Monday, March 27, 2017

comix links/what I've been reading DOUBLE HEADER

Back in February I made a deal with myself to read a book every week, and I've been posting about it here to hold myself accountable. I'm behind! I've been busy lately and I'm so, so behind. But I'm not giving up. Plus I have some comics links? What a special treat for you.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King
I absolutely love vampire stories, so I was a little nervous about rereading this childhood favorite. Needn't have worried: totally holds up. Turns out King's tendency to set stories in hokey small towns pairs particularly well with the theme of 'corrupted by the undead.' There's this one sweeping scene in particular where he describes all these vampires in this tiny town bedding down in their hidey holes that's so, so good.

With this read of Salem's Lot I felt like I really came to understand why Stephen King was so appealing to me as a kid. The main thing, which I feel sure has occurred to literally everyone else who's read a lot of Stephen King, is that some of his best characters are themselves children. Mark Petrie is the best character by a mile in Salem's Lot, and there were an awful lot of well-written kids in his other stories, at least the way I remember it--The Shining, Pet Semetery, It, etc. Firestarter. Carrie. The other big thing is that it's much easier to overlook bad prose and technical flaws when you're a kid because your brain doesn't work so great yet. Recently I was talking about trashy reads with a friend and I mentioned Stephen King and he was all, "I just think good storytelling is good storytelling," and what could I say? I can see you think I'm being a real twit, but I write things for a living, so I guess it's hard for me to overlook when a Storyteller needs a better editor. Anyway Salem's Lot isn't perfect, but I think it's a much better book than The Stand (the last thing I reread).

I think my next Stephen King reread will be The Shining.

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
I had to read this book for work, but it bears mentioning because this story is seriously bananas like whoa. It's horribly overwritten, but if you can get past that it's this enormously charming and sad (and true) story about these Polish zookeepers who turned their facilities into a sort of Underground Railroad stop for the resistance after Nazis murdered all of their zoo animals. :( There's also all this crazy stuff (that I didn't know, at least) about how the Nazis' ideas about "purity" weren't just about eugenics, but also about the plant and animal kingdoms. For ex, the zookeeper couple knew this other zookeeper in Berlin who became a Nazi officer during the war, and he became obsessed with inbreeding even though that totally went against some of the most basic principles of zoology.

Anyway you've probably heard of this book because there's about to be a big movie? I hadn't, but I'm not on top of these things. It's got Jessica Chastain and everything! Looks terrible, but I recommend the book.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
This was another book for work--a collection of the "Dear Sugar" columns that this novelist wrote for the Rumpus a few years back. New Sincerity--that whole thing has been out of fashion for a while, but I have real affection for it. Maybe it's where I am. I live in Chicago these days. I think Dave Eggers and Stephen Elliott read "California," but they both come from here. David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest in Normal, Illinois. (Isn't that perfect?) Sufjan is from Detroit. I'm not sure that Isaac Fitzgerald moving to Buzzfeed symbolized anything so much as maybe he was tired of being poor? The Rumpus seems to be run by a halfwit these days, that's probably not helping anything...

Anyway one of my Opinions is that one day, when we look back on the Snark vs. "Smarm" War, Smarm will be vindicated. I sort of go back and forth between being a snarky person with an earnest streak and an earnest person with a snarky streak. I struggle with sincerity, like I find it really, really admirable but also disgusting? I suspect this is generational, but maybe it was some childhood incident. Point is I think too much of either is not so great, and I'm suspicious of anyone who seems too committed either way.

"Dear Sugar" was an advice column, a form that is repulsive to me. I think people who write advice columns are maybe the most unbearable of us all. But this lady seems mostly okay, if a bit much, and parts of this book were very good.

"White Artist's Painting of Emmett Till at Whitney Biennial Draws Protests" (NYT)
There was a whole thing on Twitter the other day about Peter Bagge's Zora Neale Hurston comic, and I found reading about this other kinda-sorta similar controversy somewhat clarifying. Sometimes questions get framed in a way that people dismiss as incorrect, and thus aren't taken seriously by the people who need to consider them the most. Like...on one level some of the questions being raised around the comic were incorrect. You know, "why was Peter Bagge hired to do this" was answered with "he wasn't"...then the argument sort of shifted to pitting Bagge's extant Zora Neale Hurston biography against a non-existent Zora Neale Hurston biography by a black cartoonist, as though Bagge won out over this other imaginary comic...which finally turned into "why didn't Bagge give this idea to a black cartoonist," the answer to which I think is sort of obvious. But, you know, I read Bagge's Margaret Sanger comic back before I got delisted by D&Q for suggesting that they didn't publish enough women, so I can say with some confidence that it's confusing why anyone thinks his books on "great women in history" or whatever are worth publishing. Like I was mad that I even read it, and that book was free. Totally artless and uninspired. IMO that guy has nothing to say.

Why is Peter Bagge publishing a series about women's experiences at D&Q? Well, I'll tell you why: because D&Q prefers to publish men, by a margin of about 3:1. With regard to race, white to everyone else, that ratio is probably worse. And if you look at artists they "take a chance on" vs. translations, reprints, and artists that otherwise came to them with an established audience? Fucking abysmal. This is a particularly curious choice, given that they're subsidized by the Canadian government. Shouldn't they have more room to take risks?

Then there's the other part half of the equation, the nonblack-artist-depicting-black-experience part. From the Bagge comic thing to the Till painting controversy to the Djann Mann Island cover, there seems to be a standing question about whether or not it's OK for a nonblack person to take on a black subject. And I want to answer that in two ways, with no pretense of having Real Answers, and the obvious acknowledgment of who I am--i.e., the whitest person you know.

I think the first answer, the easy answer, is yes, it's OK. On the level of the artist, yes, OK. What makes it less OK is when nearly all of the representations of black culture that are accepted by gatekeepers into the Holy Institutions--Drawn & Quarterly, the Whitney, whatever it is--are by white artists. Then it's fucking dubious. Then it gets special scrutiny, particularly when the art rehashes stereotypes that are already the status quo, or sterilizes something messy.

The second answer is less straightforward. More of a Mystic Anecdote, really. A few weeks ago, for work, I was talking to the head of curation at the Smithsonian's new museum of African-American art and culture. He was telling me about collecting Emmett Till's casket, the original one, which became available after he was exhumed. Till's mother offered the casket to the museum, and at first they weren't even sure that they wanted it. It was obviously an important historical artifact but it was so charged, so painful, so difficult, that there was like a series of meetings amongst all the curators and the head of the museum about whether or not this was a thing that should even be collected, much less displayed. Eventually they came to the conclusion that it should, and they did. In listening to this story, I felt with absolute certainty that if a staff of (mostly) white people at much pretty any institution were offered that, they would have accepted it immediately.

There's this series of children's mysteries by Daniel Handler, All the Wrong Questions. Sometimes you start with the wrong questions. But this is valuable, in that you come to understand the right ones.

A sad and intimate profile of the late Geneviève Castré's husband (at Pitchfork)
Phil Eleverum has written an album about his late wife's death, and Pitchfork sent a very gifted writer who recently lost a child to profile him. This is just an incredible read--a portrait of Elverum that ends up being a portrait of Geneviève, too. I'm haunted by this description of a "children's book" (not sure if it was a comic?) that she finished before her death:

I mean, Jesus. This is of those things that you know is going to stay with you for a while.

The guy who tweeted a strobe light at Kurt Eichenwald has been arrested
My feelings on this don't seem to be quite so strong as most people's. I mean, the FBI went into the strobe light attacker's twitter and found, like, 20 tweets that were some variation on "After much thought and careful research, I've decided I want to murder Kurt Eichenwald with this strobe light tweet," and that's plainly indefensible. On that level I guess I'm glad that guy is in trouble, because fuck that guy. Where I feel more confused is about the broader implications for the case...haven't yet seen any clear analysis on that. Eichenwald's lawyer argued that a strobe tweet's no different than anthrax and bombs and that seems demonstrably untrue. And on another level still, while I in no way wish Kurt Eichenwald ill, much less want him to die...when Death comes for him, as it must come for us all, please god let him get him be the one person on earth to die by tweets because, seriously, lol.

Admittedly I'm a little hung up on the fact that I think Kurt Eichenwald is a lying liar, which I realize isn't germane, but still. That tweet from his "wife" after the strobe tweet looks soooooo fake. Right? Super fake. I think that's objectively true, and not just my utter contempt for Kurt Eichenwald talking?

Botton line, the best (and safest) way to own Kurt Eichenwald now, as ever, is to tweet him his own picture without comment. Let's just stick with that. You may also tweet as his wife.

Journalist pretends that Kellyanne Conway is human for some reason (at New York magazine)
For me the major takeaway here is that Kellyanne snacks on the exact same gum as Sean Spicer. Like eats the gum as though it were food. What is going on with these people????

Internet Feminists seem to be doing some real soul-searching about what to do with old Kellyanne, which is both dumb and tedious. I think the bigger issue with this particular article is that Olivia Nuzzi is sort of bad at her job.

If you're trying to write a profile that humanizes Kellyanne Conway, I'm going to need something more than "eats gum as though it were food." But also what this writer seems to regard as a surprising air of human warmth comes across to me as Kellyanne palpably playing a role, a character. She just seems so intensely fake?

You know, there's this thing sometimes where reality really is black & white. That's just been one of my takeaways from this life, as an old person. LOL @ this young reporter wanting me to be impressed with her wide-eyed wonder at the humanity of the Trump administration.

How Dilbert's Scott Adams Got Hypnotized by Trump
I feel like anyone who reads this blog has surely read this by now, but I'd be remiss not to include this, one of the most fascinating things I've ever read. The whole first section is sort of a boring rehash of his election-related insanity but after that it's pure wizard magic. Like...from here on out, this article is the only thing I want to talk about with anyone, ever. What's your favorite detail? I have given this great consideration. Right now it is: his two perfectly named religious-themed novellas, The Religion War and God's Debris. But this changes pretty much daily. I'm also obsessed with the part where he forgets how to talk.

I sort of want to read those novellas.

New Trends in Getting Mad Online by Felix Biederman and Virgil Texas
Last in this lineup, but first in my heart, we have the sequel to "The Nine Canonical Responses to 'U Mad'," one of my absolute favorite Internet things of all time. I've considered adapting it for comics many times, but it's too depressing, and anyway it would just be like 9 examples of Nick Spencer owning himself.

This piece is not as good as the original, but it's still very very good. It begins with maybe the truest observation I've seen in a while, or maybe ever:
The act of melting down on the internet...has gone from a niche pastime of crackpots to the central animating force of our politics.
Some of these stories--Jen Kirkman, Jeff Jarvis--I saw unfold in real time, and they were incredible to behold, but the Michael Rapaport story was news to me. Oh my god, it's so good.


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