February 21st, 2017
|05:25 pm - Ich bin ein black-and-white cookie|
This is a joke I couldn't fit into the previous week's comic. At the march we were chanting, "We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!" The chant "Hands too small, can't build a wall" could be interpreted as below the belt, but my favorite personal attack from the NYC march was on a sign: "TRUMP EATS PIZZA WITH A FORK." Batty reports that he has to check an impulse to remonstrate with me when I refer to the commander in chief as, e.g., "the tiny-handed Cheeto." Such pettiness gives him a twinge in his European sense of propriety, though he has no problem cracking jokes about Hitler's alleged single testicle. This condition, whether or not Hitler had it, has the lovely name of cryptorchidism.
Here's Batty now! It's a twofer of brilliant foreign men, or, as I like to call them, my Herr-em:
This is true, Batty lived in bisected Berlin and is, therefore, a jelly doughnut. He tells me I am also a pastry, the Amerikaner being the German version of the venerable New York black-and-white cookie. Only in Germany it usually has white icing only. INSERT JOKE HERE.
February 6th, 2017
You thought Batty was the only alarmingly brilliant foreigner I know? Joke's on you, I'm up to my ass in brilliant foreigners!
It has occurred to me that I should probably set the Zeppo and Friends stories in the past. Well, since they happen fifteen years apart, it's pretty much a given that one part of them at least should be set in the past. But maybe both parts should. Because (and I know this will shock you) Maisie is a bit of an autobiographical character, and when I write her high school experience I'm drawing on mine, which happened some time ago. What a time for adolescence the nineties were! Grunge! The first primordial burblings of the Internet! Weird bootleg computer games for your toaster Mac that you got from a friend on floppy disk! Cartoons suddenly becoming cool again! Beavis and Butt-head! Dr. Katz! Space Ghost! Mixtapes! No one had a goddamn cell phone! I don't know to this day why people liked Oasis so much! See, these are the things I think of when I think of being a greasy teen, and probably it's broadly the same, but I don't know how the Young People talk now or what their mating rituals are like or any of that garbage, and the most elegant solution is to take the coward's way out and just put Maisie in high school when I was there. Which would put the earlier stories, with all their charming necrophilia and cannibalism, in the early to mid-eighties. Which makes sense, as you'd figure these losers must have been doing their thing in a time when there wasn't a camera up your ass in every public space. And I don't specify, but I think of them as being in my town, New York, and you may have heard about what New York was like in the eighties. That was The Warriors New York, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three New York, when it was considered suicidal to enter a public park after two p.m.
Of course I'd have to make it so Tancred got blown up in a different military action. And I'd have to push back the date of Declan's mother's lobotomy, which currently happened in 1956. Of course the first lobotomy was performed in 1936, so I can't push the dates back too far, but maybe fifteen years. That would put Maisie in high school in the early aughts or whatever we're calling them now, and that's plausible. CD wallets and zines and stuff. Maisie and Candy would like 581% have a zine. And the reader will expect me to say something about 9/11 but I won't say anything about 9/11 because I have had enough chatter about 9/11 to last me until the year 3000! And Maisie's like MY DAD DOES RECREATIONAL PSYCHOSURGERY, I'VE GOT MY OWN PROBLEMS OK
February 1st, 2017
|05:24 pm - Portrait of a Sandwich|
OK, so you don't want to talk about necrophilia. Fair enough. But you should read this rather awesome poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne. (It's a good thing he became a poet. You couldn't be a butcher with the name Algernon Charles Swinburne.) "The Leper" is really just the logical next step in the tradition of courtly love, with its idealized ladies who were unattainable to begin with. Actually, I'd go so far as to call it a brilliant commentary on all romantic writing by men in which the loved woman is effectively an erotically charged object, described mainly in terms of the feelings the loving man has about her. Even really smart men who are really good writers have written whole books in which the main female character might as well be a sandwich. Actually, that's a game we could try: in every story in which a woman's purpose is to be obsessed over by a man, imagine her as a corpse. Or a sandwich. I should have done that with Portrait of a Lady.
BONUS I think this poem may have just provided me with the proper title of the Zeppo and Friends stories, on account of I'm literary as hell.
January 31st, 2017
|12:43 am - Exquisite dead guy, rotating in his display case|
I've been having some feelings recently. Have you been having some feelings? Let's talk about feelings. But not our feelings.
No, let's not talk about our feelings right now. Because I have been writing, which is a thing I do, and the feelings I want to talk about are those of Zeppo's friend Nervous, the necrophiliac. I've been working on a story I wrote a while ago in his voice, which is a tricky voice, because he's not only a necrophiliac, he's also a psychopath. And when you write psychopaths you don't want to talk so much about feelings. So it turned into a kind of Scylla-and-Charybdis situation because fetishes, or paraphilias if you want to be sciencey, kind of automatically have emotional weight. I had never thought of this before I started waxing rhapsodic about dead girls and then realizing that a psychopath would not wax rhapsodic about dead girls, probably. But assuming he likes them, there must be some feelings there, or he'd be content with a reasonable facsimile and wouldn't go to all the trouble involved in acquiring actual dead girls.
There's an extensive literature of necrophilia, which is, and we should all be happy about this, a fairly rare phenomenon in actual life. I haven't read much of it, but from what I can tell necrofictional characters tend to be just bursting with feelings, as in Lorenzo Stecchetti's 1877 poem The Song of Hate, which is about a guy who digs up the woman who rejected him romantically so he can taunt her corpse. (This is going to work because she was so evil that she'll retain her consciousness in the grave, evidently.) I learned about that poem because of a painting it inspired a few years later, the even more tersely titled The Hatred. I think it's possible that real necrophiliacs also tend to be bursting with feelings. Jeff Dahmer claimed that during his adolescence he was tormented every waking moment by unwelcome thoughts about dead guys, which is why he spent every waking moment drinking as much booze as he could get his hands on, but he might have been lying to make himself seem less monstrous. (The thing about the booze seems to have been true, though -- the people who went to high school with him confirm it.)
Also H. P. Lovecraft and a friend of his wrote a story called "The Loved Dead" in 1924, and it contains sentences like this: "Before dawn they will find me and take me to a black cell where I shall languish interminably, while insatiable desires gnaw at my vitals and wither up my heart, till at last I become one with the dead that I love." But you can't go by that, that was how Lovecraft wrote about everything.
I guess I didn't really have a point. This is just something I've been thinking about. How to write a person who's got enough feelings to be a believable necrophiliac, but not so many that he ceases to be a believable psychopath. Also I wasn't writing before and now I am and I'm happy about that, I never feel entirely like myself when I'm not writing. Also I regret that I can't use the term exquisite corpse in my necrofiction because Poppy Z. Brite got to that idea first.
January 21st, 2017
|12:18 am - Hail Freedonia!|
Today I went to a neighborhood showing of Duck Soup. Holy crow, now is the time to watch that movie again. I never thought the Marx Brothers would seem sinister to me, but the "Freedonia's Going to War" scene is suddenly way too on the nose.
January 19th, 2017
|12:42 pm - Is this a time for airy persiflage?|
Accurate. This comic was inspired by a production of The Mikado. Goddamn that is good stuff. And right now I'll take all the airy persiflage I can get. Persiflage would be a good name for a cat.
I think I conveyed the notion of me dancing fairly well, so that part ought to make sense outside my head, though I'm not sure about the concept of dancing like Milgram's watching. It makes perfect sense to me. And Stanley Milgram might be watching, from whatever afterlife psychologists go to. I hope it's a nice one. If psychiatrists go to the same afterlife he might be discussing the ethics of shocking people with Walter Freeman right now.
January 6th, 2017
|06:14 pm - Anxiety and rewriting (the Kafka special)|
Right now I'm reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature and finding it very reassuring. As someone who grew up in Warriors-era New York City, I may find it easier than most people to believe that violence has declined worldwide, but despite my subjective impression, it's hard to argue with Pinker's assertion that we don't saw people in half for minor breaches of conduct anymore. Vlad the Impaler isn't famous because he was impaling people and boiling them alive when everyone else was being nice; he's famous because he had to impale people and boil them alive just to stand out from the mass of heads of state at that time, who were only marginally less horrible than he was. The Turks were running the show back then, remember, and you had to really reach for the stars if you wanted to intimidate the Turks.
What can I say, my brain turned off on Sunday. Bela used to rest like this, arraying himself like the flower he was.
I've been rewriting "Poor Thing" because everyone had some problems with it, especially the beginning, where it dumps a bunch of weird names on you. Like this:
I had loved him and so when I found him dead I was extremely upset and went to talk to Declan and Tancred-and-Tiffy and Gas Station and Nervous Necro, who hates that name but is stuck with it. We are none of us joiners except Tancred-and-Tiffy with each other but someone usually owes someone a favor so I thought one of them might know something. To find him like that, I said, was like someone pissing in my face. Which one of you pissed in my face?
“Fuck, just get another one,” said Gas Station. Of the six of us, or five if you count Tancred-and-Tiffy as one, he is the least methodical. Declan is the most and the rest of us are somewhere in between but I had been saving this one. How many times had I imagined it and then to have it come out like this?
“Are you sure you didn’t do it yourself?” asked Tiffy. I would have said a certain thing in response except that Tancred scares the daylights out of any rational person. He is about seven feet tall and I have seen what he can do. It is worse than anything I have ever done. Depending on your sensibilities I would say either Declan or Nervous Necro is the absolute worst, but Tancred-and-Tiffy come close. I started to cry because I had loved him and he was ruined now and Tiffy said she was sorry and Nervous Necro called me a fag. I punched him in the throat because he is about five and a half feet tall and though I have also seen what he can do it is impossible to be afraid of a face like his. He uses this to his advantage.
As compared to this:
I had loved him and so when I found him dead I was extremely upset and went to talk to the others, meaning all of them generally but specifically Nervous Necro, who hates that name but is stuck with it. He was the only one I thought might really have done it, but then I thought it could have been any one of them or maybe they were all in on it together, as a big funny joke on me. I’d thought they were my friends or at least some kind of friend equivalent and then when I showed up they would laugh themselves hoarse and the smart thing to do would have been to act like it was no big deal, but then what did it matter if they laughed? What would anything ever matter again?
So I didn’t pretend. To find him like that, I said, was like someone pissing in my face. Which one of you pissed in my face?
They didn’t laugh. “People do sometimes die,” Declan said, as if I hadn’t known that, and Gas Station said, “Just get another one,” as if my special one had been a spoon or a paperweight, but I didn’t want another one, I wanted that one, he was special and I’d been saving him and now life had no meaning. I sat down.
Tiffy patted my shoulder. “Are you sure it wasn’t like an accident?” she suggested. This was insulting but I couldn’t insult her back because her husband Tancred was there and he scares the daylights out of me and indeed any rational person. I know he isn’t actually seven feet tall but it kind of looks like it from down here. Anyway I have seen what he can do. So I just told Tiffy I was sure, and Tiffy nodded and said she was sorry. She seemed very sincere and somehow that was worse than if she’d laughed at me. I put my face against her shoulder. Everything is awful forever, I said, and Nervous who so far hadn’t said anything called me a fag. I punched him in the throat because he is about five and a half feet tall and though I have also seen what he can do it is impossible to be afraid of a face like his. He uses this to his advantage.
More commas and more social anxiety, that's my motto for this rewrite and possibly also for 2017 in general.
December 20th, 2016
|07:50 pm - You must not strike it, God|
It's weird how every American around my age remembers this fear so vividly, while those born ten or maybe even five years later seem to have escaped it completely. Is this why the Boomers are so screwed up? It's probably why they're so obsessed with safety.
This is one of my favorite poems. For years I assumed an Buile was a strange Irish surname, but I learned when I started drawing this stix that it is actually an Irish-language term for a madman. (As far as I can tell it's pronounced so as to approximately rhyme with will ya; Tomas, the Irish version of Thomas, is pronounced toe-MOSS.) So the poem is what crazy Tom said -- and you can imagine a crazy Irishman saying it, can't you? It has that combination of belligerence and sentiment and grandeur that I associate with Irish literature, as well as that combination of realism and fantasy. This sort of thing happens to Irish people sometimes, they have conversations with God.
It may seem a bit hubristic of me to have cast myself in the role of Tomas an Buile, but I dreamed a line from this poem a couple of weeks ago and woke feeling encouraged. Anyway, I have enough Irish heritage that my grandmother had a misspelled Irish name before she married. To the extent that any Irish name can be spelled right or wrong; the Internet informs me that it was originally Ó Súilleabháin, so really, who's to say that Sullavan is less correct than Sullivan?
December 7th, 2016
|11:37 pm - Guess who's back, back again|
I'm appalled by the level of American social discourse right now. The best way I can think of to stop calling people Nazis and libtards or whatever the hell is not to call people anything -- to stop telling other people what they are and start telling other people what we are. This is I. Anxious depressive, Jew, constant reader, niece of a Holocaust survivor. After Auschwitz was liberated, Yaakov (then about twenty) walked around Europe until he found a country that would grant him passage to prestate Israel. He got there just in time to fight a succession of wars. He gave all his reparations checks to his kibbutz. He married twice, he had kids. I remember him smiling. I must be able to get through this.
November 17th, 2016
November 7th, 2016
|01:21 pm - Heavy-handed? Don't mind if I do|
In Harpo Speaks, Harpo Marx describes a visit to Germany in 1933:
“In Hamburg I saw the most frightening, most depressing sight I had ever seen -- a row of stores with Stars of David and the word ‘Jude’ painted on them, and inside, behind half-empty counters, people in a daze, cringing like they didn’t know what hit them and didn’t know where the next blow would come from. Hitler had been in power only six months, and his boycott was already in full effect. I hadn’t been so wholly conscious of being a Jew since my bar mitzvah. It was the first time since I’d had the measles that I was too sick to eat.
“I got across Germany as fast as I could go. . . .
“Acting in Duck Soup, our last picture for Paramount, was the hardest job I ever did. It was the only time I can remember that I worried about turning in a bad performance. The trouble was not with the working hours, the script, the director, or the falls I had to take (I never used a stunt man or a double). The trouble was Adolf Hitler. His speeches were being rebroadcast in America. Somebody had a radio on the set, and twice we suspended shooting to listen to him scream. Hindenburg had died. Hitler was now absolute dictator of Germany. He threatened to scrap the Versailles Treaty and create a German navy and air force. He threatened to grab off Austria and part of Czechoslovakia. He threatened to go beyond the boycott and revoke the citizenship of all Jews.
“I never knew until then what the emotion of pure anger was like, how it felt to be sore enough to want to hit somebody in cold blood. A lot of people I knew were shocked that I was so shocked. Nothing would really come of the dictator’s threats, they said. He was all bluff and hot air. His act was nothing more than a bad imitation of that other comic, Mussolini.
“I knew better. I had seen faces, those faces in Germany, that most other people had not seen.”
November 4th, 2016
|12:01 am - Holding your head in mine|
My right tonsil did hurt. I felt lousy for a while there. Better now. In terms of the tonsil, at least.
I'm sorry I didn't think to refer to him as Adenoid Hynkel sooner. And yes, in case you were wondering, I am as horrified and frightened by the current state of affairs as everyone else. I just want to be left alone to write and drink beer but the world keeps getting involved. Who invited it?
October 18th, 2016
|12:53 am - The Outsider Jew gets a cold|
Maybe I shouldn't have tried to make a statement here. Probably I should just have said "If you see something, say something to Don Quixote -- he's a friendly guy" with a picture of him waving. It's funny how ideas change between the time when you think of them and the time when they're done. And then they keep changing, they firm up like a gelatin dessert, so they're not the same the week afterward. With writing you can keep hacking at them until you're satisfied, but that's harder with drawings.
Anyway, I did once see a bunch of cops on a subway platform converging on a child's backpack, presumably because someone saw something and said something. ("If you see something, say something" is the English version of this motto, and it's plastered all over the subway now.) That got me to thinking about what would have happened if it had been a bomb, because these were all just regular cops, of course -- you're not going to call out a bomb squad every time a kid leaves a Dora the Explorer backpack on a train platform. If it had been a bomb, rather than harming potentially no one, it would have injured or killed a whole bunch of cops, in addition to anyone else who happened to be nearby, because of course the platform hadn't been cleared. No one feels safer because of this campaign, right? No one thinks it does any good? I mean, you can't, if you think about it for any length of time at all. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I don't think the point of this kind of thing is to keep everyone in a constant state of anxiety so we don't question the Illuminati, it's just that it's dumb and is predicated on the idea that I'm also dumb, and that kind of thing makes me angry. Also, it encourages New Yorkers to spy on each other. Also, it wastes resources. Dumb, invasive, and wasteful -- the trifecta of post-9/11 security theater. Pardon me, tetrafecta, as I don't doubt that it's also racist as hell. Probably 90 percent of the calls are something like "I saw a brown guy with a briefcase."
This one's happier:
A 100 percent true occurrence from Yom Kippur services in my neighborhood. Sadly, the fast may have helped along this upper respiratory infection I'm just getting over. Security theater is dumb and so are tonsils! I'd love to get rid of mine but everyone says that getting them removed in adulthood is more painful than childbirth without drugs, etc. Maybe I can do the newfangled thing where you get them shaved down with lasers. That sounds metal. Anyway GOOD THING MY COUGH IS PRODUCTIVE BECAUSE I'M SURE NOT LOL
October 3rd, 2016
|06:55 pm - How about ending this cartoon before I hit?|
One of the many aspects of vampirism that authors have been ignoring for about 150 years in order to write the same damn Byronic asshole moaning about his immortality is how it would presumably facilitate slapstick. In my novel the vampires are throwing each other down flights of stairs and stabbing each other in the abdomen all the time, because it doesn't matter. To me that's both hilarious and depressing, like all my favorite things. I got a taste for that kind of futility watching Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings, of course. Similarly, I imagine Jeremy is always just about to do something unspeakable to me but keeps being averted. He gets distracted or hungry or for some reason listens to me when I say that this week's cartoon is going to be about something else. I've been writing about him for about twenty years now, and it is through him that I first learned that writing around violence, like writing around sex, is more interesting than writing about it. I guess I was first taught that on Saturday mornings too, but it was through Jeremy that I really got a handle on it.
I finished my novel and sent it to some people to read and now I don't know what to do with myself. I think that's why I feel anxious recently. Anxiety is my go-to reaction to anything I'm unfamiliar with, and I'm not familiar with finishing a novel, having never done it before. Speaking of writing around instead of about violence, I know that Zeppo and Friends is standing behind the novel I just finished, tapping its foot and waiting to be reified, and maybe I'd feel better if I got around to that, but I'm not done with the vampires yet, you know? And in a perverse way I want to force myself to derive meaning from something that's not crouching over some kind of writing implement. Which is why I'm going to drink beer and watch a horror movie in Brooklyn tonight. It's The Descent, an all-female monster movie with spelunking. The world needs more of those.
September 28th, 2016
|02:05 pm - The Jew of Manna-hata|
I am waiting to hear the results of a fiction contest I entered, by a publication called Winter Tangerine. I don't think that's why I came up with this idea, but it's an excuse to mention the other fiction contest I entered recently, from which I just got a rejection. It went like this:
"Unfortunately, though it was close, your work was not selected as a finalist this year."
I wrote back, "Was it really close, or does everyone get the same letter?" To my surprise, I got a reply:
"There were a few different letters. We only used this one for those entries—about 30 of the 714---that made it through multiple rounds but weren't in the final 9 winners and honorable mentions. So it really was close!"
Somehow this makes losing both better and worse, but mostly better, I think. The story is one I wrote in college, actually, though I hauled it out and fixed it up a bit for Bread Loaf a few years ago. You might remember it:
"It is two o'clock on a Sunday morning and I am sitting in the International House of Pancakes, drinking pots of decaffeinated coffee and reading The Merchant of Venice for Professor Knowles's class. It is not solely from innate perversity that I am trying to study here among the drunks howling for waffles but also because, although this is purportedly the downtown area of what I'm told is the state capital, though we are within the sight of the capitol building whose dome, capped by a gilded statue of Justice, by state ordinance no structure in town may exceed in height--I am studying here because despite all this the International House of Pancakes is the only place within two miles that stays open past nine p.m. And I am reading If you prick us when I realize that the five waffle-howlers directly behind me, within their somewhat circumscribed capabilities at this particular moment, are talking politics, and I have put my finger on the page to mark my place and begun to lift the cup to my lips when one of them says, earnestly and without malice, I'm not saying that what Hitler did was right, but listen."
This is a true story, mostly. The only change I made was to the play I was reading, because in reality it was Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta, which would have been a little too on the nose. I like that play, incidentally, because everyone in it is horrible, but the titular Jew is smarter than the other characters and so gets away with more. The differences are mainly in the ways the characters are horrible. Barabas, being a Jew, is hardhearted and inflexible, he despises non-Jews, and he's obsessed with money, but Marlowe gives him some good speeches about how he's only following the example of the Christians around him, who took all his money and turned him out of his home. Meanwhile the Christian monks and nuns are having sex all over the place, and the Turkish Muslim, Ithamore, is a drunken murderer. Whee, everyone's a hypocritical piece of garbage! Human beings are incapable of empathy! At least the religious ones are, because they can always use their supposed superiority as a justification for whatever they do to others. Good one, Kit. I ought to reread that play.
I'm required by Congressional mandate to mention here that I was in Manhattan on 9/11, I saw the plume of debris rising into the air from where I was living five miles away, I smelled it for weeks afterward wherever I went. You could smell it all over the island and in much of Brooklyn as well. Having fulfilled my legal responsibility, I should also mention that at no point was I ever particularly scared because of the events of 9/11. It was really awful, but really awful things happen all the time, was more or less my feeling, and terrorist acts account for a vanishingly small number of them. So I really don't find terror that terrifying. There's cancer, you know? There's that dementia on my septuagenarian father's side of the family. There's all my friends who were raped. Why single out terrorism to be appalled by, when we all wade through an ocean of appalling realities every day? When there's so much that's likely to happen, and to me personally? I have never understood that. Who are these people who have anxiety to spare?
The point being, a Dumpster? Are you fucking serious? New York does not have time for your bullshit. A couple of days after the incident I heard one person express mild consternation, and that was it. I haven't heard anyone even allude to it since then. It's not so much that we're over it as that we were never under it to begin with. This is the island that Walt Whitman described thus: "O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!" And he was goddamn right.
September 12th, 2016
|03:29 pm - You can probably guess where he said the pope puts his mouth|
Devotion to scholarly endeavor, obsession with feces, and hatred of the Jews: truly Martin Luther embodies traditional German values. He recommended driving the Devil away by farting in his face and said that he had done this himself. I actually do like the idea of wrestling that immediately with evil; after all, it's as real as shit, as real as the synagogues Martin Luther said should be burned down with their congregations inside them. And as Batty says, throwing stuff at the Devil is not something a "conventionally sane" person does, so I do kind of like him for that. Batty further reports that the modern German attitude is that "Luther had some minor but forgivable flaws such as wanting all the Jews dead, but was a great guy overall." I do as they say in baseball tip my cap to him for inventing Protestantism, which accounts for half of me; my joke about that is that fortunately for me my mother likes my father more than she likes Martin Luther. I didn't say it was a funny joke.
I like this one, though:
Maybe it's the serious expression on Luther's face, but that just cracks me up. Usually he's depicted with some kind of earflap beret on his head, which along with those bell sleeves was fun to draw. I wonder how I'd look in an earflap beret.
September 8th, 2016
|01:17 am - I was a preteen copyeditor|
I also remember a plastic plaque in the local Chinese restaurant informing patrons that the restaurant was not responsible for items left in the "dinning room." I definitely showed an inclination toward editing before age ten. For example, why would she sell seashells by the seashore, where demand for seashells is bound to be low?
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.