Saturday, May 30, 2009

What the hey?

I always feel like I should have something wonderfully clever or profound to say, but this is just too much fun!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Terror of The Magnum Opus!

As I break from working on my book/grant proposal, my thoughts turn to creators who have inspired me in different ways.
Today's venture takes two turns, beyond the already posted notes on the human tornado called Ellison.
Next up is Jeff Smith, creator of Bone, the much neglected Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil, and the sporadic but worthwhile RASL. All Jeff's work deals in themes of common beings surviving their roles in large, mythic battles a la Tolkien or Eddison.
Well, turns out there's a documentary on Jeff.

Then there's Terry Moore.
His Strangers in Paradise is now collected in an Omnibus edition. How he managed to do this and keep on schedule with his new book, ECHO, is beyond me, but he did it.
This invites the next issue.
A Magnum Opus can kill you if you let it.
The idea of creating a single work of such weight and import can be such a heavy burden that it renders the work insurmountable. If you let it be that.
I suspect the way through this is twofold.
First, don't try to create something big. Create pieces of the big thing. Just say what you have to say, using the time you have to say it as well as you can. The 2200 pages of Strangers and the 1400 pages of Bone were all done page by page, the only way it can be done.
It took me 6 months to do a page once, and I did 12 pages in 14 hours another time. It takes the time it takes.
Second, while you must keep at it (or in my case, all the various "it"s), you can't punish yourself if you lose pace. Self-recrimination takes time too, and burns up, wastes, energy that could go into the work.

How sharp can you get?

You know how it can go- life takes a downturn, you begin to doubt this and that. Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing, why is everything going South, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Like Ray Manzarek said on his first solo album (lyrics inspired by Beckett's Waiting for Godot):
Why ain't I pretty?
How come I'm stupid?
Why do I have this here fear?
Pretty maudlin, huh? Well, you can get over it if you try. With help.
So a couple things come into the melee to help me get over myself. First, a great conversation with someone I trust. Then a forwarded link to this New York Times piece on the very topic. Eminently useful, and I suspect I'll be revisiting it often in days to come.
Finally, the impending screening of the Harlan Ellison documentary, Dreams with Sharp Teeth, on Sundance this coming Monday eve, and the DVD on sale the same day. My buying is way down these days, but hey, it's Harlan. Here's a look, and it's on point with the idea that an artist can determine his/her worth by refusing to agree that the work, and by extension the artist, are worth less, or even worthless.
Time to get a little fire back in your belly!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On a more positive note!

After a couple days of recouping from the calamity that was Monday, I got around to a film I've been meaning to view: The Last Mimzy.
Please note that, while it's intelligent and articulate, I disagree with almost everything in the linked review. This film was nominated for several Saturn Awards. The issue, as I see it, is that it's damn hard to make a smart SF film for and about children. This is not perfect, but it comes close.

The Last Mimzy is not what I expected. It's a bit syrupy, but well worth the time, as it touches on ideas of the interconnections of science and faith as the sole hope for humanity embracing its own potential. It manages to do so without coming across like an E.T. clone. As the numerous harsh reviews I discovered online indicate, opinions vary. But I found it eminently worthwhile.
Besides, I'm a sucker for cute stuffed critters- genuinely cute, not creepy cute.
It's also refreshing to see Hollywood reach into the realm of vintage science fiction stories, rather than simply rehashing its own tired past successes. This step away from creative inbreeding, filming a great story by SF master Henry Kuttner, is more than welcome.
Regrettably, The Last Mimzy was not a commercial success, though I suspect it will build a following.
Maybe the world is finally ready to see a good film of the best SF novel of all time!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Well, let's not do THAT again.....

What a rotten day.
Whenever anyone tells you that, the natural inclination is to discreetly sidle away.
But since you're tough and you're still here, I'll tell you about it.
Got very little sleep last night, due to finalizing my grades for spring semester. Running late this morning, barely got them in on time- rushing to honor my responsibilities to a job that's ending (well, short term, anyway). What a conflicted feeling.
Not one, but TWO pieces of bad financial news on top of that.
So, tired, cranky, more than a bit demoralized.
Ah well. Made myself a decent meal and listened to some CDs I'd not heard for a while, including Horslips' Aliens, the second Peter Gabriel, and The Decemberists (covered here by Marianne Faithfull), whose new one still needs to reach my ears.
Now as I fade out, laundry done and mundanities contained sufficiently to face another work week, I bumbled upon a YouTube of two people I was blessed to see perform together two summers ago.
The day can either end or end well. I offer this in the hope of the latter, for all of us.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Turn and face the strange....

Okay, on Saturday I attended the Transgender Health Seminar.
I debated posting on this at all. My gender history is a matter of public record, even online, but since it's more than 20 years since I had final surgery, I often think of it as in the past. And it's not a past I'm always keen on revisiting.
Not that I don't own my history, but it's more to the point that I have other concerns in my life right now.
But concerns over having a past- any past- never go away if one is to have an authentic future.
I had a fascinating conversation with fantasy writer Tim Powers about transsexualism (what a callous, clinical term for self-actualization!). Tim said, "I imagine that it would be like learning a new language."
Well, I've spent a quarter century socializing myself as female, learning what that does and does not mean, and redefining possibilities within that on my own terms. Terms always subject to renegotiation, of course.
Everybody gets to pick and choose what parts of a societal gender stricture model they want to own. The decision is just more conscious and more blatant in my case, and it's a conversation that's been going on for so long now that I weary of it a bit.
That, and getting over my ego-driven embarrassment over association with my own kind, are the concerns that kept me away from last year's conference.
And if I'm going to be completely honest about it, I'm doing more or less okay in the world these days as far as being seen on my own terms, and I am reluctant to do anything to call that into question.
But maybe I have something to offer my gender transgressive peers, and perhaps they have something to offer me- humility, at the very least.
So Tim Powers was right, in a way. There is a language of women, and I have learned it. And now I can teach it.
But I will always speak it with an accent.
Note: the cover is from Alan Moore's Promethea #7, a surreal and tragic (in this issue, at least) superhero love story with overt gay and transgender themes. Promethea is astonishing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Princess and the Princess?

Okay, I confess I'm quite excited about Disney's return to traditional feature animation.

Snow White: boy gets girl. Sleeping Beauty: boy gets girl. Little Mermaid: boy gets (fishy) girl. Beauty and the Beast: (fuzzy, scary) boy gets girl. Hunchback of Notre Dame: (handsome) boy gets girl. Lady and the Tramp: boy gets girl.
Okay, that last one is just too wonderful for words.
Great stories all, but isn't there more than one note to played in the symphony of LOVE?
The closest animation has come to gay issues is the Showtime series Queer Duck. There are gay characters in Drawn Together, currently in rerun on Logo, which also has a gay anime' series and Rick and Steve, which is puppet animation a la George Pal.
But it's mostly pretty bad animation. It's what the great Chuck Jones called "illustrated radio", for the most part. Also,most of what is out there is pretty guy-with-guy centered.
There are a great many gay male stories in anime', and much about transgender cahracters, but few lesbian stories. Also, call me a snobbess, but something about the visual style of anime' leaves me cold at times. Not that I don't love Tezuka, but I'd rather read it than watch it.
I like traditional Western animation. And I'd like to see a braver use of the art form.
There are beautiful and sensual stories of men and men, and women and women, and people everywhere on the gender and sexuality spectra, hooking up for physical pleasure, affection and just plain sharing life.
Some studio is missing a bet by not trying to tell a genuine love story about GLBT people in good animation.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

da bode'!

As I prepare some of my extra art for auction, a step towards financing my paper presentation at San Diego in July, I'm drooling over a pencil prelim of a Vaughn Bode' Deadbone page.
My fascination with da Bode' waxes and wanes, but never completely fades. I wrote a bio piece on him for a gay comics website some years back, which has just resurfaced on the redesigned Gay League web page.
I also wrote (and need to rewrite!) a structural analysis of Bode's work for San Diego three years ago, my first formal paper presentation.
Vaughn was a pioneer in panel layout, use of materials, manipulation of language, and communication of raw emotion, often evoking comparisons to Walt Kelly in the the latter two respects.
He was also known for his personal life, being sexually ambiguous, bisexual, prone to S & M experimentation, and a cross-dresser with transsexual tendencies.
However, Trina Robbins described him as "a very eager straight boy who liked to dress up".

Sunday, May 10, 2009

An excuse to post something wonderful!

I need to nest an image for use in my parting post to my Graphic Novel course, which ends on Tuesday (sob!).
Therefore, I am adding this classic strip, the last Calvin & Hobbes, to my blog, just so it has a URL.
Besides, it's such a great philosophy!

Frank Miller owes me two hours

I just finished watching The Spirit courtesy of Netflix.
I'm trying to work up the vitriol to be disappointed.
Oh, I was told what to expect. But this was so much worse. A mish-mash of styles, dialogue that suits none of the characters, a plot so full of holes you could fill Wildwood Cemetery with them, and visuals that lack energy.
Oh, people have commented at length about how visually striking this film is, but it doesn't work for me. It's just a sorry pastiche of Kill Bill and Sin City.
Miller was once capable of great innovation. Now he's a parody of himself, creating implausible cities in which all the women are gorgeous in a sleazy way, all the men are gruff and nobody seems to actually like each other very much. The whole thing was a bizarre nightmare vision of Sin City recast as a camp 60s TV show.
Lest you think me an uninformed grouch, unaware of the nuances of Noir, I would point you to this article.
Eisner deserves better, especially from a freind, and he and Miller were friends.
The Spirit is a pragmatic man involved in Capra-esque morality plays. while these times may seem at odds with such an outlook and such a hero (decades ago, James Garner seemed to me to be an ideal choice to play the Spirit), I suspect that the moral compass of the country is swinging to a sort of pragmatic optimism. The Spirit would fit right in, given the chance.
This page from a Paul Chadwick Spirit story shows that it's possible to be realistic and still maintain a character's inherent humanity and decency, traits that seem to have eluded Miller in this outing.
It's just a darn shame that Frank Miller let his ego interfere with his reverence for the character.
Miller's failure to create a substantial work out of an iconic comic character will in no way help public perception of comics as worthy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

At the Shawnpost up Ahead...

Fresh (sort of) in from tonight's Shawn Phillips concert, and at least somewhat rejuvenated by the experience. That someone as beat up by life as Shawn can keep smiling, keep trying new things and stay so alive creatively is both intimidating and inspiring.
For those not in the know: Shawn's father was a spy novelist (author of the Joe Gall books), a poet and a CIA agent. His mother killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills, and died cradling a young sleeping Shawn in her arms. In his salad days, Shawn roomed with Lenny Bruce and Bill Cosby (separately), taught Joni Mitchell how to play the 12-string guitar, opened for Yes until they asked him to leave the tour because his act was better received, sang backup on the Beatles' Lovely Rita Meter Maid, wrote most of Donovan's first two albums (mostly uncredited), survived an accident in which hair became tangled in an outboard motor propeller, survived quadruple bypass surgery, was robbed of millions by a manager, was divorced three times, and went without a record deal for close to a decade, despite making millions for his label at his peak.
Survival gave him strength. In his later years, he became an EMT and moved to South Africa with his new wife, where they raise his three year old son Liam, got a new label and released his first live record ever.
Shawn reminds me of possibilities, and he seems to come around when I need him most.

The only photo I was able to get from my (ahem) front row center seat was this cheesy one of the stage, taken with my cel phone.
One of the highlights (and there were many) was a song Shawn had never before performed publicly, a memorial to the Hawai'ian singer Iz (Israel Kamakawiwo`ole).
Haunting and uplifiting, like much of Shawn's best work.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's Academic!

My students' final projects in one course are due this weekend. I have quizzes and online posts to grade in a different course at a different school. I am preparing ,career-wise and emotionally, for not having a course to teach at my favorite institution this fall.
I was sent a link to this blog post on adjuncting, which I found quote useful.
With all this, I've been musing a great deal of late about the significance of adjunct teaching in general, and my role in it in particular.
On the one hand, after close to a decade of adjunct teaching, most of it at an institution that does not seem to value my work, and being denied a position (at least for now) at my favorite place to teach, I have to fight to keep heart.
However, my other school had a graduation ceremony last night. I missed most of it due to lousy directions, but did arrive in time to talk to my students who graduated. One of them told me the only reason he came was to thank me and one other teacher for giving him something worthwhile.
Kinda warms your heart.
Well, I must get to work on my paper for San Diego.
Right after Justice League!