Category Archives: Comics

If it Weren’t for you Pesky Cosplayers

and your dogs, too, I’d have a million hits a day on this blog, and would be surrounded by legions of devoted fangirls.

All right, that’s probably (definitely) a lie. I get that Denise Dorman is upset. The costs to attended even local and semi-local conventions are going up – particularly when you’re not an invited guest who gets their hotel comped etc.. I’m just not sure why, other than the fact that they’ve been the convenient whipping girls (and boys) of the past couple years, she chooses to focus on cosplayers as a, let alone the, source of the problem.

Is she ignorant of history? I ask that in all seriousness, because according to his Wikipedia entry (not the most reliable of sources, I know) Dave Dorman has been illustrating professionally since 1979, got his “break” in 1983, and has attended 27 consecutive Comic-Cons. Ontologically speaking, comic conventions are simply a subset of the broader concept of science fiction and fantasy fandom conventions, as are such things as Transformers-focused conventions etc. Sci-Fi/Fantasy conventions have a long tradition, and some still continue this tradition, of featuring such things as cringe-worthy filking, fan guests of honor, fan panels, and any number of other ways in which fans were transformed into an active feature of convention programming.

And that’s presuming that we accept the erroneous assumption that fans, in any role, are simply passive consumers of the convention. During her essay on Bleeding Cool Mrs. Dorman asserts:

The hard-working artists and creators who are the very foundation of this industry…the reason there even is an industry…. those creatives who have busted their asses and spent money they perhaps didn’t have to spare in order to be there exhibiting for–and accessible to–the fans…have been reduced to being the background wallpaper against which the cosplayers pose in their selfies.

Those fans, including the selfie-taking cosplayers, are what allowed Dave Dorman and just about every other creator to be there. There is no level at which media consumption is truly passive, and the case of creator <–> fans among areas of geeky fandom the lines are particularly blurred, because what is often being produced are incredibly niche products that simply wouldn’t survive outside of that niche. While Dave Dorman likely could have taken his not inconsiderable skills and gone to work any number of places, he elected to enter a series of industries that are enabled solely by the fans. And as someone who has in the past done work in one of those industries (rpgs), he’s profited significantly more from it than any number of other people.

I don’t begrudge the man that career, though I do take umbrage at Denise Dorman’s casting of fans as passive consumers merely there to absorb a product. Not the least reason being because it’s a rather insulting and objectifying point of view, and because it doesn’t accurately reflect the ways in which consumers do engage with media both in what we (incorrectly) consider the “passive” mode of consuming it, as well as in the “active” mode of engaging with conventions and fan cultures.

In fairness, she does touch on the rising costs of conventions, but if these are a problem for guests/vendors/exhibitors, many (though certainly not all) of whom have their various costs either comped by the convention or offset by sales etc. how much more of a problem is it for fans? Fans, including cosplayers, don’t get to attend these events for free. In addition to the costs of admittance their are all the costs for travel, accommodation, and food, and that’s before you even get into the issue of having additional disposable income to make purchases at the event itself. For many fans these conventions, particularly larger conventions like Comic-Con, Dragon*Con, GenCon etc. are where they go rather than a trip to Vegas or Aruba. If I am already out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to simply be there, how much more do you expect me to drop at your table particularly when everyone else is expecting the exact same thing? This isn’t even to mention the work that some people put in, whether it’s to help with organizing, run games, or yes, make and present costumes – work that isn’t always offset in any way (yes, some conventions provide free admission, or accommodations etc. in these circumstances, but it’s far from universally true).

So yes, I can understand why Dave and Denise Dorman, alongside other creators, are upset at the current state of affairs, and there should be conversations happening about what we can do to change things. But to blame these problems on cosplayers not only ignores the history of conventions and fan culture, but it both avoids engaging with the actual problems while implying that at least some of the creators involved have an incredibly unhealthy attitude toward their fans.

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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Comics, Geekery, Pop Culture


Charlie Manson, Sitcom Star

During some beer-fueled tweeting last night I happened across the info that Charlie Manson is up for his latest, and what will most likely be his last, parole hearing later today. Even today, Chuck tends to exert a certain bizarre fascination over people. I’ll admit that when I went through the typical “rebellious” teenage interest in serial killers that strikes certain people of a morbid disposition I found him to be one of the more interesting cases. He was an umpteenth-times loser who’d spent more time out of prison than in, yet he managed to gather his own personal band of fanatics. These folks then went on to commit what, in some ways, was they ultimate crime against the American psyche; they killed a woman who was white, attractive, famous, and pregnant. What the “Manson Family” did was horrible under any circumstances, but when they chose the particular victims that sent them up the river they made a costly mistake, and became an example of the “dangers” of counterculture. In effect, Chuckie and friends were not rebelling against the system, but became the kind of rebellion that Foucault talks about; one that exists to visibly violate the rules so that their punishment can serve as an example to others.

Unlike Tate’s husband Polanski who fled his own crimes, Chuckles fulfilled his Foucaultian role to a T, drawing down far worse punishment than he would have if he had transgressed against someone less “important.”

This is where I come in. Years after any morbid interest in the psyche of killers I happen to overhear the opening of The Brady Bunch, and realized that one could insert the line, “Here’s the story of a guy named Charlie,” without breaking the underlying structure of the tune. Normally these sorts of thoughts simply pass through my head, and leave a chuckle when they go. Alas, this one decided to stick around, and kept clamoring to get my attention.

The idea kept popping up, insisting I do something with it, so finally I jotted down a few notes and took to the internet. My first task was to refresh my memory as to some of the pertinent details of Chuck’s life. While I was doing that I consistently ran in to people talking about how evil he was – perhaps the most evil man to ever live, even. Again, Chuck was a loser who spouted catchphrases with meaningless content, and often unintelligible form while rambling on about his plans to build a bunker to survive the coming race war (which wasn’t coming fast enough for him, so he was going to help it along). I can think of any number of men and women who have done far worse than he did, yet his transgressions against fame and beauty earned him a higher place in the dark parts of our psyche.

Armed with these thoughts I realized my course was clear; I must deconstruct the myth of Manson. Not through evidence or argument, but by inverting his position in the collective unconsciousness. I would turn Chuckles into a pathetically comic figure, fit only to be laughed at. Yes, my intent was to make him the star of a terrible sitcom.

My original impulse was to make a webseries around the concept. Webisodes were starting to get more attention at the time, and it seemed a natural fit given that the central premise was a sitcom, and that I have a background in theatre (also I wanted to jump on the bandwagon). Unfortunately it also required equipment, people, and resources that I simply didn’t have access to. So I scrapped that plan and reworked it as a webcomic.

Not that doing it as a webcomic came off without a hitch. The first artists to express interest flaked on me. Finally I dragooned an old friend, who’d originally volunteered to do inking and/or coloring on the project, into doing the whole thing. The early strips varied quite a lot as we tried to settle on the size and style for the strip, and we changed the format after the first 15-episode “season.” The sitcom premise remained intact, with each strip representing an episode in a season-long storyline, with short “commercials” filling in between seasons. It even managed to pick up its share of regular readers, though never so many as to make me internet famous. However, life, as is its wont, intervened and season two went on a hiatus from which it never recovered. Maybe one of these days the comic will return, but I wouldn’t lay money on it. Though if you like it by all means let me know; a show of support might convince me to get the wheels turning on the return.

Presuming you’ve made it this far, I know present to you the comic in its entirety:

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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Comics, Pop Culture


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Robotman and the Posthuman Condition

The book I was reading last night and I had a disagreement. The book in question was A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files. It presented itself as being about cowboys and magic. I am down with the cowboys and magic. It was also about gay sex. Lots of gay sex. Repeated gay sex. That’s not really my bag, as they say, but I kept reading anyway, as other than a few small quibbles it was well written enough, and seemed an interesting enough story that I was willing to stick it out. Until the part where the straight man is seduced into magical gay cowboy sex that is awesome and the whole book started to read like fanfiction. Well-written fanfiction, comparatively speaking, but not so well done I was willing to continue reading. If gay cowboys, and straight cowboys magically being turned gay, is your thing, though, I suspect there are worse offerings out there.

That aside, I was left with a bit of a dilemma. I didn’t feel like (re)starting Morrison’s Supergods, and having forgotten what it was I had decided to read I opted to reread a bit of Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Robotman, he is a member of the Doom Patrol. His name is Cliff Steele. He used to race cars. He crashed and his body was reduced to a hideous, mangled, pulp. A chap by the name of Niles Caulder managed to salvage Cliff’s brain and stick it in a robot body. (If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like the Thing you wouldn’t be wrong, though generally I find Cliff is slightly less insufferable than Ben.)

While not dying is generally considered a plus, Cliff, particularly Cliff via Morrison, isn’t entirely happy with his robody. Sure, he’s alive, but having not been born a robot he is now alive in a way he is not equipped to experience. Those senses he does have, sight and hearing, are now radically different than they were when they were experience with human eyes and ears, while touch, taste, and smell are no longer part of Cliff’s experience of the world. The loss or radical redefinition of a sense has a profound effect on our lives. It is through our senses that our engagement with the world begins, thus it is our senses that shape our engagement with the world. A person who is born blind has a fundamentally different way of being in the world as a person who is born sighted. A person who loses the ability to see must relearn their way of being in the world.

For all it resembles that of a human on the surface, Cliff’s experience of the world is not the human experience of the world. While Morrison does give us some hints as to the effect this has of Cliff’s psyche I think this is an area where comics in general haven’t explored the possibilities inherent in the genre’s conceits.

Certainly, we get those characters who suddenly have power and decide that they are now beyond human conceits of morality. Yet this is really nothing different from a thug with a loaded gun and a cocaine-fueled hardon deciding that he’s a god. Because what moves these characters beyond human and into the realm of the posthuman isn’t their powers; it is how those powers alter their way of perceiving, and thus being in, the world.

I’ll be the first to admit that doing any kind of justice to this is a difficult task. We are, after all, limited to our human experience of the world. Yet that doesn’t stop us from imagining. What is Cliff’s experience of the world like? What is it like for Cliff, and for those like Cliff, who come to their powers after having lived a life fully human? What would it be like for a posthuman raised among humans versus a posthuman who comes to human society at a later point? Somehow, I think that we can find more possibilities than “genocidal sociopath” or “messiah” nestled in these ideas.

I still enjoy superhero comics. I’ve never made a secret of that. Yet for all that enjoyment, it would be nice to see someone step out and tackle some of the interesting possibilities of the medium beyond, and with the same level of exploration as, the various modes of deconstruction that some very talented folks have already given us various permutations on.

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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Comics, Philosophy


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The Miller Propaganda Machine (or why I Disagree with a Smart man Named Neil Gaiman)

One week ago today Frank Miller wrote the latest in a series of batshit crazy screeds. A number of people are reacting to this event with various degrees of shock and bafflement despite the fact that he’s been going on in this vein for a number of years. While Miller is not mentioned by name in the relevant tweet, Neil Gaiman posted a link to something he wrote in 2006 about why we shouldn’t refuse to engage with art just because we disagree with someone personally or politically.

Neil Gaiman is an intelligent, insightful man, with impressive hair, and a wardrobe that I envy. He even makes several good points in the above response. However, when it comes to the work of Miller he’s wrong, because the work of “art” in Miller’s case is the artist.

My initial response to all of this can be found on Twitter, in which I said: Not going to waste a blog on this. Frank Miller is racist, obsessed with hyper-masculine fascism, and not a very talented writer. #nuffsaid  A day later David Brin articulated a critique that outs 300 for the meretricious heap it is, and says basically the same thing I did in my tweet.

300 is also a good place to start precisely because of a quote from Frankie-boy himself in response to some critics (including Alan Moore) whom called him out for having the Spartans call the Athenians boy lovers, when forced pederasty (i.e. raping teenage boys) was an open fact of Spartan society.

If I allowed my characters to express only my own attitudes and beliefs, my work would be pretty darn boring. If I wrote to please grievance groups, my work would be propaganda. For the record: being a warrior class, the Spartans almost certainly did practice homosexuality. There’s also evidence they tended to lie about it. It’s not a big leap to postulate that they ridiculed their hedonistic Athenian rivals for something they themselves did. “Hypocrisy” is, after all, a word we got from the Greeks. What’s next? A letter claiming that, since the Spartans owned slaves and beat their young, I do the same? The times we live in.

Sorry, Frankie-boy, but using your characters as a mouthpiece for your own beliefs is also propaganda, but way to try and discredit those who disagree with your views without ever forming an actual argument (but then that’s how you roll, isn’t it?).

Frank Miller’s work has never been anything but a mouthpiece for his own views. Ever. One trend I keep seeing in the commentary about his latest nuttiness is the way his earlier work, particularly Dark Knight Returns is given a pass. Dark Knight is rather famous in the annuls of comics, and it’s almost as if people don’t want to see its reputation tarnished.

It is true that Miller used Dark Knight as a vehicle to take pot shots at Regan. Sorry, Ron Marz, but that doesn’t make the rest of DKR any less right wing. Batman, as depicted in DKR, is a violent, fascist thug. He isn’t interested in America being free; he’s only interested in it following his own ideology, and he’s willing to savagely cripple anyone who doesn’t conform to his worldview.

This trait is common to most of Miller’s protagonists. Miller has always glorified violence, and “heroes” who adopt a “If you’re not with me you’re against me attitude.” We are all corrupt, venial little sheep that need the manly men to keep us toeing the line (and remind us that women are all whores in the process).

All of these traits exist in Miller’s work prior to his public breakdown following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. All of it. Even his period of anti-corporate sentiment follows the black and white pattern of his thinking; the reason corporations were bad was because Frankie-boy felt that he was personally being shafted on deals. Once that was no longer the case he no longer had a problem with corporations; because hey, if it isn’t inconveniencing Frankie, it isn’t actually a problem.

I realize I’m being a bit disorganized, dear readers, so I shall try to sum up.

In his personal life, Frank Miller worships a pseudo-film-noir worldview of black and white that praises the hyper-masculine image of the tough guy. He’s also quite fond of reminding us that women are whores and evil temptresses, which again ties in to his veneration of the ideals of noir. These ideas are also present in Miller’s work. Not just the recent work that is almost universally panned (such as the racist joyride that is Holy Terror), but it has been lurking there since the very beginning. Dark Knight Returns is as much a work of propaganda for Miller’s worldview as his current works are; that it has been successful, and is considered influential on the development of modern comics does not somehow liberate it from this.

Of course for all his worship of hyper-masculinity, Miller’s only claim to being a tough guy is that he… wait for it… wears a fedora. He’s never been a cop, hasn’t served in the military, or done much more than spouting his limited worldview while demanding that everyone else man up and fight the good fight against the dirty Jihadists who are hiding under his bed (they’re there right now, Frankie – don’t turn out the light or a Muslim might get you!).

This is why I think Neil Gaiman is wrong, at least as concerns someone like Frank Miller, or Orson Scott Card, or the racist dipshit responsible for something like The Turner Diaries. It isn’t that these people have views I don’t agree with. It isn’t even that their work expresses views I don’t agree with (Plato having been a totalitarian douche doesn’t stop me from reading Plato, it just informs my critique of his work), it’s that what these individuals are producing isn’t art, it’s propaganda. It isn’t designed to challenge us or make us think. It doesn’t present anything resembling an actual argument. Frank Miller’s only goal is to show us how manly he is, and how the rest of us should be grateful he’s willing to put his foot on our throats and show us the error of his ways. The work of Frank Miller is about as worthy of consideration, and possesses roughly the same level of intelligence, as the average George W. Bush soundbite.

Postscript: Why yes, I did recently write a critique of the “Occupy” movement. Unlike Miller I didn’t do it by claiming people who disagree with me are rapists, and then going off on a tangent I’ve been harping on for years. More to the point, I haven’t made an entire career out of beating the same damn drum in everything I’ve ever done.

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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy, Pop Culture


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Lies that Speak Truth to the Human Heart; Fiction, Imagination, and Empathy

If there is one thing I can count on the internet for, it’s that when a discussion of a video game, comicbook, television show, novel, movie, or whatever form of media floats your boat comes up, someone, somewhere, at some point will likely respond to criticism of it with some variation of, “It’s just fiction.”

At first blush that certainly seems like it has some validity to it, doesn’t it? After all, something that is fictional is by its nature not true. It likely even meets Kant’s definition for being an analytic statement; that is to say it is a statement which contains its own definition without needing supplement (bachelor being one of the more commonly used examples of an analytic statement; it contains in itself the meaning of “an unmarried adult male”). The word’s place in a Kantian schema isn’t terribly important, particularly since further elaboration would require me to listen to a Kantian without entering a catatonic state, and I fear I’m simply not up to so Herculean a task.

The important takeaway from the above is not the Kantian digression, but the fact that most adults upon hearing the word fiction will understand it to mean that we are speaking about something which is not true. Bertrand Russell would certainly agree with this sentiment; in his tendentious, torturous essay on why ordinary language is insufficient for  the doing of philosophy, Russell talked about if I say something like, “The current king of France is bald,” said statement is meaningless largely because there is not a current king of France. Which is why despite admitting it would render ordinary communication impossible, Russell insisted we needed to make a language specifically for the doing of philosophy, so that shenanigans could be avoided.  This particular point of view would underlie (and undermine) the ideas of logical positivism (the forerunner of analytic philosophy). (I will interrupt with a brief confession. Russell did do some good work, and I’ve always wondered if the essay I mention here wasn’t done as something of a joke; written in a deliberately obtuse and obstructive style in order to illustrate his point. Regardless, the moves in philosophy that Russell describes, and which became profoundly influential, were also moves that helped direct contemporary philosophy away from usefulness and toward academic circle jerking. Moving on.)

We, as a species, have something far more important than a language of logic or a factual king of France; we have the ability to think abstractly, and to imagine. There does not need to be a current king of France for me to conceive that there is, or could be, and that this nonexistent king is in fact bald. I would even go so far as to say it is easier for me to understand what the statement out a fictional king of France being bald is representing than it is for me to properly understand the distances involved in something like a light year; while the light year might be a “factual” unit, the scale of what it represents requires significantly more imagination, because most of us have no experiential referent to compare it to.

So on at least a literal level, fiction isn’t nonsensical or meaningless. Common sense would tend to tell us that, because if the nature of fiction were nonsensical we wouldn’t engage with fictional materials; not because we would be wasting time, but because we simply wouldn’t be able to comprehend them. In fact, the potential meanings carried in fiction have been a concern of philosophy going back to its “official” beginnings.

Plato, in his Republic, goes off on a digression about the hypothetical ideal city. He blathers about the various castes that will make up the city, and other details that have made the Republic the only book to ever put me to sleep twice in the same day. However, among his natterings there is one class of folks that Plato is quite clear will have no involvement with the ideal city: poets. Plato was not fond of poets and artists, because he was terrified by the possibilities of mimesis; those naughty, fictional doings, and reproductions of objects could very well lead us deeper into the cave so that we never saw the light of Plato’s imaginary forms. If fiction was incapable of conveying meaning, and meaning beyond that which it takes to simply be comprehensible, but rather the kind of meaning that informs and shapes our way of being in the world, why would Plato be so worried about? And if fiction is incapable of conveying deeper meanings, why did Plato choose to present his work as fictional dialogues?*

Clearly, fiction is not nonsensical, and is capable of conveying meanings on a level beyond a surface engagement of entertainment. Part of it is that we are beings of abstract thought and imagination, and we can be affected by things that are not “real,” an idea which I have talked about previously. If you didn’t believe me there, it turns out that neuroscience is (finally) catching on to what some philosophers have been saying for at least a few hundred years. Yet I don’t think that this capacity fully explains the ways in which we can, and often do engage with fiction. I suspect that it is not only our capacity for abstract thought and imagination, our ability to dream as it were, but also our capacity for empathy that allows us to immerse ourselves into fictions as we do. I don’t agree with everything in this video. I don’t think that our capacity for empathy comes from an understanding of mortality, particularly since some animals do seem to display empathy, or something similar, and as of yet we’ve no reason to presume that they understand/conceive of death in the same way that humans do. I also have a few other quibbles with the information presented, but again I digress.

When we willingly suspend our disbelief and engage with a work of fiction we connect with the worlds and characters we experience. Much as with dreams, visions, etc. they in way become real to us. Even without visual triggering of mirror neurons these fictional characters and events can make us laugh or cry; they share part of their lives with us, and in doing so evoke our emotions. While it’s by no means a good thing, it’s small wonder then that some people might come to confuse an actor for the character they portray; to those of us who experience the results of their work at home the actor him or herself is a cypher. We do not know this person. Yet the character they portray, or portrayed in the past, is someone with whom we have established a rapport. In activating our capacity for empathy these characters have become part of the narrative of our own lives, all without ever being “real.”

Fiction also has another great power; it can tell us unpleasant truths, while hiding from us that it is telling unpleasant truths. By moving things into the realm of fiction, we can deal with them a step or more removed. If I simply tell someone that religion is a lie, or that they are embedded in a racist society whether they consider themselves racist or behave in an overtly racist manner, there is a fairly good chance that this person is going to feel as if I am attacking them and respond defensively. While it is certainly not a foolproof method, and it is entirely possible this person (and others) would miss the point I was making, or would still feel as if I was attacking, by wrapping this issue in a fictional coating I can present to them the same argument, the same truths in such a manner that it is perhaps not such a bitter pill to swallow.

Trying to dismiss something as just being fiction is, at best, disingenuous. Fiction might well not have a single grain of fact in it, but that does not mean that it is “false.” Plato certainly knew this, and knew that the ideal city would have to ban poets for fear that the fictions they told might undermine the tyrannical party line. Like our dreams, fiction is capable of touching us in the same manner as the “real” world; it can be as much a part of the intersubjective web in which we are immersed as other people, or the physical objects we interact with on a daily basis.

The things I talk about in this blog and elsewhere are examples of that; artifacts of popular culture that are also artifacts that enable philosophical engagement. Perhaps it is time that more philosophers follow in the footsteps of Camus, Sartre, even Nietzsche, as well as such primarily “literary” personalities such as Hesse, and understand that we needn’t speak a convoluted language of dead white guys to speak philosophically about, and to, the world. There is no reason that we could not speak a language of lies that tells the truth.

*(I have heard some make a great deal of the fact that one of Plato’s statements in his Republic is that the philosopher ruler is “…a lover of truth and a hater of lies,” yet at several points the philosopher ruler lies to the people. Also, if Plato was so down on poets and tellers of tales, isn’t he contradicting himself by using fiction? The answer is no, because he clearly admits to the acceptability of fables; fictions that might not be true in fact, but that teach an important moral truth. The lies of the philosopher ruler, and the fictions of Plato, were not deceptions of malice or mimesis, they were the kind of moral instruction one might offer to a child. What that might say about Plato’s opinion of others is for you to decide, dear readers, but there is no contradiction in respect to this particular point.)


Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Comics, Geekery, Philosophy, Pop Culture


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“Remember, Remember…” that you too must bear the Blame

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

Today is the fifth of November. Across the pond in ol’ Blighty at least some people will be celebrating Guy Fawkes’ failure to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. I imagine that even as I type this, many have seen their Facebook walls spammed with various quotes from V for Vendetta – in particular with quotes from the inferior film version. I’ve talked before about how people frequently seem to miss a point that Moore was making, and in honor of Guy Fawkes I am going to do so again, albeit as relates to a slightly different point.

I have lost count of the number of times I have read V for Vendetta for both academic research and personal pleasure. It would not be unfair to say that the scene central to today’s discussion is a large part of what made me focus on comicbooks as my primary locus from which to start philosophical discussions. The scene in question comes to us from Book Two (“The Vicious Cabaret”), Chapter Three (“Video”) of V for Vendetta. For those of you who might like to refresh your memories, or reread the relevant section before or after this post, it occupies pages 108 – 117 of the tradepaperback edition of V.

This particular chapter features V taking over the state controlled video station and broadcasting a message to the people of London. It was this message that transformed me into the Comicbook Philosopher, as upon reading it I recognized in its words a paraphrasing of the work of Jean-Paul Sartre. Which is all well and good I hear you say, dear reader, but what is the content of this all important message?

Couched in the mask of a dismissal from one’s job, V informs the viewers of fictional London, and by extension we the presumably non-fictional reader, that we share as much blame for the state of the world as those directly responsible for Norsefire. Not because we approve of Norsefire’s pogrom to cleanse the impure from society. Not because we are actively part of the machinery which allows the wheels of state to function. Rather, our blame lies squarely with our refusal to take responsibility for the culture we created, and the world that gave birth to.

Yes, yes, I admit that for the sake of space and simplicity, in my last analysis of V I presented us as innocent victims caught between V’s actions and a repressive government. With the exception of our innocence, what I said there remains true; yet just as V is not unambiguously heroic, we are not unambiguous victims of his campaign.

If the world ended in nuclear fire, V tells us, it is because we elected the governments that brought us to that point. Even though we might turn our eyes, a single, dramatic crocodile tear rolling down our cheeks as the undesirables are lead away to the camps, we are the ones who allowed this situation to come about.

In the world outside of the comic page, V is indicting not merely the banks and the governments who colluded with them for the state of the economy; he is demanding that each and every one of us take responsibility for the world we helped create. He is reminding us that if corporations are building sweatshops in some third world country it is because we were more concerned with our Nike shoes,  and iPods, with our cellphones, and watching the disintegration of Kim Kardashian’s 18 million dollar marriage, to say no before the fact, preferring instead to offer token protest only after we have allowed others to pay for our conveniences.

We might not be responsible for the day-to-day running of corporations and governments. We might cry out at the actions those corporations and governments take, but as much as we might deny it, these are actions done in our name. V tells us that with our refusal to take responsibility for our lives, to take proper stewardship of the world, we are all responsible the results.

It isn’t a pleasant message to hear, which is why I suspect so many prefer the unambiguous illusion of the film. Yet V reminds us that refusing to accept this responsibility means not only a failure to move toward authenticity, but that these events will simply repeat themselves.

We can spout quotes from V all we like, and rage against the Powers that Be so loudly that the heavens shake. Yet what Moore as the existential V, as Sartre’s mirror, is reminding us of is that the world will only change when we change ourselves, and that our continued refusal to accept responsibility only makes the road to get there that much longer.

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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Alan Moore, Comics, Philosophy


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In der Nacht haben wir geträumt

People that know me know I’m prone to having exceptionally bizarre dreams. This doesn’t happen all the time, which is probably a plus (at least as far as the tattered remnants of my sanity is concerned), and as far as that goes I don’t usually recall my dreams, or am even aware of having experienced dreams. It’s just that when I do dream, I sometimes dream up some… interesting stuff. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some of the more memorable nocturnal visitors from the last couple years.

In one particular dream I was hired to write a prequel comic to Killer Clowns from Outer Space. Admittedly not really all that bizarre when compared to what is on the way, but it stood out.

In another notable incident I dreamed I was part of a group of people who staged an intervention for Santa Claus. Yes, I said Santa Claus. Turns out that Santa has a cheerily red nose because he’s a bit of a booze hound. When confronted over his drunken ways, Santa tearfully confessed that he wouldn’t stop drinking. Santa has a dark secret; alcohol is the fuel that allows Santa to defy spacetime and deliver presents to all the children of the world in just one night. So no boozed up Santa means no Christmas.

Moving on, we come to a rather more recent entry in which a Holiday park sort of place had become infested with mysterious, people eating horrors, most of which took the form of faceless, shadowy entities. I, of course, had to get rid of these things. In a bid to help me do that, the Ultraterrestrials of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles manifested to help me… though rather than manifesting in some sort of psychedalic, shamanic initiation they showed up on a television in the form of Samuel L. Jackson. According to them, my mind wasn’t at a stage where it could comprehend a more direct manifestation of their presence.

Which brings up to the latest entrant. I spent a bit over two hours snapping in and out of iterations of this dream, and I still can’t really tell you what it was about, dear readers. It was about Wonderland, or the idea of Wonderland, but not really. There were dark doings in Wonderland, or should I say by Wonderland as it appeared to be a conscious entity, involving a plot to raise families of inbred, pedophilic families of nobility, while at the same time Wonderland was a trap to murder pedophiles. I don’t know if it’s because the dream was constantly interrupted, or if it was something else, but there wasn’t a narrative as such. Even the visual experience of the dream often broke down into a bizarre, fractal landscape accompanied by the experience of narration that was felt/thought more than heard.

Of course I say the dream was frequently interrupted, but that isn’t entirely true, as the dream didn’t really stop just because I was awake. In the half-awake periods before I would slip back under the dream made sense. My mind would go over each of the elements point by point, fitting them into a complex, yet comprehensible structure. My understanding would suddenly fray, leaving me with a powerful sense of dislocation, made more intense by feelings of physical discomfort my body was sending me. The only way I can explain it is as the experience of going mad, and of being painfully aware of my own descent into insanity. It was not a pleasant couple of hours.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a dream continue after waking, though it is the first to have this much of an effect on me. Hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations aren’t particularly uncommon, and (when accompanied by sleep paralysis) quite likely account for a number of alien abduction experiences (among other things). Yet when you get right down to it these are just dreams and hallucinations, aren’t they? None of this is meaningfully real, right? Right?

Sadly, the answer isn’t quite as simple as that. Which in other ways is good for me, because it means I can talk about these sort of things without it being simply a trip through the fractured landscape of my psyche; this is made even better since I won’t be talking about the nonsense that is Freudian psychoanalysis (or the even bigger nonsense that is Lacanian psychoanalysis – both of which are only useful for discovering what Freud and Lacan’s personal hangups were, and if you’re not familiar with their work I’ll spoil it for you; Freud was obsessed with mothers and dicks, Lacan was even more dick obsessed than Freud).

If we jump back in time and overcome our distaste that we might plumb the work of Descartes, we find he had a bit of an issue with dreams. I’ll trim off a good deal of fat and say that the problem, as far as Descartes was concerned, was that we experience sensory and emotional content in dreams. We also experience sensory and emotional content in what we regard as the “real,” waking world. How then, could he be sure of what was in fact real; to put it in philosophical terms, how could Descartes, and by extension the rest of us, distinguish reality acting in and of itself as distinct from sensory experience acting as reality?

In a similar vein, there’s a scene in The Matrix that occurs shortly after Neo has been made of the artificial nature of his life up to that point. I don’t remember the exact dialogue, but the essence of the scene is that our intrepid heroes are driving down the street, and Neo is reminiscing about how he ate at this place, or went to such and such, but none of it was “real.”

The kicker is that what happens when we sleep, or all those places Neo went while his mind was a prisoner in the Matrix, are all real in the meaningful sense of reality. Neo remembered going to those places, he remembers his experiences. Descartes felt emotions and experienced sensory input in his dreams, just like he did in waking life. For example, say I have a dream of going into a fine restaurant, and eating a steak of unimaginable perfection. I have sensory impressions of this steak, and of the experience as a whole, that persist upon waking. It is true that this experience would not, for example, keep from dying of starvation, yet the same is true if I were instead to “relive” a memory of a steak I had eaten in the waking world. That memory can no more keep me from starvation that could the experience of the dreamed steak, yet we draw ontological boxes around the two experiences and define one as real, and the other as false.

Where this starts to get interesting, at least within the purview of this particular blog, is in the context of the work of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Both of these men lay claim to the title of magician, and have written comicbooks that were themselves magical acts (Morrison with the hypersigil of Invisibles and Moore with Promethea). Admittedly they go about it different ways, and have sniped at each other about their respective views on magic (and nearly everything else), though a close look at what they are saying reveals that they are in truth saying remarkable similar things.

I wish I could go into a proper overview of ideas of “magic,” but I simply don’t have the space here. To put that in context I’ve spent 40 pages talking about magic and existential theories in the context of Moore’s Promethea, and that 40 pages still isn’t sufficient to cover things as well as they should be covered. However, if you come up to me claiming you can make someone fall in love with you solely by means of magic spell or by wishing it hard enough, or that you have psychic powers, I will raise the devestating eyebrow of skepticism at you, and point out that there’s a man willing to give you a million dollars if you can prove that. What we usually mean when we think of magic isn’t exactly what Moore and Morrison are talking about (mostly).

I’ll start with a quote from Aleister Crowley:

(Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I     therefore take “magickal weapons”, pen, ink, and paper; I write “incantations”—these sentences—in the “magickal language” ie, that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth “spirits”, such as printers, publishers, booksellers and so forth and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution     of this book is thus an act of Magick by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.)
In one sense Magick may be defined as the name given to Science by the vulgar.

Here’s a rough paraphrase of some comments by Moore during an interview:

Magic is not capable of changing the physical rules of the universe; it creates changes in consciousness that can then affect change in the physical world. / Magic is the science of the world inside the mind.

While I don’t have any quotes by Morrison  handy, he mostly says things in line with the above ideas (about both magic and his “Katmandu experience”). Magic would then seem to be less about “spells” that alter the paradigm of metaphysical realism (the rules by which experienced reality operates, such as gravity, things continuing to happen whether or not we’re witnessing them or want them to continue happening etc.), and more about a paradigm shift in the way we perceive reality, which then alters reality, as the meaningful existence of reality exists only as our perception of it.

Yes, experienced reality has those rules on which it operates, but those rules are not what make experienced reality; they simply provide the backdrop. Think, just for a moment, about how you are able to read these words. You can read these words, because we have a concept we call language. Yet there is no metaphysical referent for these words; if there was there would be little to no ambiguity. Rather, language, any language, is a series of arbitrary symbols, yet for its arbitrariness we all, consciously or not, agree to abide by the concepts these symbols are assigned to represent. If we didn’t, we couldn’t communicate with each other. That’s because language, and reality as a whole, is, as I have mentioned before, an intersubjective phenomenon (and one that apparently requires the use of several commas to express).

We do not experience, or construct, reality in isolation, but as part of a complex web involving the people and things around us, including those things of an ephemeral nature. Even if we never share a word of what goes on behind our closed eyes with the rest of the world, we still carry with us the experiences of our dreams. They are a part of who we are, and are something we carry with us in our lives. Dreams are not only “real” in the sense that we do experience and remember them, but they are part of what shapes us, and our interactions, and as such are a part of what shapes reality. Dreams are much like mystical experience in this respect in that it doesn’t matter if the source the experience comes from is real as such, as we have undeniably experienced it (for the record, I have had a mystical experience, seen two ghosts, and encountered in the waking world one of the shadowy, faceless figures that the Ultraterrestrials were helping me to fight; for all that, I still do not believe in the transcendent reality of the Buddhists, life after death, or think that the aforementioned figure was real in a physical sense).

What does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China? Am I a man dreaming he is a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he is a man? In truth I have no idea. Right now I’m simply an entity who is 1,000 words over the normal limit he sets on these posts, and is badly in need of a nap.


Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy


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V’s Vendetta: Virtuous vel Vicious?

I begin this post back in June of this year. Since that day it has pressed its nose against the glass like an annoying puppy. Perhaps it is time to finally let it come inside, though if it pisses on the floor I’m taking it to the pound in the morning.

As the title of this post might suggest, I want to talk about Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. In particular I vaguely recall reading an article back in June, and it once again struck me the way that many people regard V as an unambiguous hero. This seems to happen most frequently with those who are only familiar with the watchable, though much inferior film version of Moore’s story, but I’ve seen it in those who have read the comics as well.

It is true that Norsefire is an evil organization. Norsefire has engaged in a pogrom designed to remove “deviants” from society. It engages in propaganda campaigns, and closely monitors the words and deeds of the English public. It is unsurprising that the actions of Norsefire closely resemble those of the Nazi party, as Moore was one of many who were disturbed by the creeping overtones of fascism that were becoming increasingly common in Thatcherite England. (Though it should be said that Norsefire is not presented without humanizing features. Unfortunately, a deeper discussion of that element is beyond the scope of this current post.)

At first blush it seems unsurprising that we here in the West might respond to V as an unambiguous hero. He is, after all, going after fascists. Despite the misbehaviors of our own governments, we’ve been taught that this is a cause we can unambiguously rally behind, right? I’m quite fond of kicking fascism in the teeth myself, as is Mr. Moore. Despite his feelings on fascism, Moore does not present V in an unambiguously heroic role.

Throughout the course of Moore’s narrative, V makes it clear that he is a kind of arch-existentialist. He is concerned that mankind through off their shackles, all their shackles, and if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves then he will give us no choice but to confront the horrors of existential freedom. This in and of itself is a rather glaring question, and one Moore would return to in later work; is it ever ethical to force another person to confront their own freedom? Telling people about existential freedom and what it means, even guiding them toward a recognition of that freedom is one thing. What V is doing is wrapping the people’s chains in philosophical C4 and blowing them into the stratosphere whether they want it or not.

As someone who works with existentialist ideas, who as both philosopher and human thinks that confronting the terror of Nietzsche’s abyss and the horror of Sartre’s existential freedom is a good thing… I’m conflicted about this. The goal of these confrontations is supposed to motivate us towards is that of authenticity; yet if we force another into this confrontation, if we take the choice to move toward authenticity away from someone, can the result still be said to be “authentic” as such. I must confess that my general inclination is to say no.

That said, V’s philosophical ambiguity has its physical analogue. We can take the classic route and argue that those who work for Norsefire, even if they are not secret police or members of the party’s ruling echelons, have sealed their own fates. They knew what they were getting into. Their actions, however innocent they might consider them to be, support a fascist regime. As such, their deaths are necessary, and even just. Even here I don’t think Moore is unambiguous, but again for the sake of space this particular element will have to be tabled for another time, because even if we were to accept this simplistic view, V’s predations are not limited to those actively in the employ of Norsefire.

In particular, part of V’s plans to bring down Norsefire’s corrupt regime is to instigate food riots. It is certainly true that Norsefire is harmed by this action. Norsefire’s control of the populace is weakened, and various soldiers and police are either actively injured in the riots, or forced to focus their attentions on rioting areas. It is quite clear that the general populace of V’s England suffer their own losses because of V’s actions. People die. People suffer injury or lack of food. V is… unconcerned with this. For V, if you are unwilling to accept the enlightenment he brings, you are part of the problem, and if your life is lost in pursuit of his goal then your life is lost in pursuit of his goal.

Again, this is something I find troubling. It raises that classic question; do the ends justify the means? V reduces human lives to the status of objects, of tools to be used against Norsefire. This is not an unambiguously heroic action.

I also believe that Moore deliberately invokes V’s ambiguous status. V tells his protege that he (the V that is) is the destroyer; he tears down the evil that is now; while she (the V that will be) is the creator; she will guide (but not lead) us from the rubble toward a brighter future. I think it is clear that Moore is telling us that just as Watchmen‘s Adrian Veidt is a villain, but not one whose actions can be regarded as the classic, simplistic mustache-twirling villain, V is not a knight in shining armor. He engages in acts that are morally questionable at best, morally objectionable at worse. I also suspect that if we limit ourselves to reading V as unambiguously heroic Mr. Moore might tell us, in his inimitable way, that we are missing the damn point.


Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Alan Moore, Comics, Philosophy, Pop Culture


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The Children Still do not Resemble the Parent

I’ve written about poor fan behavior more than once on this blog. This time I’m not here so much to talk about the specifics of their bad behavior, but about the behavior itself.

Years ago, Harlan Ellison wrote a troubling essay titled “Xenogenesis.” In that essay he recounted some of the horrible things that had been done to various writers… things that had been done by fans. I’ve never like reading this essay, precisely because it makes me wonder about my own behavior, yet at the same time that is exactly why I re-read it every time I go to a convention, because the truth is things have only gotten worse in the days since Ellison’s essay. Someone dressed in a Tribble costume shot Claudia Christian. Fortunately the gun was filled with blanks, but that doesn’t make what happened any “better.” A jackass in a yellow hat tried to “punk” Rob Liefeld at a convention, and then crowed about it on the internet. While it is true that a good number of individuals, fans and pros, came down on him for his idiocy, a great many people applauded his boorish behavior. Ethan Van Sciver had art stolen off his table at a convention. At Dragon*Con this past weekend a bunch of “bros” felt the need to shout “Wesly Crusher!” upon seeing Wil Wheaton.

The fact that Mr. Wheaton had an otherwise enjoyable experience beyond this incident is not the point. The point is that the incidents never should have happened at all, and the behavior gets even worse when we look at the internet.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen ignorant, hateful comments directed at comics professionals on places like Bleeding Cool or Newsarama. The calls for harassment and violence, be that toward the yellow hat-wearing jackass, or even someone as despicable as Rob Granito, are also a frequent, troubling part of our discourse. And a non-existant Heaven help you if you fire back. When Mark Waid went off on Granito there were people taking umbrage at what Waid did. Because obviously someone getting up set because Granito was trying to bolster his own rep by namedropping a recently dead man’s name is just so unbelievable.

Even more troublesome than the behaviors themselves are the fact that these people are more and more our face. When I do check a story on a comic’s site, it is this kind of behavior that I expect to see. We could certainly try going the No True Scotsman route and denying ownership of these individuals as part of our community, but what does that do to address the problem? The same is true of simply saying, “these assholes are the exception, most fans are great.” Because even if it is true that these assholes are the exception, they are still what people see when they see our community. These members of our community alienate us from professionals, from each other, and from people who might want to participate in our community.

As a community we need to make it understood that we will not be tolerant of certain behaviors. People are still free to say what we want, but we need to make it clear that we simply won’t tolerate their behavior. I know the geek creedo is supposed to be all about inclusiveness, despite the fact that geek culture is and always has been cliquish, but lines have to be drawn. If fanboys want to piss in the pool I see no problem with making sure it’s their own, isolated pool they do it in.

The rest of us also need to remember that no matter how much money we spend, no matter how invested we become in these stories and characters, we’re not actually owed a damn thing. Nothing. This doesn’t mean that creators, companies, and celebrities are above critique, or even of being the butt of a joke. I  happen to think Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men was one of the worst things I have ever read, and what I’ve seen of Firefly left me feeling that it was one of the worst shows to ever be on Television. I have no problem with saying so. That does not, however, entitle me to abuse Mr. Whedon either on line or in the flesh.

I am well aware that this is not a perfect world, and I am far and away from being a perfect person. There will always be assholes everywhere, and because there will always be assholes everywhere a portion of those assholes will be geeks. What we can do is our best to ensure that the worst elements of our community, both in person and online, are the outliers.


Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Comics, Pop Culture


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The Perpetually Shelved Idea

Once upon a time this post started out as me talking about a project I’ve tinkered with off and on over the years. It was never completed, primarily because over the years I’ve grown leery of talking about projects that aren’t finished or close to finished. Not because I’m worried someone might steal my ideas, or because I think talking about a project before it is finished will somehow cause it to never be finished, but because I dislike projects that are overhyped and never see completion, and because I’ve found at times that the in the act of talking about a given idea I’ve actually expended all the interest I had in that idea, and so it never gets done. Admittedly, that usually means that it wasn’t a strong enough idea to begin with, but that doesn’t always temper the resulting disappointment.

So I deleted what I had written about the specifics of the idea itself, and will instead talk about the specifics of what has happened with the idea I was going to talk about.

Back in 2006 I came up with an idea for a comic series that I thought was interesting. While elements of the idea had been done before, and in some respects continue to be done, they’d never been done in quite this way (at least not that I’m aware of). I was pretty excited about the idea, and at a local convention shortly after bounced it off a lot of the folks I talked to, pro and otherwise. Yes, everyone gets this at a lot at conventions. I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself more than once. Yet in general people seemed pretty supportive of the idea, so I decided to at least try and move forward with it.

I didn’t, and honestly still don’t, have the money to pay an artist to do some sample pages to shop around. There have been times that I’d have needed a jetpack to hit the poverty line. I understand that artists work hard to produce pages and deserve to be paid for their work; though for all that I take umbrage at those artists reminding everyone they deserve to be paid for their work up front, and then turn right around and don’t offer the same when they’re looking for some to write for them. Though for the most part that is a post for another day. I did manage to find a couple artists willing to work on sample packages to shop around and see if we could drum up interest in the book and go from there… only to have them flake on me and either disappear outright or suddenly tell me they couldn’t do the project. So I let it sit for a couple years, and more or less the same thing happens again.

Fast forward to 2010. I’m at a local convention, and they’re hosting a charity auction. I buy a lot of stuff, including a lot of stuff I really have no interest in, to help folks raise money for a good cause. One of the things I picked up was five pages of art service from a group that had volunteered there time and talent as one of the auction awards. I bid on it. Honestly, I didn’t pay much for it; mostly because no one seemed willing to bid against me, as I was prepared to go fairly high for the item.

2010 and the early part of this year were pretty crazy for me for a number of reasons, so I really didn’t have time to sit down and write five new pages, or cut something down to that length. I did let folks know that at the time, and earlier this year I even took time I really didn’t have to cut the idea I mentioned earlier down to four script pages, but a theoretical cover page. I dash off a quick e-mail to let them know I’m looking to finally move on this… and I hear nothing back. I’m a bit miffed at this, but by and large I let it slide. A couple people urge me not to be so laidback about things, so a few weeks ago I dust of the script, clean it up a bit, and send a bit of a more formal note. It was a polite note. It included the script, and suggestions for the art team, while leaving room for folks on their end to make suggestions. While I’ll crack the whip when I need to, when I’m working with an artist I like to give he (or she) plenty of room to show their stuff. The result… I hear nothing back.

I could e-mail again, but at this point I’m not sure it serves any purpose. At this point, I’m used to seeing this particular project get shelved. I’ll either eventually find an artist for it, or maybe I’ll turn it into prose. I like the idea that started this all, and if nothing else I’ve had time to develop as a thinker and as a writer; I think that once it comes to light the results will be stronger than they would have been had they seen the light of day back in 2006.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Comics


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