Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Damn Convenient Sound Effects
(And wow look at those boob socks!)
Thank you, Ma'am!
And as an extra special bonus, I present to you the most Emo panel in the history of overblown X-Men soap operatics - practically a Lichtenstein painting in miniature:
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I'd like to thank Tom for taking notice of my general musings on the state of Marvel / DC relationships in the direct market. He is correct to point out that my assertion that "The direct market is a zero-sum game..." is, precisely speaking, not precisely correct. It would probably be more accurate to say that Marvel and DC regard the direct market as a zero-sum game, their zero-sum game. Their corporate strategies in terms of periodical sales (still the main thrust of their business model) are ruthlessly built around the notion that the proverbial pie doesn't get any bigger -- even if it does, but more on that in a bit.
This is not a fanciful assertion: for anyone who may be unfamiliar with the way the "Big Two" play out their version of "the Great Game", look at the last five years in terms of their event planning, like television networks who have to place shows in direct competition for the same pool of viewers. (The time allotted for watching television has always been a "zero-sum game" -- however, the advent of VCRs and especially Tivo has changed that. I can see a generation of kids coming up who have no idea what it's like to have to make Sophie's choice between watching, say, The Cosby Show and The Simpsons; or who can't conceive of not being able to catch an episode they missed by instantly going online and ordering a season pass from iTunes.) For many years the idea of massive, line-wide crossovers lay a bit fallow. After Bob Harris got axed from Marvel, Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas made their dislike for crossovers well-known. So they didn't do any for a long time. DC still had crossovers, but they were sleepy affairs: Our Worlds At War, The Joker's Last Laugh, etc. No massive world-changing epics to be seen.
But then DC gave us Identity Crisis. I think this is the precise beginning of the current sales cycle: Identity Crisis promised to be centrally important to the DC Universe in a way that crossovers really hadn't been for years. Sure enough, it was, in more ways than one. Sure, dozens of specific plot elements spun out of the series, but more than anything else the tone of the series went a significant ways towards setting a new tone for the entire line. Marvel didn't sleep on this: Avengers: Disassembled (a sort-of baby steps dry-run of a crossover) came soon after, which led more or less directly into the massive House of M, which in turn laid the seeds for the even more enormous Civil War, as well as World War Hulk, and a few smaller but no less successful initiatives like The Other. This brings us to where we are now, a retail environment that has become so accustomed to using crossover events to boost sales that almost nothing else is even capable of boosting sales anymore.
Spurgeon very astutely summarizes:
. . . [You] can argue that DC and Marvel seem more interested in seizing market share than overall growth and react with the former in mind more than the latter (DC shifting Countdown so that it drives attention to the next maxi-series as opposed to the regular-title emphasis of 52; the emphasis given stunt creative teams at both companies even when the result stands against time-honored sales virtues like publishing regularity), and that despite gains that companies may be leaving sales on the table now or down the road and perhaps making more severe any eventual down cycle.
If I had to guess (and this is purely a guess, based merely on what little I know of how these companies do business), I would say that Marvel was probably quite surprised with how well their adaptation / continuation of Stephen King's Dark Tower series has done. Keep in mind that we're not talking about a hardcover or trade-paperback that shifted some respectable amount of copies through Barnes & Noble, we're talking about an actual non-superhero licensed fantasy book that did well over 100,000K in the direct market for seven months running. If anything disproves the zero-sum game hypothesis, it's this. I don't doubt that there's a considerable overlap between superhero fans and Stephen King fans -- especially considering that Dark Tower aficionados are often a breed apart from fans of King's more "mundane" horror and suspense works, many of whom probably find the high fantasy mode of the Gunslinger books slightly unpalatable. (I think King himself is aware of this division, or at least I remember reading something from his where talked about the differences between King fans and Dark Tower fans.) But the fact remains: there aren't, there can't be 100,000K superhero fans in the direct market who have read all seven Gunslinger books and found it easy to slip the Marvel book into their weekly pile. That would be a demographic miracle. These new readers had to come from somewhere.
It's also necessary to look at another hot literary property which succeeded in flying underneath just about everyone's radar: Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, currently being adapted & compiled by Marvel under a licensing agreement begun by the Dabel Bros. during their brief association with the company. No-one paid attention to the Guilty Pleasures adaptation while it was being published: it languished in the middle tier of the sales charts, issue #6 selling 30,759 copies in April of this year. It got a lot of snickers from people who thought it was pretty damn silly (for the record, it is a remarkably silly series). As opposed to King, there probably aren't very many people in the direct market who read Hamilton. Hamilton's books are a publishing phenomenon, but practically invisible to much of the world, because their audience is overwhelmingly female. They're basically supernatural suspense stories with strong erotic overtones, sort-of Anne Rice with more bits of overt bodice-ripping, for those who find Harlequin romances a bit tame. (And for chicks who are sexually attracted to werewolves, but the less said on this subject the better, trust me.) So they're fantasy books for chicks, in a nutshell. The direct market doesn't have strong channels to support straight fantasy, and they don't certainly have anything resembling a strong outreach appeal to potential female readers -- so on the face of it, the Marvel license may have seemed an odd fit.
But then a funny thing happened. When they compiled the first Anita Blake series into a swanky hardcover, it sprouted legs and ran for the hills:
Anita Blake is one of the genre titles that Marvel has taken over from the Dabel Bros. In fact, it is the most successful of the group, as evidenced by the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures hardcover having stayed in the top 25 on BookScan chart of graphic novels sold in bookstores since it debuted in July, making it the one of the fastest-selling non-manga titles released so far in 2007.
Maybe not Naruto nubmers, but the consistent sales speak to the fact that this wasn't a one-time spike. Hamilton has a huge fanbase, and if you put Anita Blake material in front of them, they will buy it. If Marvel keeps a steady hand, they could have a strong, evergreen backlist presence on their hands.
So, is the direct market a zero-sum game? No. I think I knew it when I wrote it, but the kind of growth we see is hard to quantify, let alone easily summarize, so it's easy to try to elide it. The bread & butter superhero comics with which the "Big Two" make their bones are still frighteningly inaccessible to the casual reader. I'm not talking about something like Identity Crisis or Civil War, which have been repackaged for mainstream audiences. (This despite the fact that they often seem to be particularly inaccessible artifacts of high superhero decadence to those who regularly read superhero comics, making them unlikely objects of mainstream appeal.)(I also wish I had numbers on how well books like Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and Civil War were selling in collected form through Bookscan, but I don't have the time to go digging through ICV2 records, unfortunately.) No, my main point is that the actual floppy format comic book pamphlets are still an incredibly dicey prospect for mainstream readers. The format long ago lost any real cache in terms of mainstream cost-benefit analysis: the artifact is too small, too flimsy, and too expensive to be of value to an audience who has not already been conditioned to see inherent value in the format.
As long as weekly pamphlet sales remain the engine which powers the direct market, it will continue to be a zero-sum system, or at least, a system with a statistically negligible intake of new readers. (This is, of course, impossible to verify, and you can feel free to call me on that if you wish.) The direct market's growth, such as it is, seems to be occurring outside the realm of the traditional superhero aficionado market. This is, again, unverifiable on strict terms, but there's a general consensus that, at least in terms of manga, the larger part of the new comics readers are not superhero fans. Again, let's look at ICV2's numbers on market growth:
Tough comparables continue to keep the market for comics and graphic novels in the direct market growing at a more sedate 5% pace, after blistering the charts with double digit growth earlier this year. Strong sales of the Civil War line in the comparable months a year ago hurt comic category growth rates in both July and August, with a 7% growth rate in August after a 6% growth rate in July.
The fact that the market is eking out gains against such a major editorial event in the year ago period is actually an indicator of a strong underlying market this year. The big drop-off in Countdown sales vs. 52's isn't helping either, making the continued growth, albeit at a slower pace, even more impressive.
I don't want to be accused of being a gloomy Cassandra in the face of good news: there's real growth in these numbers, and perhaps even sustainable growth. But I think the fact that Civil War caused such furious market growth, impressive market growth which has not been sustained since the series ended, is probably the first indicator that there has been less actual market growth than temporary increases predicated by a "gotta catch 'em all" collectors' mentality in the face of crossovers. As Spurgeon said: "despite gains . . . companies may be leaving sales on the table now or down the road and perhaps making more severe any eventual down cycle." What sales are being left on the table? Could it be the lack of any real mainstream publishing initiative to persuade fans of The Dark Tower and Anita Blake, not to mention Joss Whedon or Allan Heinberg, that there is more in the Marvel line to interest them? Again, this is unverifiable: there's no way of know if there aren't thousands of new readers who saw a house ad for, say, New Excalibur in the back of Dark Tower #5 and said, "I must own this wonderful piece of graphic literature!" OK, that's a loaded example, but you get my point.
One question remains: the mainstream comics industry isn't particularly imaginative, so their answer to the success of Stephen King and Laurell K. Hamilton comics will probably be more comics adapted from the works of popular genre writers. What's next? The obvious answers would be Tolkein's Middle-Earth and JK Rowling's Harry Potter. But despite a few middling comics adaptations over the years, the Middle-Earth books have become such a hot property in the wake of the films I don't see any comics company gaining the cultural clout to successfully license them. (I could be wrong, but it seems that giving the Tolkein estate their bones would probably be more trouble than even the considerable rewards might be worth.) As for Harry Potter, that's probably the holy grail for any comics publisher, but unless I misremember Rowling has voiced her displeasure on the subject of comic books more than once. So it will most likely remain a dream, unless Warner Brothers is somehow able to intercede on DC's behalf (Warner produces the Potter films.) So it's more likely we'll see a rush of relatively smaller-bore properties, stuff like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, Anne Rice's vampire books, Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas series. If the Marvel of 20 years ago was concerned with licensing the next hot toy property, the Marvel of 2007 might well gain from scouting the literary world. If they're smart, there's a possible answer to market attrition to be found there.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Marvel Zombies 2 #1
Are we not supposed to like this? Sure, the gimmick itself may be overplayed, but the book itself is still pretty fun, miracle of miracles. I like how they don't make any pretense of this being anything other than a totally trashy piece of repulsive superhero decadence. The cover gimmick has run its course -- it'll fall out of fashion soon enough. But there are still a few twists and turns left in the story itself, and I quite like the way Robert Kirkman is smart enough to play it basically straight. I really liked his Ant-Man series -- enough so to actually physically purchase, which should tell you something -- and there's something of a similar mood here. Besides, anything that introduces the phrase "zombie Galacti" into the nerd lexicon can't be bad.
And if anyone from Marvel reads this, I've got a great idea for Marvel Apes.
Brian Michael Bendis can write some things very well, but one thing he has proven himself fundamentally incapable of doing is writing the Avengers. I don't mean the "New" Avengers, which has its own tone set slightly apart from the traditional Avengers mythos. I mean, real old-school Avengers stories, of the type which Mighty Avengers supposedly purports to be. His Avengers stories seem to focus on getting a bunch of really powerful heroes together in one place to talk, and then having them react to something, usually in out-of-character ways that boggle the suspension of disbelief for those of us who have been reading these characters for decades. That's a really rudimentary description, but bear with me: the one thing that has always defined the Avengers has been the density of the storytelling. For every memorable era of the title you can recall, there was always a bunch of stuff happening at any given moment.
In many ways, there are few franchises less suited to modern decompressed storytelling than the Avengers. The way the stories are told is crucial to the stories themselves, in a way that can't be said for the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man or even the X-Men. It's not easy, and that's why it's so rarely done well: throw a dozen balls into the air, keep them in the air, and keep adding new balls into the mix, with A-plots and B-plots and C-plots and D-plots colliding and caroming across each other over the course of dozens of issues. It has never been high art, and it's never even been close to being Marvel's top franchise, but when done well it is immensely satisfying for us old-school junkies. You can tell a lot of about someone's commitment to the superhero genre if their favorite book is Avengers.
Bendis seems to be figuring some of this out. On the one hand, the heroes are facing a threat which appeared out of nowhere, to which they spent a lot of time standing around and reacting, before acting ineffectually. Bog-simple. But then in the last couple issues you see a little bit of the old-school Avengers flavor creeping in -- regardless of how weak the set-up, when things start moving, Bendis falls into well-worn creases, tweaking a formula that was already perfect when he was in shortpants. Make the story as complex as possible in such a way as to constantly raise the stakes; give characters who otherwise would have little in common reason to interact and come into conflict; keep a level of innocuous soap-opera percolating below the surface. The beginning of the story was weak, but as all of these Avengers-esque elements begin to recur, there is a good risk of the story actually becoming, gulp, an Avengers story, and not just a random Bendis book that happens to have the Avengers logo on the cover.
As for Frank Cho -- well, eh, the man flunked out of strip cartooning to draw naked silver robot babes who look like Louise Brooks, and be late while doing it. Not exactly what I would call moving up in the world, but I'm not his guidance councilor.
My God is this still being published? I don't care how well it is or isn't selling, this is simply horrid. It is remarkable to me how no one at DC sees how boring and unpleasant this whole endeavor is. Characters no one cares about, doing things which make no sense for ill-defined reasons, caroming across each other in such a way as to make them even less interesting when they interact. Seriously -- this is poor work from all concerned. But the nature of the failure is such that I don't think the blame can be laid at anyone's feet. However many dozens of people were involved directly in the editorial conception of this book, it is clear that no single voice has been allowed to carry the day. Someone has a checklist of story elements which have to be crossed off before they can get to Final Crisis or whatever the fuck. (I'd prefer Sonic Disrupters.) The result is four-color gruel. It's even unpleasant to look at the pages: yeah, this is what a weekly comic book looks like, folks, poor art and garish colors combining to create the visual equivalent of toddler vomit. Take a good look.
It's easy to criticize DC of late, but the fact is that the books keep getting worse and the possibility of recovering market momentum becomes a dimmer and dimmer prospect with every passing week of this shit. As silly as it seems, the Marvel Zombies franchise is the sign of a healthy company: willing to take risks (within established perimeters), responsive to the demands of their customer base (retailers and readers), and above all maintaining a brand recognition of "edgy" and "hip" despite the company's overwhelming plurality. DC would probably kill to have an organic hit like Marvel Zombies, even if they don't have the guts to pull the trigger on necrophile torture-snuff porn. The Powers That Be at DC probably think less of Marvel for publishing it. But the first Marvel Zombies is on it's fifth printing (and counting!) as a $20 hardcover.
Has anyone noticed that Marvel seems to be going through a rather ruthless process of culling their mid-list? Underperforming peripheral Spider-Man and X-Men titles are being dropped left and right. The X-Men are heading into a big crossover cycle which will, Marvel is hoping, reinvigorate the franchise in much the same was that Avengers: Disassembled and New Avengers invigorated the moribund Avengers books. Potentially more interesting, Marvel is making Amazing Spider-Man their test-case for a new almost-weekly format (thrice monthly), with thanks to DC for that unpaid market research, I'm sure.
What does this market consolidation mean? It means, partly, that Marvel smells blood in the water. The direct market is a zero-sum game, and DC is suffering badly in both actual sales and customer perception. The more dynamic Marvel appears to be, and the more they can turn this perception of dynamism into sales, the smaller DC's piece of the pie becomes.
So what of New Excalibur? Flipping through this comic was a sensation not unlike that of Countdown, albeit I actually knew who most of these characters were. This is one of those odd books that continues to exists seemingly to appease the whims of Chris Claremont. These characters have no compelling reason to be together doing these things, other than Claremont's perpetual desire to keep Alan Moore's Captain Britain mythos as an integral part of the X-universe despite how incongruous the fit. It's telling that Frank Tieri's extended guest-run, during which he took over the book while Claremont was convalescing from a stroke, seemed to be as well received or better than Claremont's work on the book he created. This book is supposedly being cleared away to make room for one just like it at some point, but newer and shinier. Or something.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I was going to do a real post tonight after kind of crapping out for the previous week, but then I came across something that rather changed the plans. You see, this has to be the just about the greatest piece of internet doggerel humor I've seen in months - the confluence of so many great things, all put together, to make two and a half solid minutes of greatness. If this doesn't win the Academy Award for best short film, well, the world is just not ready for such beauty as this.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I had a very depressing realization recently when I realized that the Wu-Tang Clan have been around for just about 15 years. I remember when the Wu-Tang Clan were the hot new thing on the block, dangerous and weird in a Clive Barker-meets-Steve Ditko by way of Boogie Down Productions way -- there was quite a bit in their early material that was confrontational and resistant in a way that still hasn't been fully digested by the music world at large. Now, of course, the Wu have become a kind of institution, for better or for worse, with dozens of spinoffs and affiliates and a pile of questionable solo releases all emanating outward from the original recordings. The early stuff is still pretty damn good, and there has been quite a lot to like in the raft of solo material released in the wake of 36 Chambers -- even though, it must be said that not all Wu members were created equally, and many of them simply don't have the skill or charisma to shine on their own in the way Ghostface or the RZA are able to do on a consistent basis. But even given these caveats, there's been a lot of good music released under the group's auspices these last 15 years.
I've always wanted to see them live, however. As long as there's been a Wu-Tang Clan people have been talking about just how singularly unclassifiable Wu-Tang Clan live shows are. I must admit that I have had less-than-sterling experiences with live hip-hop in the past. There are few things in this world quite as bad as bad live hip-hop, horrible in a way that makes even excellent artists seem like idiotic ciphers. There are, of course, of the Roots and Public Enemy. I was also able to see Run DMC back in the late 90s, before the death of Jam Master Jay, and they put on a pretty good show as well. (Certainly they were much better than the rest of the old-school groups they were packaged with on that tour, folks like the Sugarhill Gang and Whodini who came on stage to lip-synch for 20 minutes and collect their paychecks. Kurtis Blow had some pretty good breakdancers, however.)
In any event, there's still something wildly strange about the idea of the Wu-Tang Clan performing live. For one thing, there's at least nine of them, sometimes more, but often less. Part of the fun of any Wu-Tang show must be the anticipation over seeing just who is actually going to show up on any given date of the tour, which is certainly not something you can say about any other headlining act of comparable stature. Assuming the correct members of the group actually show up in the correct place at the right time, which is nowhere near resembling a sure thing given their track record, you've still got about a dozen people -- the group, their DJs, and assorted hangers-on -- milling about on the stage. Only one rapper can perform any given time, for obvious reasons, so you're left with 10 or so people wandering around a large performance area and getting up to who knows what while waiting to spit a verse or two. Add to this the fact that pretty much every member of the Wu-Tang Clan can be considered in some way shape or form to be an outsized, eccentric personality, and you've got a recipe for pure unadulterated chaos.
Thanks to the wonders of Youtube I am finally able to catch a fleeting glimpse of just what live Wu-Tang actually means, and it's pretty bizarre. Everyone in the group, save for the dearly departed Ol' Dirty Bastard, appears to be present for this 2006 show. Triumph is one of the groups best posse cuts, and one of the only tracks in their deep repertoire which could truthfully be sent to spotlight every member to the best of their ability. Certainly, based on the evidence presented in this clip it's easy to see that some of the members of the group are better performers than others. Ghostface shines, as you would expect given his well-earned reputation as the group's standout talent, but Method Man also impresses, showing a bit of the charisma that made the early phase of his solo career seem so promising before he crashed and burned in a foggy haze of deodorant commercials and sitcoms. The standout performance, however, is undoubtedly the RZA's -- never exactly an even-keel type on his best days, here he seems to be two seconds away from losing his mind at any given moment, gripped by a feverish intensity that renders his peculiar mixture of half-baked Five-Percenter ideology and stream-of-consciousness free association simply riveting.
They just don't make a rap like this nowadays. Maybe that makes me seem like something of a crotchety old man, but I can't be the only one who looks at pretty much the entire spectrum of modern hip hop, with a few notable exceptions, and sees nothing more than a vast wasteland of shrunken personalities miming formulaic claptrap in a feverish desire for seemingly nothing more than to sell more units than Carrie Underwood.
Best line of the performance? Right at the end, when the chef Rakewon make sure to remind the screaming fans that they do indeed have merchandise tables positioned at the back of the auditorium.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Regards From Serbia
By Aleksandar Zograf
I've been putting off this review for quite some time now, not out of any lack of desire to discuss the work in question so much as a dogged inability to conceive of anything appropriate to say. This is a very good book, and in places it may even approach a great book, but it seems as if this is one of those instances where the vocabulary of artistic criticism is really quite inefficient in attempting to describe the particular virtues at hand. This is a memoir, most importantly, with long sections of prose in the form of reprinted e-mails offered to supplement the narrative cartooning presented through the remaining two thirds of the book. The whole thing is obviously less in the way of a singularly conceived and narrative than a sequence of cumulative observations culled from disparate sources in order to create a kind of personal reportage on the matters at hand.
The matters at hand in this particular instance are the ongoing national crises in Serbia dating from the beginning of the 1990s through to the early years of this decade, a period of around 12 or 13 years. This is extremely difficult ground for it anyone to navigate, cartoonist or no: I don't consider myself an unintelligent person, and if pressed I would probably concede that I am at least a little bit more well-informed in these matters than your average citizen, and yet even after having read a considerable amount of material on the conflict there is still a marked complexity to the Serbian question that seems to stymie any well-intentioned attempts to interact with the material in a more manageable form. One of the most important aspect of Zograf's work is the way he so clearly inhabits the complexities of his own geopolitical situation: he is fully aware of the breathtakingly Byzantine density of the situation at hand, and this awareness contributes to the almost Kafka-esque absurdity of the unending scenes of war and political depravity. This, I think, makes for a much more affecting and effective narrative. It certainly creates in Zograf a particularly sympathetic protagonist for those of us in Western Europe and America who remain damningly detached from the incidents in question.
Although on first glance it may have seemed a bit jarring, I found myself warming to Zograf's style over the course of the book. There is something refreshingly handmade at work here, the work of an artist very clearly inhabiting his own style and having a good deal of fun making it up as he goes along. This is not to imply that his cartooning is necessarily roughshod or amateurish in places, but that Zograf consistently resists the development of a more polished style, hewing very close to an extremely naturalistic and intuitive sense of the comics form that seems to have more in common with old-school outlaw undergrounds than any strictly contemporaneous scene. Although I'm slightly hesitant to mention the comparison, the most apt literary analog seemed to me on a number of occasions to be none other than Franz Kafka, in terms of the way that Zograf's uniquely Mitteleuropean comic fatalism creates a claustrophobic, handcrafted environment of existential terror transliterated across a highly personal canvas.
Zograf's able application of abstruse visual metaphor makes even potentially problematic passages -- such as for instance the elaboration of extreme currency inflation and other aspects of seemingly dry economic privation -- hum with a surprising facility. The obvious touchstone here, even for those of us with little more than a layman's grasp of the contemporary European comics scene, is David B. Based on the timeline of both artists lives I have no idea whether or not Zograf would have been influenced by B., or whether or not the two artists merely represent disparate examples of parallel evolution, but there is something similar at the nucleus of their styles.
There's a lot to like in this book, and it's the kind of volume that you find yourself flipping through repeatedly even after you've read it from cover to cover, drawn to numerous passages that reward multiple rereadings. Zograf is by no means a perfect cartoonist, but in this story of his country's troubles he has found a narrative uniquely suited to his style. Whether or not this style came to him as a function of his particular narrative, or was merely a perfect coincidence in hindsight, is beyond my ability to say, but we should all be so lucky as to find in national tragedy such powerful inspiration for our own artistic expression.
Monday, October 08, 2007
I remember these commercials ran for many, many years all up and down southern and central California - Cal Worthington owned car lots all over the state and (I believe) Nevada as well, because I remember seeing them on the Reno station. Once this song is heard, it cannot be unheard, it sticks in your head forever. Do they still run these ads?
I think this may just be the weirdest video I've ever seen on Youtube:
This is really sad.
And of course:
Thursday, October 04, 2007
After a period of intense anticipation the machine was finally completed. The outpouring of public happiness which greeted the announcement was universal and unalloyed. The machine went into service almost immediately, after furious festivities.
The people were all herded into the maw of the great machine as it traveled across the country, flocking in droves to be allowed to plunge into the whirling blades and grinding teeth of the great mechanical savior. Old men and young, mothers with small children, foreigners and nationals alike, all embraced for one last moment as they plunged into their destiny.
After the machine had scoured the countryside, mulching over the barren land with the emaciated remnants of a once proud people, it moved on to all the countries of the world, traversing the distant seas to be greeted with rapturous applause in every country to which it made landfall. The world grew sparse and empty, barren of noise and purpose.
After the last men and women had been herded into the machine, the men who operated the mechanisms of gleeful genocide turned the whips upon themselves. For many days they fought, whipping each other until the skin hung from their shoulders like strawberry smeared ribbon. When the last of them died, the dogs emerged to gnaw on their bones, and their round-faced puppies frolicked across the fields of the dead.