The Week

The week in review

Not much to report from this angle this week, apart from the fact that the Jewish new year reminds me that I’ve been back in the ole home country for over a year now. Last year’s Rosh Hashannah kind of marked a fresh return to new beginnings here and it’s been a great ride since then, one of the best years I’ve had. Thanks to everybody taking part.

Links!

  • I would like to supplement this week’s welcome announcement that Fantagraphics is going to publish Ed Piskor’s online comic The Hip Hop Family Tree with this interview with Piskor, conducted by my man PTA on said piece of edutainment.
  • Also in comics, the Hooded Utilitarian’s five-year Anniversary of Hate! has brought some good criticism to the table. I liked in particular Steven Grant’s essay on bad comics and why the field still makes sense as a vocation. Plus! HU has reprinted Ng Suat Tong’s notorious Comics Journal essay from 2003 on why the EC New Trend comics are among the most overrated in the canon, supplemented by a back-and-forth on the issue with R. Fiore.
  • Other (more!) comics-related links: Slavoj Žižek on The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Spurgeon on Dave Sim’s recent, depressing letter of resignation, Chris Ware on display in New York.
  • Meanwhile in hip hop, I really enjoyed what El-P had to say about Nas’ classic debut album Illmatic (1993) in this otherwise rather dumb list of best albums of the nineties, and I totally dug this video of a young Kanye West rapping with his mom.
  • Comics of the Decade: Gary Panter’s Jimbo in Purgatory


    This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

    Thus the unfacts, did we posses them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.

    : James Joyce

    In the twelfth canto of Purgatorio, the last step on the way before Dante can put behind him the burden of pride and rise up to the second terrace of Mount Purgatory, he stumbles — stooped and strained by sin — on an enormous comic, cut into the rocky pavement.

    The comic tells the story of vanity and presumption from the dawn of time to the Biblical era. He is thus given the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the story of Niobe, Queen of Thebes, whose aggrandizement of her seven children over the goddess Leto’s two, lost them to the arrows of the gods and was transformed into a statue. Or the tale of the weaver Arachne who was punished for besting Pallas Athena with her art had to spend the rest of her life spinning webs as a spider. Or the tale of the Syrian warlord Holophernes who gave himself over to the murderous hands of the avenging Israelite Judith, or : not the least : the story of King Nimrod of Babel left broken on the plain of Shinar, his aspirations struck down in bitter confusion of language.

    Gary Panter’s commentary track in comics, Jimbo in Purgatory, substitutes a diagonally placed tapestry of fifties B-movie posters for Dante’s comic. Standing in for the poet is his recurrent, Candide-like muscle man Jimbo, whose origins trace back to the early seventies, while Dante’s guide on the mountain, the Roman poet Virgil, is replaced by Jimbo’s parole officer, the box-shaped robot Valise. The angel who descends on them from the mountain and tells them about the transience of all life appears here in the form of the robot woman from Fritz Lang’s SF parable Metropolis (1927).

    Panter’s version of the conversation is a fragmented jumble to Dante’s moving reflection on human worth. An exchange of classic nonsense and raunchy limericks stitched to samples from Boccaccio, Chaucer and Milton. The result is a poetic confusion of meaning in which twentieth-century pop artifacts are tried in the court of the classics, read in eclectic zigzag to engage only halfway tongue-in-cheek the questions raised by the source material.

    The Week

    “The Supreme Court is saying that campaign spending is a matter of free speech, but it has set up a situation where the more money you have the more speech you can buy. That’s a threatening concept for democracy. If your party serves the powerful and well-funded interests, and there’s no limit to what you can spend, you have a permanent, structural advantage. We’re averaging fifty-dollar checks in our campaign, and trying to ward off these seven- or even eight-figure checks on the other side. That disparity is pretty striking, and so are the implications. In many ways, we’re back in the Gilded Age. We have robber barons buying the government.”

    David Axelrod

    The week in review

    Watching (selected parts of) the Republican National Convention this past week has accentuated the distinct feeling that we have been witnessing a gradual dismantling of democracy in America over the past fifteen years or so. The nadir so far was still the stolen election in 2000, closely followed by the disgraceful first election of George W. Bush on the backs of a vulnerable minority in 2004. However, the political deadlock in Congress for the past four years has been a dismaying spectacle to say the least, as has the Obama administration’s utter failure to correct the political abuses of its predecessors in its foreign policy.

    And now we’re getting myth-making on a grand scale, with bald-faced lying and deception the order of the day for the Republican candidacy. Romney seems to be the ultimate candidate of this particular moment in time. Entirely malleable in his effort to reach the majority that will win him the election, he is now running along with a right-wing ideologue whose approach to facts as something equally malleable was made apparent in his address on Wednesday. And with the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2010, the stage is set not only for the mass propagation of these lies, but the further marginalization of the greater electorate.

    I know, politicians have always lied and American politics have long been dependent on special interest, it just seems to me that we are witnessing an accelerated decline these years. For all its disappointment, the Obama administration have achieved — or seemed to achieve — a few important victories for democracy, from ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to fledgling universal health care, but overall the prospects that the fundamental problems of the system by which they rule, starting with its dependence on big money, will be solved are bleaker than ever. This election will not even carry the entertainment value of the last one, it’ll just be depressing, but it will also be a real test of a severely tested democratic system.

    Links:

  • Jane Meyer at the New Yorker has written about the Obama administration’s relationship to its donors and the general dependence of American politicians on same, past Citizens United. Tying into this, this 2008 profile of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, one of Romney’s chief donors, is an illuminating read. Last, but not least, Matt Taibbi has written about Romney’s time at Bain Capital at Roling Stone.
  • Comics: R. Fiore on The Dark Knight Rises, Craig Fischer on Jack Kirby, Derik Badman on comics poetry, Dan Nadel on Mazzucchelli and Miller, Henry Sørensen and Morten Søndergård on fifty years of Spider-Man (Danish alert!).
  • Reads: David B.

    From "Les Faux visages"


    David B. has long been suffering from that unforgiving problem of having defined his career with an early masterpiece. His L’Ascension du haut mal, or Epileptic, which was originally published 1996-2003, remains one of the most stirring and complex works ever created in comics, a high watermark of autobiographical cartooning and a singular artistic vision. Needless to say, following up a book like that is hard. And it’s even harder when its focus is the great tragedy in one’s life, the narrative around which your identity is constructed. In comics, it is what one may call the “Maus conundrum.”

    In contrast to Art Spiegelman who has created very little of note — indeed very little at all — since his masterpiece, David B. has remained prolific. Most of his work is strong, but none of it quite measures up. Among the most interesting, post-L’Ascension, are its addenda in Babel (2004-2006), which is brilliant in passages, but remain addenda. The dream comics in Les Complots nocturnes (2005) and the recent part imaginary diary, Journal d’Italie (2010), similarly displays flashes of brilliance and suggest fruitful new directions, but everything remains tentative, as if the foundational work’s center of gravity maintains its smothering hold.

    The Week

    The week in review

    I’ve always had a feeling I witnessed the Lunar landing and the now sadly passed Neil Armstrong’s Moon walk live as it happened. So vivid are my memories of my dad opening his box of clippings and laying them out on our large dinner table when I was a kid. His narration of the landing, along with LIFE Magazine photos and news clippings from the summer of 69, was like being there. It probably merged with a contemporaneous rerun of clips on our black and white television to convince me that I was there as it happened. Only some years later did the fact that it had happened six years before I was born dawn on me.

    I guess the point here is that the Moon walk is such an extraordinary event, not just for science, but also for our collective imagination, that it continues to reverberate as if it just happened. At the same time, of course, it seems to belong to a different era. The optimism it expressed on our collective behalf seems naive and anachronistic, especially after the Obama administration’s mothballing of the NASA programme two years ago — something Armstrong strongly criticised. The recent launch of the Mars probe Curiosity is exciting, but manned space exploration seems like a chapter past. Sadly, because it seems to me an aspiration with the potential to unite us globally (however fleetingly) in a way few other things have ever done.

    See pictures and footage of the Apollo 11 mission at NASA’s website. Read fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin’s statement on his friend’s death here. And check out this nice appreciation by Ian Crouch of Armstrong’s way with words. Oh, and he also took one of the most mesmerising, beautiful photographs ever. Rest in Peace.

    Links:

  • Reportage from what is surely one of the most insane film projects ever attempted. A revival of Soviet Era reality by Ukrainian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Is it for real? (Thanks @Madinkbeard!)
  • Take a trip down memory lane with Complex Magazine’s list of 50 tracks released by Rawkus Records, James Murdoch’s vanity project before he started working full time for his dad. Rawkus was an incredible force for creative, innovative hip hop in the late nineties through the early naughts, until it all went sour.
  • Also, Hip hop legend Afrika Bambaata is working to create a hip hop museum in the Bronx Armory.
  • Noted film critic Christian Braad Thomsen on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, again. (Danish alert!)
  • Joe Kubert’s Heroic Vision

    Cover, Star-Spangled War Stories #138 (1968)


    There’s a lot to say about the Big Man of classic American mainstream comics Joe Kubert, who passed away last week. I can hardly do his rich and varied career justice, and in any case he is served well by Bill Schelly’s fine biography Man of Rock (2008), just as his passing was marked appropriately by Schelly over at The Comics Journal. And of course there’s Gary Groth’s epic 1994 interview with him.

    What seems to me lacking in the literature I’ve seen is a critical appreciation of his art and how it developed. I cannot hope to do anything but suggest a few lines of inquiry here, but think that an examination of how his late-career non-fiction and reality-based work would be a good place to start. Back when his first and still most notable book of that particular, one might say Eisnerian phase of his work, Fax from Sarajevo was published in 1996, The Comics Journal published a critical review by Kent Worcester in which he compared its visuals with Kubert’s concurrent run on the Marvel hero comic Punisher: War Zone. The point was Kubert was simply too mired in the romantic heroism of the genres in which he had forged his style adequately to represent that book’s protagonist, his European agent Erwin Rustemagic’s real-life experiences during the siege of Sarajevo.

    The Week

    The week in review

    The outrageous sentence of two years in labour camp for the members of the punk/art collective Pussy Riot in Moscow the day before yesterday is the most high-profile recent example of the fragility and corruption of the Russian judicial system. Without knowing much of anything about the subject, I think that suggestions that the Church, rather than the government, may have played the greatest role in the conviction rings true, despite Putin getting most of the bad press. In any case, it reflects terribly on both.

    It is also a reminder of the power of art and activism based on creative work to call attention to injustice. Not only is their really very innocuous manifestation (see above) is just plain fun — a perfect youtube phenomenon — the support of a Madonna or a Paul McCartney seems also to have come more naturally because of the nature of their dissent. It certainly carries a different and potentially broader kind of visibility than the usual statements of support for activists of more straightforward political stripe. Fair or not.

    Beyond the news stories, a good introduction to the group and their thinking is Nadia Tolokonnikova’s closing statement from the trial. Smart, informed, and naive, it carries the blazing righteousness of youth.

    More links:

  • Richard Thompson. It is sad news that Richard Thompson is ending his brilliant daily strip Cul de Sac, and his reasons for doing so infinitely sadder. But at least he pretty much goes out on top. Tom Spurgeon has just published two extensive, older interviews with the cartoonist.
  • Jay-Z and the New Jersey Nets. I liked this article on Shawn Carter’s investment and stake in the New Jersey Nets and their imminent move to Brooklyn. Another example of Hova’s contribution as an hip hop entrepreneur.