Monday, February 18, 2019

Comic Strips Worth Checking Out

People have been declaring the death of the comic strip since at least Calvin & Hobbes ending in 1995 (nearly a quarter century at this point!), in part thanks to Calvin's own creator, Bill Watterson, who famously complained about the diminishing space accorded strips in newspapers and the resulting lack of artistic ambition.  I previously set out to explore what there was worth reading in a post that became one of my most popular here, but that was some time ago at this point, and so here's an update.

Part of the problem comic strips have is, of course, that newspapers themselves are no longer touchstones of family life.  I myself tend to read papers only when they've been made available by someone else (my dad, who still reads them every day; a good reason to stay at a hotel is for their free copies), so my experience of both them and recent comic strips in general is sporadic.  That doesn't mean strips aren't worth reading today.  A local carrier either misdelivered a paper last week or was attempting to drum up business, but at any rate I found myself reading strips again, looking to see if there was anything worth noting, and there was, as it turned out.


That's Macanudo, a comic strip created by Liniers that's been published in Argentina since 2002 but recently (September 2018) made the leap into English language papers.  Obviously equipped with unique origins, it also reshapes the idea of comic strips into a recognizably modern style. 

You don't need to reinvent the wheel to stand out, though. 

 

That's Sally Forth, a strip that has technically existed since 1982, but has successfully reinvented itself, with an evolving pool of creators, over the years, with the current team (writer Francesco Marciuliano and artist Jim Keefe) in place only since 2013.  The best element of this one is Ted Forth, who frequently seems like he hails from some alternate dimension, but in recent years lost his dad and has settled a little more into reality.  He seems almost as if he were a grownup Calvin.  Ted and Sally's daughter Hil is sort of a mix of her parents, although she seems closer to Ted.  Sally's biggest quirk is her annual eating of the ears off Hil's chocolate Easter bunnies (a scant few months away!).


Pearls Before Swine is the current gold standard.


Red and Rover has always struck me as a pleasantly gentle version of Calvin & Hobbes.


Big Nate has taken on much more visibility in recent years thanks to making the leap into books akin to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.


Zits has consistently excelled on art.

 

Over the Hedge became an animated movie way back in 2006.  Still in newspapers, if you can find it.


FoxTrot has gone into semiretirement.  You can only read new strips on Sundays now.  (I recently watched the whole Indiana Jones movie series; this strip seemed appropriate.  Plus there's going to be a fifth entry soon; I expect that walker to actually be in it.)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Favorite books read in 2018

  1. Green Lantern: Earth One, Vol. 1 by Gabriel Hardman & Corinna Sara Bechko - Brilliant reinvention of the mythos.
  2. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling - Timely cautionary tale about the splitting of society down ideological lines.
  3. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway - Finally reading Papa continues to be fruitful.
  4. Batman, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King & Mikel Janin - Compelling look at the psychology of Batman and his villains.
  5. Redeployment by Phil Klay - Piercing look at modern American warfare.
  6. Bearing False Witness by Rodney Stark - Enlightening look at truth and fiction of the Catholic Church throughout history.
  7. Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang - Creative look at the Boxer Rebellion.
  8. G.I. Joe Cobra Command - The Complete Collection by Chuck Dixon, Mike Costa & various - Costa's Cobra comics are essential reading, but this might be the best place to see it in context and IDW's G.I. Joe material in general at its finest.
  9. 41 by George W. Bush - I read both this and Bush's memoir Decision Points during 2018, but this one turned out to be incredibly timely, chronicling his father's incredible life, in the year he passed away.
  10. A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King - This was also the year I finally read King's pre-comics novel, that also features superheroes.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Orson Welles' War of the Worlds

Last Monday was the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles' famous radio version of War of the Worlds, when listeners became convinced that an alien invasion was actually occurring.  That was October 30, 1938 (the same year Superman debuted, incidentally).  How innocent the past seems!  But radio was the entertainment medium of the day.  The first Hollywood blockbuster, as we would understand it today, was released only the year previous, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the year following, Gone with the Wind.  TV hadn't really happened yet.  Popular serialized storytelling played out in radio dramas.  That's where the Shadow made his reputation, where the phrase "Only the Shadow knows" comes from, and why it's something people still remember, because every episode ended with it.  Families would gather around the radio the way they would TV later.  (Forget about such things these days, I suppose...)

Anyway, real panic ensued from Welles' production.  And today, that seems completely inconceivable.  We've truly lost all context.  It seems like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, where we discover in the twist ending that nothing was what it seemed. 

So naturally it would make a great movie, trying to explain it today.  Welles directed Citizen Kane three years later, 1941, and the controversy behind that production was entirely different, but it also drastically affected the course of his life and career, and in the process helped make him an endlessly fascinating figure in history. 

Today if we talk about Welles it's almost invariably about Kane, or about how his career was affected by it.  I imagine it would be equally inconceivable to anyone alive in 1938, who listened to his War of the Worlds, who believed in an actual alien invasion, for his reputation not to include that moment, rather to be defined by that moment.

So a movie would also help reclaim that moment.  And don't get me wrong.  I don't want a movie about the production, but about the broadcast, a juxtaposition of Welles putting it on and listeners actually believing it, about the sheer panic

And that's how you begin to reclaim history.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Row me bully boys!


Recently I finally got a copy of Alan Doyle's 2017 album Week at the Warehouse.  Doyle has been a favorite of mine since I first heard his Newfoundland band Great Big Sea in the fall of 1999.  I had just started college and the band was booked as part of the freshman class's initiation festivities.  What luck!  Great Big Sea was a Celtic folk rock band, creating its unique interpretation of traditional songs while building a catalogue of its own.  Somewhere along the way Doyle became friends with Russell Crowe and started showing up in his movies.  Arguably the culmination of that was Doyle being cast as Alan-a-Dale in 2010's Robin Hood, becoming instantly, perhaps, the most authentic person to play the role in modern times.  He composed the ditty "Bully Boys" for the film.  And somewhere along the way, the song took on a life of its own.  Here's a sampling of interpretations, including a few with Doyle himself singing:
 
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
Even the Wikipedia page for Doyle's album is convinced "Bully Boys" is a traditional.  The truth is, the song's long legs is fine testament to just how perfect his casting for Alan-a-Dale really was.  I'm glad he finally made a recording of his own, and that I've finally added it to my collection.  Recently, having become aware of the phenomenon, I began committing the chorus to memory, and have been singing it.  Maybe I'll record myself singing it, too...


Monday, May 21, 2018

Mark Twain on Jane Austen

This year's daily calendar is a pretty obnoxious one I received as a gift, but it can sometimes be amusing.  Thankfully, it also has those bonus things on the back of the pages these calendars have been including.  Anyway, on the back of last Friday's was this little quote from Mark Twain, about Jane Austen:
"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone."


Ha!  Just a little context here: Jane Austen lived from 12/16/1775 to 7/18/1817.  Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813.  Mark Twain lived from 11/30/1835 to 4/21/1910.  His most famous book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was published in 1884 (Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876).  Austen was dead in the ground well before Twain was even born!  Nowadays it's probably easy to lump them into a general 19th century fog.  Austen's enduring appeal (which mushroomed all over again with the 1995 TV movie featuring the famous Colin Firth lake scene) makes her particularly hard to place.  The funny thing is, Austen and Twain died nearly a century apart!  Of course, Austen died a great deal younger, at 41.

Apparently, a little research will tell you Twain was part of a group of his generation who didn't care for Austen, including Henry James (1843-1916; 1881's The Portrait of a Lady), Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855; 1847's Jane Eyre), and D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930; 1928's Lady Chatterley's Lover). 

James:
"Why shouldn't it be argued against her that where her testimony complacently ends the pressure of appetite within us presumes exactly to begin?"


Bronte:
"Can there be a great artist without poetry?"


Lawrence:
"[S]he is, to my feeling, English in the bad, mean, snobbish sense of the word [...]."

We sometimes allow ourselves to believe that if someone is saying something negative about someone famous, it can't possibly be another famous person, and that if it is it probably reflects poorly on them.  Our modern times are suffused with such suffocating logic.  People are allowed to have opinions.  It's the same nonsense as not being able to handle the artist behind the art.  Okay, granted, I've backed off a writer I previously had a great amount of interest in, recently, because of extenuating circumstances, but I can always circle back to them later.  I have a good excuse: their books are hard to find anyway, and I hate having to order everything. 

Anyway, it just made me chuckle.  Twain, I think, would be up to giving us a lot of choice opinions about our present times, and I'd love to hear them.  Although would they really be so different from the kind of stuff late night talk show hosts say every night?  That's a big question!  But we'll always have Austen.  It doesn't really matter what anyone says about her...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Solution (a poem by Laura Casal)

He says,

Here's the problem:
A train is traveling 100 miles an hour towards a wall.
There is a fly between the train and the wall.
The fly gets to the wall before the train.
So,
How fast was the fly going?

She says,

Doesn't matter.
The fly dies.

He says,

You didn't solve the problem.

She says,

The problem is the fly died,
not the speed.

He says,

I don't agree.

She says,

That's the problem.

(From Laura Casal's collection Noble Madness)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Quotes from a calendar: philosophy musings in 2017

I've been tearing pages from day-to-day calendars for many years.  I've had comic strips (Garfield, Peanuts, Dilbert, Pearls Before Swine), Star Trek, Dave Barry, The Simpsons, poetry, history, and last year, philosophy staring at me.  Sometimes it's rewarding every single day.  Sometimes it's a chore.  Last year was sometimes a chore.  Philosophy is a tricky subject.  Some people will accept any pearl of wisdom to be insightful.  Sometimes it really only applies to some people.  It took until February for me to find something worth noting, but eventually the results ended up feeling worthwhile often enough.  Anyway, here're the pearls I thought worthwhile:

  • "Leap and the net will appear." (Zen saying, 2/16)
  • "So many things become beautiful when you really look." (Lauren Oliver, 2/24)
  • "The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence." (Jiddu Krishnamurti, 3/10) I didn't always agree.  I feel the exact opposite is true.  But the ability to intelligently evaluate something is so rare, this might as well be true.
  • "In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia." (Milan Kundera, 3/14)
  • "There is no such thing as not worshipping.  Everybody worships  The only choice we get is what to worship.  If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.  It's the truth.  Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly.  And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.  On one level, we all know this stuff already.  It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story.  The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness." (David Foster Wallace, 3/15)
  • "I'm not crazy about reality, but it's still the only place to get a decent meal." (Groucho Marx, 3/16)
  • "Of course the sunrise doesn't care if we watch it or not.  it will keep on being beautiful even if no one bothers to look." (Gene Amole, 3/17) This right here is the probably the essential truth of reality, but it's the one humans will always have a problem with, being obsessed with the idea of observation for the sake of observation as we are.
  • "Zen pretty much comes down to three things - everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention." (Jane Hirshfield, 3/23)
  • "When you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything." (Thich Nhat Hanh, 3/24) If you look at the three quotes I've made comments to, including this one, so far, you may understand why life is so complicated.
  • "If you notice anything, it leads you to notice more and more." (Mary Oliver, 3/26) Sometimes the pleasure was discovering new insights from names I really only knew as names.  Mary Oliver was one of them.  I knew that she was somewhat anonymously one of the "name" poets of the contemporary age, but I knew nothing at all about her poetry.  The story of poetry in the contemporary age.  Anyway, her quote pretty much sums up my thoughts on this string of thoughts I've added comments to.
  • "If in the deepest place within you, you want and desire Truth above all else, even though you go astray in a thousand different ways, you will find yourself somehow, again and again, being brought back to what is True. And if you do not want and desire Truth above all else, well, you already know what that leads to." (Adyashanti, 3/30) This is another personal core philosophy.  I believe the majority of people ignore the search for truth in favor of what is easy, and while some people labor again and again on truth, those people settle for easy again and again.
  • "A human being is part of the whole called by us 'Universe;' a part unlimited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to enhance all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." (Albert Einstein, 4/6) When you really think about it, Einstein seemed to be a philosopher first, and scientist only incidentally.
  • "Doubt everything.  Find your own light." (The Buddha, 4/8)
  • "I try more and more to be myself, caring relatively little whether people approve or disapprove." (Vincent van Gogh, 4/9)
  • "In oneself lies the whole world, and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand,  Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself." (Jiddu Krishnamurti, 4/10)
  • "One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." (Jack Kerouac, 4/20)
  • "We have advantages.  We have a cushion to fall back on.  This is abundance.  A luxury of place and time.  Something rare and wonderful.  It's almost historically unprecedented.  We must do extraordinary things.  We have to.  It would be absurd not to." (Dave Eggers, 4/28)
  • "[The average human being] looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking." (Leonardo da Vinci, 5/9)
  • "It hurts to love.  It's like giving yourself to be flayed and knowing that at any moment the other person may just walk off with your skin." (Susan Sontag, 5/23)
  • "How often do we tell our own life story?  How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?  And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life.  Told to others, but -mainly- to ourselves." (Julian Barnes, 5/31)
  • "Even though a man may be incapable of making himself worthy of the creator of the cosmos, yet he ought to try to make himself worthy of the cosmos.  He ought to transform himself from being a man into the nature of the cosmos and become, if one may say so, a little cosmos." (Philo, 6/2)
  • "Looking for serenity you have come to the monastery.  Looking for serenity I am leaving the monastery." (Soen Nakagawa, 6/4)
  • "He who controls his mind and has cut off desire and anger realizes the Self." (The Bhagavad Gita, 6/6) I'm not sure the self exists without what makes it the self, whatever that may be. 
  • "Don't despair if your heart has been through a lot of trauma.  Sometimes, that's how beautiful hearts are remade: they are shattered first." (Yasmin Mogahed, 6/9)
  • "Finding your passion isn't just about careers and money.  It's about finding your authentic self.  The one you've buried beneath other people's needs." (Kristin Hannah, 6/11)
  • "Sometimes it's not enough to know what things mean; sometimes you have to know what things don't mean." (Bob Dylan, 6/14)
  • "Let go, or be dragged." (Zen proverb, 6/26)
  • "Serenity is when you get above all this, when it doesn't matter what they think, say or want, but when you do as you are, and see God and the Devil as one." (Henry Miller, 6/27)
  • "Awake.  Be the witness of your thoughts.  You are what observes, not what you observe." (The Buddha, 6/29)
  • "True words always seem paradoxical, but no other form of teaching can take their place." (Lao-Tzu, 7/1)
  • "It's never the changes we want that change everything." (Junot Diaz, 7/6)
  • "It is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life." (Kate Chopin, 7/10)
  • "Someday, somewhere - anywhere, unfailingly, you'll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life." (Pablo Neruda, 7/13)
  • "Be like an alone peak high in the sky.  Why should you hanker to belong?  You are not a thing!  Things belong!" (Osho, 7/20)
  • "Simply allow your thoughts and experiences to come and go, without ever grasping at them." (Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, 8/5) It's amazing to me that we're asked to police our own thoughts, that if we're wrong one moment, we're wrong for all time. Sometimes being wrong is necessary, as a kind of release.
  • "They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it.  But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind." (Khaled Hosseini, 8/8)
  • "Only when we know little things do we know anything; doubt grows with knowledge." (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 8/10)
  • "Consider the sunlight.  You may say that it is near, yet if you pursue it from world to world you will never catch it.  You may say that it is far, yet it is right before your eyes.  Chase it and it always eludes you; run from it and it is always there.  From this example you can understand how it is with the true nature of all things." (Hyang-Po, 8/14)
  • "I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only.  I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary." (Margaret Atwood, 8/24)
  • "Sometimes kindness takes the form of stepping aside, letting go of our need to be right, and just being happy for someone." (Sharon Salzberg, 8/29)
  • "The Truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind-" (Emily Dickinson, 9/2)
  • "When Munindra Ji, a Vipassana meditation teacher, was asked why he practiced, his response was, 'So I will see the tiny purple flowers by the side of the road as I walk to town each day.'  With an undefended heart, we can fall in love with life over and over every day.  We become children of wonder, grateful to be walking on earth, grateful to belong with one another and to all of creation.  We find our true refuge in every moment, in every breath.  We are happy for no reason." (Tara Brach, 9/5) The greatest happiness, it seems to me, isn't in a particular moment or for a particular reason, but contentment with incidental observation.
  • "Spiritual truth is not something elaborate and esoteric, it is in fact profound common sense.  When you realize the nature of mind, layers of confusion peel away.  You don't actually 'become' a Buddha, you simply cease, slowly to be deluded.  And being a Buddha is not being some omnipotent spiritual superman, but becoming at last a true human being." (Sogyal Rinpoche, 9/12)
  • "Some things aren't visible until you're truly ready to see them." (RZA, 9/29)
  • "As soon as you see something, you already start to intellectualize it.  As soon as you intellectualize something, it is no longer what you saw." (Shunryu Suzuki, 10/6) Essentially, everything is a version of itself, not really the thing it is, by the mere act of observation.
  • "Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.  Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.  This is a kind of death." (Anais Nin, 10/12)
  • "It is precisely because impermanent, conditioned phenomena are unsatisfying that we are motivated to awaken.  Seeing these characteristics clearly becomes the cause of and condition for liberation." (Joseph Goldstein, 10/16)
  • "The unsaid, for me, exerts great power." (Louise Gluck, 10/17)
  • "Between the banks of pain and pleasure the river of life flows.  It is only when the mind refuses to flow with life, and gets stuck at the banks, that it becomes a problem.  By flowing with life I mean acceptance - letting come what comes and go what goes.  Desire not, fear not, observe the actual, for you are not what happens, you are to whom it happens.  Ultimately even the observer you are not.  You are the ultimate potentiality of which the all-embracing consciousness is the manifestation and expression." (Nisargadatta Maharaj, 10/23)
  • "I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion - and where it isn't, that's where my work lies." (Ram Dass, 10/24)
  • "Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.  Always work with it, not against it." (Eckhart Tolle, 10/28)
  • "On a journey, ill- and my dreams, on withered fields, are wandering still." (Basho, 11/2)
  • "Suddenly you're ripped into being alive.  And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but by God you're alive and it's spectacular." (Joseph Campbell, 11/17)
  • "I still haven't figured out how to separate the path of creativity from the spiritual path.  Sometimes I think they are one and the same." (11/30)
  • "We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand.  And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is.  You have nothing.  You possess nothing.  You own nothing.  You are free.  All you have is what you are, and what you give." (Ursula K. Le Guin, 12/4)
  • "Everything falls under the law of change, like a dream, a phantom, a bubble, a shadow, like dew or a flash of lightning; you should contemplate this." (The Diamond Sutra, 12/11)
  • "The whole path of mindfulness is this: Whatever you are doing, be aware of it." (Dipa Ma, 12/15)
  • "To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul.  To do this you need to experience solitude, which most people are afraid of, because in silence you hear the truth and know the solutions." (Deepak Chopra, 12/18) Except maybe the solutions part.  Nobody ever knows the solutions.  Life is guesswork.
  • "I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance.  People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction.  Yet true happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed." (The Dalai Lama, 12/19)
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