Thursday, March 25, 2004

Notable Links for 03/25

Remind me never to take a weekday off again.

Have I ever mentioned just how great Achewood is? I mean, seriously, I know some internet cartoons are just not that great, but Achewood is pretty much the first thing I click on every morning after my e-mail. I've been following it from just about the start (give or take a week) and it has never not been an absolute highlight of my day. If you haven't yet checked it out, you should. Forget my stupid chicken-scratchings: go now. I'll wait for you.

Anyway, before we get started, we've got a correction. Loyal reader Marc Chenault writes in to point out that on Tuesday I misidentified the The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia as being in West Virginia. You know, if I remembered my freshman year Geography work I would have known that, but hey, at least someone caught it so I don't look like a total maroon.

So, thanks to Mr. Chenault - your "No Prize" is in the mail. And hey, guess what, there really is "No Prize"...

* "Noted cartoonist of national and international fame B V Ramamurthy died in New Delhi past Tuesday midnight at 12.30 am, family sources said. The famed cartoonist of the Deccan Herald-Prajavani group had won several awards for his lasting contribution to the field of journalism through his cartoons." Read more here, courtesy of the Deccan Herald.

* "Royal Philips Electronics, Sony and display start-up E Ink announced on Wednesday that Sony would release an e-book in Japan in late April that uses a display based on E Ink's electronic-ink technology. The display aims to offer a paper-like reading experience with color contrast identical to newsprint. It is reflective and can be read in bright sunlight or dimly lit environments while being seen from virtually any angle." Read more here, courtesy of Techtree.

* Australia is on the verge of passing new anti-defamation legislation that could have a disastrous effect on the ability of Australian cartoonists to comment on their country's political happenings. Apparently, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock is proposing new defamation law that would bolster the ability of defamees to sue their defamers. The article states: "Existing state government defamation acts set out criteria for opinion and comment based on it being honestly held and that some facts exist to back it up. But for some unexplained reason the federal draft adds that "prejudiced, biased, and grossly exaggerated opinions" would receive no protection. At first glimpse this may seem harmless enough. Some who believe in expunging all potentially offensive comment from the public discourse may even support the addition. But these words are open to such harsh interpretation under the law as to jeopardise the quality of our national debate." The article further states that: "...even under existing law, comment-based defamation actions are difficult for media companies to counter. The last major successful defence was in the 1980s when architect Harry Seidler lost his case against then National Times cartoonist Patrick Cook." Dark days ahead for Australian cartoonists? Hope not. Read more here, courtesy of The Age.

* "The U.S. Supreme Court Monday let stand a ruling that left the copyright of art in the 'Tarzan' books with the estate of the author, not the artist. The artist, Burne Hogarth entered into an agreement with the estate of the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., in 1970 to create pictorial versions of 'Tarzan and the Apes' and stories from the 'Jungle Tales of Tarzan.'" Read more here, courtesy of the Washington Times.

* The San Francisco Chronicle has once again cancelled Zippy, which makes me very mad. Fantagraphics dude Eric Reynolds drops the news here (link courtesy of Comicon), and also posts a link to this nifty-keen letter by none other than Robert Crumb.

* The Eye has a talk with Seth about his design work for "The Complete Peanuts," and his general ideas about Schulz's life and work, here.

* Steven Grant's "Permanent Damage" is back this week after last week's car-accident imposed absence (glad to hear he's doing well). It is, as per usual, required reading. Especially noteworthy is his assessment of current Marvel policy - I wish every pro-turned-commentator was this sharp and cogent. But, I guess that's why he's not really writing much for the Big Two these days, isn't it? Read it here, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

* Loudoun, Virginia Times-Mirror cartoonist Paul Harrington received "Best in Show" among all cartoonists in the state at the Virginia Press Association awards. Read more here, courtesy of the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

* The Louisville Courier-Journal has an interesting talk with upstart comix-grrrl collective The Guerilla Girls, on the eve of the release of their new comic, "The Guerrilla Girls' Guide to Looking at Art Museums," here.

* "Local Democratic leaders were outraged and a handful of readers canceled subscriptions, but much of the reaction was favorable to an Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle editorial cartoon featuring John Kerry and Osama bin Laden. 'We received about 50 letters, phone calls, and e-mails -- and the positive responses outstripped the negative ones,' cartoonist Rick McKee told E&P. 'We're in a fairly conservative area.' According to a Chronicle story, state and county Democratic leaders called a news conference and demanded that the paper apologize for the March 18 cartoon -- which they said implied that bin Laden supports Kerry. Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn described the cartoon as a 'disgrace.'" Read more here, courtesy of Editor & Publisher.

* Like I wasn't going to link to this excellent Pulse interview with Eddie Campbell?

* The latest installment of Stuart Moore's "A Thousand Flowers" column looks at the hoary old topic of just where writers get their ideas, and actually approaches it in a semi-interesting manner. Kudos to him. Read it here, courtesy of Newsarama.

* The San Francisco Chronicle profiles cartoonist/rapper Keith Knight ("The K Chronichles") here.

* Courtesy of the Image Comics Community, we get a peak behind the curtain here that shows us a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes and inside the thoughts of one of the most powerful men in comics (ie, current Image publisher Erik Larsen). Fascinating, great stuff.

* "When the Internet animation boom was reaching its peak around the turn of the millennium, the Net looked like the promised land for animation artists. Flash and other affordable animation software had become an efficient way to create quality content with relative ease. It seemed animators would be in charge of their creations, not a room full of accountants and market analysts. The World Wide Web was the creator’s stage and smart animation was no longer relegated to festivals and Japan. It was the time when the quality of one’s toon was all that kept one from success. The shackles of animation’s corporate enslavers had been broken forever.

"But then the industry tanked." Read more here, courtesy of Animation World Magazine.

* "Eric Shansby left high school with a distinguished cartoonist résumé: five first place awards in at the 2002 Gold Circle Awards, three first place awards at the 2002 Maryland Scholastic Press Association, and second place at the 2002 Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association Editorial Competition, where he was the only high school student to place. But for Shansby, a 2003 Blair graduate, and current Yale freshman, the list of accomplishments that places him among elite talents in the world of cartoonists, just keeps growing. Shansby is now a cartoonist for The Washington Post, which has a readership of around one million readers. Shansby works for Post writer Gene Weingarten, author of 'Below the Beltway,' one of the most-read columns in the Washington area." Read more here, courtesy of Silver Chips.

* "Cartoonist Dan Piraro, whose satirical "Bizarro" strip runs daily in The [Indiana] News-Sentinel, was recently given the 18th Annual Genesis Award for Outstanding Cartoon. The Genesis Awards honor major news and entertainment media for producing outstanding works that raise public understanding of animal issues. The awards were given out last weekend by the Humane Society of the United States' Hollywood office." Read more here, courtesy of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

* The New Haven Advocate takes a look at the recent trend of playwrights becoming mainstream comic writers here.

* The San Jose Mercury-News speaks with respected cartoonist Bill Keane ("The Family Circus") here. And it's too bad I lost that link to the dirty "Family Circus" paste-ups, or I'd post it here...

* "Jim Davis, Marion, Ind., creator of the Garfield comic strip, was selected winner of the 2003 Pinacle Events/BWAA Cartoonist Award. The award honors individuals for meritorious service, devotion and contribution to the humorous side of bowling." Read more here, courtesy of

* "Michael Pandolfo loves comics. Growing up in the '70s, your average comic book store was dark and cramped, often full of 'nasty and hated kids,' Pandolfo said. 'I didn't feel welcome.' After Pandolfo grew up and had a successful career as a Realtor, through 1988, he and partner Leon Cowan decided to open the first Dr. Comics and Mr. Games at Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue." Read more here, courtesy of the Contra Costa Times.

* Franklin Harris has a new essay up on how superheroes are not to blame for the industries woes here, link courtesy of Pop Culture Online. It's definitely well-reasoned, but there is one flaw I see in his thesis. As he puts it, the longstanding argument from the Superhero haters is that: "...the dominant superhero comics supposedly squeeze out other, more diverse comics." I'm with him so far. But then he says that "...there is no evidence of this. Indeed, the evidence is the opposite. When publishers release more and more superhero comics, other superhero comics tend to get squeezed out, but that's all." This is true, up to a point. But the point where it falls apart is the point where you see that the superhero fans and publishers have so conditioned their retailer base over the last twenty-five years (pretty much since the invention of the direct market) that there is basically no audience for stuff that isn't cape-and-cowl or some permutation thereof. Even borderline superhero stuff like the majority of Crossgen's output gets sidelined. The market doesn't sideline alternative offerings, it merely has no tolerance for them at all, and it really never has.

* Now, this was fun. Kudos to Mr. Zack S. for delivering an excellent column this week (courtesy of Silver Bullet Comics).

* Also courtesy of Silver Bullet Comics, The Panel takes a look at the thorny issues of Media Exploitation vs. Racial Acceptance here.

* Well, the topic du jour on the Blogosphere these days seems to be Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" finale. In all honesty, I am behind on my "New X-Men" for various and sundry reasons, and if all goes according to plan I probably won't be catching up on the story until the hardcover comes out. (Yes, I am "waiting for the trade" - which is not something I usually do, I mean, if a comic comes out that I want to read, I buy it, but I just got behind and then said "screw it, I'm waiting." I think I want those hardcovers on my shelf, they look ginchy keen.) Anyway, everyone and their mother is chiming on the story: Paul O'Brien at the X-Axis thinks the final storyline is "highly disappointing"; Gardner Lynn has a huge look at the entire series here (link courtesy of Insult to Injury);and Insult to Injury looks at even more X-craziness that I won't even attempt to encapsulate (mainly because I really don't want the ending ruined) here.

* The Village Voice has a review of cartoonist Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy's new musical, "The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island," here.

* The Arkansas City Traveller reports that "See Ya In Da Funnies" has been chosen as the theme of the 2004 Arkalalah. And no, I don't know what an Arkalalah is either. Read more here.

* Psychology Today chats with "Bloom County" and "Opus" creator Berke Breathed here.

* Rick Trembles' Snubdom takes a look at the recent "Dawn of the Dead" remake here - I've always liked these strips for some odd reason.

* Hey! New-school Brooklyn buzz band TV On The Radio have an authentic former/retired cartoonist in their line-up. Read more here, courtesy of the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram.

* Call me an old softy but I really got a kick out of this article here (courtesy of the Pulse).

* Do you live in the UK and have a dog who looks a bit like Tintin's famous canine pal Snowy? Well, if so, the British National Maritime Museum wants to see you. Read more here, courtesy of icSouthLondon.

* Bill Sherman reacts to Jim Henley's recent essay on the nature of superheroes here. In doing so, he also takes an interesing look at Kurt Busiek's "Superman: Secret Identity" book, which I must admit I initially had no interest in, but that is changing with every positive review I read. Mainly, though, I just don't see that most superheroes are by any means reflections of a liberal/leftist mindset. I have traditionally thought of superheroes as reactionary in nature, which would definitely make them conservative in deed if not in word. I mean, I can think of two liberal superteam off the top of my head - the X-Men, whose liberal agenda is masked by generic ass-kicking, and the Authority, who skipped down the political wheel from liberal to facist pretty damn quickly. Maybe that's just me, though, I could very well be off in this estimation.

* And finally, a note to Mr. Sean T. Collins: I don't think that the superhero books you mention have been particularly good at critiquing foreign policy. I think it would be hard to fashion an accurate critique, for the very reason that superheroes are by their nature morally righteous and well-situated on the side of Good - they do Good things for Good reasons. With our current foreign policy, its more a case of doing Good things for very, very Bad reasons. The closest analogy I can think of would be the Authority (which is, again, a series I haven't read yet but I know the general gist) - wherein the "heroes" more or less do the wrong thing for the right reasons (but since I haven't read it I can't comment too closely).

America has never been - or at least has never aspired to be - a country where the ends justify the means. One of the worst legacies of the Clinton Administration was their almost wholesale abandonment of a number of left-liberal causes after the 1994 mid-term elections. If America would actually become a power concerned with the humanitarian good of the world, that would be an engagement I could get behind... but after both Haiti and Somalia failed, the Clinton Administration and the government as a whole (including, damningly, the United Nations) became pretty isolationist. The message from the electorate was plain and simple: we will not tolerate these foreign incursions where American interests are not directly at stake.

I wish more than anything that Bill Clinton had had the guts to get up in front of the world and have said: "There is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions developing in the African nation of Rwanda. We are witnessing a situation that stands to rival the Cambodian killing fields in terms of sheer brutality and genocidal madness. American political and economic interests are not directly impacted by the events in this small African republic, but I am here to tell you that the interests of American morality and decency are very much in jeopardy every moment we stand by and allow this crisis to continue. This is why I am authorizing the deployment of American troops...

But, as we all know, that speech was never given. We never went to Rwanda, and we were too late in Eastern Europe, just like we were too late in Iraq.

So, is it a Bad Thing that Saddam Hussein is gone? No. But the reasons we went were the wrong reasons. The way we did it was the wrong way. At every step of the line we did the wrong thing. It's our responsibility now, for better or for worse - we have to stay the course, because even the Hand Puppet's incompetent regime is better than the gaping chaos which yawns beneath the country.

So, yes, the left/liberal viewpoint does somewhat generally graze the same sphere as some Neoconservative thought in that we probably believe that America needs to have a much more vigorous foreign policy. But does anyone actually believe that we went to Iraq to avert a humanitarian crisis? No, twenty years ago would have been the time for that. We went to Iraq for every conceivably wrong reason that you can imagine, and the consequences have just begun to make themselves felt across our country and across our world. Iraq hasn't been a terrorist state since 1992, but it sure as hell is now. The best we can do is staunch the bleeding.

To bring this rant back to the subject of comics (I know, I just swore a few days ago I wouldn't blog political...), I think that Captain America would be able to understand pretty quickly how this issue parses out. We have a responsibility not only towards those who are weaker and unable to protect themselves, but also we have a deep and abiding moral responsibility to ensure that our motives and our means are never anything less than exactly what we purport them to be.

Which is why superhero books are such a canard in this respect: there's no moral vagary in the why's and wherefor's when the Avenger's stop the Kree from destroying Earth with a death ray. Even something like Millar's "Ultimates," which I do accept as satire from a left/liberal point of view, ultimately fails to make any sort of convincing argument against current policy. Where is the ambiguity when it comes to stopping the Hulk from smashing Manhattan or stopping the Chitauri (or, as we like to call them, the dirty Skrulls!) from making Earth into a giant pinata? Again, superheroes are inherently reactionary because, at their core, they exist to prevent change. Now, most of that change would be a bad thing - no-one wants the Hulk to flatten Manhattan (hey, that rhymed) - but when you boil it down, superheroes are really only any good when they are stopping things from happening. They can't actually work for change because A) in most cases they can't change the framework of their fictional universe that drastically from our own and B) whenever a superhero or heroes tries to change the status quo, it never ends up good. Just look at the Order (who only tried to conquer the world because they were being - wait for it - mind controlled!), or Force Works (whose premise was to try and root out evil before it reared its head, if you recall), or the Authority (is there any doubt that they are currently the Bad Guys in the Wildstorm U?). Admittedly, there are more effective ways to change the world than to conquer it, but most of those ways aren't very interesting to read about (who would buy a comic with 22 pulse-pounding pages of the X-Men handing out gifts to kids in the leukemia ward? That'd be pretty damn depressing, if you ask me).

There are exceptions. Joe Casey seems to be expounding on just these themes in his "Wildcats," which is another book I need to go back and reappraise. But on the whole, most superheroes are pretty much the definition of reactionary thought in action.

And, boy, did I write more on that than I intended to...

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