Monday, August 31, 2015

One of the pioneers: Jules Verne

In literary movements credit for beginnings is usually reserved for a select few, and they are often still popular.  Literature that modern people recognize as Science fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction began somewhere in the 1800s, but that isn't altogether the case.  Oral tellings of epic poems, and short prose written in ancient script to tell the story of heroes and event since before Homer, the blind Greek poet, in the many millennia before Christ.  If one looks at the Bible, the Hindu scriptures and the Qu'ran as stories rather than religious works, there are also stories of vast imagination there as well.  (With no suggestion of disregard for the faith of any faithful or believers).

The modern form of poem, prose, and short story devoted to telling the sort of story in the 1800s was very much commercialized and popularized by Jules Verne.  His work was new, and captured the then current ideas about science.  Some might point that he borrowed ideas, or stole them if you wish, the era was well populated with people doing that very thing.   Jules Verne's typical theme was not about strangers in a strange land, though that theme existed, rather, the themes were travel, exploration and discovery, along with awe.

Verne took the reader places they could never visit themselves.  He took them beneath the oceans, around the world, to the moon, and to the very center of the world.  His writing was a match to the growing fascination firewood of imagination that the reading public was becoming.  The books were serialized in newspapers or magazines, and were received with each edition with great enthusiasm.

His works were aped by others, and some works by others were done in an effort to do nearly the same idea, only better.  Others like HG Wells (stay tuned for a focus on him in future days) took the torch and wrote about wild events and ideas different but from the same river source, imagination.

 “The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. It is nothing but love and emotion; it is the Living Infinite. ”

 “It may be taken for granted that, rash as the Americans are, when they are prudent there is good reason for it."

“While there is life there is hope. I beg to assert...that as long as a man's heart beats, as long as a man's flesh quivers, I do not allow that a being gifted with thought and will can allow himself to despair.”

“How many things have been denied one day, only to become realities the next!”

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Nighthawks in US Culture

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper:  The work by American realist artist Edward Hopper was done in early 1942, and was initially categorized as one of many of the works Hopper did that emphasized solitude, if not alienation.  But the sparseness of the painting later gave rise to questions about who might linger in the shadows, and how safe was it to be near the man with his back turned, at 3 a.m.  Hopper himself suggested that the work was as much about a quiet moment as it was alone in a world of shadows and possible danger. His work coming out in the dark years of World War II might not have been a direct response to the war and the domestic response to both Japan and German acts of war and the American response, but it surely captures the unsettled feelings that were flying about at the time.

There are many pieces of homage art that have resulted from the Nighthawks work.  It stands as a moment of time, capturing a perfect image and vision of the era.  It remains in our psyche.

IN COMICS  you can find it (all works copyright their respective owners, click image in greater detail.):

MUSIC: In music there are songs that have referenced the diner and painting,  and there are  album covers that specifically affect a look to homage the diner.

Tom Waits:  "Nighthawks at the Diner" 1975

Nighthawks at the Diner Video


 Red and Kitty Foreman visited the diner on the period comedy show That '70s Show

Nighthawks influenced the look of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner; Scott said "I was constantly waving a reproduction of this painting under the noses of the production team to illustrate the look and mood I was after"

ARCHITECTURE: And while this is just a taste of the many homage works there have been, upon the streets there is even architecture that pays homage to the great painting, and perhaps the artist... The Flat Iron

TWO EDWARD HOPPER paintings posted for the hell of it.


And lastly, at the turn of the century we had a party in that diner. 

"It’s (the lack of communication between the people in his paintings, ed.) probably a reflection of my own, if I may say, loneliness. I don’t know. It could be the whole human condition." 

Edward Hopper

I am often asked why bother reading history, or reading ABOUT art, or about anything.  Why not just like things for what they are, and move on.  And I tell people straight out, anyone can live without knowing history, knowing about things or knowing why things are important.  It might make historians sad, or artists upset that I am not saying their work is supposedly not important.  But I am not saying that.  A human body exists, uses chemicals inside, functions within its system, without ever needing the user to know why.  Eat, poop, pee, sleep.  That system is relatively stable.

But just as a person doesn't want to eat chicken broth for every meal, the human mind has a desire to be fed.  And by feeding the mind, the personal experience and desire to become more is satisfied, and, triggers a desire to build from that.   So, as long it doesn't matter, think Abe Lincoln was famous for logs, go a lifetime thinking the United Kingdom is off the coast of Florida, or that France is a state of California, or have more chicken broth.  You have a choice to feed your mind as well as your body.

Today's subject is the artistic homage, which is a form of art that is done to demonstrate how great one piece of art is, by showing it as a part of the spirit and form of another.  This is a practice that is done, in general, to show appreciation, but could, I suppose, be used to show how the homaged piece is viewed by society/culture.

Unless the viewer/listener/reader is familiar with the source the homage is lost upon them, unless the creative work doing the homage points it out.   And, that is where the need to know more than the basics comes in, because if you simply catch a glimpse, and understand, you add another layer of quality and interest to the work at hand.  Parody, Satire and Homage are all solidly based upon an understanding of the source material.  If you do not understand the thing being referenced, you lose out on enjoyment, and perhaps a greater knowledge of the world.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Issues of Race and Reproduction and our Culture

In the United States there is currently a wave of anger towards the government and the police by people who are on either side of the political divide of liberal and conservative.  Some see the world as held by people who are fascists who control freedoms, some see the world as being consumed by chaos, and evil, with social values collapsing.  And some see that they are still paying a cost for being of a race that was used as slaves, and the consequences thereafter.    Black Americans are not by any means the only people who suffer, but they suffer in certain situations far more than others, for reasons that supposedly have been dealt with, but really, never have been.

When the great debates happen there are people and ideas that are very important but almost never get heard of, or remembered.  It is part of how the psyche of a nation is built, and how the story of a nation is written, edited and then changed by whoever is the writer in power.  At one time there were arguments that people under a certain IQ should be sterilized, and kept from society.  And to whatever extent that exists, it is far more humane than it ever was in the past.  But who is seen as being unfit, who is considered dangerous, and not worthy of childbearing is one that should scare people of moral ideals.  The reason for this is that it is not hard to imagine a crisis where food reserves plummet and population control is an actual, darkly real decision to be made.  Who gets to populate the earth then will be in hands we have not considered yet.  But if you look 100 years back, you can imagine who would have considered the ideal bearers of children, white, blonde, blue-eyed women, impregnated by strong, bright, healthy white males.  Looking at society now, can you see a different set of people who would be held up as perfect for such a reason?

In Nazi Germany people of all kinds of limitations, from mental to physical, and from mild issues to devastating ones, were taken into hospitals and terminated.  They were called life unworthy of life, or Lebensunwertes Leben. And only after thousands of people complained did it end.  In the world today there are people suggesting that "black people have too many children" or that "black people have too low a marriage rate for as many children as they have".  If you take those statements (that I've read verbatim in comments in news articles), along with the tragedies that accompany poverty, if a food crisis, or natural disaster or anything of a crisis happens, can you see those views turning for the better?  I cannot.

 Lebensunwertes Leben included but was not limited to: prisoners, people found sexually degenerate, dissident, people with congenital cognitive and physical disabilities (including feebleminded, epileptic, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, cerebral palsy, neuroatypicals, muscular dystrophy, deaf, blind), homosexual, idle: as in unwilling to work, insane, and the weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity.

My point isn't to be an alarmist as I've been called before.  I am saying this, people in the past tried using Eugenics, Mental asylums, and Sterilization to control population.  These practices were not stopped due to overwhelming disgust, but by people comparing the general need to the harsh consequences and beliefs of the people committing these acts.   If it happens that Americans are truly better than their past hooray.  But Planned Parenthood, which is a woman's health cornerstone, was founded by a woman, Margaret Sanger who believed in Eugenics, and, while she was not a complete racist as some false quotes would suggest, she believed in using reproduction to build society to be stronger, and to weed out the weaker of the crops of humans.  Whatever else Planned Parenthood is about, and this is not the debate point, Margaret Sanger believed that through birth control and selective "breeding" society would overcome the birth defects, the issues of retardation and other things that make people modern non-believers in Eugenics uncomfortable.

So, should we throw it all away?  Just ignore it all and fuck like monkeys in heat?  Hell no.  I am trying to make a point that, it is important to be aware that as the world in which we live is facing more and greater shortages, the poor will pay for those, and reproduction will be an area that those people in power try to control.  It is not a case where we all can control our world, but being aware is where we can at least make better decisions.

The question needing to be asked is, who gets to reproduce, why them, and how does a society deal with the people it has in it who it considers surplus humanity?  I worry that the people who have been struggling with the government and police will be the first to be removed or controlled.  And frankly, that is one scary thought.

There are a number of books that have been written about these crisis. Some in a general fashion, some in a very particular fashion, all of the books are worth reading.  

"It begins in Ireland, but soon spreads throughout the entire world: a virulent new disease expressly designed to target only women. As fully half of the human race dies off at a frightening pace and life on Earth faces extinction, panicked people and governments struggle to cope with the global crisis. Infected areas are quarantined or burned to the ground. The few surviving women are locked away in hidden reserves, while frantic doctors and scientists race to find a cure. Anarchy and violence consume the planet.

The plague is the work of a solitary individual who calls himself the Madman. As government security forces feverishly hunt for the renegade scientist, he wanders incognito through a world that will never be the same. Society, religion, and morality are all irrevocably transformed by the White Plague."   From the publisher's description

Frank Herbert uses the concept of a tailored virus to kill or sterilize a gender to cause a world crisis of enormous consequence.  Stunning work.

"Told with P. D. James’s trademark suspense, insightful characterization, and riveting storytelling, The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future.

The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race."  From the publisher's description

PD James shows how a single fertile woman and a possible birth is a sign of hope, but having the pregnancy come to fruition is not so easy.

"In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies?

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now....

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force." 
From the publisher's description

This is an aware winning book with a future theocracy in power in the US.  With fertility low, and the women who are able to reproduce held up as being worthy, this work is about power, the use of religion to hide power relationships, and dystopia at all levels.

"From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day."  
From the publisher's description

This is a great work, and different than the others, but still tells a story about children and dystopia that is powerful. 

"Bellwether Prize winner Hillary Jordan’s provocative new novel, When She Woke, tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed―their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes―and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder.

In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith."  
From the publisher's description

This is not an easy read, as it is about abortion in a world where that is not allowed, in a world where the state determines who gets to do/mate/impregnate/love with whom. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Again with the negative waves...

I wrote in a previous article about negative reviews and received a lot of positive response from it.  Apparently people prefer hearing about the odd turd than the shining examples.  ...

Sigh. Thanks, sort of, to Kurt Wilcken for making me aware of this fuckery by DC.


DC Comics had been my preferred flavor in the vast buffet of characters and universes of imagination.  That is, growing up, and until the Crisis on Infinite Earths .  After that watermark for me, I chose to read anything with new eyes and new allegiances, because I felt that DC had burned down the past, the past I had loved.  A prime example WATCHMEN, however good, took characters from Charlton Comics, recently acquired and killed all but three of them.  (Spoiler that.)  With every new release the artist/writer/editor team seemed to feel a need to change characters, sometimes for better, but usually for change sake.

Despite new and different editorial teams and head of publishing changes, various turnover of talents, there was one thing at DC following the Crisis that never changed, the constant uprooting and changing what was given as "continuity" and the newly united universe.  It was true that DC made a choice to change the worlds in which their imaginary characters "lived" for a reasonably important reason.  They wanted all the characters in their worlds to be on the same "earths" the same "universes" and the like. But, what happened was disarray.  Soon enough the allure of breaking ground in the new territory of virgin lands was too tempting to the creative talents, and maybe even editorial staffs.  With every new series, every relaunched series, changes were made, and almost never were the changes made for any reason that made better the previous situation.   In some cases it mattered a lot.  Long time series were disrupted and went astray.   The multi generational fan favorite Legion of Super Heroes particularly saw changes that really were asinine and that could well have been written off and ignored.  But change they did.  Various attempts to revive the series suffered with each new attempt. 

One character that received the worst of this change for change sake was THE CREEPER.  DC made several attempts to renew interest in a great character created by Steve Ditko.   The origin of the character featured an investigative reporter attending a masquerade ball with the contents of a box of odds and ends of a costume shop.  An Eastern European scientist Dr. Yatz has been kidnapped, and he won't reveal his serum or studies to the nasty bastards holding him.  But Ryder infiltrates.  Yatz injects Ryder, giving him numerous powers, and leading him to a dual existence as a human with healing abilities and enhanced strength.   Dr. Yatz is shot, Ryder rounds up the bastiches, and now Ryder is a vigilante.  He can change his physical features between his human form and his bizarre Creeper look.   Over time there were various different nips and tucks, changes to the story.  But, the original is quite good enough.


In the aftermath of World War I, the bohemian art scene explodes onto Paris -- much to the chagrin of the rich and powerful Arbogast family. Surrealist painter Judith Benoir wants desperately to make a splash -- even if it means ignoring the warnings of others. And as The Creeper, she escalates  simple cat burglaries into spectacular art crimes, establishing her as a cultural icon. But what are the true motivations behind The Creeper's actions? And how long
before her antics spiral out of control and the law closes in?  

 This is a series that was based upon a juxtaposition of a character's traits and form, and placed in a different time and place.  As such the change is very evident and intentional and not an issue.  However, it is an unironic salute to the many attempts at fucking up a perfectly good concept, not needing change.

Len Kaminski and Shawn Martinborough addressed the Creeper through quite a different approach.  It was assumed that The Creeper had now gone insane.  Or had he?  Part of the modus operandi of Ryder while being Creeper was to ACT crazy.  So, this story angle was a case of literalism, or taking a tangent with the hope of making a story from it.  It was a considerably unsuccessful run in and of itself.  But, the change in the M.O., was the greatest issue.


Writer Steve Niles and artist Justiniano rebooted the origin, reintroduced the characters, and started all over.  DC Comics seemed to have greater plans for the character, as it was announced initially that this run was an ongoing series, but then backtracked that this was a limited run of 6 issues.  Steve Niles has a background of writing horror, and weird characters, he has the skills to write such a character.  The ultra moody art by Justiniano was suited for the character as well.  The change here wasn't as overt as previous efforts, but DC showed its lily liver by pulling the carpet from beneath the project.  But, that may well be part of the entire DC ethos, change the character until it can't be recognized, fuck with origins so that it can be considered unattached to the old continuity, or, get the creative team to change enough to do that, and stab them in the back before they can get their project up to speed. 

DC's NEW 52

And all of this leads us to this, DC's New 52.  Some idiot at DC has decided that Creeper is actually a Demon.  ... Um... yeah.   A demon.  And that means that someone at DC is really, I mean, REALLY stupid.  Instead of simply creating a concept and making it work, they've raped and destroyed a fine concept created by one of the masters of the medium, and they took that and turned it into a concept no more worthy than a dog taking a shit upon it.   This is the biggest insult to the readers of DC Comics. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

At the end of the century, they went to the Opera house

As evidenced by the revolution with great artists of the Impressionist, wild new ideas in ballet, music, and writing, prose and poetry all set fire to the world of the creative world, and despite the amazing fires of creative going on in Berlin, Vienna, Rome, London, and elsewhere, it was Paris that everyone saw as being the center of the world of creative fire.

Paul Cornoyer
Whether it was through the painting eye, music, performance on stage, operatic vocals, classical music, poetry writing, fiction writing, the world was aglow with the work found in the living city of Paris.  This is not to say that there were not areas of Paris without corruption or decay.  There are places each century that rise and become pinnacle of civilization. 

Gustave Caillebotte
At the same time that Paris was glowing brightly, Victorian England presented a form of behavior and look, an ideal of human endeavor and belief in the greatness of the Empire of Queen Victoria.  Across the globe the British Empire extended its reach, through arms more than language.  The ideal in France was to change "men" through culture.  The French language was an agent of great civilization. 

Whether in small shops, restaurants or caf├ęs, the French could find music and dance along with their food or drink.  Paris buzzed, it was alive.

The French Opera House, the Palais Garnier was opulent, rich, gorgeous.  Attendance there was an experience in splendor, and was an invitation to experience the many layers of art.  Orchestra, Ballet, Opera, all the while surrounded by epic beauty.

No venue across the world could compare upon the grand opening.  Attendance was not only a great event, but one that would be memorable.

Edgar Degas 's works cover all of life.  From bathing, to dance, to race horses, to family life he painted scenes to record the beauty, and the moment.  His work depicts the ballet with exquisite depth.  And I leave you with his works to demonstrate it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Midnight Crusader--- MOON KNIGHT

In the dark of night he is in his element ... Moon Knight.

Often called a Marvel Comics analogue to DC Comics Batman, Moon Knight is similar is some ways, he is a millionaire, he has a steady assistant, Frenchie, similar to Alfred, and he hunts the night and the creatures of the night like the Batman.  But his origin is supernatural, involves a deity, and eventually draws the character into a cycle of life, death, and renewal.  He has a past of fighting werewolves and uses silver weapons, (similar to his costume).  But, as can be assumed, the Marvel Universe is considerably different in how it functions, versus the DC Comics universe.  Moon Knight interacts with and within the world that is affected by others, but Batman can both participate in DC events, yet seem to be all alone in Gotham.

Moon Knight's adventures, irrespective of any other company, any other character have taken many forms, from wide ranging adventure, crime fighting, mystery solving, and monster hunting.  Moon Knight can be a striking character painting against the skyline of the night, and he has a fan base.  It is perhaps not large, but it has been well served.  It would seem to me that of all the characters Marvel has in their stable, Moon Knight and his environs would make a great movie, and perhaps with the werewolf hunting part of his past, you could make it a horror story.  


One of the best aspects of the Moon Knight works has been 
the works of Bill Sienkiewicz and David Finch.