fpb: (Athena of Pireus)

Steve Ditko is not a lovable old man. In fact I suggest that he has been kept alive so long by hatred for all his ideological enemies. But he is one of the greatest cartoonists and graphic artists who ever lived, and the fact that he is still working at eighty is remarkable in itself. He has never had the falls in tone that his greater colleague Jack Kirby has occasionally shown, and precedent suggests that this will be another brilliant performance. So all of you, go to his Kickstarter page and give him all your money. Even if he insults the things that are dearest to your heart.
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I used to do an occasional series called "you couldn't make it up dept." featuring absurd and crazy stories from various news media. Now what got it started years ago were a few examples of egregious corporate stupidity; and when I read this news - http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/09/24/what-would-be-your-reaction-to-frank-millers-justice-league/ - I was reminded of that. Frank Miller called to compete with Joss Whedon's Avengers. What could possibly go wrong, eh?
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Waringing – SPOILERS all over the place. This is written from the assumption that everyone who reads it will have seen the film

Read more... )
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Alan Moore, like Jack Kirby before him, was capable, when not at the top of his game, of being quite extraordinarily bad - not just, like the King, bad out of tiredness and lack of interest, but out of complete wrong-headedness, out of taking the wrong approach and insisting with it. A lot of his worst stuff is to do with sex. Moore is not really any good with pornography; even if you take the view, as I do, that achievement in pornography is intrinsically the lowest kind of artistic achievement and barely excuses the waste of talent, nonetheless there are several authors, from Crepax to Manara and to Eleutieri Serpieri, who have done better, much better than Moore. Lost Girls is shamefully bad, and it has in common with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that Moore gets literary characters from earlier writers embarrassingly wrong - his Dorothy Gale, with her cliched and insulting American accent, makes L. Frank Baum's sweet little dreamer into a vulgar slut, and his Alice is little better. The reason why Crepax and Eleutieri Serpieri's best pornography works, is that their "heroines" don't have that ultimately depressing kind of vulgarity that makes it unimaginable that Dorothy should ever have dreamed of Oz or Alice ever seen a rabbit with a pocket-watch.

Bad though Lost Girls is, though, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is worse. It is the nadir of Moore's writing, and the nemesis, alas, of his justifiable ambition to rethink and rewrite the basics of popular literature.

At the heart of the failure is one simple fact: Moore gets every single character wrong, and, I think it may be said, does so for a reason. Mycroft Holmes is not, and cannot be, a spymaster, an executive, a man in charge. And the reason is obvious: his indolence and lack of ambition. His enormously fat body is the token of a mind that will not bother, will not shift, even though its natural talent still takes pleasure in feeding on and understanding millions of facts. Holmes is an infallible adviser when his advice is sought, but he does not bother even to straighten out someone's course if he knows that someone is moving to disaster - unless the someone asks for his advice. The notion of Holmes searching out and organizing an elite squad of adventurers, like Nick Fury does in the forthcoming Avengers movie, is as absurd - as his brother Sherlock would put it - as to find a London tram in a country lane.

Now this kind of learned indolence was perfectly understandable to an English reader of the 1890s. It was natural - if extreme - to the more intelligent members of an upper middle class that lived largely on inherited income and saw no great need to work for a living. It is quite clear that Sherlock Holmes, as much as his brother, sought out his job not to make a living but because it pleased and fulfilled him. Moore got Mycroft Holmes wrong, as he would have Sherlock, because he missed his whole social background.

The mistakes about Captain Nemo are of another order. First, he is way out of his time. In 1890 Captain Nemo, a veteran of the 1858 Indian war, would be dead, or at least too old to feature actively in any adventure. It is also unimaginable that this man, who experienced the English as a destructive swarm of enemies across his beloved land, committing any amount of war crimes, would ever collaborate with them on anything; his whole purpose was to become what we now call a terrorist, driving the then dominant British marine from the seas with his submarine. And the heavy Indian costume in which Kevin O'Neill dresses him is also wrong: in the Verne novel, the French adventurers don't know the Captain's nationality till he tells them, for he has adopted a wholly Western mode of dress and behaviour. I think it would be impossible for anyone but an Englishman to imagine a man who has suffered at the hands of the English as Nemo has suffered, and whose nation has suffered as India has, has being reconciled with them; as well imagine Giuseppe Mazzini entering the Austrian service, or the exiles of modern Poland shaking hands with General Jaruzelski. (Yes, some people would do such a thing - but why call them heroes?) In using Nemo, Moore is simply being self-indulgent, or rather nationally indulgent, allowing himself the kind of fantasy that belongs in bad fanfic.

The same, from a slightly different viewpoint, may be said of his treatment of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Mr.Hyde is not the Hulk. He is not actually stronger or in any way more powerful than Dr.Jekyll; in fact, he is shorter, and so stupid in any way that matters that he makes himself noticed and eventually hunted by common citizens. His difference is quite simply his total unconcern with others. He is defined by the fact that if he wants to go in one direction and there is a little girl in his way, he will simply trample the little girl and go on, barely thinking of what he has done. He is the ultimate psychopath, and that is what makes the scenes featuring him so memorable. Moore should have left hims strictly alone: the notion of Mr.Hyde as part of any team is as preposterous as taming a man-eating tiger. The question is, how can such an obvious mistake have been made? Apart, of course, from the same bad fanfic reflex I spoke of about Captain Nemo. And the answer is, in this case, difficult to get. The closest I can come, I think, is to suggest that Moore underestimates evil itself. Not that he can't do memorable villains; his TAO, from his run on WildC.A.T.s, may just be the best supervillain ever conceived, and many others make you shiver with horror and disgust. But he underrates evil in the abstract. In Swamp Thing #50, he inexcusably claimed to be able to carry out a Hegelian synthesis of good and evil, something that denies the very definition of evil. And the characteristic of Mr.Hyde is quite simply that he is evil; perhaps Moore hasn't taken his complete disregard for others seriously enough. Or perhaps he just wanted to have another big character in his roster, fanboy style.

edited in: Allan Quartermain, the South African bush hunter, is found in an opium den in Egypt, smoking his life away. Well, I suppose anyone can become an addict, but of all people, Quartermain is the least likely. He is a staunch, enduring man, of very modest background and endless endurance, a working-class, salt-of-the-earth type displaced to the frontier of the British Empire and enduring an extraordinary series of adventures just because they are the kind of things a man is apt to endure in that kind of part. He is, in fact, a British Imperial version of the slow-talking heroes of the classic American western, and must reflect Rider Haggard's own experience of frontier people. Now the point is whether you can imagine a John Wayne hero - or Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine - wasting his life away in an alien big city's opium dens. I can't - he wouldn't even enter the city in question.

As I never read The Invisible Man, I won't deal with this character, save to say that a character who uses invisibility for nothing better than to tup a number of dubious maidens does not strike me as very interesting. Invisible and not much of a person. Plus, we are once again faced with the fact that Moore is no good with sex.

Bad though the treatment of all these characters is, much the worst - and, in my view, the reason for the failure of the whole mini-series - is Mina Harker. It is bad enough that Moore has completely destroyed the central point of Bram Stoker's masterpiece. So Mina was not saved after all, and she is a vampire; just another victim of Dracula's, like so many before, and probably so many afterwards. The whole point of the story was to oppose, to resist, to fight, and to destroy, this ancient and apparently ineradicable evil; and to save Mina. And here is the second and worse point. This Mina is a bitch, pure and simple. She belongs with the woman-hating products of writers far, far below Alan Moore, and strongly suggests that you cannot have a woman in authority without her behaving like a victim of permanent PMS. This is the exact opposite of what the real Mina was about. Part of the greatness of Dracula, a great masterpiece by a writer of no great talent, is that he completely solves the conundrum at the heart of much Victorian fiction: if you are fighting for a woman's sake, then the woman must be worth fighting for. Mina is emphatically a woman worth living and dying for. She is loving, warm-hearted, intelligent, quick to understand and to adapt, physically and mentally fearless, and has an absolutely colossal moral courage. She deliberately dives into Dracula's darkness, risking her life and soul, so that her friends can pursue and destroy the monster. From about half-way through the novel, she is their real leader, much more than Van Helsing; and there is nothing strange or excessive about the fact that one of the heroes is relieved, as he dies, to see the physical sign that the menace has passed from her. For this they all had fought, and evidently even to die in this cause was good enough.

Clearly the idea of men defending women is out of fashion, but unless you understand it you will not understand any amount of fiction from the Iliad to Snow-White and the Seven Dwarves (in which Disney and his team of geniuses comprehensively failed to do what Bram Stoker had achieved). A man must be willing to die for his woman; or, if he obeys the Western notion of chivalry, for any woman who is not demonstrably guilty or treacherous. (Even the obvious instance doesn't follow. In La Traviata, Violetta is a high-class tart, and Germont senior despises her lifestyle, but he is revolted when his son treats her roughly in public, and upbraids him before a crowd of his friends: women, all women, are to be treated with respect.) Dracula is one of the most successful avatars of the concept: a handful of brave and upright men gather together to save one woman and avenge another (Lucy Westenra). That is the story, that is the concept, that is the core of values at the heart of Dracula; and because Moore did not understand it, he was unable to render any of Mina's interest. Just as, because he did not understand the world of the Victorian upper middle classes, he miscast that idle and unclubbable fellow, Mycroft Holmes, as a hard-driving modern executive. The error is the same: provinciality, possibly compounded with Moore's well-known political beliefs, leading to distorted and ultimately uninteresting versions of characters that only made sense in their own background.
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Gene Colan, a great artist who was also a wonderful human being, passed away a day or two ago. Apart from thanking God for this remarkable man and saying a prayer for his soul, what we should remember in such cases is how important it is to show everyone you admire and who has enriched your life just how grateful you are. You might not have the chance again.
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The superhero genre is so corrupt that there is little or no hope to go back to sanity unless Marvel, DC and the rest go bankrupt. It's just one big event after another, year after year, till all your characters have been rehashed and reworked and even just plain got wrong so many times that you no longer have anything there worth caring for. I wish I had the time to do some more Silver Angel comics, just to ahve something I might like.
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While newspapers and TV waste our time with poseurs and trash, a Titan as great as any old master has passed away unnoticed (except by his grateful followers, who had been gathering in the last few years in the Facebook page). Jeff Jones - later in his/her life Jeffrey Catherine Jones - was simply the greatest artist in my lifetime. Newspapers across the world ought to have cleared their front page and made this an above-the-fold lead news item, instead of wasting time nattering about Tracy Emin's political affiliation and the absurd pyramid of salt in Piazza del Duomo; but there has never been an age yet when merit was so distinct from success. I say firmly and with no fear of being ridiculed by time that Jones will be remembered, when time does justice of all the self-advertising rubbish, as one of the masters of all time.


I would like to write an obituary, but to find the right words for this genius has stumped me since I first came across his/her comic and paintings. One can talk about composition, about brushwork, about spotting blacks (in ink sketches) and holding lines, of anatomy and perspective and colour, but in the end these are only features. I think the best I can say is that s/he was the best, incomparably the best, in understanding what painting was and what it could do. And if this seems cryptic, it is because I can get no closer. Study his work, look at it for yourself; and sad and angry though I feel at this untimely death (his/her last years were stormy, with a bankruptcy, a sex change and apparently not much creativity, and I had hoped that s/he was about to recover), deserted as I feel myself (his/her work had been a fundamental part of my artistic life since my teens), I feel even sorrier for those of you who will only make the acquaintance of this giant after s/he died.

God Who have made us in Your image
That we might perceive the beauty of Your creation and so of You,
That we might be able to make images in Your likeness, and by making images to live,
That we might show in what we make a ray of the beauty of Your Creation and of You,
Forgive the sins of this Your servant,
Hear the voice of gratitude and prayer of all whose lives he enriched,
And taking him past all the abyss of doubt and terror
Take Jeffrey C.Jones to the depth of Your light
Where You live and reign for ever and ever.
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One of the sad things about being even marginally involved in a living artform is watching your heroes pass away. A lover of classical music is unlikely to experience the sense of loss of losing a Beethoven or a Schubert in this day and age, but comics legends are always leaving us.

A refinement of that is when they pass away without your ever having been able to thank them properly for what they did for you. I live in fear that if Alan Moore were to die now, he might only remember me for my review of SPAWN #8 - which, I admit, I hated. Mind you, I have written a lot more positive ones since, including a number of 10-rated ones and a few articles, but in my experience people remember the nasty ones. On the other hand Mr.Moore must be heartily sick of admiration from all and sundry, so what do I do?

Well, I only now learned that Dick Giordano passed away last year, after a brilliant, constructive and influential career. A fine artist and excellent inker, famous for his precision and speed, Mr.Giordano was above all one of the best editors, and indubitably the best CEO, in the history of American comics. He was in charge of DC comics for a decade or so in the nineties, during which time he discovered Alan Moore, launched Neil Gaiman and got even those who did not reach that level of talent to perform at their absolute best. It goes without saying that news of his death saddened me deeply.

However, for once at least I can feel that I did not pass up an opportunity to thank a hero of mine until it was too late. I met Mr.Giordano at an UKCAC convention in London in the nineties, expressed my admiration for his work as an artist and as a manager (one couldn't miss what an enormous difference his leadership had made to DC) and offered to buy him a drink. Mr.Giordano, being a gentleman, saw that the bar was insanely crowded and demurred. But damn it, I had offered him a drink and I was going to buy him a drink. I remember a savage press, a push comparable to being in the scrum in a rugby game, and a holy terror that I might end up spilling everything on the floor, but Mr.Giordano and his couple of friends got their drink. It's not much of a way to thank someone for doing great things in the artform you love, but it's something, and I hope he remembered the crazy Italian fan with the beer glasses every now and then.
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Yes, and it works. My friend [personal profile] ani_bester has come up with an absolutely delightful idea for satire/allegory which makes wonderful use of her charming, idiosyncratic art style and is frankly the most promising idea for a comic I have seen in years. Have a look - http://ani-bester.livejournal.com/851734.html - and follow her, I don't think you'll be sorry.
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This is the time of the Lucca (Italy) Comics Convention, one of the three greats along with Angouleme (France) and San Diego (USA). And it has been announced that Sergio Toppi, the greatest Italian cartoonist of all time, still active and still pushing boundaries at 77 years of age, will be given an official award by the Italian Government.


I don't know how I feel about it. On the one hand, the official celebrations in France for the fiftieth anniversary of Asterix, as well as the award for Toppi, are overwhelmingly well deserved, and at a time when the Nobel Prize Committees seem to have lost their way altogether (and I don't only mean the Peace people), it seems more than right to show that official gratitude and public celebration can be given to people who really have created great art and given happiness to millions. On the other, I am very, very keen on the unofficial, almost underground position of the comics artform. This has been the most creative and probably the most influential artform of the twentieth century from a base of near-clandestinity. We have done very well out of being underground and despised, and frankly I dread the results if we were to become, like "modern art" and opera, institutional.
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Fifteen years ago, when Franco Urru and I were both trying to start a career in comics - something at which he brilliantly succeeded, and I, well... - I was very impressed with the writing of one Dennis Mallonee, author and publisher of a number of comics based on then-popular gaming superhero characters (Flare, the Huntsman, the League of Champions, etc.) He struck me as taking superhero comics in a psychologically credible and well-conceived direction which resembled some of what I was striving for. I became a vocal fan and eventually wrote - and Franco part-drew - a five-part story for him, set in Italy in 1934. Alas, what I had not yet understood was that Mr.Mallonee, while a writer of talent and originality, was, without exception, the worst publisher in the world. His talent for getting decisions wrong and losing his public proved unparalleled; and his publishing company ceased operations - for the second time - before our strip got to the printers (although a few people somewhere may still have the distributor's list that announced it).

Cut to this year. And to give credit where credit is due, Mr.Mallonee does have one virtue as a publisher: persistency. Guess who announced - for the third time that I know of - the publication of a whole string of new and reprinted comics, including this one: http://www.heroicpub.com/previews/hs01.php?sid=090923812J ?

I sincerely wish him the best of luck. I have been paid for the story years ago, I have no complaints about the way he dealt with me down the years (which, where publishers are concerned, is unique!), and I am actually quite happy with the story I wrote for him. If he actually manages to publish it, I shall not be in the least embarrassed. And, as I said, he is a writer of unusual interest and talent, and I certainly do not mean to withdraw the favourable reviews and letters I have written at various times. Even if I did not have an interest, however small and remote, in his success, I would still want him to succeed because his is the kind of writing I want to see more of. And if - per impossibile - he should succeed this time, the story he is publishing includes a character that is my own property, and I should not be unhappy to get back to her.
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I don't know whether to be happy or not. On the one hand, given Disney's current habits, this will do nothing to slow down Marvel's descent into unmitigated sleaze. (Find out how many Marvel characters are now said to have incestuous relationships, you'll be surprised.) On the other hand, it probably represents the final end to the old and bad tradition of Marvel being the cash cow for financial adventurers using it for their own purposes. (Two words: Ron Perelman. I think that using the company you are buying as collateral to have the money to buy it, and thus load it with debt the moment you bought it, ought to pass from the number of sharp financial practices into the register of criminal frauds.) Whatever else may be said about Disney, it is at least an entertainment company, and to that extent its goals are the same as Marvel.

A crime

May. 4th, 2009 06:28 am
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A couple of days ago, I found through Freecycle that a family a mile or two from my flat was clearing out their cellar and giving away stuff - including a window cleaner, which I could use. By the time I got there, however, the window cleaner had been stepped upon and was past repair. However, what I saw in the skip where they were throwing away unsalvageable stuff simply took my breath away.

Read more... )
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...I was there when Watchmen first came out. I regard it as one of the biggest disappointments of my entire life and probably the worst thing Alan Moore ever did. Yes, so in real life people who went out in funny costumes with the idea of fighting crime would probably turn out to be brutes, rapists or inadequates. So what? Thirty years after we all agreed that superheroes were modern mythology, we really have to be so surprised by the fact that they are not realistic? Why, Stan Lee was smarter than this!
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I imagine that when the great and never enough lamented Rene' Goscinny had Caesar's architect say, in The Mansions of the Gods, that "The forest will be cut down and replaced with a nature reserve", he meant no more than to launch one of the fireworks of jokes with which he decorated his masterpieces. However, have a look at this (bear in mind that it is Government spin, and so bound to be mendacious): http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/newecotownscould
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Well, well, well. It seems that my rooted detestation of Frank Miller and all his criminal works roused more interest among my friends than any other controversial idea I could toss at them. Well, then, on your own heads be it.

I have a deep, personal, vindictive hatred for Frank Miller, the cartoonist who originated 300Read more... )
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This is the first reprint of a series of essays I wrote ten or so years ago about various works by the great American cartoonist Jack Kirby. It is probably of little interest to most, so you can skip it if you want; I am reprinting them after a disagreement with [profile] johncwright. It is rather reworked, and, I hope, improved.
Read more... )
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I aplogize for deciding not to post the essay on Alan Moore I had intended to write. The reason is simple: I could not develop the themes I intended - mainly of the mental conflict between Alan Moore as a father and Alan Moore as an ideologue - without giving a detailed account of a number of Moore items - WildC.A.T.S, Spawn vs. WildC.A.T.s, Top Ten, Tom Strong, Supreme and Moore's few, gorgeous issues of Youngblood, which, I understand, none of you has read yet. Most of these series are unmitigated masterpieces, some with startlingly unexpected and powerful conclusions; and while to discuss their ending would not be exactly like giving away the ending of a detective novel, since these the literary merits of these series go far beyond merely having great endings, nonetheless it would spoil some of the first impact of them for you. Instead of which, I recommend, I urge you all, to read all of these; most are masterpieces, and all ought to be known by anyone who cares for comics or good writing.

There is a story about a group of actors who had made friends with an intelligent but uneducated grocer. After a lot of half-joshing pressure, they managed to get him to his first ever night at the theatre, and of course it would have to be Hamlet. And it happened that half-way through the play, the grocer started guffawing at a most inappropriate place. His friends all stared, and he said: "Sorry, boys, it just occurred to me - there must be 1500 people here, and I am the only one who does not know how this will end!" Well, it is so much better for everyone to experience the ending of Hamlet, at least once in their lives, without preparation.
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Alan Moore isn't an anarchist. He is, perhaps, now. Until about 1990, he was, beyond reasonable doubt, a Communist. Not just a Marxist, a Marxist-Leninist. Read more... )


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