Be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box! --Country Joe
One of the more interesting things about the current buildup to a war between the US and Iraq, or rather a pummelling of Iraq by America, is that it bears out an important pattern in history: wars will happen with or without popular support. Millions demonstrated across the world two weeks ago, and several news cycles later Bush knows it means nothing. He can brazen his way to this by sheer, deliberate tunnel vision and realize that it doesn't matter if every single person in America besides his administration were against it: he can do it anyway. He had the support he needed, which is to say good men voting with him because they wanted to get to bigger priorities. What was it they wanted to get on to, the Democrats--prescription drug policy? Something of pressing importance like that, at least to the only voting bloc they're sure vote, seniors.
Bloody good for the seniors. Well, not really, because the Democrats lost and with the election lost any power to effect any change they may, or may not, have wanted to bother with. But hearts were in the right place and so forth. Hurrah. Tell me though, do they think that seniors mind perhaps that their grandchildren will soon come home in a box? Or a bag, then a box. I guess Terry MacAuliffe thinks that a grandchild killed for supposedly patriotic reasons is somehow more alive to a grandparent than one who dies young for some other lack of a reason. Hey, they can brag that their child died a hero! Who doesn't like that? Remember the Gold Star Mothers of the Vietnam era?
And mothers of our current fighting force, don't forget to do your part and drive, drive, drive those SUVs simply everywhere. If you don't waste as much gas as possible your child may be dying for nothing! And the terrorists will have won.
What is it about human beings that we slouch our way toward destruction at exactly the times we should not, or else do not recognize a major catastrophe building until it is far too late? Is it an urge for the novelties mass destruction brings? Were we so soft and bored by the 90s? Have we not seen a real war in long enough?
The juncture we are at can be, depending upon how it works out, compared to a number of similar places in others' history, in my view. Rome in two eras. The Punic Wars, the third, which happened for no reason except one senator's political advancement; the Carthaginians were slaughtered and the earth was salted, and the Romans forever suspected a curse upon them because of this atrocity; it is from this last war that words like "punitive" and "punish" originate.
And also when it transformed from republic to empire, a process that took a number of years--much like the time between post WW2 and now. Britain when it chose to enforce a corporation's claim on India--and later, another's on much of Africa. And it also involved a timid, acquiescent public voting body(in this case the Senate) which simply gave the powers of a king to an executive figure who previously had been just another part of the political process.
Much as the Reichstag did when it voted Hitler supreme power under the "emergency conditions" caused by the Reichstag fire, set by the Nazis themselves and blamed on the Nazis' primary political competitors, the Communists. The powers were rubber-stamped back into effect every four years by a Reichstag that followed the one that voted itself out of existence by giving the Chancellor the law as his word. Germany was ostensibly still democratic on paper till war's end. All it took to create a Hitler was timid good men biding their time and lacking spines.
And then there was Louis XVI, brought down by the bankrupting of France by endless, pointless wars, which created conditions under which people were angry enough to depose him.
Much like they did Bush the First, who thought a quick war win would dazzle people too much to care they had no jobs because of his neglect toward domestic well-being.
Like his son.
This fight is essentially between Bush and Hussein. When terrorists target you and me indiscriminately over Iraq--and remember, war can hurt us directly in a way that was unthinkable before--they may or may not know that, for the most part, you and I didn't care about Iraq so much as simply having the means to live. But they cannot get Bush; they will get us instead as the next best thing. Remember that Dubya's only assurance to you at the suspicion of a brewing terrorist attack was to tell you to seal yourself in a small room. Does that sound like someone who particularly cares if you live or die? Remember this in an election that is only a little over a year away.
But in the meantime, he chuckles knowing you can't do a thing to stop him and are too nice to do so even if you could. He didn't even need you to be elected, and he's going to care what you think of what he does with his planes and guns? Fuck off, America. That's what his smirk says.
We get the government we deserve.
The army is not there to conduct nation-building experiments. It's there to fight and win wars. --GW Bush, 2000 Debates
Back To Theatre Hell:
Reflections on Dancing Awkwardly With An Old Love
In about a week, I have to walk around in front of strangers with only a toga for protection. In Chicago, in January.
Not one of the more brilliant ideas I've had in my life.
Why I got involved with theatre again, I don't know. Perhaps it was vanity, perhaps it was stupidity. Perhaps it's that part of being human that makes us seemingly unable to ever learn to keep our hands out of the fire. Who knows? But my work on this version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, enjoyable as it's been at times, has convinced me that it might not have been the best step.
Why should that be? I should be thrilled. I'm playing one of the central characters in the play and it's therefore my first starring role. This, after over 12 years of not doing any theatre at all, and originally playing rather meaningless supporting roles--usually crusty old men, like Dussell in Diary of Anne Frank, for instance. This time I get what I wanted out of it to begin with, back when I was a frustrated teen. This was to be able to shout in public, to purge my bad emotions, my bottled anger and frustration that all teens have, in a way nobody would fault me for--or at least not fault me personally. Not at all a noble ambition, but not a harmful one either. But indeed, despite any other statements to the contrary my friends might recall my having made, that was all I ever really wanted .
Is it an issue of ego? Never was I interested in going onstage to be loved. Quite the opposite. If anything I wanted to be disliked, and right out in the open too, but without anyone being able to make me shut up or to ignore me.
But I've spent a number of years trying my best to quell my anger. Not entirely successfully, but I've managed. And one way this has been accomplished is by remaining as much to myself as I can. I'm not a social person(for that matter, neither is my wife) and never have been. I don't work well with others, at least not in person. I work best when the struggle to create is largely unseen, out of the eyes of those who might misunderstand the temperamental chaos in the process.
And I simply don't much like being around others for any great length of time. Glenn Gould's statement regarding needing, for every hour spent around others, six times as many hours alone to compensate, is something I can easily relate to, though I'm not nearly so much a recluse as Gould. But I simply like having control of my time and, for that to be possible, I have to be alone--or around only my wife--a lot.
Others inspire stress in me, sometimes even rage. It may not even be because of any fault of theirs. It may be that in some psychological way I have an allergy to most human contact. It might also be that I don't like being told what to do or having others' opinions interfering with my own. But mainly it's the silly shit others often come up with, which I don't want to even have to argue with them about, that's the problem. I no longer have any desire to fight about something that was not my creation. I also don't want to be involved with something that was not my creation.I don't want to bother. Life's too short. Better I should create what I want and give it to the public on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
I hate writing about my personal feelings, because they always come off as totally negative and whiny, but I'm very disappointed in the way this play has been going. Not in the cast--they're all doing their very best and some are doing exemplary jobs indeed. But on the technical end it's not even as good as a high school play, and since that was the last time I was even in a play I know whereof I speak. No planning seems to have gone into this end of it. The costumes are cheap and tacky, and instead of blood we have red ribbons, and we can't even seem to get chairs. And then at this late stage in the game the director has added extratextual material of his own writing like (a) a song Titus sings merrily concerning his making a pie, and (b) my most loathed of all the aspects of this play, the "angel of death," whose purpose appears to be to bring the action in scenes to a dead halt, if the useless classical references Shakespeare fills the play with haven't already. She appears in a prologue & an epilogue, and throughout the play. She'll pop in between lines(including one of my more important scenes), we all freeze, and for reasons best known to the director she "feels our auras."
Am I the only one who thinks this couldn't sound more pretentious and flaky? No, I'm not. The entire cast hates this. But not a single one, including me, will dare tell him he's ruining what could be a good performance with this new-age gobbledegook. There's not a single person outside the play to whom I've mentioned this that didn't burst into giggles. Worse, he interrupts sequences that should not be interrupted with these things, killing the rhythm of the scene stone dead. Why? What lunatic notion entered his head that this would be a good thing to add? But is anyone going to tell him? No, because he's the director. It's not our place. If he drives this play over a cliff we simply have to live with it.
Fortunately for me, I don't really have to care. This for me is(ha) just for fun. Which it hasn't been--it's been a pain in the ass, and it'll be some time before I want to act again. I want time and solitude. I want to read and write and draw, and most of all I want my weekends back, and my evenings, to do what I damn well please with them. I don't want DB to have control over my time. I want to be left alone.
Soon it will be over. But in the meantime, the show must go on...
Is the fact the whole country is so concerned with Joe Millionaire and Michael Jackson tonight a sign of the disintegration of Western culture, or a sign of sanity, given that the administration would like us all to be freaked out about Iraq?
Well, I watched like everyone else, damn me. Not surprisingly he picked Zora, the one less likely to rip his eyes out with her teeth once she found he wasn't rich. And also not surprisingly, they were both made millionaires.
It was trashy, had terrible music and awful people, so why did Kelly and I watch it? Because those are the things that make good television...
¶ Monday, February 17, 20030 Comments
16 February 2003
GIVE ME SMUT & NOTHING BUT
Cartoonist Turns Filthmonger; His Rationalizations And Excuses Presented For Your Edification
"To understand great art you have to understand great trash."--Roger Ebert.
I know what you're thinking. No, really, I think I can guess. In any case, allow me to protest too much.
As some might know, thanks to your friendly neighborhood editor Michael Dowers, I'm to be published by Eros/Fantagraphics, starting in June with my twenty-four page silent story October Surprise, taking up the entirety of the anthology Menage A Trois #3. There will also be short stories in Eros anthologies around the same time and following as regularly as I can draw them, including Vladrushka the Siberian Porn Star in Blowjob #7, and two in the works at the moment.
I'm suddenly going from a serialized, acclaimed graphic novel to...wellllll, pornography. And not out of desperation but out of choice and whim. Now, does this make me less serious an artist?
I don't know; I don't recall being that serious to begin with. Committed, yes. Obsessive, yes. Anxiety-written, you betcha. But I'll try my hand at drawing anything and actually, I'm proud of this work. And make no mistake; it's filthy. Gloriously and gleefully so and I'm having a lot of fun letting my characters enjoy themselves for a change, as opposed to cruelly destroying what there is of their lives for comedic value. That I'll be getting back to in good time. But it's not as funny unless they have a chance to become unprepared for it again...
But how does a moderately-known alternative comics editor and practitioner end up doing pornography in the first place? And can there be art to it? Let me babble.
In my case it was in fact something I never in a zillion years thought would be likely to be published(certainly not by myself) and wasn't drawn with that in mind. It was basically a way to blow off steam from Vitriol, which has been five years of drawing characters I'm now, at last, about 10 pages from finishing with. The graphic novel, even a comedic one, is very work-intensive, time-consuming, and let us not forget was written 10 FRIGGING YEARS AGO. So it's long since lost a lot of interest to me, as any artwork can do to the one who sits so long making it. But dammit I will finish the bugger, so I keep saying. But you get tired at times. You don't want to irrationally rip up the artwork thinking in your weary delirium you're exorcising the cursed demon from your home. You change gears for a bit, do something else. As long as you're still creating something.
What did I feel like doing? I wanted to draw something loose, sketchy, spontaneous and fast, and chose a memory as my subject. Other cartoonists do autobio about masturbation, so hey, I think a memory of actual sex with other people is certainly allowable, and one would think preferable to that self-loathing subgenre; actually it's the first remotely cheerful thing I ever drew. The reason it was that sort of memory was because I chose sex as the theme to keep me interested in the exercise, so, honestly, that it would be fun. And besides, I also wanted it to be silent so not even the premeditation of writing was involved, and that worked best for that mode. Did it in pencil, at least 2 pages a night, while watching movies; part of the exercise was also not doing it at the board.
So it was all drawn quickly & loosely with blue pencil underdrawing, tight but quick mechanical pencil and Ebony on top, and completely irregular panel borders scratched in one swath on the paper without a ruler--basically, the opposite at every bit of the more careful way I usually work. (When I did it I didn't intend to publish it, so I basically went fuck it, let it be a mess) The version to be published is only slightly cleaned up and smoothed out digitally--by me, with Photoshop and a Pablo Graphics Tablet--but what you'll see is not much more than what I drew.
So this was, for me, experimental work. But toward the purpose of creating something light, breezy, spontaneous and pleasurable. I do everything backward, as anyone will tell you.
There are obvious hurdles in this genre. Sex is a bitch to depict graphically without, from the scattered examples I've seen(what porn I own is largely literary or vintage, like Taschen's stuff), being either loathsome or ludicrous. I don't think I necessarily cracked that nut(no even tangential pun intended), but "October Surprise"(its title) is, I think, pretty good genre work, though I might agree erotica, or pornography--I have no problem with either term--is certainly not a major genre. And most of my stuff isn't usually genre-based anyway, unless black comedy is really a genre rather than, say, a tone.
I have no problem calling it smut, though; there can be such a thing as good smut. It's kind of like many other highly-specific genres, like horror or musicals or James Bond films, in that the subject matter is predetermined; in a piece of smut you are going to have people fucking, that's a given, otherwise it wouldn't be smut. That's what it's being bought for and it should at least constitute 90% of it or you're cheating.
To me this is actually what makes it interesting: it's an exercise, from the creative end, in operating within very severe genre limits. Porn is probably the most rigidly defined genre there is. A musical can have as much dialogue as songs. A western, if Preacher is, as Ennis says, really a western, can lack horses. (well, it had two appearances by them but very far apart) But porn has to have people having graphic sex, in the main, or it's ineffective. The only innovation the artist can bring is situational and technical. In other words, how you place and orchestrate the sex in a context that makes it seem fresh(and hopefully, humorous, or at least that's how I prefer to present it), and how it's described in the options open to comics. It takes a kind of discipline and that's interesting to follow, within reason. I can therefore try out techniques I'd be less likely to throw in untried into my normal work.
So the artist's contribution will rarely if ever be innovative in content except insofar as "pushing the envelope" by degrees within those parameters. So the artist's innovation, if any, will lie in the technical end of things. Like Anais Nin's or Pauline Reage's obsessively sumptuous styles of description, Guido Crepax's graceful and ever-more-minimal brushlines, etc. Analogizing: In, say, horror, I'd use Halloween as an example; thinnest & least original of plotlines but it's Carpenter's style alone that makes one jump, especially apparent when one sees any of the film's billion ripoffs from the 80s.
Actually it ended up a challenge to a few other things too--my ability at anatomy, for instance. As I originally found when I drew the Vitriolchapter in Plastic no. 7,in which the two main characters--because they've just woken up the morning after sex, are not dressed yet and so are naked the whole story's length, drawing naked people may seem fun till you have to do it in comics. It's hard enough to draw nude bodies just sitting and talking for panel after panel and keep them on-model. Drawing them doing THAT, at least if they change positions, is a technical bitch, especially if you're using no reference but your own mind, which I'm proud to say I did. It's not realistic exactly(at least no more so than I ever am) but it's plausible.
And also it taught me a few things about pacing too, just from forcing myself to have no words in it and having nothing but the visual to carry things forward. There IS a plot, it's just entirely expressed while the sex goes on. I improved afterward--all my pieces in Working For The Man, with Alverson, Harvey, and Blackmon, were done right after that and benefited, I think. Hell, it's my blog, I'll be as egotistical as I like. They looked great for the exercise in between.
It was created entirely as a technical exercise for fun. Not really terribly different psychologically from doing a still life or something, though. It's just that it was something resting in my brain rather than on a table in front of me. And if it HAD been on the table in front of me I might've been too distracted anyway...But afterward my wife Kelly saw it and demanded I send it off to someone. Which I never actually bother to do normally. And wouldn't you know the one I, technically, put the least work into got published. Then again if I'd tried before...but who knows. (Incidentally, the following stories after October Surprise are all inked and closer to my normal style)
Now I guess what I'm wondering is: the fact that it's entirely a depiction of sex, does that make it without worth or merely limited in scope? I would tend to think the latter myself, considering how popular and frequent depictions of murder are. Including in my work, naturally. Though in my work one generally sees more sex and violence is more implied even though it's central and the sex isn't exactly. But if death, violence and gore are OK, why not one of the things that makes LIFE worthwhile? And I rather like the diceyness of the fact it wasn't made up--you can see the interesting dilemma: if it IS made up it's unrealistic and silly and even sexist, yadda yadda yadda; if it's true it's considered something you shouldn't be depicting, and yet why is that?
I guess you can see I consider it entirely valid in theory, even though I also consider it mainly an entertainment genre--but that could only be the limitation of my own imagination, not the actual potential. When it's done as hackwork, sure, I can see the point, but hackwork is depressing no matter WHAT genre it's in. As is braggadocio. October Surprise, incidentally, is not at all either--though, like I said, it ain't one of those self-loathing autobio things either, which have the hypocrisy of allowing the creator to depict their masturbatory fantasies while making it "OK" because they're miserable--a strange mode of thinking to me.
But it's weird--it's all silent and looking at it now it's, frighteningly, one of the prettiest-looking things I think I've done. I want to do more silent work too.
I think one thing I've learned is I need to perhaps try to do more stuff where I make it up as I go along and drop scripts altogether. But in any event, this is what I'll be drawing for a while, but new Big Huge Projects are in the works behind the scenes. You may begin waiting with bated breath.
I know I'm thrilled to be working with Eros; besides that they're part of Fantagraphics Books, who in my opinion are the best comics publishers in America(for Acme Novelty Library and Eightball alone, but so much more), this is a first for me. I've published myself for six years, and have been published in print in Legal Action Comics and online at Spark-Online.com (not now, but a couple of years ago, a strip called Slash & Burn,examples of which you can see on my site). I've been "officially" published before, and even profiled in Wizard.
But this is the first time I'm being paid. So excuse me but--YIPPEE!
God, am I a geek.
Anyway: if you're over 18, do check out these comics this summer. They'll be truly great trash, I promise.
It'll be interesting to see just what Bush will do now that it's been demonstrated that world opinion--including the US--is against him. You wonder why he pigheadedly refuses to stop wasting people's time with this and instead tells us all to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting--a message that said "Look after yourselves because we're not, even though we're placing all of you in harm's way."
This administration seems to think it can scare people into submission for as long as it wants, but when it panicks people and then backpedals as they did with the orange alert debacle--they mightas well have been telling people to duck and cover--it makes them mad. And when they're mad they're more inclined to be skeptical of you. This week Dubya just may have given the game away.
What he may not understand is that every day he perversely brakes any growth in the economy and lets people stay jobless, he's making people even madder and nobody has an infinite breaking point. If we go to Iraq we increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks on our own soil. This has not made Americans more belligerent and compliant, as Bush hoped. Well, compliant to a point, but only in the sense there are certain things we have to live with--after all, this president was never completely elected at all. The only thing he seems to have wanted from public opinion was its silence and willingness to let him put words in its mouth. People, though, haven't grown hostile--they've grown pragmatic. If a war means the place I work can be destroyed, I'm much less likely to want to go to war, and that seems to be the developing consensus. The misstep in Bush's game was making people realize at this particular moment that he's doing nothing for homeland security, as well-expressed in this speech by Sen. Robert Byrd.
He knows we don't want it, but what we do want--to rebuild our deathly sick economy--is something he is unable and ill-equipped to do. What will be his next step? Will he back down, or are the right-wing radicals really, as has been suspected, trying to touch off Armageddon?
In other brief news: WORKING FOR THE MAN has turned out to be Unbound Comics' best-seller over a month running. Help Bill & Nadine Loebs and purchase it here. A big thanks to all the contributors and everyone who supported this book.
Also, please enjoy these reviews. I know I did; one from Poopsheet and one from Comic Book Galaxy. Of course, if
they were bad reviews I'd never let you hear of them.
And lastly--but I promise, more details when I have time--I'll be published by Eros/Fantagraphics Books this June and August. Yes, it's smut. One book-length story and one 5-pager, but much more to (ahem)come. I assume that won't pique your interest but check back for more thoughts later, including a few words on the technical side of learning a new genre of this sort.
What this story forgets is that the war then helped push the economy right into the abyss, contrary to the popular belief that war solves economic problems. The model for this is the economic boom after the second world war, which is a myth that ignores that the depression was going on over a decade before WW2 and that recovery had little to do with the war, except in that the US was one of the very few industrial countries after the war which hadn't had its factories decimated, so of course it was able to get a jump on the others. Not to mention that the production levels the war got industry used to were channeled into both regular production and heavy military industry. The latter, in fact, has been what has kept America ahead for such a long time, and it was mainly an innovation of WW2. Prior to that there wasn't a "military-industrial complex" of the sort we're used to.
But since then wars have been, if anything, economic sinkholes. The drain it caused on the economy was really all that stopped the war in Vietnam; Wall Street wanted it gone at that point.(sentimentally saying the protesters stopped it is a myth that aids the previously mentioned myth) And the Gulf War too.
But now they say, hey, we'd love to bring the economy back but this darn shilly-shallying about the war is making Wall Street nervous and cautious. Let us have our war and you, the American herd, will have fresh new green fields in which to graze. Please go "baa" for us and there will be pie in the sky for all!
Which of course has been the administration's aim all along, I think. Take away prosperity and then let people remember what it's like to be hungry again, then they'll do whatever you want.
Indeed, that was their strategy during Bush 1 but it didn't work. Instead they placed the blame where it belonged and threw his ass out. Revolutions don't generally occur when people are simply starved and demoralized in the West. They occur when there has been a period of things getting better which is suddenly taken away.
I hate Bush for this. Even I for a second consider, "Well, if they have their war I might be employed again, if for no other reason that so many troops will go and room will be therefore made." Then I slap myself, realizing I'm hoping people will die so I can get a paycheck again.
Then again, I WANT a paycheck again. And it's damn cruel of Bush to dangle this empty, superstitious, irrational hope toward the American public, but it's probably not bad political strategy from his viewpoint because it seems to be working.
They're a careful, patient lot, these right-wing radicals that call themselves conservative. They keep their plans slow and meticulous and gradual so the frog never realizes the water is boiling. If the American public wasn't so used to thinking a deliberate plan involves sudden things they can see, rather than careful accretion, they'd notice. But these are the same people trying to destroy Roe v. Wade not by a single SCOTUS decision but by a decades-long building of precedent which won't be noticed. They've got time and they use it.
The only real question is: at the next election, will the American people reward incompetence or will they wise up again?
"Eternity in the company of Beelzebub, and all of his hellish instruments of death, will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me & this pencil." --E. Blackadder, 1789 Questionable
words & pictures from John Linton Roberson