Sean Maher's Quality Control

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bits and Pieces

This'll be the only post for Wednesday AND Thursday. Apologies, but I worked full shifts at two different jobs today and I'm doing it again tomorrow - only so much time in the day, and I'm trying to fix my own fuck-up with school registration as well.

I told Isotope's resident Bon Vivant, Ian Yarborough, about my schedule this week. He looked at me and said, "You're an idiot."

I sighed, looked back at him and said, "Yeah."


So, I'm working my third job today, at The City Club of San Francisco. It's some business luncheon thing with a hosted bar. The luncheon winds down, and my manager tells me to stop serving people and close up shop. A couple minutes later, a guy I haven't seen all day comes up and asks for a vodka tonic.

"Sorry, I'm closed up. No more drinks."

From behind my would-be customer, another fellow's hand reaches out and tucks a twenty dollar bill under the bar. I've been unable to make any cash tips today, as the gratuity is included in my paycheck and sometimes it's just not kosher to put out a tip jar when it's supposed to be a hosted party - I can dig it.

But when the guy drops the Jackson underneath the bar and says, "How 'bout one more," I'm no sucker. Tip like a man and help me out with some discretion so my boss doesn't see me takin' cash? Just to help out your boy who came late and missed out on the free drinks? One vodka tonic, coming right up.

Then as I'm trying to clean up, I find a half-empty Cape Cod that belongs to some douchebag who's been at the bar six or seven times already. It's in my way and I ask if it's his so I'll know not to throw it away. He interrupts.

"I'll have one more."

"Sorry, I'm closed up."

"The vodka's right there! Just make me one more!" His voice gets high and shrill.

"I'm in the middle of cleaning up. I've got other things I have to do right now. Sorry."

"Well, real fuckin' nice. Way to be a good guy. Merry fuckin' Christmas."

And off he goes.


I need a hand. I'm not buying enough indie comics right now. Image launched a bunch of great titles last year, but half of them aren't coming out anymore and most of what I've noticed from the company this year has been Indie Superheroes, which don't interest me at all outside of Noble Causes and Invincible (which, funny enough, are two of the three or four very best superhero books I'm reading).

Of course, I also pick up The Walking Dead, though Battle Pope was a little too rough around the edges for my taste. I'm buying Fell mostly to support the format experiment - it's enjoyble, but Ellis has begun to feel kinda schticky to me.

I'm so far enjoying Rick Remender's work on Strange Girl and Fear Agent, and it's nice to see Tony Moore doing sequential artwork again, particularly with Lee Loughridge bangin' out those rich colors. Of course, I'm a big fan of Phil Hester's writing and so I've been reading The Atheist when it comes out. I'm looking forward to Dusty Star, which looks like it treads some similar genre-mixing ground as Daisy Kutter, which was one of my favorite mini-series last year.

I'm digging The Expatriate, which came out today, mostly for Jason Latour's distinctive art style.

Of course, y'all know of my love for Elk's Run, and Stray Bullets, and The Goon, as long as we're talking genre-benders. And Shaolin Cowboy has been a lot of fun.

Local's made a pretty strong first impression, but I need to see the second issue to decide.

Still, that really doesn't feel like enough.

So, help me out. Don't just pimp your own books - you fuckers do that enough, you work too hard - sit back and let's see what everyone else is trying.


(Before you say anything, yes, I know about the Indie Solicitations thread on Millarworld. I was the first person to start that thread. And I love it to pieces. But there's a world of difference between solicitations and real world product, and I'm looking for something I can buy today. Something I know is available. And, hopefully, something that comes out with anything close to regularity. Let's reward those independent publishers who really put forth the A-game and make it happen from a business standpoint as well as a creative one.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Friday night's all right, and She-Hulk smash!!

ITEM!: Ah, wonderful! JH Williams III will be at the Isotope on Friday. I haven't been to an Isotope party in a while, so this'll be just the ticket. Be nice to meet that fellow - I haven't been picking up the title, on Ellis-overload as I am, but I've looked through it and the art is spectacular.

ITEM!: For those of you who are even close to being the kind of insane, fanatical Tom Waits fan that I am, The Eyeball Kid is a great blog. Not a daily read, as there's not really constant news pouring out about the man, but definitely something to keep on the radar. Tour rumors keep bubbling up...

ITEM!: You know what book really returned to form last week? She-Hulk.

Fuckin' She-Hulk? Are you damaged?

Well, yeah, but we've been over that already. Seriously, writer Dan Slott's done something pretty special with the b-list hero, as folks remember from the twelve-issue run he did last year. The "Season II"-style relaunch didn't wow me quite as I'd built it up in my mind, but issue #2, released just last Wednesday, is exactly what I remember loving about this series.

Awesome Andy on a secret mission. A relationship between She-Hulk and Hawkeye that actually addresses both characters' specific personalities and how those might interact. Vaudevillian "who's on first?"-type jokes. Character-revealing sex talk. A really clever, rich time travel story, complete with paradox. Moral quandries and emotional reactions (Jen's single tear was a great moment). Giant spidery robot. Crazy giant arrows that confuse me a bit (do they expand after Hawkeye shoots 'em?). Tough choices and tricky consequences. A bang-up cliffhanger ending leaving me super-hungry for the next issue.

All this in 22 pages. All drawn by the amazing Juan Bobillo, who continues to build a style and visual voice for the book that makes it completely unique on the comics racks.

God damn, this is good comics. I laughed, I cried, I cheered.

ITEM!: From a new co-worker and drinking buddy:

Here's to the girls who do,
And here's to the girls who won't.
Here's to the girls who say they will,
But in the end they don't.
And here's to the girls that I like best,
And tell me if I'm right:
To the girls who say, "I never do,
But for you I think I might."

Monday, November 28, 2005

A healthy smattering

ITEM!: The brilliant Mr. Phil Hester will be doing a chat on CBR at 5:00 Pacific time, today, I understand. With a new Marvel project to be announced, perhaps.

ITEM!: So, everyone has seen this movie, of course?

If not, I implore that you do. A Thousand Clowns is an all-time favorite, inspiring, charismatic, hysterical, classy. As the good Mr. Josh Richardson told me after he saw Walk The Line, "It really lights a fire under your ass."

ITEM!: That's something I really like about Richardson. He's always getting a fire lit under his ass. By all kinds of things and people. Personally, I'd love to see his glorious return to internet columnity. Everyone remembers In The Trenches, how much fun that was, how informative? That behind-the-scenes action? That blood, that verve? That enthusiasm? We're sorely missing such voices on the comics internet right about now.

ITEM!: Courtesy of Tim Timmer, I bring you the World's Ugliest Dog. This is not a giant rat, and it is not a special effect for a movie. It is not Jason Rodriguez (though the semblance is more than passing). This is a real dog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Advance Review: BROWNSVILLE

Neil Kleid caught my attention as a writer last year when he self-published Ninety Candles, a 48-page story chronicling a comics artist’s entire life. I was impressed with the structure, the efficiency of the storytelling that somehow didn’t sacrifice any of the story’s heart – a heartfelt epic in just a few pages. I decided to keep my eyes open for his next project, and while a book or two is already on its way with his name on it, it seems like the real successor is Brownsville, a 200-page original graphic novel Kleid has created with artist Jake Allen.

Brownsville looks to be historical mob fiction that follows "the intertwined lives of Allie Tanennbaum, Abe Reles, and scores of hoods organized by Louis Lepke Buchalter into the deadliest hit operation in Mafia history, ‘Murder, Inc.’"

I got a peek at some advance story pages and I think we’re looking at something really interesting. One scene in particular is captivating: young hitman Abe Reles is, essentially, being drafted by Buchalter.

He opens the door to walk in, and the side of the door forms an artificial panel gutter between Abe’s hesitant face and the darkness on the other side, the black unknown inside the office. It’s a subtle and innovative visual cue that gets the reader closer to the character’s mindset – because we not only have the beat showing his nervous expression, but a second beat that creates a sense of mystery and menace.

Inside, an open window lets in a shaft of light that illuminates Buchalter working in a ledger at his desk, but the rest of the office remains black. It’s almost supernatural.

Then Buchalter speaks.

He doesn’t look up. He doesn’t move. He keeps writing in his ledger. And he speaks in facts: “From now on you’ll kill for the combination. No one else.” The terms are laid out briefly and broadly – “We’ll work out the rest later.”

Abe wisely sits in the chair with his mouth shut. We feel we’d do the same, and we’re relieved he has the intelligence to reply only when asked and only with the words, “Yes, Mister Buchalter.”

Buchalter stops Abe on his way out and, for the first time, looks up from his book. He stares at Abe for a moment, cold and calm. “All right,” he says. “We can work together.”

It’s chilling because there’s no indication of threat or malice or violence, and yet the shadow of such things looms unspoken and unquestioned. Buchalter doesn’t look at Abe with concern or troubled scrutiny – it’s a flat, plain stare. We have no idea what’s going on in his mind.

This isn’t a gangster I’ve seen before. He’s not flexing his muscles with Cagney flare, squinting his eyes with a sneer and a growl. He’s not the quietly masculine De Niro boss, seething with menace below his fake smile.

He’s frightening without effort.

It’s something new, to my amazement. Isn’t the gangster genre just there for stylistic exercise? I didn’t realize there was anything new to be done, not since Miller’s Crossing anyway. But Kleid and Allen appear to be challenging my expectations. The book comes in February from NBM Publishing (Previews code DEC053126) and I’ll certainly be getting a copy.

Monday, November 21, 2005



Woke up at six o'clock, stayed up for a couple hours, then passed out until 1:30.

Not a lot of time before work, so I've gotta keep it brief.

Molly and I saw Walk The Line and it's fuckin' deadly. Unbelievably good. Not perfect, no, but way better than I'd worried it'd be - totally lived up to my anticipation.

I read Books of Doom #1 and I think it's gonna be awesome. I don't really dig the whole video guest spots thing - if this is some cheesy kind of "This Is Your Life!" device, it's just not working - but scary young Doom is great. There are those who would prefer to keep Dr. Doom a crazy cartoony megalomaniac, and there's something to be said for that, but I don't see how fleshing out his character and building on his history is anything but interesting, honestly.

Peace, y'all. I gotta run.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Courtesy of Joe Keatinge...

I bring you, finally, the obligatory blogger answer-a-bunch-of-questions thing. I've been pushed over the line by my good friend Joe Keatinge, who is The Man and who works at Image Comics and who posted his own answers on Wholly Barbarian Blues just yesterday.

1. Name someone with the same birthday as you?

Jesus. I just decided to hang out in the womb for about 12 extra hours, is all.

2. Who was your first kiss?

This girl named Rachel Avila from my kindergarten class; she left school for a couple weeks and I wrote her a little valentine 'cause I missed her. When she came back and got it, she french-kissed my hand. And in kindergarten? That made me Boss Pimp.

3. Have you ever seriously vandalized someone else's property?

I was throwing rocks at an abandoned greenhouse one day. Then it turned out it wasn't abandoned at all, and I had to fuckin' SCRAMBLE out of there.

4. Have you ever hit someone of the opposite/same sex?

That's a big yes to both. I used to be in a real scrappy (AKA "asshole") mood all the time. Plus, I posted a story about that in the comments section of Jason Rodriguez' post today.

5. Have you ever sung in front of a large number of people?

My band's name was Bacchus And The Bigots. Which was funny, 'cause my man Bacchus just sorta sat on the side with his guitar and played rhythm. I was the singer and Tyler was the lead guitar, but Bacchus had the coolest name, easy.

6. What's the first thing you notice about the opposite/same sex?

Opposite - Hair.

Same - Height.

7. What really turns you on?

Enthusiasm, and calm.

8. What do you order at Starbucks?

A cab. To a bar.

9. What is your biggest mistake?

"Hey, we should rent the Space Ghost Coast to Coast DVD! Remember how funny it was in 15-minute doses on late Saturday nights when we were drunk and/or stoned? I bet it'll be even BETTER in a THREE HOUR dose cold sober!"

10. Ever hurt yourself on purpose?

Only with the bottle. Then, sometimes, other people hurt me.

11. Say something totally random about you:

I think I might have an actual farting problem. I do it about a hundred times a day, I think.

12. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celebrity?

I get Jimmy Stewart once in a while. Which is cool, 'cause I know I'm kind of a soft-hearted doofus, deep down under my gritty bandero hide.

13. Do you still watch kiddy movies or tv shows?

I've got both of the four-disc Looney Toons sets. Can't watch 'em unless I'm alone, though, because something about them freaks Molly out.

14. Did you have braces?

For, like, seven or eight years. The last three, all I needed to do was wear the rubber bands, but I hated them and refused. When I finally started wearing them, the braces came off the very next month.

15. Are you comfortable with your height?

I dig it. I'm not sure exactly what it is - 6' 1"? - but it's about right.

16. What is the most romantic thing someone of the opposite/same sex has done for you?

As a gift, Molly made me a little box one time with a bunch of tiny pieces of rolled up black construction paper. The top of the box said, "I love you because..." and each time I unrolled a piece of paper, there was a reason she loves me written on it in gold and silver ink.

Then last week, a federal judge came into the bar and told me I was "a masturbator's dream." He bought a round for the house, but only on the condition that everyone thought it was from me. Then he tipped me a Jackson.

I sure don't remember Molly ever doing that. What a bitch.

17. How do you know when its love?

I wouldn't know - I've only really been in love once. I'm lucky to have kept that one running for the last six-plus years of my life, but I don't know shit about "how the other half lives," so to speak.

18. Do you speak any other languages?

I've tried and I can't do it. How people learn English when they don't grow up speaking it is beyond me.

19. Have you ever been to a tanning salon?

No, but I always thought it sounded fun. Living in foggy, cold Pacifica got to be a little bleak now and then, and in my mind it sounded like you could get in a machine and it'd be just like laying on a towel on the beach in southern California. 'Course, then I realized it was more like getting into a hot coffin.

20. What magazines do you read?

I don't, really... sometimes I'll pick up Newsweek if the cover catches my eye (see yesterday's post). Likewise if there's one of my "favorites" on the cover of Maxim. But that's about it, and before the McCain issue of Newsweek I don't remember the last one I bought.

21. Have you ever ridden in a limo?

I don't remember if we got one for prom. All I remember is the complete disaster prom turned out to be.

22. Has anyone you were really close with passed away?

Grampaw, and a homeless guy named Benjamin Franklin who used to tell me I looked "just like David Boooey!" in my fedora. I miss both those fuckers. Grampaw died of a stroke, washing his hands in the bathroom. Benjamin Franklin died when he was planting dollar bills in the little holes of a manhole cover and a car hit him.

23. Do you watch MTV?

I only ever watch South Park reruns on UPN, anymore.

24. What's something or someone that really annoys you?

My seeming inability to wipe my ass 100% clean.

25. What's something you really like?

A drink when I'm thirsty. Also, Tom Waits. Also, the way Guinness looks when you pour it.

26. Which celebrity would you most like to sleep with?

"Scarlett Johansson recently topped Eva Longoria in this catergory based solely on the trailer for Match Point." -- Sounds like I have a trailer to see. But I'm still gonna have to go with Salma Hayek. No question about it.

27. Can you dance?

You bet your ass I can. With skill? Hell no. With enthusiasm? Fuck yeah.

28. What's the latest you have ever stayed up?

Probably a day or two. I remember, though, there was a sleep deprivation experiment on campus that they said you could get paid mad cash for participating in. I was all excited, but then I got stoned and I missed it.

29. Have you ever thought that you were honestly going to die?

On a bad shroom trip. Everyone else had passed out, and I lay there on top of the sheets, knowing, for sure, that I Was Going To Die Tonight. Awful. I didn't do shrooms again for about three years, and when I did, I got into a four-hour fistfight with the dude who gave 'em to me and ended up thinking I'd killed him. Since then I've stuck to the bottle and the grass.

30. Have you ever been rushed by an ambulance into the emergency room?

I rode in the ambulance with Molly, the second time she broke her leg. Man, that was fucked up.

31. Do you actually read these when other people fill them out?

Only when it's people I know. Nobody else has interesting answers. Except people with serious problems, they can be interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why John McCain is my favorite politician

I know this is primarily a culture-review blog, but the fundamental concept is Things I'm Excited About, yeah?

So, I've got to share this essay with you. I read some great comics yesterday, but nothing got my blood pumping like the following.

I don't agree with Senator McCain on every issue, but goddamn if I don't have the utmost respect and admiration for his character and his resolve.

The following is reprinted (in its entirety) from the Newsweek article available online here.

Torture's Terrible Toll

By Sen. John McCain
Nov. 21, 2005 issue

The debate over the treatment of enemy prisoners, like so much of the increasingly overcharged partisan debate over the war in Iraq and the global war against terrorists, has occasioned many unserious and unfair charges about the administration's intentions and motives. With all the many competing demands for their attention, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have remained admirably tenacious in their determination to prevent terrorists from inflicting another atrocity on the American people, whom they are sworn to protect. It is certainly fair to credit their administration's vigilance as a substantial part of the reason that we have not experienced another terrorist attack on American soil since September 11, 2001.

It is also quite fair to attribute the administration's position—that U.S. interrogators be allowed latitude in their treatment of enemy prisoners that might offend American values—to the president's and vice president's appropriate concern for acquiring actionable intelligence that could prevent attacks on our soldiers or our allies or on the American people. And it is quite unfair to assume some nefarious purpose informs their intentions. They bear the greatest responsibility for the security of American lives and interests. I understand and respect their motives just as I admire the seriousness and patriotism of their resolve. But I do, respectfully, take issue with the position that the demands of this war require us to accord a lower station to the moral imperatives that should govern our conduct in war and peace when they come in conflict with the unyielding inhumanity of our vicious enemy.

Obviously, to defeat our enemies we need intelligence, but intelligence that is reliable. We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort. In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—whether it is true or false—if he believes it will relieve his suffering. I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse. It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.

Our commitment to basic humanitarian values affects—in part—the willingness of other nations to do the same. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive. While some enemies, and Al Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next. Until about 1970, North Vietnam ignored its obligations not to mistreat the Americans they held prisoner, claiming that we were engaged in an unlawful war against them and thus not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. But when their abuses became widely known and incited unfavorable international attention, they substantially decreased their mistreatment of us. Again, Al Qaeda will never be influenced by international sensibilities or open to moral suasion. If ever the term "sociopath" applied to anyone, it applies to them. But I doubt they will be the last enemy America will fight, and we should not undermine today our defense of international prohibitions against torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war that we will need to rely on in the future.

To prevail in this war we need more than victories on the battlefield. This is a war of ideas, a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes. This is an existential fight, to be sure. If they could, Islamic extremists who resort to terror would destroy us utterly. But to defeat them we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort.

The mistreatment of prisoners harms us more than our enemies. I don't think I'm naive about how terrible are the wages of war, and how terrible are the things that must be done to wage it successfully. It is an awful business, and no matter how noble the cause for which it is fought, no matter how valiant their service, many veterans spend much of their subsequent lives trying to forget not only what was done to them, but some of what had to be done by them to prevail.

I don't mourn the loss of any terrorist's life. Nor do I care if in the course of serving their ignoble cause they suffer great harm. They have pledged their lives to the intentional destruction of innocent lives, and they have earned their terrible punishment in this life and the next. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength—that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.

Now, in this war, our liberal notions are put to the test. Americans of good will, all patriots, argue about what is appropriate and necessary to combat this unconventional enemy. Those of us who feel that in this war, as in past wars, Americans should not compromise our values must answer those Americans who believe that a less rigorous application of those values is regrettably necessary to prevail over a uniquely abhorrent and dangerous enemy. Part of our disagreement is definitional. Some view more coercive interrogation tactics as something short of torture but worry that they might be subject to challenge under the "no cruel, inhumane or degrading" standard. Others, including me, believe that both the prohibition on torture and the cruel, inhumane and degrading standard must remain intact. When we relax that standard, it is nearly unavoidable that some objectionable practices will be allowed as something less than torture because they do not risk life and limb or do not cause very serious physical pain.

For instance, there has been considerable press attention to a tactic called "waterboarding," where a prisoner is restrained and blindfolded while an interrogator pours water on his face and into his mouth—causing the prisoner to believe he is being drowned. He isn't, of course; there is no intention to injure him physically. But if you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.

Those who argue the necessity of some abuses raise an important dilemma as their most compelling rationale: the ticking-time-bomb scenario. What do we do if we capture a terrorist who we have sound reasons to believe possesses specific knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack?

In such an urgent and rare instance, an interrogator might well try extreme measures to extract information that could save lives. Should he do so, and thereby save an American city or prevent another 9/11, authorities and the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation which he confronted. But I don't believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America's purposes and practices.

The state of Israel, no stranger to terrorist attacks, has faced this dilemma, and in 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court declared cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment illegal. "A democratic, freedom-loving society," the court wrote, "does not accept that investigators use any means for the purpose of uncovering truth. The rules pertaining to investigators are important to a democratic state. They reflect its character."

I've been asked often where did the brave men I was privileged to serve with in North Vietnam draw the strength to resist to the best of their abilities the cruelties inflicted on them by our enemies. They drew strength from their faith in each other, from their faith in God and from their faith in our country. Our enemies didn't adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them unto death. But every one of us—every single one of us—knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them. That faith was indispensable not only to our survival, but to our attempts to return home with honor. For without our honor, our homecoming would have had little value to us.

The enemies we fight today hold our liberal values in contempt, as they hold in contempt the international conventions that enshrine them. I know that. But we are better than them, and we are stronger for our faith. And we will prevail. It is indispensable to our success in this war that those we ask to fight it know that in the discharge of their dangerous responsibilities to their country they are never expected to forget that they are Americans, and the valiant defenders of a sacred idea of how nations should govern their own affairs and their relations with others—even our enemies.

Those who return to us and those who give their lives for us are entitled to that honor. And those of us who have given them this onerous duty are obliged by our history, and the many terrible sacrifices that have been made in our defense, to make clear to them that they need not risk their or their country's honor to prevail; that they are always—through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss—they are always, always, Americans, and different, better and stronger than those who would destroy us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hell yeah, Wednesdays are great!


Along with the McCourt book (which I’m loving), I got The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking, a guitar instruction book by Mark Hanson. Excited about that; I’ve been picking up the ol’ guitar a lot lately, but all I can do is strum. Did a little research looking for a good instructional source, and this looked like the best one. I can’t wait to get started.

Also, I love playing boss dice at work. I’ve been doing it a lot lately; it’s a fuckin’ blast. Always puts cash in the register, always gets things lively and fun, gets people talking to each other, especially in big rounds of Odd Man Out. The odds of losing and having to buy the round get smaller and smaller as the risk gets bigger, so why not join in? The best part (for me) is that I don’t have to personally risk a damn thing. Dice playin’ seems to be endorsed by the managers, so I won’t be getting in any hot water, and if I lose I just call it a comp and pour some free drinks for some happy-ass customers.

Man, oh man, Molly made some pimpin’ dinner last night. How come it never occurred to me to boil the garlic right in the same pot with the mashed potatoes?

Comics, then: I know the big buzz today is gonna be all about All Star Superman, and yeah, I’m excited about that, but hold on a second. There’s also Books of Doom, Ed Brubaker’s history of Doctor Doom. Everyone here has read Sleeper, right? (If the answer’s no, you need to correct yourself and pick up some trades.) So you know how gut-punchingly incredible Ed’s work with arch villains can be? Yeah, I’ve been hungry for this one since Wizard hinted at it last year.

Ah, but that’s not all. Today also brings the first issue of Dan Slott’s new series, The Thing. Slott’s proven himself a hell of a writer over the last few years (though I thought GLA was kinda weak, he’s still on my "auto-pull" list, which is a short list), and I think his sense of fun, adventurousness, and humor will all fit perfectly with "Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew." I’m on kind of a Ben Grimm kick anyway lately, what with the release of Essential Marvel Two-In-One, so I’m totally juiced to read this.

Oh, and I got the strangest spam today:

braise packing necrophiliac spangle
occurring opportunistic mountainsides practised
unchain woodpecker trapper spaced

EDIT: Oh, hot damn! They’re putting Greg Pak on The Incredible Hulk! The “Planet Hulk” premise doesn’t sound spectacular, in the “nothing will ever be the same!”, crossovery kind of sense, but Pak’s done some really solid work over the last few years, and the premise does sound like fun, and the Hulk’s been way too serious for the last few years – we need some crazy alien monsters and Hulk-with-an-axe in the mix. I’ll be looking forward to this.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

7 Days to Fame: I'd be so good on this show!

The first issue of 7 Days to Fame came out a couple weeks ago, and the second should be well on its way to comics shops. It's a three-issue mini-series with the premise splayed on the cover with gleeful macabre:

A reality TV show... about suicide!

The first issue introduces the players - a sleazy, do-anything-for-success television personality, and his noticeably-less-so-but-still-kinda-sleazy producer. They witness a stirring suicide in the opening scene and, when their late-night talk show finds itself in the shit, a golden coin drops in their laps in the form of an old woman with cancer. They spend a week focusing on her life and finally building to the Friday night climax - she whips out a gun and blows her brains out on live television.

Where the series is going with this is unclear at this point. This was an enjoyable issue, with some strong supporting characters and a lot of anticipation, but it ends with the suicide. So, I don't have much more to go on than I did when I read the solicit text for issue two - which seems to promise folks competing to have the most interesting, TV-worthy deaths. Will the series become a moral finger-waver, letting us know that television is exploitative and shallow? Or will it revel in the premise a bit - try to answer the question, "What kind of suicides would you watch?"

There's a middle-ground to be struck, but I'm hoping they lean towards the latter.

So: Promising work from brand new creators, though they need to learn not to spend the entire first issue building the premise (especially in a mini-series only three issues long). This is worth a look, and I expect the upcoming issue 2 will be even better.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Oh, and also,

--before I take this back to the library, wanted to share an excerpt that struck me.

Writing of Heavyweight World Champion Floyd Patterson, the good Mr. A.J. Liebling put it:

His long, dark face, with a long, straight nose turned up at the end, was diffident -- half-humorously apologetic, as always. The expression befits the artist whose accomplishments have never measured up to his own opinion of his abilities. (This includes all artists worth a damn.) "I have never been more than seventy percent of myself," he once said. "My ambition is to be a hundred percent."

Oh, also...

Just got this puppy in the mail:

--and I'm crapping my pants with anticipation. Between Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, McCourt's made himself one of my very favorite living writers. Teacher Man, the purported "last of the trilogy," is released tomorrow but I got mine early with a handy-dandy pre-order.

Gotta go read, now.

If I was anyone but me, I'd be so jealous.

Ah, yes.


Would you do that to me again, please? I liked it.

Jesus, though. Seriously, this is a motherfucker of an album. I think my favorite song is "Ballad of a Thin Man", something really creeping-under-the-skin about that one. Of course, "Like a Rolling Stone" is a classic, etc., etc., but that song belongs more to the friends I've sung it with than to this album; at least, it does for me.

(This morning I put on Freewheelin' again, just out of curiosity, and the difference is way more drastic than I'd've expected. What a trip.)

More comics writing tomorrow; I'll be looking at a new independent mini-series called 7 Days to Fame.

See you then, amigos.

Friday, November 11, 2005 Ah

Wrote two reviews today for and, one for Isotope and one for the ever-amazing food at Submarine Center. Here's my Yelp profile.

And with that, I bid you a fine weekend. I'm off to the Sub Center to read my comics and eat an awesome sandwich.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

DMZ #1: Watch your back.

I've read a lot of Brian Wood books over the last few years, and while I've enjoyed them all (see my recent advance review of Local #1, which out next week), it's almost always been a qualified pleasure. The man knows how to write a fun action sequence, but I've often found his characters too be a little too sentimentalized and his occasional lecturing can be a bit much. Demo #7, for example, "One Shot, Don't Miss", struck me as a pretty clumsy, obvious dig at the United States' military, and one more generic voice in the chorus of sensitive arty types railing against all things right wing.

(This was followed, a mere four weeks later, by Demo #8, "Mixtape" which was absolutely stunning, my favorite issue of the series, but that's neither here nor there.)

So it was only because this was a "small" week that I picked up DMZ #1, Wood's new Vertigo series with artist Riccardo Burchielli about a journalist embedded in a New York warzone. The idea seemed ripe for abuse - fertile ground for every element of "One Shot, Don't Miss" that I disliked.

What I got instead was the best Vertigo launch since The Losers, and the best "first issue" I've read in a long time.

The characters are built quickly and effectively, but what really snaps here is the set-up. It's a lot more clever and nuanced than I'd expected. It's fast and it's hard and it's scary. It's disorienting. It's thick.

There's a fuck of a lot of comic here. You remember the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan? How you held your breath for like ten minutes while everything played out?

That's more or less what this issue is like. Just as protagonist Matty Roth gets dropped in the middle of the story with no explanation, so is the reader. We're learning everything at the same time he is. It makes him identifiable without having to get into his backstory (which is hinted at in bits and pieces). So the suddenness of the violence is striking.

Partially because Burchielli is an awesome artist. Jesus. If you like 100 Bullets or The Losers, you have to give this a look just to see how it looks. Matty's arrival in Manhattan and the closing sequence in particular are jaw-dropping visual storytelling at its best.

There's still room for the series to get preachy if Wood feels like it, but for now it's high adventure of high caliber and it's going on my pull list.

Buzzscope, by the way, has a preview of the first five pages, but really, the whole comic should be read to get what the creative team are doing.

Hey! Did everyone notice?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Buddy Guy's Sweet Tea: Blues to scare the hell out of you

Holy shit.

Picked this up on kind of a whim at Amoeba the other day. I remember having read that the album was more rootsy, porch-stompin' in the swamp blues than Guy's usual blazing Chicago guitar style, but I had no idea what I was getting into.

What Buddy Guy is playing on Sweet Tea is, without question, the scariest, darkest, heaviest blues I've ever heard in my life.

I'm used to hearing Guy sound like kind of a pimp; "You're damn right I've got the blues!" he'd scream, then he'd launch into a lightning solo and I'd tap my feet and bob my head and it was easy to imagine panties flying up to the stage. There are a lot of guitar heroics here, to be sure, but the opening song sets the stage with a drastically different tone - "Done Got Old" is a bare, low song, Guy's voice creaking out musty and cruel, damning himself because he "can't do the things I used to do." You can feel the age in his breath - it doesn't sound feeble (far from it, this is powerful singing) but you get the image of rotting leaves and dead, crooked trees in the swamp. It sends a shudder down the spine, and when he follows it up with "Baby Please Don't Leave Me", a huge electric dirge, there's a sense that the apocalypse is coming. It doesn't let up, either.

The solos are all still here, and they're really impressive - more so, really, because the context is completely different. There's no night club groove, but the wild licks fit in anyway, sounding more chaotic and dangerous as a result of the new setting. Metal fans who've gotten interested in the blues but don't know where to start will find a lot here to like.

This is definetly not for every mood, but Jesus, it's amazing.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Slow Wave: I want a dream lover, so I won't have to dream alone

Simey recently picked up a bunch of great mini-comics for the store, and one of my favorites was Slow Wave, a sort of collective dream journal with the comic adaptations done by Jesse Reklaw. Turns out this guy does them as a webcomic, with a new one up every Saturday. This week, for example, there's one about Yoda dropping his draws. It's really funny how random and yet totally relatable most of the dreams are.

Take a look, it's fun stuff.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sunset City: For Active Senior Living

Sunset City: For Active Senior Living is the second major book from Rob Osborne, a thematic follow-up of sorts to his debut, 1000 Steps to World Domination.

As Osborne said in my interview with him a couple months ago, "Sunset City was conceived as a parody book. It occurred to me that it might be funny to write a story that was gritty and tough like Frank Miller's Sin City, and then to add grey hair and golf carts. Retirement gags with blood and guts. Eventually, the idea took on a life of its own, and matured into a more ambitious story. Telling a story that was very true and meaningful to me, and telling a story that was more challenging and surprisingly different from 1000 Steps to World Domination became the goal."

Elements of the parody concept remain – even the visual storytelling takes occasional cues from elements of Sin City – but the story here is indeed much more difficult than 1000 Steps.

Frank McDonald, the book’s protagonist, is a widower stuck in Sunset City, a surreal hybrid locale combining the cordoned-off, neighborhood-watch vibe of a gated community with the geriatric waiting-to-die subtext of a retirement home. The atmosphere is suffocating; Osborne has included enough familiar experiences to make the material accessible to anyone – the world of Sunset City has all the giddy banality of white suburbia, a very deliberately polite, tentative enthusiasm. Everyone acts happy because that’s what they’re supposed to be. The difference, of course, is that in Sunset City, you have to be happy because if you’re not, you could die unhappy. The smiles in this book – with a couple major exceptions – are all forced.

Playing to this urgency – the terror of impending death, thinly disguised by birthday candles and pool parties – Osborne takes a slow pace with the plot, spending a lot of time on conversation and landscape shots. Like the community itself, this leisurely approach is deceptive. A full-page spread of Frank’s one-story home, completely silent in the sunlight, could be a desert shot of sand dunes baking in desolation; with no explicit cue, the message received is one of loneliness and danger.

So there are, really, two major obstacles in Frank’s way. He needs to find a way to stay alive, vital in the face of his mounting age and the crushing weight of his community, but he also needs to find a solution to his loneliness. Ostensibly, he does have one good friend, a firecracker named Marty who wears “Geezer Power” t-shirts and does cannonballs into the pool, but Frank clearly feels a separation from him. Marty is "the crazy one," somebody to be taken with a grain or two of salt. Frank’s dog, Wally, gives Frank something to do, but picking crap off the ground in a grocery bag isn’t terribly satisfying.

Fairly early in the story, the catalyst of violence is introduced. An elderly convenience story owner kills two would-be robbers, and Frank is in the store when it happens. The event triggers something in Frank, but he seems unsure of what exactly that is; he begins moving towards something, we can see, but he makes several false starts, unsure of how to interpret the lessons coming at him. Marty thinks the way to survive old age is to make it a party; the store owner sees it as a war.

Finally, Frank’s new neighbor – a confident, calm woman named Sophia – asks Frank if he’s happy. He stutters an answer about the beautiful sunset, but the question forces him to rearrange his approach to what he’s been taught.

Finally, invigorated by Sophia’s question and horrified by a disturbing local news item, Frank takes action – as the solicit text puts it, he "takes life by the balls."

This is where the story gets challenging for me as a reader. Frank’s choice, while on some level a morally justified one, is simplistic and brutal. It seems to bring a positive resolution to the story, but somehow I’m unsatisfied – and a little unsettled – by his choice. A second read, however, reveals an interesting angle from which to approach it. The whole book, see, is filled with parallels: Frank’s home gets a landscape shot during the day, and towards the end, another one at night. Frank’s face gets a full-page spread as he mourns his wife, alone in his living room, and another one once he’s shocked back into awareness by the killing of the young robbers. Likewise, I think Frank’s final grab for vitality has a parallel early in the story, albeit a less obvious one.

In the opening pages, Frank’s reading a newspaper, and comes across a familiar story – an old man has gotten disoriented while driving his car, and plowed head-on into a street market. Witnesses report, to the confusion of the police on the scene, that the car actually sped up after hitting someone. Why? Frank knows the answer – "The old guy in the caddy panicked. Instead of slamming on the brakes… he slammed on the accelerator."

My interpretation is that, feeling the immense pressure coming at him from all sides, from his unbearable loneliness, from the terror of impending death, from the cruelty he begins to notice all around him, from the need to connect to Sophia and the crippling fear of doing so... Frank goes to hit the brakes. He takes a wild, desperate stab at making things right.

"Happiness is a byproduct of function," as William Burroughs put it, and convinced that he’s found a function, a way to contribute to the well-being of the world, Frank seems prepared at the story’s end to find his own little slice of peace and happiness. But there remains, for this reader, a sense of discomfort. There’s a feeling that maybe Frank’s hit the accelerator.

Where 1000 Steps was a manifesto, an enthusiastic call-to-arms, Sunset City reads more like a cautionary tale, a fable complete with a lesson at the end. But unlike in his first book, Osborne’s intentions here take a back seat to the events and choices in the characters’ lives. We’re left to choose for ourselves what exactly the lesson is, and if the goal was indeed to create a more challenging and difficult story, this was an intelligent and effective way to achieve it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Noble Boy: On my "oh hell yeah" list

Seriously, how pimpin' is this art from Noble Boy, the new project mentioned in the two part interview Newsarama just did with Scott Morse?:

Slightly less pimpin', however, is the total lack of reference to Everest, the 12-issue series with Greg Rucka that Oni announced, like, two years ago...

On the pimpin' track again is "Am I Wrong?" from Keb Mo's self-titled album. Really, there're a lot of good songs here, but "Am I Wrong?" is truly pimpin'.

I'm listening because I brought the "best of the box" disc from Martin Scorsese's blues documentary soundtrack thing over to Kimo's (my new bar) the other day. The disc was a fuckin' blast - everyone in the place was groovin' to it - but I'd forgotten just how much I like that one song.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Giant Monster: Run!

So, Giant Monster, then.

I gotta give Niles some credit: he knows how to write a giant monster story, and he knows how to find artists. Nat Jones is the man:

Like the Monsters book for Marvel, this isn't revelatory or groundbreaking except in the sense that it knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do. With books coming out left and right that don't stick to their roots, trying to legitimize their pulpy backgrounds by ignoring them, it's refreshing to see some work that revels in its pulpiness so much.

This is a great Giant Monster genre story, with the little kids who see him coming out of the water (who hopefully will play a roll in saving the day when the second and final issue comes out), the personality of the monster's first "victim" (you'll understand when you read it), the General Ross character, the cameos by minor characters given just enough development to make their sudden, gruesome demise a bit more personal... and, frankly, the Giant Monster Destroying Stuff. There's a lot of energy popping off these pages, and it makes for a really fun read.

There's also a Dave Johnson variant cover out there somewhere, if you believe Steve Niles' website, so there's some icing on the cake...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Gotta run!

Jesus, I'm busy this week. I'll make a real post tomorrow. Until then, check out Mike Allred's issue of SOLO (which has some awesome "Fuck you guys" commentary on Batman) and kiss somebody on the cheek.

And pay yo' rent.
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