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Sunday Brunch: 1/9/11

In which the author gives himself an existential crisis about the state of pop culture, and also links to a picture of a bear eating a space ninja

NARCISSISM DEPT: Hey, they talked about me on this week’s episode of CHOP!, the Axe Cop podcast. I’m still blushing, guys.

SO Patton Oswalt’s article for Wired has been making the rounds. In it, he mourns the loss of nerdity and geekdom as he came of age with it, and prophesies the Etewaf (Everything That Every Was, Available Forever), a future in which the ubiquity of the Internet and Netflix streaming and pop culture being at everyone’s fingertips causes a sort of Nerd Singularity, a very pop culture apocalypse, after which we can rebuild, piece by piece.

Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan, on their latest Wait What podcast, rip on Oswalt for displaying such monumental fan entitlement in this article. Rereading it, I can see what they mean– Oswalt seems to be decrying the loss of geekdom, upset that the Internet’s ability to keep everything that ever was around and available at a moment’s notice has killed his “thought-palaces.” Yes, Oswalt’s descending into self-parody here– he is a comedian, after all– but I think he has a point. Pop culture is eating itself.

Back in Oswalt’s day, nerds weren’t outcasts or hipsters– they were a community. They couldn’t look Vincent Price’s filmography up on IMDB, or read about Doctor Who’s regeneration cycle on Wikipedia– they had to discover these things, investigate the culture around them. They couldn’t pull up a quick torrent of Joe Simon’s Brother Power, the Geek– they had to hunt for it. Now, geek culture is mainstream culture, and technology has allowed any bored individual to become an expert on any subject. Being a nerd is no longer a skill, and no one’s nerdity is inherently better than anyone else’s. And you know, that’s a good thing.

But I think Oswalt’s also saying that we’re reaching a critical mass of pop culture, and that it’s devouring itself, like a giant ouroboros made out of omnibi of Secret Wars II and lunchboxes from the 1980s. Pop culture is now about pop culture– pop culture has replaced regular culture! Do we really need a remake of I Spit on Your Grave, or, in fact, a remake, rehash, revamp, reboot, retread, reimagining of anything? When everything we read or see is derivative of something else, what does that make us? Cultural cannibals? There is, after all, only so much energy in the universe that can be converted into a picture of a cat on the internet. Will there be room for original ideas? As Oswalt says, “Etewaf doesn’t produce a new generation of artists—just an army of sated consumers. Why create anything new when there’s a mountain of freshly excavated pop culture to recut, repurpose, and manipulate on your iMovie?” If the engine of pop culture is fueled by inspiration and nostalgia, what happens when things never go away? When we don’t yearn for what we remember being good, and try to create something akin to that, because we don’t need to remember it, because it’s three clicks away? Faulkner was right– “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” And now we’re wearing that on a t-shirt. What happens when we get complacent, and lazy, and stifle the creation of new things?

I get what Oswalt’s saying, and his scorched earth theory is certainly interesting. But again– I like that so many great old comics are back in print and available for new generations to consume. I like that I have 400+ movies in my Netflix Instant queue, available at whim. I like that so much culture is within reach, that I can experience all these things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to, that Some Guy on the Internet has provided something for me, whether it’s a copy of an obscure Sega Genesis video game or a biography of Edward James Olmos. If I’m so busy watching every episode of the X-Files end on end, however, or reading every blog post about Sarah Palin, how will I ever get anything done? I won’t. And that, my friends, is why my 2010 disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Now, consume these internets, and be sated, but remember what I said above, and note how closely the following relates to it:

NEW ABHAY!: In which the author compares X’ed Out unfavorably to Joe the Barbarian and realizes G-Mozz Batman is the same as G-Mozz something else:

However much his BATMAN run might have concluded in some bizarre out-of-nowhere affirmation of friendship, it’s such a lonely comic. It’s not difficult to read the BATMAN annotations and imagine Morrison himself as no longer King Mob, but become Ragged Robin– trapped now, trapped by his career, trapped by a DC Universe he’s wished “alive,” trapped in a room with old Silver Age comics, gone sad trying to figure out how he can get them to make sense. THE INVISIBLES was about authors and fictions, but it was also about music, poverty, ex-girlfriends, and poetry. BATMAN is about Batman, wall-to-wall Batman, a black hole of Batman that life can’t escape.

And you know, he’s right about the Batman stuff, except I would say it reads more to me like a retread of New X-Men, only not as good! But I am enjoying Batman Inc a lot so far, so there’s that.

ITEM! Frank Santoro discusses Art Spiegelman’s process and philosophy, and how Santoro has incorporated it into his own work– “the mark you make is the mark you see”:

First Spiegelman would sketch out the page in yellow colored pencil on 8.5 x 11 inch tracing paper. Then he’d lay another sheet of tracing paper over the first (yellow) layer and pick out the lines he liked in red colored pencil – shaping up the figures and backgrounds on the fresh sheet. Then he’d take the red layer and lay another sheet of clean tracing paper over that and using a blue colored pencil he’d pick out the best lines from the red layer. Each layer become less and less sketchy and the whole composition came into focus from light to dark. … Looking at the whole exhibition, I remember being struck by the scale of it all. It was epic yet it was possible to contain it all on a small desk. It did feel like writing

ITEM! Bill Sienkiewicz talks about the lost issue of Big Numbers, and his process on the unfinished Alan Moore-penned series:

I pride myself on being a professional, – more than ever these days – and I felt like Big Numbers became my Moby Dick – the great white metaphysical whale that had gotten away from me.

COVERED! Derek Charm draws him some Jimmy Olsen:

ITEM! Tom Spurgeon continues his series of interviews with Kelly Sue DeConnick. Her method of writing pages– dialogue first, panels second– isn’t one that would have occurred to me for some reason, but I’m going to steal it forever, now:

Okay, so, when I get to scripting, I’ve already got my outline. So I know what the scene is and who’s in it. Without sounding too pretentious — I hope! — I just kind of let them talk. It’s like… well, I was an actor, right, but I was also a professional improv actor for three-plus years. So, it’s like improvising a scene — only I’m playing all the characters. I take down the dialogue and then I go back and look at it. I cut what I don’t like. Then I start breaking the scene down into beats the very same way an actor breaks down a script. The big beats? Those are page turns. The smaller ones are panel breaks. More important beats call for bigger panels — though I never dictate that sort of thing, I only suggest.

The Spurge also talks to Dirk Deppey, whose run as the Internet’s Foremost Linkblogger at Journalista has just come to an end.

KATE BEATON draws Nancy Drew:

ITEM! Graeme McMillion$ praises DeFalco and Frenz’s Thor, disses Fraction and Ferry’s. Has the DeFalco and Frenz run’s time come at last? I love those comics.

CATCHING UP WITH COLIN SMITH: He writes faster than I can link! First, Mr. Smith continues discussing Stan Lee’s Avengers, and eventually compares them to Bendis’– and lo, the differences, they aren’t decidedly remarkable. Meanwhile, he drops this choice quote:

This relentless reductionism, this paring down of imaginative possibilities to their irreducible core in the search for constancy and continuity and serious-mindedness, leaves us with two key problems. The first is that creators often cease to consider entertainment as their priority. They become custodians rather than entertainers, reproducing whatever today’s canon argues is the acceptable minimum, and so the decades-long cycle of ever-diminishing inventiveness continues. The second is that the possibilities offered by the very presence of superpowers become something of an embarrassment, to be ignored as much as possible unless they can be justified in terms of a spurious realism.

And also he’s got a cool piece about Dr. Strange, the world’s most adult superhero!

AXE COP MOMENT OF THE WEEK: A very special episode in which Ethan writes and Malachai draws!:

But what kind of bear is it? Read on!

REMAKE/REMODEL, at the behest of Mad Old Ellis, is Stanley Kubrick’s Iron Man. Stepping up to the plate are Felipe Sobreiro, harper, and valdopeixoto (click to enlarge):

Follow the link for many more.

DOCTOR WHO DEPT: Hey, this time it’s related to comics! Comicsy folk talk about Doctor Who. We’ve got Nick Abadzis on the Second, Paul Cornell on the Third, Pia Guerra on the Fifth (what a marvelous piece this is), and Mark Waid on our current Doctor, #11. I think Waid’s cracked why the Eleventh Doc is so great:

One little bit I’ve noticed about the Eleventh Doctor that I find uniquely endearing even though it speaks almost exclusively to me, a lifelong comics fanatic: he dresses exactly like Jimmy Olsen. Exactly. The tie, the tweed jacket, the patterned shirt…I’d swear this Doctor raided Jack Larson’s wardrobe from the old Adventures of Superman set. The Doctor is an alien who flies through time and space battling galactic conquest and enjoying world-shattering exploits while wearing a bowtie. He’s like Superman dressed in Jimmy’s clothes. And that’s cool.

That is cool.

17 Comments

The ‘dialogue first, panels second’ method is also used by Brian Azzarello (and probably others). It’s an interesting one — and when I heard Azzarello wrote that way, it made complete sense given how much his comics rely on the dialogue/narration/captions and turns of phrases and wordplay.

Chad, if that’s the case, it explains why Loveless was so convoluted and cluttered: the whole thing is obtuse dialogue, to the point where I don’t even know if Risso was able to figure out which character to put where.

I think Oswalt is less decrying that old fan entitlement and more that we’re not creating anything NEW. While you can take the position that there’s “nothing new under the sun,” it’s just the lazy approach that leads to far too many remixes of old trailers and combinations of various disparate things that Oswalt is mocking at the end of his piece. We certainly need pop culture that’s more reflective of what’s happening in LIFE rather than what’s happening in other pop culture.

I’m the same age as Patton Oswalt. Maybe even a little older. I too know this ancient time of which he speaks. And I assure you that this cachet of coolness that allegedly came from being the only ones in the know, that me and my little posse of fan/nerd/outcasts clung to was only visible to us. It was something defensive, a mechanism we used to cope with our parents and the assholes at school to keep us from completely cracking up. (The first time I read about a school shooting, my first thought wasn’t, “How horrible!” It was, “Well, I knew that was coming…. sooner or later somebody was going to snap.”)

So, you know, not terribly nostalgic for those days over in this corner. Meanwhile, I have a DVD shelf loaded with TV and movies I love and I can finally get hold of books and comics I’ve been wanting to read for years. Just not seeing a downside.

The larger point, that pop culture is eating itself… um… where have you guys been? It always does that. These things come in waves, the good stuff sticks, the bad stuff falls away. Everybody knows Indiana Jones, but hardly anyone remembers High Road to China or Tales of the Gold Monkey or, heaven help us, Richard Chamberlain’s Allan Quartermain. Adam West’s Batman is still with us, but no one other than the nerd faithful remember Captain Nice or Mr. Terrific. And so on. I just did a column about the pulps and, as much as I love them, take it from me — there wasn’t a more derivitave, imitation-based, “let’s do a new version of THIS!” pop-culture artform in history. We still have Doc Savage and the Shadow and the Spider, but only crazy people like me know about the Crab Detective or the Crimson Mask. And so on.

Fortunately, I think Mr. Oswalt is largely kidding. I remember the old days and I see the landscape today and today’s better. The fact that today we have a lot of johnny-come-latelies cluttering up conventions is nothing compared to a junior high school you had to tiptoe your way through like a minefield to keep from getting the snot kicked out of you for liking X-Men comics. Mr. Oswalt has to know that too.

We certainly need pop culture that’s more reflective of what’s happening in LIFE rather than what’s happening in other pop culture.

Thanks for cutting to the point that it took me several confusing paragraphs to forget to mention. Ha! Yeah, pop culture is a mirror we hold up to the world– but all that’s been reflected is more pop culture, funhouse-style.

And no, I have no idea why the spam filter eats all the comments on these Brunch posts, now.

Yeah, pop culture is a mirror we hold up to the world– but all that’s been reflected is more pop culture, funhouse-style.

To amplify my earlier point a little… I don’t think that’s new.

What IS new — and this is a direct result of living in a world where the old stuff is so readily available and the audience so much more knowledgeable — is what I think of as the “homage defense.” (You know, like how when Rob Liefeld used to swipe poses all the time, it wasn’t theft, it was “homage.” In the seventies when Rich Buckler was doing it, you had to know — there was no internet waiting to pounce and announce it to the world. So there was no need for Buckler to hem and haw about how he was really doing a tribute to Kirby.)

My feeling is that the homage defense is used so often that it’s become legitimized, almost. It’s become okay to do something that’s clearly pastiche and nothing more — no added satire or commentary or anything else new — because, you know, homage. (I will refrain from naming names because we all have our own list of people that do this and I don’t want to start a fight about who should be on it, but in comics, especially, this is pervasive.) The trouble is that in the standard superhero landscape, it’s pretty much ALL pastiche and if you get too far away from it fans throw a fit– and not the new fans, either, the knowledgeable old-timers are the ones that squall to the heavens. It’s not something coming from outside with a huge influx of new folks, it’s something we do to ourselves.

As far as popcultural ubiquity leading to passivity, lethargy even, I am with Oswalt (even if, as Mr. Hatcher rightly points out, he is not entirely serious). What you said about that constant feeling of being unproductive that led to your 2010 flying by strikes me as somewhat typical for this generation steeped in ever available pop culture. There are always popcultural artifacts that inspire me to write – an impulse that lasts exactly up to the point where my inner completist kicks in and I have to read everything that G-Mozz has ever written and watch just one more season of the Sopranos and have I really listened to everything the Beatles have done yet? The result is a paradoxical sense of stasis and emptiness that has haunted me perennially from the day I discovered the internet. It might seem like a trite problem, but something about the popcultural landscape stikes me as amateurish, inhabited by oversaturated fans and collectors, casually interested in everything, maybe sending a link to friends if they can be bothered.

Yes. The internet’s killed my attention span, that’s a given– he said, with 11 tabs open in Firefox– and the availability of all this stuff for “free” or “cheap” has led me to a dedicated effort to become more knowledgeable about pop culture at a faster rate than ever before. Rather than just reading everything about The French Connection on IMDB or hearing about it elsewhere, I can watch it, and experience it for myself. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to consume all the pop culture I’d like to, and I’ll never make a real dent on my Netflix queue because I add things to it at an exponentially faster rate.

God forbid watching or reading anything more than once! Read a comic, put it away. Turn the pages, wash your hands. See a movie, forget about it. The collector mentality is dying out, because soon we’ll just pay fees to access everything, rather than pay to own anything. Is this good? I dunno.

Meanwhile, I want to make a concerted effort to create in 2011, rather than simply consume, even if the creation is relegated to criticism of the stuff I am consuming.

Crab Detective

Ew. What were his weapons, some medicinal shampoo and a tiny little comb?

I kid, I kid, I love pulp fiction, even the bad rip-off stuff…

And as for the idea of ETEWAF, I whole heartedly support it. My wife and I have discussed this (because we’re both nerds) and agreed that this is where we are heading. And as someone who has spent many a frustrating hour/day/year on eBay, Amazon, used bookstores, pawn shops and every comic/hobby shop between Virginia and New York looking for that one missing back issue, that one out-of-print DVD or that one hard-to-find-because-they-printed-like-8-copies paperback, I welcome the idea of everything being a fingertip away from accessibility. I used to love “The Hunt” but I’ve grown too tired and burnt out for it these days…

One by-product of the world which Oswalt speaks is that it will spur a search for more and more obscure cultural artifacts. This’ll have the wonderful effect of promotion and preservation of even rarer and more ephemeral creations.
I work in DIY art/music scene in my town. I see tons of musicians an ‘zine artists producing tons of quality work on a consistent basis.
After all the TV shows, radio shows, 1st print limited run comics, “7 vinyl records, and Grateful Dead bootlegs have been saved and repackaged, the obsessively cutting edge culture vultures are going to delve into the rarest of local and micro press culture.
We can look forward–hopefully–to a world where the locally made gems of small town art are presented as the treasures they are (Similar to the rediscovery of all the great 50-60s soul music). Someday I hope we’ll see new editions of the famous Nuggets LP, featuring all the great music across the country; Prestige collections of self-published comics lovingly restored from the 20th generation copies that’ve been passed down and traded from one end of the country to the other; Commemorative sets of the the best of home-made Cable Access Theatre available on Netflix, through Best Buy, lovingly archived on archive.org.

Perhaps the best news about this possible future though, is that because we are all so connected and the tracks we leave can be followed from birth to death, the creators of these great works won’t be lost this time. They’ll get to benefit from the work they poured their love into and be recognized and rewarded for adding to the cultural ecosystem they’re part of.
In the end, because of that, maybe the pop culture we’re so distracted by will become re-routed into our local communities and lives, and won’t seem so shallow and ephemeral after all.

Crab Detective

Ew. What were his weapons, some medicinal shampoo and a tiny little comb?

Not quite, but “ewww” is certainly an appropriate response, and in fact that WAS the response. Info here.

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm

It’s finally good to read about Mr. Sienkiewicz’s side of the story behind BIG NUMBERS long hiatus and so forth.
Maybe now that all’s out in the open, both sides can reconcile, and perhaps resurrect the project. (not likely, but stranger things has happened).

If memory serves me right, Moby Dick got Ahab in the end and Mr. Sienkiewicz drew the Illustrated Classics version of Moby Dick (First Comics). ;-)

My guess is he wanted to write about a polio stricken detective the entire time and used the crab detective as a decoy.

I started writing something, but (haha) my attention wandered. Actually, I wasn’t sure of my point. Basically, you can point to how Pop Will Eat Itself (can u dig it?), but as JRC points out, there are still local scenes that pop up and while it may seem that the “mainstream” (ie, big media conglomerates) are bereft of ideas, the small time scenes are always thriving.

The NY Times magazine has had a couple of interesting, semi-related articles, one being today’s cover story about people managing their online trails and what happens with their online stuff after they die. Another column, afew weeks back, by (I believe her name is) Virginia Heffernan, The Medium, was about the very idea of “attention span”. She brought up a good and fascinating point, something that had been in the back of my head but I’d never articulated: who says we even HAVE an attention span? That is, people bemoaning the “loss” of attention span seem to believe in a certain, unchanging “attention span” when perhaps it’s just a matter of certain areas of interest. I think the point I got is that you can say, yeah, my attention for THAT THING wandered, but there are other things that I can get into just fine.

My attention just wandered.

Other link: check out srbissette.com for a fascinating discussion with Steve Bissette and Dave Sim about publishing and the ethics thereof, and various and sundry related issues. The most startling/intriguing admission on Dave’s part was him saying something to the effect that he and Gerhard pushed the notion that they could self publish, so ANYBODY could, and Dave seems to say now that, hey, maybe HE can’t even “successfully” self publish (although I’d say it’s more a matter of right place right time, as in Cerebus came along as the DM started to flourish, Dave showed to be a fairly reliable producer of material, and he had a bit of business sense). Considering Dave doesn’t own a computer or have email, he seems to be the only comics creator utilizing the internet to produce a TV show at http://www.cerebustv.com and that’s something maybe more creators could try.

The other nice bit in there was that Sim had a nice response for Dave Gibbons to Alan Moore regarding the “Alan Moore thinks Gibbons should thank him for giving him all the Watchmen money”. The gist of which was “gee, thanks for foisting all this RESPONSIBILITY for it on me.”

And that was before Jason Aaron’s column.

yeah, that’s

http://www.srbissette.com

since the link apparently won’t pop up without the www first

Not quite, but “ewww” is certainly an appropriate response, and in fact that WAS the response.

Wow, that actually sounds more disgusting than I thought it would. I tried googling for an artistic interpretation of the character but (thankfully) couldn’t find one…

One thing that I do like about the ubiquitousness of geek stuff in pop culture is that while I still get weird looks for talking about being a comic reader, I can pull off wearing the occasional X-Men or Simpsons t-shirt without most people thinking I’m a social retard. It helps that I usually have my daughters in tow as well, and there’s always the Dad clause that allows me to wear pretty much whatever the hell I want.

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