Open Sesame. Habibi and its Critics


I used to write a regular column at Hooded Utilitarian called DWYCK. Then stuff happened. And the column didn’t happen, for way too long. But now I’m back! Er, at least for the moment. No, I’ll really make an effort!

Anyway, the essay I have up now is on Craig Thompson’s remarkable new comic Habibi and on its discouraging reception by comics critics. I touch upon several of what I perceive to be key issues in the criticism and analysis of comics and hope it will stimulate some discussion. Go, read.

The Week

The Week in Review

So, the US and its allies finally left Iraq. It seems they’ve been there forever. Whether the country will eventually become a better place to live than it was during the terrible decades of war, tyranny and crippling sanctions remains to be seen, though one might at least hope. I suspect that was also what led to the most conspicuous blindside of this week’s celebrity passee, Christopher Hitchens’ career, namely his unswerving support of the 2003 invasion. Besides old-fashioned stubbornness, his stance always seemed to me fueled at least in part by the hope shared by many at that time — even people who largely opposed the war — that it might at least eventually lead to a better life for Iraqis.

Perhaps I’m being too charitable, but it’s a motivation I understand, because I remember seriously entertaining it myself back when the war was brewing, even if it was clear that it would not be fought primarily or even secondarily for that reason, and that our governments were obviously lying to us about their rationale for invasion. Today, after at least 150.000 people have died and several Western democracies (including Denmark) have compromised themselves, all of this may seem moot, of course. Still, our armies leaving Iraq was a necessary step to for things to improve for everyone.

Links!

  • Hitchens. Sudhir Hazareesingh’s critical take on the the writer’s career in this TLS review of his autobiography from last year, Hitch-22, is a fine corrective to those (of us) who tended to overlook the bad in favor of the good in his work. Supplement with Jonathan Freedland’s critique of his and Martin Amis’ stances on Iraq and the so-called War on Terror from the NYRB. D.D. Guttenplan in his Nation review of Hitch-22 provides a more sympathetic and comprehensive overview of Hitchens’ life. Most importantly, and lest we forget that Hitchens was an inquisitive and sensitive writer, read his last column for Vanity Fair, published last week. It’s a killer.
  • Mohammed el Gorani’s Guantánamo Diary. The LRB offers extracts of this, the youngest former prisoner at Camp X-Ray. I don’t know how verifiable it is, but it is hair-raising reading.
  • Robinson and Simon. Two notable figures of the American so-called Golden Age of comics, Jerry Robinson and Joe Simon died within a week of each other. Revisit their remarkable careers in Gary Groth’s in-depth interviews with them here and here. His magazine, The Comics Journal, also has a couple of obituaries up: Robinson, Simon.
  • Danske læsere: Ralf Christensen har besøgt Red Bull Music Academy og øjner nogle musikalske fremtidsperspektiver.
  • Erik Fischer 1920-2011

    Yesterday I received the sad news that the great oak of Danish art history Erik Fischer has died. More thorough obituaries will surely be forthcoming, so I just want to note briefly how important his work and example has been to myself as an art historian.

    Fischer’s distinctions and honors are many: among other things, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Copenhagen in 1991, became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 2000, and, already a knight of the Order of Dannebrog, was awarded its special Cross of Honor in 1997. This is because he, arguably more than anybody else of his generation, put Danish art history on the international map as a great humanist, scholar and teacher of the old school.

    Never particularly prolific in terms of publications — he seemed perpetually plagued by a perfectionist writer’s block — the work he did publish is exemplary, both for its erudition, its sensitivity and its originality. His explication of the scientific worldview of Danish Golden Age painter C. W. Eckersberg (1783-1853) was the first really to begin explaining that painter’s remarkable approach to a nature in which he saw the divine, and his analyses of the painter’s almost obsessive geometric approach to composition application of perspective are eye-opening; even if somewhat hard fully to believe, they lay bare the deliberation of a highly reflexive artist, and suggested how, in this, some of the most rational image-making conceivable, lies a rare surreal poetry.

    The Cabinet of Mabuse

    Portrait of a Merchant (Jan Jacobsz. Snoek?), c. 1530, oil on panel, 63.6 x 47.5 cm. Washington DC, National Gallery of Art


    Flemish Renaissance painting is known for its sharp focus on reality. The first great master of oil painting, Jan van Eyck (active 1422, died 1441), was widely admired in his day for his ability illusionistically to reproduce the seen.

    The Week

    The Week in Review

    Amidst the turmoil in Brussels, which I’ve found rather hard to make sense of, one piece of less equivocally positive news emerged this week, namely that Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has spent thirty years on death row in Pennsylvania has finally had his death sentence revoked in favor of life behind bars. This is a major symbolic victory in the struggle against the death penalty and in his personal efforts to prove his innocence. Convicted in 1981 for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner on the basis of highly dubious evidence and testimonies, his has become something of a cause celèbre for opponents of the death penalty and critics of the American penal system, a speaking, highly-articulate symbol of all that’s wrong with both (hear him talking about the “prison-industrial complex” in the clip above).

    Abu-Jamal has faced execution several times in his three decades as a prisoner and each time he and his counsel succeeded in postponing what seemed inevitable for the longest time. To have the sentence deferred this way, especially after the disgraceful recent execution of the similarly dubiously convicted Troy Davis, is a victory for human rights. Abu-Jamal may be guilty, but he hasn’t been given a fair trial. The Philadelphia District Attorney didn’t seem disposed toward giving him one anytime soon when he announced the news, but we may still hope that it will happen eventually. For him and the many other people who share his fate in the American penal system.

    This week’s links:

  • Peter Mandelson on Britain’s Euro veto. Excellent analysis of Britain’s predicament.
  • For Danish readers: Georg Metz om lækagesagen. Som altid er pennen skarp og som ofte er tonen tæt på det skingre, men sagen kalder ligesom på det.
  • Christopher Tayler on Murakami. A review of the new novel, 1Q84, taken as an opportunity incisively to examine the oeuvre. Good reading!
  • Ligeledes for danskerne: Rhymesayers MC og troende muslim Brother Ali snakker om Muhammedtegningerne i et interview fra Roskilde sidste år.
  • KOLOR KLIMAX-signering i Fantask på fredag


    Kom til signering af den nye store nordiske tegneserieantologi KOLOR KLIMAX — Nordic Comics Now på fredag d. 25 november i tegneseriebutikken Fantask, Skt. Pedersstræde 18, København, kl. 16-19. Mød tegnerne Peter Kielland, Johan F. Krarup, Mårdøn Smet og Thomas Thorhauge, der alle har bidraget til bogen, samt undertegnede, der har redigeret den.

    Læs mere om KOLOR KLIMAX her; se billederne fra sidste uges reception på Din Nye Ven her.

    KOLOR KLIMAX Sneak Release — The Photos!

    Johan F. Krarup, Henrik Andreasen and Marianne Eskebæk Larsen at the release party.


    As mentioned here previously, last Thursday saw the Danish sneak release of the Nordic comics anthology KOLOR KLIMAX (to be released in the US and internationally by Fantagraphics Books in March). It was a fine evening; lots of Copenhagen comics folk turned out. Here are some photos hastily snapped at idle moments. Enjoy!

    Same day saw a fine review by Bart Beaty, published at Comics Reporter. I was happy to see that he noticed not only some of the consolidated talents, but some relatively new ones, Johan F. Krarup and Mikkel Damsbo/Gitte Broeng, who I also think contributed really outstanding pieces to the book. Here’s a pull quote from Bart:

    “Ultimately, there is no way not to recommend Kolor Klimax. It showcases a wide range of extremely talented cartoonists, and will open your eyes to a whole world of comics that get far too little attention. Something to anticipate for Spring.”

    The Week (A New Day)


    As I was writing this, my wife went into labor. Our child arrived nine days earlier than expected. It may have been the bass. I’m lost for words, except to say that publishing this, in a sense, is the best way for me to mark here at the Bunker this singular event in our lives.

    Attended two great concerts this weekend, both featuring key players in the independent hip hop movement of the early naughts. Sole, formerly of Anticon, performed at Stengade 30, alone with a laptop, on Friday, while the Rhymesayers collective (featuring Greives and Budo, Blueprint, Brother Ali, Evidence, and Atmosphere) ended their European tour at Store Vega this night.

    Attending these shows in such close succession recalled for me that very special moment in hip hop in the early naughts when the genre was expanding in so many different directions at once, seeing white suburbia embrace it on an artistic level theretofore unknown outside the inner cities and with an entirely new set of sensibilites. It seemed then, suddenly, that the sky was the limit for the art form. Eminem was only the most visible exponent of a watershed in hip hop that ran the gamut from his confessional hardcore to the hermetic abstractions of Anticon.

    Atmosphere were at the center of this, defining a midwestern hip hop sound on the balance between boom bap and breaking form, while Anticon created an avant-garde within the avant-garde with their heady lyrics, abstract flows and arrythmic production.

    Problem was it kind of ebbed. Only a few of the innovators of these years have kept up the steam they were building from grains of salt in those years. They foundered and lost their way as they got older and life became more complex, and as hip hop once again shifted in character and its prime innovations increasingly came southern fried.

    Atmosphere are one of the few exceptions to the rule. They have continued to grow, releasing music that reflect their age and experience, and they still rock a show like few others in hip hop. Although we sadly lost their early associate, the insanely gifted Eyedea, last year, they continue to surround themselves with solid talent. Brother Ali, a born stage performer if a somewhat weak songsmith, tends to steal the show as did he this night, but Blueprint and the new Rhymesayers signee Evidence (of Dilated Peoples) held their own too.

    Sole, who left Anticon last year and currently resides in Colorado has had a more difficult time of it, but then his artistry has always been grounded in personal difficulty, and he has kept releasing some high quality music, much of it under the collaborative moniker Sole and The Skyrider Band. He has become more politically aware, less introspective, but has also lost some of the personal nerve that made his first two albums, Bottle of Humans and Selling Live Water, classics. His barebones setup on Friday in no way impeded an intense performance which at times seemed defiant assertion that his approach to hip hop, an approach that has all but been eclipsed today, is still a vibrant alternative.

    No links this week. It’s all been a little hectic.