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Monthly Archives: January 2011

An Accidental Discovery

No philosophy today, ladies and gentlemen of the interwebs. This weekend has been a not turning my brain on weekend. However, I will bring you some comics.

I stumbled upon Guns of Shadow Valley entirely by accident. I was browsing through Comic Related. They had an article about The Clash’s “London Calling,” and somehow wound up watching an interview with Dave Watcher about the best ways to present one’s self at a convention.

I’ve only just started Chapter 4 of the comic, and it’s not bad. I have a few nitpicks with it, but it has been an enjoyable read so far. I also have a soft spot for weird westerns, so it will be making a permanent appearance in the links bar over to the right (as will Warren Ellis’ FreakAngels, which I keep forgetting to add).

As always, if you come across something you feel worth sharing drop me a line. If I like it, and I think it’s worth sharing with other people, I’ll likely link it. This is generally safer than doing it via comment; if I don’t know you and start seeing links, they’ll probably just wind up annihilated as spam.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in Comics

 

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Independent and Creator-Owned Comics

There’s been some action on Twitter tonight about independent and creator owned comics. Most of what I’ve seen has come via Tim Seely and Eric Powell. Mr. Powell even posted a video on YouTube. Sorry, gentlemen, but while I like your respective creator-owned books, I think you’re both missing some pretty important points. Maybe it’s because Twitter limits folks to 140 characters at a time. I’m going to start with the big point, though:

For even Goon, for every Hack/Slash, there are 342 “indie” comics that are utter and complete crap. I see them every time I go to a convention. The art is bad. The writing is frequently worse. More damning to the argument that Mr. Powell makes is that upward of 90% of these books aren’t even slightly original. I, for one, am not going to support a bad book simply because doing so helps independent creators, because in the end I don’t think that’s helping comics, it’s just lowering the bar.

Are the “big two” dominated by superhero books? Yes, yes they are. That would be because these books make them money. They are businesses. However what about Transmetropolitan, The Invisibles, V for Vendetta, Sandman? These all came out from DC, most of them via the Vertigo imprint. All of them were rather successful (though Invisibles admittedly had a sometimes troubled existence). DC also tried a science fiction imprint for a while. Because the big two are businesses, if a non-superhero book will make them money then they would sell it.

Even if the above examples didn’t demonstrate that, webcomics have certainly proven that there is a market for non-superhero comics. I’m sure there are superhero webcomics out there. The fact that none of them spring immediately to mind is testament to the way other genres have dominated the webcomic dialogue. Sure there are webcomics that don’t provide a living for their creators. I would even go so far as to say that most webcomics don’t make money for their creators. However, if you’re already losing money, or not make enough money doing print comics what is there to lose? I paid under $50 to get a fairly generous shared hosting package for one year; that’s significantly less than a 100 issue run of even a black & white, let alone a color comic, would run me. The only requirement to access my site is that one have an internet connection.

A larger readership potential, and significantly lower buy-in, and therefore significantly less money lost, if the project doesn’t work out. Not to mention the ability to explore options, such as color, that might be prohibitively expensive in a print book, or to experiment with the medium in ways that print simply doesn’t allow. And as a reader having your comic on the web means I don’t have to shell out $3 – $5 for a single issue of an unknown.

I like a printed comic as much as the next guy. I prefer reading on the page to reading on the screen. That said, if independent and creator-owned comics aren’t making it in the traditional market then maybe they need to quit doing things the way they’ve always been done just because it’s always been done that way.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in Comics

 

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Dear Interwebs, I Can’t Believe You’re Making me do This Again

Because in the comments of this post right damn here I talked about the very sort of thing I’m about to talk about again. By way of Gail Simone’s Twitter feed I was made aware of Comics & Shit. My life would be easier if it wasn’t on a tumblr, which is why you’re reading this here instead of as a comment over there.

The way I begin telling a story is with the characters themselves. I lay the foundation of my protagonists and antagonists by determining individual personality traits. Then I connect characters together with any multitude of relationship types (close friendship, strained association, tentative love interest, mortal enemy, that sort of thing). After those two steps, I decide on the characters’ motivations, and then the story spools out of those three attributes; my stories are never about the event, they are always about the characters. It’s only after I’ve given a character these things do I determine their physical appearance (race, ethnicity, hair and eye color, costume, etc.), religion, and sexual orientation.

I liken beginning the character creation process with things like race, religion, and orientation to filling a quota. I’m just as much a proponent for diversity in comics, literature, and cinema as the next person, but, to me, creating this quota and filling it is disrespectful, not only to the story, but everyone involved: the reader, the writer, and the group which the character was meant to represent. I would even go as far as calling it exploitative.

As you might have guessed, this is a quote from the original post. The first comment that comes to my mind is to say that if this is how the original poster goes about creating characters those characters must be amazingly one-dimensional and uninteresting. Maybe putting this next bit in bold will finally help people get the point: Our personality traits, relationships, motivations etc. are not, by any stretch of the imagination, something that comes before things like our physical appearance, religion, and sexual orientation.

I don’t know anything about the original poster, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he’s writing from a position of relative privilege. The problem is that we are not autonomous beings. Who we are has been shaped from the day we come into the world, and continues to be shaped by our interactions with the world. Our socioeconomic class shapes us. Our sexual orientation shapes us. Our appearance shapes us. The list could go on and on. In each case each of these things affects the way we view the world. I talked about this in the cases of “Muslim Batman” and “Lesbian Batwoman” (Night Runner and Kate Kane, respectively). In both cases the respective religious belief and sexual orientation are not just tacked on as afterthoughts, but have changed the experience they have had of the world, and thus influences who they are along with why and how they do what they do.

If I had grown up rich, or black, or gay, or Jewish, or attractive my personality traits, relationships and motivations would all likely be substantially different than what they are. Obviously I can’t know that beyond any doubt, but I can make a pretty informed guess.

So once again I find myself calling bullshit on people claiming that religion, or sexual orientation etc. are always forced P.C. bullshit or yet another publicity stunt, and have nothing to do with making interesting characters. Once again I call bullshit on the idea that we are autonomous beings complete unto ourselves. Once again and forever I call bullshit on little whiny children everyone afraid to look in the mirror and examine their own privilege.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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Atlas Flubbed

As part of the project, as well as part of my duties as keeper of this blog, I’ve been going through and making some notes on comics and creators whose work I either know well enough to talk about confidently, or that I know well enough that I have a sense of where to start. As part of that one of the entries that was on my list was Alan Grant and his character Anarky. As the name might suggest, Anarky began life as an anarchist who was a foil for Batman. Unfortunately he didn’t really stay that way, and poor Anarky found himself a mouthpiece for “Neo-Tech,” which is a bastard child of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

I don’t know a single philosopher who consider Ayn Rand’s work to have been philosophy, or who considers Rand herself to have been a philosopher. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any, just that I don’t happen to know any. I’m perfectly content to keep it that way, because Ayn Rand was full of shit. Oh, she makes a few valid points along the way. There is in fact a world that is external to my mind. This point of view is called metaphysical realism, and off the top of my head I can’t think of a philosopher whose work I’m familiar with that doesn’t agree with it. This is even true of the brain in a vat/Matrix reality people, because even if we are living in some sort of incredibly complex simulation, that simulation still has rules that operate outside of my thoughts.

This does not mean, however, that things like values and knowledge originate outside the mind. This particular view is a transcendent view of values. If you’ll remember a few posts back, those are the kind of thing that Nietzsche spent a great deal of time critiquing as destructive. It’s also the easy way out. Claiming that there are knowledge and values which originate outside of us, regardless of if they come from some magical man in the sky, or are an inherent, objective part of reality, means that so long as we discover them we don’t have to ask ourselves the hard questions.  Questions about how maybe things like knowledge and values are entirely conditional.

I could go on, but I won’t because I don’t want to lend secondhand legitimacy to shite by spending time doing an in-depth critique. Suffice to say that Rand cribbed from the work of actual philosophers, and made a mess of more than she didn’t.

What I’m actually interested in is why such a slipshod, second-rate thinker has managed to be so influential. Not only has she inspired people who whine that we should take Rand more seriously as a philosopher, but her work inspired at least three comic characters that I’m aware of; Anarky, The Question, and Mr. A. I asked a philosopher wiser than I about it, and she suggested it might be because Rand’s work is, by comparison to actual philosophy, accessible. I think this is a not unfair assessment, but I also think it is because, quite frankly, Rand is easy. She tells readers what they want to hear. Selfishness is okay. Capitalism is good. Of course both Rand and the Libertarians are wrong, because we see exactly where capitalism and self-interest have landed us lately… government bailouts and unethical practices are a far cry from a magical land of self-regulating corporations out to benefit everyone.

Personally I don’t have a problem with work being accessible. It’s what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog, after all. The easy, though… you’re not going to get that from me. Living philosophically is one of the most valuable things a person can do, but looking in the mirror of philosophy and being honest, critical and reflective… I’m not sure I can conceive of a more difficult task.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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All Quiet on the Philosophic Front

My apologies for the silence that has dominated these past couple weeks. Things have been a bit hectic around these parts, and will likely continue to be so for a while, and I just haven’t had anything I’ve felt was particularly worth saying. On the plus side there are some things brewing under the surface which should help make sure there’s more content here in the future.

First up I picked up copies of The Mindscape of Alan Moore, which I’ve seen before, as well as Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, which I’ve not seen. I picked them up in conjunction with something I’m working on, but might well convince myself to post reviews of them here.

Like many writers who’ve yet to make their chops proper I seem to always have one or more projects I’d really like to work on, but which seem to be in a perpetual state of never actually getting done. One of these is a fiction novel that’s been hanging in limbo for quite a while now. In order to breathe life back into it I need to sit down and do the necessary research to recreate a mostly-accurate representation of Renaissance Venice. Another is a more scholarly work that deals with the artist J.M.W. Turner and his place in the artistic canon.

The third has been brewing for not quite a year now. I really don’t want to give away too much, other than to say that it would be related to the subject of this blog. There are still quite a few details to work out and inquires to be made, but I’m hoping to start an initial foray to examine the feasibility of the project, as well as the exact approach I want to take, within the next few weeks. If it looks like there’s the possibility the project is going to be viable, and to be viable in a way that won’t leave me a gibbering wreck, I’ll likely talk about it more as it moves from vague conception to an apocalyptic beast that consumes my every thought.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Real-Life Superheroes: Threat or Menace?

I remember having heard something about the phenomenon of real-life superheroes a while back, but a post over at Blag Hag brought it back to mind. You can also find more info via the following links: Real Life Superhero Walks Streets, Fighting Crime; On Patrol With Phoenix Jones: Guardian of Seattle; Police Alerted to ‘Superheroes’ Patrolling Seattle; Cincinnati’s Masked Super Hero: Part I; So, What is RLSH?

In the words of C&C Music Factory, this is a thing that made me go hmm….

On the one hand, my inner geek wants to applaud. Hell, I want to jump up and down waving my hand and yelling “Pick me, pick me!” I’ve been reading comicbooks for a lot of years now, and I’ve always dreamed about being a superhero (well, at least when I wasn’t dreaming about being a supervillain). With the exception of maybe politicians and CEOs, who doesn’t want to change the world? Sure dressing up in tights and a cape to do it might seem a little silly, but there’s no harm in it, right?

On the other hand, my inner philosopher insists I need to take a closer look at this situation before jumping in with my support.

A recurrent theme with these real-life superheroes is that they just want to help people. Various individuals seem to encourage people to give blood, donate time/effort/money to helping the homeless, and other social causes. They want to make the world a better place. I can get behind that. The whole reason I spend so much time trying to get people to think, and more importantly to live philosophically is because I think doing so will help make the world a better place. If I thought tights and a cape would help me accomplish that I’d put them on in a heartbeat… or maybe a few heartbeats after I managed to shrink my philosopher’s (i.e. beer) gut. I can even get behind people in superhero costumes who want to act as a kind of neighborhood watch. By all means go out there and act as a four-color deterrent. Pass out fliers. Encourage people to help the authorities. Call in when you see trouble.

Where the situation is problematic is when you get guys like Phoenix Jones and the “Rain City Superhero Movement,” or Super Hare and Co. out on the streets of Cincinnati actually intervening in situations. Sure, you see bad shit going down you’re probably going to want to help. There are even Good Samaritan laws and statues allowing for citizens arrest. Phoenix Jones claims that all the individuals he’s involved with have a military or martial arts background, and they can take care of themselves. Which is good, but is it sufficient?

What happens when one of these guys gets involved in a situation that escalates and causes a bystander, or someone they were trying to help, to get injured. What happens if one of these guys fucks up and is responsible for an injury or property damage? Sure we might not have to worry about them punching anyone through a building, but that doesn’t mean something can’t go wrong. One of the first example that comes to mind is that they cause a suspect to flee in a vehicle, and said suspect wrecks into something, which could well involve potential injury to both persons and property. Where does the legal and moral responsibility fall to both bystanders and suspects? Yes, I extend the same concerns to suspects. Not only because even convicted criminals do have certain rights, but because these real-life superheroes could read a situation wrong. How far should Good Samaritan laws extend? If someone, bystander or suspect, gets injured, who will be covering the medical bills? Are companies offering “superhero” insurance now?

What about practical concerns? These guys don’t have the resources of the police. They go out “on patrol” and look for crime. Am I supposed to call Super Hare instead of 911? Do they have ways of getting people to pull over so they can get to an emergency situation? For that matter what are they going to do when the authorities are the criminals; is Super Hare willing to jump in when the crime being committed is multiple Hamilton County deputies beating the shit out of a 52 year old diabetic?

I applaud what these real-life superheroes want to do. Helping people is a good thing. I understand the frustration of being a victim of crime, particularly when it seems like the police can’t or won’t help. However, dressing up in spandex and going out there to fight crime… no. I won’t claim that real-life superheroes who are out there on the streets intervening aren’t making any kind of difference, but they could do just as much, if not more, harm than they do good. By all means help the police. Help your neighbors. Make the world a better, brighter place. Wear a brightly colored costume while doing so if that’s the way you want to do it. If you want to fight crime, if you want to help victims… join the police force. Become a paramedic, or go to work with a social welfare organization. Find a way to help the world that is legally and ethically sustainable, and one that doesn’t leave you open to causing harm or facing risks that you never intended.

It is because I applaud them, because I empathize with them, that I think those real-life superheroes out there with stunguns and handcuffs, out there fighting crime, should hang up the tights and find another way.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Activism, Comics, Philosophy

 

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Of Agents and Ad Men

Over on Comic Related there have been a couple announcements about press/ad agencies opening up that are focused on comics, comic creators, and related properties. You can find the relevant bits here: Sequential Support has Arrived and here: Bonfire – A New Ad Agency for the Comics Ethnic Demographic. I’m not terribly thrilled with Bonfire’s use of “ethnic demographic” to refer to comic fans. Not that it’s entirely wrong, mind, but in common usage the word ethnic has particular connotations that don’t apply to the higgledy piggledy collection that is comics fandom. That’s not really why I’m here today, however, so I’ll be moving on.

What interests me about all this is that agents, press men, ad men etc. have never been very visible in the world of comics as a whole. Oh, the big companies certainly have them, I’ll not deny that. The currently available information about Bonfire is a bit scanty, so it’s a bit harder top speak specifically about them, but in general both of these companies seem to be shooting toward an audience of indie comics and even individual creators; Sequential Support in particular seems to be offering services that go beyond those of ad men/press managers, and which are oriented toward indie creators.

I’m curious to see how these endeavors work out. Like I said, this sort of thing has never really been that visible in the world of comics. The closest I personally have ever seen is various folks over at Digital Webbing proposing to put together “talent agencies” of one sort or another. Maybe these postings proved phenomenally successful and I simply missed it, but somehow I doubt that. One of the problems is that the indie comic world tends to be rather disorganized in certain respects; in particular a lot of people seem to want to leap in without having a lick of business sense. Of course I suspect that problem plagues any number of creative industries and their offspring (such as retail stores). There’s also the fact that some folks think they have what it takes when the actually don’t, but that’s a post for another day. Maybe having agencies like Sequential Support and Bonfire, presuming they’re run by people who know what they’re doing and not just hopefuls posting on a message board, will help to both strengthen and improve the quality of comics, particularly of the indie/small-press sort. While I’m not one of those to cry that the sky is falling, I also don’t think a good shot in the arm to shake things up a bit would be at all bad for the world of comics.

On the other hand, even if these sorts of agencies prove efficacious will they really catch on? Given that they haven’t really been part of the way things have been done, or have been done poorly, is there going to be resistance to this sort of thing? I don’t mean people actually protesting so much as people simply not turning to them for assistance.

Of course this is all just idle rumination on my part. Time will tell whether these two and similar ventures prove to be successful. I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on them, and perhaps I’ll even see about giving one of them a try.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Comics

 

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