Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Make Mine Stout!

Later today I'm teaching my first class at CCS, but I'm using this morning to catch up on some non-CCS matters. Read on...

Check out Cole Odell's comment on my September 8th posting and "Moving Day." Needless to say, I'm not recommending anyone ever jump insane heights into dangerously narrow, shallow pools of water. Thanks, Cole, for making the 'what if' scenario painfully concrete; I hope your reckless and unfortunate Middlebury College didn't suffer any permanent injuries.

This bemusing letter from my old friend Tim Viereck, aka 'Doc', who reports on a recent event involving his two innocent, unblemished children and the insinuation of malignant Bissette brainspew into his happy home:

"So I came into the living room this morning, Saturday morning. Videos have been banished for two weeks, as punishment for faulty behavior patterns, and Tamara and Pom are ensconced in an easy chair, she reading aloud. How sweet, how special!

I read an email, fill in a petition against the repeal of the estate tax, peruse some jokes sent by a friend, as the words drift into my consciousness: "... said grace, his robes moved... shifted and quivered as if hidden limbs were moving... limbs where no human being ever had limbs... "

SpiderBaby Comix has found my six-year-old!

I turned his attention to
Tyrant, and read a couple, but even after one, he said, "That next one doesn't look so good - it doesn't have much blood... I like the blood!", and after two, he went back outside to play.

To play whatever secret games he plays...
in the shadows...
by the ditch, perhaps with little helpless creatures...

Thanks, old buddy -

Yes, it was difficult to manage, much less afford, but I did make a real effort to ensure every copy of SpiderBaby Comix was self-ambulatory and designed to target the youngest reader in any given geographic area. Though most readers can't feel them, there are eight spindly legs that sprout when the comix lay undisturbed for a long enough duration, with the genetically-embedded imperative to land in the lap of the most innocent and waif-like of all bipeds in their reach.

Wait, what's that scratching? Is it coming from that stack of comics -- or perhaps your comic boxes? The feeble but insistent scrabbling of thin, hairy legs....

Bill Stout is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists and artists, and he has elevated his work into the ranks of classic paleontology and naturalist artists like Charles Knight, Zdenak Burian, and Rudolph Zallinger. My penpal Dan Johnson (who interviewed Rick Veitch and I for Back Issue magazine about a year ago) recently conducted a lengthy, career-spanning interview with Stout, and the first installment is on newsstands now in Filmfax (Plus) #107.

If that's not enough, my Mirage Studios amigo Mike Dooney also steered me to an online audiofiled interview with Bill Stout which is
  • here.
  • Poke around that site a bit for other engaging interviews with cartoonists and comics personalities.

    Al Nickerson's ongoing online Creator Bill of Rights debate continues: the link is forever posted on this blog (on the right), but if you've not checked it out yet, click
  • here.
  • Prepare for some intensive reading, and once you've digested all that, the latest letter from Al to Dave Sim is posted
  • here,
  • and Dave's latest response is
  • here.
  • The occasional discussion board posts regarding this ongoing discussion have been of interest, particularly the first response to Dave Sim's most recent letter by Scotsman Stu West on Comicon's board, which is
  • here.
  • Kudos to Stu, who immediately picked up where I was going with my reply, which I hope to provide ample historical context for. I'm specifically directing my replies to Al's site, as he initiated this current debate and is archiving the letters in a centralized online venue. Anyhoot, it's a worthwhile debate, particularly if you're working in the creative arts, eking out a living.

    Meanwhile, in day-to-day reality in our country, it's timely to reflect upon the events of the past three weeks. Lest we forget:

  • Daily Kos New Orleans recap

  • Andrew Debly steered me to the September 7th entry in the blog of Tor Books editor Teresa Nielson Hayden, which offers an agonizing account of the obstacles Katrina evacuees faced trying to leave New Orleans, and it makes for sobering (infuriating) reading. Check it out:
  • What We Did on Our Vacation.

  • I'm presently reading The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, recommended by Alan David Doane, and preparing to interview George Romero about Land of the Dead, which I consider a masterpiece (along with Romero's previous Dead films). Somehow, the two go together with uncanny precision. Now that the Bush Administration has put the lid on photos of the dead from New Orleans (for the same reasons given for not photographing the incoming wounded and dead from the Iraq War), Romero's image of the dead rising from the waters takes on an eerie, almost prescient resonance...

    While there are countless Katrina relief efforts underway, including many from the comics field, one upcoming effort I've been informed of is Phil Yeh's community-galvanizing effort in Houston, which Rick Veitch just fired my way. FYI, Phil has been creating comics since 1970, including one of the first graphic novels (circa 1977). He remains best known for Theo the Dinosaur (1991) and The Winged Tiger (1993), but he has been a whirlwind of activity each and every year, tornadoing into neighborhoods all over the world to host pro-literacy comics and graphic novel workshops in community libraries and work with local youngsters and artists to create colorful public murals. Phil is a true comics and creativity activist, and it's no surprise he has quickly adapted an already-planned Houston event to Katrina relief efforts.

    Phil is seeking donations of comics and graphic novels for Katrina victims. The press release offers the necessary details:

    "Yeh is now working with the Houston Public Library to bring donated books to area shelters for the many people who are homeless due to this tragic event. He also plans to paint a mural with the some of the children in the area's shelters. Publishers and artists who would like to donate books for the relief effort can send books directly to the North Channel Branch Library, Harris County Public Library, 15741 Wallisvile Road, Houston, Texas 77049. Please address the donations to Pat Lippold, Branch Manager. All donations are tax deductible."

    For further information, contact Rob Valentine at (805) 735-5134.

    BTW, Phil's planned Houston workshop is happening, too. "Yeh's graphic novel workshops at both the downtown Houston Main Public Library at 4 pm on September 28 and at the North Channel Branch Library at 6 pm on the 29th will go on as scheduled. The events are free to the public."

    On August 30th, an AP report filed by Jennifer Loven offered the underreported bon mot that President Bush "answered growing anti-war protests with a fresh reason for American troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields that he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists."

    Wait a minute -- isn't that what many of us said three years ago? Does our President even know what he's saying any longer???

    A few emailers asked where I got the poverty figures I cited in one of last week's posts. I'm being pretty rigorous about citing sources and/or online sources that are neither specifically left nor right; that info came from the AP as well, specifically Jennifer C. Kerr's August 30th "Poverty Rate Rises to 12.7 Percent
    Changes Marks Fourth Consecutive Increase," which offers the following insights:

    Even with a robust economy that was adding jobs last year, the number of Americans who fell into poverty rose to 37 million - up 1.1 million from 2003 - according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday. It marks the fourth straight increase in the government's annual poverty measure. The Census Bureau also said household income remained flat, and that the number of people without health insurance edged up by about 800,000 to 45.8 million people. ...While disappointed, the Bush administration - which has not seen a decline in poverty numbers since the president took office - said it was not surprised by the new statistics....

    The Bush Administration is "responding" to the reality of the mounting poverty and health care crisis precisely as they responded to Katrina: not at all. The last decline in poverty figures, according to the AP report, was in 2000, during the Clinton Administration. From the beginning of the Bush Presidency, all the effective policies instituted by the previous Administration were willfully abandoned, stripped, or inverted, as demonstrated most recently by the horrific underperformance of FEMA (which, under Clinton, was streamlined into one of the most effective FEMA eras in that organization's history). Parallel to that demolition of various poverty-relief efforts, Bush and his cronies have also gleefully realigned the distribution of tax burdens and wealth, even as the current stage of corporate evolution has inflated CEO salaries and packages into the stratosphere, increasing the disparity between incomes to levels unseen since the 1930s.

    The "by the numbers" portion of the AP report is staggering:

    31.1 Million People living in poverty in 2000

    37 Million
    People living in poverty in 2004

    Median household income in 2004 (unchanged from 2003)

    45 million
    People without health insurance in 2003

    45.8 million
    People without health insurance in 2004


    Finally, I needn't elaborate on the recent turn of events with FEMA management (and mismanagement), in which Bush had to eat his risible praise of Michael Brown aka "Brownie" to replace "Brownie" with a new acolyte (aka "Duct Tape Man"). This is indicative of the nature of almost all Bush Administration posts, rewarding political cronies regardless of their true abilities or inabilities, pawning off the responsibilities of and obligations to public safety and key regulatory positions as if Bush were a Fraternity kingpin blessing his circle of frat brothers. It's a vile spectacle now laid naked to the world, though anyone watching has been aware of this and could see this inevitability coming. The mask has been ripped at last from the Phantom's face, and there's no spinning or taking back that moment (maybe now more people can understand Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican party in the first year of Bush's Administration: when, exactly, did Jeffords see the mask ripped away? His autobiographical book on the subject, reportedly ghost-written in part or whole, skirts the revelatory moment).

    It's taken Katrina to at last open more of America's eyes to the reality of our situation. The abuses of power the American public and press have not only endured but sanctioned -- by delusional somnambulism and/or active indifference -- may finally be too blatant for even the most devoted of the flock to remain blind to for much longer. In the wake of the recent revelations concerning Karl Rove's role in the notorious Valerie Plume case, in which arguably the most influential Presidential aide in over half a century was shown to have vindictively breached national security to serve partisan reliation (a treasonous act), the incarceration of NY Times reporter Judith Miller (for an article that never saw print!) has finally put the press on notice. One of their own has gone down; it should be Rove, not Miller, behind bars (while Cheney and DeLay continue to enjoy an arm's length from the dirty deeds of their respective aides and associates, Rove himself is individually culpable this time).

    We've seen a procession of government officials from Colin Powell to "Brownie" willing to fall on the sword for their Commander in Chief. But when Miller went to jail, I hoped that all journalists (not just the few who have been tackling this Administration, against enormous stacked odds) finally realized the stakes of this high-risk "game" includes their own -- themselves -- and that finally honoring one of the fundamental obligations of the press and their importance to a true democracy may be the only hope of saving their own asses.

    An invigorating sign that even the most complacent and corporate of the US media might finally be waking up from their long slumber is offered by Marlene O'Connor, my beloved first wife, who told me this past week about a stunning turnabout in the wake of Katrina on none other than NBC news. Keith Olberman (aka the Bloggerman) was the man; Marlene tracked down an online transcript of that momentous event. It was last Monday night on NBC news, and you can read it for yourself
  • here.

  • ___

    OK, enough of that. Tomorrow, a report on my first day teaching at CCS...

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