Thursday, May 22, 2014

Quotations: Lonesome Gods

From The Lonesome Gods, pages 54-55, by Louis L'Amour. All you need to know is that these are the words of a dying father, who is crossing the desert to take his son Hannes to California:

Long ago, before the Indians who live here now, there were other people. Perhaps they went away, or maybe they died or were driven out by these Indians' ancestors, but they are gone. yet sometimes I am not sure they are gone. I think sometimes their spirits are still around, in the land they loved.

Each people has its gods, or the spirits in which they believe. It may be their god is the same as ours, only clothed in different stories, different ideas, but a god can only be strong, Hannes, if he is worshipped, and the gods of those ancient people are lonesome gods now.

They are out there in the desert and mountains, and perhaps their strength has waned because nobody lights fires on their altars anymore. but they are there, Hannes, and sometimes I think they know me and remember me.

It is a foolish little idea of my own, but in my own way I pay them respect.

Sometimes, when crossing a pass in the mountains, one will see a pile of loose stones, even several piles. Foolish people have dug into them, thinking treasure is buried there. It is a stupid idea, to think a treasure would be marked so obviously.

It is an old custom of these people to pick up a stone and toss it on the pile. Perhaps it is a symbolical lightening of the load they carry, perhaps a small offering to the gods of the trails. I never fail to toss a stone on the pile, Hannes. In my own way, it is a small offering to those lonesome gods. A man told me they do the same thing in Tibet, and some of our ancient people may have come from there, or near there. Regardless of that, I like to think those ancient gods are out there waiting, and that they are, because of my offerings, a little less lonely.

People are still making those little stone piles. I've seen them out west, and in Europe. I want to say there's a book about the folklore of backpackers in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas that gets into this practice a bit. Can't remember the title. The stone piles might also be related to the ancient Greeks placing a Herm (for Hermes) at crossroads.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Something Fell

Anybody out there read Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's comic Fell? Image published it, not quite a decade ago. It got into it because it was cheap, and I'd heard good things about Ellis' writing. Fell is Richard Fell, introduces himself as Rich, who's transferred to a place called Snowtown. He's a detective. Lots of the cases he works on in the 9 issues that were ever published of this comic come from real life cases that Ellis got a hold of in newspapers. In the first issue, Fell meets a barkeep called Mayko, and even though nothing they do constitutes flirting, you get that sort of vibe. Toward the end of the story, she brands his neck with a hot iron, giving him the symbol of Snowtown (you know, so he'll be safe).

I liked the approach to this comic right away. Sixteen pages of story, a few pages of backmatter (here actually titled Back Matter) in which the author goes on about the creative process, includes some fan letters, some pictures and whatnot. It's interesting, even when Ellis has no choice but to include pretty much only letters cause his allergies have transformed him into "Snot Tsunami Man" (issue 3).

Ellis has his critics, of course. Some say he's often just weird for weird's sake, other that he pushes the boundaries of taste for no good reason. Sometimes I see that. In Fell #2, for example, he puts in a coroner who's of course eating a sandwich when Fell enters the morgue. Cliche. But then the coroner drops a tomato onto the corpse, and eats it anyway.

Templesmith's art is heavily stylized, which means it either works for you or doesn't. He got big when he did 30 Days of Night. I like his work here. It's moody. And he draws the single most disturbing image of a nun in a Richard Nixon mask that anyone will ever come across. The nun's a recurring character.

Chris Eliopoulis letters the comic, and it's done in a subtle way that makes you forget there's a letterer. There are lots of signs and the like posted throughout the panels, so the lettering is actually a subtle part of the whole of Snowtown, which I like. 

The mysteries/crimes Fell has to solve are almost perfunctory. They exist just to hang the city and the characters on something, so why not have them be some of the more depraved acts of humanity, like smoke babies (issue 2) or the fact that bodies dumped in water get all horridly gross. Nonetheless, Fell gives us some great panels, such as this one, which begins issue 6:

It's funny how things seem to change over time, but don't. Cause I'm the one that's different. The only difference to these comics is that I left them sitting on my desk once, and I had cats back then. So one of the cats knocked over a cup of water, walked through it and then jumped onto the desk and walked all over the fell comics. So issues 6-9 have these dried cat footprint water damage to them. It's tempting to say that Fell isn't quite as good as I remember it, but that's not true. Ellis and Templesmith cram a lot into 16 pages, even issue 8, in which the 9-panel grid gives way to three panels per page for most of the issue. That issue, which concludes the single collected edition, has a great ending.

Ellis wanted to write fell to have something relatively cheap on the stands, for guys like me who can't justify the price of a monthly comic back then. The average comic was between $2.25 and $3 at that time. We need it even more now, as the average is now tipping towards four bucks.

So I'm rereading Fell in part because I wish there were more comics like it. It goes out of its way to be readable, to tell single-issue stories while developing a community through its back matter (an  idea for a series of blog posts: great single-issue stories of recent comics). It only lasted 9 issues (which I think had more to do with the creators not keeping up with it; it won a couple of Eisners, but Ellis' most recent word on it was in 2011). Because life's about to change in a pretty big way, I'm going to drop all of the comics on my pull list. I might've been inclined to keep one if it worked like Fell worked.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Quotations: White Fang

From page 78 of Jack London's excellent book White Fang:

To man has been given the grief, often, of seeing his gods overthrown and his altars crumbling; but to the wolf and the wild dog that have come in to crouch at man’s feet, this grief has never come. Unlike man, whose gods are of the unseen and the overguessed, vapors and mists of fancy eluding the garmenture of reality, wandering wraiths of desired goodness and power, intangible outcroppings of self into the realm of spirit—unlike man, the wolf and the wild dog that have come into their fire find their gods in the living flesh, solid to the touch, occupying earth-space and requiring time for the accomplishment of their ends and their existence. No effort of will can possibly induce disbelief in such a god. There is no getting away from it. There it stands, on its two hindlegs, club in hand, immensely potential, passionate and wrathful and loving, god and mystery and power all wrapped up and around by flesh that bleeds when it is torn and that is good to eat like any flesh.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Eyes of the Dragon, by Stephen King

I never heard much about this novel, King's foray into fairly straightforward fantasy. There are some horror elements here, and of course there's his recurring character Flagg.

It's a pretty good story, though at times it's told in too long-winded a manner. There's lots of set-up, though the pay off is worth it. I've never read a fantasy novel that revolved so thoroughly around napkins before.

Perhaps more fascinating is the fact that an audio version of this book was recorded by Bronson Pinchot. Yes, that Bronson Pinchot.

The ending was one of my favorite parts, which sets up another story that, as far as I can tell, King hasn't told yet. Because you learn something of Flagg's fate if you read The Stand or the Dark Tower books, it's hard to imagine the outcome of the characters who set out to confront Flagg at the end of Eyes can turn out good.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sorry to ruin your day...

...but Community has been cancelled.

So one of my favorite moments in all of television happened a few years back on this show. I imagine that the showrunner walked into the writers room and said, "Ok, I want to have these two guys sing that song from An American Tail to an albino rat hiding in an air vent, while this lady does a Jack Nicholson impression, but about browines, and these two are salsa dancing to Irish trad music, while Chevy Chase eats a sandwich," and then the writers had to think of a way to make it all happen at once. This was the result:

Community was not a show for everybody, but it was a show for me. It was full of long speeches about the nature of truth, and the need for acceptance, and even had two whole episodes of clips from other episodes that were never really made. What other show on television ever dared to base one of its most compelling half-hours on a monkey stealing a pen? What other show ever dared to have a whole episode about foosball? Or a character who existed solely to be told to shut up?

And so I'll leave you with this...Abed as Batman on Halloween:

If I stay, there can be no party. I must be out there in the night, staying vigilant. Wherever a party needs to be saved, I’m there. Wherever there are masks, wherever there’s tomfoolery and joy, I’m there. But sometimes I’m not, cause I’m out in the night, staying vigilant. Watching. Lurking. Running. Jumping. Hurtling. Sleeping. No, I can’t sleep. You sleep. I’m awake. I don’t sleep. I don’t blink. Am I bird? No. I’m a bat. I am Batman. Or am I? Yes, I am Batman.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Amazon's Top 100 Lists

I'm not sure why I did this, but I went through a bunch of Amazon's top 100 book lists to see how many of the books on them I had read.

For the top 100 overall, I have only read three: Dr. Seuss's Oh the Places You'll go; Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar; and What to Expect when You're Expecting.

Of the SF and Fantasy list: Martin's Game of Thrones (just the first novel; I know, I know--I do intend to read the rest of them, but they're just so much of a commitment); Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, which I read more than 20 years ago; Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan, and that's it.

Of Children's books: Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games books (3); the Harry Potter books (2); the Eric Carle books (2); Guess How Much I Love You; Chicka Chicka Boom Bom; The Giving Tree; the Hobbit; Oh the places you'll go; and Where the Wild Things Are.

From the Fiction/Literature list: Vonnegut's Jail Bird; Game of Thrones again...and that's it. Why Jailbird, I wonder? It's not Vonnegut's best (that might be Cat's Cradle), so why is it there? I can understand why Sirens is on the SF list, though.

From the Comics list: Saga (3 volumes); Walking Dead (just the first compendium); Batman: Killing Joke; Watchmen; 1602; Dark Knight Returns; Batman: Year One; Winter Soldier; Batman and Son; V for Vendetta; Persepolis; Calvin and Hobbes; Understanding Comics; New Avengers Breakout; Maus; American Born Chinese.

I've read 0 of the mystery/thriller/suspense list.

Only 3 from Travel: Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country, and Krakaur's Into the Wild.

So the comics list is the longest one for me. And I don't know what this Attack on Titan series is or why it's all over that list. Seriously, it's fully 10% of the comics list. I've never even heard of it. Star Wars takes up a lot of what's left.

From all this, I start to understand maybe why my own writing never gets published. I don't have a popular taste. I write stories for myself, and they're not what sells. I really expected to have read more of the SF list, but there are all sorts of books I've never heard of on it.

These books reflect what's new rather than what's determined to be of quality. Compared to the 23 of Locus' top 50 books that I've read. I've never been much of a list reader. I know people who have picked lists--say, the AFI top 100 films, or the Modern Library top 100 novels--and worked their way through them. I've been more inclined to try to get through all of a single author's work--Vonnegut, for example.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses

I didn't intend to skip posting for a week. It just happened. I wish I could say that I had been doing something of paramount importance, but the truth is that last week just slipped away from me. I spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not I should switch careers, since I got a job offer entirely out of every field for which I have training and the career I have spent more than a decade training for has gone nowhere. In the end, I didn't switch. I stayed in my current position, and we'll just have to see what happens because of that.

I did decide to accept a different, unrelated offer. I will now be some part of the organizing body of the Hoosier Folklore Society. I don't have a title, but I'll be putting together a conference (probably for March of 2015, but nothing's set) and maybe working on the journal Midwestern Folklore, depending on how much help is needed there. So there's that.

Flora and Ulysses

I haven't written much about comics, Superman, or superheroes lately. I'd like to do that more often. I guess the place to start is with the recent book Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. All her books are great, but this one is maybe my favorite of the bunch. Its cover tells us that it's "illuminated," and this case that means it includes both illustrations and comics by artist K.G. Campbell. It's an interesting blend of prose and sequential art. The comics occasionally take over the storytelling entirely. 


Anyway, it's about a squirrel that gets sucked into a stupendously powerful vacuum and gets superpowers as a result--powers including super strength, flight, and the ability to write poetry. DiCamillo has an interesting take on comics here, both by the way she includes them as a storytelling device to work directly with the prose and the way her character Flora incorporates what she's learned from comics into her life and the decisions she makes.

Flora and Ulysses is a book about traumatized people. Since that's often the driving force behind the genesis of superheroes, it's appropriate that she brought in her own superhero and chose to include sequential art as part of the way she tells this story.

So...Flora and Ulysses. To read it is to love it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Something useful

From Dune:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Quotations: The Bluest Eye

I've read this one over and over and over. It's from Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, her first novel, page 134. It's tough to include, for reasons that will become obvious, but it's one of my favorite passages in all of literature, and I feel I would be remiss if I didn't put it here at some point.

Cholly loved Blue. Long after he was a man, he remembered the good times they had had. How on a July 4 at a church picnic a family was about to break open a watermelon. Several children were standing around watching. Blue was hovering about on the periphery of the circle--a faint smile of anticipation softening his face. The father of the family lifted the melon high over his head--his big arms looked taller than the trees to Cholly, and the melon blotted out the sun. Tall, head forward, eyes fastened on a rock, his arms higher than the pines, his hands holding a melon bigger than the sun, he paused an instant to get his bearing and secure his aim. Watching the figure etched against the bright blue sky, Cholly felt goose pimples popping along his arms and neck. He wondered if God looked like that. No. God was a nice old white man, with long white hair, flowing white beard, and little blue eyes that looked sad when people died and mean when they were bad. It must be the devil who  looks like that--holding the world in his hands, ready to dash it to the ground and spill the red guts so [I have removed a word that means black folks because it's in all our best interest that I not include it] could eat the sweet, warm insides. If the devil did look like that, Cholly preferred him. He never felt anything thinking about God, but just the idea of the devil excited him. And now the strong, black devil was blotting out the sun and getting ready to split open the world.

If you're wondering why I have censored that one word, here's a bit from Louis CK.