Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Two Month Hiatus for me

In response to my previous entry to this blog, I am adding a similar one, but with a bit of writing about my situation first.  I am dealing with kidney stones, and issues with pain keeping me from sleeping.  While I used to be able to use these stretches without sleep with writing.  But at the moment when I am in so much pain I cannot sleep, I also cannot write.  Arthritis and aging go hand in hand, so, it isn't as if I can expect it to go away.   I have a couple of great doctors, so I am not in any way shape or form complaining about them.  Kidney stones and arthritis are mostly not fatal problems, but the pain associated with those situations is nearly impossible to deal with.  Celebrexx just doesn't reach it. 

So, as a result of my life and schedule disasters, I am taking a 2 month hiatus from entries here.  I will return, and I will likely still have the pain when I do.  But the hiatus will allow me to figure out how to arrange my schedule so I can write.

Books

I've continued to devour books in my attempt to educate my mind, and soul.  Albert Camus is the writer who helped me reach contentment with my purpose of life.  I had been dealing with issues with the amount of work I did/do and the relative little reward.  And Albert Camus illustrates how our world is absurd, and that by our understanding of it might fail, but our finding purpose will come with our recognizing that our labors and doing what is right making our own existence worthy.  I needed that, and dealing with various people it allows me to not judge them, that is, our world is absurd, and seemingly a puzzle, but by our own hand we can make it have purpose.  So not everyone has arrived in that place to understand.


Ovid, Roman master poet, Algernon Blackwood UK resident horror writer, Arthur Machen was a Welshman interested in things from a different realm, and William Hope Hodgson was a UK writer who wrote in the genre of Weird Fiction.  All four of these gentleman wrote in ways that cause me to grow, and I deeply appreciate their talents.


And while I've read him before, Brian Lumley's Necroscope scares the shit out of me.  I can't help that I scream like a little girl and wet my pants in the first sign of danger.


Games

Gamma World and Star Frontiers are both examples of table top RPGs where the player isn't playing in a Tolkienesque world.  I point them out because each game has strengths that can be utilized for telling stories that are outside of the norm.  Players may or may not "get it", science fiction games need a strong background and essence of reality, without which it won't work.  My only real point is that playing in such a world or considering it can lead to great, unrealized stories, either written in the gaming dialogue between players and GM, or to inspire and result with great new works on paper.


Comics

I try not to push my favorite comics as much as I have in the past.  The reason isn't that I am struggling or unwilling, it is that I am aware that my taste is not necessarily anyone else's taste.


Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen is continuously entertaining, well written, and fun.

I plan to reread, during the hiatus some of the great Grant Morrison works in the world of comics. 


Music

A couple people wrote to ask regarding my previous entry what young loud bands am I enjoying.  And while there are many, We Are The Ocean, We Are The Fallen, and Deaf Havana are currently at the top of my listening list.   They each have strengths and weaknesses, so I am enjoying the tour.


Video Games

I said that I don't really play video games, and that is mostly true.  But these are my four favorites.  I could Pod Race all day long though, I loved that game.


Movie

Every summer I watch many different Samurai films.  My favorite is Seven Samurai, and I've studied it in detail and still come away from my viewing having learned or gained from it.  It continues to pay a great a harvest.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Living our creed: Read, Watch, Play and Listen

For the last three months I've been dealing with issues, health and work.  The health is bad, but the work is good.  So I've not been able to think long enough to write other essays, since my attention has been divided.

But for those wondering what I've read in the world of comics:


Micronauts is a good read, far too quick for my buying however.  Comics used to be able to tell a good story in a short amount of pages, for what I could afford.  But now I have to pay 4 bucks a pop to get a chapter.  Predator vs Judge Dredd vs Aliens is very good for a first issue.  Beyond that, we'll see. 


While I haven't played games I've looked into collecting the games I've had, that is, finding replacements or adding to a series I was trying to compile.  Microgames from Metagaming were a blast, short in set up, and long in replay.  Some people recognize Ogre in that set above, it was by the game designer Steve Jackson, who created, thereafter, Steve Jackson Games.  All of these I love, but Ice War was/is my favorite.

And the cover of the boxed set of Tunnels and Trolls is displayed for me to mention that I plan to send my son off to college with an RPG system to play, whenever he decides he is leaving the nest.  He is 17, soon to be an adult, and T&T is great for solo play, so it would be a choice well made if I find a copy to send him away holding a copy.  


My son is also responsible for my listening to a lot of music, and many bands are made for his generation and ear.  But I have actually deepened my library of taste with music that is both harder and louder than I am prone to hear.  We are the Ocean, Deaf Havana, Asking Alexandria and other bands of the younger posthardcore, emo, perhaps screamo...

And I like a number of bands from Europe who play metal, but aim their voices to God.  Some argue against the existence of Rock + God, but I am not worried, I don't let other people decide my taste.  Holy Blood is a band from Ukraine and I have all of their music.  Some of it is too loud, but most of it is really good. 


I've written about my love for the work of Yukio Mishima, and I find his work to give me solace, even in the depths of depressions.  His work carved out a niche of intellectual musing with just the proper amount of sorrow. 


I have continued to buy HP Lovecraft works, and that of related Lovecraft Circle writers.  I've even taken to accepting that while August Derleth missed some of the point of HPLovecraft's work, in fashioning a good versus evil motif, his writing is good.


And I've watched some lovely Kaiju movies, and I am unashamed to say, I loved them all.  Every damn one.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Etrigan for President





The grotesque figure with the smirking, orange-ish face approaches his podium on the debate platform. The other candidates regard him with a mixture of resentment, envy... and fear. Who is this upstart who dares to challenge them for their party's leadership? He didn't even belong to the party, not really. And yet, he is beating them.

What does Donald Trump have to do with comic books? Ah, but I'm not talking about Donald Trump.

I'm talking about the Demon.

Etrigan the Demon was a character created by Jack Kirby during his brief sojourn at DC in the early '70s. During this period, he created the villain Darkseid, and the three books that were the core of his “Fourth World” saga: NEW GODS, FOREVER PEOPLE, and MISTER MIRACLE. In addition, DC requested that he do something with a horror theme. The supernatural was really big at the time; this was the era of “Rosemary's Baby” and “The Exorcist”, and both DC and Marvel published a number of titles reflecting this trend. Jack contribution was the DEMON,.

The Demon, Etrigan, was a hellish servant of the wizard Merlin; a yellow-skinned gargoyle-like creature with horns and glowing red eyes. He was evil, but used by Merlin to fight greater evils, like the sorceress Morgan le Fay. Foreseeing his own demise and the fall of Camelot, Merlin bound Etrigan within a mortal named Jason Blood, who thus became the demon's custodian and his alter ego. For the most part, Blood is happier to keep Etrigan chained; but at need, he can call forth the Demon by uttering the invocation:

“Gone, gone, O form of man,
And rise the demon, ETRIGAN!”

Interestingly enough, in Kirby's early issues, the magic wielded by Merlin and Morgan le Fay had a technological look to it, as if the devices of sorcery could have been borrowed from Reed Richard's laboratory. Did Kirby intend for Merlin and Morgan to be using alien tech? Was he invoking Arthur C. Clarke's dictum that a Sufficiently-Advanced Science is Indistinguishable from Magic? Or was that just the Kirby style, that he drew everything to look futuristic, even the Middle Ages? If that was his intent, later writers didn't follow up on it; (or did so only rarely).

Kirby's DEMON only lasted about a year or so. Kirby got fed up with DC and went back to Marvel. But the character would pop up again, now and then. Alan Moore used him occasionally in his startling re-visioning of SWAMP THING. Moore gave the character a habit of speaking in rhyme, the mark of a special order of demon, to which Etrigan had been promoted. He also made Etrigan a lot nastier, giving him a cruel and sadistic streak. Matt Wagner, creator of GRENDEL and MAGE, did a four-part DEMON series in the mid-'80s, revealing that Etrigan was Merlin's half-brother, and portraying him as devious trickster, scheming against both Blood and Merlin. Other writers played off his rhyming to give him a sense of humor, albeit a dark and cynical one.

All these qualities came together in the '90s DEMON series, written by Alan Grant and drawn, for the first few years, by Val Semeiks. Etrigan was a perfect character for the Dark 'n' Gritty '90s: an anti-hero with a wicked sense of humor, which was about as much relief from the unrelenting grim of the rest of the universe that DC was willing to give us.

Then, in the middle of Alan Grant's run came a four-part story arc written by Dwayne McDuffie titled “Political Asylum”. McDuffie was another of of those rare lights of the Grim 'n' Gritty Era willing to let some joy break the murk. He first came to my notice with his DAMAGE CONTROL series for Marvel, a workplace comedy about a construction firm that cleans up after super-hero slugfests. He later became one of the founding members of Milestone Media and created the characters Icon and Static, the latter of which became a fairly successful Saturday Morning cartoon. Later still, he worked in animation, as a writer and story editor for JUSTICE LEAUGE UNLIMITED and writing a number of DC's direct-to-video animated projects, until his untimely death in 2011.

The story starts of with an adamantine-hardline conservative zillionaire who has set his private political think-tank to find the perfect presidential candidate. In 1992, George Bush Sr. was running for re-election, but there was a considerable faction in the Republican Party who considered him too moderate. He faced a number of challengers in the Republican primaries that year, most notably from political pundit Pat Buchannen.

Dingle's staff puts all the qualities they want from a candidate into a computer to try to find the perfect man for the job. Then they do it again, and a third time just to be sure.

When you speak a demon's name three times, you risk summoning him. The same, apparently, is true of listing the demon's attributes; and it just so happens that all the qualities Dingle wanted in his candidate were qualities that Etrigan has in spades. And so they find a demon summoned in their midst.

Unexpectedly, Etrigan really does turn out to be the perfect candidate. He is forceful; he has charisma; he's not afraid to buck the system; and he promises to Take Back America.

“A caring soul has heard your cries of angry discontent.
When your country's gone to Hell you NEED a demon president!”

His combination of boast, bluster and flag-waving proves popular with the public He comes out with a best-selling book outlining his vision for the nation titled “America Rules: A New Vision for America's Future” (consisting of pictures of himself in patriotic poses accompanied by jingoistic quatrains). When questioned about the feasibility of his policies, (and the quality of his rhymes) by a pundit on a political talk show, he incinerates the reporter with a blast of fiery breath, which only boosts his popularity.



The problem of how the Religious Right will react to a demon candidate is neatly solved. Etrigan's handlers persuade a popular televangelist that it would be a tremendous coup to baptize an actual demon in his mega-church. True, the baptismal pool explodes at Etrigan's approach, and the demon emerges blistered and half-scalded to death from the ordeal; but as long as Etrigan utters the right catch-phrases about Traditional Values, the televangelist is more than happy to overlook the smell of brimstone.

At one point, Superman enters the picture, and Etrigan tries to make a deal for the Man of Steel's endorsement. Superman refuses; he does not endorse political candidates. “If you stay out of the game, it suits me just fine...” Etrigan shrugs. “...For if good men do nothing, victory will be mine!” As they trade blows and barbs, Etrigan taunts Superman by reminding him that Democracy means that if the people choose him, that is their right to do so. As H.L. Menken observed, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Since Superman won't comment publicly, Etrigan drops some broad hints to the media that he does have Superman's support. This forces Superman to deny the rumors, of course, but by then the damage has been done, and Etrigan's popularity has gone up even further.

By this time, Etrigan is crushing the other challengers for the nomination, and even Bush is feeling intimidated. The President considers naming Etrigan as his new running-mate in order to avoid the embarrassment of being beaten by gargoyle who speaks in verse. This fits in with Etrigan's plans just fine. Once he's become Vice-President, he can always ascend to the Oval Office by eating the President.

But what is Jason Blood doing during all this? At first, he and his friends thought that no one would take Etrigan seriously; but as the campaign commences, they become more and more concerned.

Then, at the Republican National Convention, just as Etrigan is about to deliver his big speech accepting the Vice-Presidential nomination, Jason's friends manage to trick Etrigan into changing back into Blood. Jason publicly withdraws from the race, and Etrigan's campaign is over.

At the end, Etrigan has one last conversation with Superman. He is not disappointed by his defeat at all. He's an immortal demon; he can take the long view.

“I offer this tidbit to add to your fears:
The lessons I've learned I'll apply in four years.
The problem I pose you can't possibly fix.
I'm here to serve notice: I'll be back in '96 !”

Well, as it turned out, the DEMON series ended before the next presidential cycle and so Etrigan never had another opportunity to try again. Although in 2000, Lex Luthor ran for president in the DC Universe and won, using tactics which could have come from Etrigan's playbook.

But is Etrigan really gone? Whenever I see Donald Trump on TV, I hear a voice in my head saying:

“Don't listen to those spineless fools;

We can't be stopped, AMERICA RULES !”


Monday, July 18, 2016

Read Yukio Mishima. His words were magic.

“We are not wounded so deeply when betrayed by the things we hope for as when betrayed by things we try our best to despise.  In such betrayal comes the dagger in the back.”


"My "act" has ended by becoming an integral part of my nature, I told myself. It's no longer an act. My knowledge that I am masquerading as a normal person has even corroded whatever of normality I originally possessed, ending by making me tell myself over and over again that it too was nothing but a pretense of normality. To say it another way, I'm becoming the sort of person who can't believe in anything except the counterfeit."


“What transforms this world is — knowledge. Do you see what I mean? Nothing else can change anything in this world. Knowledge alone is capable of transforming the world, while at the same time leaving it exactly as it is. When you look at the world with knowledge, you realize that things are unchangeable and at the same time are constantly being transformed.”


“What I wanted was to die among strangers, untroubled, beneath a cloudless sky. And yet my desire differed from the sentiments of that ancient Greek who wanted to die under the brilliant sun. What I wanted was some natural, spontaneous suicide. I wanted a death like that of a fox, not yet well versed in cunning, that walks carelessly along a mountain path and is shot by a hunter because of its own stupidity…”


“Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.”

Saturday, July 9, 2016

WAS THIS THE BEST "LONG" RUN IN THE HISTORY OF COMIC BOOKS?


Hi, Alex Ness here.  The question I have asked here, was the Alan Moore/SRBissette Swamp Thing run the best run of length ever.  I asked it to numerous people, including comic book writers and artists, and two of the respondents are former Vertigo stars… so I am excited to present the answers.  But before everyone else answers and I wrap up, I want to answer first, because if I answer last it seems, to some people, as if I am having the final and authoritative word.  I am by no means suggesting that, so here it is.

I think there were good and even great runs of comics prior to the Swamp Thing run.  But I don’t think there was one run that was so earth changing.  I would point to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams on Batman, or Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen on Daredevil for runs of superb quality.  There have been long runs by talented people, Dave Sim and Erik Larson for instance, constantly produce/produced quality work and have done so for almost ever.

But, this, to me, wasn’t about length of run, or the fact that it was great, but, that it was to me a comic run that changed how we think about what comic books could do.  I think Swamp Thing did that for me.  I have many comics that I like more than it, but had I not picked it up in the 7-11 on the way home from college, and my buddy and I read it two dozen times, awestruck, I might not have moved on to more great work.  For me, Swamp Thing by Moore, Bissette, Totleben and Veitch changed comics.

I asked the question, and I think this Swamp Thing run qualifies for the title.


Jamie Delano

It was being close to Alan Moore while he was writing these stories that first persuaded me that comics could be a medium through which I might also find an opportunity for uncompromised self-expression.  As I write this, I am looking at a framed original Bissette/Totelben page from the ‘menstrual werewolf’ story, whose published title escapes me- a generous gift from the artists in acknowledgement of some small hospitality offered when they visited Northampton more than twenty-five years ago.  It has been on my study wall since, overseeing my own haphazard efforts to live up to the example it represents.  I wrote an introduction to a volume of the collected editions of these stories in which I, no doubt clumsily, attempt express my thanks for the inspiration they gave me, and the resultant change in the course of my life.

Things change.  Moore and I are no longer close.  But my gratitude, and admiration for this seminal work remain undiminished.

Mike Carey

I think this was a defining run in its time. It was very bold and innovative storytelling, more ambitious than most ongoing titles of the time and - in terms of its style - more self-consciously literary.

"The best ever", though, is always going to be a tendentious claim when applied to anything. There are too many contenders. Is this better than Morrison's run on Doom Patrol or Animal Man. Gaiman's on Sandman? Vaughan's on Saga? You could make a case, especially if you exclude self-contained series with a single writer, but I'm not sure it's an argument that needs to be had. There isn't a single unarguable best in any category. It would be pretty sad if there were. What's the best Shakespeare play? The best sonnet? The best horror movie?


Neil Ottenstein

This Saga of the Swamp Thing run is definitely one of the best long runs of a series. They did some amazingly creative works with highlights in both writing and art.

Other contenders that come right to mind - The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists; The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez; The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Then there is what may be the ultimate long run - Cerebus by Dave Sim and Gerhard.

Peter Urkowitz

I don't like to tie myself down to "best" or other hard rankings, but it's definitely in the pantheon of among the very best.   I love that whole series inordinately!


Kurt Wilcken

Hm. I'll have to think about that. There's a distinction between the best long run in history and the best long run I've read.  And by 'long run' do you mean run of a title, or run of a specific creative team on that title? Well, limiting it to runs that I have read and enjoyed, because I can't really judge some titles that I know only from individual issues...

The first title that comes to mind is the Giffen/DeMatties era JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL; which was a fun comic in an era where things were starting to get overly serious. Which isn't to say that JLI couldn't be serious too; but both the drama and the goofiness was rooted in characterization.

COMICO's version of JONNY QUEST, written by William Messner-Loebs was also very good. Old School adventure with good characterization.

I enjoyed Epic's ALIEN LEGION when it first came out, and Lute has collected most of it in trade paperbacks, but somehow I've never gone back to it. I'm not sure why.

DC's rebooting of CAPTAIN ATOM in the '80s is maybe not a great run, but I have the complete run and it did some interesting things in the early issues. I never cared a whole lot for the art, though.

MAZE AGENCY by Mike W. Barr, again from COMICO, was a good "little comic" in a genre comics haven't done much in our lifetimes: a mystery series with some nice romantic chemistry between the two lead characters. This was where I first discovered the art of Adam Hughes

You only wanted one, didn't you.

Then there's BLUE DEVIL. That was one I started reading near the end of its run and actually went back to buy the back issues. Once again, a fun, mostly light-hearted series that came out just as the skies were about to turn red and the last vestiges of the Silver Age turn to grit.


Alex back here...

Thank you first to Jamie Delano and Mike Carey, for their time and insights into the question, particularly due to their proximity in many different ways to the subject.

Visit Jamie at LEPUS Books.

Visit Mike at MikeandPeter.


Thank you to Kurt, Peter, and Neil as well.  I had a number of people who were invited to join us, but sadly, a large number of people under 40 years old reported not having read Swamp Thing, nor even heard of the stellar run in question.

For my part, I will do better next time to define my question.  With so many long runs on comics, a 3 year run doesn't seem so a limiting factor.  Calling it a long run causes distractions from the main question, which is, was Swamp Thing's Alan Moore run* being more than a mini series, the best run of a regularly appearing comic.  *And, I should say, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben made the run very special as well.