Monday, November 13, 2017

berganza takes: a half-hearted roundup

Be careful out there, kids: the hammer finally dropped on Eddie Berganza, and it's motherfucking takes season. (What, you thought comics would stop being comics?) I mean, most people just seem glad, and if that's you, congratulations: your take is correct. But there's been a whole lot of "this is old news" type takes, and also "finally, real journalism, not another Trial by Twitter" type takes, and...look, I'm not even getting into it. Too dumb. That said, if every Comics Thing generates one exceptionally stupid take, I reckon we have a winner:


Alternatively, you could quit comics! lol

Definitely quit comics.

My favorite take, if you're curious, is Mark Waid's, who straight up wants to open a can of whoop-ass on that one goblin who made the "witch hunt" comment in the Buzzfeed piece. One of these days Mark Waid is going to die on the toilet, and with all due respect to his family, I am going to laugh and laugh. But before that happens I really hope he punches that witch-hunt guy in the face.

The Buzzfeed piece was extremely well done, in my opinion. There was a depth of understanding in the dynamics involved thanks to Jay Eddin. (Respect.) The anonymous DC male goblin quotes were quite artfully incorporated. The only note that rang false to me was Heidi MacDonald being made into the sort of hero of the piece. You know, Heidi's always got some heartfelt commentary on women in comics...and, well, women in comics have some equally heartfelt commentary on her, if you're paying attention.

Today the Twitter had a lot of "what of comics journalism" takes, and those weren't bad. They were fine, in fact. All the threads these screenshots were taken from are probably worth reading, if comics journalism is relevant to your interests.






I'm not going to say this on twitter because I can only invite so much unhappiness into my life, but part of the problem with "comics journalism" is fandom. Here I'm referring to both the fandom of the "journalists" and of their readers. The tweets above are talking about money, legal backing, retaliation from the Big Two, lack of training--and all those barriers are real. But what everyone seems to be forgetting is that we have at least one full-time comics journalist at a major U.S. magazine. Unfortunately he's very busy using bringing those resources to bear on literally stalking an 89yo cartoonist. And you ("you") pretty much universally linked to that piece and thought it was great...? That's my read, anyway.

Fandom--the way I think of that word--isn't about loving something, exactly; it's a form of entitlement. It's utterly ridiculous, but at the same time it's weird how consistently it's disrespected by the people whose bread is buttered by fans. Like...both of those things are deeply, fundamentally uncool. Maybe I dwell on it too much - maybe me blaring this horn is just a(nother) personal problem. (If it is? whatever. I make no apologies.) All that said, it's honestly insane to me that Comics Twitter is having a conversation about comics journalism and ignoring that entire situation.

Monday, November 6, 2017

on my mind this week

1. Bladerunner 2049/Arrival
I saw these almost back to back. Not on purpose or anything, because I'm dumb about movies. Just a happy coincidence. I wonder if it would've been as obvious, had I watched Arrival when it came out instead, how similar the two are? Maybe. I strongly preferred Arrival. In fact I'm not sure I've liked a big huge movie that much since World War Z. (Or maybe since John Wick? When was that, even?) It could've been so much better, though, which I suppose is my general feeling on movies. My totally uninformed, completely made up take on Villeneuve is that Big Hollywood ruins his stuff a little. These two movies at least seemed subtle with a sporadically very heavy hand, and I'm just assuming that's someone else's fault. It just felt like the kind of thing that maybe someone else fucked up. Those overwrought M. Night Shyamalan endings, the superfluous action, the corny flourishes, etc. strike me as the result of meetings. But who knows. I'm too lazy to actually google this and figure it out.

Arrival was the better script, but it also benefitted from having a much more talented supporting cast. How do you surround an actor like Ryan Gosling with the likes of Jared Leto and Harrison Ford and expect that to come out OK? Though honestly the Ford Problem was both inevitable and handled about as well as it could've been, all things considered.


My favorite Gosling movie is Drive. Is that everyone's favorite? I like how different those two Gosling characters are even though neither of them say much.

2. How bad should I feel for going to the rapey movie theater?
On Halloween I saw Hellraiser 3 at that sexual pervert theater chain's Brooklyn outpost. On one hand, I didn't feel so great about going to the rapey movie theater, but OTOH that was the place that was showing Hellraiser 3 on Halloween. Turns out it's literally the nicest theater I've ever been to, holy shit. I would maybe go there every day if I were local. It has table service for every seat?? That wasn't that intrusive?? In the minus column it also contained what was possibly the dumbest bar I've ever been to in my life. I think it was supposed to look like the Mutter Museum but it reminded me of the time my sister and I got lost in New York and we got so hungry that we ended up eating sliders at one of those Jekyll and Hyde chains. Also the movie theater had advertised free fake blood and we couldn't find any fake blood, much less free. One of my friend's friends made this totally excellent bloody pumpkinhead costume, pictured below. (Fortunately he brought his own fake blood from home.) I thought he was supposed to be the Headless Horseman, but apparently not? In any case it was a great costume.


Also hung out with some guy who said, in total seriousness, Bush did 9/11. New York is such a parody of itself, but maybe that's every city.

3. Eventually it's your pervert. 
Everyone's mad at perverts right now (including me, but that's part of my whole thing), and inevitably Twitter (re-)dredged up some passages from Matt Taibbi's dumb book he wrote with Mark Ames when they were in some Russian frat together. I think the person who dredged it up this time around was Laura Hudson, Brave Defender of feminism and, uh, Chris Sims. Hahaaa. I mean, number one, I'm very sorry, but if you're friends with Chris Sims, I am judging you - not for moral reasons, but for coolness reasons, because that guy strikes me as a giant loser. But number two, being friends with Chris Sims doesn't mean you have to defend Chris Sims when he does something super gross? Not that hard.

Or is it. Because my first thought back whenever I heard about Taibbi being a pervert the first time around (approx. two "Matt Taibbi's a terrible misogynist" cycles ago) was: oh brother. I have some patience for the things people wrote when they were really young; that's part of it. I feel like you can read those passages and see very plainly how desperately those guys wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson. (Hot gonzo journalism tip: when writer types write a whole lot about getting blown all the time, that usually means they're not getting blown, ever.) But the other thing is that Taibbi is one of these writers who has a whole complex with machismo, which I take to be a totally separate, if vaguely adjacent, thing with regard to misogyny. It's a little pathetic but ultimately sort of harmless and secondary to what a great writer he is, and I feel that way about many writers. Maybe most, even, though more so in prose than comics. I found Taibbi's second apology compelling, and in alignment with everything I had sort of assumed anyway. His mistake, in my opinion, was in not apologizing sooner. People are so stingy with apologies. I think about Gabe Delahaye's piece about apologizing all the time. It's one of the most entirely correct things I've ever read.

I was thinking about all this again lately, but this time it wasn't quite so easy or automatic. Maybe because everyone's talking about perverts more than usual. Maybe because I had been writing that thing about Eddie Berganza. Maybe because Taibbi actually acknowledged the controversy this time around, maybe all of that. There's a certain convenience to thinking that some writer who I like is #actually fine and more or less good, and finding someone like Robert Crumb, who I find morally, physically, and artistically repulsive, to be a total fucking degenerate. Any time I comment on the "bad" guys, I've at least tried to interrogate my own assumptions because I think that's the right thing to do. This is the first time in recent memory I've done that for a "good" guy. Anyway I think it's a thorny and imperfect, but healthy, process to interrogate your assumptions and biases most particularly when whatever alleged pervert holds a special place in your heart is under the microscope. Still feeling pretty good about Taibbi and look forward to reading his new book on Eric Garner.

4. Winter self-care plan
Where I live really takes my depressive personality to the next level during daylight savings time. For at least six months of the year this place is a cold sunless hell and unfortunately I believe in neither God nor hygge. This year I'm making a special effort that includes going to the previously unthinkable lengths of digging my Happy Lamp out of the storage closet and actually using it. I think it works but it requires waking up at sunrise (at least according to some sleep quiz I took), which goes against my beliefs. I'm going to try to use it while reading in bed (instead of at my desk, like I've done in the past) because I feel like that seems like a better way to start the day than not answering my email while staring into a very bright light.

Other things that have historically worked for me are vitamin D supplements and Sleepytime Extra tea, which doesn't taste good but works better than anything else I've tried. I've tried a lot.

Friday, November 3, 2017

an open letter to dan didio

Dear Dan DiDio,

In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, I’ve been thinking about the women of DC Comics. I don’t know them and I don’t know you; I don’t read your company’s comic books. Still somehow, despite this degree of remove, I’m sitting here at my computer in Chicago, Illinois with certain knowledge of the names of sexual predators who you currently employ, or have employed in the past.

Reports of sexual misconduct are like cockroaches; when I see one, I understand there are many more that haven’t made themselves known. There’s this particular strain of banality that offsets the horror and disgust. My first roach was a boy named Brian who masturbated at me in math class in the ninth grade. Did you even know that was a thing? That someone can just crank one out at you in Algebra I? Soon after that I learned there were others like him living in the walls.

No one wants to broadcast that they have a roach problem to the world, Dan. It’s shameful and embarrassing. Gross. People will think you’re doing something wrong with your life to have attracted roaches in the first place. You must be doing something wrong still if you can’t make them go away.

Lately circumstances have aligned such that there’s been an unprecedented Airing of Stories. I haven’t read most of them, but they’re hard to avoid. They make my muscles crackle under my chiropractor’s fingers during the part when they’re supposed to softly yield. They make it hard for me to concentrate. They make it more difficult to fall asleep and, not much later, to get back up.

No one has talked much about DC yet, so far as I know. I’ve kept an eye out because, like everyone else on the Internet who follows this sort of thing, I’ve known the names of DC’s sexual predators for years—Eddie Berganza, Brian Wood, and Mike Carlin, off the top of my head. The names of some others, like the senior art director who tried to rape an artist at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015, are not known to me. Yet.

Why aren’t these women talking? Partly it’s your company’s reach—your lawyers and your influence and your money—but the other part, the sadder part, is no one cares. No one cares, or at least no one cares enough. For every high-profile piece of shit like Harvey Weinstein there’s a gang of faceless weasels terrorizing women in an industry no one cares about, and I’m writing you today because, at DC Comics, the person who is supposed to care is you.

There’s no way I can know if you truly care, of course, but I believe that you do. I believe that you care despite the fact that you’ve done nothing, and worse than nothing, when you’ve been told about the actions of the sexual predators who work for you.

Let’s talk about the group of women who came forward to report the misdeeds of Eddie Berganza, who still works for you. You should have fired him immediately, all those years ago, long before his name ever trickled down to the likes of me. But I think I get it, at least to some degree. Sacking someone you like and mostly respect—I can’t imagine there’s any joy in it. You knew the things he did were despicable; that much was clear. But your discomfort made it complicated. You convinced yourself that, deep down, you knew his heart. Probably that’s easier when you haven’t known his greedy hands. His tongue.

With enough reluctance to convince yourself of your own goodness, you offered absolutions that were not yours to give. When DC treated Berganza’s storied history of misconduct as a single incident—I mean, Jesus, is that even legal?—no doubt some of the men there felt…encouraged. Meanwhile all the “good” guys under you who had their own vague misgivings figured no one else was doing anything either. I’m sure they felt it was a real shame. Dan, I’ve spent my entire life trying to understand what good men tell themselves. I have to conclude that you genuinely feel bad about it. Just never bad enough.

Obviously, with figures like Carlin and Julius Schwartz, sexual predation had been part of the culture at DC long before you rose through the ranks. I wonder at what point in your career it became normal to you to accommodate it. Was it part of your orientation? Was it after Wood, or as late as Berganza? I can almost hear your train of thought. The women seemed fine, did they not? That’s what you told yourself. Blah blah blah, they were strong, and men are fallible. Every time you wondered if you should act on another complaint about whoever it was, your conscience raised objections. Maybe he promised he’d get a handle on his drinking. Maybe you were friends with his wife. Maybe you were thinking about his kids, bless their hearts, or you were in the middle of a difficult project and he was your main man. Very valuable (to you), no doubt. Maybe you were worried about your own job. Whatever it was. Nefarious cover-ups happen—of course they do—but just as often I think that for guys like you, there are degrees of letting go that are almost imperceptible. Almost.

Dan, I’m thinking about this man who owned the software company where I worked right after college. There was an unspoken rule that his terrible personality had to be accommodated as though it were a disability. He wore leather pants to the company parties, if you can even imagine. Named our meeting rooms after the seven deadly sins. Avarice. Lust. The first time I ever talked to this guy he asked weird, aggressive questions about my sex life. We were sitting in a semi-circle, me and him and his stupid leather pants, plus my boss and maybe four other guys. You can hear when a “joke” doesn’t sound right—that’s a sense you develop very early on—but the thing is you still look to other people for social cues. Maybe this time it’s you, as you’ve always suspected. In fact, that would definitely be preferable.

What I need you to understand is how, looking around into the faces of those good men, how normal and not normal it was. There is a paradox in how you are required to hold both feelings at once. Some of those guys were my friends. All the empathy I can summon for them now, all the excuses I have made for the way they went along with it—what I’ve come to understand is that there wasn’t reciprocity. I doubt any of them ever stopped to imagine what it was like to be me. After I left the company my boss and the leather pants man would go on to have what was described to me as an affair. That’s the word my male colleagues used, so I guess that’s how they saw it. She was 24, I think. Older than I was at the time, but probably less than half his age.

Even now I’m resisting the urge to type a million disclaimers about how of course I understand this leather pants man’s sex quiz wasn’t that bad. I mean, it wasn’t! Certainly it’s nowhere near as bad as the stuff that’s gone down at DC under your watch. Worse things have happened to me. Worse things have happened to me at work, and my only other real office job was in high school. What I’m trying to describe is the pressure to assimilate inappropriate behavior into something normal or palatable. I felt the pressure back then—and I feel it now, though it’s different. I wish to impress upon you my anxiety regarding whether I have chosen the right story to share, one that falls within the window of what I’m willing to talk about and what even registers as unseemly in our dumb nightmare world. Understand that assimilating even a trespass as small as impromptu sex questions from the man who owns your company into something “OK” requires tremendous resources. It’s like scuba diving, with all the compensations and calculations that a hostile environment demands to be able to breathe. It’s a lot of work on top of your job.

I think the women in your office have been working at the bottom of the sea. Perhaps related, I can’t help but notice there aren’t very many of them. Just look at all that blue.

Source: Bleeding Cool


Dan, I want to tell you about an article I read in the New York Times. A misguided journalist reported that important men aren’t taking meetings with women because “one accusation, one misunderstood comment, could end their careers.” The writer pins it on what she calls a season of sex scandals, but she is incorrect. More than a decade ago there were male professors at the University of Chicago who refused to meet with female students alone. People laugh about Mike Pence and Mother, but his policy isn’t especially unusual. What I wish all these fearful men could understand is how hard women work to turn unacceptable behavior into some semblance of Normal—how acknowledging when something isn’t normal somehow feels like a last resort.

Ronan Farrow’s first Weinstein piece masterfully illuminated the work of Making It Okay. His sources have been so hard on themselves, but the truth is it’s possible to deny the obvious even to yourself in the service of making life livable. Whatever women tell themselves to Make It Okay isn’t a stupid mistake that requires self-castigation or forgiveness, nor is it weakness; it’s a defense mechanism or the logical consequence of our broken culture. Sometimes it’s both.

But there’s a very bright line between women employing this mechanism themselves and people like you, Dan. Beneath the tough exteriors of your female employees, what did Berganza’s “punishment”of working only with men cost them—the ones he had assaulted and the ones he hadn’t assaulted (yet)—in terms of opportunities? Is it an equal-opportunity workplace if a senior staffer requires a segregated office for however many years? By simply hanging a ‘no girls allowed’ sign on Berganza’s office, do you imagine that women at DC were made to feel safe, much less valued? This is of course a rhetorical question, as I don’t think you ever went so far as to imagine what they felt—not for a moment. No, not at all.

Dan, we don’t know each other, so I forgive you for not knowing what this is costing me. But the women who reported Eddie Berganza—I think you must know them better. Did they come to you? Did they think you seemed like the kind of boss they could trust? I don’t need to know their names to understand what your choices must have done to their mental and physical health. Their careers. I can hear the excuses they made, not for Berganza, but for you, even as you tasked them with the impossible burden of making themselves feel safe at work. How much did they pay, professionally and personally, because you weren’t willing to bear even the slight inconvenience and emotional upset it would have required to fire a sexual predator?

While you have much to answer for, it’s with some disappointment I conclude that you’re not a cartoon villain. You’re just selfish. Whatever story you’ve told yourself, your actions haven’t served what’s right, what’s lawful, or even what’s best for DC Comics. They have served what’s best for you, at least in the short term. That isn’t the behavior of a leader; that’s pathological self-involvement. You’re unfit for your job, but I barely care about that. I’m writing because you have come up short as a human being.

Dan, open letters are a dispiriting business. You’re a very important person whose life’s work is providing a friendly workplace to sexual predators, and I’m the nobody who this news has trickled down to in Chicago, Illinois. It should astound me that nearly everyone in this industry knows the names of at least some of DC’s roster of sexual predators, but it doesn’t, not even a little. The world hasn’t yet heard a full report from the women who have endured sexual assault and harassment during your tenure, but it is my fervent hope that day will come. I would like to hear—finally—what you have to say about it, unless of course you plead the Fifth.

Sincerely,
Kim O’Connor

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

down, swiftly

There's any number of ways to tell the story of a life, and one way that you could tell mine is the ill-conceived adventures I have had out of doors. We'd start with that time in third grade when I split open the back of my Hawaiian-themed jams on Field Day (formative memory - Mrs. Priester, teacher's aide and mother of my nemesis, stapling the jams back together, oh my god, still reeling from fucking Field Day) and discuss decades' worth of uproarious traumas up through this trip I took last August. This little Swiss town in the summer was just so beautiful and wholesome and brimming with people in good health, plus I was in an uncharacteristically optimistic frame a mind; it was enough to make me forget my place. I'm not so much white as borderline transparent, the type of pallor that could only be an evolutionary mistake. I should really stay inside.

On this trip I had not one, but two, ill-conceived outdoor adventures, the first being a tubing expedition down the river. I had been tubing once before, in college, and I remember it as a lazy afternoon spent floating gently down a river drinking beer. This was not that, as it turned out, which I maybe should've gleaned during the orientation. It involved a large swarm of Swiss and Italian people wearing aquatic shoes and hauling personal floatation devices in which they stashed all their gear. Some of them had their own rafts. The guy in charge gave that crowd two full seven-minute lectures, first in German, then Italian; then he turned to me and my friend (the only English speakers) and said "Always go left." That's it. "Just keep left," and then, when pressed, "If you go right you'll have trouble." With that, he gave us each a life vest and a little map of the river that was the size of a business card. We hauled our tubes on a 10-minute walk down a graveled path, the aquatic-shoed Europeans laughing at our bare feet the whole way. It was fair.

The tubing was supposed to take about two hours, and I suppose I'd pictured a scenic morning drifting down the river with my friend. I didn't bring my phone or my wallet because I was sure I would lose them--just my map and some sunscreen. My friend was supposed to pack her phone and some money for the Burger King, which was helpfully marked on the map like the object of a treasure hunt. One thing we didn't know is that this river moves. It has a very, very swift current that will carry you along faster than you can swim. We launched ourselves off a rock at the same time, but somehow only my tube shot down the river like a bullet. Within a couple minutes I was so far ahead I could barely see my friend in the distance. More worrying, there was actual white water (pulling me toward the right, naturally) and these tubes could not be steered at all. At. All. If you're tall enough you could sort of point your legs in the direction you want to go and kick really hard? I'm very short, though, and the tube was very large, so when I tried to do that all my limbs just sort of flailed in the air helplessly, like a dying bug. I pulled out my map (already soggy) from my life vest as a talisman against my inevitable drowning, trying to summon a sense of chill and well-being. Like that's ever worked.

Fortunately my friend is a normal human height, and after maybe 20 minutes she caught up by doing the kicking. She looked ridiculous, which made us laugh really hard. By that point death still seemed close, but I was feeling okay about it until we discovered she'd forgotten our Burger King money. A low moment. This story is probably getting boring--I swear it's good in person--so I'll just say there were still several more close calls after that, including almost being decapitated by a felled tree, and a lot of veering right. In fact at one point we veered so far right that my friend, who's a very strong swimmer, took off her life vest, got out of the tube and was like hauling our tubes to the left side of the river, while I was still flailing around like a fucking bug just wishing I knew how to do something--anything--right. I can swim, but not like that. I spend a lot of time wishing I were a more capable person.

The next day we went up a mountain for what was supposed to be a "gentle walk" between the restaurant where we were having lunch and the place where we would catch a bus. But we were running short on time and we ended up taking a shortcut down this path my friend's parents suggested, having taken it (as we later learned) some 35 years before. As you might imagine, this was a terrible mistake. The path was very steep. Verryyyyy steep. Lots of rocks. There was no shade, and it was sun was beating down. We walked single file like it was Lord of the Rings. No signs of life, save for the occasional wholesome Swiss person in full gear (including double walking sticks), who always flew past at 15x our speed. Somehow everyone was super elderly? Like if we had been in America, they were probably too old to leave the house. The most appropriately dressed in our band, I was wearing fashion sneakers. One of us was wearing what in Tennessee we'd call "church shoes," and my third friend was wearing shoes that had zero tread. We fell down a lot.

You know, there were these moments. Like all day, my friend had been talking about how he'd always gone to these mountains with his parents. He had all these fond memories of taking ski lessons with this guy named Benny. What do you know, in the middle of this nightmare trek we came across this cluster of weird hobbit houses and damned if Benny himself wasn't sitting on the patio drinking beer. He was like 90 years old, but perfectly preserved by mountain life (even though he'd only moved into his hobbit house quite recently...he hadn't actually lived there when my friend was a kid). Probably the most surreal experience I've ever had. They had this really animated conversation in German in which it was totally obvious that Benny was making fun of my friend's church shoes. We laughed and laughed. Earlier in the day (before the trek) we found this tiny one-room church where someone was getting married. Just amazing. But anyway for the most part it was us walking single-file down this treacherous path for about 3 hours, taking no breaks at all (except for Benny, or a brief pause when someone fell) because we were so worried we were going to miss this bus. I was worried I was going to fall (more), hating it the whole way, plus I also hated myself for hating it. Like why can't I just go with the flow, why am I always complaining, and how did I get stuck going down that fucking mountain, anyhow. I thought a lot about how I was really going to try not to be that person anymore--how I'd find some way to be more cool, more competent, and somehow grow a better nature.

Benny's crazy house
Two days later I flew home. It was a short visit. I'm always a little melancholy at the end of a trip, and this time I suppose I was extra sad. My friend who lives over there is one of my favorite people, but I don't see him very often. People moving away is one of the dumb tragedies of adulthood. The day after I got home I learned my sister is having a 'surprise' baby, and the day after that one of my parents was diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes I feel this dreadful symmetry where it's like I'm trapped in someone's bad MFA story. Another mountain I don't want to go down...another day of feeling totally incapable and out of control, wondering if I can be better.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

but the articles tho

Choire Sicha with the definitive take, asking which is sadder: Hef himself, or the people who think his life was aspirational.

I've had this overwhelming feeling whenever I look at the Internet lately, especially Twitter, this constant refrain that's been in my head for weeks now. Something like can we just not or how about we don't. Like can just one ancient pervert die of natural causes without anyone caring like the good lord intended.


It's fine, I guess, the internet doing what the internet does, and of course now here I am. It's just comical the degree of praise I've been seeing for the articles. Ah yes, the articles. The articles! I guess that's been a cliche for so long that a whole chorus of men have felt the need to step up and say, no seriously though, those articles really were great. Men have some sort of deep ancient need to assert their critical prowess when they have a creepy boner. They can't just enjoy it quietly and let the moment pass. There's maybe no more fitting tribute to Hefner's legacy than to flaunt your affection or something tasteless while insisting that you are in fact a man of good taste, at least when it comes to the things that matter. Bottom line, that was Hefner's contribution to the American imagination: the things that matter and the things that don't. The things that people are willing to laugh off when you're a card-carrying serious man who cares about important issues like gay rights and free speech.

"It's a dream that many find attractive," Choire writes.

Maybe the quintessential experience of being a woman in this world is watching a whole chorus of men hold up a ridiculous piece of shit old man in a captain's hat and a silk robe as some paragon of culture. Counterpoint: I have eyes. Consider explaining something else.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

big weekend mood


A few recommendations for the weekend: One More Time with Feeling, a truly remarkable documentary about Nick Cave's struggle to make an album after the death of his son, and The Art Life, a documentary about David Lynch. You can watch them both for free if you have Amazon Prime.

The latter I haven't seen yet actually, but I'm watching the TP finale tonight and plan to watch it after, or maybe tomorrow. Is this movie a thing people know about? Probably. I mention it because the only reason I even know it exists is because I saw a poster when I was traveling this summer.


I had just left some friends, one of whom lives really far away, and was staying in an unfamiliar town by myself for the night, feeling sort of melancholy. I took it as a real auspicious sign when I found this theater right next to my hotel. Unfortunately I had missed the last show by about half an hour, haha. That was not a sign, I decided. Just bad luck.

Had a lot of feelings last weekend about Harry Dean Stanton. It's sort of weird sometimes, the celebrity deaths that truly touch a nerve. It's partly tied to all these residual Twin Peaks feelings, which are, in turn, tied to some other shit I got right now. You know how it is. I haven't started in on the TP think pieces yet (thanks to the people who left recs--looking forward to reading them), but I feel like a lot of what I saw people talking about over the course of the season was this notion that interpreting Twin Peaks is this intensely idiosyncratic experience...that whole postmodern disconnect where the way in which you experience of a work of art (or anything) can never really be conveyed to another, etc. That just seems deeply, instinctually wrong to me. Postmodernism, just for lack of a better word, runs on a spectrum from cold (Bret Easton Ellis) to warm (David Foster Wallace), and to me Lynch runs warm in that his subject is collective experience and, like, forging connections more so than alienation. Lynch is more about feeling alienated from yourself...also the search for coherence in an incoherent world.

Exhibit 1: warm postmodernism (John Ashbery, who died a few weeks ago)


I don't know, maybe I'm wrong--I had to maintain a certain distance from the ~conversation~ after I fell behind on the show, but I feel like people talk about Lynch all wrong. The Twin Peaks revival actually had a really communal feel to me: all this shared affection for Lynch and Kyle MacLachlan, everyone's incredulity that a third season even exists (still don't have a bead on Showtime's angle at all--is there an explainer somewhere??), seeing the passage of time in the faces of the actors, and realizing the sort of overwhelming number of them who have died. Reading all those dedications in the credits, Jesus. I suppose it's hard to separate the content of the show, which is about these big human themes, and the experience of watching it, which felt really rich and resonant.

This conversation between Albert and Gordon in E4 was probably my favorite moment in the series.


Every scene those guys shared was just hugely moving to me. Where a lot of the original TP felt like it was trying to come to terms with violence, a lot of this iteration felt like it was about confronting  death. Anyway I probably have emotional problems.

Harry Dean Stanton as Carl was my favorite addition to the cast and maybe my favorite person on the show this season. The little moments that showed he was the king of that trailer park, like when he blew that whistle to call his driver or (my absolute favorite) when he pulled out that CV to radio the sheriff's station...those moments were the most pure delights of the season, and I say that as someone who took a lot of delight in this season.

The Nick Cave movie I saw in theaters, probably the only non-diehard Cave fan in the audience. (I like him fine, but more his stuff like Skeleton Tree and his score for The Proposition...classic Nick Cave is a little too theatrical for me.) As it happened I had just seen Fun Home the Musical, and the two had a surprising number of things in common...both are about the sudden, unexpected death of a family member. Both are adaptations: a musical about a comic and a movie about an album. Fun Home had come to Chicago and I went because a friend wanted to go. She thought of me because I'm her Comics Friend, which is fair, but the thing is, while I'm happy to be your Comics Friend, I'm not so much your Musical Friend. I like exactly three musicals: Annie (because it's perfect), Rent (because I'm old), and Jesus Christ Superstar (no fucking clue--one of my life's great mysteries). I guess technically I also sort of like Cats. Fine. That's four. Every other musical ever I regard on a spectrum from mild distaste to actual loathing. I didn't go into Fun Home expecting to hate it in the way I'm dead certain I'd hate, say, Hamilton. (I'm generally not one of those people who gets a kick out of putting down things that other people like, but I hate the very idea of Hamilton with my life. Every time someone RTs Lin-Manuel Miranda into my timeline I feel actual anger.) (Like I said: emotional problems.) But anyway I was wrong, because from what I can tell I'm the one person on earth who seriously hates Fun Home the musical. Alison Bechdel's whole thing is the contortions she put herself through to express emotion, so I can't imagine a more wrongheaded approach than sentimentalizing her story. And just at the level of adaptation it was almost hilariously dumb; to convey that she was a cartoonist the actor would just say 'Caption: this that or the other is happening right now.' God. On the level of sheer representation, I guess having some kid sing a song about her deep admiration for the aesthetic of butch lesbians is cool. There's a whole song about Baby Bechdel finding a UPS delivery woman to be her hero. I like the idea of little kids singing about how much they can't wait to grow up to be butch lesbians on Broadway. It was also sort of cool when they had Baby Bechdel, College Bechdel, and Current Bechdel on the stage together, I'll give it that. But those are pretty much the only thing that production had going for it. Utter shite.

Once More with Feeling is exactly the inverse of all that--just this really intimate portrait of a musician who's normally very stylized, very theatrical, very conscious of image. Very thoughtful, very sad, beautifully shot in the music video pieces. Warren Ellis (no, not the comics one) is so intensely cool, it blew my mind. I never knew! Anyway I think it's quite a thing, an actual act of public service, to have made a film like that. I'm going to watch it again sometime soon.

Not sure why I'm on about all this. Big weekend mood...
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Monday, September 18, 2017

portrait, a comic by simon hanselmann

The melodrama of indie comics culture is a lot like reality television; I find it entertaining as an observer, but I’m glad that’s not my life. The stock characters include a broad spectrum of Dumbs and Post Dumbs, eccentric sociopaths, and your racist uncle, and I prefer to gawk at these turkeys from the side of the stage like the judgmental twit that I am. Oh, I’m not talking about the good eggs. (I'm not talking about you.) I’m talking Whore Feud, or maybe that hobo-themed wedding. I mean, dang, we all wish wish that Comics were better, but watching that stuff is definitely the next best thing.

Here at the intersection of entertaining, off-putting, and ridiculous you’ll find Truth Zone (TZ), a series about alternative comics culture by indie superstar Simon Hanselmann. TZ is a long-running web series at Comics Workbook in which the artist makes fun of indie cartoonists, publishers, critics, fans, and other industry figures. The online iteration of TZ is often funny, and sometimes approaches what you might call criticism. But I’m here today to talk about “Portrait,” a little zine you can buy on Hanselmann’s website. The first run of “Portrait” (which was, at the time it was sold, advertised as its sole run) was around 500 copies. It sold out quickly and has since had at least one additional printing, which to my mind raises an interesting question—namely, how much of an audience exists for a comic like Truth Zone?

I ask because recently I realized I’ve lost any ability I might have once had to discern what is truly niche. Internet culture is near mystical in that it has rendered everything universally known and totally obscure at the same time. I had this epiphany in the middle of the night not so long ago, when I came upon this tweet making fun of a writer for New York magazine who misunderstood a joke that someone had made about a dumb political cartoon:


It's seriously sort of crazy, the levels of stupid arcane knowledge you need to parse this tweet:
  • how detestable Jesse Singal is (OK, not hard)
  • that, here, Singal is totally misunderstanding a joke that someone else made (harder)
  • about a political cartoon that's not pictured 
  • and then Singal got embarrassed, so he deleted the tweet 
  • also the joke Singal misunderstood used the clappy meme (a Twitter joke format)
  • that was in the style of Shanley's infamous "daddy" tweet 
I’m probably missing a level or two? Point is: 1,200 likes. I dunno, maybe 1,193 people truly heart that tweet. Or maybe it’s that theory I have, where people never feel more self-satisfied than when they recognize an obscure, layered reference. It makes us feel clever--like we're part of some club.

Hanselmann’s “Portrait” traffics very heavily in this type of insider thrill. Subtitled “Fake Criticism,” its short strips parody tumblr callout culture, James Sturm, Tom Spurgeon, Nobrow, Box Brown, the president of the Comic Book League Defense Fund, and any number of other people who I have forgotten or never recognized in the first place—but the references are always coded and frequently elliptical. Hanselmann presumes readers' familiarity with his subjects, obscuring real names and associations, which makes it more difficult for outsiders to understand what he’s talking about.

Even if you’re not a fan of Megg & Mogg, it's interesting to see how Hanselmann filters these anecdotes through his characters, especially the way in which their established personalities add depth to his commentary. More generally I reckon the degree to which you’ll enjoy a given strip depends upon your level of contempt for its subject. My favorite with a bullet was hobo wedding because the only thing funnier to me than the idea of a hobo wedding is the groom getting super mad when someone brings it up on his book tour years later.


But what about when you don’t have contempt for Hanselmann's subject? What about when the subject is in fact you, or people like you? I wrote here about Hanselmann's "Wes Craven's Crumb," which was at least in part about me...probably. The thing is, in a culture where everything is both universally known and impossibly obscure--as it is on the Internet, as it is in indie comics--a lot of stuff becomes plausibly deniable when your preferred mode of talking shit is encrypted.

Sometimes these are sharp little comics, and sometimes they’re just nebulously rude. Take, for instance, the opener, “Change.” Hanselmann’s target here is James Sturm, but sharp-eyed readers might notice that Hanselmann replicates some of the exact same attitudes towards Tillie Walden that got Sturm into trouble in the first place.


Twitter user @FstewartT made some astute comments about where this comic went wrong. This is just an excerpt:




Seeing these tweets, Hanselmann took to the DMs to explain himself, inadvertently revealing that he had exactly the attitude towards Walden that he was so vehemently denying.



These messages are a veritable Bingo card of bitter old-man comeback crit (the very thing Hanselmann was supposedly skewering):
  • passively aggressively responding to a critique of his work that he wasn't tagged in
  • thoroughly condescending (Allow me to explain my work to you)
  • berating successful young female cartoonist for her "weird arrogance" and "daddy's girl privilege"
  • berates another young female cartoonist for...tweeting?
  • hilariously self-important
It's all very Fantagraphique, is it not? Same old shit, thinking it's some type of new shit. Well, anyway, for your information, Simon Hanselmann was NOT mad. It's totally fine with Simon Hanselmann if you have some sort of reading comprehension problem, and also if you don't like jokes.

@FstewartT wasn't having any of that, lol.


Not to worry: Simon wasn't mad about that, either. He's just sorry no one gets it. It's cool with him that you're such a fucking moron, and he definitely wishes you the best. xoxo <|:-)

Once you understand that Hanselmann's roast comics are often diametrically opposed to his idea of himself, you begin to pick up on more dissonance in these comics--ostensibly progressive subjects with weird retrogressive undercurrents. It's incoherent and at times dishonest, taking the most extreme and misguided version of an argument and implying that it represents something larger. 


Is this art? By Hanselmann’s own admission, no--but he certainly sells it as such. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I’d wager most of the people buying “Portrait” or the bags of literal garbage (Artist Trash™) he sells in his online shop are fans of his art comics and his persona, not consumers of his criticism. Here's Hanselmann in a recent interview with Dan Nadel:

The Truth Zone is just the jerky side of comics. The first one, Landscape, I subtitled A Safe Space for Assholes. It's a safe space to just be a prick and just shit talk people. ... I try not to engage with the internet too much. If I'm gonna make snarky comments, I do it in comics form. Then I make money off it, and it's like an artistic statement. And I feel like it's better somehow. 

Better for who? Just as an example, let's take a look at “The Birthday Reporter."


Had this appeared online at Comics Workbook, it would have been a gentle spoof of the Comics Reporter that maybe also had something to say about the ongoing conversations surrounding comics journalism more broadly. Compiled in a limited-edition zine and sold for $8 plus shipping, it seems to me that it becomes something else: having fun--and making money--at someone else's expense, in an ecosystem in which they're likely to hear about it second- or thirdhand. (The thousands of dollars Hanselmann made off this throwaway gossip comic inarguably makes him one of the best paid comics "critics" today.) It's interesting and perfectly meta, the dynamic these tiny batches of zines create: in-groups within in-groups and rumors within rumors. But it's also a straight-up chickenshit form of "criticism"--and it's telling that, when he's confronted with that, Hanselmann will piss on your leg and tell you it's raining.


Sometimes it's a fine line between being a critic and being a piece of shit. It's something I think about sometimes, as someone who tends to take a tone not unlike Hanselmann's. (Not so long ago, for instance, we both went in on All Time Comics.) We could have any number of conversations about what criticism is--what it should accomplish, and how--but to me, it boils down to this: If you're going to drag someone, do it out in the open. Own it. Otherwise, you should stick to making fun of people privately, behind their backs, like a goddamn adult.

Is “Portrait” art? No, not really. Is it criticism? Nah. I think it's best described as an artifact—one that perfectly encapsulates a certain aspect of the alt-comix milieu, with its middle school-grade sociopathy and infighting. I find it entertaining, but I don't respect it. Hanselmann says he's turning his focus inward for the next Truth Zone comic--a step in the right direction, ethically, but one that I will read with low expectations. Hanselmann has many gifts, but self-awareness is plainly not one of them.

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