October 30, 2011

DRAFTS: Release Party and Art Show for Issue WW3 #42

8"x11" poster

5.5"x4.25" 2-sided postcard

Poster versions:

11"x17" poster

October 11, 2011

Maybe Comic Books Need to Undergo a Periodic Death.

Technological advancements, the attendant euphoria that comes with a medium or a genre’s popularity all inspire far more mediocrity than they do genius, or even meaningful work.When the Polaroid put the power of instant photography in everyone’s hands, it also lowered the bar, capping what was possible for the sake of getting the public a baseline result: a repeatable, consistent result. That the ensuing generations of photographs were of muddied colors and a kind of generalized unmotivated focal plane was the apparent cost of averaging out and quickening the art of photography for the masses. -Just like instant coffee, there is a trade off in taste for the sudden rush and payoff at the press of a button. The same can be said of the camera as a whole (as a successor to the paintbrush.) This may have more to do with the fact that most people are just not thinking much when it comes to creating images or capturing moments in their lives; they allow the machinery to do the thinking as well, and we all know that machines don’t think.
Such seems to be the case with my beloved medium, the comic book. This weekend, thousands will crowd the Jacob Javitz convention center in New York City. This year as in the last 15 years, there will be an increase in the number of “independently” created comic books, as has been the case every preceding year. The vast majority of this “new” material, created by amateurs, some still in high school is unreadable shit. Even some of the entrepreneur based titles and many of the new launches by established house like DC and Marvel are thin examples of the medium’s potential.
The comedian Patton Oswalt (himself a fan of comics and science fiction,) remarked some years ago that comedy had died in the early 1990s, but he added that it needed to die because the comedians sucked, and the audiences sucked too. He insists the rebirth of the stand-up form in the 2000s would not have been possible without this artistic culling. That’s how I feel about the 2000s onward in the comics.
The plethora of licensed adaptations, rehashed concepts, and homogenous autobiographical works is not only depressing and embarrassing for me as a creative artist in the medium; it presents practical problems at the comic shop and digital newsstands. Every time someone like Ed Burns decides to do a Dock Walloper (with Respect to Jim Palmiotti,) he is necessarily crowding out something else by somebody else who isn’t just making a token visit to the comic book medium. Add to this the recurring problem that comics face as a “pop art” ghetto, where any idiot thinks he can write a comic book (Yes, you’re an idiot if you think you can just sit down and write one without knowing the medium as consumer, or as a devoted reader .) Years ago, I had someone tell me they thought teaching art was easy, to which I answered; “Maybe you’re not very good at it?” That guy hasn’t spoken to me since. I’m finding myself having to offer variants of that existential question to many people who say they want “to do a comic book” or “have an idea for a graphic novel.”

I have come to hate the word graphic novel. I only use it out of sheer convenience and custom. I hate the term graphic novel because it’s most often used by people who want to talk about comic books, but don’t know anything meaningful about them.

Today, printing is cheap. The internet is even cheaper as a distribution option. Scores of aspiring storytellers, or “idea” men (read: bullshit artists and opportunists) now no longer have stumbling blocks between themselves and a completion of a comic book, and that means there’s a lot of shit being made out there crowding out the stuff people could be reading instead. I’d put Walt Kelly’s Pogo over just about anything “new” this year, and that’s because whatever material of that caliber is getting produced is getting shoved out of the shelves by the latest celebrity penned graphic novel.
Before you ask someone like me to listen to your idea for a comic book, -ask yourself this:
Have you ever read Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s run on Daredevil (collected as the trade paperback, Born Again?) Have you ever read any of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts work prior to 1968? Do you know who Harvey Pekar was? Do you know who Kurt Busiek is? Do you know who Alex Toth was? Have you ever heard of a company called Charlton?
That’s my litmus test for keeping out the pretenders, and if you know anything at all about mainstream comics, you’ll know it’s not much of a test at all. If you can’t answer those asinine questions, I don’t care how many times you’ve read Watchmen or seen Batman Begins; -you’re a danger to our medium’s level of quality and you need to stay out until you know better. If you think you don’t need to know anything to write a comic book, -well that’s why you’ll suck at it. That’s why I won’t talk to you. I wouldn’t give a minute’s time to a young author out to write his first novel, -who didn’t know who Philip Roth was.
-Get it now?
I’d like to see the next series of over-budgeted Hollywood costume abortions implode their first weekends out. This way, perhaps this beacon of an easy buck or an easy book will stop drawing dilettantes to the world of comic books like mindless moths to a lamppost.

October 8, 2011

Yet Another Post About Steve Jobs...

I began the Random Robot blog with a post on Steve Jobs, or more specifically, the storied (in my opinion imaginary) dichotomy between the PC and the Apple as products and “cultures.” I ended that post with a sincere wish, which did not come true.

Steve Jobs died on Wednesday.

Although I’d heard for well over two months that he was nearing the end, it didn’t soften the blow much. I was still surprised, I was still very, very sad. Two friends at Oracle had told me that Jobs had stopped by their headquarters in early September, presumably attempting to say goodbye and farewell to friends, rivals, and in the cases of the various other Silicon Valley addresses he visited, -enemies as well. In that way perhaps Jobs was more fortunate than many people facing a terminal illness, he had the money and power to do what was possible to put all of his affairs in order. He at the very least bought himself some time, when his money and influence could no longer beat back the Pancreatic cancer that finally claimed him after years of fighting.
I ran this post past a colleague, who asked why I was going with such an old photo of Jobs (as if it’s possible to over idealize/idolize Jobs at this point.) I picked that photo among the thousands I saw because it’s the first one I remember seeing at all. It’s the image that as sophomore in High School offered me a glimpse at a mercurial figure, part innovator, part opportunist, and all “idealist” to the core. For those of us who are creative people in the arts or sciences of any stripe, Jobs presented us with the first “popular” heroic creative archetype since Einstein or Picasso. Jobs was an “intellect,” not an athlete, politician or a movie star, he was a man who was made by his own mind: a compelling idea for my generation, which grew up with a folksy actor in the White House. Some appraisal will have to made of Jobs as a kind of engineer, in so far as the title is often extended to his predecessors like Da Vinci and the Wright brothers. While I had other heroes in those years, like Rod Serling, Elvis Costello, David Cronenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, David Bowie, Bill Mantlo, John Byrne, Frank Miller, George Perez, Michael Golden, John Buscema, none of them (who were still alive at the time) were actively thinking about how to make a buck by making my life easier, or more productive.
Jobs’s sober counterpart in all this through the years was Bill Gates of course. Together, they were the young yin and yang of the tech sector before the financial world called it a sector at all. Both were visionaries who were in a race (often “stealing” from others and each other) to better serve, better anticipate the focus of those people in America who didn’t even know they needed a computer yet. Gates, respectably and understandably, left this race years ago, but Jobs couldn’t leave it alone, even after having made billions in the sale of Pixar. Therein Jobs was unique. Just think about it:

The GUI.
The mouse.
Drag and drop file transfer.

That last one is possibly my favorite.
For those of us who remember using computers before softwindows and windows, nothing was as annoying, and seemingly unavoidable as having to move a file by changing its directory address manually. The wrong series of keystrokes could send a file into a nameless irretrievable limbo. Steve Jobs did something about that, and it affects me everyday. It will affect the way I work and play forever. …just think about all Jobs had done before he decided on the iPod, before the iTunes store and all the various computers, devices, phones, pads that followed. …just think how much more this man still had left in him before cancer stopped him at 56.

No one is exaggerating when they say the death of Steve Jobs is a big loss: Few have thought as hard about how to make life easier, more productive or more fun than he did.

Steve Jobs repeatedly said that dropping acid was one of the most important experiences in his life, and that it may have in part been responsible for his posture toward problem solving and ultimately Apple’s philosophy. I have never had the balls to advocate the use of hallucinogenics to a single person. Then again, I don’t think I got all the expansion in perspective that Jobs got, -just some funny stories for the effort.
In this age of anti-Muslim hysteria, racism and conveniently selective xenophobia, I hope some acknowledgment of Jobs’s Syrian ancestry is made, if only to remind us that to be American is often to be from somewhere else, and to welcome people from somewhere else. Jobs and his products are perceived as American and as ubiquitous as McDonalds’s, but not as invasive, corrupting or destructive (largely because no one wants to talk about the off shore factories that build iPhones and iPads.) I can understand that Jobs’s reticence to ever discuss his ethnicity came not from any self-interest or paranoia but out of love for the only parents he knew, the only parents he recognized, the parents he loved, his parents: The Jobs family of Cupertino California who adopted him in San Francisco in 1955. We have to respect and understand Jobs’s anger at the words “adoptive parents.”
Much will be said in the coming years about Jobs. Many will cynically, if not justly, point out that Jobs’s products destroyed or off-shored more “jobs” than they created. Others will cite the largely fictional and convenient differentiation between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates: Each behaved as a hammer that saw every competitor, every other company, -and some times every business partner, as a nail.
Maybe his most lasting and (for me) meaningful legacy is not that he was the man-of-the-people-as-head-of-a-benevolent-technology-company (no part of that hyphenated statement is true except the word “technology”) but that he was a “man of the consumers.” Quote me on that one my friends.
That Jobs saw the consumers of America and the world as people who could be best served with humane design and increasing simplification, was perhaps his greatest gift. All this I can say of Steve Jobs, and yet I have never once bought an Apple computer: not a single dektop, laptop, iPod, or peripheral device… except for my Quick Time Pro license, a great software buy at $29.95.

Rest in peace Mr. Jobs.

I’m sure we will continue putting what you brought to us to good use, at work and play.