August 29th, 2016
|11:47 pm - WHY? ALIVE|
Given how objectionable Nineveh found Kaiju when he first arrived in my apartment, I was surprised by how blasé she was about the advent of three kittens in the bedroom. Her response to orange tabby Huckleberry, floofy Kiwi, and impossibly tiny classic gray tabby Fig was remarkably like my nephew's initial response to my niece: she simply behaved as if they weren't there. I have seen her sniff them cautiously a few times, and there has been one hiss and one growl, but other than that it's business as usual. It's possible she doesn't consider them cats and they're therefore not her problem.
Kaiju, on the other hand, has been fascinated by the kittens from day one, when he vaulted the thirty-two-inch baby gate confining them to the bedroom and began looming over them with heavy tread, like one of the Japanese movie monsters from whom I took his name. Unlike Godzilla or Mothra, however, he seemed mostly interested in observing the tiny creatures. They in turn were wholly unconcerned by this Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon version of themselves. Huckleberry doesn't trust me any further than he could throw me, and tends to run for cover as soon as I get up from my chair, but he was happy to attack Kaiju's switching tail, which caused further switching, which caused further attacks. They both looked confused while this was going on, but neither of them seemed fearful. So if Nineveh is like Aglet responding to his new sister Luna, Kaiju is like me reacting to children in general. Which inspired this colorful comic, which was super fun to assemble and color to get just the sideshow-banner look I wanted.
About that: it's helpful for my purposes that authentic sideshow banners, the kinds actually used back in the day for sideshows, have an oddly samey style. Do a Google Images search for "sideshow banners" and you'll see what I mean. The cartoonish figures, the scrolls, the lettering, the circular "violators" or "snipes" (as I understand designers call that kind of element) reading WHY? and ALIVE, even the color palette (tending toward reds and yellows) -- you see them all over and over. I'm sure many people have researched sideshow art and could tell you why this is; all I know is that it's very useful for those of us who wish to evoke the notion of the sideshow. Probably this notion is more interesting than your average sideshow itself, the idea of people so inherently interesting they're worth paying just to look at -- and under that, the idea of people who maybe aren't that inherently interesting making themselves seem so by how their appearance is presented. Maybe you know the story of how P. T. Barnum approached seven-foot-seven Jack Earle and asked, "How would you like to be a giant?" The sideshow evokes this odd idea of inventing the truth that is perhaps relevant to every human life, just condensed and unavoidable for those of us with, say, horns or extra limbs. What could cut more quickly to the heart of human experience than those two circles reading ALIVE and WHY?
BONUS AUTHOR PHOTO:
Jack Earle, incidentally, was actually Jacob Erlich, a Texan Jew. I wonder if anyone has ever determined who was the tallest Jew ever recorded. I can say with confidence that it was not anyone related to me.
August 17th, 2016
|04:53 pm - Just tell me that you want me|
I guess I think about Nazis kind of a lot, but I don't think it's disproportionate. They cast kind of a long shadow. That one of my best friends is a sad guy living in Münster is a contributing factor; one of us is always reminding the other about the Holocaust. That's because the world keeps reminding us of it. With things like this!
Other Germanic things Batty and I keep circling back to: Frederick the Great, whom we refer to familiarly as Fritz, and who by the standards of his time was barely even anti-Semitic, except for this; Franz Kafka, who was even more anxious than either of us, and whose Judaism makes him a twofer; and of course Armin Meiwes.
The Olympic flame as a thing in the modern Olympics had been introduced in the 1928 Olympics, but the Nazis were all, "You want pageantry, we'll give you some ficken pageantry, plus check out the masculine beauty of these fine Aryan youths amirite" and the rest of the world was all, "We're not so sure about this Hitler dude but carrying the flame all the way from Athens is pretty rad." It's the only thing I can think of that the Nazis came up with that is universally recognized as a good idea.
The final torch-bearer, incidentally, was chosen expressly for his sportlich beauty and grace, even though he wasn't competing that year, and became a consultant to the Olympic Committee after the war. He bore the torch again at the 1996 Olympics, when he was ninety, and I'd be more comfortable calling that a nice story if the Wikipedia page about him indicated whether or not he had been a Nazi.
ANYWAY LET'S TALK ABOUT NARWHALS (Monodon monoceros or "one tooth, one horn").
The more you learn about the tusk, the more metal it gets. The nerves of our unremarkable human teeth are shielded by enamel, but the millions of nerves in the narwhal's nine-foot tooth are exposed directly to the frigid waters of the arctic, where narwhals spend their entire lives, having ditched their dorsal fins some time ago in order to swim unencumbered under the ice. What's more, the damn thing corkscrews until it punches right through the narwhal's lip. What is it even for? No one's sure. Does it detect temperature, pressure, water chemistry? Initial guesses that it was for poking breathing holes in the ice or spearing fish or stirring up the ocean floor failed to gain traction because no one ever saw any of those behaviors. Nor, according to the Inuit who live among them, are narwhals inclined to fight among themselves. Do the ladies dig a guy with an impressive tusk? But if so, why do some of the ladies have one themselves? And it's not as if the peacock has ten million nerves in its tail. That tooth is doing something, but what? And if whatever it is is important enough to grow a nine-foot tooth for, in an otherwise toothless mouth, how do the vast majority of narwhal cows do just fine without one?
I haven't found any indication that tusked cows engage in tusking behavior like the bulls, but maybe it happens and just hasn't been observed. No one's even reported seeing a narwhal eating; they probably Hoover whole prey right into that toothless maw, but we know what they eat only because scientists have analyzed their stomach contents.
The name narwhal, incidentally, is from the Old Norse, probably for "corpse whale," because they are bloated and gray like a dead body floating in the water. That's fucking metal as fuck. Less metal, but both lovelier and more accurate, is the Inuit name qilalugaq qernertaq or "one that is good at curving itself toward the sky." One of the ways they curve themselves is with tusks held aloft, as shown in panel three, though if they talked while doing it they would probably speak Inuktitut and not English with a Minnesotan accent.
August 4th, 2016
|08:24 pm - To the moon, Smurfette|
Eventually I suppose I'll have to get a smartphone, but so far I have managed to avoid it. This is as baffling to my nephew as, when I was his age, it was baffling to me that the Kramdens don't have a telephone or a television. A smartphone is simply an appurtenance of adult life; choosing not to have one is like choosing to remain four feet tall or keep your baby teeth. Of course I don't have a car, a house, a microwave, a life partner, or children either, and I think that he has come to accept me as an odd variant species of adult, like a flightless bird or a hairless cat. A smartphoneless adult.
(Privately it tickles me that he sometimes tries to persuade me to get one of these things in order to become more normal. "Why don't you have a microwave?" "Because I don't care what temperature the food is. I just put it in my mouth." "You could put a microwave right here on the counter." "Yeah, but why would I do that when I don't want one?" Et cetera. This tickles me because this is the kind of conversation I've been having with his mother for as long as I can remember. It's as if she has outsourced the job of being my older sibling.)
Anyway, my new dumbphone is not only dumb, it's a flip phone. This is like the twenty-first-century version of how my parents had a rotary phone until about five years ago. Though I guess that was also the twenty-first century, difficult as it is to believe.
Incidentally, I've scoured several Smurf comics and concluded that what some Wikipedia editor thinks is "clearly" a mezuzah on Gargamel's door is actually the door's top hinge. Which is kind of what I suspected I'd find; if Gargamel really had a mezuzah, the relevant comic panels would be available on the Internet. Anyway, he's clearly not a very observant Jew if he's eating the Smurfs, because Smurfs can't possibly be kosher. Even if they were, I'm pretty sure that melting food animals in serpent venom is not a ritually acceptable means of slaughter.
Incidentally incidentally, I'm happy to say that Gargamel and the Smurfs appear in an episode of a different Belgian comic called Sophie; I am happy to say that because in this twentieth-century incarnation, the sorcerer's name is "Edgar Gamel." I don't think this can be considered canonical, but I like the idea that Gargamel has been doing his thing for several hundred years, still attempting to destroy those despicable Smurfs with no regard for modern technology or the transformation of his alchemical methods into the genuine science of chemistry. I admire that kind of dedication.
He does dress better these days, though. He looks a little like seventies-era Mad magazine illustration got up like that.
July 25th, 2016
|01:40 am - Two legendary cartoonists in one post!|
As always when I draw a comic like this, one making an injunction or touching in any way on politics, I thought it sounded like a great idea and then drew it and put it together and then started worrying that maybe it's overly preachy? Or didactic, or something? But I shouldn't keep seeing the conflation of these three concepts. Yes, the candidate you don't like can be stupid and crazy and evil, or any two of those, or one, or none, but the three concepts aren't equivalent. And I see this in books I edit a lot. I have a mental illness; many of the people I love have or have had mental illnesses; but the guy in your book who murders women, say (and I choose that as an example because you guys can't stop writing books where people murder women specifically, generally attractive young women with some shared characteristic because the-killer-has-a-type), isn't "mad" or "crazy" or "insane" because he murders women, QED. He might just be bad, have you considered that? Vlad the Impaler, now, he was very, very bad. But he wasn't crazy, and he certainly wasn't stupid. He was quite clever, in fact, and the Turks whom he hated and who hated him inadvertently assisted him with that when they held him hostage as a child and as a consequence he got what was probably the best education available in the world in the fifteenth century. There was this one time when he was the ruler of Wallachia that he got into a Turkish fortification by putting on a turban and talking to the gate guards in fluent Turkish because as you see I am merely a Turk like yourselves and not any kind of filthy Christian and then WHAM! Twist ending, motherfuckers, you just opened the door for Dracula! But I digress. My point is, you might be cool with hanging out in a forest of impaled people (that's what he called them, forests, putting the sylva in Transylvania in a way those who named it did not intend) because you're too crazy to understand where you are, because you're too stupid to understand where you are, or because you get it but you're so evil you're cool with that. With Vlad it was the third thing.
Speaking of bad people, now, and forests, for that matter, I have been reading Smurfs comics, for reasons. I grew up on Tintin and Asterix (in translation) but somehow missed the Smurfs, nor did I watch the cartoon, though I'm the right age to have done so. The adventures of saccharine blue people didn't appeal to me, I think, and they still don't appeal to me much. So why have I been reading the comics? Obviously to see if it's true what I've heard, that Gargamel is really obviously a caricature of an evil Jew. My conclusion: Gargamel is really obviously a caricature of an evil Jew. I've been searching online for images confirming what I've read on Wikipedia, that the original comics show a mezuzah on the door of his cottage, and so far I haven't found any, but really they aren't necessary. Let's leave aside the creepy origin of Smurfette, whom Gargamel creates to sow chaos in the all-male Smurf village (and let's leave that notion aside as well), and who in order to become "a real Smurf" must go from having black hair like Gargamel's to having blond hair -- a story that explicitly aligns the Smurfs with a Nordic notion of whiteness that obviously excludes him -- let's leave that weird bag of problematic notions at the door and ask ourselves: is it possible that the hunched, scheming, dark-haired, big-nosed medieval European who wants to melt the Smurfs into an alchemical mixture to make gold and who has a cat named after a figure from Jewish mythology isn't influenced by historical representations of Jews? I think that's unlikely. Which is not to say that artist/writer Peyo explicitly set out with anti-Semitic intentions (unless, of course, it turns out to be true about the mezuzah); I think it's more likely that he just didn't examine the notions that sprang to his mind when he set out to create a sinister character.
(Gargamel also sometimes wants to eat the Smurfs, or even eat them and use them to make gold. Both of these are remarkably similar to motives that have been ascribed to Jews for as long as there have been Jews in Europe. I think the standard cannibalistic accusation in the Middle Ages was that Jews murder gentiles for their blood, which they bake into matzo. Peyo seems to have consolidated "Jews love gold" and "Jews use gentile body parts in their weird rituals" into "Gargamel wants to use his weird rituals to make Smurf bodies into gold," with a side of "P.S. He also wants to eat them.")
The thing is, the sinister character is by far the best thing about the Smurfs, at least in the comics, as far as I can see. And I'm not just saying that because I wanna like the guy with Jewish identifiers, or even just because I'm a perverse weirdo who wants to like the bad guy. The Smurfs are suffocatingly nice, and there's all that weird shit about Smurfette, who is somehow treated as a sex object by the whole rest of the village even though the Smurfs appear not to have sex? (Seriously, the comic about her origin, The Smurfette, is creepy as hell in a bunch of ways.) Smurfs occasionally experience frustration or anger, but never much or for long; as long as everyone does what Papa says, everyone is fine. Gargamel is the only character with a range of emotions to speak of. Sure, he hates the Smurfs, but he loves his cat:
Even that is not simplistic because he often verbally abuses Azrael (who understands human speech), and Azrael's facial expressions often show that he's disgusted, disgruntled, or hurt by Gargamel's words or actions. But look at the panic on Gargamel's face, in Gargamel's whole body, in the third panel. And he speaks of Azrael just as I would of a loved one I thought was in danger of being eaten by someone who could maybe be talked out of it: first "That's my cat," and then, to identify him as a being in his own right and not merely a possession: "That's Azrael!"
Gargamel is also, of course, capable of glee, like his spiritual brother Wile E. Coyote, when he thinks he has struck on a successful scheme. And like Wile E. he is capable of despondency. A whole comic, The Smurfs and the Sorcerer's Love, is dedicated to the Smurfs' attempt to make him less loathsome so he'll be able to get a girlfriend and not need to melt them to have meaning in his life. They get the idea when they overhear him telling Azrael that he's lonely and longs for female companionship: according to the Canadian friend who provided me with a translation, he says, "I don't want to go back and eat lentils in my damp old cottage, all alone."
(When Azrael objects to the "all alone," Gargamel snaps that a flea-bitten old tomcat doesn't count as company. Even though the flea-bitten old tomcat was able to object only because it understands human speech. Love is complicated.)
So they strike a deal: there will be a general ceasefire while the Smurfs try to make Gargamel into a person a woman could countenance as a dinner companion. And look at the emotions he runs through just on this one page -- happiness, confusion, anger, pleading, suspicion, satisfaction:
I also love how much we learn about his relationship with Azrael in just a few panels. They sleep in the same bed, like any normal master and pet who like each other, and when Gargamel wakes up he forgets that Azrael is there and inadvertently pushes him onto the floor -- like any normal master and pet who are so used to each other they don't always see each other anymore. But before Gargamel leaves the room to begin his formation with the Smurfs, he has to sell the idea to his cat, because his cat is also his life partner, an awkward situation I can relate to. No hunting the Smurfs today! he tells Azrael, slamming the door. But then he becomes more imploring than commanding: I'm working with them as a team! I know it's annoying, but I'm doing it for Roxana! You, you'll stay locked in here. Finally he combines a command with an appeal: And stop moaning, it's very important to me!
He says that to his cat. Because he knows his cat cares about the things that are important to him. Also he scowls at a fruit salad. And can we talk about how the evil sorcerer has a sky-blue, floral-patterned ewer in his bedroom? Seriously, how can anyone not root for this cruel, crafty, obsessive bastard who is also a tired, lonely old man?
I still want to see if I can find that mezuzah, but I guess my point is that Peyo was a good-enough artist that he could start with a stereotype and develop a nuanced character. Which makes me think the Jews should own Gargamel, because what if he is Jewish? I'm down with it! I'd melt those patriarchal, racially homogeneous, misogynist blue creeps down into gold in a heartbeat! Wouldn't you?
July 22nd, 2016
|07:14 pm - more like a semicolon amirite|
That's a table napkin he's hanging himself with there. And before anyone says that this was an unreasonable standard to hold an eleven-year-old to, and yes I just ended a clause with a preposition, do you want to make something out of it, I should say that he'd earlier gotten it right in reference to a different putative hanging. Not that we discuss hanging all the time, but it did come up twice, and this is the kind of thing I mean when I say that my nephew and I understand each other in a way that my sister and his sister sometimes do not. Though my sister is the one who introduced the topic of how often it's normal to move one's bowels. This led to the ensuing conversation while the four of us were in the car:
Eyeteeth: You know, the guy with the biggest colon ever only went once a month.
My Sister: Come on, that's not true.
Eyeteeth: It is! I SAW THE COLON IN A MUSEUM.
My Sister: What'd he die of, something, uh, related?
Eyeteeth: Yeah. So you're flippant about it now, but irregularity can have serious consequences!
Seven-Year-Old Luna: What's a colon?
My Sister: Boy, I love this conversation.
--The colon belonged to a man known as "the Balloon Man" and "the Human Windbag" when he exhibited his horrifyingly swollen abdomen in a sideshow. You too would have a horrifyingly swollen abdomen if your colon were about seven feet long and thirty inches around -- big enough to displace the other organs -- as opposed to a more usual five feet long and maybe three inches around. This uncomfortable condition was the result of Hirschsprung's disease, a congenital affliction whereby part of the colon lacks the proper nerves and can't pass waste through. Well, it must be able to pass some, because the Balloon Man (of whose real name I can find only the initials J. W.) lived to his late twenties despite that his bowel difficulties were first noted by his mother when he was an infant. I guess the rest of the colon eventually works to force matter out of the body, but in the meanwhile Hirschsprung's results in the pragmatically named megacolon. And you can buy one of your own from (of course) the Mütter Museum, which houses J. W.'s. I don't know how I feel about that, actually; it's kind of funny, but we are talking about a condition that plagued poor J. W. his whole life and eventually killed him. Still, that he was willing to exhibit himself in a sideshow suggests that he might be OK with this. I hope he would be OK with my gazing on his gut in a glass case, because I sure as heck did.
I'm happy to say that these days Hirschsprung's is generally easy to fix: as soon as it's diagnosed, usually in early childhood, a surgeon removes the malfunctioning portion of the bowel and stitches the free ends together. In most cases that's all that's needed to effect a full recovery. This is the sort of thing I try to keep in mind when feeling anxious: bad stuff is just more obvious than good stuff. When's the last time you thought, "Wow, I'm sure glad they can fix Hirschsprung's disease now, and none of my friends or family will literally lose a child to constipation, which used to be a thing"? I only just had that thought right now. And it'll still be true even if Trump wins. WHICH HE WON'T OK
July 14th, 2016
|09:16 pm - Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb|
Heh-heh hrm heh, you said angiosperms. Uh, yeah. Me too.
This book where teenagers fix everything is two or two and a half times longer than most of them, part of a growing trend for which I blame George R. R. Martin. I use the word blame loosely, though, given that holy crap, this is my job, I get paid to read novels. How lucky am I? Answer: very. Also, this book is pretty good to begin with. I am always amazed by books like this that involve sixty-five characters and twelve empires and a war on several fronts and some secret societies and twelve romantic relationships plus there's magic and here's how the magic works and here are all the words I made up to discuss the magic. The machinations of about six private citizens, in their private lives, is about as much as I can keep in my head as a writer. But that's OK because that's also the stuff I find interesting, for the most part.
It occurs to me as I read this giant high fantasy novel with all the political intrigue in it that one of the reasons that type of novel appeals to people so much is probably that fantasy gives you a chance to posit a complicated political system that is somehow fairly accessible to ordinary citizens in a way that ours emphatically is not. In these novels you have people more or less going about their business and then suddenly WHAM! you're the chief adviser to the Kaiser, or whatever the ruler is called in this world, and the fact that you're seventeen doesn't seem to faze anyone in the slightest. It doesn't typically happen in our reality that you're eating a bagel and then suddenly you trip over Hillary Clinton's foot and before you know it you're flying Air Force One. And you may as well be seventeen, because at this point it's not like that's going to make it any less believable, right? I admit, I find that idea immensely appealing as well. And of course you have your farm boys who turn out to be the Chosen One, that's always going to be a thing in fantasy, but I've never cared for that one much. Maybe because my entire life seems in retrospect like one long instance of people not shutting up about Star Wars. My thinking is that Western civilization is basically built on a myth about a farm boy who turns out to be the Chosen One, and it was done pretty well in the book of Matthew, so can we explore another idea? But as long as men write fantasy, we're going to come back to it, and I've come to terms with that. I ask only that you throw a few other ideas into your nine-hundred-page novel as well.
July 1st, 2016
|12:38 am - Sir, in your father's day there was always a stain on the carpet|
WHAT IN THE HEY, CBBC REBOOTED DANGER MOUSE AND COUNT DUCKULA IS A RECURRING VILLAIN, DID YOU PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS, HAVE YOU BEEN HOLDING OUT ON ME
ALSO EVIDENTLY HE WEARS PANTS NOW, THIS WILL TAKE SOME GETTING USED TO:
That painting behind him is of the version of Duckula that appeared in his own show in the eighties and early nineties, only with fangs. You'll note that the Count has finally color-coordinated his wardrobe, which I appreciate -- I'll admit it always bothered me just a little that he combined a red bow tie with a purple-lined cloak. He seems to now be rocking a medallion of some kind, Bela Lugosi style, too. In general, however, the two character designs are remarkably similar. Even the pose is reminiscent of Count Duckula Count Duckula:
I'm guessing this new Danger Mouse won't resurrect Igor or Nanny, which is probably just as well because who could match the teddibly, teddibly English received pronunciation of the late Jack May -- but I can't say for sure because CBBC WON'T LET ME ACCESS ITS MEDIA FROM THE STATES. GO AHEAD AND LEAVE THE EU, LIKE I EVEN CARE, BUT DO YOU HAVE TO TAKE DUCKULA WITH YOU? HAVE YOU NO DECENCY, BRITAIN, AT LONG LAST
June 27th, 2016
|12:53 pm - Brekekexit koax koax|
My birthday's on Wednesday! Long ago the sun stood still and I was born.
Have I mentioned in the last five minutes that I like Gilbert and Sullivan? I do. And I'm happy to say that although the analogy isn't perfect, they do have a song about how only ignorance will restore Britain's greatness:
When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,
As every child can tell,
The House of Lords, throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well!
Sullivan sometimes gets overshadowed by Gilbert, I think, but he was a brilliant composer -- who thought he was pissing away his talent on comic opera -- and here he gives us such a rousing patriotic tune that it makes me proud to be British even though I'm not. Even though there was a war a couple hundred years ago over this very issue, and that's why we have Independence Day next week. In fact the concept of Independence Day exists because so many countries were happy to get out of Britain's clutches, which makes Brexit supporters' use of the term pretty funny. That is so 240 years ago, guys.
June 13th, 2016
|07:26 pm - Inferior Court of California|
I should maybe have emphasized that this is not Judge Persky's home address; I wouldn't write there, even if I knew what it was. This is the address of the courthouse where he works, publicly available at the website of the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. Isn't it sad, though, that it made me nervous to mail that postcard, as if I'd somehow get into trouble for voicing my opinion to a public figure? This is what living under surveillance does to people.
The postcard I used, incidentally, is one of a set I bought in Israel twenty years ago. Back then every tourist spot was full of little boys selling thirty postcards for a shekel. They would walk along the street calling out, "Shekel shekel shekel!" the way people selling double-A batteries on the subway in New York walk from car to car calling out, "One dolla one dolla one dolla!" So Persky, or some unpaid intern, will be treated to a pretty view of Jerusalem on the other side of this missive. Dome of the Rock included, which is more than Aaron Persky deserves, frankly.
June 9th, 2016
|12:46 am - Tender is the night, exchanging glances|
I just read Tender Is the Night and This Side of Paradise in rapid succession, and think I can now safely say that I don't get F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like, do you have to have lived through the Great War to understand where he's coming from? Because I get that sense from This Side of Paradise, which was his first book, but I'm getting ahead of myself, because first I read the other one even though it was written later. There's this kind of incest theme that runs all the way through Tender Is the Night, which I'll discuss further under the cut:
( Spoilers!Collapse )
So then I read This Side of Paradise, hoping it would bring things into focus, and in a way it did, because that's when I realized what makes me uncomfortable about Fitzgerald, and it's not the incest. It's that he writes like someone with narcissistic personality disorder trying to convince me that he's capable of deep feeling. A summary:
Eyeteeth: So the protagonist falls in love with this girl. Why?
Fitzgerald: She's pretty. Like, really pretty. You can tell how pretty she is because she strings guys along and is mean to other girls. She's actually kind of evil. But pretty.
Eyeteeth: Anything else?
Fitzgerald: Well, she's rich. And she adores him, obvs.
Fitzgerald: Why what?
Eyeteeth: Why does she adore him? What's he got going on?
Fitzgerald: He's really handsome! God, do I have to draw you a map? THEY'RE BOTH PRETTY. THEY'VE BOTH BEEN EDUCATED TO BE USELESS TO SOCIETY. THEY'RE IN THE SAME ROOM. THEY FALL IN LOVE.
Eyeteeth: OK, we'll come back to that. Tell me more about how the protagonist lectures someone about socialism like some kind of Bizarro-world Ayn Rand character even though he hates poor people by his own admission despite being poor himself and has never had a job.
--This is why I ask if you had to live through World War I to understand Fitzgerald. Because he says, "This man is in love with this woman, and she is in love with him," but I get no indication from the characters of anything that looks to me like love. Is this emotional disconnect something that would make sense to me if I felt I had "grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken"; rather, would it make sense to me if I lived in a time naïve enough to believe that it had seen the worst humanity had to offer? That it had hit rock bottom? Because Dick Diver and Amory Blaine and Jay Gatsby didn't know shit about rock bottom, they didn't know that while they were obsessing over their own wasted potential that the Nazis were already accumulating power. As far as I can tell, what they do know is that it hurts when pretty girls don't like you back, and didn't we know that before all the gods died?
So seriously, what am I not getting here? It bugs the shit out of me when a writer is famous and I can't figure him out. This is like Doris Lessing all over again, man.
June 1st, 2016
|12:03 pm - Kaiju double-header (both heads have a TNR tip)|
It's taken me a long time to post these comics, but I was busy editing one of those fantasy novels where teenagers fix everything. It was pretty good, actually, and fantasy is not usually my genre. I'm glad no one needed me to fix everything when I was a teenager. "Eyeteeth, take this bow and quiver, we need you to lead the rebellion -- but could you take a shower first?"
That's the first time I remember ever dreaming about stix. I rarely dream about my writing, either, which seems odd to me, as I think about it all the time. Mostly I dream that I'm trying to navigate confusing architecture, or out in public topless.
A lot of authors -- and not just bad ones -- seem to have trouble with vocative commas, which annoys me, because they're very simple and anyone who has read enough books to write a book should use them instinctively. I should see a sentence like "Come over here Steve" only in the works of outsider novelists. But I don't! This is the kind of thing I'm defending against with my bow and quiver. Think of me as two nineteen-year-olds if that makes it easier.
May 18th, 2016
|11:19 pm - I'll put on the creepy mask|
This is something I've been thinking about since college. See, I was a freshman in 1995, and a lot of the people in my class had never had an e-mail address before. I had, but only because I went to a weird high school that assigned them to us. Anyway, thousands of people were suddenly let loose with e-mail addresses and no idea what to do with them, so suddenly I got a lot of chain e-mails. Remember chain e-mails? They used to be a thing. MICROSOFT WILL GIVE YOU FIVE DOLLARS FOR EVERY PERSON YOU FORWARD THIS TO and so on. And something I noticed was that a lot of these chain e-mails would begin with your friend saying, "I never do this, but..." And that got me to thinking about how people can do a thing and still give themselves credit for never doing a thing. And later in life I learned that this was true of people who think abortion should be outlawed -- they will get abortions and then go right out and tell people never to do what they just did, because it's wrong. I realize that the name for this is hypocrisy, but what I don't understand is how it works -- how someone can do something and still truly, honestly believe he or she is not the kind of person who does that thing. And that's something that's been bothering me ever since. I'm sending you this chain e-mail, but I never send chain e-mails. I got an abortion, but I'd never get an abortion. A friend who works for Planned Parenthood told me this joke: "Abortion is acceptable in only three cases: rape, incest, and me."
The Internet, of course, ramps everything up, including hypocrisy, so that you have people acting horrible and then getting really offended at being called horrible. Well, that's always been the case, but the Internet facilitates it.
I felt ambiguous about this after assembling it. See, I truly am less fixated on my romantic nonexistence than I used to be. But I also do have these fantasies where a man hears me nerding out about whatever and swoons into my arms. And it is a sad story about Charles Whitman. He started having these fantasies that were a lot worse than my fantasies, about climbing up into the clock tower and shooting people, and he didn't know why. He consulted a psychiatrist about it, though obviously that didn't help much. When he finally did go up into the clock tower and shoot people, he first wrote a note requesting that he be autopsied to see if there was anything in his brain causing these horrible thoughts. And sure enough there was. You don't want a glioblastoma on your amygdala, though it is fun to say. So if you start having intrusive thoughts about murdering people, please insist on a CAT scan before you act on them, OK? And then don't act on them. Things are hard enough for everyone already.
May 2nd, 2016
|01:20 pm - "Freitod" is a fun word I learned from Batty|
You may remember Geli Raubal as "that chick the Internet says used to pee on Hitler's face" because that indeed is one of the allegations that have been made about his conduct regarding Geli, that he was into gross sex with her. No one can say for sure whether he had sex of any kind with her, but it probably wouldn't have seemed that outré to him to do so, because his parents were possibly also uncle and niece and whether they were or not his mother called his father "Uncle" even after they were married. We really know frustratingly little about a relationship that may have been the most significant of Hitler's life. We don't even know if she really killed herself. It's quite possible Hitler killed her or had her killed: she died in his luxurious Munich apartment, shot in the lung with his Walther pistol. The whole thing was quite scandalous and might have derailed his political career -- might have changed the whole course of modern history.
And I feel sorry for her. Even though it seems she was fond of "Uncle Alfie" -- and why not, since he took her all kinds of fancy places and paid for her singing lessons and fawned over her, and he was a big important guy, the chancellor of Germany, and she was a teenager whose father died when she was two and whose mother worked as a housecleaner? Even if I should learn later that she was as obsessively anti-Semitic as he was, I think I'll still feel sorry for her. Because no one should be the target of an older relative's possessive romantic interest, and that goes times a million WHEN HE'S HITLER.
Incidentally, I learned while researching this stix that I can't see Hitler in photographs the way I see other people, because THAT'S HITLER AAAAA and my brain's yelling too loud to accept the information my eyes are giving it. That leads to a weird disconnect in which every picture of Hitler looks fake to me. (Compounding the problem is that most pictures you see of Hitler are fake: they're drawings, or someone playing him in a movie, or something.) Consider this picture of him and Geli. Come on, that's fake. You put a fake mustache on some guy. No, that's really for-real Adolf Hitler, and that's really Geli gazing on him with evident fondness. There are other good pictures on this page (though I don't know if the information it gives is accurate), and I react to all of them the same way: my brain yells THAT'S HITLER AAAAA and my eyes stop working.
But the important thing is that I ate a cookie yesterday and it was so leavened, you guys. Remember what I said last time about how I was going to eat something leavened? And stop thinking about Nazis? Yeah. Let's do that second thing now.
April 30th, 2016
|10:26 pm - Let my stix go|
During Passover I was editing a big nonfiction book about Nazis, which made me uncomfortable, because of the Nazis. I had to hold back my feelings with one hand while with the other I looked up stuff like how to spell "Amon Göth" and whether one should capitalize the m in "Ponary Massacre," and this type of compartmentalization is hard on the human psyche, especially when the human psyche starts asking itself whether suppressing one's feelings in order to do one's job might be the tiniest bit like the experience of actually being a Nazi. But I'm done with that book, fortunately, and now I'm obsessing over Hitler's niece Geli Raubal instead. I think I will try to draw her. Not him, though. I've drawn Günter the Vampire Nazi and I've drawn Rudolf Hess, but I don't have any inclination to draw a stix Hitler. Though the idea of a stix with an armband does have comic potential. Anyway, after that maybe I can stop thinking about Nazis and their extended families for a little while. And eat a nice chametz-y doughnut or something.
April 21st, 2016
|10:10 am - Die Sendung mit der Kafka|
In 1922 the Viennese writer and translator Franz Blei published a little book called Das große Bestiarium der modernen Literatur in which he described prominent members of the German-language literary scene, many of which were his personal friends, as animals. Kafka's entry is brief: "The Kafka is a magnificent and very rarely seen moon-blue mouse, which eats no flesh, but feeds on bitter herbs. It is a bewitching sight, for it has human eyes." I think that's lovely, and it's easy to imagine Kafka as a mouse with human eyes, isn't it? The thing about the bitter herbs is a nice threefold joke, as Kafka was of course a morbidly anxious Jewish vegetarian.
Herewith is the sixth Seder Cat, isn't that something? Show it to the morbidly anxious Jewish vegetarian in your life, I bet you know one.
April 16th, 2016
|10:47 pm - An unnerving silver-gilt combination epergne and candelabrum|
This one was influenced by two disparate sources, Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For and Edward Gorey's The Unstrung Harp. The former once featured a strip in which most of the tchotchkes for sale at the feminist bookstore have a Venus of Willendorf theme (Venus of Willendorf coffee mugs, Venus of Willendorf boxer shorts) as well as a strip in which one of the dykes threatens to put superglue in another's "personal lubricant dispenser," a phrase that evidently stuck in my head. And the novelist Mr. Earbrass in Gorey's book receives a gift from an admirer of "an unnerving silver-gilt combination epergne and candelabrum." I had to look up epergne, but that phrase also stuck in my head. The whole passage that contains it is wonderful: "Mr. Earbrass returned from a walk to find a large carton blocking the hall. Masses of brown paper and then tissue have reluctantly given up an unnerving silver-gilt combination epergne and candelabrum. Mr. Earbrass recollects a letter from a hitherto unknown admirer of his work, received the week before; it hinted at the early arrival of an offering that embodied, in a different but kindred form, the same high-souled aspiration that animated its recipient's books. Mr. Earbrass can only conclude that the apathy of the lower figures is due to their having been deprived of novels."
April 5th, 2016
|07:17 pm - This song was originally about a serial killer|
I have a cold sore! But I’m happy to say that no cold sore stands a chance against my three-pronged attack. One, valacyclovir aka Valtrex, a one-a-day horse pill; two, a topical unguent containing lysine, which I discovered in college seems to be super effective, preventing cold sores from even erupting when slathered on early and often; and three, just for good measure, lysine pills. I don't know if those do anything, but they don't hurt, and I like taking pills because it gives me a feeling of control. I have never understood people who say they "don't like taking pills" for headaches or whatever. Why not? They work a lot of the time, and then you don't have a headache or whatever! To my mind that's like saying, "I'm hungry, but I try to avoid eating food unless I'm really famished."
But anyway, that's last week's stix. I don't know if anyone else finds it entertaining, but I am always vastly entertained by my belligerent-American-patriot routine. And using it at authors is particularly satisfying because authors get on my nerves. They get their own characters' names and eye colors wrong, they can never employ the subjunctive correctly, they don't know which punctuation goes inside the quotes and which goes outside, they get weird crushes on particular words and phrases and use them every five pages. At the very least they need a stern talking-to.
This week's stix! I think it's similar to, though not as funny as, this one. Tell me what you think! While I finish editing an 879-page high fantasy novel.
March 22nd, 2016
|08:52 pm - Feral grown-ups|
In a class I took in college, called Human and Animal Relationships, I learned that if a puppy or kitten does not have positive human interaction within the first few weeks of its life, it will never learn to like or trust humans as a species. (Unsurprisingly, the socialization window for dogs is much larger than the socialization window for cats.) After that the animal can learn to trust individual humans, but not the idea of humans. This is an interesting idea, but I mention it here because that's exactly how I feel about children. I can like a child, but I do not like children as a species. You just have to clip my left ear and release me into the childfree colony, because I could never be a good mother. I can, however, be a good aunt, and perhaps it's for precisely the same reasons; if I were more like my sister, a very nice person who likes children, I might not be able to sell the idea that I'd be willing to eat my niece. I might also have been distressed when my nephew presented me with a corn-husk doll he'd made in school, which he'd tied by its neck to another corn husk. I was pleased, though, not just because he'd made it, but because he knows me well enough to realize I'd like it. "It's you!" he informed me, cheerfully. "No, just kidding."
I'm glad, incidentally, that no one at his school chose to interpret the fact that he'd created a corn-husk gallows as evidence that Aglet is emotionally disturbed. A high school math teacher of mine decided on zero evidence that I was suicidal, which I have never been, and sent me to the school psychiatrist, and that was before Columbine. Maybe it would have been a different story if he'd equipped his corn-husk doll with a gun, though I gather this project was part of a history lesson about American settlers and they had guns, after all. Still, all my high school math teacher saw was that I'd written the word death in my notebook, and that wasn't even me being emo, that was me quoting the part of Catch-22 where Yossarian is making up his own rules for censoring his fellow soldiers' letters. "Death to all modifiers" was what I had written, because I was a fourteen-year-old grammarian and found the idea of being so passionate about a part of speech simultaneously funny and understandable. I didn't know at the time that I would grow up to be a copy editor and get paid for, among other things, killing modifiers (though if you'd told me so at the time I wouldn't have been surprised); I knew only that my dumb math teacher, who was also a rather hateful person generally, and for whom I felt an irritating combination of pity and dislike, had been dumb enough to think I was "obsessed with death" (I believe this was her actual phrase) based on the occurrence of a single word in my notebook. I regret that I can't remember her name or I'd try to figure out what became of her, the weirdo.
I'm reading Alice Miller at the moment, but even before that I knew that children -- who most of the time appear to be paying no attention to anything you do or say -- are very sensitive to the personalities of the adults around them. (I've been in therapy for fifteen years, after all, and that's the kind of thing you talk about in therapy.) I don't doubt that my niece and nephew recognize that I am fundamentally different from almost all the adults they interact with, in that I'm not a kid person. It's possible that they find this refreshingly novel. Occasionally Aglet will mention it, as in, "Do you think you'll ever get married or have kids? Probably not, right?" In response to that specific question I told him that I have no desire for children of my own but that I would like to get married. He expressed skepticism that this would occur. I'm like forty or a hundred or something like that, you're stuck being single if you're not married by whatever absurd theoretical age I've attained. Or maybe I'm not giving him enough credit, maybe he's taking into account the fact that I have not had a partner of any kind in his lifetime and has therefore, not unreasonably, I suppose, pegged me specifically as not the marrying kind. After all, in his experience adults mostly come in pairs (parents) or small groups (teachers). To him and his sister I'm perhaps this weird other thing. But if they do indeed think of me that way, they're hardly the first.
March 14th, 2016
|09:27 am - Loves me like a rock|
Now, of course "tallest person ever" is shorthand; what is generally meant by that phrase is "tallest person ever for whom there is indisputable evidence." It's certainly possible that someone in human history, someone more distant from us than Mr. Wadlow, who was born in 1918, when science existed and things could be described as indisputable in a way that we accept as indisputable in 2016, got to be taller than 8'11.1". Certainly many people have claimed, or have been claimed, to be taller than that. Sideshow performers were regularly billed as much taller than they actually were, like ten feet tall, which sounds ludicrous until you look at a family picture of the Wadlows:
(Click through for lots more pictures and info about Robert Wadlow.)
My mind is inclined to reject that image even though it's just a photograph. If I were to see Robert in person, without the nongiant people around him for scale, you could slap any number on him and I'd be inclined to believe it. He's eight feet tall, he's ten feet tall, he's twelve feet tall -- whatever height he is, it's too great for my mind to accept from way down here, so sure, why not?
Robert Wadlow was seven feet tall when he was my nephew's age and his parents got lots of offers to exhibit him as a freak, which they turned down. Robert didn't like the idea either, and when during the Great Depression he finally agreed to appear in the Barnum and Bailey Circus, he did so only on the conditions that he'd appear in the center ring, not the sideshow, wearing an ordinary suit (to the extent, of course, that any of his suits were ordinary). His long-term plan was to go to law school. When he died, at only twenty-two, his parents had his ten-foot steel coffin sealed under concrete so no one could dig up his body in order to exhibit his skeleton. (The second-tallest person ever, John Rogan, was also buried under concrete. Their families may have been thinking of poor Charles Byrne, an eighteenth-century Irish giant reportedly so obsessed with the idea that doctors would hack open his corpse that he ordered himself buried at sea in a lead-lined coffin -- but all to no avail, as a doctor bought the corpse and boiled it to get at the skeleton, which I believe is still on display at the Royal College of Surgeons, despite some public pressure to belatedly respect Byrne's wishes.) I don't think physically unusual people who choose to exhibit themselves for money are in any way inferior to those who don't, but I like that Robert's parents enforced his wishes not to be a sideshow attraction when he was no longer able to. Love can take many forms, and sometimes love is a really thick layer of concrete.
March 12th, 2016
|01:56 pm - No, I haven't forgotten about you|
I was in California to see my nephew in his school musical! He had the lead and was very good, which I told him, and also very handsome, which I did not tell him. Before that, I was working very hard:
This is something I really do recommend, as the entire Unreal Tournament soundtrack is good for working to, especially my favorite track, "Foregone Destruction" (from the Facing Worlds level in outer space). I liked the game itself, too -- I've never been very into video games, but I found running around a maze nailing people with projectile razors very enjoyable. And the music does make anything you're doing seem very dramatic, especially if, like me in that comic, you're reading about US foreign policy in Asia and you've gotten up to one of the parts about North Korea.
I finished that book in the air on the way to California, but then there was the book about bonefishing in the Bahamas, which I had to edit between performances of Aglet's musical and games of Chutes and Ladders that I was roused from slumber at seven in the morning to play with him and six-year-old Luna, and articles my client at the UN was firing at me like projectile razors and demanding back within hours. This left me limited time to craft the next comic:
In summary, my nephew is beautiful and talented but needs to work on saying, "Deez nuts" like 98 percent less.
February 22nd, 2016
|01:43 pm - Stix infernal|
One of the ways that my two cats are like a classic comedy duo is that Nineveh is almost totally silent whereas Kaiju regularly wanders the apartment wailing like a woman for her demon lover. At first this distressed me, because it seemed he was in distress, but now that we've lived together for a while I've learned to regard his yowling as a kind of very noticeable verbal tic with (in most instances) no innate significance. It wasn't until I was reminded of this quote from Shakespeare that it occurred to me he might be practicing witchcraft, or trying to. Only his top half is brinded, which may be the witchcraft equivalent of having a Jewish father and a gentile mother and not being taken seriously by anyone, even demons. Like Buer, the other handsome fellow in panel three, as depicted in the 1863 Dictionnaire Infernal by Louis le Breton, a French artist who mostly drew boats and sensible things like that. Buer can teach you botany and logic, if you manage to summon him, and while I'm sure he'd scare the daylights out of me if I ever saw him in person, I think most of you would agree that Breton's depiction is a little goofy. Do you suppose he moves around by rolling like a wheel? That would make an awful noise on my hardwood floors.
I am, as I've mentioned before, fascinated by mysticism and pseudoscience and the sovereign citizen movement and all that stuff that involves elaborate systems of rules based on no facts whatever. There's something so pure and compelling to me about imagination arranged in the shape of reality. Demonology is great for this, with the bonus of totally rad illustrations like Breton's. His demons mostly look as if they'd rather be somewhere else, which seems fitting to me, for demons. Like Stolas here, who's trying to remember if he left the oven on:
Nineveh, of course, is half of a black cat, being a tuxedo. Maybe together she and Kaiju could summon something.
February 15th, 2016
|12:49 pm - Nougat center!|
The most fantastical thing about this comic is that I mention the term shortstop to Batty without defining it. I 100 percent guarantee that Batty does not know what a shortstop is.
February 8th, 2016
|06:03 pm - Bellyfeel|
From the people who brought you The Round Persuasion and who are actually just one person, I. The first one is the one that gets me most. People who are not fat seem to have this bizarre notion that we just haven't noticed, that if we knew we were fat we would have made it stop by now. Like when you see someone with the tag still on his pants. Hey, there's a tag on your pants! And then he takes it off and acts embarrassed and we all go about our business. That must be what people who are not fat think will happen when they point out to us that we're fat, that we will act embarrassed and somehow cause our bodies to become inoffensive ON THE SPOT. Because otherwise DON'T WE KNOW THAT WE'LL DIE. IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES. I HAD AN AUNT ONCE WHO BECAME FAT AND FIVE MINUTES LATER SHE DIED. I'm told that people often do something similar, jocularly, when they see someone riding a unicycle: they tell you that half your bike is missing. I can't object to that because it is kind of funny. A popular way of dealing with this, evidently, to the extent that anything unicyclists do can be called popular, is to look down and act surprised. Jesus, who took the other wheel? I recommend that we of the round persuasion do the same. Jesus, who put this eighty pounds on my ass? How long has that been there? Wow, thanks for giving me that heads up!
February 1st, 2016
|09:35 am - wotthehell wotthehell|
I have seen men complain that women on dating sites often say they are looking for a "partner in crime." I can understand how seeing the same phrase over and over can become wearisome. Men (and maybe women too) on dating sites often claim they are living life to the fullest. I have no idea what that means. But I try not to be too judgmental about this kind of thing because communicating with other human beings is difficult. It's not like communicating with Kaiju when I'm lying on my bed with my computer in front of me, because he spreads himself over my forearms at such times, between my face and the keyboard, and then it is very easy to communicate with him via scritching his belly or merely inclining my face downward so that it rests directly on his flank. He communicates meanwhile by purring lustily and doing that toe-flex thing that is a vestige of kneading behavior and means he is SO HAPPY OH MY GOD.
Speaking of dating and people being impossible, yesterday's mention of Kafka's belief that he was ugly and that girls probably wouldn't want to do him for free made me think of archy and mehitabel, specifically the passage in which the cockroach archy recalls what he looked like in his previous incarnation as a human vers libre poet (it was the crime of being a vers libre poet that caused him to be reborn as a cockroach):
some vers libre poets are beautiful
but i was not
i had a little blond mustache
that every one thought was a mistake
and yet since i have died
i have thought of that
it hung over a mouth
that i found it difficult to keep closed
because of adenoidal trouble
but it would have been better
if i could have kept it closed
because the teeth within
were out of alignment
and were odd sizes
this destroyed my acoustics
as you might say
my chin was nothing much
and knew it
and timidly shrank
receding from the battle of life
my eyes were all right
but my eyebrows
were scarcely noticeable
i suppose though that if
i had had noticeable eyebrows
they would have been wrong
Don Marquis, archy's author, started writing about him in 1916, the year after Kafka published The Metamorphosis, but the first English translation of the story wasn't published until the thirties, and it seems unlikely that Marquis was influenced by it. I think he and Kafka just both saw the inherent poetic potential of the cockroach.
January 31st, 2016
|01:51 pm - It was all an excuse to draw a dung beetle in a bowler hat|
Kafka's relationship with his parents will never not be hilarious to me. Dude was maybe the single most influential writer of the twentieth century, but he felt physically ill when he saw his parents' rumpled bedclothes because they reminded him that his parents had sex sometimes. No wonder this guy couldn't get it together to get married. Perhaps surprisingly, Franz liked to have sex himself, but he did it decently, at brothels. Not at all surprisingly, he liked brothels because he figured he was hideous. Judge for yourself:
Lookit these two great big nerds! Kafka was a leggy cuss, wasn't he? Personally I don't think he was hideous, but I go for the skinny, pasty Ashkenazi type. (It's true that his ears stuck out like jug handles, but that's a minor issue.) And if you had to construct a mental image of the Famous Anxious Writer's Literary Executor, you might come up with something very like Max Brod there, mightn't you? Sitting up straighter than Kafka, smiling more easily than Kafka, more robust and definitely hairier than Kafka, his shins and collarbones contained respectably within his flesh rather than straining at his skin as his best pal's are. Which of these two great big nerds will live long enough to have to get the hell out of Nazi-dominated Europe, and, having done so, die an old man? There's no question. That's the moustache of a survivor.