The Punisher

13 12 2017

I’ve read comics my whole life, and never been a fan of the Punisher. I prefer my superheroes with masks and powers and a noble aversion to murder. The Punisher’s arsenals of plain old guns never interested me, and by the time he came along his brand of gritty vigilante justice had already been done to death.

But The Punisher on Netflix is incredible. Taken purely on the merits of storytelling, thematic ambition, and visual styling, The Punisher is the most successful film or video comic adaptation to date. It is the Watchmen of superhero movies and series, far more so than Zach Snyder’s Watchmen movie could hope to be.

Sean T. Collins, my favorite critic of these things, has this to say: “There’s not a single live-action superhero adaptation I can think of that comes anywhere near that level of self-critique, or has anything approaching its courage to question the very wish-fulfillment elements its audience has come to see.” Click for the full recap.

My one reservation as I watched the series – and it’s a pointless quibble – was, “this is not a superhero story.” And even that reservation went away in episode 11. I have more to say about that, but I’ll save it for another post.




Al Franken Should Resign

1 12 2017

I was a big fan of Al Franken. I was hugely disappointed when he was accused of sexual misconduct, and when the infamous photo was released. I tried to rationalize a way for him to keep his job. But I think it’s best if he steps down. In no particular order, here are my reasons and related thoughts.

Franken has done some great work for progressive causes as a senator. But we don’t know who would replace him. It might be someone much better.

Not all crimes are the same. Roy Moore’s are much worse, for example. But we are in a powerful, maybe precarious moment of reckoning. There must be consequences across the board. For Franken, resigning from office seems proportionate to the offenses. For Roy Moore and similar offenders, additional penalties should be in order – ideally, jail time.

Some are worried that we are suddenly giving too much credence to accusers. I believe that after generations of power imbalance and sexual predation, we owe it to women to start from the assumption that their accusations have merit. Certainly, let’s investigate, let’s verify. There is always the possibility that a woman may falsely accuse a man to bring him down. However it’s much more likely that a given man of influence has abused his power. Let us erase the habit of disregarding female accusers as liars or hysterics.

I hate to lose a strong senator, because I am wrapped up in our tribalistic partisan conflict. I don’t want us on the left to devour one of our own while those on the right manipulate and triumph. But that tribalist partisan impulse is misguided. For one thing, Franken is now compromised, whether he remains in office or not. But more importantly, the conflict that matters is not dems vs repubs, but right vs wrong. Let us hold everyone – everyone, from media personalities to studio executives to the president himself – to the same standard of simple decency. Franken must resign. Moore must resign. Trump must resign. Let us be clear and unwavering. Enough is beyond enough.


Stuff I Like: The Fixx

25 10 2017

An ongoing effort to say positive things about things

I’m always mildly surprised to find another fan of The Fixx. I know I shouldn’t be. They are a successful band from a time when success meant a certain amount of crossover appeal. But they occupy such an awkward space; too weird for the mainstream, not weird enough for the underground. I always assume everyone else will find something to dislike about them, which is all kinds of unfair to everyone, especially The Fixx.

I discovered The Fixx when I was 11 or 12, and just beginning to notice current music and how I might relate to it. The infant MTV was not part of our rudimentary cable package, but for some reason WTBS out of Atlanta was, and they showed music videos on a program call Night Trax. One night the voice-only VJ introduced the video for Saved By Zero (from their second album, Reach the Beach) with the words “a strange band called The Fixx.” At that point the video and the song hardly mattered– I knew these were my guys.

Since then they’ve recorded 8 more studio albums, most recently Beautiful Friction in 2012. I just bought it last year. It is everything you could want from an 80s band in the 2010s. It sounds quintessentially Fixx, with subtle veins of electronic oddness, yet it’s up-to-date, relevant, mature and accessible. I recommend it to everyone; mainstream or underground, 80s kid or not.

Always Punch Nazis

20 09 2017

Always punch Nazis. Deny them access. Take away their signs and their flags. Shut down their platforms. Fire them from their jobs. Expel them from their schools. Punch them hard and fast, as much as you can before they run away. Here’s why.

Nazism is about mass murder, plain and simple. We know it. They know it. No one is arguing about it. There is no nuance in Nazism. There are no layers to their philosophy. There are no useful principles to live by if you ignore the outdated, controversial-by-modern-standards stuff. There are no ambiguous competing translations of Mein Kampf. Nazism leads to just one place: the concentration camp. This is their goal. This is what they willfully embrace. Gas chambers. Bodies of the other reduced to ash and showering the landscape.

Freedom of speech? Yes, it’s sacred. But nobody has license to say anything they want free of consequence. If you lie, commit fraud, commit slander, that fact that you used language to commit a crime does not immunize you. Yes, hate speech is generally understood to be protected by the First Amendment (it may be time to reexamine what constitutes incitement to violence.) Even so, private citizens, private organizations, and private property owners don’t have to stand for hateful, bankrupt, poisonous, actively harmful rhetoric. If the social marketplace rejects your message, that’s not censorship. That’s the consequence of a shitty message.

Want to march for a different immigration policy? Go ahead. Want to change how our economy works? Say your piece. Want to debate the existence and effects of white privilege? We can have a conversation. None of that gains any traction under a swastika flag. Quite the opposite: a Nazi flag erases all other positions and makes your demonstration about homicidal bigotry. Leave that shit in your secret garage shrine (or better yet, wise up and burn it.) Anyone marching with Nazi regalia has chosen a starting point on the wrong side of the single most settled debate in human history. Those who want to re-fight World War II should expect to be met accordingly.

Is punching counter-productive? Does violence only feed the cycle of violence? Ordinarily I would say yes. But Nazi symbols and Nazi speech are an attack, as surely as bullets from a gun are an attack. Nazis marching openly in our streets are a direct attack on American values. They cannot go unchallenged. You don’t have to punch if that’s not your thing. Just be iron-willed in your resistance. In truth they are weak and broken people, and you will intimidate them. Yell at them. Mock them. Stand in their way.  Throw eggs. Throw paint. Use mace. It is justified. Be very clear; these are traitors. These are terrorists. They want to kill you. (Don’t quibble if you’re not Jewish or black or gay. Ethnic cleansing hurts all of us, and it’s plain wrong, and you’ll wind up on their list eventually.)

Some have said that there is a militant right-wing contingent that will launch a second civil war if Trump is impeached. I don’t buy it. Modern day American Nazis have no stomach for a real fight, because they’ve never faced real oppression. Despite being laid off, divorced, and otherwise miserable, they’ve had it easy. They only have rallies and organizations and media platforms now because we’ve let them have those things. And before an unrepentant racist became our president, they were fringe enough to be harmless in the grand scheme of things. But things are different now. They are poised to entrench and expand their role in our public life. We must reject them; unequivocally, eternally, in solidarity.

Always punch Nazis.


Stuff I Like: Voltron

2 09 2017

First in an occasional series meant to lighten the mood around here a little bit

Truth be told, I was not a huge fan of Voltron back in 1985. I watched it after school, because I would watch any cartoon with giant robots, but I found it to be overly cutesy and pretty dumb. At 14 I was probably aging out of the target demographic.

However I am a huge fan of the new Voltron on Netflix. This is a smart and stylish update and a pure distillation of everything good about classic mecha anime.

Some high points:

  • Pidge is a girl, and her name is Katie.
  • The mice are actually funny.
  • Princess Aurora is heroic and interesting.
  • The steady reveals of characters’ histories and powers is still not exhausted after 3 seasons.

Low points:

  • They still call her Pidge instead of Katie.
  • Hunk is just the funny fat guy.
  • And that’s about it, really.

Republicans Must Act

16 08 2017

antitrumpOn Sunday, I felt it was important to give credit to Republican leaders who, unlike the president, spoke out definitively against the violent white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Not three days later, Trump, as is his wont, has upped the ante. He doubled down on his initial tepid statement, trying to blame “many sides,” which does nothing less than give aid and comfort to nazis in America. (Our president. Please let the full horror of that sink in.)

Now he’s facing even more vocal rebukes from his fellow Republicans. But now it’s not enough. Not by a thousand miles.

Trump has shown, against all common sense, against all common decency, against all the advice of those around him (except presumably for Steve Bannon) that he is without question a white supremacist sympathizer. Whatever else is said by office holders, business leaders, celebrities and community leaders, our home-grown white power terrorists will be empowered and emboldened by Trump’s moral failure.

Heather Heyer is dead. She was killed, and 19 others injured, by a mentally unbalanced neo-nazi in a Dodge Challenger. It’s tragic and sickening, but not surprising. In fact it was inevitable. Trump has been encouraging violence against his detractors since the early days of his campaign, and the Republican establishment had nothing to say about it. They went on to allow his nomination, despite endless red flags regarding his suitability for office, because he was the most likely contender on the Republican side. Which tells you how bankrupt their agenda has become.

What is needed now is a categorical, multi-pronged repudiation of racist violence, from the highest levels of government to all points below. Anything less amounts to tacit agreement with the president’s encouragement of deadly attacks by bigots. Unless our leaders send an unmistakable message, more will die. Congress must act with tangible legislation immediately.

All monuments to Confederate soldiers and leaders must come down.

Those who attack, intimidate, or target minorities out of a misguided notion that they don’t belong in America must be sought out, arrested and prosecuted.

Those who incite racial violence must be prosecuted, their websites permanently shut down.

And our digraceful president, a disgusting taint on our country and our history, must be removed from office with all possible dispatch.

24 Hour Comic, Failure with Advantage

17 07 2017

IMG_4594Last weekend I attempted my 14th 24 hour comic. By all measures, I didn’t finish. I penciled 13 pages, inked 11, and finished only 3 pages with fills and tones. I stopped drawing at 18 hours (2 hours after everyone else at my home 24HC event had gone home, just sayin) and at best I’ve got half a story. So, not 24 pages, not 24 hours, and not a complete comic.

What I do have is close to half a story on paper that I’m really excited about. I’m definitely going to finish it. If it’s not mostly done by October, I’ll finish it on the official 24 Hour Comics Day.

So what happened? And what should I do next? And what good is any of it? I tend to turn everything into a referendum on everything (see the title of my blog). But for real, in the wake of this fruitful failure, I had to examine what my goal is with 24 hour comics, and what that means for my art in general.

I’ve done a lot of 24 hour comics. By the 4th one, I figured out all the tricks necessary to succeed. If you use smaller paper, bigger panels, and favor expression over realism, you can pretty much finish as many pages as you want. So I started adding little wrinkles for myself to keep it challenging. I’ve had what I consider some big successes.

I love me some cartoon logic nonsense, which is what drives most of my 24 hour comics. This time I decided to try for a real story, using a scenario and characters that have been languishing in a bundle of notes since my days with the Eugene Comics Guild (for the handful who might know what that is) as if I’m someday going to turn them into a series of graphic novels. I decided it was time to bring the thing to life. I would just have to find the right kind of minimalist drawing style to finish the story while doing it justice visually.

Well, obviously that didn’t happen. But what’s more important– gaming the system to get to 24 pages, or making a decent piece of art? The latter of course, but the rules of 24 hour comics have served me really well. So, again, what am I doing, and why??

To answer that, I’m making the following assessment of my present and future creative life:

  • I have lots of stories to tell.
  • Comics is my art.
  • I write better than I draw.
  • My drawing will never meet the standards I want it to.
  • I will always draw my own comics. I will most likely never have the resources to hire an artist, and my drawing, being mine, is the most appropriate for my stories.
  • The parts and the whole of each comic will be the best I can make them. The whole of each comic will be the best I can make it, regardless of the faults I perceive in it’s parts.
  • I will always try to get better.
  • I won’t be satisfied with how it looks, but I will create it, complete it, and share it anyway. I can only draw how I draw. I will make my comics, and their imperfection won’t stop me.

Update 10/4/17: You can read the comic, I’m posting it here. Pages 1-4 are up, and a new one goes up each Wednesday. All pages are inked digitally, and I made some other small changes here and there. Turns out the story is too big for me to finish now, and I have another plan for 24 Hour Comics Day this weekend. But Simane will continue, and Aethernaut will continue.