Sunday, April 30, 2006

Good Morning from Copenhagen

Ah, well, no more mystery: Here's where I am this weekend:

I was last in Copenhagen 13 years ago, September of 1993. I had only two days, and was in a bit of a fog the entire time between the jetlag and my having departing home on the heels of a rather traumatic life change. Nevertheless, it was a marvelous experience, thanks in large part to the kindness and generosity of everyone I met in this excellent city. I did my utmost to earn such kindness, including a rather claustrophobic presentation of my four-hour version of the Journeys Into Fear slide lecture on horror comics in the now-absorbed (or so I'm told) Copenhagen comics library of that time (apparently it is now incorporated into one of the city's larger libraries, no longer the autonomous entity it was in '93). I recall, due to the incapitability of my slide trays with those of the library, frantically moving the complete slide lecture (literally hundreds of slides) into new trays -- it all worked out, though, and as many people physically able to cram themselves semi-comfortably into the library seemed to enjoy the talk, and it seems from the comments I received during my signing time yesterday that I'd left a good impression from said labors.

It was the least I could do! My host that weekend was Teddy Kristiansen, who with his wife (then pregnant with their first child) Hope and their circle of friends saw to it I had as fine a time as possible. I don't believe I'd ever been treated so hospitably at any comics-related event, though I see now (with a second, extended trip to Copenhagen and in much happier times, traveling with Marge) that much of what I experienced was simply the warmth of the city and its people. If you ever have the opportunity, do yourself the favor and make the trip.

That warmth and hospitality has been flowing for some time now leading up to the trip itself, from the initial inquiry from Arni (who'll I'll write about later, when I've more time -- thanks for suggesting this as a possibility at all, Arni!) to the rapid response from organizers Jan and Kim; in fact, Kim Jensen immeasurably sweetened the experience this time by offering Marge and I the use of his entire apartment (the suggestion, he tells me, of his girlfriend Regina), which has afforded us an expansive "home base" which is particularly inviting come evening, when our feet are worn out and we're ready for sleep. I'm going to miss coming up this street I'm looking out on this morning from the computer keyboard Kim set up for us in his dining room. Before leaving VT, I made sure to have some original sketches in hand for all who made this trip possible, including cat drawings for Regina and Arni's girlfriend Mie, and Marge made sure we packed some maple syrup and maple candy for all, too. I also cut and prepared two sets of prints from the Year in Fear calender Mike Dobbs and I did (with Mark Martin's considerable hand ensuring amazing production and reproduction) to make sure all the volunteers behind this year's event also went home with something for their walls.

Jan, Kim, and everyone have pulled together quite an event this year, and I'm stunned to be part of it. Schuiten & Peeters, Warren Ellis, Leah Moore, John Rellion, Marv Wolfman, Jose Villarubia, Gilbert Shelton and many others are among the guests, and it's been great to steal whatever precious time has been available to talk to just a few of these amazing folks. Though it had over a decade since I was here, it was amazing how many familiar faces I recognized when Marge and I first walked into the cafeteria: I immediately recognized Henrik Andreasen, who seems to knows every cartoonist in the world. He was our entree into conversation, inviting us to join his table where we quickly met Egmont editor Thomas Schroner and others.

Among the many new faces this trip have been Paris-based writer Erik Svane, eagerly seeking artist to collaborate with and sharing some rather spectacular pages from an upcoming pair of graphic novels he's scribed (one on Leonardo Da Vinci and the other a western in the style of Jean Giraud and Charlier's immortal Lt. Blueberry, drawn by an artist Giraud himself had recommended to Erik). I finally got to meet Michael Thomsen, with whom I'd exchanged many words via virtual conversation on the internet via the late Kingdom board "The Swamp" and email; a couple of years ago, Michael had blessed me via snail-mail with my own copy of the Danish DVD release of the uncut 1962 Sidney Pink monster epic Reptilicus, so I did up the finest sketch possible in short order upon meeting him face-to-face at last!

I find myself thoroughly enjoying the company of Icelander cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson, who Arni introduced us to and whose hilarious collection Avoid Us deserves much wider release (check it out at his publisher's website,, having already spawned a very successful play, though Hugleikur's elegantly simple delineations of some of the darkest laughs on planet Earth would seem utterly resistent to such adaptation. Hugleikur joined Marge, Henrik and Marv and Noel Wolfman and I last night for a sojourn through the misty rain into downtown Copenhagen with a vague destination our goal, which it turned out we did find: Le Le's was the restaurant, Vietnamese was the cousine, and it was an amazing meal well worth the wet wander. Good food, good company, and we emerged to find the rain had ceased, making for a pleasant jaunt to our various destinations 'home.' (Upon my return home, I plan to send Hugleikur some of Guy Maddin's films, as both his heritage and dry and morbid sense of humor invites exposure to Manitoban Maddin's faux Icelandic cinematic fables.)

One of the highlights of yesterday was catching up with Teddy and Peter Snejberg, both of whom took the time to sit with Marge and I over a beer and chat about the ensuing 13 years. What a different time it was in 1993: comics in the US in a boom bubble, the Image phenomenon still maintained the luster of its initial bloom, and DC in an adventurous mood had recently engaged Teddy to do a Superman project, making him the first Danish cartoonist to "break in" to the American market. In my own bubble, I was reaping the royalties of the 1963 series and working on what was to be Tyrant, tentatively showing a few folks the initial pages and no doubt babbling about the impending leap into self-publishing. Now, of course, I'm in this new space, seven years after my retirement from the comics industry and now into the new Center for Cartoon Studies adventure, which I've chatted up all I can. While I've malingered, so to speak, Teddy and Peter have remained incredibly productive: Peter gifted me with his solo venture Marlene (from Slave Labor Graphics; pick it up if you haven't as yet, it's a terrific horror comic -- I read it this morning) and all four volumes of his collaboration with writer Peter J. Tomasi, Light Brigade (2004, DC Comics), while Teddy kindly gave me copies of two of his recent Vertigo/DC projects I'd missed, It's a Bird... (2004, written by Steven T. Seagle) and Teddy's entry in DC's now-sadly-defunct Solo series, featuring three of Teddy's delineations of his own scripts accompanied by a Deadman tale scribed by our mutual friend Neil Gaiman and a delicious little New Guinea-set missionary parable written by Steven Seagle. But enough on comics -- it's the people who are the treasure here, extraordinary as their work is. Teddy glows with a beatific calm, and it was happy news indeed to hear that he and Hope (who's still working in animation, I'm told) are still happily married and now have three children.

Marge and I have a full day tomorrow to enjoy exploring a bit more of Copenhagen, but I'm eager to get back to this morning and spend whatever precious time is left hobnobbing with everyone here I can. I've yet to sit down with Leah & John, whom I'm anxious to chat with; Leah was a bit under the weather yesterday, so hopefully today we can make time to talk, and I'm hitting the Accent UK publisher table this morn to pick up their work in Albion, etc. I'm also hoping to talk to Warren Ellis, if only to mend any fences possible, though he's of course in high demand -- ah, we'll see. He's got a panel today, so if nothing else I'll savor that.

I've yet to find copies of the book I'm most seeking, Gare du Nord by Rolf Classon, a history of Swedish and Scandanavian comics, which no one seems to know exists (I'm looking, Elizabeth & Jacob, I'm looking!). It's a bit of a mystery thus far, though at this point I'd welcome finding any illustrated history of Scandanavian comics that might be available -- I really hope to find something comprehensive to bring back to the library and to CCS, whether it's in English or not.

That's all the catch-up I've time for this morning; more later, if time and access to computer permit... have a great rest-of-the-weekend, one and all.

(To answer the emails, the yeti walking with a man in a cage I saw was indeed "real" -- when Marge and I were bopping on one of downtown Copenhagen's dedicated shopping streets (foot traffic only, no cars), and I stood outside George Jensen Jewelry while Marge was inside, a street performer stalked by dressed in a massive costume that covered his head and arm in a cage with fake folded legs beneath his abdomen, while his legs were 'walking' for the Yeti portion of the costume (which extended up and behind the 'cage' part, completing the Yeti body and head, with the fake arms completing the illusion of the Yeti holding the cage with a man inside). Can you picture it? It was pretty amazing, and quite funny -- though he just continued on his silent march up the brick-studded street without so much as a grin betraying his composure.)

- Bonus silly online comic link, compliments of Matt Young and the CCS discussion board:
Alien Loves Predator: "In New York, No One Can Hear You Scream:"

Friday, April 28, 2006

Remarkable sights on a Friday afternoon:

Seen on a busy city street, full of folks: a Yeti walking carrying a caged man. This was the most pleasingly amusing spectacle on what turned out to be a lovely spring day...

I also hit my first flea market of the year, and lo and behold, found some cool 1950s/60s film paper treasures for cheap. Snagged 'em, and a good omen for the flea market season ahead.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The whirlwind begins!

Just a short 'see ya soon' note as I jump into the tornado of the next couple of weeks. I'll post here as time permits, and hope you'll all be back (if you drift off) for the daily postings when they resume on May 6th.

Last night's get-together with Maia was terrific fun, it was great to spend some time together -- and a perfect 'send off' for the week or so to come. I'll be caught up in the CCS end-of-Year-One duties and such, and also off on a jaunt I'll tell you about after it's thoroughly jauntified.

It's been a busy week in other ways, too; there's a lot going on I haven't mentioned here. I'm working with the folks at Heretic and my friends Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos on the cover art for the long-awaited DVD rerelease of Lance & Stefan's seminal digital feature, The Last Broadcast, a film I've written about here before. It's The Jazz Singer of the digital feature film era, and also among my personal fave independent horror films of all time, so having a shot at doing the cover art (my first since my outing for Barrel Entertainment's release of Last House on Dead End Street) is a real treat. We're also discussing some other special features for the DVD, but I'll just leave it at the cover for now and let you know once things are underway.

So, I'm outta here for a bit. Check in when you can; I'll be posting when I can.

In the meantime, especially if you're in the White River Jct. area, be sure to check out (and partake of)
  • the WRIF Site.
  • I posted at length on the festival on my Saturday, April 22, 2006 post (below) -- check it out. There's some excellent films in the running, and I most highly recommend The Power of Nightmares -- should be required viewing for all US citizens! -- and my personal beloved in the lineup (the film I dragged into the fray), Coke Sams's masterpiece Existo. Not to be missed!

    In closing:

    * Heath, best to read Sandman from the beginning, as it is one huge novel -- but if all you've got is Vol. 3 in hand, go to it. Why wait?

    * Mark Martin sends the following link,
  • which has "has some pretty interesting takes on the fuel
    prices situation."
  • Agreed; thanks, Mark!

    * BTW, Mark, thanks for
  • razzing me for not attending your Runaway Comics Northampton Hoedown.
  • Now, I tole you and I tole you I wouldn't be there -- we were in NYC, visiting my ol' pal Sweeney. Did the other folks who couldn't make it go and send you a heap of promo ideas to make up for missing your hoedown? No, they didn't -- but I did! Besides,
  • Tom was there, so you sure didn't need me kicking around, didja?
  • (Howdy, Tom!) She-it, missing all Jeannie's great food is punishment enough, though I'll forever regret not being immortalized in a blurry photo by your side. Just call me "Blank Page Bissette" and I'll hang my head in shame.

    Ah, heck, check out
  • Mark's whole updated site
  • for some lifts and laughs!

    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    The Erratic Postings Begin -- My Final CCS Teach Day, Year One!

    Like I said, I'll be posting at odds times over the next couple of weeks -- basically, as time permits, when computers are available.

    Yesterday was my final day of teaching class for the Year One session at The Center for Cartoon Studies, a landmark day of sorts, though it was in so many ways a typical, unexceptional class -- but I felt it's import all last week, all weekend, all day Monday (during my prep for class), and swam through yesterday in a strange fusion of elation, melancholy, and wonderment. I'd promised a 'crash course' on drawing hands, and that's what I delivered, with a construct of tightly-timed 'life drawing' sessions balanced between the last quintet of student presentations (this semester, for my class each student was required to present a ten-minute illustrated lecture on an artist or art movement of their choice), three or four quick breaks, and an opening talk by and exchange with New Hampshire cartoonist/teacher I. Marek Bennett. I believe Marek may become a critical part of CCS over time, though time will tell. I also completed all the one-on-one sessions with the students last evening, including a quick followup with one I owed a bit more time to -- and I presented a program of Tuesday Night CCS Flicks (animated shorts, the most lameass sound comedy short I've ever seen in my life -- which actually drove four of the usually-dedicated students out of the screening! -- and a short double bill of Homecoming and The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb).

    So, a full drawing class, all in all, and a fitting windup for what has been a heady first year at CCS -- for me, at least. You'll have to ask the students what they think!

    Off to celebrate my daughter Maia's birthday tonight. Looking forward to it, it should be big fun!

    OK, so Pop duties call --

    More later --

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    More Awful Places, Oilmen in High Places Kissing Ass, and More Bits and Pieces

    Riffing off yesterday's post on Silent Hill and "awful places" cinema, allow me to direct the more cinematically adventurous of you to one of this coming weekend's WRIF (see Saturday post, below) presentation of Jem Cohen's first feature Chain (2004).

    Now, this film will put most viewers -- addicted as most of us are to linear theatrical narrative confections -- right off. But to me, it's the latest example of an odd subgenre of science fiction I've been fascinated with which might be the next stage of evolution from cyberpunk: that is, sf which is not sf, set in our very real 21st Century, defined by a way of seeing our strange new world (nothing brave about it). It is also, in its deliberately narcotic manner, an adjunct to "the awful place" cinema, though these "awful places" are awful because of their suffocating banality, sterility, and utterly isolating benign malignance. Their toxicity isn't aggressive or active, and that is the most insidious aspect of their existence.

    Chain profers the contemporary international corporate landscape -- the malls, office buildings, food courts, apartment complexes, etc. -- as one interminable, inescapable locale, which in its meditative manner compliments the more overtly hellish no-exit limbos of Silent Hill. Sans any melodramatic content whatsoever, Chain likewise follows two women lost in an undefinable, mercurial gerbil's maze (thanks to Jeff Nicholson for codifying that metaphor via his graphic novel Through the Habitrails, another seminal work in this odd genre). But unlike the nightmarescapes of Christopher Gans's film, Jem Cohen's cinematic nightmarescape is one we all move through daily, in some manner. Its familiarity is what will make the film tedious to many -- "what is going on? Why are we following these two women? When is something going to happen?" -- as the film requires us to steep ourselves, like teabags, in its uncanny rhythms and drift with these two unmoored souls through a world in which they at first seem at polar opposition, only to arrive at "somewhere" (not a place, but a state of being) quite similar.

    It's another limbo movie, but the limbo, the 'in-between' of this odd new strain of sf, not the horror movie 'in-between' I was discussing yesterday.

    If you allow yourself to slip into it, Chain becomes a strangely moving meditation on two women -- a homeless young runaway (Mira Billotte) and an upscale Japanese company woman (Miho Nikaido) -- cast adrift in what Cohen calls the “superlandscape”: the eerie ‘twilight zone’ of urban malls, corporate offices, fast food venues, theme parks and hotels. Narrative convention prompts us to expect the two women’s paths to cross, but Cohen is interested in something more realistic, eschewing any conventions of melodrama: these women are linked only by their ‘discarded’ status. By its very nature (whether whole, under construction, or in decay), the interminable homogenous landscape confounds any and all human interaction, but it does so by in almost indefinable ways, as the world indeed grinds down some of us.

    Finding an abandoned video camera, homeless teen Mira Billotte records a digital diary letter, her eyes glowing pinpoints in the darkness of her temporary basement shelter (looking like a zombie or demon-possessed waif, as in the more overtly apocalyptic horror films of late); it is a video diary we are privvy to, but one she never completes or sends to anyone, a record for no one of her utter inertia. In apparently comfortable affluence, Miho Nikaido seems to be a well-heeled employee of an unnamed Japanese corporation, and as such quite the opposite in circumstances from Mira, but as the films unreels, we see she is utterly cut off from any genuine contact with her corporate employers, emailing her reports (on proposed theme park redevelopments of abandoned complexes) sans any response. The company woman aimlessly shops by day and listens to the sounds (voices, a television, late-night sex) from adjoining hotel rooms by night. At one point, she reflects that her job seems “like a dream,” an idle assessment that proves prescient as she slides (again without melodrama), effortlessly, from illusory affluence to unemployment, sans notice, contact, or confrontation (only an apparently innocent phone call from the front desk, asking if she's extending her stay and how she'll pay for it, tips us off, apparently before her new reality sinks in for her).

    Now, this measured approach to narrative, however slight its inflections, is worth experiencing; this is, after all, closer to how most of us live our lives, experience our existence, tread water through our days. Dedicated in part to filmmaker and photographer Chris Marker -- who is still best known in the US for his seminal experimental sf short film La Jetee (1964), a key work in this sf subgenre (and eventual wellspring for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys) -- Cohen’s meditative tapestry of multiple international locales meld into a strangely seamless whole is very much of Marker's universe. Until the final credits, I had no idea the film had taken us literally around the world: Cohen proves her theorem by never revealing the points at which the "superscape" breaks, but rather by making those geographic points of separation invisible. In this, Cohen's conceit recalls not only Marker’s distinctive cinema, but extrapolates elements of Michelangelo Antonioni (specifically the final minutes of L’Eclisse/The Eclipse), Jean-Luc Godard (particularly Godard's unadorned 1960s Paris as the future dystopia of Alphaville), and others. For me, Cohen is expanding upon the fiction of J.G. Ballard, the way in which David Cronenberg has always used urban landscapes -- the sterile Canadian architectures of Stereo, Shivers/They Came From Within, The Brood, The Fly, etc., and most of all that perfect conjunction of the two sensibilities, Cronenberg's adaptation of Ballard's Crash (after all, isn't Cronenberg's Shivers a revamp of Ballard's High Rise?). The closest mainstream studio films have come thus far to Chain is Todd Haynes's brittle environmental 'soap opera' Safe, in which sunny suburban California proves to be a completely toxic environment for adrift Julianne Moore.

    But Cohen’s film is unlike any other, and as such worth seeing. It indeed “transforms a mundane world into something strange and new... [with] formidable power [and a] fierce political intelligence,” (so said The Village Voice), and is “an uncategorizable hybrid of social critique, poetic essay and haunted travelogue” (London Daily Telegraph). Ah, but you see, it is categorizable: it's just that we don't have comfortable labels for the various modes of "awful place" cinema, and it's likely most will think me loopy for thus linking a major studio video-game based horror opus like Silent Hill with as dry, unconventional, non-aggressive and hypnotic a tonic as Chain.

    But in their way, they are alike, and both lingered in my dreams.

    They are tone poems of limbo, companions of our collective cinedreams, however far apart their dramaturgy is and their respective cartography of limbo may seem.

    [If you're in the White River Jct. area, take a chance on Chain this weekend; all the info -- time of the showing, ticket price, etc. -- awaits you at
  • the WRIF Website.

  • ___

    HomeyM sent me the following, which was timely given the news I've been listening to of late and was aching to paraphrase here (now I don't have to -- thanks, M!). This from the AOL news service, via AP (we think):

    U.S. Should Consider Taxing Oil Firms, Senator Says

    WASHINGTON (April 23) - The government should consider a tax on oil companies if they make excessive profits amid rising gasoline prices, a leading Republican senator said Sunday.

    Last week, crude-oil prices hit record highs and average gasoline prices nationwide neared $3 a gallon. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a windfall profits tax, along with measures to stem concentration of market power among a few select oil companies, could offer eventual relief to consumers hurting at the gas pump.

    "I believe that we have allowed too many companies to get together to reduce competition," Specter said. "They get together, reduce the supply of oil, and that drives up prices," he said. "In the short run, it's hard to deal with it for tomorrow. But I think windfall profits, eliminating the antitrust exemption, considering the excessive concentration of power are all items we ought to be addressing."

    Specter is backing legislation that would strengthen antitrust laws on oil company mergers after his committee held a hearing last month examining the growing consolidation of the oil industry. The nation's largest oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., have denied their industry size has affected prices. Last week, crude-oil prices hit record highs and average gasoline prices nationwide neared $3 a gallon.

    Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he believes gas prices "would come down within a matter of days" if President Bush told oil companies that he was going to support a windfall profits tax.
    "But the president will not call the oil companies into his office because he's been too closely allied with those oil companies, and if he does it's going to be a window-dressing conversation,"
    [italics mine] said Levin, who appeared with Specter on CNN's Late Edition."
    04/23/06 13:41 EDT

    This came later in the day from USA Today:

    Updated: 10:49 AM EDT
    Senators Raise Idea of Taxing 'Obscene' Oil Profits

    By David Jackson, USA TODAY

    WASHINGTON (April 24) -- Congress should consider a tax on excessive oil company profits, two senators said Sunday, as gasoline prices in some cities have risen above $3 a gallon. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said on CNN's Late Edition that President Bush should call for a windfall profits tax on the oil companies' "extreme, obscene profits."

    Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., appearing on the same program, said a windfall profits tax is "something worth considering," as well as legislation targeting consolidation of oil companies. Nationally, the average price for a gallon of regular gas is $2.90, a 15.5% hike over the past month, according to the AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. A month ago, the auto club said, the average price was $2.51. Gasoline prices have become the latest problem for the president, who warned Americans on Saturday of "a tough summer" of expensive gasoline.
    Democrats made high gas prices the subject of their weekend radio address, as well as appearances on Sunday talk shows.

    "If $75 a barrel of oil and a $3 average for a gallon of gasoline isn't a wake-up call, then what will be?" said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

    Republican congressional leaders, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., plan to send Bush a letter Monday calling for a price-fixing investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, according to Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean.

    Schumer wrote the FTC last week seeking a similar inquiry.
    Bush warned of even higher prices as vacation time approaches.
    Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of a Washington-based political report, said there's little that politicians can do about gas prices. He called it a "symbolic issue," allowing politicians to side with the "little guy" (motorists) against the "big guy" (oil companies)."
    04/24/06 07:17 EDT

    Now, what's interesting here is the one candid comment that touches on the political reality -- Sen. Carl Levin's comment that Bush won't act "because he's been too closely allied with those oil companies, and if he does it's going to be a window-dressing conversation" (indeed!) -- vanished within a short period of time. Note no mention of the oil corp. CEO who made news this past week 'voting' himself a record-busting retirement package; it's obscene, and we all know it is.

    This is indeed a political dance we're seeing, all for nothing, that will come to nothing, because the corporate control of our government is so completely entrenched.

    Well, off to my weekly drive north, to White River Junction.

    Per usual, the gas prices will go up between the time I drive to The Center for Cartoon Studies this AM and come home tonight.

    If you're interested in what I'm up to locally, check out
  • The Marlboro High-Speed Internet Access Committee Site.
  • Wish us luck. We'll need it. A lot of work ahead...

    Local casting call for a short film:

    "WDP Films is looking for Actors for an upcoming short film to be shot
    in Brattleboro. Lots of Extras needed, Some speaking parts still available. Looking for All ages.

    Auditions will be held at Nimble Arts Studio in Cotton Mill Building
    Brattleboro, VT, 5pm - 7 pm, Friday April 28th; Please bring head shot and resume if you have one. Film shoots late May

    To schedule an audition time contact Bill 802-257-2223, or via"

    Just a heads up, primarily for those in the Brattleboro driving area!

    OK, off to breakfast with my son Dan, just home from a two-week jaunt to California. Should be a fun breakfast...

    Monday, April 24, 2006

    Heads Up: Vagrant Post Weeks Ahead

    BTW, due to the coming workload and a bit of travel, I won't be posting daily for the next couple of weeks, after this Thursday's post. This doesn't mean I'm leaving the blog or inattentive, just dealing with limited computer access and precious little time, in which other duties take precedent.

    I'll be back on the daily regimen as of May 6th. Thanks!

    A Word Challenge I Had Fun With before 8 AM, a Quiz for You to Take, Awful Places I Love, and More...

    I just cobbled together the following, using a list of "8 words you probably don't know" emailed from HomeyM -- the word list is at the end of this morning's post:

    "Though living and practicing his craft in the late 1700s, by all accounts Andre LaTouche was apparently a forensic pathologist avant la lettre; lit only by a contraption comprised of candles with bobeches, affected not at all by the rebarbative, LaTouche breached resting coffins at many a lich gate, completing his labors before the funeral procession even knew he'd been there, and entered countless mausoleums in his time. He decoded arcane and boustrophedon runes on coffin lids; demonstrated himself proficient as a vexillologist, including the most unusual familial coats-of-arms imaginable; and it is reported that he once lifted a dactylogram from the glabrous pate of the recently-deceased. He may have done much, much more, but there were not the words in his lifetime for all he had pioneered."

    Hmmm, maybe a story in this... maybe not. Come to think of it, it's a bit too much like the character Johnny Depp played in Sleepy Hollow; anyhoot, a fun Monday morn exercise.

    A far more engaging Monday morning game is this bit of fun, compliments of an email from my amigo Jean-Marc Lofficier; he and I both scored in the 80s (Jean-Marc a bit higher than I at his 85% score).

    How did you do? Check it out
  • the LGF quiz!

  • ________

    Before I get back to the WRIF films and Existo (a long time waiting on that, eh? Wanted to time it a bit closer to the WRIF showing), just a quick note to say I caught Silent Hill at a weekend matinee and loved it -- in fact, it's the first horror flick in some time to have impacted directly on my sleep, and that's saying something for this grizzled horror vet.

    It's not that the film per se 'scared' me (few do, ever), but that the imagery and atmosphere really stuck with me. Though drawn from a video game (reportedly one of the best horror games, though I've never played it and have no interest in doing so -- I'm not a video game kinda guy), the nerves Silent Hill plucked in my skull were resonant ones: specifics from some of my favorite Italian horror films (a bit of Bava, a little Soavi, a lot of Fulci), some echoes (in a way, a culmination of) of the better Clive Barker films (specifically Hellraiser), and the overall ambience of the films I loved most from the '60s and '70s. No, the film touched something deep for me, and though it may not for you or anyone else, my experience of it is all I can address.

    Roger Avary's script is a construct that places us in "awful place" after "awful place," giving the characters (and the viewer) just enough time to taste, touch, and see the "awful place" just long enough to get a little of your head around it, then -- voomp -- on to the next "awful place," after just a piece of the narrative jigsaw puzzle is given in the lull. This clearly drove much of the (surprisingly middle-aged) matinee audience nuts, but I love this approach to cinema. I go to horror movies to visit such "awful places," as many as I can, and whether the "awful place" is Moreau's isle or Henry's apartment (Eraserhead) or a certain corner of Texas where a man wearing a mask made of human skin dwells, it's the exploration of those "awful places" that pulls me back time and time again.

    Some of my favorite "awful place" films make no linear narrative 'sense' -- Carnival of Souls, The Beyond, Tourist Trap, Eraserhead, Begotten, etc. -- though they maintain their own perverse internal dream/nightmare logic, and that is part and parcel of any truly "awful place." As I've noted here, even as pallid an "awful place" film as the recent House of Wax work for me as long as the "awful place" resonates (and that one did, especially in its last fifteen minutes).

    And make no mistake: Silent Hill is a pip of an "awful place" movie.

    It didn't hurt, either, that Silent Hill organically meshes elements of Italian horror (Operazione Paura/Kill Baby Kill), Japanese ghost films and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (first and foremost, from all, the iconographic 'spectral child' driving the movie) and The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone (from OL's "A Feasibility Study" and a number of beloved TZ gems) without losing its own distinctive flavor and identity in the blender. Much as I liked Avary's confection (the best video-game derived feature yet, though that might be considered damning with faint praise), though, it's director Christopher Gans who pulls it all together with ample style and intensity. I looooooooooooooved Gans's marvelous Brotherhood of the Wolf, and he has helmed another potentially ungainly cross-genre effort with the same rigorous attention to character and setpieces, utter conviction, and at times visionary zeal that made Brotherhood so delicious an experience on the big screen.

    But I think it was the core premise of Silent Hill -- the suffocating sense of a placeless place, the cartography of 'limbo' -- that stuck with me with such lasting malignance.

    A brief explanation and back story: Being raised Catholic as I was, cathechism was a staple of every week, usually taught by nuns who made the trip to Waterbury, VT for our weekly instructions. The very point at which I began questioning the faith in which I was being raised was during one of the most memorable of all Catechism classes, around the age of 7 or 8, when our absent classmate C---- (I'll not give his name) returned surrounded by the news his mother had "lost" her baby, the baby C---- had spoken of with such anticipation. C---- asked our nun instructor -- whose name I simply don't recall, only her face -- what happened to his little brother who hadn't made it into this world. We'd already been taught about "Original Sin," the necessity for baptism, and C---- was deeply concerned about the soul of his little unborn (never-to-be-born) brother.

    So the sister told us about Limbo.

    I recall most vividly the look on C----'s face: the color slowly draining, the quiet tear that ran down one cheek, the look of slow trauma settling like a caul over him.

    I recall C---- thereafter unable to speak to any of us, sitting by himself thereafter for days, and absent from Catechism for some time after that.



    I couldn't imagine, at a tender age, a more horrible 'place' -- a 'non-place' that sounded worse than any imaginable hell, all the more chilling for being 'un-earned' and 'un-deserved.' It forever changed my view of the world, of the religion I was being raised within. The rational question that emerged, unbidden, in my 7 or 8-year-old mind -- "How does she know that?" -- turned, in the time it took me to recognize the irrevocable damage registering on C----'s face, to "How could she know that?" to "How can anyone know that?" By the end of the class, I couldn't reconcile the sadism of what we'd all just experienced sitting at our desks, the cruelty of it, with all I'd been led to believe about our teacher, all nuns, all priests, Catholicism, all religion.

    That's what Silent Hill tapped for me.

    Silent Hill lifts its most hellish imagery from the video game, including some staggering demonic presences (accompanied by those damned human-faced stinging insects) that are as imaginative as any ever put on film. In this way, for all its touchstones (via imagery and action) with the video game and the films and filmmakers I've already named, among so many others (most creative use of barbed wire since Prison and the UK WW1 gem Deathwatch; most vivid burning witch imagery since The Witchfinder General and The Devils, though there's echoes of Pyro, Mad Max, The Medusa Touch, Patrick, etc.; and the most wrenching narrative turn regarding characters since, well, Gans's Brotherhood of the Wolf), Silent Hill didn't just evoke, it inhabited the clammy Lucio Fulci universe of The Beyond and House by the Cemetary.

    It's a threnody to those spirits in limbo; it places us 'in-between,' and teases us with the exits and stairwells out.

    That's what haunted me all the night after I saw Silent Hill: the sense of being 'unstuck' and 'in-between' -- limbo.

    Though images from the film indeed informed my fleeting dreams (I can't call them nightmares, honestly, as I enjoyed them too much; I love these cinematic residuals when they come), it was more the way having seen the film made deep sleep impossible. I was, for hours, in my own bed limbo -- in between fitful bouts of sleep; in between elusive dreams, all informed by the film; in between waking and sleeping, laying with eyes open and dreaming with eyes shut -- and that was all thanks to Silent Hill.

    From me, that's a recommendation.


    [As promised, the contents of HomeyM's "8 words you probably don't know":]

    avant la lettre  before the (specified) concept, word, person, etc. existed [a mid-Victorian matron who was a feminist avant la lettre]

    bobeche  n. a disk of glass, metal, etc. with a center hole placed around the top of a candlestick to catch the candle drippings

    boustrophedon adj. designating or of an ancient form of writing in which the lines run alternately from right to left and left to right

    vexillology  n. the study of flags --vexillologist n.

    dactylogram n. a fingerprint

    glabrous adj. Biol. without hair, down, or fuzz; bald

    lich gate [Brit.] a roofed gate at the entrance to a churchyard, where a coffin can be set down to await the arrival of the clergyman

    rebarbative adj. repellent, forbidding, grim, etc.

    Saturday, April 22, 2006

    Coming up NEXT WEEKEND in White River Junction --

    Alas, I won't be there personally, but I had a hand in the selection of films (and website and promotional text) for this year's WRIF film festival in White River Jct., VT, home of The Center for Cartoon Studies, among other wonders.

    Yep, in the very town where D.W. Griffith, Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess and the rest of the Way Down East cast and crew gathered in March of 1920 (86 years and one month ago!), on the banks of the very river where Lillian lay on a cake of ice for hours on end for the benefits of the camera, a remarkable array of 21st Century films will unreel for the delight and edification of one and all who brave the elements to partake.

    Here's the rundown, courtesy of fellow organizer, dear friend and vet filmmaker (Delivered Vacant, My Mother's Early Lovers, Nothing Like Dreaming, etc.) Nora Jacobson:

    Dear Friends,

    On behalf of the board and program committee of White River Indie Film, I'd like to invite you to our 3rd White River Indie Film Series on April 28th-30th.

    Art, politics, war, ecology, animation, theology, street dancing, sex, drugs and rock & roll are just a few of the themes of our films, kicking off Friday, April 28 at the Hotel Coolidge and Saturday and Sunday at the Tiptop Cafe in White River Junction, Vermont.

    We've expanded our program to include 26 films including two spectacular animations that recently won the Academy Award for best short animation. We're having more panel discussions and even doing a late night movie--the underground cult classic, Existo!

    Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students. They are available at the door, online at
  • the WRIF site,
  • at the Hotel Coolidge in White River and at International DVD, 45 South Main Street in Hanover, NH. You can also buy a full festival pass for $50. Space is limited so buy your tickets now!

    A benefit reception, cash bar and screening featuring novelist and
    actor, John Griesemer, is set for 6:00 p.m. Friday at the Hotel Coolidge. Tickets for the reception and Guy X, a film based on Griesemer's novel No One Thinks of Greenland, are $25. This will be a U.S. Premiere and the director Saul Metzstein will be coming from Scotland to attend the event.

    Three Vermont filmmakers, Anne Macksoud, Jay Craven and Michael Fisher are scheduled to attend screenings of their films and speak afterwards. Macksoud, a Woodstock resident, is presenting her documentary, Birdsong and Coffee: A Wake-up Call, which explores the link between coffee-growing and the destruction of wild bird habitat. As a special tribute to the late William Sloan Coffin, Macksoud will also show her 29 minute film about Coffin, A Lover's Quarrel with America. Michael Fisher, from Burlington, will present his short film Stick Season before Existo. Jay Craven will show his film After the Fog, shot at the Veteran's Administration hospital in White River Junction, featuring interviews with 10 U.S. combat veterans, most of them Vermonters.

    The festival will present all three parts of The Power of Nightmares, produced by the BBC. The series explores how neo-conservatives and terrorists have created a climate of fear around the world. Boston Globe movie critic Ty Burr, writer/publisher Thomas Powers, Allan Stam and Bill Arkin will discuss the film on Saturday during one of the many panels scheduled during the series.

    Attendees will feel like they've visited many countries without leaving Vermont. Canadian filmmaker Nadja Drost's Between Midnight and the Rooster's Crow follows the construction of the Ecuadorian oil pipeline, documenting unsafe construction, toxic waste and the health dangers of the controversial pipeline. An animated short film by Rob Castillo, The Cuba Trip, will complete that program.

    Simone Bitton's Wall, winner of a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, is a haunting portrait of the wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians.

    Rosita chronicles the story of a nine-year-old Nicaraguan girl who is raped. Her parents, illiterate farmers working in Costa Rica, seek a legal, therapeutic abortion for Rosita to save her life. Their quest pits them against the governments of two Central American countries in this hour-long documentary by award-winning filmmakers, Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater.

    Unbreakable Minds, by Irene Angelico, tells the story of three schizophrenic men from suburban Chicago. The Montreal filmmaker spent three years following their subjects, recording every victory and defeat. The film explores how the men and their families deal with serious mental illness. Angelico will attend the screening.

    David La Chappelle's film Rize reveals a dance phenomenon that is sweeping South Central Los Angeles. The film is about krumping, a form of street dancing used as alternative to gang fighting. Dancing and singing are outlawed by ultra-conservatives in Existo, an underground cult film directed by Coke Sams and featuring Jim Varney. When the country is taken over by fundamentalist Christians, washed up singer Existo rallies a pack of outlawed artists to rebel against the government. The film, a wacky musical made in Nashville with a colorful cast, is reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It screens at 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 29.

    On Sunday's program is Occupation: Dreamland, a documentary about a squad of American soldiers deployed to the Iraqi city of Falluja during the winter of 2004. It screens on Sunday at 10 a.m. before Jay Craven's After the Fog, another film about warfare and soldiers.

    Sunday's lineup also includes Thomas Berry: The Great Story, a documentary film produced by Nancy Stetson and Penny Morrell, about eco-theologian Thomas Berry. Berry is a monk, cultural historian, author, teacher and mystic.

    Who Gets to Call it Art? offers an inside view of the New York art scene in the 1960s, seen through the eyes of Henry Geldzahler, the first curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Peter Rosen's film is an imaginative mixture of interviews with modern artists, rare footage and audio recordings.

    Chain, directed by Brooklyn filmmaker Jem Cohen, tells the story of two women stranded in a suburban strip mall. It was shot in seven countries and 11 states over seven years.

    In a program devoted to the work of young filmmakers, screenwriter Bill Phillips will moderate a panel with 5 young filmmakers who will show excerpts and talk about their work.

    The festival concludes Sunday, April 30 with a showing of Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, directed by Margaret Brown. It features interviews with Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson and EmmyLou Harris. Several shorts, including the Oscar-winning The Moon and the Son and Ryan, will be shown throughout the festival.

    To see the schedule and buy tickets, and for information about the films and panel discussions, please go to
  • the WRIF site.
  • We look forward to seeing you in White River Junction on April 28th, 29th and 30th!

    For more information, call 802-739-5550.

    Best wishes,

    Nora Jacobson
    Co-exec. director and the board of White River Indie Film

    Like Nora said, for the particulars on every nook, hook, flick, cranny and conversation of this amazing festival, click on over to
  • the WRIF site.

  • I'll post somemore of my own insights and comments here over this weekend -- there's really some phenomenal films showing! -- in hopes it prompts some of you to make the trip and savor the cinematic goodies. While in town, be sure to dine at The Tip Top Cafe, too, one of my fave eateries in a town with a number of great restaurants.

    And if you're indeed coming, you might consider also arranging a visit to the CCS while you're in the area. I'll post that info this weekend, too -- though again, alas, I won't be in the area for the event.

    Still, my fingerprints are there -- just ask Nora -- hence my dedicating this week's blog to the WRIF and some of its outstanding films.

    More later!

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    Owl Calls, Woodpeckers and Green Shoots

    Enough of that shit (see -- or don't see -- yesterday's link-laden post) -- life here is actually a lot less crazy-making than that. Lest you think, as some concerned folks do, I am utterly consumed by
  • what drives many bloggers these days
  • (on both sides of the political fence, though note the article's slant: isn't this what blowhards like Rush Limbaugh have erected entire careers on? Oh, I see, it's OK when it's a political dynasty build on interminable anti-Clinton screeds in the pre-blogosphere mediascape), understand that what you read here reflects what's on my mind a little piece of each day, not the be-all and end-all.

    Nor are my days spent brooding over the past, though other concerned amigos fear that's the case, given that my precious few posts online emerge only when there's something relevent to the past popping up, usually picking at old scar tissue. Those are passing moments. It's curious to note it's always folks 'outside' who bring matters to my attention: like, when another nearby comrade-in-arms writes to note that "the latest incarnation of Swamp Thing is coming to an end..."; more curious to note, it's ending with issue #29, the very number in which our run hit the highway (with the sudden loss of the Comics Code Authority seal of approval, inadvertantly midwifing what became the entire Vertigo line). My friend included the pre-order ballyhoo with his email -- "Abby, Tefé and Swamp Thing are finally reunited, but with an escaped King Toad, a wild Woodrue and the town of Houma in flames, the series conclusion may prove more traumatic than tender for the Holland family. On sale July 26 * 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US * MATURE READERS * Final issue" -- concluding, "I never read it. But the recent covers by Eric Powell were real pretty." I've only read a handful of issues of the new series -- more than I read of the last -- and given the cancellation, I reckon most others still fishing in those waters were giving it a pass, too. Since I've never, ever been on DC's comp list, and there aren't any comic shops in driving distance, I've read precious little of the Vertigo line, the only title to really catch my fancy (and dollars) being Preacher. Hell, John Totleben and I caught up on the phone this weekend, and this didn't even come up in conversation; it's not part of our lives any longer, you see, two decades after it was the core of our lives. Thankfully, our lives are now the core of our lives, as it should be.

    Curiouser still, this Swamp Thing finale wrapping things up with "a wild Woodrue and the town of Houma in flames" brings it back to where Alan, John, Rick and I started (Saga of the Swamp Thing #21-24). Weird. Too bad; the big green guy deserves better, if only for being the 'virgin spring' of the entire imprint.

    Passing moments all in my day, not the be-all and end-all; this blog is in and of itself a chronology of those passing moments, not the meat of a given day.

    Hell, if that were the case, this would be
  • cannibal central,
  • since most of my writing hours from now through the end of summer are being spent deep in revisions of We Are Going to Eat You for FAB Press. This has meant not only revising the existing text on cannibal, goona-goona and mondo movies, but brushing up on real-life cannibals, with an eye toward wrapping up the book with
  • the weirdest 21st Century cannibal of 'em all,
  • which neatly ties back into cannibal movies (with
  • the February ban on the film made about his notorious 'consenting adult' feast/crime).
  • Amidst this mayhem, I've also been chopping away at Green Mountain Cinema -- again, nothing reflected in my blog, no Vermont film posts here, that all goes into the book projects -- and cobbling together a couple of short stories that have been in the works for some time. All the while, I'm also wrapping up the third of five scripts for a friend of mine -- and trying to wrap up a rather stubborn sample chapter for a possible novel.

    I've been drawing a bit of late, too, thanks to the previously-noted CCS influence and my son Dan inadvertantly priming-the-pump when he asked for a four-page comic story for his zine ($5 postpaid for a signed edition to Daniel Bissette, 118 High St., Apt. #1, Brattleboro, VT 05301), which is spawning a silly little series of similar opuses. This week has also been a bit of a harvest season, as projects and notions that have been perculating are turning into real gigs and something you'll see down the road in one form or another (I'll post about those when they're indeed something you can hold in your hand). (Yes, I'd love to post that art, too, but damn it, no high-speed access! Which leads me to the town committee I'm serving on to try and resolve that issue... but you don't want to hear about that, do you?)

    But the day-to-day is another matter altogether.

    Spring is full blown here in southern VT at last, though true to the bizarre weather patterns of the past three or four years, it's already an odd one. Some locals were sugaring back in February (once you tap the maples, you only have a few weeks), which is unusual; up north, my old high school classmate George Woodard was done sugaring before Marge and I visited George's farm in mid-March.

    (An aside: my favorite real-life visual gag of the year thus far was one local sugaring on Ames Hill Road plugging a tap and a bucket on the telephone pole alongside the road. This when the news was hot and heavy with President Bush's wiretapping fendango: roadside editorial cartooning, y'understand.)

    Brush fires have become a real prob in southern VT as we're in near-drought conditions already: Wilmington-area brush fires (next town over heading west) are on the front page of this morning's paper. Almost no snow this past "non-winter" (a blessing as far as heating bills went, especially for low-income friends, neighbors and family) meant no snow melt; a bit eerie that the only day I've seen the brooks and streams swollen to anything near their usual spring spillover was one morning, after some heavy rains. This could end up being a deadly dry year, but we'll see. Last summer we were blessed with constant enough rains to spare us the troubles folks north and south suffered. Who knows what the summer will bring?

    Yesterday afternoon Marge tended to the front flower beds, clearing the sheltering autumn leaves away from the shoots and sprouting plants. I was out in our front yard, washing the cars (their first since the fall; spare use of water, don't fret), which prompted a string of neighbors pulling over to chat. This is part of the spring ritual, too, 'round here, and it's great fun. Caught up with the news from one of my fave ex-First Run Video fellow employees, who was the first to pull over and chat; her son is an amazing kid, and I turned him onto the Godzilla films of the '60s during our video store years, which he dug. So, we talked a bit: her college year winding down with the usual crunch (projects due! Final papers due!), which led to my end-of-the-year at CCS pending, and so on and so forth.

    Then another of my neighbors pulled over to chat from his pickup, which went on a bit, prompting another Marlboro neighbor to pull over in his pickup to ask pickup neighbor #1 something, though of course it took a while to get to that. Once two of 'em pull over, one gets to eavesdrop in one's own front yard as the conversation detours into the reasons they pulled over to chat to one another instead of yours truly -- yesterday, it was two of the local apple-growers, who went on for about half-an-hour about what's happening right now upending their day-to-days. Seems this is the earliest start of a growing season on record in quite some time; the apple trees are already sprouting "green matter" (as they kept calling it), alarming them a bit and prompting a flurry of pre-April 20th preparations: pruning, cleanup, prep for spraying. Given the "non-winter," insect pests and scales are going to be in apple-orchard heaven, goosing activity among apple-growers two-to-three weeks before usual. These gents are tradesmen botanists, and though I only followed at best about 60% of what they were talking about (like all trades, they have their jargon, much of it alien to these layman ears, though my botany research from the Tyrant years served me surprisingly well in keeping up with their talk), it was a revealing snapshot of what's happening right now hereabouts.

    Afterwards, I bid my farewells and finished up washing the cars before cleaning up and wolfing down a quick (yummy) dinner. Marge and I were eager to catch a movie -- she's on vacation this week from school (she's a school psychologist in NH) -- and that we did: Thank You For Smoking, a polished black comedy of our opportunistic times. William H. Macy, who has a cabin up on the edge of the Northeast Kingdom and graduated (with his buddy David Mamet) from Goddard College, was a highlight caricaturing a Vermont Senator, whose desk was heavy with (packaged) maple syrup and a tireless promoter of cheddar cheese and last seen arguing for digital editing of old movies to remove cigarettes (kinda like Disney Studios did to their venerable Pecos Bill cartoon when they finally released Melody Time on DVD/vhs). A few laughs amid the satiric stabs at the failed American moral compass, if ever we had one, en route; we enjoyed our night out is all that matters here.

    Back to home and off to bed. The nights have been warm and sweet, meaning sleeping with windows wide open, and we wake every morning to the dawn "Phoe - be" call of the chickadees, who are ever-present hereabouts.

    These warm nights bring the birds out earlier and more active every morning. The woodpeckers have been picking up the mornings a bit, tapping out their territory and such. Last year we had one hammering on our roof antennae daily; this year, only one session of that rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, and fleeting at that. On my 6 AM walk, I could hear one this morning doing the head-dance on a power pole utility box down Town Hill Road about a quarter-mile: better there than on my roof.

    But the chill nights have their denizens, too. The last cold night we had -- which was I think Sunday AM -- was punctuated by the 4 AM hooting and howling of two owls just outside our bedroom window. It was a pretty spectacular audio track to the pre-dawn violet sky; Marge slept soundly through it all. I savored it: their voices are unlike any other in nature, wilder than the noises John Totleben used to make while drawing squid-headed-women in the adjoining room in our old Dover, NJ "Dutch Masters Studio" household. One owl really revved it up, a feathered banshee in heat.

    I love the early mornings.

    It's a pleasure 'warming up' daily here.

    But whatever I post here, mind you, usually hasn't much to do with life as it is here at Hacienda Bissettios. This is one of the places I 'go away' to for a short bit, usually before breakfast. There's a whole day ahead of me after; but it's a good way to kick off with these writing exercises after my morning walk.

    Home can be the far country, one and the same.

    "God is at home,
    We are in the far country."
    -- Meister Eckhart

    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    "Let 'Em Dangle, Let 'Em Dangle..."

    While our government cries for blood in the only trial of the only man being prosecuted for any level of participation in the 9/11 attack, and the "coincidental" co-release of two movies on the Flight United 93 (one made-for-TV and streeting on DVD/video the first week in May, the other the 'R' rated feature hitting theaters this weekend) -- all plays on our collective emotions to lash out at "enemies" who are defined by neither national borders, geographic boundaries, or any centralized ideology -- the feeling of one being caught between extremist factions in a holy war in which one is either a player, a martyr, or a pawn escalates.

    All render the individual disposable, as either citizen or soldier, unless you move in the highest circles of power.

    We feel, as Americans, we have some measure of power over our destiny, individually and collectively, if only as voters. We vote to shape or reshape our reality.

    But, hey, that's illusory at best. The fuckers keep stacking the deck, and one really is reduced to pawn status in a world where the bulk of our votes (80%, according to the last election's results) are
  • counted by only two corporations: ES&S
  • and
  • Diebold.
  • And hey, check out that first link closely: like, the vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES&S
  • are brothers.
  • If that doesn't set your dander up a bit, dig it:
  • the chairman and CEO of Diebold was & is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor
  • who publicly stated in 2003 that he was specifically "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
  • Ah, and that he did, and it's worth noting in that context that
  • no international election observers were
  • permitted to monitor the polls in Ohio in 2004.
  • Even more infuriating, note that
  • all -- and I do mean all --
  • of the voting machine errors detected, reported and investigated in Florida
  • were leaning in the favor of Bush
  • and/or Republican candidates alone.
  • Furthermore, while
  • ES&S remains the largest voting machine manufacturer in the U.S. (counting almost 60% of all U.S. votes),
  • over 30% of all American votes are placed on unverifiable touch screen voting machines sans any paper trail.
  • This is distressing news, but even more outrageous is the fact that Diebold's new voting machines
  • produce no verification or "paper trail" of any votes --

  • -- there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as that input by voters.
  • Hmmmm, but wait a minute; Diebold's bread & butter is in
  • manufacturing ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which necessarily log each & every transaction and give the user the option to print out a paper receipt for their transaction.
  • Makes you wonder, doesn't it? It should. Meanwhile, ES&S has its own dirty laundry: for instance,
  • Republican Senator Chuck Hagel was once chairman of ES&S -- and won his Senate seat based on votes counted by ES&S voting machines,

  • which roused suspicions.
  • Ah, there's also the fact that Senator Hagel, longtime 'friend' of the Bush family & dynasty (and one-time contender as a Vice-Presidential candidate for Bush),
  • was caught lying

  • about his ownership of ES&S

  • by the Senate Ethics Committee.

  • Ah, but most of us here in America don't vote anyway. In fact, I'm willing to bet some of you bothering to read this at all had the thought while reading the above, "see, why vote?"

    What a sham. What a shame.

    We embrace our helplessness, our lack of power.

    And those in power continue to bank on that. However they did it, legitimately or not, they're in power -- but that still doesn't place any of them above the law, exempt from culpability.

    A recent letter to the local Brattleboro Reformer from my friend Michael Dean cites the President Theodore Roosevelt quote, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

    Which leads me to the careful scrutiny and articulation of this growing outrage in
  • Carl Bernstein's Vanity Fair article "Senate Hearings on Bush, Now."
  • Bernstein writes, "Leaders of both parties are acutely aware of the vehemence of anti-Bush sentiment in the country, expressed especially in the increasing number of Americans—nearing 50 percent in some polls—who say they would favor impeachment if the president were proved to have deliberately lied to justify going to war in Iraq." That old saying about "fooling some of the people some of the time" that President Bush mangled early in his first election campaign has come back to bite him and his Administration, its teeth sinking deeper daily as the fabric of calculated deceit, chicanary, cronyism and lies unravels.

    As Bernstein notes, "In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is essential that the Senate vote -- hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties -- to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon." We've reached a strange almost-critical mass wherein certain GOP members would love nothing more than a premature motion to censure or impeach: after all, one of the dirty non-secrets (it's simply not spoken of in context of the reality of those times) of the Reagan Presidency is that the assassination attempt on that low-in-the-polls President is what regalvanized national support of the man and the office. A premature concerted political attack on President Bush might similarly galvanize dwindling public support of the President, or so the logic goes according to high-profile Republican pundits and cautious (is there any other kind?) Democrats.

    These things take time, and the more time that passes -- as the lies continue to publicly unravel, as Katrina-ravaged New Orleans continues to be the national shame (as a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine exposes the current medical care beneath that the US mobilizes for the Iraq War or even Third World countries like Haiti), as clowns like Michael Brown pop up on Comedy Central as surreal 'guest stars' -- the wider the seams split in the once-unified, secrecy-obsessed Bush Administration. Bernstein asks (and answers), "How much evidence is there to justify such action? Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era.... The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of policy—used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed."And that's just the tip of the iceberg (go on, read the entire article).

    The ongoing spin is maddening. As Bernstein correctly notes, "After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned." We now hear journalists who should be hanging their heads in shame claiming "journalism is working" because we, the public, are beginning to see & hear almost daily accounts of the duplicity that lay behind the post-9/11 manipulation of our collective sense of anger, fear, outrage and eagerness to do something, anything to redress the once-unimaginable attack on our country. But they failed, themselves terrified, and the Congress failed in its primary imperative of working as a check and balance to the power of would-be monarchies, despots, and tyrants.

    The spin efforts are still shamelessly indulged: with the recent unprecedented call for Rumsfeld's head from General Gregory Newbold (the retired three-star Marine Corps general who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the planning of the Iraq War) and his fellow retired generals (some of whom retired in 2005 specifically to be able to at last voice their outrage without betraying their country, their duty, their beloved respective branch of the service), the shameful spectacle of the press playing along anew with the ad hominum attacks on those speaking out avoids the obvious: the reality of rank in any branch of the service makes it impossible to speak out against the Commander in Chief, the highest possible rank in the military chain of command. Thus, we are reading/seeing/hearing 'spin' that scrupulously avoids that core military reality, carrying on as if the retired generals taking this remarkable stand were, for various reasons, worthy of contempt or inherently suspect (one military official in the arena attacking those calling for Rumsfeld to step down stated Tuesday that "the time to speak out was at the moment of their retirement," as if there were one and only one window of opportunity in which the criticism of Rumsfeld were credible, and never thereafter). This may seem arcane to some, put growing up as I have in a military family, it's the blatant 'elephant in the room' in this current sickening example of typical Karl Rove retaliation tactics, which have ruthlessly savaged any and all soldiers, vets, and military families who've dared to speak up or out against the War, the Secretary of Defense or the President.

    These six generals, following others, consider the Secretary of Defense so unfit to lead that they have given up their livelihoods to speak. Is there any greater bravery possible, save that demonstrated under fire? So now, they find themselves under fire -- and the most dispicable "friendly fire" imaginable at that.

    Understand that although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is indeed a citizen not a soldier, criticism of Rumsfeld is inherently criticism of the Commander in Chief, who selected and continues to support Rumsfeld without equivocation.

    So, it is up to our Congress at last. The President may rotate his spokesmen out of circulation, but it's clear nothing, nothing fundamental is going to change in this den of jackals.

    Addressing that failure of our elected Senators to act when we needed them most, Bernstein concludes, "The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard."

    When even Republican diehards like William F. Buckley are beginning to acknowledge the increasingly apparent reality, critical mass has indeed been reached (per Bernstein, Buckley has stated: "...It's important that we acknowledge in the inner counsels of state that [the war in Iraq] has failed so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure. ...Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq... If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn't get him out of this jam....The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the resources of a free country..."). Ah, but it's the coming elections that are prompting much of this apparent awakening, as the President's declining stature threatens to topple one of the most corrupt GOP murder of crows in over 100 years.

    But what about that upcoming election? One of the most discouraging aspects of this President and Administration's abuses of power is their evident belief that they will remain forever in power (why else support a Presidential power that they wouldn't have suffered for a moment during the Clinton Presidency?). We must as a people acknowledge the distinct possibility of our democracy having been insidiously and irrevocably undermined by the reliance on voting-booth technologies that are not only impossible to scrutinize but transparently & blatantly partisan (per the emphatic support for Bush the CEO of the largest voting booth manufacturer voiced last election) and inherently corrupted.
    From the still-troubling
  • 'mystery votes' for Bush in Ohio back in '04
  • to the ongoing reports of
  • "programming snafus" yielding suspicious wins for candidates and uncanny "voting spikes"
  • (the latter from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in good ol' Texas, seat of much Republican political chicanary over the past decade or more), one must ask if we can even pretend to a functional democracy any longer. There has been an attempt in some quarters to revalidate the voting process:
  • is pushing for voter-verified paper records of every vote,
  • the need for which is becoming increasingly necessary given the basic unaccountability of 'touch screen' voting technologies currently in use, and of course
  • is actively rallying on numerous fronts,
  • advocating nationally for paper records (including organized face-to-face meetings with Congressional representatives on this core issue), successfully pushing for legislation requiring voting machines that print paper records of votes in North Carolina, Colorado, Hawaii, Connecticut, and California (thus far in 2006, 19 more states required a paper record of every vote, bringing the total to 27 states -- easing past the half-way point, hopefully of no return). States like North Carolina are passing new laws
  • placing explicit restrictions on voting machines,
  • and this, too, is a heartening turn of political will. California went a step further,
  • outlawing all Diebold voting machines
  • due to the lack of security and accountability
  • (in fact,
  • here's a little movie for you high-speed access folks about how a chimpanzee hacked the audit logs Diebold claimed could not be hacked!).
  • Connecticut recently passed what some consider "the most sweeping campaign finance reform in the nation's history" (thanks in part to organizations like Public Campaign, Common Cause, and; still, Republican efforts to marginalize voters (particularly the usual disenfranchised populace: black, Hispanic & Latino voters, the elderly, low-income, ex-convicts and the disabled) continue, though states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia have rejected such proposed provisions. But will it manifest needed change in time for the November elections?

    As the call to another war (Iran) builds momentum, as you sit in a theater this weekend like millions of other Americans and feel the rush of fear, anger, outrage that United 93 rallies in your heart, as our President and his cabal continue to play upon 9/11 as the end-all and be-all justification for whatever their latest subversion of democracy and naked abuse of power might be -- don't lose your own footing.

    The powers-that-be want to spin that impetus that prompted the folks on that fateful United 93 to act -- they want to divert that toward your extending continuing, unquestioning devotion to this President, these policies, these wars.

    Hell, I just want to find a way to keep from those-in-the-cockpit from steering our country into further disastrous, self-destructive holy-war lunacy.

    Come voting season, you might keep that Elvis Costello tune in mind:

    "Let 'em dangle, let 'em dangle..."

    And we don't mean 'chads.'

    [PS: Michael Dean's letter is
  • here.]
  • Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    Banned from the Board? Only 'The Truth'!

    Hey, necessary changes over at Al Nickerson's Creator Rights site and discussion board, prompted by the lively Marvelman/Miracleman thread.

    Some of you posting there of late may have suffered a speed bump or two the last couple of days -- I know I did! -- but Al has sorted it all out, and I wanted to be sure to provide the necessary links here in case you were one of those like myself who momentarily found themselves inadvertantly "banned" from the board during the systems changeover.

    So, here's the chronology, in a nutshell. After requesting that
  • everyone "play nice,"
  • Al and his partner Chuck Morrison found themselves having to deal with a poster "who was using a bunch of different IP addresses." In dealing with that belligerent poster, others were mistakingly and briefly "caught up in the mess, too," though both Al and Chuck weren't happy about the decision to 'ban' the mystery man, either.

    "I don't mind folks disagreeing, but insults will not do," Al wrote to me. "'The Truth' [the pseudoname the belligerent poster used] was warned, but then, continued on. So, he got booted." The end result: "Guests can no longer post at the forum. People have to be registered to post. I checked the permissions and the settings are set for only registered members." No prob: most boards and blogs accepting comments require folks register these days; it doesn't hinder free speech.

    Nevertheless, that process created other problems for everyone, which Al discusses on this
  • 'banning' difficulties thread.
  • Hope this clears this up -- the thread prompting all this flurry of semi-spastic activity is
  • the Marvelman/Miracleman thread, which is here.
  • It's an interesting read, and I hope we indeed find out who this mysterious "movie producer" is claiming to have proprietary rights to the venerable Marvelman/Miracleman character. Huh -- a brazen new wrinkle, just what this unresolved cluster-fuck needed.

    See you there!

    Getting Perspective

    * Cartoonist amazing Jason Little was our guest at The Center for Cartoon Studies yesterday, delivering a powerhouse perspective drawing session. I felt pretty much a fish out of water -- I've never had a knack or much knowledge on the fundamentals of delineating proper perspective as a cartoonist -- and I'm afraid wasn't much help except to maybe one student, but Jason was excellent: solid presentation, mucho prepared, knew his stuff inside and out, very attentive to the students and their various needs, and a charmer. If anything, we could use either a longer session next time around or a two-day workshop on the topic. I learned plenty, and tinkered with some of the principles this morning -- Jason made it look so simple! -- before diving into my morning writing chores (which includes this daily exercise). There's some things an instructor is best admitting one doesn't know or have a handle on, and a more skilled & knowledgable guest speaker is needed, and this was one of 'em.

    * Afterwards, I dashed up to James Sturm's house for a brief get-together with James, his wife Rachel, and their dinner guests, Jason and his family and poet & fellow CCS instructor Peter Money and his (wife? partner?) Lucinda and everyone's children -- couldn't stay for dinner, as I had to rush home to dine with Marge (chicken in both households), but had time to draw a dinosaur for James & Rachel's daughter and then teach the kids how to make 'Exquisite Corpses' and we drew a couple, which is always fun. Love to watch their eyes when the unfold their first-ever unfolded 'critter' -- this had them all wanting to draw!

    * Having thus precipitated trouble, I had to dash while Rachel's succulent-smelling dinner was served. Sigh. Still, made it home on time to find Marge about to pop her chicken delight into the oven, and a fine meal it was, too.

    The odd mingling of kitchen odors between the houses, almost 90 miles apart, both linked with delicious meals, makes tactile the curious harmony driving life these days: this is all so right, feels worthwhile and correct, the cords/chords between our home and the new life at CCS. It even smells right, an affirmation for the senses, the tastebuds. How rare is this?

    * After dinner, we struggled with the issue of the rising fuel costs (back up to $2.91+ a gallon hereabouts already), possible car-pooling options, "should we move" options, and that kind of happy shit. We love our house -- the first I've ever owned, not rented! -- and it's finally perfectly customized to our needs (like this insane book-lined studio/office I type & work in every morning/day), but we both drive such long distances to work (172.6 miles for me round trip, now just once a week, but Marge drives 145+ every day).

    Geographically, a move upstate makes a lot of sense; in fact, Marge's son/my stepson and his fiance live right about there, which is another magnet. James drops lead hints regularly about Marge and I moving closer to CCS -- he wants us, "they" want us closer -- indeed a draw (pun intended), and is currently making arrangements for me to have a drawing studio in the upcoming new CCS space (I've said yes -- at last, a place for my paleontology library and return-to-work on my beloved Tyrant?).

    But house prices are up, we've got a lot invested into this place, my kids live close by still, and our dearest friends live south of us (in Massachusetts), and that's a huge factor, too.

    Emotionally, our hearts live here, and there's many other factors, too (like, moving my enormous wads of shit just 8 miles back in 2002 took six months total -- with almost daily trips in my old Toyota squareback -- and many moving trucks on the final fateful day! What a horrorshow). I'm working with three communities now -- serving on Boards for three different organizations I believe in (two in Brattleboro, one in White River Jct.), and increasingly extending my teaching work into where we live, here in Marlboro -- and that's an anchor, too. I've no wish to step away from any of it, especially since I'm told what I'm doing as part of the three collectives is bringing something unique to all three; my stepping away (which I damned near did with one of the Brattleboro groups) would cost them, somehow, diminish all we've worked to build. And my son and daughter live in Brattleboro, my daughter having only recently opened doors to communication/being together that had long been closed. The heart lives here.

    Ah, who cares? Marge and I will figure it out eventually. What a rambling blog this AM...

    Hey, some days, it flows. Somedays, you get this crap...

    More on CCS Seth, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti visit...

    For a student's view (two posts) of last week's amazing CCS visit from Seth, Chris Ware & Ivan Brunetti -- plus samples both Jon-Mikel and Colleen's art, well worth a look! -- go over to
  • Jon & Colleen's Cowboy Orange Blog
  • and scroll down past the most recent 'zombie day' post -- but only after leaving your own 'zombie day' suggestions, natch.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    More Ketchup, All Kinds and Kolors, Floppy Boots Stomp Down, Public Domain Terrors, Bush Era Horrors, Rummy's Circle of Hell, and So Much More...

    * Man, I am sick to death of dealing with spam. The insidious fuckers creep through every filter eventually, and begin needlessly eating -- up -- time...

    * The amazing Tim Lucas sent me the following Captain Beefheart link some time ago, and I've been meaning to share it here forever. I'm a huge Don Van Vliet/Beefheart fan, looooove to draw to that thumpin' akimbo music and microphone-bursting voice, and urge you all to check out
  • The Beefheart/Magic Band DVD link
  • Thanks, Tim! "Floppy Boots Stomp Down to the Ground..."

    * A 'bump' of sorts from the comments board: fusing the living dead and public domain, Jolly John Carroll sent us this info back in March, but who checks the comment boards after the primary day passes? Thanks, John!. See, there's
  • a new site for downloading public domain movies
  • you should check out, if, unlike this sorry Vermontian hillbilly, you indeed have high-speed internet access. Here's the March 8th press release John was passing along to us all, which I've now elevated to page one status:

    "Video Entertainment Internet: Dr. Jekyll, Bruce Lee and Notre Dame's hunchback are all finding new shelf space on a start-up's site.

    Last week, Veoh Networks began offering free downloads of cult classics, including kung fu flicks such as "Ninja Death 1," John Wayne movies like "The Lucky Texan" and black-and-white horrors such as "The Brain That Wouldn't Die."

    Thanks to the proliferation of broadband Internet access, video downloads have become increasingly popular. and Netflix have been facing off in the retail space. File-sharing sites also attract movie buffs, though the legality of such
    downloads remains iffy. Other start-ups, such as, are testing the waters. And on the smaller screen, downloads for Apple Computer's video iPod are gaining an audience.

    But finding old movies--legally, systematically and at no cost--isn't always easy. They've begun to pop up on sites like Entertainment Magazine and Public Domain Torrents. Veoh's founders started their site last year mainly for people to post home movies. But they soon realized people had a desire to track down old Hollywood flicks and classic videos.

    The cult classics posted on the site have all fallen out of copyright, either because of their age or because of owners who failed to protect them.

    Anyone can upload films to the site; both posting and viewing is free. Veoh plans to make money through advertising and commissions on pay-to-download selections.

    So far, about 90 movies are available on Veoh's cult classics page. And who would see these flicks if they weren't on the Internet?

    "Nobody," Veoh CEO Dmitry Shapiro said. "Just collectors who were fortunate enough to have access to the movies. Once in a while somebody would have a viewing in some old theater, or they'd get on the TV in the middle of the night. But for the most part they just disappeared."

    Now, though, they're in plain sight. An obscure 1942 werewolf movie called "The Mad Monster," for example, already had 80 viewers only 24 hours after upload by a horror enthusiast.

    Watching the silent, John Barrymore version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a journey back in time. In the 1920 classic--later eclipsed by a remake for which Fredric March won the best-actor Oscar--Jekyll tinkers in his lab, surrounded by smoking test tubes and accompanied by horrific organ music. Title cards carry quotes such as "Damn it, I don't like it! You're tampering with the supernatural!"

    Less salt, sugar and fat So why are today's viewers, who are used to overwhelming special effects and flawless computer animation, attracted to silent movies with stiff, spasmodic monsters? Shapiro thinks the interest stems from a discontent with much of today's production, which he labels "junk food."

    "It's got a lot of salt, a lot of sugar and a lot of fat, which is used to make up for bad story lines,..." he said. "Back in the old days, they didn't make junk food, because they didn't have special effects to rely on. So a lot of the stuff that was made then has great story lines and interesting acting--and there is obviously a sense of nostalgia."

    The most popular video on the channel so far is "Bruce Lee the Invincible" with more than 250 downloads in just a few days. The acting is exaggerated, the dialogue minimal and the lip-synching nonexistent. But that doesn't stop the Dragon from making mashed
    potatoes out of its enemies.

    "It's a boy thing," Shapiro said regarding the film's instant popularity. "I remember watching kung fu movies with my dad. I didn't notice the bad dubbing and the silly story lines. Boys have their adrenaline and testosterone going. They like movies about
    chivalry and fighting."

    But Shapiro's personal favorite is "Reefer Madness," a 1938 propaganda film aimed at marijuana: "A violent narcotic--an unspeakable scourge--the real public enemy No. 1!" "Reefer Madness" was created to deter America's youth from using the drug. "Knowing what we know now, a lot of people think today that it is a comedy," Shapiro said.

    Shapiro's vision when starting San Diego-based Veoh was broader than reviving old black-and-whites. To him, the site and others like it represent a democratic revolution, letting anyone with a computer, video camera and Internet connection bring their vision to the world. In addition to the cult classics page, Veoh has pages specifically dedicated to skateboards, cars and music.

    "Video is the most incredible medium for communication. It's not just for entertainment; it can be education, politics, used by causes and charities," said Shapiro, who also founded peer-to-peer security company Akonix Systems in 2000. "We believe this is as
    profound an invention as the World Wide Web, which democratized print broadcasting."

    To avoid distribution of copyrighted material, Veoh approves all the movies placed on the site.

    Originally from Russia, Shapiro grew up in an environment where all media, including television, was government controlled. "There was really nothing to watch. I remember having three channels: Two of them were propaganda, and one was irrelevant to me," he said.

    As a 10-year-old, he had watched only a few hours of television altogether. Moving as a youngster to the United States, he obviously found more choices but still saw them as limited by the preferences of television broadcasters.

    "Therefore we get to see very little of the world," Shapiro said. "That inspired me to look for alternatives."...

    Well, check it out, you lucky folks. I'll just stew in my video and DVD collection instead.

    * The astounding Mark Martin sent me the following link, which fans of horror, Hostel, and those of you attuned to the wedding of society/politics and pop culture will find worth a look:
  • The Wrath of Eli Roth: Liberal Lightning Rod?
  • The problem here is both Roth (young fella that he is) and the neocon (or, more correctly, "Anti-Liberal Media") blogger/site are being far too simplistic: the kinds of horror films we're seeing have definitely been impacted by the social and political reality. As I've written here before, I associate two specific threads of the post-2000 (that's pretty much the 21st Century thus far) genre landscape quite specifically with the George W. Bush era we're trapped in: the below-the-radar 'amnesia/trauma' subgenre (Memento being the sterling example, but we also have Session 9, Frailty, Memento, Spider, The Mechanist, The i Inside, Magdalena’s Brain, Head Trauma, etc.) reflecting the willful national unconsciousness/obliviousness to our cultural guilt/culpability, and the 'torture' cycle, very much in vogue just now (spearheaded by the most definitely Bush era fusion of Christian horror and ultragore, The Passion (of the Christ), which knocked the parameters of the pre-Passion R rating out of the ballpark, opening the floodgates for comparatively low-key psychological explorations like The Jacket, V for Vendetta, etc. and the increasingly explicit abuses of an international array of horrors: Saw I and II, Hostel, Sin City, Wolf Creek, High Tension, just to name three, and remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.). These quite obviously reflecting the zeitgeist & dread associated with the terrifying realities of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and 'extraordinary rendition' policies.

    In a soon-to-be-published review of The Jacket, I wrote about the 'trauma/amnesia' films:

    "In these intricate, Chinese-puzzle construct films, traumatized individuals struggle with the consequences of forgotten (or, in some cases, hidden or even adopted) events, meaningfully inverting the previous era of ‘buried memory’ child abuse case histories, scandals, books, and films, the ‘trauma amnesia’ films stigmatize the sufferer (in Cronenberg’s Spider, the ‘inner child’ is the most insidious self-deceiver of all). In this psychological no-man’s-land, no perceived reality can be taken at face value. No one is who they seem to be, enigmatic information and disinformation is treacherously interwoven, essential fragmentary clues are clouded by misperception, father figures are inherently dangerous, reality is treacherously malleable and mercurial, and the deepest betrayal of all lies within the protagonist’s own past. Inevitably, as buried memories manifest clearly, apparent victim/protagonist is shown to be (or have been) the victimizer, responsible for crimes they cannot continue to live with (or without). Repressed memories harbor irrevocable sins: their amnesia is symptomatic of desperate attempts to skirt the consequences of their own actions, to sustain unsustainable denial.

    These vicarious, personalized, implosive apocalypses are resonant metaphors for the collective cultural amnesia and attendant denial that accommodates so many transparent hypocrisies of this Administration’s policies, and, by proxy, our own culpability as a nation and a people. Even the national projection of ‘enemy’ status onto uninvolved nations (e.g, the completely false association of Saddam Hussein and Iraq with 9/11, a link the Administration and President Bush himself have since refuted, though they nurtured that association) is central to these films, as projection of foe onto friend and dualistic confusions of identity permeate the subgenre (in The Jacket, the latter extends to the protagonist and projected anima: Jack/Jackie).

    Denial is the black heart of the entire subgenre...."

    The torture cycle I needn't go into further -- do I? It seems so fucking obvious, from The Passion to Hostel, right down to the iconography of the poster and ad art -- what these films functionally are reflecting and doing -- and again, the transitional audience identification with both victims and victimizers (and the emotional inversion therein) is transparent. This is how these genres, how the pop culture, works.

    Together, these threads represent a distinctive shift in the genre that is most definitely of its time and place, specifically the Bush Presidency and its global policies. I recall how vividly Frailty summed up my own dread of the Bush era when I first saw it on the big screen, right down to its righteous demon-killing Texan lawman with his ever-supportive wife by his side: a terrifying caricature of Bush himself, as he no doubt sees himself.

    Still, easy to see how these nuances are lost, reduced as they are to reflexive sound bytes devoid of context, and the inability of anyone in the broad 'media' (specifically those subscribing to the lie of "liberal media" -- please, The Daily Show is the only widely viewed liberal programming in the country, and it's a Comedy Central outpost!) to even attempt to engage in meaningful debate of any substance.

    Eli Roth has a point, but isn't articulate enough to make it -- though his own pair of features are prime examples of the very expression of the times he's referring to. Hostel neatly distills the xenophobia of Roth's post-9/11 generation to its essence, and that's the power and value of that film (for those who can stomach the mayhem).

    * My vote for most absolutely chilling, bone-scraping Bush era horror flicks: the cycle of "God's Chosen Man" DVDs dedicated to this President.

    Of the handful out there that are generally available through mainstream distribution venues, I particularly savored Calvin Skaggs/David Van Taylor/Ali Pomeroy's With God on Our Side: George W. Bush and the Rise of the Religious Right (2005, Lumiere Productions/Channel 4/
  • First Run Features),
  • a British documentary which provided balance of sorts for "An Alternative Program to Fahrenheit 9/11" (so it said on its packaging masthead), Ted & Audrey Beckett/Charles E. Sellier's George W. Bush: Faith in the White House (2004,
  • Goodtimes DVD).
  • The latter is pretty amazing, "A Grizzly Adams Production" from the good folks who've given us (are you ready for this?) he LIfe and Times of Grizzly Adams (movie and TV series), The Mysterious Monsters, In Search of Noah's Ark, The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomenon, Guardian of the Wilderness, The Lincoln Conspiracy, Beyond and Back, Donner Pass: The Road to Survival, In Search of Historic Jesus, The Capture of Grizzly Adams, Encounter With Disaster, The Bermuda Triangle, Beyond Death's Door, Hangar 18, The Incredible DIscovery of Noah's Ark, Ancient Secrets of the Bible and many others. Sellier, formerly Charles E. Sellier, Jr., was also the man behind (as director, mind you!) Snowballing, Silent Night Deadly Night (the beloved Santa Claus psycho/splatter movie that had its TV advertising banned in Boston, and was subsequently pulled from theatrical distribution altogether, until video resurrected it), The Annihilators (all 1984-85), and my personal fave of Sellier's works (as producer), The Boogens (1982). Hell, if the folks behind Sunn Classic Pictures, Inc./Schick Sunn Classics, innovators of some of the most lunatic (and religious) family-oriented roadshow drive-in/nabe/grindhouse ballyhoo of the '70s and '80s, support ol' George W., well, shucks, I should, too.

    The most wrenching of all amid this genre is Brian Trenchard-Smith/Lionel Chetwynd's TV movie DC 9/11: Time of Crisis (2005, Showtime), which is best viewed back-to-back with episodes of Matt Parker & Trey Stone's That's My Bush! sitcom, since both star Timothy Bottoms as you-know-who. This one is the dramatized portrait of Bush's heroic fortitude in the immediate wake of 9/11, a marvelously entertaining flight of fancy in light of all we know now went on behind the scenes (and so much more we don't know). In stiff competition with Sellier's stellar filmography, it's worth noting that UK director Trenchard-Smith is the man who made his mark helming the maladroit Aussie dystopian bloodfest Turkey Shoot (US title: Escape 2000, 1982), which was a pretty lunkheaded flick but one could argue now it's a prescient masterpiece anticipating US foreign policy of hte 21st Century. Still, I have fonder memories of the filmmaker's other works, like The Marty Feldman Show, Dead-End Drive In, Night of the Demons 2, Leprachaun 3 & 4 and the Christian apocalyptic sequel, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001), which some might cite as the point the filmmmaker "crossed over," forgetting, natch, he also helmed the TV series Five Mile Creek waaaaaay back in '83. UK Writer Lionel Chetwynd is a bit closer to the material, with TV movies like Kissinger and Nixon and Doomsday Gun, Falling From the Sky: Flight 174, The Siege at Ruby Ridge, etc., along with TV religious epics like Moses, Jacob and Joseph to his credit. Really, you won't believe what you're seeing if you give over 127 minutes of your life to DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. "Based on Real Life Accounts" hasn't been so risible a claim since Return of the Living Dead.

    So there -- two Brit-made productions (a documentary and docudrama) to balance the scales. Fair and balanced, that's Myrant.

    For those of you with high-speed internet access (sigh), Alan Doane David suggest you check out
  • this 9/11 doc,
  • which he calls "...absolutely devastating stuff and too serious to label under conspiracy. Take the time to watch it and share it with your friends." I checked it out at a friend's computer, not only because of lack of high-speed access at home, but so that there'd be no evidence in my computer of ever having watched it. So, better yet, don't share it with your friends -- go to their house a download/stream it.

    If you're needing some stirring antitoxins to add to the mix, check out Alan Peterson's FahrenHYPE 9/11 (2004, Trinity Home Entertainment; no website provided) and Larry Elder's Michael & Me (2004, Genius Entertainment/Non-Fiction Films; no website provided), which had me in stitches of all kinds, though I must say seeing Ron Silver in FahrenHYPE 9/11 outstripping his outrageous speech at the Republican National Convention last election topped anything Ann Coulter, Dick Morris, Zell Miller etc. had to say in the same film. Wheeee-yew.

    And these people really believe Michael Moore is over the top?

    Go ahead, tell me the horror flicks haven't gotten scarier since Bush mounted the throne (sounds like a scatalogical sexual position, eh?).

    * Hey, speaking of torture, how could you miss any of this? The Jaw-Dropping Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is on the defensive in the news, natch, on
  • culpability for torture,

  • why old soldiers won't just fade away,
  • and last but not least,
  • "Lawyer says Rumseld 'messed up' Guantanamo trials."
  • The latter, by Jane Sutton for Yahoo News, is particularly illuminating: "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his appointees set rules that violate President George W. Bush's order to hold fair trials for prisoners charged with terrorism in the Guantanamo tribunals, a military defense lawyer said on Friday. "We can't help it that the secretary of defense and his delegees (sic) have messed this thing up, but they have," military lawyer Army Maj. Tom Fleener told the presiding officer at one of the hearings. "If the rules don't provide for a full and fair trial, then they violate the president's order."...Tribunal rules set by the Pentagon require the defendants to have U.S. military lawyers who are authorized to see secret evidence that the accused may not be allowed to view. Pentagon officials have refused to allow self-representation, which Fleener called a fundamental right in nearly every court on Earth."

    Except, of course, the No-Longer-United-States-of-Bush-Amerika.

    "...Fleener said [his defendent Ali Hamza al] Bahlul cannot get a fair trial unless the rules change. "As the world looks at this system, it's going to have no legitimacy whatsoever," he said."

    How can the faithful & devout Christians of this nation continue to support this criminal Administration? I can only see it as an extension of the 'holy war' both extremist religious factions seems dead set upon fomenting; nothing else makes rational or irrational sense any longer.

    No wonder our horror movies are becoming so malicious.

    We know what we're doing, on some primal level, and we fear the inevitable consequences.

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    Murderous Barbers and the Walking Dead...

    Hope y'all had a great Easter!

    * As a horror fan who was raised (but is no longer a practicing) Catholic (gave it up at age 13), my fave Easter t-shirt was my "I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin" yellow t, featuring a b&w repro of the iconic ad art for that historic Cinemation double-bill of the early '70s.

    I've since passed this shirt on to my son, though I doubt it'll last to pass on to his, should that day come... point being, I always try to savor something suitably Catholic for the weekend: a zombie movie I've never seen, a cannibal pic of yore (though a vampire pic is a fair substitute if nothing better presents itself). This tasteless ritual is enhanced these days knowing devout American Christians everywhere are now subjecting their families to home screenings of the goriest, most graphic, and perhaps most relentless R-rated horror pic ever made, Mel Gibson's The Passion (of the Christ). If they don't have it on DVD or video, Showtime now weaves it into their Easter broadcast schedule.

    Choose your bloodbath, and draw inspiration from whatever you will.

    For me, the Easter weekend turned out to be a celebration to remember. My sister-and-brother-in-law treated Marj and I to a Broadway matinee of the current theatrical revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and it was a grand & glorious afternoon. True to the promise of the banners over the marquee, there were literal "buckets of blood," appropo to the religious holiday.

    Though Marj grew up seeing tons of Broadway theater, this blue-collar Vermont cartoonist has only seen a handful in his lifetime thus far: Miss Saigon, Jane Eyre, 42nd Street (on the 'resurrected' Disneyfied Deuce, in one of the theaters that used to unreel XXX films forever and a day). Some years back (mid-'90s), Marj and I caught an excellent presentation of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler/Harold Prince at the Connecticut Goodspeed Opera House, an ambitious staging true to the Broadway classic of a quarter-century ago (according to Marj & to the video recording of that production). I loved it so that I brought Maia & Daniel to it later that summer, during the Goodspeed's final week of Sweeney, and we had a great evening (the first evidence, too, of Daniel's love for good food: he loved the restaurant we dined at near the theater, and this was the precursor to his own high-school interest in learning culenary and restaurant skills far beyond his years).

    I had loved my technical theater classes and work at Johnson State College, studying/working under vet NYC (including the Joffrey Ballet) tech Richard Emerson, who made my two years at JSC academically worthwhile. Thus, I really love what little live theater I've been able to afford to see over the years. The ambitious staging of the Goodspeed production of Sweeney Todd is lodged in my memory: multi-level stages, culminating in the locale of Sweeney's murderous barber's chair (complete with a chute to slide the throat-slit victims down, into Mrs. Lovett's pie-bakery charnelhouse in the cellar) -- and amid that, the closest I've come to savoring true Grand Guignol theater, as the copious bloodshed of the second act was rendered with high spirits and effective special effects, including a backlit jugular geyser punctuating the line "A star/a shooting star" in Act II's "Johanna" that rendered that moving song deliciously subversive, malicious and indelible.

    This new 25th Anniversary adaptation of Sweeney Todd eschews such elaborate setpieces for a potently bare-bones, expressionistic reinvention: instead of Sweeney's death-chair seen fully operable onstage, his chair is delivered as a white coffin-shaped wooden object, carted in the barber's arms like an infant, a companion to the pitch-black coffin from which Sweeney arises like a vampire in the opening singing of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," the coffin that serves throughout as deathbox, wall, stage, judge's desk, etc. Instead of Grand Guignol special effects, the torrent of throat-slittings so integral to the venerable tale are rendered impressionistically: the motion of the razor over throat, a pouring of stage blood from one bucket to another at stage front (all sound stifled so the slowing splash of faux gore is all we hear, like the draining of a slit-pig over a pail), as the murdered character ceremoniously dons a white doctor's gown dressed down its center with a flow of red paint. This is UK director/designer John Doyle's conceit, and it worked beautifully for this Sweeney devotee, most of all for its marvelous cast -- the first time I've ever seen an 'original cast' in a stage (or Broadway) production.

    The Teutonic touchstones of this adaptation are woven into its fabric from the first seconds: in Doyle's rethinking of Sondheim/Wheeler's creation, the tale is indeed told by a madman. The hapless Tobias (brilliantly played by Manoel Felciano with twitching, Marat/Sade presence throughout, forever attentive to his character's strength & frailty) is the first character we see, bound (by a strait-jacket) and gagged (with a red scarf) centerstage. As a nurse (Donna Lynne Champlin, ostensibly playing the blackmailer barber Pirelli though her accordion-playing nurse presence throughout has a spectral Tales from the Gimli Hospital quality) unbinds Tobias, he begins the singing of the opening ballad, and the entire cast -- who are also the only orchestra, forever onstage and visible, part and parcel of Doyle's inspired reboot -- thus take their part in this Cabinet of Dr. Caligari conceit that tidily ties up one of the dangling threads of the original Harold Prince-directed production (what happened to Tobias after his deus ex machina role in the climax?).

    For me, though, this organic integration of Germanic cinematic bedrock resonated throughout the rest of the production: Sweeney's rise from the black coffin to assume his autobiographical center in the singing of the opening ballad echoes both the somnambulist Cesar's awakening to kill in Caligari and Nosferatu's emergence from the coffin in a doomed ship's hold. Flashforward half-a-century: Michael Cerveris's pasty-faced, bald Sweeney is the spitting image of real-life Peter Kurten, the Dusseldorf Vampire, as incarnated for reel-life by Kurt Raab in Uli Lommel's Die Zartlichkeit der Wolfe/Tenderness of the Wolves (1973). With or without this associative boot to the unconscious, Cerveris is a galvanizing Sweeney, as brooding and compelling a character to stalk the stage as I've ever seen (outside of the denizens of Samuel Beckett I've lucked into in live theater). This Sweeney is quite different from that of 25 years past and every stage production since, embodying the bile and pathos of the character like never before.

    I could go on, but I won't.

    Suffice to say, it was one of the most memorable afternoons in the theater I've ever enjoyed, and the day was capped with a family dinner at a Connecticut Italian restaurant that was as savory as the theater we'd feasted and supped upon.

    * By bedtime (packed as Marj and I are into a relatively tiny bed in bro-and-sis-in-law's guest room), I was capping the Holy Saturday festivities with my first reading of Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore's The Walking Dead: Vol. 1: Days Gone By, which I couldn't put down until I'd devoured it completely. What a pleasant surprise!

    Come Easter Sunday and our return home, I dove into the stack of subsequent issues, and dashed the following fan letter-email off to Robert (who I've never met, to the best of my knowledge). Now, I rarely write to zines or comics in any capacity, save as contributor or paid writer; this is probably my second 'fan letter' or postcard to a comic in as many years (the other was to Street Angel):

    Howdy, Robert,

    Just a quick email to let you know this lapsed Catholic no-longer-a-lad just spent a chunk of Easter weekend appropriately reading The Walking Dead, complete (to #11) -- and had a tremendous time with it. My pal Steve Washkevich tried to turn me on to your book within the first couple of issues, but it took another amigo (John Rovnak) to drop a set into my lap and make me read it. Thanks, guys -- but thanks most of all to you, Robert.

    Comics have become a lean, bottle-necked business since the 1990s implosion, but it's heartening to read in your letter pages that sales are up and your readership is growing. Sorry it took me so damned long to join the ranks.

    Kudos to you and your collaborators. Your scripts are top-notch, fueled as they are from stem to stern(um) by potent characters rather than mere mayhem and splashy gore -- no easy paths, no cheats or cheap shots. You show instead of telling, your characters live beyond the panel borders, and it's all from the
    heart, finessed with skill, craft and tenacity.

    I love the art and visual storytelling as well. Tony Moore got the series off to a terrific start, and whether through happenstance or design, it's immensely satisfying to read the first graphic novel cover-to-cover with you and Tony so in-synch from the get-go, pouring a firm foundation for your
    blue-collar horror epic. Come what may, as long as your collaborations are self-contained within the parameters of the collected volumes, The Walking Dead will cook quite nicely for years -- and collections -- to come.

    Given the strength of Tony's establishing characterizations, there was initially a grinding of gears to shift to Charlie Adlard's style, but -- again, whether by your clever design or dumb luck of the draw -- kicking off #7 with the flashback to Lori & Shane's coupling made the change in art styles work for rather than against the tapestry. Thereafter, it took no time at all to be seduced by Charlie's bolder use of blacks (almost Jerry Grandenetti-like at times, from that grand old man's Warren and For Monsters Only years). By the time you folks sucker-punched us all (no more than your cast of characters) with the marvelous false idyll of the #8 and 9 "Wiltshire Estates" setpiece and the subsequent barnyard antics,
    Adlard had made it all his own. I hope you two maintain the partnership as long as possible, if not forever (a rare thing in this industry).

    As a longtime addict to all things horrific who manages to get his own licks in from time to time, please accept my hearty congratulations for all you and your carrion confederates-in-comic-crime have accomplished thus far with The Walking Dead. Your series isn't just a worthy successor to the best of all walking dead literature, movies, music and comics (from EC to Two-Fisted Zombies to Deadworld), but as integral an addition to the current resurrection of the subgenre as more visible pop eruptions as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Cell and Joe Dante & Sam Hamm's "Homecoming."

    You're extending and expanding the parameters of horror comics with your work, gentlemen, and that's a fine and noble thing to be doing.

    I'm hooked and will be along for the ride from here to whatever bloody end you have in store... should that ever come.

    BTW, I have to ask: one of my old Joe Kubert School classmates (and frequent Taboo contributors) was none other than cartoonist extraordinaire Rick Grimes.
    Could it be you named your protagonist after -- ?? Nahhhh, couldn't be.

    Best always,

    Steve Bissette
    Mountains of Madness, VT


    If you're as unacquainted with The Walking Dead as I was until Holy Saturday, click over to
  • The Walking Dead: Volume 1 for sale at PaneltoPanel
  • and place your order now (the other volumes are there, too; you can easily get to those from the link I've just provided). I'm sorry I waited so long, and this is a comic deserving of your support, if you're a fan of horror comics (or simply good comics, period).

    Robert has made it abundantly clear on his letters pages comments that's he's in the for the long haul, and that makes this a series worth picking up now and sticking with. I'm aboard for the duration, and there aren't many comics at all I do so with these days. I'll be writing a formal review for PaneltoPanel later this month, so keep an eye out for that, too.

    And yes, Kirkman fans, I likewise dove into the silly Marvel Zombies mini-series, which was abundantly dumb fun and worthy of some thought due to its broader Marvel Comics context (which I'll get into on the PaneltoPanel site, natch), but a mere gristle-smear next to The Walking Dead in my book. It's obvious where Robert's heart and soul truly lay, and that's what makes The Walking Dead worthy of your attention.

    Saturday, April 15, 2006

    Weekend Wackiness: "Most Politically Charged Comic Series Ever!," What's Really Up With Iran?, and More...

    I love how mainstream comics publishers rev up the hyperbole, ignoring the entirity of comics history whenever they do so. Are there still Marvel zombies outside the pages of (gulp) Marvel Zombies (OK, not counting that mini-series's setup in Ultimate Fantastic Four)?? In yesterday's USA Today, Marvel's latest bombastic ballyhoo for the new series Marvel: Civil War quoted Marvel's cheatsheet press release, referring to the latest silliness from the House-Out-Of-Ideas (in which the superheroes are faced with the government Super Hero Registration Act, declaring all supes "weapons of mass destruction" and requiring they reveal their secret identities and register or resist and face prosecution) as "an allegory for the current American political landscape" and "the most politically charged comic series ever!"

    Hmmmmmmmm, maybe if I completely forget Joe Sacco's entire body of work, underground comix series like Slow Death, Corporate Crime, Deviant Slice -- no, wait, that did it. I'm certain there's nothing in Marvel: Civil War to hold a candle to Tom Veitch/Greg Irons's iconic image of the then-current President Nixon naked and bestial, fighting over a dead dog's carcass with a member of his cabinet likewise naked and animalistic, reaping what they sowed in spades.

    Speaking of holy comics: Hey, it's Easter weekend.

    Here's my sly way of getting you to some Easter imagery:

    My constant compadre in Canada Bob Heer recently sent me some marvelous links to an amazing website dedicated specifically to the legacy of the Catholic Treasure Chest comics series. Now, there was "the most politicially charged comic series ever," packed to the opposing covers with anti-Communist wit and wisdom of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years (usually delineated by Reed Crandall, of EC Comics and Blackhawk fame).

    Some of you may recall that it was Bob who steered me to the long-sought 1961 "dinosaur" issue of Treasure Chest I wrote about late last year (in the context of an overview of Christian and Creationist comics). Ever vigilant, Bob has just posted a 'new' Treasure Chest dinosaur page from a 1956 issue over at
  • Bob's excellent blog (with direct links to that '61 dino comic, too).
  • Ah, I might as well post the same links here, too, for you lazy folks:
  • Here's the official Treasure Chest link to the '61 dino issue,

  • and here's that page from 1956.
  • Oh, ya, you'll have to gander at that lovely March 22, 1956 Easter cover and leaf through the comics pages (what an amazing website!), getting more doses of Easter, to get to the dino page.


    Per usual, thanks for the amazing dinosaur comics material, Bob! Now I've got to track down that '56 comic for the ol' collection... Thanks, Bob!

    In closing today, I've gotta touch on the more pressing matters facing us all: like, uh, another fucking war.

    Can you believe it??

    The drumbeat for war with Iran is sounding mightily these days, instilling a horrible sense of deja-vu for those of us who recall the late 1970s and early '80s when a certain Ayatollah was on the evening news amid the usual hyper-edited flurry of riots, burning American flags, mobilizing weaponary, and angry faces -- and an even more immediate association with the buildup to the Iraq War a little over three years ago. The by-now-obvious inherent flaws and corrosive danger of Bush's historically-unprecedented (for the US in the past century) "pre-emptive war" policies seem to be making not a dent in the war-mongering we're seeing and hearing this month, just as the zealous rhetoric of such propoganda have changed not a whit, nor has the vocabulary.

    What, exactly, could really be going on?

    While some journalists maintain
  • it'll be at least a decade before Iran has nuclear weapons capabilities,
  • others argue this is all happening because
  • the Republicans need another war --
  • -- whether the rest of the world (and America) does or not. After all, there's nothing like another war to distract even the neo-cons from the increasingly blatant erosion of their own power bases,
  • the smoke even they are smelling these days.
  • Smoke? Hell. And I do mean hell.

    While various online sites and email appeals are rallying against the call for war against Iran
  • (here's just one, from yesterday),
  • others are posting information and articles that seem to point to the possible/probable reality behind this. I've no idea, really, what this is all about, any more than you do -- our ability to form a consensus as a nation is as fragmented as it's ever been -- but the following recent (January 28th, long before the war rhetoric had been revved up like a Marvel press release) essay from
  • Ed Haas with
  • is pretty persuasive and compelling (compliments of A.F. via Steve Perry:


    By Ed Haas
    January 28, 2006

    On November 10th 2005, the Muckraker Report published an article that described one of the unspoken reasons why the United States had to invade Iraq:

    To liberate the U.S. dollar in Iraq so that Iraqi oil could once again be purchased with the PetroDollar. 

    In November 2000, Iraq stopped accepting U.S. dollars for their oil. Counted as a purely political move, Saddam Hussein switched the currency required to purchase Iraqi oil to the Euro. Selling oil through the U.N. Oil for Food Program, Iraq converted all of its U.S. dollars in its U.N. account to the Euro. Shortly thereafter, Iraq converted $10 billion in their U.N. reserve fund to the Euro. By the end of 2000, Iraq had abandoned the U.S. dollar completely.

    Two months after the United States invaded Iraq, the Oil for Food Program was ended, the country’s accounts were switch back to dollars, and oil began to be sold once again for U.S. dollars. No longer could the world buy oil from Iraq with the Euro. Universal global dollar supremacy was restored. It is interesting to note that the latest recession that the United States endured began and ended within the same time frame as when Iraq was trading oil for Euros. Whether this is a coincidence or related, the American people may never know.

    In March 2006, Iran will take Iraq’s switch to the PetroEuro to new heights by launching a third oil exchange. The Iranians have developed a PetroEuro system for oil trade, which when enacted, will once again threaten U.S. dollar supremacy far greater than Iraq’s Euro conversion. Called the Iran Oil Bourse, an exchange that only accepts the Euro for oil sales would mean that the entire world could begin purchasing oil from any oil-producing nation with Euros instead of U.S. Dollars. The Iranian plan isn’t limited to purchasing one oil-producing country’s oil with Euros. Their plan will create a global alternative to the U.S. dollar. Come March 2006, the Iran Oil Bourse will further the momentum of OPEC to create an alternate currency for oil purchases worldwide. China, Russia, and the European Union are evaluating the Iranian plan to exchange oil for Euros, and giving the plan serious consideration.

    If you are skeptical regarding the meaning of oil being purchased with Euros versus Dollars, and the devastating impact it will have on the economy of the United States, consider the historic move by the Federal Reserve to begin hiding information pertaining to the U.S. dollar money supply, starting in March 2006. Since 1913, the year the abomination known as the Federal Reserve came to power, the supply of U.S. dollars was measured and publicly revealed through an index referred to as the "M-3." The M-3 has been the main stable of money supply measurement and transparent disclosure since the Fed was founded back in 1913. According to Robert McHugh, in his report (What’s the Fed up to with the money supply?), McHugh writes, “On November 10, 2005, shortly after appointing Bernanke to replace Greenbackspan, the Fed mysteriously announced with little comment and no palatable justification that they will hide M-3 effective March 2006.”

    Is it mere coincidence that the Fed will begin hiding M-3 the same month that Iran will launch its Iran Oil Bourse, or is there a direct threat to the stability of the U.S. dollar, the U.S. economy, and the U.S. standard of living? Are Americans being set up for a collapse in our economy that will make the Great Depression of the 1930’s look like a bounced check? If you cannot or will not make the value and stability of the U.S. currency of personal importance, if you are unwilling to demand from your elected officials, an immediate abolishment of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and the fiat money scheme that the banking cartel has used for nearly a century now to keep our government and our people in a state of perpetual debt, than you are faced with but two alternatives: abject poverty... or invading Iran!

    The plans to invade Iran are unspoken, but unfolding before our very eyes. The media has been reporting on Iran more often, and increasingly harshly. For the U.S. government to justify invading Iran, it must first begin to phase out the War in Iraq, which it is already doing. Next, it must portray the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a threat to the region and the world. Finally, once the naive American people are convinced that the “weapons of mass destruction” that were to be found in Iraq are actually in Iran ! , coupled with the almost daily media coverage of Iran’s nuclear power / weapons program aspirations, and what we will soon have on our hands is another fabricated war that will result in tens of thousands of civilian lives being lost, all because the political elected pawns in Washington DC lack the discipline to return our currency to a gold or silver standard, end the relationship with the foreign banking cartel called the Federal Reserve, and limit the activities of the U.S. government to those articulated in Article I Section 8 of the Constitution for the United States of America.

    When a wayward and corrupt fiscal policy and fiat currency, coupled with runaway government spending, forces a nation to only be able to sustain the value of its currency with bullets, the citizenry of the country involved in wars primarily to sustain its currency have historically first became slaves to their government, and then to the nations that finally conquer them. If you question the validity of such a premise, or whether it could happen to the United States of America, study the fall of the Roman Empire. If you read the right books on the subject, you’ll quickly discover that towards the end of the Roman reign, the Roman Empire was doing exactly what America is doing today; attempting to sustain a failed fiat money system with bullets.

    Understanding fiat money is not an easy task, and the Federal Reserve, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund have purposely made it that way. They do not want the American people to realize that the money in their wallet loses its value with each new dollar that they print. They do not want people to understand that our money does not become money until it is borrowed. When the Federal Reserve has money printed, when it is in uncut sheets of paper, it is not yet money. After it is cut, bundled, and placed into the Federal Reserve vaults, it still is not money. It only becomes money once it is borrowed.

    Consequently, if all debt were to be paid, if the United States didn’t have an $8 trillion national debt and the American people were debt free, and if all loans of U.S. dollars made to foreigners were paid in full, there would be exactly zero U.S. dollars in circulation because it will have all been returned to the vaults of the Federal Reserve. This might seem hard to fathom, but it is the gospel of fiat money.

    The major news media in the United States, fed by Washington DC which in turn is fed by the Federal Reserve, literally, has already begun conditioning the American people for invading Iran. Media accounts of Iran’s nuclear ambitions along with amplification of the potential instability and core evilness of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is setting the stage to spring the invasion of Iran on the American people. There does appear to be a direct correlation between the winding down effort underway in Iraq and the increase of anti-Iran rhetoric.

    How American soldiers ultimately arrive in Tehran is uncertain at this time, but it is reasonable to expect that if the Iran Oil Bourse opens for business in March 2006 as planned, it will only be a matter of time before the United States will have to blow it up.

    If the United States invades Iran, or if Israel starts military actions by launches missiles at Iran’s nuclear power facilities, which then opens the door for the United States to intervene, most Americans will believe that our military actions in Iran will be to defend freedom and liberty while spreading democracy, when the truth is that we’ll be fighting a war in Iran because of our nation’s relationship with the Federal Reserve, a so-called bank that is not owned by the federal government, maintains no reserve, and isn’t a bank at all, but a cartel.

    Just like our war in Iraq, Americans and foreigners will die in battle so that the historical power bankers and brokers; cartel members such as Rothschild, Morgan, Lehman, Lizard, Schrader, Lobe, Kuhn, and Rockefeller to name a few, can continue collecting interest on every single U.S. coin and dollar bill in circulation, while controlling the U.S. Congress to the extent that the U.S. taxpayer becomes the collateral and lender of last resort to cover bad loans and unpaid debts that these institutions create by loaning money to third world countries, some of which are devout enemies of the United States. Remember the $400 billion Savings & Loan bailout approved by the U.S. Congress during the Reagan Administration? America is still paying for it – you and me, and so will our children and grandchildren.

    It is well overdue for Americans, every American, to do whatever it takes to fully understand the relationship between the United States and the Federal Reserve, along with the grave consequences of our current fiat money system; for even if the United States wanted to continue to sustain the supremacy of the U.S. dollar with bullets, it is historically, impossible. When bullets become the commodity to secure a currency, it is a clear sign of devastating calamity looming. To ignore the warning signs, is to suffer like you have never suffered before, or to die.
    Harsh words, but true.


    Somehow, all that makes way more sense than what we're being spoon-fed, doesn't it?

    Again, though, I'm just a lowly backwoods ink-slinger -- what do I know?

    Have a great weekend, one and all.

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Friday Morning Dustups and Dustdowns

    I'll be tearing back into the Existo/V for Vendetta multi-part essay next week; this week has been far, far too busy for me to see it through as I'd like. In fact, I've got a ton of catching up to do here:

    * The Marvelman/Miracleman controversy is getting a fresh volley of talk over at Al Nickerson's newly launched Creator's Bill of Rights-spawned site and discussion boards. Lots of great reading there, but the MM thread awaits you at
  • What is 'The Truth' about MM?
  • While you're there, poke around a bit and post, if you're so disposed. Al has set up a unique venue here, and if we all snooze, we lose.

    * The Center for Cartoon Studies guest lineup this week was amazing, and I'm told the students are "giddy" with all that's gone down. I was only able to savor my usual Tuesday at CCS, but seeing the rapport between Chris Ware, Seth and Ivan Brunetti was a revelation, and the exchanges with the students (and a number of guests, including cartoonist extraordinaire Alison Bechdel, joining the students, directors and staff to hear Ivan's talk) evidenced an acceptional commitment, mutual respect, and high regard from the 'Holy Trinity' to this group of young artists. This was intoxicating in and of itself, and characteristic of what I've seen first-hand thus far at the CCS: the commitment to the students and their chosen path that comes from the veteran cartoonists and various professionals from a variety of fields who've come to speak and work with the students has been exceptional.

    Tuesday afternoon, Seth (the best-dressed cartoonist in North America) gave an intimate watercolor demonstration, coloring a finished illustration he'd already prepped and stapled down to his board and chatting up the process and many other aspects of cartooning, illustration and art as he did so. It was an amazing session, followed immediately by Ivan Brunetti's illustrated talk on cartooning, opening with images from the recent Chicago exhibition Ivan curated and easing into an excellent analysis of comics-like art, single-panel comics (Thurber, Addams, etc.), and wrapping up with a brief overview of narrative works by Seth, Chris and Ivan. This was a followup to presentations and talks Chris, Seth and Ivan had already given on Monday, leaving more than just myself aching for a way to time-travel back to Monday and get our own asses into the room.

    After Ivan's chat, fearless CCS founder and maestro James Sturm hosted a conversational panel with Ivan, Seth and Chris, which led to a lively Q&A with the audience. Again, the already-established rapport with the students was wonderful -- and that, I'm told, spilled over into the wee hours of the evening, as the students and the trio of guests extended their conversations over pizza, drinks and good company at a nearby hospitable location.

    A couple of things I can't resist noting: Seth opened his watercolor demonstrating by noting an artist should "dress for work," donning a worn but still snappy smock over his suit-and-tie. As an old denim-and-flannel man myself, I thought, "hey, I reckon I do dress for work" -- but not the way Seth does!

    Later, as Ivan gave his talk in the main CCS classroom in the venerable Colodny Building, a White River Junction landmark that was long a department store, Seth sat overlooking the scene up in a sort of balcony-like elevated area, which I've been told is where the Colodny proprietors sat when the store was an open business. From their lofty perch, the Colodny family kept a hawklike eye on customers and employees alike, and this still marks the space in a rather uncanny manner, as if the ghosts of proprietors past still watch us all below. Seth, dressed in his distinctive suit and hat, sat up in that area, and I couldn't help but savor the spectacle: Seth embodying the Colodnys of yore, and possibly wearing the same sort of suit ol' man Colodny once wore.

    Kudos to Chris, Ivan and Seth for giving so much to the CCS and the students. It was an amazing week, and my already very high regard for all three cartoonists is now stratospheric -- a great, great week for everyone at CCS, and a life-enhancing couple of days for the students. I still think back to Will Eisner's visit to the Kubert School during my freshman year there, and can't help but consider this past week's gracious visitors and giving attention an equivalent 'blessing' on this group of students.

    More later today...

    More Friday updates:

    * I'm offering a drawing workshop for Marlboro students on May 20th as a fundraiser for the Marlboro Elementary School 7th and 8th grade class trip fund. For this first time out, we're offering the workshop to local students only, but if all goes well, we'll be doing more public workshops that will be wide open for those who wish to pay and participate. More info as this develops!

    * In the meantime, the Center for Cartoon Studies summer workshops are on the calender, and those are wide open for any and all who care to participate, however close or far you may live. If you're up for a pilgrimage to White River Junction, VT this summer, here's the current schedule:

    Create Comics Workshop (ages 16 and over)
    June 26-June 30
    Tuition: $695

    Last summer's students created three self-published comics in a week under the guidance of four professional cartoonists! This summer will be even better! Faculty: Steve Bissette, Robyn Chapman, James Kochalka, and James Sturm.

    History of Comics Intensive (ages 16 and over)
    July 17-19 (Monday-Wednesday)
    Tuition: $540

    In three breathtaking days you'll cover the history of comics as taught by cartoonist and historian Steve Bissette. Faculty: Steve Bissette, James Sturm

    Educators Workshop
    July 20-22 (Thursday-Saturday)
    Tuition: $540

    Whether you teach science or art, learn to incorporate cartooning in your classroom. This workshop is co-sponsored by The National Association of Comics Arts Educators (NACAE). Faculty: Steve Bissette, James Sturm

    Gag Cartooning (ages 18 and over)
    August 3-5 (Thursday-Saturday)
    Tuition: $540

    You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll learn a lot from Harry Bliss and other New Yorker cartoonists! Faculty: Harry Bliss

    For more info and registration, click over to
  • CCS Summer Workshops
  • See some of you there, I hope!

    More to come --

    "Put the Mask on NOW!," What's the Real Scoop, Scooter? And So On...

    More odds and ends to catch up after a couple of days away:

    * One of the iconic movies of my youth was the oddball Canadian gem The Mask, which I shared with my kids via the Rhino Video vhs release. We savored it's 3D sequences and put on our stereoscopic glasses at every prompting: whenever the Aztec-mask possessed protagonist enters the semi-Lovecraftian realm that pushes him further and further into homicidal madness, an omniscient third-person narrator ominously exclaims, "Put the Mask on now!" Thanks to mine paleo amigo Micheal Ryan, here's a new link to a commemorative writeup on this gem, which proposes The Mask (aka Eyes of Hell) earn a brick in an
  • Alternative Canadian Walk of Fame
  • Writer Katrina Onstad nominates The Mask for being her "nation’s first-ever 3-D homegrown horror movie; for introducing plastic glasses, rubber snakes and secret psychedelics to Canadian cinema," all of which is true enough. Along with William Castle's amazing The Tingler (1959), The Mask also counts as being (as Onstad succinctly puts it) "about that moment when society moved from a 1950s fear of drug use to a 1960s celebration of the unleashed unconscious. No, seriously! It is!" It was arguably the first Canadian feature to enjoy distribution from a major studio (Warner Bros. released it back in '62-'63) -- though I'm hankering to check on that assertion -- and Onstad adds, "Plus, it was banned in Finland, and if that’s not cool enough to get you a star on the Alternative Canadian Walk of Fame, then what is?"


    Updates on the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby situation:

    As my amigo Mark Martin wrote to me, "I can't keep up with this guy... Make up your mind already!!!" I reckon ol' Scooter's under considerable pressure this week, ya think?

    Check it out: Here's two of the many reports, each from the far sides of the spectrum (in the interest of 'balanced' venues for y'all) --
  • update on Scooter's Testimony

  •'s update on the same
  • There's tons more online about this ongoing story -- keep an eye out!

    More Stuff and Updates:

    * I wrote a passionate ode to Basil Gogos and the new Vanguard Press book dedicated to Gogos's remarkable body of work. Well, the various editions are all available from the good folks at PaneltoPanel, and here's the links for those of you eager to place your orders. I've no idea whether these will be shipping first or second editions -- if that's crucial to you, use the direct link to the publisher provided in the full Gogos post -- but recommend PaneltoPanel's service otherwise:
  • Softcover Famous Monster Art/Basil Gogos book order via PaneltoPanel
  • While you're there, explore the rest of the site!

    * BTW, since I'm going to be referring heavily to V for Vendetta the graphic novel in the coming week, if you haven't already got a copy on your shelves, here's the best way to snag a copy for yourself ASAP:
  • Softcover edition V for Vendetta

  • Hardcover edition V for Vendetta
  • Recommended!

    * Cartoonist Dirk in Tokyo, Japan emailed me this link to "this sketchy interactive comic blog" he's been uploading from Tokyo since the beginning of 2006. Dirk extends the following invitation: "...readers from all over the world are invited to submit assignments (meet a local dj, ride a rooftop rollercoaster, talk about gender in japan) and can read a comic about my efforts the following week." Check it out at
  • Interactive Tokyo Comics Blog,
  • and tell Dirk I sent ya!

    * Comics creators, historians, scholars, fans & horror comics lovers take note: The complete, unexpurgated text of the historic 1954 US Senate Interim Report on Comic Books is online! This historic document is must-read material for anyone curious about what went down in '54 that led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority, the demise of horror and crime comics, the irrevocable changes in EC Publications' lineup, and much, much more. This compelling record is just a click away at
  • The 1954 Senate Interim Report.

  • ___

    More to follow...

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    Busy day today, outta here!

    Proper post will go up later this week; a slight rewrite of my Basil Gogos post is below. I'm off for a full day at the Center for Cartoon Studies -- we have stellar guest speakers today, Seth, Chris Ware & Ivan Brunetti, and I'm not missing a moment of whatever time they're giving us.

    So, forgive the bum's rush from me this morning. I'll get caught up on tomorrow afternoon or Thursday.

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    Going, Going, Gogos! High Alert to all Basil Gogos and Famous Monsters Fans...

    My fave new book of the year thus far is Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos, most lovingly "compiled and edited" by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock, who have essentially self-published this knockout book via their own Vanguard Productions imprint.

    I've been a frequent purchaser of the Vanguard line, which includes exquisite books on Hal Foster, Jim Steranko, Roy G. Krenkel, Curt Swan, Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, Joe Simon, Paul Gulacy, Frank Brunner, Michael Kaluta, J. Allen St. John and others, over a half-dozen lavish paperback sketchbook collections (Wally Wood, Al Williamson, Neal Adams, Jeffrey Jones, John Buscema, John Romita) and thus far eight graphic novel/anthologies (some reprints, some originals). Check 'em out at
  • Vanguard's Website...
  • ...but wait, read the rest of this, first! To my mind, their latest book -- the Gogos retrospective -- is their finest to date.

    But first, a bit of background on why Basil is so essential to me.

    Along with the works in childhood reach of Sam Glanzman, Rudolph Zallinger, Charles Knight and Joe Kubert, Basil Gogos was among the first artists whose work impressed me so much that I labored to imitate it.

    At the tender age of six, I beheld my first Famous Monsters of Filmland (#28, with the Basil Gogos portrait of Bela Lugosi as The Sayer of the Law from The Island of Lost Souls) and immediately began drawing madly, struggling futilely to recreate the cover image and photos throughout the zine with my wretched little chisel-point pencil and yellow lined pieces of paper with what seemed to be chunks of wood shavings fixed in the surface.

    [Note of revision: co-author & cartoonist/artist extraordinaire Kerry Gammill just emailed me and wrote: "The cover of Famous Monsters #28 which you mention a couple of times, was not by Gogos. Gogos did every FM cover from #9 (his first) to #24. Then for some reason (which he doesn't remember) he didn't do any more work for Warren until issue #56 when Karloff died. I thought #28 was Gogos too until recent years when I studied it more closely. Of course I checked with Basil too just to be sure. It's not credited but my guess is it was Vic Prezio." Thanks, Kerry -- indeed, checking my actual copy of #28 and the rest of my collection, it's obvious to me now that the first Gogos art I laid eyes on appeared on the covers to the back issues Mitch Casey and I ordered from that copy of #28 -- the mail order coupon for FM #28's back issues ad is missing from my dog-eared old copy still. So, it's my guess it was FM #23 that sported the first Gogos cover I ever saw. I also recall vividly #16, #18 and #20 being in our childhood collections, too, though all of those were acquired after our first issue, FM #28, was in hand.

    For the record, publisher Jim Warren and editor Forry Ackerman thereafter reprinted Gogos art for the covers of FM #47 (the FM #10 portrait of Claude Raines as the Phantom), #50 (Gogos Gorgo from FM #11), #51 and #53, with the first new Gogos -- Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster -- on FM #56, as Kerry notes. There were lots of stellar Gogos covers thereafter, though FM itself declined as I outgrew it, and it became increasingly a reprint-driven zine. My own subscription ended shortly after FM #100, though I occasionally picked up issues from the newsstand afterwards, sometimes
    only for the Gogos covers. Again, thanks, Kerry, for the correction, and pat yourself on the back for such a fantastic book -- great piece of work! End of revision/addendum insert; I've corrected any erroneous references to FM #28 in the rest of this post, following. -- SRB)

    My next door neighbor and then-best friend Mitch Casey and I were soon making our own hand-drawn monster magazines, and every cover was an impoverished attempt to capture in some meager way the mesmerizing power of those Gogos FM covers with our own made-up cyclopean giants, Frankensteinian faces and fanged bloodsuckers. The earliest extant drawing I still have (compliments of Mitch's mom Geneva, who still lives in Florida nearby where my parents live, and whom I still see every couple of years) is a careful pencil rendering of Boris Karloff in the 'baked Frank' makeup from the early scenes of The Bride of Frankenstein, and I see the attempt to emulate Gogos vividly there, though it's a tiny, fragile thing in black, white and gray.

    My own later experiments with color painting fell so brutally short of the Gogos palette that I rarely even tried, though on the bookshelf to the left of where I now sit typing is my most successful ode to my heroes Gogos and Ray Harryhausen: a sculpted clay bust of the 7th Voyage of Sinbad cyclops from my own "7th voyage" (seventh grade at Harwood Union High School) art class. The decision to make this instead of an ashtray (as most of my classmates busily did) was a conscious effort to somehow fuse the power of Gogos's FM covers and Harryhausen's dimensional monster models, shaping it all into clay and baking it in the kiln alongside the afore-mentioned ashtrays and such. My art teacher was confused by my reaction when one of the pointed ears of my cyclops broke off in the kiln: he thought I'd be bumming, but instead I seized the opportunity to paint the area an odd mix of purple and yellow. "Hey, that's good, it looks really bruised" was his observation, but no -- it was a chance to justify some Gogos coloration on my otherwise naturalistic cyclops coloration (emulating that fleshy-orange of 7th Voyage's cyclops). It still looks pretty cool, my only successful pre-college flirtation with making like Basil when I hadn't the skill to even wash a paintbrush properly.

    I also believe it was Gogos's paintings that made my earliest exposure to Mario Bava's films so immediately accessible and urgent -- the color! Bava used color the same way Gogos used color! -- and informed my subsequent years in technical theater, happier working with stage lighting and design than acting onstage. The McCandless Theory of Lighting the stage codified primary components of both Gogos and Bava with remarkable fidelity, and working as a techy in college theater gave me opportunities to further explore and expand my own color education. Thus, my own approach to working with color in my art evolved, though my own color work is forever touchstoned with those formative experiences pondering the Gogos cover art of my youthful monster magazine mania.

    Thus, my boundless enthusiasm for this book, Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos. Here are all the legendary FM covers and much new work, all of it as dazzling as that of the FM era. In fact, Gogos's re-engagement with the portrait gallery of rogues and monsters only reflects his maturation: since the Monsterscene covers of the '90s, Gogos has brought an even richer eye for color, texture, and (appropo to the best monsters) age to his more recent paintings. The man not only hasn't lost the Midas monster touch, his skill has increased exponentially, and this book is all the more dear for offering such a generous selection of work from the last decade, much of it new to me.

    Unlike many fans, I'm overjoyed to see all the archival examples of Gogos's non-genre illustration gigs, primary among them the men's adventure zines of the '60s, which I inevitably link with the zines my Dad kept hidden (chuckle) in his dresser drawer. Gogos's men's zine art embraces the iconography of that genre with glee, meshing fire-illuminated war machinery, glistening skin, torn fabric, grit teeth, and various stages of agony and undress as passionately as his FM covers illuminated monsterdom, though it's easy to see why his monster paintings have outlived his other commercial jobs. There's nothing as akimbo or excessive as "Weasels Ripped My Flesh!" among Gogos's men's zine art, and though his work therein is as accomplished as any other illustrator in that field, Gogos's men's zine art doesn't knock one's eyes out the way his FM cover portraits did -- and do.

    A new generation has embraced Gogos's work thanks to the 'monster kids' of yore growing up and providing fresh venues for the grand old painter of primordial pustulence: The Misfits, Electric Frankenstein, and most prominently Rob Zombie (who provides the intro to the book) have resurrected Gogos's stature via a new body of work as resonate (but not yet as mythic) as the old, and for that we're all thankful. But Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos lives up to its title by reserving the lion's share of the page count for Gogos's monster art -- and it's all ravishing, just unbelievably lovely.

    The text, peppered with congratulatory quotes from a wide array of celebrity Gogos fans, is informative throughout, but the real meat is in the art -- almost half-a-century of work from one of the iconic genre painters. This provides the finest imaginable 'home gallery' of Gogos art between two covers, with over 150 color reproductions (from originals and magazine sources, including those beloved FM's, natch) and over fifty more black-and-white pieces (including numerous studies of Gogos's favorite monsters and a tidy selection of Gogos's rarely seen 'men's magazine' illustrations from the '60s).

    I could go on and on, but I won't -- look, just get the book. J. David let me know up front they prefer not to deal with credit cards (they make a bit less on those orders), suggesting I mail my payment to Vanguard Productions at 390 Campus Drive, Somerset NJ 08873 (if you're like me, though, you'll email in advance to to check on availability). The book itself is 160 pages (softcover, hardcover), 176 pages (deluxe hardcover), and priced at $24.95 (sc), $34.95 (hc) or $59.95 (dx hc) plus $6.95 shipping -- and worth every penny of it.

    Don't wait! Order now! After placing my order, I asked Vanguard publisher J. David Spurlock about the current situation of this remarkable tome's availability, and he wrote:

    "...the comic shops, Diamond, Amazon, [and] bookstores
    are pretty much sold out. The last wholesale order we shipped was to Bud Plant. We have all editions (though they are going fast), Creepy Classics got 40 SCs lately and we have been holding a few back for a possible signing in LA. Other than that, we don't expect to sell any more at wholesale til the 2nd printing (in the works in time for San Diego). When Bud sell out, we'll be the only ones to have it..."

    So, unless you're up for waiting for August, I'd urge you to drop whatever you're doing and get your mail order check out today. This is a must-see collection and the definitive book on Gogos and his remarkable body of work. Famous Monster fans, don't hesitate -- you need this treasure.

    But don't take my word for it -- check out Tim Lucas's Video Watchblog review (with a shot of the cover at)
  • Tim Lucas on the Michelangelo of the Macabre!
  • I haven't seen the deluxe signed edition, but Tim has, and he writes, "...a deluxe edition limited to 600 slipcased copies, signed by the artist, adds an additional 16 page portfolio in color. Some may quibble that the portfolio contains a repeated image from the main pages, but it is substantially enlarged, further enhancing one's appreciation of what went into it. According to publisher J. David Spurlock, the deluxe edition was an instant sell-out with retailers and is now available only from Vanguard,while supply lasts. Those able to afford (and find) the limited edition are advised to shoot for the moon."

    Your call, based on whatever you can afford in these tight times. I had to settle for the softcover edition, but couldn't be happier with the book.

    Highest recommendation!

    Sunday, April 09, 2006

    Intermission: Sunday Thisin' and Thatin'

    OK, a pause in the Existo/V for Vendetta serialized essay, if only to catch up a bit.

    * First off, if you live anywhere in driving distance of Northampton, MA, be sure to make time next Saturday to pop in on Mark Martin's signing -- celebrating and ballyhooing the first issue of his new Runaway Comic (to be reviewed here later this week)! Mark is a draw (pun intended), but another draw is his wife Jeannie's fantastic food (yep, she'll be there with goodies!) and the raffle(s) to win art, comics, and more. It's all happening in from 1 to 4 p.m. this coming Saturday, April 15 at Modern Myths at 34 Bridge St. in Northampton. Runaway Comic #1 was recently released by Fantagraphics, and is worth picking up whereever you are, but this rare Mark Martin public appearance is worth the drive.

    For more on this, pop over to one of my fave blogs, Out of the Inkwell, for an even rarer
  • Mark Martin Interview with G. Michael Dobbs!
  • (It's Mike's Friday, April 7th post.)

    * Last night, my wife Marjory, son Dan, his pal Sam and I made the pilgrimage to Mass MoCa (The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, natch) in North Adams, MA to savor an evening panel with three filmmakers, Werner Herzog, Faye Ginsburg and Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation, 2004) entitled "Extreme Documentary". This capped a two-day ongoing Alternative Verite Conference at Williams College, which I'll get into later today as time permits. It was a great evening, kicking off with an excellent dinner at Cafe Latino, a bit of browsing in the Mass MoCa shop, and the panel itself, graced with lots of film & video clips, a few revelatory.

    More on all this later -- off to breakfast!

    Saturday, April 08, 2006

    Of Existo and ‘V,’ Art and Fear, and Why They Are Essential: Part Two

    The new Existo title sequence dates the film (via its overt references to Bush and especially Ashcroft) -- both as a not-at-all-distant future, and as an specific artifact of the pre-2005 Bush cabinet -- but it also places Existo precisely where many of us have personally found ourselves at some point in the past six years: paralyzed in our homes by the news of an out-of-control government we neither want nor feel any measure of empathy or control over.

    The revised prologue’s conclusion succinctly states Existo’s philosophy and modus operandi -- he is an artist, specifically a performance artist, using his art to strike out against an intolerably repressive theocracy -- unlike V, though, Existo’s means are more accessible (and legal, for the time being at least) than those employed by his London-based comrade-in-arts/arms.

    Inspired by the convicted and executed historical terrorist who sought to demolish Parliament, V unapologetically seeks to create terror: he is Moore & Lloyd enlightened vigilante. As he says at one point in both the graphic novel and the film, (I’m paraphrasing) “The people are afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of the people.” By design, Existo and his ragtag band of fellow artists parody the grim imperative and tactics of V, though their intentions are absolutely in synch: a complacent populace must be shaken awake with all due force.

    Only ingeniously staged outrageous public spectacle will do.

    Existo’s methods and means are his music & songs, which are in and of themselves pretty amazing. Bruce Arnston and his collaborators have pulled off something quite extraordinary; the musical numbers are beautifully executed, exhilerating and intoxicating. The only recent accessible parallels I can cite off the top of my head would be Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s and Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s remarkable synthesis of music, song, ire and satire.

    Consider just one of Existo’s setpieces, “And I Cry.” Like all the tunes in the film, it must be heard/seen to be appreciated, but here’s a lyric sampler:

    ”So belly up comrades! It’s high noon and
    The atomic clock has an erection
    The size of the Washington Monument

    Until all forms of art are subsidized
    Untl the workers run the factories
    Until condoms are dispensed with crayons
    Until every flag comes with its own match
    Until the sacred school prayer is replaced
    With a minute of angst and foreboding
    Until we have slit our bellies and spilt
    Our bowels upon their hallowed marble floors
    I will cry and I’ll cry and I’ll cry”

    Interesting to note, actually, that in this Existo is closer to the showmanship and vaudevillian (“vaudevillain”?) flourishes characteristic of the V created and wonderfully fleshed out in Moore & Lloyd’s graphic novel. In his original form, V is as much a politicized Phantom of the Opera as an Orwellian Count of Monte Cristo, a subterranean-dwelling vigilante with a social conscience and a savage song in his heart.

    This component of V was completely eschewed for the film (at best sublimated into his collector’s jukebox, accompaniment to his Dr. Phibes-like dance with Evey), no doubt because it seemed either potentially risible or too precious in the context of a contemporary action/sf film (indeed, Dr. Phibes director Robert Fuest in his prime might have pulled it off, though). Suffice to say the film adaptation favors the Count of Monte Cristo archetype over Eric the Phantom -- but it’s important to remember V’s music and ‘stage’ persona were essential to the characterization in the original graphic novel V -- and the work itself.

    Both Existo and the original (graphic novel) V are performance artists, and anything but anarchists: they act on (rather than “act out”) their perceptions of reality with decisive political intent, aiming to awaken a complacent/repressed populace with catalytic public spectacles calculated to expose/explode prevalent illusions of safety/security/comformity and provoke some form of public or private action against the monolithic & fascistic status quo. The musical performances of Moore & Lloyd’s V have been stripped away in the film adaptation (making the rare 1984 V LP by Moore and David J all the more compelling, representing as it does the point at which Alan most publicly “played” his character via his performance, singing V’s song “This Vicious Cabaret”), but this aspect of the character is key to the original work -- and an interesting precursor to Existo.

    Consider the opening stanzas of “This Vicious Cabaret”:

    They say that there’s a broken light for every heart on Broadway
    They say that life’s a game and then they take the board away.
    They give you masks and costumes and an outline of the story
    Then leave you to improvise their vicious cabaret.
    In no longer pretty cities
    There are fingers in the kitties,
    There are warrants, forms and chitties
    And a jackboot on the stair...”

    Consistent with the satiric context of the film, Existo songs are funnier by design, but no less serious in intent. At key points, Existo’s are just as pointed and angry as V’s lyrics:

    ”My thoughts are oily
    Slick advance men for the coming nightmare
    They leave me shaking
    They sucker punch me then they slip away
    My clammy sheets reflect a random flash of lightning
    Then the search light then the spotlight
    Then the flashlight in the face -- fuckin’ A...”

    Or this, again from “And I Cry”:

    ”Philosophy students are fed fundamentalist crap
    While science departments excrete that creationist crap
    And liberals can’t find their testicles without a map...”

    It’s worth noting, too, the respective times & places that yielded both works: Margaret Thatcher’s UK, George W. Bush’s Nashville, TN. I’ll write tomorrow about the roots of Existo in the Nashville scene, but it’s worth pausing to reflect on the era that spawned the original serialized graphic novel V for Vendetta, and consider the parallels with the US today -- for it’s that conjunction that has yielded V for Vendetta the movie.

    The tension among many of us in the US was thick in the Reagan era, but it didn’t hold a candle to that of the UK during Thatcher’s reign. I was there three times during those years, and it was palpable, suffocatingly so, and quite unlike anything I’d felt in America since the Richard Nixon era (when I was still too young to grasp the hardest realities, and only felt the most obvious and tactile aspects of politics -- codified in my own wallet with my fucking draft card; luckily for me, my number never came up, though my older brother served). In the non-mainstream culture, England seethed with rage at Thatcher, her policies, abuses of power, and the generation that elected her. From the howl of rage of the Sex Pistols and the UK punk scene to Alan & David’s buried-in-the-pages-of-Warrior subversive dystopian tapestry of V and the antic comedy of The Young Ones or razored satire of the Spitting Image puppets on the telly, it was impossible to miss if you were young enough and neither blind nor deaf.

    All this trickled into the US at a frustratingly compromised rate, usually neutered completely (anyone recall the abysmal, toothless US broadcast of Spitting Image as a one-shot special?) or arriving at all on the fringes, as V originally arrived via scant imports of Warrior in a few comics shops and mail-order firms. Reagan’s repressive ‘back to Victory Culture’ era, the fresh assertion of conservative rule and the initial rumblings of the insanity of neoconservatism in seats of power held sway in the US, any mobilized protest or backlash domesticated by the one-two shot of the attempted assassination of Reagan -- which contemporary right-wing revisionists conveniently forget was the real catalyst for Reagan’s resurrection in the polls and renewed public support. Hinkley’s attempted assassination was Reagan’s 9/11, sans the global impact; it bolstered the surviving President’s sagging popularity and reinvigorated his Cabinet. The close association between Reagan and Thatcher was well known (and brilliantly summed up and savaged in one of the uncut UK Spitting Image program codas of their fleshy Reagan & Thatcher puppets lustily kissing goodbye to one another in an airport terminal, and as she departs Ronnie turns to the camera with fist raised and says, “What a woman! Too bad I’m only fucking her country!”)

    Thus, Reaganism effectively squelched any overt anti-Thatcherism, and the bovine indifference of the American public to anything happening “over there” outside our own borders took care of anything missed by the media filters. We were by and large restrained from any full doses of anti-Thatcher media in any form, save for the punk movement’s inevitable spillover into the US (which of course generated its own regional punk subcultures).

    Despite the mythic view many hold today, the Sex Pistols never penetrated mainstream US culture; hell, the Ramones didn’t either, unless you care to count their screentime in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and theme for Pet Semetary as crossover points (both pretty pale echoes of their musical and onstage impact). If I was pressed to mark what I consider the point at which unfiltered anti-Thatcher sentiments finally began to penetrate the US mainstream with any sense of urgency or genuine outrage, I’d have to cite hearing on the radio airplay of Elvis Costello’s “Tamp the Dirt Down” from his 1989 Spike (his first for Warner Bros., who coincidentally already had V for Vendetta contractually under their belt via Alan & David’s deal with DC Comics). The album was already spinning regularly in my studio and the tape playing in my car, but it was hearing it on FM radio that I’d mark as the crossover point. Costello’s lyrics and delivery dripped with the same venom I’d heard firsthand in and about England during my brief UKAK sojourns there in the mid-80s. Costello launches the song with the familiar image of a politician’s photo op with an infant, and upon that builds his portrait of Thatcher:

    ”I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
    A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
    She spills with compassion, as that young child's
    Face in her hands she grips
    Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
    Coming down on that child's lips

    ...When england was the whore of the world
    Margeret was her madam
    And the future looked as bright and as clear as
    The black tarmacadam
    Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn't
    Haunted by every tiny detail
    'cos when she held that lovely face in her hands
    All she thought of was betrayal...”

    The parallels with W. Bush’s America are striking. Though few have noted it, Bush’s reactions whenever faced with an ordinary citizen’s outrage mirror Thatcher’s, sans her ability to articulate her contempt with something other than an elder frat-boy’s smug sneer. Consider anew his contemptuous treatment of his critics, his refusal to deal on any human level with the grief of parents who’ve lost their children serving in the Iraq War unless their grief is something he and his Administration can exploit (need I cite Cindy Sheehan?), his face when the rare opportunity emerges for a mere citizen to question his seemingly uncheckable power (the woman who asked Bush what mistakes he thought he’d made, a question that clearly blind-sided Bush in the final debate of the last election; his reaction this past week in Charlotte, North Caroline when 61-year-old Harry Taylor said, “I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself”).

    Of course, such open contempt by politicians for citizens is hardly unique to either Bush or Thatcher, but they are characteristics of both that I find as striking as the political parallels (both politicians’s hellbent advocacy of privatization in all levels of society, their appetites for secrecy and war, their disasterous fiscal policies, etc.). Again, Costello’s lyrical portrait of Thatcher in ‘89 rings true and could be applied to Bush without modification, sans for the gender switching from ‘she’ to ‘he’ in a single line:

    “And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run
    Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his only son
    And how it's only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt
    Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt
    Try telling me she isn't angry with this pitiful discontent
    When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment
    And then expect you to say "thank you" straighten up, look proud and
    Because you've only got the symptoms, you haven't got the whole disease
    Just like a schoolboy, whose head's like a tin-can
    Filled up with dreams then poured down the drain
    Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and maimed
    Who takes all the glory and none of the shame...”

    Can any single line summarize the current President as succinctly as that last one?
    It’s no coincidence that Moore & Lloyd’s complex narrative extrapolation on the worst aspects of Thatcherism circa 1983-86 resonate so clearly in Bush’s America circa 2006, even filtered by Hollywood studio timidity and Andy & Larry Wachowski’s adaptation. Cinematically, Existo is the real McCoy: undiluted by adaptation (save for the revisionist opening moments of the ‘festival’ edit), a direct reaction to Bush’s America within its own time and place, straight from its originators to our eye and ear.

    In this rarified new environment we’re all sinking or swimming in, pop culture eruptions both suppressed (sans distribution) and popular (promoted with all the muscle a multi-national communications giant like Time Warner can muster) like Existo and V for Vendetta are not only topical and relevent, but suddenly urgent, imperative and essential.

    They are “mere entertainments,” yes, but they are aggressively posing questions via their fictions “we” as a nation have studiously avoided for years and avoid even now, in any form that would be recognized as meaningful public debate (much less with consequence).

    [To be continued...]

    [Existo lyrics copyright 1998 Flo-El Music and EXISTO-Music]
    [“This Vicious Cabaret” lyrics copyright 1983 Alan Moore/David Lloyd]

    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Of Existo and ‘V,’ Art and Fear, and Why They Are Essential: Part One

    As promised, I’m going to make my way in the coming posts to a discussion of the now-in-theaters adaptation of Alan Moore & David Lloyd’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, a film I’ve now seen twice and quite enjoyed. But as any long-time reader of this blog knows, I can’t do so without discussing the broader context for the film, the viewing, and its current popularity.

    Addressing immediately the latter, I’ll note from the outset that it’s clear the film V for Vendetta has plucked a nerve among younger viewers. This massive audience has little or nothing to do with the graphic novel devotees: no mainstream feature maintains a #2 boxoffice position based solely on graphic novel audience numbers. Apart from anything relevent to the source work (or the controversy over its co-creator’s disowning both the film and original work), it’s a film my 20-year-old son and his circle of friends are mightily impressed with. It was evident at both viewings I caught that the predominately youthful audience (a few teens but mainly folks and couples in their twenties) was engaged & bowled over by V as few films since Fight Club have touched them.

    However diluted (and that’s something I’ll eventually get to), the powerful dypstopian narrative Alan & David concocted in reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s rule of their native country is terrifyingly timely and attuned to W. Bush’s US empire of 2006 -- and the film retains/adapts enough of the strengths and specifics of that political parable to disturb, awaken and arouse.

    And that, given the complicity & complacency of American mainstream studios by definition, is quite an achievement in and of itself.

    I would further posit V for Vendetta the film as a successor to Patrick McGoohan’s subversive TV series The Prisoner, which after all reached most of us stateside via its unusual CBS-TV broadcast in the late ‘60s, unheralded and an unknown quantity quite out-of-lockstep with the mind-numbing context of its network’s usual (ahem) content. Even as a ‘cult’ item, the stranglehold the three US networks had on 1960s America was such that millions saw The Prisoner at some point or other during that oddball broadcast season, just as V the movie is reaching millions lured by something other than the political context that made, say, Fahrenheit 9/11 such a pre-polarized boxoffice sensation a couple of years ago.

    Suggesting a companionship between V the film and The Prisoner is easy -- hell, there’s even the British correlation as both a calling card and safety valve of relative exoticism (no way Time Warner would be releasing a V that ended with the White House being blown to smithereens: that’s fodder only for jingoistic sf like Independence Day and safe satires like Mars Attacks).

    But there’s a much closer companion feature, and one as original as The Prisoner TV series and Alan & David’s graphic novel V for Vendetta were in their respective times. Unlike the movie version of V, though, this companion feature hasn’t the corporate might of a Time Warner behind it: it’s been denied any viable distribution whatsoever for over six years, and consigned to a sad limbo, well out of reach of any sizeable potential audience.

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet Existo -- figuratively (and presciently) subtitled by its makers in some packaging and publicity as The Forbidden Movie.

    If you’re wondering what these two films have in common, allow me to cut to the chase by transcribing the new opening title sequence concocted by co-writer/director Coke Sams and Existo himself (and co-writer) Bruce Arnston for the ‘festival cut’ of Existo. I think you’ll see the parallels in a heartbeat. I don’t want to erroneously raise expectations or draw false correlations -- unlike V for Vendetta, Existo is a satire, and quite pointedly hilarious musical comedy at that -- but there are a number of crossover elements worth citing and discussing.

    The first version of Existo I saw back in ‘99 (thanks to lifelong Coke Sams compadre and mutual friend Paul Redmond) opened with a straightforward introduction to Existo (Arnston) and Maxine (Jackie Welch) via their arrival at the underground cabaret “The Swamp” run by queen bee Collette (veteran character actor Gailard Sartain) as Collette performs the opening number “Do Me” onstage.

    Thereafter, by osmosis via dialogue references and the narrative itself, we come to understand what the new prologue makes explicit.

    That's how Existo originally ran. Soon after, Coke & Bruce revised the opening minutes, deleting completely the suggestive "Do Me" and presenting immediately Existo's backstory:

    The following radio broadcast (from The Daily Truth Radio Network) is heard as we see Existo suffering an anxiety attack in bed, sweating, gritting his teeth and tearing his hair while Maxine sleeps beside him. A rotating fan spins overhead, adding to the claustrophobic clamminess of the title sequence; the broadcast bytes and Existo’s angst are crosscut with vivid infrared black-and-white flashbacks to Existo shattered by a violent shock therapy/exorcism at the hands of the totalitarian authorities (including a glimpse of the nominal fundamentalist villain Glasscock, cited in the broadcast):

    ”It’s four more years for Bush... [given the] Supreme Court’s 4-5 decision to grant President Bush an unprecedented four year extension on his term of office... in addressing the Court’s postponement of this year’s election, Justice Scalia wrote in the majority opinion, ‘another drawn-out Presidential campaign would only serve to question the legitimacy of the President, thus giving the terrorists exactly what they want.’...

    Earlier today, Secretary Doran of The Department of Culture, Heritage and Values Corporation along with Armand Glasscock of The Decency Council joined Wayne Newton in kicking off the ground breaking ceremony on the long-awaited Helms Memorial. When complete, the structure will house the prestigious Strom Thurman collection of beloved Norman Rockwell prints. The non-barrier free memorial will use absolutely no public funds and will be built entirely by rehabilitated homosexuals...

    It’s family values in action in this the first test for our recently-privatized GE National Guard... [with] their week-long intercity house-cleaning effort Codename God-Like Purge. In New York City alone, over two hundred drug pushers, actors, poets, homos and pedophiles have been rounded up and sent to the nearest Disney World indoctrination facility....

    Attorney General and acting FBI director John Ashcroft made a rare appearance on Capital Hill today, urging Senators to expand last year’s sweeping Right to Life legislation to include a ban on male masturbation within a thirty-foot radius of an ovulating white woman --”

    At this, Existo snaps awake: we hear the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning from a storm raging outside their bedroom. He has been dreaming, but his voiceover immediately following (as he quietly slips from the bed without waking Maxine, opening a massive trunk and removing a framed document he tenderly handles with devotional care) indicates the political reality of Existo’s world isn’t far from that of his nightmare, and that his flashbacks were genuine:

    ”It’s been ten years since the exile. The procedure in the psych ward has left me a bit suicidal. And while Maxine nurses me back toward lucidity, the Corporate Beast and their fundamentalist minions have been mopping up what’s left of our Proletarian wet dream...

    In a few days, there won’t be an underground left to lead. So once again, I return to the manifesto to fight the only way I know how -- because I am a soldier in the culture war and art is my weapon of choice...”

    As the thunder rolls, the title Existo fades into view.

    [To be continued...]

    Short update

    OK, a bit more info today, just a FYI summary:

    As you likely now know, I. "Scooter" Lewis Libby -- indicted chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney in the Valerie Plame 'outting' investigation -- admitted under oath before a Federal Grand Jury that President George W. Bush himself authorized the (illegal) “leak” of classified information concerning Plame's identity to The New York Times reporter Judith Miller in July, 2003.

    The White House has not denied this, and it's important to understand, too, that this statement was made under oath, and reportedly has some documentation to back it.

    It's now explicit that the "leak" was an effort to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson for his publicly revealing “there [was] nothing to the story” that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium for a nuclear weapons program. Already, the White House is claiming that Democrats are making political hay of this revelation, asserting moreover that Bush had, by his very directive to unveil Plame's identity, thus declassified that information -- an astounding spin by any standards.

    (Wilson is the husband of Valerie Plame, now-former- undercover -- since Bush/Cheney/Libby clumsily outted her -- CIA operative whose identity was revealed in retaliation for Wilson’s contention that Bush’s assertions about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, and hence the premise for the Iraq War, were false.)

    Thus, on every level, this treasonous high-echelon White House cabal discredited all concerned while continuing to deliberately mislead the American public to justify and "sell" the Iraq War.

    [Note, too, last week's New York Times revelation of documents demonstrating Bush & Blair's knowledge that Iraq had no "weapons of mass destruction" two months before the launch of the war, and discussion of means of deceiving the public to justify such war.]

    In a related bit of blade-twisting news yesterday, President Bush’s Attorney General admitted yesterday that Bush believes that he has the authority to personally authorize secret wiretapping -- without any court order or oversight of any kind -- of any and all conversations and emails between Americans that occur exclusively within the borders of the United States.

    Remember, it had earlier been asserted by President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and Attorney General Gonzales that Bush's covert wire-tapping program existed only to listen in on conversations of US citizens who were making international calls and emails.

    Thus, both revelations of yesterday reassert that this President and this Administration has long held the view that anything this President does is, by the very nature of the Presidency, above the law and therefore of the law: by proxy, the new law.

    The insanity continues...

    [As one poster has noted, the Nixon presidency and Administration was undone not by a single event, but by cumulative events reaching critical mass. Agreed -- this latest outrage is just another factor in a steadily mounting mountain of evidence. The critical mass has not yet been reached...]

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    This HAS to do it -- BUSH OUTTED AT LAST??

    Just opened email to check on something, and this 47-minute-old news was up on Yahoo.

    Man, this has to send shockwaves to change the tide --

  • Bush Outted At Last? AP story!
  • Papers: Cheney Aide Says Bush OK'd Leak

    By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
    47 minutes ago

    WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney's former top
    aide told prosecutors that President Bush authorized a
    leak of sensitive intelligence information about Iraq,
    according to court papers filed by prosecutors in the
    CIA leak case.

    The filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald also
    describes Cheney involvement in I. Lewis Libby's
    communications with the press.

    There was no indication in the filing that either Bush
    or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Valerie Plame's
    CIA identity. But it points to Cheney as one of the
    originators of the idea that Plame could be used to
    discredit her husband, Bush administration critic
    Joseph Wilson.

    Before his indictment, Libby testified to the grand
    jury investigating the CIA leak that Cheney told him
    to pass on prewar intelligence on Iraq and that it was
    Bush who authorized the disclosure, the court papers
    say. According to the documents, the authorization led
    to the July 8, 2003, conversation between Libby and
    New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In that
    meeting, Libby made reference to the fact that
    Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

    According to Fitzgerald's court filing, Cheney, in
    conversation with Libby, raised the question of
    whether a CIA-sponsored trip by Wilson "was legitimate
    or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr.
    Wilson's wife."

    The disclosure in documents filed Wednesday means that
    the president and the vice president put Libby in play
    as a secret provider of information to reporters about
    prewar intelligence on Iraq.

    Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday
    the White House would have no comment on the ongoing
    investigation. At a congressional hearing, Attorney
    General Alberto Gonzales said the president has the
    "inherent authority to decide who should have
    classified information."

    Libby is asking for voluminous amounts of classified
    information from the government in order to defend
    himself against five counts of perjury, obstruction
    and lying to the FBI in the Plame affair.

    He is accused of making false statements about how he
    learned of Plame's CIA employment and what he told
    reporters about it.

    Bush's political foes jumped on the revelation about
    Libby's testimony.

    "The fact that the president was willing to reveal
    classified information for political gain and put the
    interests of his political party ahead of America's
    security shows that he can no longer be trusted to
    keep America safe," Democratic National Committee
    Chairman Howard Dean said.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "The more we hear,
    the more it is clear this goes way beyond Scooter
    Libby. At the very least, President Bush and Vice
    President Cheney should fully inform the American
    people of any role in allowing classified information
    to be leaked."

    Libby's testimony indicates both the president and the
    vice president authorized leaks. Bush and Cheney both
    have long said they abhor that practice, so much so
    that the administration has put in motion criminal
    investigations to hunt down leakers.

    The most recent instance is the administration's
    launching of a probe into who disclosed to The New
    York Times the existence of the warrantless domestic
    surveillance program.

    The authorization involving intelligence information
    came as the Bush administration faced mounting
    criticism about its failure to find weapons of mass
    destruction in Iraq, the main reason the president and
    his aides had given for going to war.

    Libby's participation in a critical conversation with
    Miller on July 8, 2003 "occurred only after the vice
    president advised defendant that the president
    specifically had authorized defendant to disclose
    certain information in the National Intelligence
    Estimate," the papers by Special Counsel Patrick
    Fitzgerald stated. The filing did not specify the
    "certain information."

    "Defendant testified that the circumstances of his
    conversation with reporter Miller — getting approval
    from the president through the vice president to
    discuss material that would be classified but for that
    approval — were unique in his recollection," the
    papers added.

    Plame's husband, a former U.S. ambassador, said the
    administration had twisted prewar intelligence to
    exaggerate the Iraqi threat from weapons of mass

    After Wilson publicly attacked the administration on
    Iraq on July 6, 2003, "Vice President Cheney,
    defendant's immediate superior, expressed concerns to
    defendant regarding whether Mr. Wilson's trip was
    legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up
    by Mr. Wilson's wife," the papers said.

    After a 2002 CIA-sponsored trip to Africa, Wilson said
    he had concluded that Iraq did not have an agreement
    to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger.

    Libby spoke to Miller on July 8, 2003, and
    Fitzgerald's filing identifies Cheney as being
    instrumental in having Libby speak again four days
    later to Miller as well as to Time magazine reporter
    Matt Cooper regarding Wilson. In all three
    conversations, Libby told the reporters about Wilson's
    wife, both Miller and Cooper have testified.

    Her CIA status was publicly disclosed by conservative
    columnist Robert Novak eight days after her husband
    accused the Bush administration of twisting prewar
    intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat from
    weapons of mass destruction.

    Libby says he needs extensive classified files from
    the government to demonstrate that Plame's CIA
    connection was a peripheral matter that he never
    focused on, and that the role of Wilson's wife was a
    small piece in a building public controversy over the
    failure to find WMD in Iraq.

    Fitzgerald said in the new court filing that Libby's
    requests for information go too far and the prosecutor
    cited Libby's own statements to investigators in an
    attempt to limit the amount of information the
    government must turn over to Cheney's former chief of
    staff for his criminal defense.

    The court filing was first disclosed by The New York

    The WRIF is Online - The White River Film Festival -- And: All Kinds of Wednesday Stuff, No Nonsense

    Morning, all -- for a number of months now, a group of dedicated filmmakers, artists, writers, teachers, activists and film lovers (including yours truly) have been busy screening, selecting, and bringing to fruition the White River Junction, VT Independent Film Festival. As of today, the website is up and running --
  • WRIF White River Independent Film Festival Site
  • -- sporting writeups by yours truly.

    This festival brings a pretty amazing selection of films and filmmakers to the area the final weekend of this month. I won't be there (Marj and I will be elsewhere), but filmmakers like Nora Jacobson, Matt Bucy and many others will be -- including the directors, producers, and writers of a number of the films showcased in the festival. All the details await you at the website -- check it out, and if you've needed one more reason to come to White River Jct. other than the Center for Cartoon Studies, this may be it.

    I've a number favorites among the films, but the key one I brought to the table is Coke Sam's incredible "lost movie" Existo, which I'll talk about at length here later in the month. Here's my writeup, just to whet your appetite:

    EXISTO (THE FORBIDDEN MOVIE) (1999) This antic, inflamatory satire of the ongoing US culture wars is unlike any movie ever made. Fusing the anarchic impulses of John Waters (Existo is arguably a companion to Cecil B. DeMented -- and its superior in every way) and Trey Parker & Matt Stone (South Park, Team America, etc.), Existo lands as savvy and savagely funny a musical bullseye against mainstream values as any the Parker/Stone team have scored. In a not-too-distant future when art is outlawed by America’s fundamentalist Christian government, Existo (Bruce Arntson, who also co-scripted and scored the film) and Maxine (Jackie Welch) return to the underground guerilla performance art outpost of their glory days. Despite his addled brain and unbrideled libido (“Spin the Bishop!”), Existo rouses the group’s ‘art assaults’ on conformity & complacency even as an embedded ally of the repressive conservative gov’t undermines Existo’s resurrection.

    An outrageous Millennial ‘midnight movie’ musical from the Nashville-based creators behind the popular Ernest phenomenon of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Director Coke Sams was key to Ernest’s multimedia incarnations from the 1981 launch (via commercials & TV spots) to the breakthrough hit Ernest Goes to Camp (1987), helming Ernest Goes to School (1994) before moving on. Coke’s co-conspirators are veterans of the Ernest troupe, from brassy Jackie Welch to vet character actor Gailard Sartain (who debuted [on the big screen] as the Big Bopper in The Buddy Holly Story in 1978): Bruce Arntson created Existo for the popular TV show Hey Vern, It’s Ernest (1988), and the late Jim Varney (Ernest himself) appears in his final screen role as a diehard guerilla artists. Don’t let the Ernest connection mislead you into thinking Existo isn’t the sharp, subversive, hilarious cinematic political antitoxin it is. Nothing you have ever heard or seen will prepare you for -- EXISTO! [NOTE: Be sure to stay through the credits to enjoy the concluding musical number!]

    “If you have to go out and you see art, do not -- I repeat, do not -- try to interpret it yourself. Call 911 and let the Art Squad defuse it.” (- Gov’t PSA in EXISTO)


    Incredibly, the Amnesty International report issued this week on CIA "extraordinary rendition" practices and the ongoing US kidnapping and imprisonment of targetted 'detainees' hasn't galvanized much attention here in the US -- or so it seems. The increasing abuse of assumed Presidential "executive power" to incarcerate individuals sans due process of any kind on unchallengable, unquestionable premises and make people simply disappear for years on end should be setting off shockwaves to dwarf the recent public protests against pending immigration laws -- but we aren't seeing any such outrage.

    In the meantime, the UK is facing the issue in a far more responsible manner. Earlier this year, heated Parliamentary debate in the direct wake of the London subway bombings over whether suspects can be detained without formal charges for more than 14 days prompted intense discussion of the powers of the British police and government -- the very debate we in the US never, ever had. Now that we're seeing the Supreme Court refuse to hear a case involving a US citizen seized from a US airport to be imprisoned for years now without due process of any kind, it seems more significant than ever before that the international community is scrutinizing the abuses of the US "War on Terror". Britain's Defense Secretary recently suggested revision of the Geneva Conventions, setting standards for conduct during times of war (including the treatment of prisoners and protection of civilians and journalists, and treaty bans on torture, rape, mutilation, slavery, genocide, etc.) -- even 'faux' wars like our national war on a tactic, "The War on Terror." This is an ongoing story, but there's a decent summary online at
  • British Secretary Wants Geneva Convention Reviewed

  • More later today...

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    No Wind in My Sails

    Ah, fuck it this morning.

    Maybe later today I'll have some tobacco juice worth spitting into the can.

    For the record, only:
  • More Big Fun.
  • Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    "It's -- Good for Ducks! Don't Complain When the Rain -- Falls Down..."

    Better to sing Pere Ubu than "April Showers," eh?

    Yesterday and today are classic early spring days and nights. It's more typical April weather than the balmy 70+ degree end-of-March we savored this weekend.

    Seen from the front, our house is a tableau of this time of year's schizophrenia in VT: there's a wheel barrow and rake out from the weekend yard work, a snow shovel still parked by the front door. And yes, I'm keeping the snow tires on my car (typically until mid-May).

    Last evening, Marj and I drove down to Brattleboro for her birthday movie (we saw Roger Donaldson's excellent World's Fastest Indian, which was indeed a treat; huh, I finally got Marj to a biker flick!).

    It was 40 degrees and pissing rain, and the first frogs of the year were out and about on their first evening romp. Many, of course, were already pasted to the tarmac, the inevitable amphibious roadcall of the season, though we (well, I) saw a few mighty sizeable batrachians tom-catting in the gloom.

    As we headed home, though, the temperature was falling to 38 degrees and those not wedded to the blacktop via vulcanized rubber death were no longer in sight -- what a difference two degrees makes when you're cold-blooded.

    And speaking of cold-blooded:

    I've written about this before here, back when President Bush was spinning his George Romeroesque press conference pipedreams in the Rose Garden about using military force to quarantine US populations should the avian flu descend upon us (I know, it's an impoverished fantasy next to his State of the Union dread of canine/human hybrids), but it's worth following up on:
  • Rummy Makes Hay While Americans Fear the Sneeze
  • Oh, OK, that's not the real headline, but that's the real link to "Donald Rumsfeld Makes $5 Million Killing on Bird Flu Drug" by Geoffrey Lean & Jonathan Owen, who write:

    "Donald Rumsfeld has made a killing out of bird flu. The US Defence Secretary has made more than $5m (£2.9m) in capital gains from selling shares in the biotechnology firm that discovered and developed Tamiflu, the drug being bought in massive amounts by Governments to treat a possible human pandemic of the disease.... The drug was developed by a Californian biotech company, Gilead Sciences. It is now made and sold by the giant chemical company Roche, which pays it a royalty on every tablet sold, currently about a fifth of its price.

    Mr Rumsfeld was on the board of Gilead from 1988 to 2001, and was its chairman from 1997. He then left to join the Bush administration, but retained a huge shareholding."

    In complete accord with Vice President Cheney's longtime Halliburton affiliation and the Bush family (and other prominent GOP) association with The Carlysle Group (who most recently took active interests in the port deals after you-know-what happened), Rumsfeld's profiteering seems too connected to ongoing Administration policies to be remotely coincidental:

    "The firm made a loss in 2003, the year before concern about bird flu started. Then revenues from Tamiflu almost quadrupled, to $44.6m, helping put the company well into the black. Sales almost quadrupled again, to $161.6m last year. During this time the share price trebled.

    Mr Rumsfeld sold some of his Gilead shares in 2004 reaping - according to the financial disclosure report he is required to make each year - capital gains of more than $5m. The report showed that he still had up to $25m-worth of shares at the end of 2004, and at least one analyst believes his stake has grown well beyond that figure, as the share price has soared. Further details are not likely to become known, however, until Mr Rumsfeld makes his next disclosure in May."

    The report I've linked to also discusses Rumsfeld's other shareholdings and earnings in unrelated firms and fields. Fair enough; the rich get richer, and since this Administration is composed of the 21st Century American Gilded Age Aristocracy, Rummy is in his element, and we're foolish to expect otherwise. But the increasingly blatant conflict-of-interests between Administration elite's investments and their fear-mongering policies should be putting up the dander on all Americans.

    "In a statement to The Independent on Sunday the Pentagon said: "Secretary Rumsfeld has no relationship with Gilead Sciences, Inc beyond his investments in the company. When he became Secretary of Defence in January 2001, divestiture of his investment in Gilead was not required by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Office of Government Ethics or the Department of Defence Standards of Conduct Office.

    "Upon taking office, he recused himself from participating in any particular matter when the matter would directly and predictably affect his financial interest in Gilead Sciences."

    Hmmmm, but that doesn't prevent pal George and Administration cronies from upping the ol' avian flu ante, does it?

    According to the online post by Dr. Joseph Mercola, whose credibility I cannot vouch for but who is prominent among those covering these issues, this is typical of Rumsfeld's history (note I've retained all of Mercola's links):

    "The current U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has a history of dabbling in health chicanery.  At
  • G.D. Searle
  •  he facilitated FDA approval for Nutrasweet. More recently he served as head of Gilead Sciences, the company that developed, then leased the rights to Roche Pharmaceuticals, to
  • the worthless flu drug Tamiflu.

  • When I wrote about Rumsfeld
  • in December,
  • it was unclear just how much stock he held and how much it was worth. Now we know.

    So far, Rumsfeld has made a "killing" (pun intended) on the stock market, and the estimations that set the current value of his remaining stock at $25 million are likely to be well under their actual value, considering
  • Roche's decision to expand Tamiflu production.

  • Sadly, current ethics rules in American government don't prevent Rumsfeld from owning stocks or making money from health-harming substances like Tamiflu or aspartame, even though he likely has some say in their purchase or approval by the government, and therefore their stock value.

    No surprise, since drug companies use their largesse
  • to buy favors and influence from Congress and the White House.
  • The most ironic thing about all of this is that not only is the "avian flu pandemic"
  • a hoax for which there is no evidence,
  • but Tamiflu can actually cause the flu virus to mutate into a more dangerous and potent viral strain, and may have
  • even worse side effects.

  • Avian flu does NOT readily spread from birds to humans or humans to humans. Most of the (very few) people who have acquired this infection were bird handlers who were in continuous contact with sick birds.

    Does anyone in their right mind envision similar circumstances in the United States? Research like this would typically be thrown in the trash if it did not strongly support some ulterior purpose."

    Make up your own minds, natch, but these matters do cut to one of the black hearts of the ongoing corruption steering us as a country further into an eroding "democracy" and real disaster.


    What to do?

    The civil of us cling to the hope of the next election, but one wonders how far this will push others.

    In reality, we read folks like J. Taber of New Castle, DE writing, "The United States Constitution did not expire on September 11th, 2001."

    Uh, it didn't, did it?

    I've been hearing and seeing former GOP favorite son and writer Kevin Phillips (author of The Coming Republican Majority, lovingly embraced as the "political bible of the Nixon Era" by Republicans, and the not-beloved American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century from Viking) all over the place, on radio and television, speaking out against the current regime with alarming precision.

    In The Washington Post, Phillips writes (thanks to HomeyM for sharing this with me via email):

    "In addition to its concerns with oil and terrorism, the White House is courting end-times theologians and electorates for whom the Holy Lands are a battleground of Christian destiny. Both pursuits -- oil and biblical expectations -- require a dissimulation in Washington that undercuts the U.S. tradition of commitment to the role of an informed electorate.

    The political corollary -- fascinating but appalling -- is the recent transformation of the Republican presidential coalition. Since the election of 2000 and especially that of 2004, three pillars have become central: the oil-national security complex, with its pervasive interests; the religious right, with its doctrinal imperatives and massive electorate; and the debt-driven financial sector, which extends far beyond the old symbolism of Wall Street.

    President Bush has promoted these alignments, interest groups and their underpinning values. His family, over multiple generations, has been linked to a politics that conjoined finance, national security and oil. In recent decades, the Bushes have added close ties to evangelical and fundamentalist power brokers of many persuasions.

    Over a quarter-century of Bush presidencies and vice presidencies, the Republican Party has slowly become the vehicle of all three interests -- a fusion of petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex. The three are increasingly allied in commitment to Republican politics. On the most important front, I am beginning to think that the Southern-dominated, biblically driven Washington GOP represents a rogue coalition, like the Southern, proslavery politics that controlled Washington until Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860...

    Unfortunately, more danger lurks in the responsiveness of the new GOP coalition to Christian evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals, who muster some 40 percent of the party electorate. Many millions believe that the Armageddon described in the Bible is coming soon. Chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the second coming of Jesus Christ. Oil price spikes, murderous hurricanes, deadly tsunamis and melting polar ice caps lend further credence.

    The potential interaction between the end-times electorate, inept pursuit of Persian Gulf oil, Washington's multiple deceptions and the financial crisis that could follow a substantial liquidation by foreign holders of U.S. bonds is the stuff of nightmares. To watch U.S. voters enable such policies -- the GOP coalition is unlikely to turn back -- is depressing to someone who spent many years researching, watching and cheering those grass roots.

    Four decades ago, the new GOP coalition seemed certain to enjoy a major infusion of conservative northern Catholics and southern Protestants. This troubled me not at all. I agreed with the predominating Republican argument at the time that "secular" liberals, by badly misjudging the depth and importance of religion in the United States, had given conservatives a powerful and legitimate electoral opportunity.

    Since then, my appreciation of the intensity of religion in the United States has deepened. When religion was trod upon in the 1960s and thereafter by secular advocates determined to push Christianity out of the public square, the move unleashed an evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal counterreformation, with strong theocratic pressures becoming visible in the Republican national coalition and its leadership.

    Besides providing critical support for invading Iraq -- widely anathematized by preachers as a second Babylon -- the Republican coalition has also seeded half a dozen controversies in the realm of science. These include Bible-based disbelief in Darwinian theories of evolution, dismissal of global warming, disagreement with geological explanations of fossil-fuel depletion, religious rejection of global population planning, derogation of women's rights and opposition to stem cell research. This suggests that U.S. society and politics may again be heading for a defining controversy such as the Scopes trial of 1925. That embarrassment chastened fundamentalism for a generation, but the outcome of the eventual 21st century test is hardly assured."

    The most perverse irony, of course, is that accordingly to most Anti-Christ scenarios embraced by the faithful, the one man who fits the Late Great Planet Earth archetype for He-Who-Walks-Among-Us (and whom, polls tell us, an alarming portion of the American populace believes is among us!) is none other than -- George W. Bush.

    And here I believed all this time Bob(cat) Goldthwait was right when he said Scott Baio was the Anti-Christ.

    Scary times we're in -- scarier than we know.

    But our zeitgeist knows, and is awake.

    And the corporate media is eagerly fleecing the fear from all sides.

    Hell, the previews for 20th Century Fox's remake of The Omen are running in theaters right now ("6/6/06" -- how could they resist?).

    In movie theaters, the #2 movie in America again last week was a dystopian sf opus starring an enlightened-via-imprisonment-and-torture waif and a sympathetic terrorist: V for Vendetta.

    I continue to get emails insisting I write about V for Vendetta, which I've indeed seen (twice) and quite enjoyed. I'll do so later this week as time permits; in the meantime, though, check out this fascinating thread on
  • "If you were 'V', what would you do?"
  • -- and note the chilling effect the current fear of our Fearless Leader's unConstitutional surveillance policies is already having on the most innocuous of pop culture discussions.

    Self-censorship out of fear is becoming a very real characteristic of America, land of the free, home of the brave. Is this the democracy we seek to export so aggressively?

    And if our present state of affairs isn't enough to get your blood roiling, my friend Jean-Marc Lofficier (aka Lupin) has posted this fine piece, well worth a read this morning, particularly for you history buffs. It's thoroughly annotated with active links should you wish to investigate further...
  • "Even in the Noblest of Wars..."
  • Jean-Marc writes:

    "A very interesting documentary recently aired on Swiss TV, based on the research of American criminology professor, J. Robert Lilly.

    That documentary, entitled The Hidden Face of the Liberators deals with the rapes committed by American soldiers during the liberation of Europe.

    Dramatically, the documentary spotlights the execution by hanging, on 9 January 1945, near Chonville in Northern France, of an American GI, John David Cooper, 23. His crime: the rape of three women - one of them, in fact, attended the execution.

    According to Lilly, documents from the US Military show that, between 1942 and 1945, American soldiers were imnplicated in 17,000 rapes of women or children in Europe.

    Interestingly, even though African-Americans accounted for only 10% of the troops, 85% of the executions were of African-Americans..."

    Ah, the military.

    Ah, war.

    Ah, liberation...

    ...the noble fantasies we cling to as a country, as a people, as a species.

    And we can always be counted on to play the race card.

    Seeeeeeeeeeeeee ya --

    Monday, April 03, 2006

    Of Quasi, '60s Dinosaurs and Weak-Kneed Supreme Courts

    I am outraged at the U.S. Supreme Court's decision this morning to sidestep the questioning of the Bush Administration's detainee policy (see
  • Supreme Court Rejects War Powers Challenge).
  • The worst fears of those of us who opposed Bush and feared his two appointees to the Court would refuse to confront their boss's abuses of power have now been confirmed.

    Bush's claims of supreme, unchallengable "war powers" are just one of the abuses he's heaped on the world, but arguably the most destructive of all for its fundamental break from the rules of the Geneva Convention -- an international treaty this Administration discarded the moment they assumed power and saw a window of opportunity to institute their neoconservative reinvention of the 21st Century. The active undermining of the U.S. Constitution at the hands of this current President and Administration remains unchallenged, and most likely will remain so with a ideologically-divided & cowardly Court and Republican-dominated House and Senate. The U.S.'s steady slide into fascism, theocracy and plutocracy continues unabated.

    In Oregon, a woman is being charged for sedition -- sedition -- for airing her views on this President and Administration. In Vermont, the Associated Press just fired a venerable AP reporter (30-year vet Christopher Graff) for submitting a column our VT Senator Patrick Leahy scribed concerning this President and Administration's actions to dilute the federal Freedom of Information Act (AP simultaneously fired Graff and removed Leahy's column from their package of articles celebrating "Sunshine Week," an initiative by the American Society of Newspaper Editors intended to ballyhoo America's open government, democracy and freedom of information issues -- perverse irony, eh wot?). Bush smugly continues to erode bills he signs into law with the snarky impudence of a Third World despot: having already claimed a waiver to the John McCain/John Warner (both Republicans) sponsored anti-torture bill, Bush exclaimed that he would not be held to the USA Patriot Act's requirement that the Justice Dept. track the FBI's new powers and report on their use to Congress.

    And that's just a wee bit of what's visible to even the blind. Beneath the radar, the constant erosion of our Constitutional rights continues, and insidious shit like the Administration's insistent opposition to mandatory HPV (Human Pappilomavirus) vaccinations for young women goes unquestioned by the populace because they don't even know it's going on. Why is the Bush Administration opposing vaccinations? HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US, the primary cause of cervical cancer (which claims almost 5,000 women's lives annually in the US alone); according to an article by Michael Specter in The New Yorker, the vaccine Merck & Company has applied the FDA to license for sale is "an immensely effective one." But the patriarchal and puritanical Bush Administration maintains that "eliminating the threat of infection would only encourage teenagers to have sex."

    Have you got that? The Bush Administration is refusing -- refusing -- to permit vaccination against a killer STD because protecting the populace might encourage teenage sexual contact. Can you fathom such lunacy, such outright patriarchal madness? Though I've spent a lifetime creating monsters and writing and drawing horrors, I can barely get my head around this kind of insanity.

    We are being led by madmen and monsters -- the only axis of evil we have to fear is the one leading our country.

    Bush and his cabal actively and aggressively project their worst fears onto other nations, galvanizing and polarizing us with their mad power fantasies and nightmares, and all the while they actively seek to kill our children -- via war, via poverty, via spiraling debtloads, via refusal of science and education and medicine -- to further their own sick fundamentalist religious agendas and doctrines.

    What a sad time this is for all Americans -- save for those in power and the filthy rich -- and what hellish pipers we'll have to pay down the road.

    Of course, those in power will blame the pipers and the messengers, not themselves, enough fuck-headed bleating Americans will nod their heads in bovine complicity, and the madness will continue until it's far too late to do a goddamned thing about it.

    But you don't want to read my ranting about any of that, do you? Back to this morning's previously-planned post on completely trivial matters:

    Last night I screened for Marj a recently-uncovered-in-the-garage ancient video dub (circa 1985 or earlier) of Sally Cruikshank's remarkable Quasi cartoons, Quasi at the Quackedaro (1977) and Make Me Psychic (1978), capped with Cruikshank's hopeful 1980 pitch to possible investors to back her planned Quasi feature Quasi's Cabaret (promo trailer circa 1980, feature unproduced). I was relieved to find the old vhs copy was still intact in visual and audio, and Marj was mildly amused by the whole fendango. For me, though, Quasi evokes lots of memories: hearing about the toons from friends and my then-fiancee living in Santa Fe, where the Quasi cartoons unspooled at the local alternative cinema; seeing Make Me Psychic at that same cinema before a showing of The Wicker Man in its fringe-at-best US release in 1980; the invite from a friend for a vhs copy of the Quasi reel back in '84, and frequent viewings with my kids Maia and Daniel throughout their childhoods. Great stuff!

    Cruikshank's cartoons were glorious creations, conceptually and creatively mercurial and akimbo from stem to stern, fusing the sensibilities of the venerable Fleischer Brothers animation with aspects of the underground comix scene (including the active participation of Kim Deitch and Tim Boxell among the animators, and Bobby Armstrong and his cronies scoring the toons with unforgettable music) -- all in all, they were simultaneously pleasingly retro yet utterly of their late-'70s era, contemporaries of Richard Elfman and Oingo-Boingo's now-classic Forbidden Zone, to which they remain ideal companion shorts.

    I recall reading a few -- very few -- articles about Sally Cruikshank in the early '80s, and it was a hoot seeing her work on the big screen again later that decade: Cruikshank animated the title sequence for the comedy Ruthless People and the perverse animated TV program li'l Jeremy Licht exiled his "sister" to in Joe Dante's mostly-marvelous revamp of "It's a Good Life" episode for the portmanteau opus The Twilight Zone. Both were absolutely true to the Cruikshank universe of the Quasi toons, but alas, she and her work seemed to drop out of sight after that brief mid-'80s sunshine.

    Does anyone out there have any info, insights and/or links to bring us up to date?

    On the video just before the Quasi fest was an ancient off-the-air recording of Dinosaurus!, the venerable Jack Harris production for Universal that was so key to my childhood cinema viewing. Cuing up for Quasi meant fast-forwarding through Dinosaurus! final moments, to that animated 'question mark' after "The End."

    Though it was always a cheapjack dinosaur pic, Dinosaurus! was a prime piece of '60s sf matinee fodder. It boasted a goofy sympathetic Neanderthal, the vicarious kid fantasy of the young Mexican hero (to most of us in the audience) getting to ride a Brontosaurus around (ya, I know, it's really Apatosaurus -- but it wasn't in 1960!), one of the pair of stop-motion animated saurians starring in the pic. The effects were the work of Wah Chang & Gene Warren, breathing life into the last dinosaur models King Kong sculptor Marcel Delgado made for the big screen (he still had the model for the US/AIP version of Goliath and the Dragon and some Projects Unlimited work ahead of him, I believe), and they resonated through our prime-time childhoods thanks to providing stock footage visits via series like It's About Time and the like.

    So, see, I love Dinosaurus! to this day with the love one continues to steer to that long-dead first puppy, even if Cahiers du Cinema thought it was a piece of shit and you young whippersnappers look at it today and shrug with either a contempt or an indifference "vast, cool and unsympathetic" (to paraphrase H.G. Wells).

    So, Marj's glimpse of the herky-jerky Tyrannosaurus rex vs. crane climax (in and of itself an influential, almost iconic, finale, anticipating those for Aliens, Carnosaur, etc.) prompted a sarcastic retort to my saying "Whoa, I forgot how cool this old movie was!"

    "What, for looking so phoney?" Birthday-Girl Marjory purred.




    Ah, but I love her.

    And, it's, like, her birthday.

    All of which brings to mind amigo Doug Winter emailing me this weekend about a new Dinosaurus! soundtrack CD that's just out, and my decision to track down a copy for myself and to let you know you can get one, too, at the
  • Soundtrack CDs at the Percepto Website.
  • Now, some of their other offerings might interest you more -- I mean, look, there's soundtracks for Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Fly/Return of the Fly/Curse of the Fly, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, and more, much more, including a digital re-release of the long out-of-print Forrest J. Ackerman/Famous Monsters of Filmland staple & curio Music for Robots!

    So, cool.

    But me, I want that Dinosaurus! CD.

    I'll break out my old Dell Jesse Marsh comic when it arrives and curl up on the couch for some heavy flashbacks to a kinder, gentler era...

    ... when all we had to worry about were crabs, VD, eternal damnation and hellfire, Communist invaders, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and all-out total nuclear war.

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    Sunday Morning Cartoons and Such


    It's Marjory's birthday tomorrow, but I'm surprising her today with a few goodies -- so, off and on posts today and tomorrow. Wing it, folks. I am.

    First off, some early morning links to brighten what's left of your weekend:

  • Jack T. Chick Redux
  • A revisionist Chick Tract for your Sunday morning needs (compliments of my paleo amigo Michael Ryan).

    And if that's not enough Sunday morn morality for you, take a gander at (not a shot of) these beauties:
  • Alcoholics Anonymous Comics: The Compleat Library (circa 1968-74)
  • Special thanks to Jason & Sam at CCS for steering me to 'em (and, oh yes, "thank you, Ethan," where ever you are).

    A couple of recent blogs I heartily recommend, and why:

    If you're hankering for more on the Center for Cartoon Studies experience, and not from this lowly instructor's point-of-view, it's my honor to steer you to first-year students Jon-Mikel Gates & Colleen S. Frakes's excellent new blog,
  • The Cowboy Orange Blog
  • (with their special thanks to Jonathan for the name). It's a site under construction but the blog is already extensive and jam-packed with art (including their own work), photos, insights, etc. that provides a peek at not only Colleen & Jon's day-to-day lives and creations but the current CCS scene in general. Add it to your weekly reads, particularly if you're curious about CCS and thinking about attending -- and please, do comment or ask questions there!

    A peculiarity of the Cowboy Orange design I will point out: at the bottom of the page, the "Next Page" line you click on to access the rest of the blog postings (and they go back three months) is hidden as red text at the base of the orange frame -- look closely, and click. Lots of good reading.

    BTW, Jon & Colleen's website awaits you at
  • The Cowboy Orange Corral
  • With the permission of the students, I'll link you to some other CCS sites soon.

    Massachusetts-based filmmaking friend Marty Langford has the recent DVD release of the feature film Magdalena's Brain to boast (he produced, co-scripted and edited), but that's just the latest of his many film projects. Ah, OK, if you can't wait, click on
  • Glowing
  • -- my ballyhoo for Marty and director/co-writer Warren Amerman's movie read, "At last, a "Brain" movie with brains and a backbone! In the tradition of the many beloved "brain" horror/sf/suspense flicks, Magdalena's Brain is the smartest of its breed since Donovan's Brain. This deceptively linear cinematic head-trip delivers a swift kick to the cerebellum before it's through..." -- and it does, too.

    Anyhoot, back to the point. I met Marty years ago and have been lucky enough to be invited to a number of his screenings, always eagerly awaiting the next project and surprise from this prolific talent. Thus far, Marty fesses up to having had hands in the 16mm short The Hidden Alien Blob Thing (1995), the Super16 short The Salesman (2000), and writing the original screenplay for the video feature Collinsville (2002), as well as working to create venues of other regional Massachusetts filmmakers of a similar bent (mind). Along with Magdalena's Brain and the less-satisfying exprience with Collinsville, Marty as another half-dozen or more completed scripts he's written or co-authored, and another project underway as I write this.

    Don't take my word for it. What the hell -- Magdalena has a brain, and now
  • Marty has a blog.
  • Check it out, and often!

    More later today...

    Saturday, April 01, 2006

    No April Fool's from This Blog

    Hey, I'm going to be drawing Swamp Thing again in 2007!


    April Fool.

    OK, so there's one April Fool's line in this post. That was it.

    Hey, all.

    Just a quick flashback, all true, of previous April Fool's Days, just for the heck of it --

    * On this day in 1999, I placed a parody post on my old website that was up for only 24 hours. In it, I lampooned my situation at that time: on the brink of pulling out of comics entirely, having closed up shop on SpiderBaby self-publishing completely, I posted an account of my selling Tyrant lock, stock and barrel to Vertigo, and using that hook tore into the whole imploding publishing/distribution/direct sales market scene. It was only in view for 24 hours -- and never again! -- but it still had the somewhat hilarious result later in '99 of almost deep-sixing the negotiations concerning my pencilling the Neil Gaiman 'medieval Swamp Thing' story for Midnight Days -- apparently, some folks at Vertigo didn't find it funny at all.

    Which, of course, made it seem even funnier to me.

    * Five years ago today, we were hit here in southern VT with a surprising three feet of snow, capping an already intense winter snowfall (our last truly snowy winter to date) with a most memorable storm. At the time, I was stupidly renting a flat-roofed house in Wilmington, VT, which required I shovel the equivalent (I kid you not) of a tennis court each and every snowfall. Though my pecs and arm muscles grew massive, I was a hurting unit after every clearing-of-the-snow-from-the-roof, and miss that not in the least. What a suck house that was! Still, it was good to me and my family in other ways: Dan and I had some great years there (despite the interminable shoveling of snow off the roof), Maia survived her teen years and made a short movie (Girl on Fire) in her room there, and Marj and I became an inseperable couple, easing from courtship to proposal.

    * Four years ago today, at about 3:20 AM, my wife-to-be (we were married later that month) Marjory was laying in our new bed in our new home (the first I've ever owned rather than rented) wondering where the hell I was and growing increasingly worried as the rain poured down in buckets.

    I was still at the ol' flat-roofed house in Wilmington, clearing out the last of my debris -- boxes and garbage bags full of videos, primarily, along with the last of the books and Maia's stuff (she'd already 'moved out', leaving ol' Pop to repack and move a closet full of stuff) -- and packing my ol' '89 Toyota squareback to its absolute capacity with the final load from our old digs. I did this in a hammering storm, and was absolutely dripping wet from head to toe when all was done, and sweating like -- well, suffice to say, I felt like I'd been dipped in refridgerated mayonnaise by the end of the process.

    Since we didn't have hot water yet in our new home (which still had about 10 days of contractor completion work to go), I had to strip down and take my final shower in the old flat-topped house at about 2:45 AM, tossing on a change of clothes I'd held out and then giving the old shitbox one final top-to-bottom search to make sure everything was out. Man, the hot shower felt good -- the dry clothes felt better.

    I was, of course, instantly soaked to the skin again once I dashed outside, locking the house a final time and skedaddling for the car amid the pounding torrent of rain.

    Thus rendered near-amphibian anew, I finally got out of the house and into the driver's seat at about 3:20 AM, barely making it out of the mud/quicksand driveway (it had already trapped two cars that day) and negotiating the final 5+ mile drive to our present home, the car weighted down terribly, slogging through the deeply-rutted oatmeal consistency of our road with the heaviest load my ol' Toyota ever handled (and that's something, having moved myself and other folks no less than a dozen times in that vehicle, which we just retired last fall). I pulled into our driveway and into our garage at almost precisely 3:30 AM, leaving the loaded car as it was to deal with later and stumbling up to bed -- to a very happy-to-see-me Marj.

    Thankfully, I've no such memories of any April Fool's day thereafter.

    So, that's that.

    No foolin'.

    BTW, I did save the digital file of that fateful April Fool post somewhere, and hope to post it on my site on this very morning next year. So, something to look forward to, perhaps?

    Hey, Happy April Fool's Day, one and all!