As I’ve mentioned, most of my books are bought in a haphazard fashion, generally at the Hollywood & Western Out of the Closet. The most fascinating thus far has been Timothy Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus. Published in ’73, it’s an insider account of the lives of journalists covering the 1972 election, focused by necessity on the ill-fated McGovern campaign. (Nixon’s strategy was an imperial one; he used the strength of the office to enhance his stature and to highlight the many undeniable flaws of McGovern.) In the run up to the ’08 election, the book has a OH MY GOD NOTHING EVER CHANGES feel. The players are the same & there’s a looming spectre of a war that can’t be won haunting America. Concerns about the quality of journalism, and its impact on the electorate! Etc! Etc!
Crouse had the bad luck to be the other political reporter for Rolling Stone. Along with the work of Hunter S. Thompson, his campaign coverage in 72 remains the magazine’s high-water mark for writing. (Incidentally, one of the most interesting developments of the last few years has been the current political correspondent, Matt Taibbi.) Thompson’s own brilliant book on the 72 Campaign has overshadowed Crouse’s achievement. The Boys on the Bus is most often referenced as a source book for Thompson’s Crazy! Insane! behavior, which is a shame. There’s a lesson in that for you, somewhere.
Tolling like a bell throughout Crouse’s book, and once again making 2007 feel a lot 1971, is the impact of technology. One section on the advent of cable news could be used nearly verbatim as a description of BLOGGING, YOUTUBE, and the INTERNET. Wild crazy guys on a lawless frontier taking on traditional media! Newspaper circulation declining! Traditional reporting going out the window! (And we shouldn’t forget, either, that 72 was early enough for reporting to still be feeling the shocking impact of plain old network news, the novelity of which is examined at great length by Crouse.)
Technology and its supposed impact have been on my mind– so imagine my surprise when I checked !Journalista! and discovered Mr. Dirk Deppey’s on-going discussion of comics piracy. Deppey’s blog is one of my favorites, but it does have a dark downside: very occassional links to articles about e-books, digital paper and comics going digital! Mostly I ignore them. I try and have the same truce with articles about technology blowing up everything we know that I have with God: if He’s not thinking about me, I’m not going to think about Him. But Deppey’s question about the tipping point has, uh, tipped me over my point, and someone’s gotta say something. And that someone’s gotta be me. I guess.
So, let me state a basic rejoinder to every article about digital paper, about comics disappearing, and about the iPhone delivering babies: shut up. Everything is always going to be the same. I know it’s a depressing thought, but there it is. Nothing, not even newspapers, are going away.
The problem really began with everyone under 50 first noticing the impact of COMPUTING TECHNOLOGY when they threw out their CDs and took up MP3s; ever since, we’ve been on High Red at the Event Horizon. Unfortunately, this model isn’t scalable outside its first occurrence.
MP3s became dominant because CDs and cassettes were terrible, terrible mediums. (At least Vinyl had huge art.) You loved listening to Hendrix, but you didn’t love a CD. They were clunky, hung around, and took up too much space. It was a stupid and overpriced (this fact is not insignificant) way to give people what they wanted. Take, on the other hand, cinema. Chain exhibitors are doing everything they can to destroy the experience and yet people are still going to films. (Ignore the nonsense about the current box office slump; this is market variation which will correct itself.) Despite many fears, the theatre is never going away. The experience can not be replicated by DVD, by torrents, or by legal direct-on-demand cable.
We move to comics. HAS COMICS PIRACY impacted the industry? Absolutely, no question. Have Marvel and DC and even our highly valued indy publishers lost money? Possibly. It depends on what you consider a sale. If I, for instance (and I didn’t) pirated the Kree-Skrull War trade paperback, would that be a lost sale? Marvel, with its vested interest, undoubtedly would argue yes, but in reality, unless I was getting that garbage free, I’d never read it. On the other hand, there obviously are people getting a mainline fix via the new weekly torrents. But would they buy these books if the torrents weren’t available? The question, really, is this: have “mainstream” comics become such a boutique industry that they can survive piracy because the audience only wants the books in a certain way, in a certain format, with non-zombie variant covers? Recent blockbuster sales make me lean towards yes.
But that’s the short term. Eventually the cholesterol in those hearts will harden and the target audience will die. What of the long term impacts? Here, we return to The Boys on the Bus. (Remember it?) 35 years later, what most comes across is the concern of newspaper reporters that network news can do their jobs better, and quicker; and if you look at the quality of most political coverage circa 1969, that’s certainly true. Why read a 500 word article when you can hear Dan Rather say it in 30 seconds? I may be wrong, but I believe that the papers were forced to adapt and adopt new forms of longer, analysis based journalism (at least until the advent of USA TODAY) that buoyed them for several decades. This lasted until the World Wide Web, a medium absolutely perfect for longer, analysis-based journalism. Now what will happens to the papers!??! Do they go away entirely?! Some will, assuredly. Maybe even one or two biggies. But someone’s going to figure out a new way to write and present data that’s better suited in a physical, newsprint format than the web. Listen, I’ve subscribed to The New Yorker for like 15 years. Half of the articles are online now, and I still read that damned thing front to back each week. The reason why is simple– it’s less irritating to read a 15,000 word piece over a few days on the toilet than it is to read it in a single, or multiple, viewings on a webpage. Even if it is an article about not thinking making you’re smart.
(This is why e-books are, have been, and will be the great chimera of publishing. I’m sure there are some dope addled freaks who do prefer reading Dickens like this, as opposed to this, but we can’t allow drug addicts to shake our faith in a 500 year+ perfected technology. And I say this as a guy who’s got a website full of PDFs.)
How does this relate to the weird world of comics? I’m willing to accept that in the long term, piracy may mean the death of “mainstream” comics in the pamphlet format, and my god, wouldn’t that be great? If so, it’s because the virtues, so-called, of mainstream comics exist in the Bizarro World of anti-reading. When big, meaningless splash pages of exaggerated musculature and striking B&W graphic design hide the fact that neither Brian Michael Bendis nor Frank Miller can write, then of course it’s going to be pirated– these are objects to look at, not read, and a backlit LCD screen is the perfect medium for such an endeavor. Even the great online success story of web comics is based on having, at most, 6 panels that can be viewed in a glance.
But the long form comic that requires its audience to actually, you know, read is much better suited to the printed page. Even if that form is only 25 pages. Sorry, Scott McCloud, but it’s true. Any other way and it’s too annoying.
Much like me posting 30,000 words about comics piracy.
(P.S. The title of Boys on the Bus got me an attempted gay pick-up on the Red Line. It took me about 3 minutes to realize the guy wasn’t crazy and figure out what was happening. Nice enough guy.)
This was to be first in a comical series of examples about my neighborhood and my inability to discern a quote-ghetto-unquote from anything short of a subdivision where the median income is $200k/yr. I was here for half a year before I realized that I was living in what most people would consider a ghetto– and only because someone said, “Dude, you live in a bad neighborhood.” This is nonsense: there’s no such thing as a bad neighborhood. The entire idea is a subtle form of racism and/or classism. If anything, I live in an up-and-comer waiting to be gentrified by the slow crawl of plasticine actresses and scumbag directors. I’m probably their shock corps.
Anyway, once you’ve tasted the apple… On my own, I wouldn’t have looked for examples but now I do, and I thought some blog hilarity might be had via the circumstances of the human comedy. About two weeks ago I got off the Metro and there was an awful, awful smell in the air. Fire. I couldn’t figure out where from, so I kept walking towards my apartment and there, down a side-street, it was: a burning car. Firefighters were already on the scene.
I didn’t have my camera, which I immediately regretted. But reality’s got my back: the burned out hulk has been sitting in the same spot ever since. So this was going to be my first jokey post– images of the burned out car & a you know you’re living in a bad neighborhood when… they’re torching cars. Totally awesome!
Only problem: the car is parked in front of the neighborhood drug house. I’m 80% certain that the guys who torched the car are the same guys always in front of the house. Then I had a visionary moment: holy, this is like a salt and pepper set. You know you live in a bad neighorhood when they’re torching cars… and the car’s too close to a drug house to take pictures! #1 & #2.
The drive from Los Angeles to San Simeon is best described in one word: long. For a normal person, it takes four hours. Because I am the master of either space & time or the gas pedal, I did it in three and then had to add on an hour of nothing to get our prebooked tour. The return trip hit traffick around Santa Barbara & had me doing the full four. Still, I live.
The Hearst Castle is what it is: another major California attraction that once was a rich man’s home. The grand follies of the fabulously wealthy are interesting places to tour, and the primarily Southern European/Mediterranean exteriors of San Simeon contrasted against the Northern European/Gothic interiors make it feel like you’re stepping in and out of two completely different worlds. Superbly disconcerting. My interior photos didn’t turn out– no flash and no time to get the settings right.
After the tour & National Geographic propaganda film (no mention of Marion Davies?) we got lunch and sat around feeding potato chips to a murder of crows. Possibly the best part of the day.
There was an Indian family on the tour & they broke into the most Deadwood-esque dialogue I’ve ever heard.
Mother: “That man, he died. That man Hearst.”
11-Year Son: “Is he in Heaven? Was he a good man or a bad one?”
Father: “That’s for Jesus to judge. It’s not our place. It depends on his deeds.”
A last remnant from the visit Back East: pictures of a trip taken to Waterbury, CT’s infamous Holy Land, U.S.A.
It’s hardly better than trash-picking but I am an aficionado of taking fliers from light-poles. Today I came across one for a missing dog, lulu– it’s both sad and also (unintentionally) the funniest & weirdest thing I’ve seen in a flier.
FYI: I wouldn’t take a lost dog flier under normal circumstances and had a debate about this one, but there were a lot around.
Any individual monitoring the pre-primary Election 2008 chatter, can’t have missed that one of the biggest issues thus far has been Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and what it means. There are many good reasons to find Romney disturbing– like his apparent lack of an ethical center and core identity, but Mormonism is not one. There’s a double-standard in American religion against any faith that has its originS in the New World. This is not unique to Mormonism– take, for example, the case of the Nation of Islam or the Moorish Science Temple of America. In the popular and scholarly literature, both are discussed as social protest groups but ignored almost entirely as serious expressions of religious faith.
This isn’t to say that Mormonism isn’t ridiculous. Of course it is. Religions are inherently unable to withstand rational scrutiny from without. This is the real Mystery of Faith; that people are able to accept and believe ideas both supernatural (i.e., the resurrection) and social (i.e. love thy enemy, turn the other cheek) that make no logical sense. It’s no different if you’re Christian or Muslim or Scientologist. There’s an inherent hypocrisy to the debate circling around Romney– as if believing that Jesus appeared in the Americas is somehow more implausible than believing that he appeared, resurrected from the dead, to that doubtful fellow Thomas.
Because I have a weak spot for Mormonism, the Romney candidacy excites me, if only for the prospect of revisiting the origins of the religion. Over the last few decades, the Church of LDS has softened, becoming Christ-centric and moving away from its early history and its prophet, Joseph Smith. That’s too bad, but understand. Outside of Mormon circles, Smith has a terrible reputation as a charlatan and a conman.
While there’s no reason to believe that Smith was anything but sincere, I do think that he is best understood as a late practitioner of Western occultism. Prior to his discovery of the Golden Tablets, Smith had been employed as a treasure-hunter; his final method of divination was via the use of scrying stones, and indeed, it is through scrying crystals, which he called Umrim and Thummin, that he “translated” what became the Book of Mormon. When Smith was assassinated, a talisman of Jupiter was found on his body– it took decades to identify but eventually was traced to an 1801 book entitled The Magus by Francis Barrett. The Magus is kind of a catch-all primer on Western occultism– unsurprisingly, it instructs the reader on how to scry via crystals and stones.
Perhaps most fascinating is that the Book of Mormon, and its method of delivery, has a direct antecedent in the magical workings conducted during the reign of Elizabeth by Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley. Like Smith, Kelly and Dee employed scrying stones, some of which are still in the British Museum. They used these stones to communicate with Angels, who gave them a systematic form of religion (since dubbed Enochian magic) that was used by the Golden Dawn and now plays a role in the OTO. A central part of the story of Mormonism is Smith being lead to the Golden Tablets, like Dee, by an Angel. Nor should we overlook the instructions to Dee and Kelly of wifeswapping (which eventually ended their partnership), another direct parallel with Smith’s eventual revelation of polygamy.
The meaning of any of this is beyond me– it’s fascinating to contemplate that there is an outside chance that soon there could be a presidential candidate whose religious faith traces to time-honored and hoary occult practices. Romney’s the occultist’s choice!
UPDATE: Incidentally, this post was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Yay for the Wayback Machine– it allowed me to find the now dead transcript of Bertolt Brecht’s HUAC testimony during the first wave of Hollywood Blacklist hearings. Unlike the ten who refused to testify, Brecht, rather concerned that he might miss his plane back to Europe, faced the music– and promptly outwitted, mystified and wore down the entire Committee.
A particular highlight:
MR. STRIPLING: Mr. Brecht, since you have been in the United States, have you attended any Communist Party meetings?
MR. BRECHT: No, I don’t think so.
MR. STRIPLING: You don’t think so?
MR. BRECHT: No.
THE CHAIRMAN: Well, aren’t you certain?
MR. BRECHT: No-I am certain, yes.
THE CHAIRMAN: You are certain you have never been to Communist Party meetings?
MR. BRECHT: Yes, I think so. I am here six years-I am here those-I do not think so. I do not think that I attended political meetings.
THE CHAIRMAN: No, never mind the political meetings, but have you attended any Communist meetings in the United States?
MR. BRECHT: I do not think so, no.
THE CHAIRMAN: You are certain?
MR. BRECHT: I think I am certain.
THE CHAIRMAN: You think you are certain?
MR. BRECHT: Yes, I have not attended such meetings, in my opinion.
In a previous sycophantic post, I mentioned that I think Eddie Campbell is the single smartest person, both as an artist and a writer, to have ever worked in comics. Bacchus (under its 200 different titles of publication) was possibly the only character based series of the go-go B&W era that managed to achieve profundity, however fleeting, and the Alec books, individually and as a whole, are my favorite comics, period.
Whenever I feel like I’m throwing my life away, which is at least once a day, I think about How To Be An Artist. Read a certain way, the book tells the impressionable reader (me) that it’s OK to go ahead and bury that bastard in the dustbin. Thankfully, Campbell also published what I consider a companion volume, After the Snooter, demonstrating that once you have done, things work out all right. As long as you know Alan Moore. Which I don’t. You’re so going to Hell, Campbell.
Which says nothing about either of the two books’ artistry. Simply put, they’re masterpieces. Buy them while you can. More recently, Campbell released The Fate of The Artist, which everyone loved. Except me. Usually I’m all for pretentious gobeshit and Examinations of Art and Its Role but for whatever reason I couldn’t get into it. Anyway, I’m probably wrong, and I certainly recognize the book’s intrinsic merit. Just not for me.
Now Campbell’s got a new book out, The Black Diamond Detective Agency. I’ve only read one or two things about its genesis but I gather that it was a previously existing screenplay which Campbell was asked to adapt. If I’m correct, this is the thinking behind such a move: movie executives, being exceptionally stupid, are much more likely to buy a film if they get a package of pretty pictures and dialogue balloons instead of a bunch of INT. EXT. DAY. EVENING. printed across a page. This may well be true!
Campbell’s art is top notch and entirely on the ball: lots of experimentation with form and content but never so much as to distract. This leaves the reader’s focus on the story. Ah, yes, the story. Therein lies the rub. It’s by the numbers detective investigation set in the fin-de-siecle (one before last) American midwest. Whatever else may be said, from the characterization and plot development, it’s rather clear that this tale began life as a screenplay.
This point is important– screenplays, even detailed shooting scripts, are weird beasts. The format is designed for the intense collaboration of film making. A line of dialogue on the page allows for the impact (negative or positive) of the actors, the cinematographer, the foley artists, the scoring, and finally, the director. While not every screenplay is bereft of, say, characterization, it’s also much, much less necessary than in other storytelling mediums.
To put it another way, think of a film like the overrated Goodfellas. Think of any one of Joe Pesci’s hilariously psycho monologues. Now imagine them delivered by Bill Pullman. Directed by Uwe Boll.
Either way, it’s the same screenplay.
Campbell has taken on the unenviable task of filling each major (and minor) role himself: he’s the gaffer, the director, the actors, the DP, and the caterer. It’s Eddie Campbell’s personal vision of someone else’s post-Watergate detective story set in a random historical milieu.
The most bizarre aspect of this book is Campbell’s status as possibly the least cinematic major artist in comics. Under every other imaginable circumstance, I’d count this as a truly great thing. But presently it compounds the problem, and we are left with the barebones of a screenplay developed into a visual medium sans any of the technique for which it was intended. It’s not bad, per se. It’s just strange.
I’ve never bought into the idea of Comics as Incubator for Cinema, but at least Marvel and DC provide existing product envisioned first as comics and then adapted. Black Diamond’s reverse-engineered approach has only made me more suspicious about the perceived relationship between the two mediums. (It’ll be interesting to see if Marvel’s bet the farm on the wrong horse.)
But before you think it’s all crying & boo-hoo and Campbell what have you done, let me hit the positives.
As I’ve mentioned, the art. It’s great. The colors, the figures, the landscapes– all wonderful. Generally, when I think of Campbell’s work, what comes to mind are scraggly drawings of the artist playing fetch with his dog or a murder victim being pulled from a dodgy London gutter. Don’t get me wrong: these are always lovely. But in Black Diamond, there’s a real grace to much of the figures and coloring that I don’t remember seeing previously. Secondly, for what the story is, Campbell’s handled it as admirably as he could. Third, huzzah for the choice of full-bleed! It works well. (A minor complaint is the gutter: I feel like I’ve lost about 1/20th of most pages to the binding.)
So. All reservations aside– I enjoyed the book, it’s an affable way to spend a few hours, Campbell is a master, and if I weren’t embarrassed to recommend comics, I’d tell people to buy it.
Big day in Hollywood: Paris Hilton thrown back in jail. Much schadenfreude on all sides.
In celebration, here’s another weird book from the junk shop. A copy of the 14th printing of None Dare Call It Treason by John A. Stormer. Although impossible to read, I’m a big fan of mid-century anti-Commie literature. The books are always fascinating objects– disconnected from the design, printing, and intellectual currents of New York publishing, they’re a sweet fix for the ephemera addict.
This particular title sold something like 7 million copies. While not exactly a rarity, it does have a few interesting highlights, as you’ll see below. I like the HO (for Hollywood) phone number of the original owner.
An experiment I’ve been conducting since moving to Los Angeles: not buying books deliberately. This is not to imply abstinence, merely that I’ve opted to not acquire books based on my desire for them, instead letting fate and chance determine what ends up getting purchased. I can’t swear to total fealty to this approach– there have been a handful of Amazon foulups– but mostly I’ve kept to the technique. LA helps: is this the only major city in the US without a crazy huge warehouse bookstore?
A major component of the strategy has been the cheap acquisition of titles at the Hollywood & Western Out of the Closet, which has the best selection I’ve ever seen in a thrift store. Most books sell for $0.25. My guess is that these shelves are the end destination for the collections of the recent (but not rich) Hollywood dead & volumes given up by failed actors before the move home. Along with countless great deals, I’ve found many oddities — including a book club edition of Bellow’s Herzog that had been a rental at a local Hollywood bookstore in the 1960s. It still has the store’s secondary dustjacket detailing the terms of rentals. $0.05 a day.
Just recently I came across the weirdest book yet– a rebound copy of the 1960s Dover edition of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s A Rebours. I’ve read both the Dover and the Penguin, and if I’m not mistaken, this is the good translation. It keeps in all the homoerotica and god knows what else. Plus it’s readable. Anyway, considering that Dover’s books are designed to never fall apart, it is very strange to find one rebound– and, as the spine demonstrates, this is a privately rebound copy. It’s not a library book.
Huzzah for Peter Smith!
Other details include a flyleaf inscription by (presumed secondary) owner John G. Cleary, Jr., and another flyleaf inscription from the dealer that sold the volume. $4.50! I paid a quarter! The seller was Charles Sessler Inc., of Philadelphia, which seems to have been a storied establishment. Apparently now gone. Que sera sera.
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan