"The gender criticism was expected, but it seems very knee-jerk in the total context of what we did here and what the show is supposed to be. It’s easy to use such a political concern as a blunt, reductive instrument to rob the material and performances of their nuances. But there was no way to tell this story, in this structure, without that being an easy mark for someone looking for something to criticize."
--Nic Pizzolatto, head writer & creator
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
"The man of the ages of barbarous primordial culture believed in the dream he was getting to know a second real world: here is the origin of all metaphysics. Without the dream, one would have had no occasion to divide the world into two. The dissection into soul and body is also connected with the oldest idea of the dream, likewise the postulation of a life of the soul, this the origin of all belief in spirits and probably also of the belief in gods. 'The dead live on, for they appear to the living in dreams': that was the conclusion one formerly drew, throughout many millennia."
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (1878)
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
This legislation allows lawmakers to get votes by pandering to gynophobes. It serves no other purpose. Pathetic.
Addendum: This, sadly, is all too true. But legislation against abortion is hardly an obstacle to anyone wealthy enough to afford a discreet doctor. And I don't think it's a particularly useful argument to put forth, because the topic ISN'T race, and it's not fair to the women of every ethnicity whose freedom is on the line to try & turn it into a racial debate.
Monday, February 24, 2014
"There's the life and there's the consumer event. Everything around us tends to channel our lives toward some final reality in print or on film. Two lovers quarrel in the back of a taxi and a question becomes implicit in the event. Who will write the book and who will play the lovers in the movie? Everything seeks its own heightened version. Or put it this way. Nothing happens until it's consumed. Or put it this way. Nature has given way to aura."Please don't start ranting about 'Reads'.
--Don DeLillo, Mao II, p.44"In the text parts of Reads, I documented what was going on in my life as I was reaching my intended crescendo, on the assumption that something would reveal itself and I could document it, that there would be a rising to a crescendo in my own life which would echo the fictional crescendo I was building towards. Alan Moore, it turned out, was doing something very similar in 'Voice of the Fire', his novel. Of course, what results (as I think I can see pretty plainly in retrospect) is really very basic secular stuff: strange coincidences and synchronicities but nothing to write home about (in Alan's case taking a lot of drugs and puking in his bathroom and, there it is, the black dog he's been fictionalizing in a number of previous chapters is on the TV news; it turns out that the black dog had found the brain or the severed head of a murder victim which had been hidden up 'til then somewhere in Northampton-- I mean, sure, wowee-ka-zowee and ooga booga, if you want to look at it that way, but even taking a cursory overview you'd have to say, You fried your brain and puked your guts out on drugs for that?)."
--Dave Sim, letter to Colin Jaffe, 2004
I'm not. We were going to discuss 'Flight', remember?
Just file that quote. We'll be coming back to it.
In comics journalism, much of a muchness is made of wondering why so-and-so is such a Sour Old Bastard. Dave Sim is obviously a favorite. As is Steve Ditko. As is Alan Moore. As is Alex Toth. (I once made the misstep at a conference of asking a consortium of Adult Swim writers what Alex Toth thought of the direction Turner had taken Space Ghost et al. Fimbulwinter fell over the previously jubilant proceedings so fast you'd've thought I cracked the Casket of Ancient Winters.) Being in service to Industry, however, comics journalism often gets it wrong because they're coming at it cockeyed. "What happened?" presupposes a career went off-course.
C'mon. We're talking about the careers of Artists. Often self-taught artists, at that. There is no One True Path.
Where journalists, enthusiasts, and bloggers on the internet-- fans all --keep getting it wrong is the assumption that We have a better idea how it's meant to work than anyone else because We have been rubbernecking the game and pressganging the assorted players so long we have the straight dope. The inside track. But we don't. Not truly.
Allow me to repeat. There is no One True Path.
Really look at these guys. Sim & Ditko & Moore & Toth were individuals who loved the medium and to some extent must still, otherwise we'd have completely excused them from the Big Discussion long ago. Their contributions were such that we keep talking about them. Certainly *I* keep talking about Sim. We're not simply to figure out "What happened?" Trying to Solve A Life is as misguided as trying to Solve Art when the closet thing to an actual answer is Solve Et Coagula. No, we're wondering because we feel entitled. You. Me. The autist who photographs his penis ejaculating on plastic statuettes of Rei Ayanami, all the while whining about the finale to Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Hey, who let that unwholesome troll in?
You devote so much time & energy & attention to a thing, you expect a return. That's what fan mentality, fan entitlement, is about. Where we lose the thread is that Sim was as much a fan as any of us. Such a fan that he taught himself, day by day, month after month, how to wield a crow-quill pen with the best. In service to the medium of comix, of all things! That requires a degree of self-determination that the majority of fandom, conditioned by the guiding hand of the market to be Good Consumers, simply do not possess. This is a swath of the population whose guiding principle is "GIVE me." The nebbish who followed Alan Moore to the urinal for a signing, he's never going to be anybody unless that somebody is Mark David Chapman.
"Remember Dave, alcohol kills, but so do fans that own guns."Fan mentality. I'm not saying it's forgivable: I'm saying it's comprehensible.
--letter from Cerebus 'fan' Terry Woo, 1987"It is exactly this sort of letter that makes me question the wisdom of going to cons. I mean, it comes down to sitting there saying to myself, 'What am I DOING here?' The charity events seem to me proper justification. However annoyed or trapped or besieged I get to feeling, it is in the name of a good cause.
"But, when people start in on the Dave the Druggie, Dave the Alcoholic, Dave the Ego-maniac... When people refer to me as a demi-god and an asshole in the same sentence... When people talk about 'fans that own guns'... Charity or no charity, I feel like staying home.
"If anyone knows this guy, tell him to give his head a shake. Please."
--Dave Sim's reply, Aardvark Comment, Cerebus #104
You don't want to believe that you've devoted X years, X decades of your life (to say little of your income, likely earned performing a function you didn't much relish) to watching a tale unfold without expecting some sort of payoff. Sometimes, however, that's the sad case. Imagine how the creators must feel. Stories fizzle. There will be no Big Numbers #4. Talents flounder. Biologic Show #2 will not be forthcoming. In a slightly rosier scenario, talent wises up to the crude tricks Industry has been playing for as long as there have been plates to engrave and take their not-inconsiderable gifts elsewhere. Your Alan Moores. Your Alex Toths. Which is why Dave Sim remains an exceptional outlier: as a fan he took what he had learned and established himself as a practitioner, from the proper angle to apply nib to paper to how to promote the finished printed product.
I don't think it's a gross generalization to say that's beyond fandom. In every sense. That's dedication.
Ask Carla Speed McNeil. Ask Eddie Campbell. Ask the auteurs.
Naturally ego is a huge component. It has to be, to some extent. And ego goes weird, depending how it's nurtured. Or stoked. Or cajoled. Or threatened. Which is how we got Dave Sim. Fandom tends to forget that, same as a comic book, talent is subject to develop one accomplishment at a time. More pointedly, in the course of our being conditioned to esteem Industry over Individuals (brand loyalty to DC or Marvel or whatever four-color crack your monkey subscribes to) we eschew recognizing that the sum of these accomplishments are, ultimately, fallible folks with wages to earn, groceries to buy and ailments to allay. As an audience, as fandom, as (*choke*) consumers, we ignore our potential role as patrons to those individuals who create our favorite works of art. There is no One True Path, but try telling that to fandom. When our expectations are not met we rail on talent as though it were a jammed vending machine. "What happened?" Rage 'til product drops. When we're not feting creators like celebrities we have a tendency to shit on them worse than civil servants. How Dare Alan Moore. Not a week has passed in the last decade of the blogosphere without some embittered fan typing a variation on that very demand. Who can blame our darlings, then, for covering their ears & beating a leery retreat? We don't hold ourselves accountable for our part in how artists come to perceive the world, but if they fuck up it's How Dare They.
Hell hath no clangor of petulant, clucking peacocks like fandom spurned.
Sim's most pronounced foible, the compulsion to extract three-course meals from a single nit, stems from his forcible exposure to journalists, enthusiasts and (god help us) bloggers on the internet, all clamoring to hold him accountable for every. damn. word. Fandom made Cerebus a noteworthy success to the exact same extent that it made Dave Sim an asshole. Take a stroll through the Aardvark Comments of the first hundred issues if you don't believe me. This goes some way toward explaining why he felt compelled to retcon the entirety of Cerebus several times over the course of its run. Because we made it his obligation to explain himself. When Cerebus began in '77 Sim had more practical experience as a journalist for CANAR than he had as a comix artist. By the time he was twenty-seven he was being courted by both Marvel and DC as a viable contender. "People are offering me a lot of money for Cerebus. Depending on how much they want to devour, the numbers get pretty wild. DC's offer was in the six figures." By 1983 he was a statesman of the indy press, doing jams & cross-overs left and right. Interviews. Tours. Signings. Not too shabby for a drop-out from Hamilton, Ontario.
Then in '87 he received his first(?) death threat.
Talk about growing up in public.
"The genesis of [Aardvark Comment] was the oft-expressed fan sentiment that there is something wrong with printing letters of praise exclusively-- that Marvel does this and as a consequence their credibility suffers. Not wanting to let my credibility suffer-- or even experience twinges of discomfort --I set about trying to strike a balance. That presented a different problem. Cerebus is mine. All mine. On a day-to-day basis I just shrug off the 'Dear dip-shit' letter and drop it in the garbage. The problem was finding something to say to these whimsical individuals. Do you see? It was the difference between picking up the phone and hearing a stream of invective that you can stop by replacing the receiver or having people shuffling around your apartment saying, 'A wonderful apartment. Just great. You should be very proud, but that chair sucks and these colours aren't right and the rug is ugly', or 'So this is the great apartment? Hah! It used to be great but there's nothing here. It used to be full of neat stuff but the new stuff is all CRAP.'"Note how he refers to Cerebus both as a means of communication and a residence. That's not cheap hyperbole. He lived in that book, day-in and day-out, for twenty-seven years. It was what he'd chosen to devote himself to. Sure, okay, yes, self-publishing IS a choice, and if you put yourself out there for people to read then you're liable to reap as many rectally-minded reprobates as admirers, but that doesn't mean that he was -asking- for abuse. With fans like Terry Woo it's easy to see why Thomas Pynchon keeps his head down to focus on fiction. If P. were acting as his own agent I suspect he'd be just as much of a crank as Alan Moore.
--editorial in Aardvark Comment, Cerebus #87
And that's ultimately what concerns fandom, isn't it? What keeps us blogger wannabe journo hacks awake at night. Wondering why our fan favorites torque on the Old Man Pants. Why Miles Davis played with his back to the audience. Why the talent doesn't love us as fervently as we stalk them. Nevermind that they're just jamming because it's the music that matters. The Alan Moores and Dave Sims, for all their sins, all they were ever really trying to do was have fun and earn a living doing it and just MAYbe, in the doing, demonstrate that we could have just as much fun if we got off our rusty-dusty and tried dancing too. That's what I've always seen in Sim: he was trying to set an example. Was he always a sexist? How the hell would I know? Ask Coleen Doran. She knew him when. At the age I encountered his work, he was less concerned with combating the Feminist-homosexualist axis than bringing down the Berlin Wall between creators and their right to complete creative self-determination. At thirty-two Sim wasn't a snotnose eager to give the industry the hot foot, he was the guy organizing the Creator's Bill of Rights summit. He was the man promoting every indy comic artist you could name, on his own dime, in the back of every issue of Cerebus throughout the latter nineties. Men and women. Gay and straight. Peer and prole.
Where I came in.
"The first major contribution to my creative life that Barry [Windsor-Smith] made came at a.... convention, I forget where. He had prints of all his Gorblimey Press work there, and, for whatever reasons, began to describe the allegory behind the 'Ram & Peacock' prints.... Barry unraveled, in meticulous detail, the interlocking representations and juxtapositions, the story he intended to tell with the picture and the grand joke that it would sell on the basis of the barbarian in the picture when the barbarian was incidental to the intent of it.Mom gave you 'Flight'. For Christmas.
"His explanation triggered a way of looking at creativity, for me, that continues to this day."
--from 'I Remember Barry' in Swords of Cerebus vol. 5, 1983 (italics mine)
My birthday, actually. A signed & numbered copy. Along with a single issue that was cut at the printer's wrong. I wanna say it was... 177? The company she was doing graphic design for, ACC, they used the same print shop as Cerebus. She knew I'd been following the title for a few years-- inasmuch as a kid in Weaver, Alabama could track a b&w Canadian comic after the Great Glut...
A lot of fantastic comix got shafted in the wake of Eastman & Laird.
Including a deeply quirky Aardvark-Vanaheim title, Puma Blues. Loved that one. I'd found every back issue up to the 24 1/2 mini...
A tanget for another time.
We need to come back to it, though. Swear you won't forget.
When do I ever?
You muffed Christmas. So mom knew I'd been following Cerebus, best as I was able. And she plonked 'Flight' on me.
Of course you still hadn't read, like, 3/4s of the story as it stood then.
I opened it to page one.
And got walloped with Frazer's 'Golden Bough'.
But had no idea. I just thought it was an amazing, fantasy-fueled poem. It tickled my brain but I couldn't say precisely where. This kind of thing happened all the time with me and Cerebus. "This acid still hasn't kicked in. Did I get burned?" ZAT! Years later, I catch a reference I didn't realize was there and it enriches my appreciation of the thing. Like, my favorite character from the second volume of Church & State is doubtless The Judge. Yet I hadn't the slightest inkling he was a riff on Feiffer's 'Little Murders'. Do you have to know who Lou Jacoby is to appreciate the nuance of expression & delivery whenever the Judge shows up?
You weren't too quick to cross-reference with The Watcher, either.
Ehh, I wasn't into Fantastic Four. Point being, Sim was reading allll the time, then folding the fruits of his research into the narrative. Similar to Gaiman & Moore, always trawling for mythic resonances too big to toss back.
And like them, he was kind enough to explain his Method via the narrative. That first spread in #151 is of Cirin purging the library of the Eastern Church. Picking the books she needed and tossing the dross.
Nailed it! Sim was actually explaining his writing process as he told the story. One of the big allures of Cerebus as a comic was that every issue in some respect demystified the creative process of making a monthly book. It made the production of a high-quality work appear possible to us plebes. You didn't have to submit to being a cog in a factory to produce art with pedigree. Whether you thought Cerebus was a great story or not, it was more honest than the majority of Marvel hackwork where the 'plot' was merely dog-paddling from one part of the shallows to the next. Often as not in the 90s, the Big Two writers were bluffing a bigger 'advancing' story...
When in actuality everything was about maintaining the status quo. Creating the illusion of change. Robin dies so there can be another Robin. Superman "dies" so he can come back in a year's time and wallop the bad guy. Joker 'dies' so it'll be surprising when he crops up again in two months...
To ever-diminishing returns. Devaluing death & life alike even as they demean the greater potential of the medium. Contrast that cynical, sales-driven approach with '85-'95 Cerebus, where the art & narrative style were so immersive and, well, unpredictable. Improv was part of the plan. Contrast Cerebus with everything North American mainstream comix has conditioned us to expect. Even Alan Moore wasn't particularly surprising, plotwise. He was borrowing from the same four-color palette as everyone else in comix, only with more Pynchon thrown in.
Whereas the clip of Cerebus #151, the opening salvo of 'Flight', went from purging a library to a whiteknuckle swordfight, to the death of the demon Khem (whaaa?) to the death of Death! Talk about heavy metal.
Ripping, right? Oh, those swordfights. Man but Sim can milk an action scene. If ya'll been paying attention to my reading order and you're even remotely familiar with the series, you'll have realized I hadn't seen Cerebus pick up a sword once. So this was damned exciting. I mean, I'd seen the little gray bastard scale mountains and overcome obstacles with everything from wiles to brute force to dumb luck, but I'd never realized he had such a specific Skill.
Another knack Sim had. For letting the story spool out organically to where a reader would eventually forget things, then he'd reel 'em with a hard right. By the time of 'Flight' a great many readers had forgotten about Cerebus' sword arm. They were there for the jokes and the mystery and the drama and Gerhard's beautiful backgrounds.
He was always lulling you in. No pounding of the plothammer with Sim. He'd make rhythmic use of story elements, absolutely. The man could work a cadence, but he wouldn't drill you with it like Moore.
Moore never, ever lets you forget.
No. Moore's always been big on the emphatic precision of his plot mechanisms. They're predicated on the reader's total awareness. He doesn't allow for surprise so much as ensnare in a diabolical machine. Which is why so many of his detractors say he's boring, because he is predictable in a Kubrick kind of way. The end is always right there in the beginning. It's the classical form. Not exactly freestyle.
Then we proceed from the death of Death (probably as much a total what-the-fuck for you as the rest of the general readership, who'd forgotten Death was ever a player) to check in with Lord Julius and Baskin.
"How many people -are- there on the 'steering' committee?"Had I seen any Marx Brothers? No. Had Sim sold me on the Marx Brothers? You bet. Imagine my consternation when I discovered he rarely if ever lifted dialogue from their skits. Where does he get this stuff? Simple. He studies it, then he writes it, then he reads it aloud; revises, polishes, draws it. He practices. Again, telling you how it's done by example. It's all right there on the page.
"Seventy-two, Lord Julius."
"SEVENTY-TWO people on the 'STEERING' committee?
"Take a letter: to the Chair of the 'steering' committee.
I have just been informed that seventy-two people serve under you on the 'steering' committee on public policy and exchange. It is my considered opinion that seventy-two people under a chair violates several articles of the Palnan fire code, not to mention the Health & Safety Charter of 1408 and most people's idea of a good time.
"'Therefore I am instructing you that as of this date, all members serving on the 'steering' committee (with the exception of yourself) are to have their tenure revoked. You may informed the members of this and advise them that there are (oddly enough) seventy-one positions currently available on the newly-formed 'Everybody Get Out And Push' committee.
"'Yours very sincerely' etcetera etcetera."
Faster than you can say narrative whiplash! The story careens into the resurrection of the ancient Pigtish idol.
The WHOLE of 'Flight' is like that. One genuinely exciting, weird, compellingly cosmic tumult. With #151 as a taster how could you not need to see what happens next?
Don't give me that face. 'Reads' was still two years away, for me.
True. So as much as Cerebus is to blame for you wanting to run away with the circus, your mom's to blame for you reading Cerebus.
Damn straight. I devoured 'Flight' in a single sitting. Then read it again. And again.
Y'know what? Stuff blame. I owe mom heaps for getting me into comix. She introduced me to Moebius. Probably saved me from succeeding at suicide. If she hadn't been a huge creative influence who knows how I would have fared, stuck on that farm where hardly anything grew but weeds, a slave to mechanical maintenance, scrap & salvage. Paper was at least a living thing once. Ink is an honest end result of carbon. But drudgery in thrall to electrical equipment that's designed for obsolescence, reverse-engineered in slipshod fashion to secure a patent? That's the shitty entropy Pynchon disses on, an inversion of natural order: the living enslaved by the inanimate. That's not life, that's the opposite of art: not the record of life, but indenturement. Maybe the life my father chose, but I refused to make it mine. I opted for art because all the examples of artists I had seemed to celebrate living.
True, I did start dating in '94. But how 'bout we skip to the main act?
You elliptical cad. Bet you say that to all the voices in your head.
The disappearing act, Nerd Lobe.
Ah. How'd we do that one again?
First, we bought a tab of acid from Lane Millwood...
Wowee ka-zowee and ooga-booga!
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Of all the elements in TRUE DETECTIVE, this is the one that haunts me the most. "The aunt, she reckons it was somethin' she made in school. To me, it was like someone havin' a conversation..." And then Cohle drifts off. Of course, when Cohle finally makes it into the late Rev. Tuttle's school, it's littered with the damn things.
We've seen three types of 'witch trap' so far: the standard, pictured above; a highly geometric variation at Ledoux's place--
...and a third thing, which probably isn't a 'witch trap' at all.
Given Cohle's meandering dialogue throughout the interview of eps. 1-5, I'd hazard this monster wreath is closer to what Cohle called a 'life trap'. So let's put it aside a moment.
Remember the painting in the burned church?
It has a companion of sorts at the abandoned school:
I'd ignore the obvious "hear / see / speak" riff, except that these are all senses directly linked to language. That the teen victims of the the cult have all been blindfolded hasn't escaped my attention, either.
This is total spitballing, but what if the 'witch traps' aren't wards for catching demons, but are, well... kind of like crab traps for souls? The diminutive ones we've seen throughout are for younger, immature souls (ranging from babies to teens) and the rigorously geometric ones, such as at Ledoux's and the 'life trap', are meant for adults?
And why am I fairly certain that the contents of Cohle's storage unit will relate to the Conversation?
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Point being, the actors that kept me from watching the film in 2007 were never really in my way. Similarly Sorkin's script never stoops to the kind of self-aware wit that made 'The West Wing' ultimately infuriating to me. The source material & period setting probably went a way toward solving that tendency. There's a pleasant lack of finesse in trying to re-create the time-period: it doesn't look like it had ARGO's budget and doesn't seem to care, preferring to rely on the strength of its plot and players. (There's one kid CWW shares with ARGO who I finally recognized from THE SOUND OF HER VOICE. Christopher Denham. I want to see more of that kid. He's got a compellingly clipped demeanor in everything he does. He's like a skinny Philip Seymour Hoffman, only less laconic. Guess he doesn't like heroin. He certainly steals every scene of CWW he's in.) Mike Nichols' direction is as tight as it's ever been, invisibly guiding everyone and everything back toward the story. He resembles Stephen Frears that way: no frills, no ego, eyes strictly on the script.
What I found most interesting about CWW was its willingness to take every opportunity to call bullshit on the motives of its characters and the narrative they sought to construct: the wind-up of the film is Wilson never gets away with lying to himself that appealing to noble action is the same as performing it. Philip Seymour Hoffman serves as Wilson's angel, Gust Avrakotos, going so far as to come between the man and his libations during a victory celebration to remind him that outspending the enemy doesn't win wars. Gust is really the reason to sit down with this movie; Hoffman is at his most deadpan throughout, disappearing into his character as thoroughly as Gust inveigles himself into Wilson's conscience. It's a fascinating thing, seeing a CIA figure playing the kind of hero we're always told they intend to be but rarely succeed at. Hoffman with his spring-loaded dramatic pounce really makes Clooney look like an effete punk. It's the combination of an insightful script & a stage-ready thespian which really sells Gust, who would in any other set of hands seem wholly unbelievable. (ARGO is a perfect example of what I mean. See below.)
Though wiki-wisdom informs me that Hanks was responsible for tacking a 'happy ending' ceremony onto CWW, there's no attempt to push the rosy conclusion because we know there isn't one. We see an awards ceremony, but it's hollow because Charlie Wilson was never trying to be a hero, he just wanted to help; contrast that with the ceremony we're told takes place in ARGO, where everyone whines about how unsung they are as heroes. Gust reminds Wilson, and audiences, that modern Afghanistan was our creation because we play pisspoor saviors, confusing timely "intervention" with the kind of dedication that actually shapes nations. Knowing what lay ahead is what creates the great tension in a film predicated on the great white myth of U.S. humanitarian interest. Wondering whether Wilson has the courage of his convictions, then discovering that he does, is tragic because he comes to realize courage isn't enough to persuade a country deadset on demonizing select enemies instead of understanding what creates them.
One gets the sense the writers believe as fervently as any character in the essential truth of the Afghan conflict as a tragic defeat for both its people and its alleged protectors. Whether this is truth or merely projection on my part is up in the air. I'm simply happy for the illusion of honesty in a culture that thinks films like SYRIANA and ARGO sufficiently address the complexity of what we've claimed we hope to achieve and the rubble-strewn vacuum we've left innumerable populations in. As though movies could do our mistakes justice.
It's also ultimately a film that manages to be effortlessly funny and ribald without making vulgarity the fulcrum the comedy pivots on. That Wilson's taste for sex and alcohol lands him in the jackpot politically isn't the point, so the plot makes a light meal of red herring by invoking Rudy Giuliani as a witchhunter who never materializes-- he's just the antagonist on the end of Wilson's lawyer's phone, providing the modicum of tension necessary to sustain the piece, eventually evaporating as the instigator of a scandal that fails to materialize. (Considering Giuliani recently took a poke at my city for its unpreparedness in the face of a freak storm makes his shit-stirring in the film an all-too-apt example of the kind of starfucking politicians readily engage in, making a fine contrast with Wilson's willingness to risk his career for an honest cause. Go away, Rudy.) Wilson's reaction to the scandal's end is one of the film's funnier moments, channeling a glee on par with Bill Murray's heartiest war whoops. Sorkin's comedy in CWW is as much predicated on timing as barbed wit. Gust giving Wilson a bottle of whiskey is a great excuse for a perfect whip-pan reveal.
Yeah, I kind of love this one. So much so that I don't want to ramble on & spoil it further. That I expected to hate it makes ARGO all the harder to find excuses for.
ARGO is first-and-foremost self-congratulatory. It champions America's international policies without bothering to elaborate on them, preferring instead to focus on the Effects of Terrorism, the bugbear of intelligent political discussion. ARGO shamelessly demonizes the Iranian populace, treating it as one with the Ayatollah who apsires to define it. There's no effort to understand the forces at work: the script finds a rationalization, a motive in the Iranian desire to serve the Ayatollah in securing the former Shah, but that's where any attempt at empathy ends. That the Ayatollah had no use for the Shah, a dying man, beyond giving the long-suffering population a target for the anger, is never discussed. The Shah is an emotional target for the Iranians, the carrot with which Khomeini directs a people starved for redress. But there's no room for an explanation in the script. The film is about saving six Americans and to hell with everybody else, starved & desperate or otherwise. Everybody else is 52 hostages and an angry violent mob. With more variables and more actors than CWW I suppose ARGO needed to simplify, but it did so at the cost of making any effort at a point beyond the self-interest of the U.S.
Affleck's 'hero' is a man who risks himself, nominally, inasmuch as we are given a sense of self to risk. He has a wife we don't see or hear much about until the final shots of the film. Affleck-- unlike CWW, I can't see the character past the actor --is more concerned with his son than the marriage he's taking a "break" from, and even then there's little to be gleaned from their relationship aside from an affinity for sci-fi. At several key moments Affleck stops to remind the American fugitives that "This is what I do," but what he does seems relatively apathetic. He conjures a scheme. He finds people to engineer its success. He secures materials. He makes a trip. He convinces the fugitives to find the self-confidence to risk an escape. He's not particularly invested in any of it, it's just what he does as a loyal Company man. His feat isn't unimportant, but it has to be milked with stock devices like cross-cutting to relentless Iranian antagonism. That we know he succeeded doesn't make the execution of his caper any more intriguing, and his binging on whiskey alone in a room as he agonizes internally doesn't make him any more compelling. He's a cipher, and worse, he's Affleck in star mode, doing his best deadpan Clooney. Eh.
The self-congratulatory tone of the film is at its most insufferable toward the end, as actors I really enjoy are wasted on performances that don't make any demands. Cranston is wearily good-humored and righteously angry in all the right places, but so what? Goodman is reliably jolly and sarcastic. Alan Arkin is wasted on the one 'clever' line in the film, its sole element of arguable comedy, the line "Argo fuck yourself," which he is forced to repeat entirely too many times. That Arkin was nominated for this is a damned shame. It makes me want to screen CATCH-22 or LITTLE MURDERS again. Between the three of these actors and the script we're reminded repeatedly how the CIA sees itself as a big screen hero who doesn't get thanked nearly enough for its hard work. Just like the mafia, angsting over not getting its cut from THE GODFATHER et al. I mean, at least when the Yakuza stopped whining about being misrepresentated in media and opted for making its own bad movies about itself, it made comedies-- albeit oftentimes unintentionally, but at least they managed to be funny. The film's hero-worship of the The Company is disgusting when placed alongside CWW, where the atypical Gust obviously cares more about wanting to educate Afghan children than shiny medals.
To return to the main problem, the necessity of rescuing six white Americans over 52 other hostages of varying ethnicity, several of the six have opportunities to be better actors than the rest of the cast but aren't given anything to do! Skoot McNairy comes closest, seizing a moment to sell their cover story in the face of probable capture, but the script gives him a performance that's patronizingly insulting to the Iranians, making childish "pew pew pew" and "whoosh" noises as he acts out storyboards from the film-within-the-film, the titular STAR WARS ripoff. It's meant to be unexpected because of his shit-scared routine throughout, but it only exists so his character can have a handshake in solidarity with Affleck later. He's competent where the rest aren't, solving the film. Again, largely a cipher. He is dedicated to his wife and that's about it. He and the rest of the hostages spent most of their time in a Canadian embassy sipping wine, chewing over their oh-so-tenuous situation, their sole moments of discomfort being occasional refuge in a crawlspace. Beyond their initial escape from the American embassy there's not much to work in the way of danger or paranoia with, so the film regularly resorts to cross-cutting to the vigilant labor of children in a "sweatshop" where shredded photo documents are reassembled. I want to like the six more; as the audience I should be compelled to care for them, but the other 52 hostages who are regularly referred to in news footage (and, in one horrific scene, tormented with a mock execution by firing squad) can't help but outweigh the fate of these people who do little more than squirm in doubt and drink heavily.
There's also a notable lack of sexuality or sensuality here; strange given the time period, the highly isolated circumstances, and the fact that four of the two are young married couples. Am I expecting exploitation? No. But basic human psychology would suggest more attention to physical comfort than the chaste holding of hands with which we're presented. The emotion is all high notes or lack of affect, an acting style I am tempted to refer to as Affleckted. There's not much to relate to in ARGO that isn't predicated on fear, which is pretty fucking sexist in itself. The women are mainly presented as being in peril, all but voiceless, and Affleck's wife simply doesn't exist. The one standout is an all-but-nameless Iranian housekeeper who could betray them but doesn't, instead lying to the military and ultimately going on the lam to Iraq. She does more acting with her eyes than perhaps any actress in the film accomplishes with dialogue, which again speaks to the lackluster script.
Overall ARGO lacks in drama and traffics in stereotypes, opting to rely on conventional editing, a heavy emphasis on "production value" (look how much money we spent on wardrobe & props, check out these vintage cars and weapons and toys), an altogether unmemorable soundtrack, predictable performances by big name stars. It's paint-by-numbers. I don't quite see how this got nominated for anything, it's such obvious Oscar bait.
Oh, and the poster was a ripoff of Mamet's SPARTAN. How many ways can a movie fail? Enough to make me esteem a Hanks film, apparently.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Monday, February 10, 2014
In the last day of it as I type this. Listening to my Sonic Youth library in chronological order. As kids, before they'd formalized themselves with a name, they used to play the same venues as DNA, James Chance and the Contortions, and Gray. I like to think about that: Basquiat scrawling non-sequiturs on Kim Gordon's dress as Eno tries to wrest a coherent recording from a whiskey-scented tenement with rafters soft as balsa. All roads bled through New York in '79. Kathy Acker out there documenting stripper talk. Burroughs dining in the Bunker, trying to ignore Lou Reed's incessant bragging. All those artists romanticizing the skids they lived in, the perverse aura of community tarring over the inevitable arguments... Pins a dimple in your grin to think of it, dunnit?
In the spirit of vacation, didn't get as much done as I'd wished. But got a good start. The cover was the big hurdle. I'd been staring at various stages of it for the past few weeks. Wednesday I loaded the disc changer and dove in. The most satisfying (& terrifying) bits were inked to 'Fook', my favorite Pigface record. Mary Byker's banshee howls were the perfect antidote to the perpetual techno drubbing from upstairs. Filling in blacks on the logo to Ogre & En Esch on 'Go', kept having flashbacks to when I started comicking in my late teens. The Goodwin efficiencies in Auburn. Same music was playing then, too, as I hunched over my butcher's block and cussed crow-quill nibs, though the neighbors were better: other artists, aspiring creators instead of drunks and dealers. I never had to tell my Auburn neighbors not to piss on the hedge outside my window.
Anyway, worked from 10am Wed. morning straight through to 8am Thurs. Powering through a tuff gnarl always leaves a body buzzing godlike. Thursday night I started on Page Zero-- what most of you think of as the Inside Front Cover (Where The Ads Go). My philosophy of comix is a touch different, in that it doesn't matter whether you're talking about pamphlets or collected editions or graphic novels: there's too much wasted space. Comics aren't magazines. They don't NEED ads. Graphic novels AREN'T NOVELS: they don't -need- buffer pages. In my opinion a comic should start with the cover. The cover should be the first panel in the story you want to tell. Inside front cover should be the first page, though in deference to conventional pagination I call it Page Zero.
In breaks between bouts of cursing the designers of the NASA logo and trying to correct a tragic bias in the layout on page one I read DeLillo's 'Mao II' and a ton of single issues of Cerebus. 'Church & State' again, don't worry. Reading them as singles is a vastly different experience than in collection, as you might imagine. Richer in ways-- in the trades you can't take a break from the compelling & comedic momentum to enjoy a random Cerebus strip by Coleen Doran (yes!!) or hear Bob Burden's rollicking rendition of how issue 104 was assembled. Sure, there are still the tirades, but they're not always wrong. Sim on the mephistophelean role of editors in the creative stewardship of comics, for example, or taking on Heidi MacDonald's dunderheaded interpretation of Church & State as being an argument for papal infallibility instead of, say, a ruthless sendup of greedfiends like Jimmy Bakker.
It's the pacing & body language of Sim's 'C&S' phase that never ceases to wow me. The linework is razor-thin. There are still vestiges of Barry Windsor-Smith when Dave tried to draw 'realistic' faces, as with Astoria: the eyes floating together a la BWS's Conan. But the cartoony faces are magnificent: Bishop Powers is one of my favorite things to meditate on, artwise, right alongside those elegant folds of drapery in everyone's clothes throughout the second volume. And Ger, man. Gerhard's design work is something else. Nobody ever talks about his Iestan architecture qua it being ARCHITECTURE, or throwaway stuff like the box the Gold Sphere arrives in... I could stare at the joins and filigree and hinges on that box forever.
It's those details that make me want to take my time with Last Astronaut. I want it to look so right it couldn't possibly have been drawn any other way. That's the takeaway I get from Cerebus: that book could not have looked any other way, from cover to typography, it had a trademark aesthetic, a thorough stylistic signature that made it Their Work. Browsing comic shops now, comparing new editions to the old ones in my library, I'm forced to contemplate how ridiculous it is that the publishing industry has brainwashed book designers & buyers alike into believing that every set of fresh tyres requires flash new spinny rims.
A wearying list of examples: The relettered reissue of 'A Small Killing' is so blurry it's squint-inducing. The hardcover Definitive Edition of 'Books of Magic' is honestly no different than the original paperback-- in some cases the scans are -worse,- going against the grainy texture of Bolton's work. The recolored Sandmans don't look more Modern as a result-- matter of fact, the digital jiggering of tones manages to make Hempbel's simple linework muddy, bringing out jags that weren't in the original. Re-coloring is the blu-ray of the comix industry. Who fucking needs it? Watchmen not merely survived for decades, but thrived -because- John Higgins' coloring looked like nothing else on the shelves. The originally b&w 'One Trick Rip-Off' is largely blue-brown now, except for a few painfully bright swathes of orange and purple. Thanks, guys.
Not to torque on the Old Man Pants. There are examples where the tweaking has brought the work to new audiences, even improving on the original. I almost can't conceive of Smith's 'Bone' in b&w now, so throughly do the colors complete his vision. Starstruck deserved a new lease on the shelves, certainly. But even those books no longer look like the Creators Built Them. That's the problem with pretty much the entire Love & Rockets reissue series: the books don't look like Los. Bros designed them, which is a severe difference from its initial oversize run where the issues didn't look like anything else on the shelves. Sandman, again: single issues were the high water mark of mainstream publishing, coverwise, and the initial run of trades were true standouts, but subsequent reprints and reprints-of-reprints have given every incarnation a look more overproduced than its progenitor to the point where the aesthetic could only be described as mixed-to-shit. It's a -comic book,- not a compilation of 90s-era 4AD album covers. In part McKean's mac fetish is to blame: from The Kindly Ones forward his work has had more in common with Raygun magazine than comix. With Sandman's sales cachet he sort of set the tone for the industry because, as with California, where DC/Time/Warner goes the nation is kindly encouraged to follow OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN. Then Chip Kidd was invited, because every party needs someone to deal 'luudes, I guess. Now we have a Los. Bros L&R trade series where the covers are just bleh, a mosaic of familiar panels with some mod juxtapositions and a single colored curve positioned to break the grid. Textbook same-o. Not a Ghost of Hoppers, a Whoa Nellie, a Love & Rockets X among them.
I dunno, man. The celebrity names & paychecks & movie options have turned comic publishing severely sameface. Anyone with a tablet & a bootleg of Photoshop can crap a cover. Look at Ashley Wood. No-one builds these things by hand anymore. Everyone wants their comic book cover to ape a movie poster. Warren Ellis argued vocally against this trend throughout the 00s, did his best to help combat it, but Ellis is Ellis, a hired geek who's still writing capes despite threatening to stuff lit cloves up his urethra if Planetary didn't change everything forever.
To spite all this folderol, Cerebus still looks like Cerebus. Consensus opinion of its creator's mental state is irrelevant: the man was able to craft (with no small contribution from Gerhard) a consistent & classic visual identity that's pert near timeless. I don't see where it's aged. Past issue #65 on, the covers astonished, whether considered singly or grouped to represent the serialized story, and the trades remain a standard few other publishers have managed to rival.
Do I think LAST ASTRONAUT will do anything to shake up the industry? No, I don't. Mainly because I'm deadset against involving myself in industry games. Part of the Big Problem seems to be that publishing is focused on sales (itself "informed" by focus groups and similar timesink shenanigans) instead of considering whether what is being published has merit. Is this a Book We Need, or is Just More Pap? Demand does not necessarily equal value. All that leads to is feeding the machine. The industry aspect of comix is deadening. Who wants to turn their art into little more than a high note amidst the noise produced by the publishing industry? Working on LA has forced me to look at art-- not just comics, not just book covers --anew. Art is life. Art is all around us, not just the comsumer events. Art isn't a degree in graphic design. Art isn't the hype surrounding nominees for best use of special effects in a major motion picture. Art isn't quirky superbowl ads. Art isn't youtube trailers for novels by notoriously reclusive authors. Art is observation. What makes a Goya composition inescapably Goya, dammit? What has allowed Talking Heads' Eno-era albums to stand outside of time? (For the present, at least.) Not our overweening obsession with nostalgia. Nostalgia is that which is sold to us. There is something in the aura of successful art, by which I mean art that is true to itself, not art invested in Moving Units. Art believes itself necessary, profit motive be damned.
LA is concerned with art as a necessary part of life, as an organizing principle, as more than psychic wallpaper.
Okay. Manifesto over.
Outside of that, rued watching the second season of Millennium-- urgh, talk about crass product --and nailed together layouts for the first two pages of story proper. It's coming together.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Friday, January 31, 2014
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Aside from the odd altogether too-intimate detail, you haven't spoken much about yourself thus far.
Wasn't much self to discuss. The Me that lived Then, there was a great deal of delusional, escapist fantasy clotting my brain. More at home in the woods talking to trees than around people. School wasn't going well because of it. I'd become a recluse in my own head. Comics were my primary pleasurable interest. I drew, but intuitively, obsessively, not well. Certainly not from the soul. Music was still somewhat foreign to the Me that lived Then, emerging from the chrysalis of my parents' tastes; there were a lot of grudging young millionaires with guitars & drum-machine techno drek as background to whatever I was crafting or reading. Writing was an interest, principally poetry, but after a complete stranger suggested I read Rimbaud there wasn't any helping my style for the next seven years.
The substandard model teenager, then.
You could've bought a dozen of me at the mall.
Small wonder you latched onto Cerebus.
There was other stuff, thankfully. I'd arrived at Moore & Gaiman through the guiding hand of the comix market, in one of its saner, more compassionate phases. Quarter bins introduced me to Puma Blues and gave me a greater window on Jean-Giraud than I'd had c/o mom's stash of 70s Heavy Metal mags. There was a plethora of small-press stuff, too: by that time I'd tracked all of the Strawberry Jam publications down. To Be Announced was fun, Mike Bannon's bubbly cartooning was the shit, but Night Life was my jam. When Twin Peaks began airing I became convinced Lynch & Frost had read Night Life, though there were relatively few similarities: small town scenario, a serial killer, subtext of secrecy intermingled with magic-- exactly the fantastic landscape a kid like me *wished* he inhabited, with danger and wonder and horror forever in my peripheral vision.
Weird escapism, considering you did have allotments of all those in your life.
Though how much of that was sublimated child abuse and the attendant self-loathing, even I can't say. There were constant hallucinations and bad dreams. Insomnia kicked in after the daughter of a neighboring family took a shotgun to her dad and brother. I overheard a sliver of that. So sleep deprivation played a big part of my life for the next few years, to the detriment of both my mental health & ability to function in class. I would stay up nights, wandering the woods and roads of Weaver while my parents slept. Eventually I went buggo and opted out of school.
At which point you were stuck working for your father in the electronics shop.
Working on electronics in a very primitive sense. I had no head for the mathematics involved, still don't. My heart was set on art but dad insisted I learn a Trade. The basics of the engineering I grokked; simple mechanical failures were an easy fix. Everything else was either dumb luck or stalling until the piece got rotated out to somebody else's bench to fuck with. Again, sleep dep & a tendency to Walter Mitty relentlessly made my ability to focus near impossible.
Plus you weren't having much success with girls.
Nary ANY success. When pressured by the few peers I had, my response was "Success with what?" I didn't know what I wanted, what I was after, much less what to do or even why I would want to. Fumbling attempts at courtship were something society strongly suggested you do, but nobody, not even my parents, really tried to explain the reasons. For me guys seemed just as viable, just as attractive. Being shut away from contact with the world an average of a hundred and thirteen hours a week kept me in books, in fantasyland, in a state of near-permanent polymorphous perversity.
And here you were reading about a hermaphroditic anthropomorph with zero sex appeal and no social skills.
Straight up my dead-end alley.
You've mentioned nightmares and insomnia and visions, repeatedly, so it's worth noting that the comix having the profoundest influence on you around this time were heavily influenced (if not directly informed) by dreams: Gaiman's Sandman, Sam Kieth's Maxx, Murphy & Zulli's Puma Blues, Jean-Giraud's Aedena cycle, and of course Cerebus.
Yeah. Insomnia can put you in a waking dream-state if you're not careful, so it seems only natural that my favorite works of art were akin to mainlining dreams. Twin Peaks, again...
That certainly sets the stage, doesn't it? It's 1990. Last time, you said:
"...where Sim thoroughly transcends the medium, setting it apart from literature, illustrative art, stage or cinema is in the depiction of dreams. Throughout Church & State are staggered a series of what he calls 'Odd Transformations', dream sequences lasting anywhere from a couple of pages to several issues. These are what struck me most about my first read of C&S vol. 2."And you, faithful sock puppet, replied that Sim saw "dreams as the connective tissue between art & life".
Shall we attempt a dissection? I brought my scalpel.
No, eager Nerd Lobe, dissections are for cadavers. Church & State is too exquisite a corpus to cut up. Let's attempt a little analysis instead.
How to get around that annoying author, tho? From the get-go you've maintained that the series' creator & writer is-- how to put this politely --a self-defeating obstacle prone to gynephobic, misanthropic jeremiads. On his good days.
By remembering that Cerebus, like most comix series of significant length, didn't come into its own alone. What concerns us here, Cerebus's dreams, didn't begin until a year *after* Gerhard came onboard the book.
Which was #65, 'Anything Done for the First Time Unleashes a Demon'.
"Perhaps most damagingly.... Dave Sim.... continues to hand down authoritative misreadings of [Cerebus] that do it a serious disservice. He tries to rationalize the inconsistencies and contradictions that are only inevitable in a work that was written month by month over 30 years; he issues contemptuous dismissals of female characters who might have seemed to the reader to have had some depth and complexity; and he sometimes makes assertions that are clearly contradicted by the text. It raises the troubling possibility that what seemed like Cerebus's literary quality may only have been so much projection on the part of its readers. What's more likely is that Sim, like a lot of artists, is less than fully conscious of what he's doing and is the last person who should be consulted about the meaning of his own work."
--Tim Kreider, Comics Journal #301, 2011
"In my view.... the significance of the unconscious in the total performance of the psyche is probably just as great as that of consciousness. Should this view prove correct, then not only should the function of the unconscious be regarded as compensatory and relative to the content of consciousness, but the content of consciousness would have to be regarded as relative to the momentarily constellated unconscious content.... The dream, accordingly, would then have the value of a positive, guiding idea or of an aim whose vital meaning would be greatly superior to that of the momentarily constellated conscious content. This possibility meets with the approval of the consensus gentium, since in the superstitions of all times and races the dream has been regarded as a truth-telling oracle. Making allowances for exaggeration and prejudice, there is always a grain of truth in such widely disseminated views."
--Carl Gustav Jung, 'General Aspects of
Dream Psychology', 1948 (emphasis mine)
"I've done a number of 'Cerebus dreams' stories since Barry [Windsor-Smith] came up with the idea."
--Dave Sim, 1995
Technically, the first 'Cerebus dream' Sim was inspired to attempt was in 'AV in 3D'. Since there's never been any attempt to republish it the work's fallen into obscurity, but luckily Cerebus describes the dream in its entirety in Gerhard's 3rd issue, 'Day of Greatness, Age of Consent' (67). #67 which also marks the reappearence of Bran, Cerebus's acolyte & former advisor. Care to field the footnote, Nerd Lobe?
Without tangling ourselves in a loooot of arcane backstory, Bran was the leader of a race of tunnel-dwelling savages modeled on the medieval Picts; these people worshiped Cerebus as a god, but he didn't want the job. Bran then followed Cerebus into the city of Iest and shadowed his troubled ascendency in local politics, dispensing advice & strategy of surprisingly advanced subtlety for an Iron Age nomad whose preferred wardrobe consisted of a loincloth & dagger.
I applaud your attempt at brevity.
From his second appearance onward, Bran made regular reference to something called the Great Dream, seemingly code for 'destiny', but Cerebus being a self-absorbed cuss refused to be baited on the subject. Here's Cerebus's recap of the silent, oblique narrative from AV in 3D:
Bran: Our legends speak of your Great Dream.In my opinion, AV3D was a test run to see if Sim & Gerhard's compatibility as an art team extended to the realm of irreal fantasy. Namely dream states. Sim had big ideas but knew his limitations as a draftsman. Gerhard's skills as an illustrator & student of architecture provided the "realistic" grounding necessary to develop the fictional setting of Estaricon, an element the comic desperately required. (Try reading the first couple of volumes without wincing at Sim's attempts to emulate Barry Windsor-Smith, Marshall Rogers, and Neal Adams.) Gerhard arrived just in time. Yet in order to maintain the remaining high fantasy tropes of the narrative-- largely given lip service via the Mind Game issues, a series of mystical dialogues with unseen & untrustworthy forces --Sim knew it would be necessary to jettison some of the verbiage that was bogging the narrative down. It was making him a trifle crazy wading thru the necessities of plot to get to the Good Stuff. Dreams must have seemed like an ideal means of explicating story without hanging any heavy lanterns.
Cerebus: Cerebus had a dream last night. Cerebus was flying over this body of water and there were these doors all around him, just sort of floating above the water. Up ahead, Cerebus could see this stone column sticking up out of the water and Cerebus flew toward it. When Cerebus got to it, the water had risen almost to the top. There was this stone post and on the post was a box and in the box was a crown. Cerebus tried to grab the crown but a gust of wind came up and blew Cerebus away. Then Cerebus was blown against this big glass door and it broke and Cerebus was stuck. Then the glass door started floating back towards the stone column which turned into a statue of Cerebus. Cerebus kept trying to get out but he was stuck. As Cerebus got closer to the statue it started to crumble to pieces. Cerebus thought he was either going to be crushed by one of the falling chunks or squeezed against the statue's forehead.
B: And what happened, Great Cerebus?
C: Cerebus woke up with a craving for raw potatoes and onion soup.
I don't consider AV3D to be a real dream; certainly no relation to the Great Dream explained by Bran. "All will be as the Great Cerebus wills it. That is the Great Dream." AV3D was a technical exercise, its symbols culled from previously established visual tropes of the series. As Jung wrote in 'Approaching the Unconscious':
"No genius has ever sat down with a pen or a brush in his hand and said, 'Now I am going to invent a symbol'. No one can take a more or less rational thought, reached as a logical conclusion or by deliberate intent, and then give it 'symbolic' form. No matter what fantastic trappings one may put upon an idea of this kind, it will still remain a sign, linked to the conscious thought behind it, not a symbol that hints at something not yet known."
The statue from AV3D had its first appearance alongside Bran in Cerebus #5. It was a Sign, and would recur throughout the series as such: always as the primal self-image Cerebus had attempted (yet failed) to obliterate. The doors & windows and columns were pretty much the primary decorations of the narrative Sim could reliably render prior to Gerhard's arrival. From his first appearance to his last, Cerebus was a greedy little shit whose craving for power perpetually pitted his limited ambition against the reality that one cannot achieve anything of consequence without submitting to responsibility (or, perhaps, Destiny). The AV3D dream reflects this with bone-simple signage.
But it was a start.
Satisfied that Gerhard & he could defy reality as accurately as they could portray it, their next venture into Cerebus's subconscious was #77 & 78, the first Odd Transformations.
Unlike AV3D, 'Odd Transformations' wasn't a silent comic. What made it a critical step forward, both in the development of the book and in Sim's development as an artist, was that it allowed the story to express itself. This is what dreams do. They express themselves in words & images as well as portmanteau forms and puns, but they never demand the dreamer experience them in a predetermined way. There is an immersive, well, naturalism about dreams-- they're never trying to convince you of events the way a fledgling writer or artist will, explaining them to the audience, dreams just let things happen.
"A dream cannot produce a definite thought. If it begins to do so, it ceases to be a dream because it crosses the threshold of consciousness. That is why dreams seem to skip the very points that are most important to the conscious mind, and seem rather to manifest the fringes of consciousness, like the faint gleam of stars during a total eclipse of the sun.... Understand that dream symbols are for the most part manifestations of a psyche that is beyond the control of the conscious mind. Meaning and purposefulness are not the prerogatives of the mind; they operate in the whole of living nature. There is no difference between organic and psychic growth. As a plant produces a flower, so the psyche creates its symbols."Issues 77 & 78 explored this organic process very well, very thoroughly, to the point where I cannot say with any degree of certainty how much is inspired improvisation and how much direct transcription or translation of dreams Sim himself had. (According to Sim, little if any of the Church & State period of Cerebus was written down beforehand, the artists preferring instead to work out the pacing of the story page by page. It may be that several of the Odd Transformations were dreams Sim had about Cerebus, or dreams of his own that he pasted Cerebus into.) Point being, Odd Transformations convinces in the way that AV3D and its progenitor, Barry Windsor-Smith's 'Cerebus Dreams', could not: by inviting the reader to share in the mystery of things experienced and yet incomprehensible. It traversed from parlaying Signs and moved into the sphere of Symbolism, a realm where even Sim-the-writer was compelled to shrug and admit ignorance.
The definites, the known components of this Odd Transformations are the characters. Almost every major player from the first seventy-six issues makes an appearance. It's a greatest hits list of events & decisions in Cerebus' development as a persona-- but it also makes a series of highly suggestive allusions to story elements & characters readers wouldn't encounter for years yet. Whether these allusions were intentional or the dream simply served as inspiration for those things (Cerebus's magical flight to the steps of the Eastern Church; Suenteus Po's meditative identification with chess; the ascent to the moon that would serve as the climax to C&S; Cirin's aardvarkian nature; Elrod being the magical equivalent of a mammoth, nagging hangover; the fake Regency Elf being Cerebus' daught--)
Do you think honesttogod human beings are reading this? C'mon.
Whatever the case, the potential for interpretation makes the Odd Transformations the polar opposite of the Mind Games stories, which consisted almost entirely of some authorial avatar telling Cerebus (& therefore the readership) what's going on. There's a vital, energizing mystery to the Transformations which the Games, with their sometimes-humorous but often-cold, pretentious, literary revelations, never aspire. I consider that contrast testament to the Transformations' effectiveness in emulating dream-states.
The first Odd Transformations is nearly impossible to summarize so I sha'n't. My above enthusiasm may overcode the dream a tad: it's not as significant in itself the way later OTs would be, but for readers like myself it was as much of a step forward narratively as AV3D was creatively because it finally gave Cerebus an internal life beyond the thought bubble. Though Sim would argue that transition began much earlier, with #77 Cerebus ceased to be a simple Sign, a cartoon cut-out, and was finally becoming a Symbol-- one a great many readers, laymen & comix professionals alike, latched onto. He'd progressed significantly from being a one-note barbarian parody to pope. Here was a deeply flawed, often unpleasant yet witty and complex personality with a dream life. Not an alter-ego, like so many superheroes, but an ego all its own, as unpredictable and as capable of evolution as anyone.
"Dreams, then, convey to us in figurative language-- that is, in sensuous, concrete imagery --thoughts, judgments, views, directives, tendencies, which were unconscious either because of repression or through mere lack of realization. Precisely because they are contents of the unconscious, and the dream is a derivative of unconscious processes, it contains a reflection of the unconscious contents. It is not a reflection of unconscious contents in general but only of certain contents, which are linked together associatively and are selected by the conscious situation of the moment."
--Jung, 'General Aspects of
Dream Psychology' again (emphasis mine)
Not for nothing, then, that what cemented my status as a fan were the Odd Transformations of C&S vol. 2.
What a place to start.
Heard ya the very first time, N.L.
Not to drown y'all in Jung, but it's applicable: "When we attempt to understand symbols, we are not only confronted with the symbol itself, we are brought up against the wholeness of the symbol-producing individual." At this stage of the comic, the individual in question--
A hermAPHRoDITic ANTHropoMORPH with ZERO sex appeal and NO social skills, it bears repeating...
--is Cerebus, NOT Dave Sim. In years to come, the comic and readers' relationship with it would be complicated by the author vying for the mic. But in 1990, my introduction began with this genuinely epic, comic, even cosmic, arc, completed the same year I picked my first issue, and at this stage the story belonged wholly to the main character, unknowable to himself & his creators alike. Coming at a time when my own dreams were increasingly strange and painfully estranged from my father's ideas of life, this was a story I needed to hear. Somewhere during this period, in reading and re-reading these books on the fur-covered couch in the living room, trying to forget the sound of the shotgun from the little yellow house next door, struggling to forget my father's ugly laugh when he saw the 'SLOW: DEATH IN FAMILY' sign beside it, attempting to ignore my plummeting grades and barely-disguised disinterest in school; somewhere in & amidst grappling to understand the story of a life that Sim & Gerhard were crafting together a page a day, month after month, year by year, I sensed that first inchoate impulse to flee the world my parents had built.
So what you're trying to say, in your purple way, is that your desire to run away and become a comic artist could be blamed on a cartoon aardvark.
I'm just typing into the void here. Read it how you will.
Huh. 'Anything done for the first time unleashes a demon'...
Don't I know it.
In ancient Greece a daemon was considered a benevolent, or at least good-humored, nature spirit. The idea of a daemon was also sometimes considered synonymous with an inner spirit or element of genius, a hidden aspect of one's own nature.
Gerhard had ennobled Sim's daemon, and vice-versa. In the process of producing Cerebus they were discovering their hidden abilities as much as readers were discovering the character. As a fringe benefit of that magical process they were helping me to discover my own character. For the first time in a life of poring over other people's words & pictures I was beginning to crave the liberty of making my own.
You still had five years 'til ringing that bell, though.
Want me to skip ahead? You seem antsy.
Only to avoid the maudlin, wangsty bits. How about Christmas of '93? Wasn't your next Cerebus vol. 7, 'Flight'?
Heh, yeah. A little present from Mom.