Modern Comics Are All About The Art, Unfortunately

As I said in my book report for Comic Art Now:

So that might explain why I take a little less out of books like Frik’in Hell and why I don’t do comic books as much as I did when I was younger; I’m more into the prose than into the art, and when that art takes precedence over the story, I’m not sold on it.

Sometime in the 1990s, comic books turned a corner. Where the classic stuff was stories with pictures, comic book artists started getting a lot of recognition, and suddenly the art–the pictures–assumed a primacy over the story and plot of the comics. Comic Cave, a local shop, has a number of relatively recent titles available for $1 each, so I’ve been reading some 21st century comics both from Marvel (the only major house that matters) and independent companies, and in all of them, the actual things going on are reduced so bigger panels with bigger pictures rather than smaller panels with words in them.

A glaring example of this comes from a series I just read called Mek. Strangely, I got all three issues of the limited series, which surprises me: usually only incomplete limited series runs appear in the dollar bins. Perhaps the pricer at Comic Cave thought there was an issue 4 and priced this trio of books accordingly. At any rate: 1) I feel like I got away with something with the pricing and 2) I get the whole arc of the comic, which ultimately isn’t much.

You can use the number of words in a comic book to determin how much the value of the story has declined. Consider all the dialog and setup you used to get in golden through, what, bronze-age comic books. Now, take a look at the first four pages of the second issue of Mek:

You’ve got four pages of the protagonist going through the city to her hotel, pouring a drink, and starting a flashback with only four words of text across four pages. This is not that much of an outlier to the books. There are many pages of panels without text, which only showcases the art and does not really add complexity to the story or to the characters.

When people talk about the decline of comic book sales over time, they talk a lot about the injection of politics into the storylines or the crazy gimmicks in changing the iconic character into someone else, but that’s been a part of comic books since almost the outset of comics–or at least the 1980s (see also Jim Rhodes as Captain America or the crazy Kane saga in the Spider-Man titles). But they don’t talk about the decline of the stories themselves into mere skeletons upon which to hang modern American pop art.

But look at kids and young adult books like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the others like it that have stories and characters built around drawings. Very, very popular, and perhaps fitting in the light reading gap left by adult, art-driven modern comic books.

Book Report: The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin (2018)

Book coverI bought this book when I saw a conservative blog I read (I forget which, but I hope it’s not the hoity-toity Ace of Spades HQ Sunday Morning Book Thread since OregonMuse posts my books) mention it and say that it was anti-Trump or something. To be honest, it’s not particularly anti-Trump: It does not mention him by name, which is refreshing in a book you’ve been told is a sucker punch hit job. It does say that The Twilight Zone told uncomfortable truths/stories (which is kind of like the Resistance, amiwrong?), but you see that sort of thing in a lot of books touting shows, both current and historical. A couple of entries have phrases of dubious provenance but that are clearly meant to refer to These Dark Times, such as mentioning jackboots returning in the 21st century and whatnot. But overall, not something that Michael Moore or–what’s that guy that was a “comedian” and then “Senator” from the state that elected that wrestler who wore feathers as governor?–would have written.

But I got it because I remember a little of the show and thought it might be interesting.

I’ll be honest; at the outset of reading this book, I could only remember one episode of the show (“A Stop At Willoughby”, which I saw sometime in adulthood, I think). As I read it, I also remember seeing “The Shelter” at some point in my youth, probably in the 1980s when another Republican was in office, and the fear of nuclear war led to great art like The Day After and Testament (not the band) as well as a whole genre of post-apocalyptic movies.

But this book is a bit of nostalgia trip in taking me back to my youth, when this program was syndicated and available for watching (although apparently I didn’t watch or remember too much) along with a lot of other old black and white programs. The book itself is entries for individual actors, actresses, producers, directors, musical composers, and other people associated with the series along with the individual episodes, themes, lots, and other markers from the series. So when running through the actors who played in this program, it listed other things they appeared in, including series like Combat!, Black Sheep Squadron, and other things that hit syndication while I was coming of television watching age and beyond. Notable actors who played in epidodes of The Twilight Zone include William Shatner, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and others that I know mostly from other works. Still, it was a varied bunch, and their connections to old television shows that I sort of remember remind me of a time. You know.

Secondly, the list of programs that I don’t recognize humbles me a bit. I mean, many of the anthology series (Playhouse this and sponsor Theatre that) were done live, so recordings do not exist. Other shows, like Peter Gunn and so on, I recognize the names but don’t think I’ve seen. I didn’t see them on television in the day, and I’m not sure they’re easy to find on television (or other media) today. There was a whole world of television that came on before I was self aware and that I’ve never seen. Likewise, the movie credits indicate a wide world of films, including war films and detective movies, that I’ve never heard of and have never seen.

So the book rather inspired me to look for some of these things to view. And, of course, to watch the television program itself which I see is available on Blu-ray for less than $60. So I might think about that, too.

I’d say “I hope I can get some use out of this on trivia nights,” but trivia nights’ trivia tends to be more recent than this program these days.

But I enjoyed the book. And I paid full price for it and don’t regret it, which says something.

Book Report: Virtue and Happiness by Epictetus / Calligraphy by Claude Mediavilla (2003)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I bought this book at ABC Books last month because I thought it said Epicurus. I’ve already read Epictetus’s Discourses. This book is derived from a subset of the Discourses called the Manual or the Handbook or the Enchiridion (depending on who’s talking about it and the translation, I gather).

The producer of this book is a calligrapher living in Paris who presents epigrams from Epictetus, formatted like poems, with Greek versions of the same or derivatives calligraphied up on the facing page. As such, the author presents it more as a calligraphy/art book than anything else. His afterword section describes his life and technicque in greater detail than the preface described Epictetus.

Still, it was a quick breeze to read (and adding to my woefully behind annual reading count this year), and it does present some of the wisdom of Epictetus in a koan, Tao Te Ching kind of fashion.

But as to calligraphy as an art form in itself, I’m not sold.

Good Book Hunting, March 18, 2018: Redeemer Lutheran Free Book Cart

The church I attend has a cart near its library with cullings from the library that people can take home. Most of the time, this mostly includes devotionals and Bible translations, but last week I spotted a couple of more non-churchly titles on the cart, and I was interested.

I decided to wait a week to give everyone else a chance since I’m not exactly hurting for things to read. But since nobody else grabbed them, I took some.

I got:

  • Quantum Enigma, a small textbook about quantum physics. I’ve tried to read a couple of higher physics books in the last year, and each time, I follow along thinking, “Okay, that makes sense. I get it.” And then I come to a sentence or two where I’m all like, “Wuh?” and then I can’t understand any more and sometimes I lose the understanding of what I thought I got. I’m hoping that eventually repetition and different approaches from different sources will make it click permanently.
  • Stories of an Outstanding Cat, a collection of anecdotes by a retired Catholic priest about a cat that joined him at the rectory at his last church. I’ve picked it up, and it looks to be a quick read full of exclamation points.
  • 201 Great Questions, a book of questions that might make a better road trip conversation book. Better than Zobmondo!, anyway.

Of course, the owner of ABC Books came along while I had a free book, and I had to play cool, like I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

I think he bought it. Unlike me and the book.

Book Report: Of Reading Books by John Livingston Lowes (1929)

Book coverWow, Brian J., you might ask. Didn’t you used to read books? I know I ask myself that question frequently. But my reading time was curtailed the first quarter of this year. First, I didn’t have a lot of time to read a small “carry” book that I took out with me to various locations where I’d have a half hour or hour to kill. I’ve not been going to martial arts classes enough this year so far, and when I do, it’s been on days where I’ve not had to get there for my children’s classes, where I would wait for mine to begin thirty or forty five minutes later. And instead of sitting on a bench in church on Sunday mornings during the Sunday School hour, I’ve been schlepping my laptop to a local coffee shop to try to bang out the beginnings of a novel. Also, as you might recall, I’ve been working my way through some Shakespeare, and the book that I’ve picked up in the middle of Measure for Measure is long, too. So I’ve not been adding to my annual to-read list very much this year.

However, this month I have determined that the schlepping of the laptop is a lot of work compared to the actual throughput I get in writing (currently, I’m on page two of the novel, as it takes me ten minutes to get to the coffee shop, a couple minutes to eat a pastry or several, and then I have to pack up twenty minutes later to return to church to pick up my family), so I decided to return to my perch at church to do some reading.

I started with this volume that I got in December. Because it’s short, and it’s about reading books. How meta.

At any rate, the author gave this particular speech at two separate commencements to the graduating class of 1929. It’s broken into three parts. The first talks about reading at the university, and how so much of the university is designed to teach the students marketable skills and not so much about the classics and the love of learning. The second talks about how it’s important to learn to love reading when you’re young, as the things you read then you will read with relish and zeal that you lose a bit as you get older. The habit, built then, will lead to a lifetime of reading which might lack the zeal of the young but brings its own pleasure. In III, he explains the benefit of being well read, where it will lead you to make synthetic connections between things that you might not otherwise get, and that only broad reading gives you this chance to make those connections between the things you read and encounter.

The book is very literate, chock full of allusions and quotations (without sourcing) that he expected a college graduate to get in 1929, many but not all of which I recognized in spite of a twenty-some year old degree in English and philosophy and continued reading since then (he quotes Miranda from The Tempest which is fresh in my mind).

But his address really just illustrates that what goes around comes around. You find contemporary thinkers worrying about the university not teaching young people to think or read the classics and only teaching them skills for commerce. Of course, William Wordsworth talked about too much getting and spending, too, even before Lowes.

The commencement addresses were given to college students of the late 1920s, which were more hoity toity than you get today after the GI Bill and government loan programs made it available to everyone. And they hit the workforce and the real world months before the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression. So history has made itself a double-effect narrator that makes us cringe a bit for those students.

So worth an hour or so of your time if you’re into books or history, I suppose. Or if you have to start furiously padding your annual list of books read.

Clearly, I Have Boy In Me Yet

So this surfaced in the automobile recently:

And I thought, Cool, one of the boys made a throwing star.

Then I noticed it had six points, and I thought Maybe it’s a Jewish throwing star.

Then I noticed it was made of Christmas cardstock and bears the initials of one of the boys, which might indicate it was a Christmas-themed throwing star.

That it might, in fact, be a wreath never entered my mind.

Because wreaths are not as cool as throwing stars.

And I’m sure no boys of mine would use that as decoration.

And as to it surfacing now, three months after Christmas, well, let’s just say that my children are not timely with the contents of their backpacks. They have delivered Christmas cards for their teachers in the following May on occasion. (The occasion being Christmas. Every year.)

Meanwhile, In The Doll House

Here at Nogglestead, we’re looking for some replacement ceiling fixtures for our kitchen, and I’m reluctantly browsing Amazon for possibles.

I say “reluctantly” because I’d rather touch the items and look over the boxes before buying, but when we hit the local big box hardware store this weekend, we found a couple of possible units, but our kitchen currently has six lights, and we’d like to replace them one for one. But Lowes only stocked three or four of each light type, and we were hoping to get this done soon. So I’m browsing Amazon.

Which is proving that you have to be very, very careful in reading all the mangled English. At least in the keyword-choked item names.

Like this one:

Clearly, someone learned Peter Jackson’s perspective tricks from filming The Lord of the Rings or someone is just photoshopping things in. Because that is the biggest 3.5 inch light I’ve ever seen, or the smallest bedroom.

The Noggle Library, Doing Right

My youngest son, who is not as young as he used to be, is reading Where The Red Fern Grows in fourth grade. His teacher is reading the book in class, but the youngster like the book and wants to read ahead, so he picked up a copy and will probably finish the book this weekend.

This morning, he said to me, “This is not Miss Cole’s. This is ours. Whatever book Miss Cole is reading, we already have.”

Well, yeah. And most of the books his English and Philosophy professors would have assigned him thirty years ago.

Now, not so much.

Confession: Being that I have yet to read either of them, I sometimes confuse Where The Red Fern Grows with The Red Badge of Courage.

Top Three Hard Rock Musicians Who Look Like Dungeon Masters

These guys can rock, but they sure look like they’d be more comfortable on the other side of the screens, drinking Mountain Dew right out of the two liter bottle and rolling dice on a Saturday night.

#3: Geddy Lee.

He’s a little older now, but so are pretty much all the Dungeons and Dragons players. Kids these days are into the MMORPGs and mobile games, I think.

#2: Jonny Hawkins of Nothing More.

Of course, at the first sign of orcs, he’d tear off his shirt to make the rest of the gaming group feel bad about their sunken chests. And he’d be sure there you would encounter orcs early just so he could.

#1: Dave Mustaine.

I mean, come on.

He even sounds like a Dungeon Master.

Reading Edna St. Vincent Millay

Back in my coffee house days (yes, those very ones which produced the poems within Coffee House Memories), I hit numerous open mike nights around town, and attendees knew what to expect from me, from sonnets to ending with the poem “An Evening Walk.” I would mix in some “covers,” where I would recite a poem by another poet or even cool prose from someone like Raymond Chandler.

But if I went to an open mike for the first time, I would do a little trick: I would perform Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Love, though for this you riddle me with darts….”

You can see what this sounds like when a proper British woman reads the poem:

That’s not how I did it, though.

I’d sign my name on the sign-up sheet, and when the MC would call it, I’d go to the stage or the microphone with slumped shoulders, clutching a set of papers shyly, and I’d warble my voice breathlessly into the microphone, “This is a, um, sonnet” as though I were suffering stage fright (which Edna St. Vincent Millay herself did–she was known to take a belt before readings). And then I would throw the papers aside, leap from the stage or in front of the mike, and shout/snarl the first ten lines like a challenge to fight Cupid waving my fist in the air. Then, I’d deliver the last two lines like an aside.

Less formally than Edna St. Vincent Millay herself would have done.

I wouldn’t need to pick up the prop papers I brought, though, as I had whatever I was going to perform memorized. Ask me someday how long it takes to recite Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at the Venice Cafe.

Good poems, good memories. Like my book!

A Very Brian J. Saturday

Today, I:

  • Participated in my second Y Not Tri indoor triathlon at the Pat Jones YMCA.

    It’s my second year in a row, and my third overall triathlon. The morning did not get off to an auspicious start. I have my phone alarm set for five and six am (in case I want to sleep in, I can just shut the alarm off and go on sleeping without fumbling to reset the alarm). So last night, I turned off the five o’clock alarm so I could sleep in directly, but I’d failed to remember that just last week I set the alarms off on Saturdays since I like to sleep in (generally, until seven, which is a far, far cry from what “sleeping in” meant in my younger days). Fortunately, though, I awakened at 6:11 and managed to get to the YMCA plenty early to check in.

    While checking in, we were to put our own numbers on our biceps instead of having a volunteer do it for us. So I looked down, and did my best, and inked my number right side up but backwards.

    So I wrote it again under it.

    I tried to tell everyone I did the first one like the flag patch on the right sleeves of the military (backwards, but to make it look like the military is charging into the wind). I’m not sure anyone bought it.

    So I survive the triathlon, and then I jumped into my car and raced westward so I could…

  • Attend a martial arts class.

    I got to the martial arts school seven minutes before class (that is, 23 minutes after I finished the triathlon), dressed out, and hit the water fountain. I didn’t drink a lot of water during the triathlon because I didn’t want to swallow a lot of air, but then I had about a liter of water in the truck. Which meant when I put on the heavy gi, I started sweating a lot, and I briefly wondered what I was doing.

    But I got through the class okay. I didn’t make too many tired mistakes while sparring (well, my head would have only been knocked off once or twice).

    But I made it through, and more importantly, I impressed my beautiful wife.

    Later in the day, a little logy from the day’s activities and a short nap, I went out again, where…

  • I Went to the antique mall and bought a charming little Tiffany lamp that is perfect for our mantle.

    I got home just in time for the dinner hour, but nobody was really hungry since we’d stopped at a pizza buffet for lunch, so…

  • I baked some delicious chocolate banana bread.

    I have a very rigorous banana-eating timeline, which is as follows:

    Week 2: I buy an extra couple bunches of bananas to sate MY DESPERATE NEED FOR BANANAS!
    Week 4: I need to do something with these very ripe bananas.

    This has happend a couple times in a row (well, the row is several calendar months). The last time, we gave the second loaf of banana bread to the teachers at my boy’s school. Tomorrow…who knows?

So, basically, the masculinity arithmetic today was basically a wash.