On the plot to attack Jyllands-Posten

It seems sadly serendipitous, if not actually ominous, that a year that started with a depressing but thankfully failed cartoon-related terrorist attack here in Denmark, ends with another one. Five people, one Iraqi asylum seeker and four Swedes/Swedish residents, were arrested yesterday on charges of planning a terrorist attack on the headquarters of Jyllands-Posten, the paper that commissioned and published the 12 Muhammad cartoons back in 2005, and the center-left daily Politiken, which shares the building with them.

PET claims they had advanced plans for a Mumbai-style attack on the newspaper, although the information released is pretty sparse. The police have confiscated a submachine gun with a silencer in the car in which they were arrested, and the group had been under surveillance for a while, but other than that, we haven’t been told much.

Added to the crippled moron who blew himself up in Copenhagen earlier this year, and his no less foolish-seeming compadre in Stockholm last month, I guess it’s only a matter of time before someone actually manages to carry off an attack around these parts. Depressing to thus see the pernicious hypothesis of the Jyllands-Posten editors — that there was a real threat, and that artists felt it — confirmed, having become partly a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Picks of the Week

The picks of the week from around the web.

It’s been a busy few weeks here, plus we’ve been on a short holiday, so I ain’t got much, except for this clip above, of Danish Minister for Health, Bertel Haarder, losing it Thick of It-style on a journalist Friday night (full interview here). It’s a very human reaction — he’d been pulled away from his rice pudding (no shit) and was persistently asked about something he couldn’t answer, but his defense, that he hadn’t been briefed in advance, is also problematic, and in any case, it provides for a yuletide reminder of the increasing blur between Man and medium.

Oh, and there’s been some good comics criticism around the web lately:

  • Sean Collins on Love & Rockets. Long-standing internet critic extraordinaire, Sean Collins, spent a couple of months reading the entirety of the Hernandez brothers’ work and wrote about it. Lots of good writing on critically neglected, classic material.
  • Eric Berlatsky on time and comics. A piece in Hooded Utilitarian’s ongoing republication of academic work on comics, this is a fine piece on time, space and simultaneity in comics.
  • Matt Seneca on Morrison & Quitely’s All-Star Superman. Seneca is one of the few critics around who really pays attention to the visual side of comics. This is a good list of notes on Quitely’s astonishing work on this landmark series.
  • Titian at the Winter Sales

    Went down to London to check out the sales today. Lots of good stuff at Christie’s — kind of sad to see the Rutland Poussin Ordination up for sale (I hope an accessible collection secures it for the public), but it was in fine company: a terrific El Greco St. Francis estimated at what seemed to me a steal (£600,000 – £800,000; I’d rather own it than the Poussin). A very fine, and acutely touching, 16th-century Pentecost from Bruges, with beautifully individualised apostles reacting to the divine irruption calling them. And lots more, plus a killer prints section with high quality editions of Goya’s Disasters of War and Proverbs, as well as a great selection of first-rate Dürers and Rembrandts.

    Anyway, the main reason I went down, was the exhibition over at Sotheby’s of the Kisters Sacra Conversazione by Titian, which goes on sale in New York later this month and will be on display in London through Wednesday. Painted 1560s, it is largely a studio production, probably laid out by the master’s faithful but pedantic assistant Girolamo Dente — the weak drawing of St. Luke at the left and the rote characterisation of St. Catherine’s head betray his hand, methinks. But it also shows plenty of the master’s work and seems to me really instructive in terms of understanding how he supervised such studio pictures.

    Inspecting it closely, it appeared to me that he retouched fairly extensively the figure of the Madonna, as well as the faces of the Child and Catherine, at an advanced stage of the production. The rendering of the flesh in these parts is richer, warmer and subtler, with hints of pink enlivening the cheek of the female saint and the mother of God taking on a glowing aspect, smoldering along the contours. There is, furthermore, a real difference in quality between the rendering of the saints’ garments and those of the Madonna. They are all painted according to the same principles — Titian’s — but in the former the effect is comparatively superficial, highlights and shadows never quite coalescing, while the latter in the reds has the depth of tone so characteristic of Titian’s hand, where colouring attains its own logic, beyond form.

    And the sky is glorious. Not just because of the thick strokes of yellowish white lining the dawn clouds, or the pink tinge lent to them in certain places, but also the deeper seep of purple glazing that gives it is depth, suggesting receding night and leaving a certain dampness in the air that suffuses the wet landscape below, suggested in mauve drybrushed in spiky, almost-turqoise. This is characteristic of Titian’s modus operandi in this kind of production, as I understand it: he leaves most of the figurework to his assistants, retouches the painting towards the end, adding the landscape in an inspired flurry. It is inspiring to follow.

    Picks of the Week

    “In fact, we believe it is the most closed societies that have the most reform potential. The Chinese case is quite interesting. Aspects of the Chinese government, Chinese Public Security Service, appear to be terrified of free speech, and while one might say that means something awful is happening in the country, I actually think that is a very optimistic sign, because it means that speech can still cause reform and that the power structure is still inherently political, as opposed to fiscal. So journalism and writing are capable of achieving change, and that is why Chinese authorities are so scared of it. Whereas in the United States to a large degree, and in other Western countries, the basic elements of society have been so heavily fiscalized through contractual obligations that political change doesn’t seem to result in economic change, which in other words means that political change doesn’t result in change.”

    — Julian Assange

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Wikileaks. Obviously the big story of the week, I don’t think the leaking of US diplomatic cables and the overarching issues it raises have been served all that well in the analysis I’ve read so far. And I’m really unimpressed with the critical reactions I’ve read (this, by the otherwise solid Anne Knudsen at the Danish weekly, Weekendavisen, is disingenous and reductive). Wikileaks’ smart frontman Julian Assange’s own statements have also been somewhat dubious, especially in this self-important and -serving Q&A session with largely fawning Guardian readers, though his interview with Time Magazine is much better. This New Yorker piece from the time of the Iraq leaks is somewhat helpful, but like most of the media focuses too much on the man and too little on his work. The best general political analysis I’ve seen so far is Ascherson’s for The Guardian.
  • In other news, I found this impassioned critique of the Obama administration by Frank Rich both compelling and, naturally, depressing.
  • Doonesbury at 40

    I just wanted to take the time slight belatedly to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of Garry Trudeau’s now classic newspaper strip. I don’t see any need to list Trudeau’s accomplishments (Gary Willis provides a fine overview at the NYRB), nor to add much to the accolades that it has received, but merely wanted to emphasise how unique a realisation of the potential of comics Doonesbury really is.

    Trudeau’s fairly early choice to have his characters age in real time, à la Frank King’s surprisingly congenial Gasoline Alley, has turned it into a generational narrative of mounting historic proportions — read as a whole, it offers a portrait of an American generation, as well as, increasingly, their children (Trudeau seems to understand his generation’s children better than most baby boomers who have tried something similar). It offers a greater realism of character than just about anything that has ever appeared on the comics page, while remaining acutely, and hilariously, satirical and never letting go of comics’ historically honed faculty for archetypical iconography and flights of fancy. Plus — as Trudeau notes in this smart interview — it has used the daily accrual to build the presence of its characters and satirical intentionality in ways that are nigh-impossible in just about any other form.

    Yes, the drawing has remained staid, the visual characterisation repetitive, but the intelligence of the writing brings it alive to an extent where the cartooning appears sufficiently neutral in character to work as a kind of journalistic vernacular that lends it a natural authority and blends it with its immediate environment.

    And it is still going strong. This past decade has seen some of the most powerful sequences and compellingly nuanced character moments yet. Maybe not as funny as it used to be — and where the hell is our Obama icon? — but thoughtful and resonant. More than anyone could ask for such a venerable strip. A great American comic.

    Above: the Doonesbury strip for 21 April 2004. Read Doonesbury here.