "just wasn't ... able." Simon became a collector of postcards about freaks. Simon "wouldn't or couldn't" play the game: "He saw things clearer than I did, I'm sure," Abraham says.
In Part Two, we meet Simon. But it's now 1957, forty years earlier, and Simon is on a sales trip. We see Abraham giving Simon instructions, and it's clear that Abraham has no faith in Simon's sales ability. And he's right: Simon's activity in this portion of the book proves that Abraham's opinion of him in the previous portion is accurate. What Simon does in 1957 justifies Abraham's opinion in 1997. Simon is much too meek a personality and takes "no" for an answer to readily. We watch as he fails time and again to sell fans to a succession of potential clients. We watch as he wanders the streets of a strange city, looking for addresses; we watch as he sits alone in his hotel room at night. At the end, remembering the withering stare of his brother, Simon wanders off into the countryside, "a sort of enchanted place" a caption tells us. He sits down at the foot of a tree and, at last, smiles.
Seth's storytelling mannerisms in this book add substantially to the meaning of his tales. Almost every panel in Part One has a speech balloon; Abraham seldom shuts up. In Part Two, Simon almost never speaks, and many pages flip by without any verbiage at all. In the contrast, we see the personalities of the brothers: one verbose, even garrulous (a feigned conviviality if we believe his self-assessment), certainly aggressive; the other, silent to the point of grimness, a hesitant, insecure and ineffective personality, lost in the world of convivial salesmen and clients.
Seth's graphic style, on ample display in previous works, is now familiar to us. He draws with a simple, flexible line that waxes and wanes to model shapes and forms; no feathering, shading or crosshatching. Wrinkles in clothing are sparely indicated. The drawings are embellished, however, with hues of gray and light blue, a treatment that gives the simple artwork texture and depth. Part One is nearly a textbook demonstration of how to create visual interest in highly verbal sequences. Seth varies the pictorial content, panel to panel, as Abraham drones on in an endless discussion of personal trivia that seem almost irrelevant to anyone else. Almost nothing is happening except the ordinary activity of daily life. So Seth changes perspective and scene and camera distance constantly. The drawings hold our interest. We watch Abraham fill a coffee cup of steaming coffee; then he wanders off for awhile, returning, finally, 20 pages later, to the coffee cup, now no longer steaming-now, cool enough to sip. Abraham starts running his bath water on page 54; returns to turn it off on page 61. Seth's rendering of visual details is meticulous, simply done but attentively accomplished. And he is fully conscious of the light sources in every picture, casting shadows realistically throughout. Over-all, the effect is encyclopedic: we have the impression that we are seeing-have seen-everything in Abraham's life. (Indeed, we have: he never ventures out of the shop anymore, and by the end of Part One, we've seen all of it, all of his world.) The pictures, coupled to Abraham's confessional discourse, give us the whole man.
Similarly, Seth's visual treatment in Part Two completes the picture of the ineffectual Simon. We see him, panel after panel, trudging the streets in a strange city. We see a few other people from time to time, but not many. Mostly, we see Simon, usually against the sterile facades of buildings lining the streets. There is no sound; no one speaks to him. The silence of these sequences and Simon's visual solitude emphasize his sense of isolation, of not belonging. He seems lost in this city-overwhelmed by the buildings that seem, so complete is their indifference, nearly hostile.
In contrast, we have seen Abraham at home, moving easily through familiar surroundings, the complete master of all he surveys-even though he never ventures out of his domicile-as he prattles on and on, relentlessly. In the Simon narrative, silent sequences portray this brother's isolation and his inability to communicate. But neither brother, to judge from what we see here, is able to "close," to complete a sale-to make a connection with anyone else. Simon is immobilized by his timidity; Abraham is thwarted by his lack of human feeling, of compassion, which makes him seem an outsider. Not much happens in either Part One or Part Two of Book 1, but Seth's deft deployment of both the visual and verbal resources of his medium gives us provocative portraits of the personalities of his two protagonists-high art, more Emily Dickinson than Francis Drake, comic-book born expectations for physical action to the contrary notwithstanding.
Book Two, which Seth is presumably putting the finishing touches on, will, doubtless, complete the portrait of this sad, even disastrous, relationship. Did Simon's 1957 sales trip culminate in a stormy confrontation with his unfeeling brother? Did either brother marry? Simon, Abraham tells us, had a daughter. How did that come about? How do the brothers with their differing personalities manage a working life in nearly daily contact with each other? Mysteries abound.
Seth is no stranger to mystery. In one of his previous graphic novels, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, his protagonist goes on a long quest to find a New Yorker cartoonist, who seems to have dropped out of sight after a brief fling at fame. The book includes samples of the cartoonist's works, ostensibly reprinting some of his magazine cartoons. But Seth's elaborately detailed story, it developed in the months after the book's publication, was a hoax: there was no such cartoonist. But Seth had mounted a marvelously persuasive case, convincing us that such a person existed. In Clyde Fans: Book 2, we may, perhaps, discover who Clyde was. And maybe we'll learn whether Gregory Gallant is as fictional a name as Seth.
UNDER THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
When we consider that our current President is a liar and a law-breaker, we are stupified at his seeming popularity. Well, we were stupified until we finally chanced upon the explanation f or it all. GeeDubya's seemingly unaccountable success can be explained quite simply. Consider the pop culture fictions that have been the most popular in recent times-J.R. Ewing, Darth Vadar, Al Swearington, Tony Soprano. We love the bad guys. And every time GeeDubya comes out with another Big Lie that he knows no one can possibly believe (like allowing industrial pollution to increase under the aegis of something called "Clean Air Act"), he just enhances his appeal as a slimy bad guy.
Oh-the law-breaker part? Some years ago, Congress passed a law dictating that Presidential papers be released to the public after a designated time period had lapsed. One of GeeDubya's first acts as Prez was to issue an Executive Order contravening the law: Presidential papers are no longer released to the public. You want another one? In 2001, Congress appropriated money for the Afghanistan War; GeeDubya used a huge hunk of it ($70 million comes to mind) to build military bases as staging areas in Kuwait for the invasion of Iraq. That's misappropriation of public funds. And he did it long before announcing that Sadam had WMD and that therefore we should invade Iraq. In other words, the Bush League was executing plans to invade Iraq well before raising public consciousness of the need for the invasion. Duplicity, thy name is George W. ("Whopper") Bush.
And while we're on the subject of deception, what is the actual number of American soldiers who've died as a result of the Iraq invasion? Ted Rall did a cartoon about it on August 4 in which he alleged the number is closer to 9,000 than to 2,000, the latter being the usual number bandied about by the Pentagon. The other 7,000 or so died en route to military hospitals in Germany or in those hospitals. Rall's source was www.tbrnews.org, where Brian Harring says he's reviewed copies of manifests from the MATS that show far more bodies shipped into Dover AFP than are officially reported. The number of seriously wounded is approaching 24,000, Harring's editor notes, which, when added to the dead and 5,500 military personnel who have deserted, means that of the 158,000 U.S. soldiers who've served in Iraq, almost 39,000, or nearly a quarter of the total, must be considered as "sacrifices" that George W. ("Warlord") Bush has determined will not be "in vain." And that cost doesn't begin to contemplate the civilian Iraqi dead, currently estimated at about 25,000; Harring says the total civilian casualties (wounded as well as dead) approached 100,000 as of January 1, 2005, according to Red Cross, Red Crescent and UN estimates.
Just before we went into the digital ether with this installment of Rancid Raves, we received word that Rall had retracted the cartoon, saying, "The battery in my BS detector must have been running low last week." He explained: "I read a story that came off as possible, sourced it using previously reliable informants, and ended up doing a cartoon that I wouldn't have done had I known then what I know now. So this is a retraction of the cartoon. Did 9,000-plus soldiers get killed in Iraq? Maybe, maybe not. But as a cartoonist friend of mine points out: The relatives of those hidden 7,000 dead troops sure would be raising hell if the Pentagon were trying to hide them."
We don't know what Rall knows now that he didn't know before, but this much we do know: it was easy for us to believe Rall and Harring because the Bush League has so systematically dissembled on matters that would embarrass them or undermine the efficacy of their policies. They've lied so often that it was easy to believe they'd lied about the war dead, too, because a larger number makes them look bad. This administration, remember, is the one guided by Karl Rove, who once told a reporter that "reality" would be determined by the White House, and that if the White House changed its mind about what reality was, then next week, the reality would be different. This is the presidency of a man who said a year ago that he'd fire whoever leaked Valerie Plame's CIA status to the press, then said he'd fire whoever leaked that information only if the leaker had broken a law. The White House's reality changes by the week, the day, the hour. No one there would hesitate for an instant about manipulating the reality of the war dead.
Maybe there aren't 7,000 unreported dead being returned from the deserts of Iraq. (And maybe there are only 2,000 unreported.) But the logic of Rall's cartoon is persuasive, and it's persuasive, alas, because it's of-a-piece with the usual pattern of Bush League behavior. And that sad fact is almost as terrible a truth as the alleged number of hidden dead.
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