Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Make Mine Stout!

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

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

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

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

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

SpiderBaby Comix has found my six-year-old!

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

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

Thanks, old buddy -

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Daily Kos New Orleans recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    31.1 Million People living in poverty in 2000

    37 Million
    People living in poverty in 2004

    Median household income in 2004 (unchanged from 2003)

    45 million
    People without health insurance in 2003

    45.8 million
    People without health insurance in 2004


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

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

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

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

  • ___

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

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    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    The Week of the Dogs

    Lousiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf states are now aswim in a brine brimming with the dead. Though the horrific cleanup of human dead has now begun, that soup and the tarn that remains once the waters subside completely will be punctuated with hundreds of thousands of dead pets -- cats and dogs, lots of dogs.

    But the most filthy, toxic dogs of them all stand tall and blather to us now, acting as if the events of the past week can be "made right," that the same debates they've successfully tabled or ignored should once again be tabled and/or ignored, all the while flaunting their utter contempt and indifference to the grim reality of what has happened, where we are, what we have let ourselves become.

    Orwell did not predict so much as he recognized, dissected, and laid open the realities of power-drunk governments and deluded nations: once a populace has been shorn from democracy and freedom, it is totally subservient to propoganda, believing what isn't true and disbelieving all that is.

    Can this latest spin-cycle actually delude America after the events of the past week? I'm already hearing people who are doubting their perceptions of last week as the narcotic of the GOP and Bush spin-doctors kick into high gear, and I find myself wondering how long we, as a nation, can indulge this madness and pretend what is real is not, and what is not real is.

    When the last election went down, resulting in another "victory" for Bush and his cronies, my feelings of anger, resignation, and outrage echoed a previous life experience in the comics industry -- when the direct market distribution system collapsed, and I resigned myself to the inevitable consequences to come (implosion of the market, a monopoly at the helm, the cyclical reassertion of the powers-that-have-been once again vying for domination of the once-fertile marketplace).

    When Bush was re-elected -- sans Supreme Court intervention this time, amid a clearly broken election process tainted by electronic and digital voting methods too easily tampered with sans accountability -- and neighbors who are Bush-supporters crowed, I thought, "We deserve whatever happens to us as a country now."

    Can any sane person continue to drink in the spectacle of the most recent events and not feel their gorge rise in their throat? The President's and his Administration's spin machine is in full cycle now -- and the ongoing and utter disconnect from reality, the absolutely sociopathic lack of empathy on the basest human level should be prompting guillotines to rise and heads to fall.

    We even have our First Mother saying, with nary a hint of shame or black humor, the dead-on equivalent of "Let them eat cake." Read on, below -- where is the collective outrage and will to bring this corrupt pack of power-intoxicated mongrel dogs down? This latest global demonstration of contempt, incompetence, arrogance, and lunacy -- on the heels of Rove outed as the Benedict Arnold of the New Millennium and Halliburton and the pharmaceutical ownership of our government bringing fresh dimensions to the coining of human misery as a profit base -- outstrips Watergate (prompted by a mere bungled robbery of Democratic campaign headquarters, you'll recall) and anything Clinton or his administration ever approached. The nauseating tableau of Bush piously once again conjuring his fucking "armies of compassion/waves of compassion" while maintaining the smug opacity of a sunning reptile makes him the American Psycho to end them all.

    A few recent highlights:

    * Even as Katrina had immediately departed, The White House was heartlessly downplaying the impact, while its key officials (Bush, Cheney, Rice, etc.) vacationed... A reminder: The AP story for August 31st (now as remote a reailty as 9/10/01) actually was headlined, "White House Says Katrina's Economic Impact Is Modest", and read:

    "Hurricane Katrina is likely to have only a modest impact on the U.S. economy as long as the hit to the energy sector proves transitory, White House economic adviser Ben Bernanke said Wednesday. "Clearly, it's going to affect the Gulf Coast economy quite a bit," Bernanke told CNBC television. "That's going to be enough to have at least a noticeable or at least some impact on the aggregate (national) data. "Looking forward ... reconstruction is going to add jobs and growth to the economy," he added. "As long as we find that the energy impact is only temporary and there's not permanent damage to the infrastructure, my guess is that the effects on the overall economy will be fairly modest."

    "Fairly modest"??? An entire city was gone, along with many, many more in Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Gulf Region. Cities and communities were completey obliterated, and Bernanke was already trying to spin this into nothing of consequence!

    * The spectacle of this current Administration's indifference and lack of empathy only becomes increasingly outrageous as those at the highest circles of power become more visible, tour the horrors, and open their insipid mouths... The sickening spectacle of Bush inserting himself into events has reached Roman Bread & Circuses levels of lunacy. It was utterly characteristic of our President to respond to the stunning sky-rocketing gas and heating oil prices with a pithy, "Don't buy gas if you don't need it" ("President Urges Americans to Conserve Fuel If They Can" by Nedra Pickler, AP).

    (It needn't be this way: As my dear friend Diane E. Foulds informs me, things are different in other countries. She sent me the following: "The price of gas at Czech filling stations has risen by several crowns since Hurricane Katrina hit the US city of New Orleans. Petrol is now selling for about 32 crowns per litre, or roughly 5.25 US dollars per gallon. ...the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry has announced that as of January 2006 it will increase the annual transportation subsidy given to disabled people in light of rising fuel costs. The Finance Ministry is also considering giving a subsidy to trucker and other professionals most affected by higher fuel costs." Of course, the Compassionate Conservative thing to do is to merely advise an oil-dependent population, "Don't buy gas if you don't need it." Spoken like a true oil man, George.)

    The jaw-dropping ugliness of Bush waxing with a smirk about the high ol' times he once had in New Orleans as a youth (ya, we can all imagine: snooooooorkt!) is astounding, as is his belief that he is somehow comforting the masses with Good Ol' Boy small-talk chit-chat predictions of sitting on ol' Trent Lott's rebuilt porch. Not of Lott's one and only home, mind you, but just one of Trent Lott's many houses -- Bush said it was "a fantastic house - and I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." Surrounded by sycophants and toadies who applaud these appalling revelations of Bush's true nature, he revels in the spotlight like Caligula, while any sane person in earshot shudders in the firm knowledge that we are fucked. Bush is seemingly incapable of shame -- as if the New Gilded Age bloat of rich bastards rebuilding mansions and palaces has anything but vile connotations in the context of the poverty levels of New Orleans and the vulnerability of those who scraped out livings in the shadow of that porch. Bush is beyond clueless: he is clearly reveling in power without consequence, incapable of grasping not only the Ground Zero of Katrina and her aftermath, but the reality most Americans live with. It all eludes him: the scope of the tragedy, the shameful magnitude of our country's growing poverty (according to the most recent August 2005 US Census bureau press release, the US poverty-level-and-below populace is now at 37 million, up 1.1 million from their 2003 figures), the lack of services for all those on the bottom of this new Gilded Era imbalance of wealth (45.8 million Americans are now known to be without health insurance -- and that's just the available statistics; what about those beneath the radar?). Poverty levels have only increased since Bush took (and I do mean "took") office, but he is nonplussed, and bucking for permanent "tax reform" for the rich and the corporate. Ya, those Americans eking through this coming winter with record-smashing gas and heating oil prices dwindling their meager $44,389 median 2004 household income (unchanged from 2003) can't fucking wait to take in the view from Trent Lott's porch.

    Bob Hebert in The NY Times accurately stated, "Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever by a president during a dire national emergency. What we witnessed, as clearly as the overwhelming agony of the city of New Orleans, was the dangerous incompetence and the staggering indifference to human suffering of the president and his administration."

    As the Editor & Publisher website demonstrates, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. The September 5th E&P staff headline reads, "Barbara Bush: Things Working Out 'Very Well' for Poor Evacuees from New Orleans," and the snapshot of 2005's elder Marie Antoinette is complete:

    NEW YORK -- Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them." The former First Lady's remarks were aired this evening on National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program. She was part of a group in Houston today at the Astrodome that included her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who were chosen by her son, the current president, to head fundraising efforts for the recovery. Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama were also present. In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston." Then she added: "What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

    As comic historian Richard Arndt commented in his email to me, "Ah, yes. Those lucky bastards."

    * This President's and this Administration's arrogant, pathological contempt for genuine science has finally taken a measurable human toll, and it numbers in the tens of thousands. This storm, this disaster, and this outcome had been predicted and forecast, methods of coping dismissed out-of-hand, and already the conservative pundits are trying to divert that bitter reality into finger-pointing at disenfranchised local civil authorities. I ask those so eager to once again rationalize Bush's lack of culpability: When does the power Bush so transparently boasts about require some measure of responsibility?...

    I don't need to link you to sites conservative readers will dismiss out-of-hand to present this as a fact. Rick Veitch and I cited a National Geographic article earlier in the week, and Fran Friel referred me to an even more thorough and mind-blowing piece from Scientific American, circa 2001, which I recommend you read right now and
  • right here.
  • It's six pages, but well worth the read -- c'mon, read it. You know our President didn't, and won't. But of course, Bush doesn't read Scientific American, do he? We aren't bantering about "evilution" or the absurd notion of "Intelligent Design" as somehow equitable as a science (it isn't) here -- we are faced with the consequences of ignoring cold, hard scientific pragmatism, shorn of religion or ideology as a shield. There is a point where willful stupidity as a characteristic of leadership becomes untenable and truly malicious, and I believe we are finally unarguably there.

    * Meanwhile, money (sorely needed) is thrown at the disaster like a balm from on high, while our national economic present and future has aleady been ravaged by the unnecessary "preemptive" war this President and Administration willfully engaged in, despite overwhelming evidence countering their lies and deception... Before Katrina hit, Reuters had already reported that the Iraq War is costing more per month than Vietnam ever did (go to Alan Elsner's August 31st report,
  • "Iraq war costs more per month than Vietnam").

  • Elsner wrote, "The report, entitled 'The Iraq Quagmire' from the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy in Focus, both liberal, anti-war organizations, put the cost of current operations in Iraq at $5.6 billion per month. This breaks down to almost $186 million a day. "By comparison, the average cost of U.S. operations in Vietnam over the eight-year war was $5.1 billion per month, adjusting for inflation," it said. As a proportion of gross domestic product, the Vietnam War was more significant, costing 12 percent of annual GDP, compared to 2 percent for the Iraq War. However, economists said the Iraq war is being financed with deficit spending and may nearly double the projected federal budget deficit over the next 10 years. ..."Broken down per person in the United States, the cost so far is $727, making the Iraq War the most expensive military effort in the past 60 years," wrote authors Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaver. ...The total cost of the Vietnam War in current dollars was around $600 billion and there are some experts who believe the Iraq War will eventually surpass that total. For instance, the Congressional Budget Office estimated this year that if the United States managed to reduce its troop deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan to 50,000 by 2010, the cost over the next decade would be an additional $393 billion, which when added to the dollars already spent would exceed the Vietnam total. While there are far fewer troops in Iraq than there were in Vietnam at the height of that conflict, the weapons they use are more expensive and they are paid more."

    And that was before Katrina struck, further increasing our deficit spending to unprecented levels. The Administration continues to doctor the reality of that deficit by simply leaving the costs of the war off the table when discussing the mind-blowing deficit sure to impoverish our children -- my children -- and those now pitching in to take in Katrina evacuees into their own impoverished households.

    This is just more reprehensible duplicity by the authors of this war, who have also kept the other costs as invisible as possible: according to Elsner, these include "the deaths of an estimated 23,000-27,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 2,000 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors; the social costs of domestic programs slashed to meet the budget shortfall; the loss of income to reservists and National Guard troops who spend long periods away from their careers and businesses as well as the anticipated costs of treating returning troops for mental health conditions as a result of their service." Mental health? How about the thousands returning disfigured, maimed, and without limbs?

    Hebert again in The NY Times this week: "At a time when effective, innovative leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of war and peace, terrorism and domestic security, the economic imperatives of globalization and the rising competition for oil, the United States is being led by a man who seems oblivious to the reality of his awesome responsibilities."

    (With thanks to my friend HomeyDJ) I leave you with something reflecting the reality of the many Americans with brains, souls, eyes, and open hearts, those who have responded to Katrina's wake, the plight of hundreds of thousands, and the incompetency (at best) of our government with true caring, charity, and efforts to aid:

    "The task of man is to help others; that's my firm teaching, that's my message. That is my own belief. For me, the fundamental question is better relations; better relations among human beings-- and whatever I can contribute to that."

    - HH Dalai Lama

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    Monday, September 05, 2005

    A few announcements today:

    * The grand opening of the Center for Cartoon Studies is Saturday Sept. 10 from 2-4pm. There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony, students and faculty will be doing sketches for the public; there will also be a table selling graphic novels, comics, and books (the Vermont cartoonist table). This is the big day for Director and founder James Sturm and everyone at The Center for Cartoon Studies!
    C'mon up, down, or over to White River Junction, VT; for more info, phone 802-295-3319, fax 802-295-3399, or pop on over to
  • the CCS site.

  • * My daughter Maia Rose has an exhibition of her photography at Mocha Joe's in downtown Brattleboro, VT. No web link I can post, sorry, but if you're in the area, stop in for a cup of java and a look at Maia's latest body of creative work. Lovely, evocative stuff, if I may say so myself!

    * Speaking of Vermont artists with works on display, check out VT cartoonist Ethan Slayton's work, now up and waiting for eyeballs in Burlington, VT. Some of Ethan's current comic work is hanging at Speeder and Earls Coffee house on Church Street in Burlington for the month of September. The Burlington Art Hop is happening this coming weekend, September 9th and 10th, which only sweetens the view. If you won't be anywhere near Burlington this month, well, hop on over to
  • Ethan's site.

  • * Looking for info and interviews on horror comics? Check out Richard Arndt's expansive and ever-growing site on horror and independent comics. Richard has posted exhaustive bibliographies and related in-depth interviews (including a couple with yours truly) for "The Early Independents," Warren's seminal genre mags (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella,, etc.), Marvel's competing 1970s explosion of horror black-and-white zines, as well as Mike Friedrich's Star*Reach, the ribald Skywald horrors, SpiderBaby Grafix's Taboo, the influential UK anthology Warrior (from which sprang V for Vendetta, Marvelman aka Miracleman, The Bojeffries Saga, and more), the short-lived Web of Horror, and more. It's just a click away --
  • Horror Comics!

  • * Is Katrina one shock too many for the US economy? I'll spare you the details here, but highly recommend you give Reuters' Economics correspondent Mike Dolan's Sept. 1 article a read at
  • this site.
  • In short, the Administration whose best advice to all of us after 9/11 was to keep on shopping is ill-prepared, to say the least: As Dolan succinctly puts it, "U.S. economic health is so dependent on keeping its increasingly indebted households shopping that another drain on their already-stretched budgets could batter the economy." This Labor Day weekend in southern VT saw a plunge in the usual traffic and business, as gas prices inflated to record levels hereabouts ($3.25 a gallon and much higher). Locals are dreading the heating costs for the coming winter; coming on the heels of sky-rocketing property tax bills and fuel costs, many are already wondering what essentials they'll go without to make it to spring. As I said late last week, this is only the beginning...

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    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    It's been a full week since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and the National Guard are finally visible en masse. President Bush is rambling about "making this right," but there's no "making this right." Too many have needlessly died, waiting for help that never arrived; too many have been left to their own devices for too long; in full view of the world, our President and his cronies have been asleep at the wheel for too long (prompting renewed questions about 9/11 and his and their involvement, non-involvement, and sluggish
    and eventually lethal responses).

    A thought for the week ahead, and one I'm sure no one wants to ponder: Katrina was a natural disaster. She came as a force of nature, without cause or provocation. Katrina just was what she was, and thousands have suffered.

    Whatever you know of what's happened in New Orleans this past week -- however little or much -- remember we, as a country, willfully inflicted that upon the people of Iraq... many of whom still, hundreds of weeks later, still remain without clean water, food, medical aid, electricity. Whatever misery, sickness, and death we see within our own borders, remember we
    have brought that upon others and prolonged their agonies a thousand-fold without provocation (as President Bush himself has admitted, there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11). However bad Katrina's wake, it's worse, and years further along, in Iraq.

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    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    Here in southern VT, we're having a Louisiana-related problem that has become even more disturbing (to say the least) in the wake of Katrina.

    I'll post details and links later this week, but in a nutshell, the Louisiana-based firm Entergy has purchased the Yankee Nuclear power plant. Yankee was among the first nuclear power plants constructed in the US (the second to go on-line, I believe) and it has lived out its life per its original plans: it should be offline now, its useful life over (there's still the waste to deal with, but hey, there's still no profit in that).

    But Entergy, part of the current corporate energy culture intent on maximizing profits, has not only determined it's wise to prolong Yankee's life -- they're intent on increasing its output beyond its capacity, upping production far beyond the parameters the plant was constructed for in its prime.

    They've also managed to lay considerable groundwork for on-site "dry cask" storage of the waste the plant creates, among other dubious management decisions that endanger the lives of all in the region. (I won't get into the missing rod that couldn't be found in its own storage tank for months, or other issues).

    This is chilling stuff -- especially since Yankee is about 13 miles as the crow flies from my home, and given my own experiences with Three Mile Island while living in New Jersey in my post-Kubert School years (sharing a house with Rick Veitch, John Totleben, Tom Yeates and Sue Balinski, we were listening to the PA radio stations we could pick up and charting our escape route out of Dover, NJ to VT; as the threat mounted, we almost fled, and at one point I made the call to my parents -- who didn't know anything about the events at the plant, and thought we were crazy). The hideous irony of the principle of and term "dry cask" storage in the context of all I've learned in the past two years about the devastating floods and storms that ravaged this region in 1927, 1936, and 1938 (before hurricanes were given names) is sobering. There's already mounting concerns about covert low-level radiation releases from Yankee, and the long-term effects on those in its vicinity, but "dry cask storage" seems a particularly perverse concept after having seen extant 16mm film footage and studied photos of the Connecticut River (Yankee is poised on the edge of its Vermont-side banks in Vernon) engorged and raging. Yankee and those "dry casks" would be ripping down-river to our neighbors to the south, Massachusetts and Connecticut, creating untold (and long-lasting -- as in eons) negative effects.

    And that's the best-case scenario: having seen wind-dispersion maps of possible spread of radiation should Yankee Nuclear suffer a non-storm related accident, much of the Green Mountain State would be rendered uninhabitable for centuries, if not thousands, of years.

    And yet, Entergy blithely proceeds with their plans, and have made considerable headway, with the ongoing indulgence of those institutions supposedly dedicated to "the public health and safety."

    Amid all this activity, two simulated emergency evacuations were mounted over the past two years -- and both were disastrous failures. The first suffered most infamously at the high school, where all the buses were loaded with students and then stood unmoving for an inordinate period of time, until being erroneously misrouted. Communications broke down almost instantly, sans any real emergency. Clearly, none of the so-called authorities or best-laid plans were functional on the most rudimentary levels.

    The response: a repeat simulated evacuation, so "simulated" that it didn't involve anyone doing anything, really -- no students evacuated, no buses filled, no real-world activity. That, too, failed.

    Hahahah! No matter. No problem. Pay that no mind. Never mind that in the case of a real emergency, our children would have been trapped less than five miles from Ground Zero. That the main evacuation routes, including interstate 91, would have also been irrevocably choked by vehicles, including parents bound for the pre-determined rendevous points the buses never would have arrived at (if the parents had a clue where that might be, given the simultaneous failure of outmoded broadcast communications and the fact that on the best of days cell phones don't function in much of the village, particularly the area around the school and adjacent routes). Never mind that, or the thousands of other dire effects rippling from the fatally flawed, demonstratably failed planned response from civil and corporate authorities.

    Entergy proceeds, and our state and local government indulges them, with minor obstacles and no real opposition. Corporate culture must be appeased, the beast fed.

    As we continue to see in our food chain and pharmaceutical industries (to name the two most apparent), the institutions supposedly designed, funded and sustained to protect the public good are in the pockets of those very industries they are supposed to monitor, and that corruptive erosion process has been embraced and lovingly nurtured by the present Administration. There is no regard for the public good in the current US government. Surely, the maladroit and sluggish leadership and response to Katrina demonstrates that once and for all, for all (the world) to see.

    It's excrutiating to hear our leaders talk of rebuilding New Orleans. This past February, my parents drove my wife Marj and I through the devastation from last summer's hurricanes in the Port Charlotte, Florida area: blocks and blocks of homes still gutted and abandoned. It was still an apocalyptic scene, punctuated by "Looters Will Be Shot" and the names of the insurance companies that failed the owners spray-painted on their ruined husks. Homes and businesses were still partially-covered by massive blue tarps blowing in the wind that Haliburton lashed and screwed to the structures (at a reported $5000 per structure), not a stitch of renovation or restoration done seven months after the hurricane had struck.

    Privatized, for-profit corporate culture doesn't know how to respond to such events: wars (Haliburton's and other contracted firms' mishandling of providing essential services to the military in Iraq has been abundantly documented over the past four years), natural disasters, etc. require government intervention and support infrastructures.

    There's no profit to be made from people who have been left destitute and homeless; they are no longer viable consumers. Vulnerable. Abandoned. Left behind.

    Our government is now so entrenched in the corporate culture and the lie of "free market" that it is incapable of reacting in any manner other than that of a corporation.

    Relevant to the VT Yankee situation I have mentioned, consider the failed evacuation and response to a simulated nuclear emergency in the timely context of this article from 2004, published in the National Geographic magazine, that most radical of leftist zines (the full article is
  • here).

  • Excerpting the article by Joel K. Bourne, Jr:

    ...It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. ...Those inside ...watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

    But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however -- the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

    The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

    Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

    When did this calamity happen? It hasn't -- yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

    "The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast.... "I don't think people realize how precarious we are ...Our technology is great when it works. But when it fails, it's going to make things much worse."

    The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. "It's not if it will happen," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. "It's when."

    (Thanks to Rick Veitch for sending me this link and material.)

    Though I have family and friends who were in Katrina's path and range (none, thankfully, at its center), it doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to picture something similar happening even here, way up north (or Way Down East) in New England. It did happen in '27, '36, and '38; as they are in Lousiana and Mississipi and Arkansas and Texas and Florida and everywhere in the Gulf, individuals responded with compassion and care, opening their doors and homes to those in need, communities mobilized to provide aid and assistance as soon as possible. In an area where geological time can be seen to move if one is paying attention (the Old Man of the Mountain taking his terminal slide), the coming of similar storms is an inevitability; as Penland put it, a "when," not an "if."

    When I see/hear/read of the Katrina survivors, I see/hear/read my children, my family, my friends, myself -- as should we all.

    But I'm not seeing/hearing/reading that from our leaders, save those living the reality in the Gulf Region. The appeals of outraged Gulf region mayors, governors, church leaders, who justifiably feel (have been) abandoned.

    You can debate all you want about what did or didn't happen on 9/11, what the present President and Administration did or didn't know, did or didn't respond to, were or weren't culpable for.

    Katrina was a known quantity before she had a name; the potential for disaster was known; and nothing, but nothing, was done.

    (One can only shudder at the realization that our crippled, depleted public health care system is now facing its greatest challenge, and those in power have only further depleted its ability to respond since 9/11. Look closely at the plight of those two New Orleans hospitals, an ongoing ordeal in which doctors are feeding one anoher with IVs to survive -- know that one of them is a mere half-mile from National Guard and other rescue operations outposts, and shudder.)

    This is as massive a failure of government and betrayal of its stewardship and responsibilities as one can imagine. It is clear, blatant and horrific evidence of the complete bankruptcy of the political philosophies that have labored for so long and with such unapologetic vigor and zeal to dismantle the very government policies, institutions, and infrastructures prior generations constructed in the wake of similar catastrophic events.

    While President Bush struts and puffs and promises and pontificates and mouths inanities (once again, on vacation as disaster struck) and Condy Rice shops for shoes in NYC, we needn't evoke Nero fiddling as Rome burned -- we're there.


    As I mentioned two days ago, cartoonist Al Nickerson has initiated a discussion on the Creator Bill of Rights, hosting a website dedicated to the ongoing exchange of letters. While discussion has spread to other venues (including the Pulse and comicon boards), it seemed vital to stick with Al as the central venue for this debate, if only for the sake of coherent and civil virtual-conversation. The link is a permanent fixture of this blog, at right, and I urge anyone interested (particularly those of you making livings, or aspiring to/working at making your livings, from writing and/or drawing) to check it out. Though comics industry pundits (such as they are) seem to consider the Bill a curio, at best, its importance and ongoing relevance seems self-evident to me -- I won't belabor the point here, suffice to say that issue, among many others, is wrestled with in the exchanges at Al's site, and it's recommended reading.

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    Friday, September 02, 2005

    Marj and I gathered clothes, blankets, and non-perishable foods and I ran them down to the Brattleboro location where the Red Cross is welcoming aid. I donated money, too, but it's not enough, never enough. I missed a blood drive yesterday that I just found out about last night -- will attend the next, whereever, whenever.

    I'm in contact with folks in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, hoping to organize some kind (any kind) of fund-raising effort to help them deal with the refugees already moving by the thousands into their area.

    My wife and I are talking to my parents in Florida, hoping to relocate them soon; they've lived in Florida since selling the Colbyville, VT family store in the fall of 1976, but since last summer I've heard fear, real fear in my father's voice for the first time. The storms that come arrive with greater and greater ferocity and velocity, and for the first time in my adult life I'm hearing fear in my father's voice.

    For about four years now, I've kept my eyes and ears open to the seams opening in the fabric of our lives. It's all around us in New England: A barely-reported TB outbreak in a homeless shelter in Maine that could have become an epidemic, had an experienced hospice worker not recognized the coughs of vulnerable old men sleeping on mats six inches apart as something other than an elder alchy's hack. The apparent vacationers in our nearby parks who are actually families living nomadically season to season, finding jobs where they can and staying until the snow flies or the parts shut down, whichever happens first; working parents without homes, raising children without roots. A woman in Connecticut arrested for leaving her children in a rental storage unit while she went to work -- only to discover that was their "home," she lived there, too, as it was all they could afford, though she had a job. A sheriff retiring from duty in a small community in Maine because of the pandemic of crime, violence, and heroin addiction among the town's populace, as heroin was the only affordable pain reliever among its once-vital working class left without health care of any kind.

    The vulnerable, the left behind -- and most of us a mere paycheck or two away, a mortgage payment or two, from the same, really. We know it, don't we?

    I have been listening to people arguing in all sorts of venues -- personal and public -- that it is unfair to 'politicize' the current catastrophe in the Gulf Area.

    But it is political. Katrina has laid the seams wide open, and we are shaking in the spectacle of societal breakdown, a breakdown that was prepped with the care most gardeners give to their most beloved plants.

    Since the Reagan Administration, we have seen a redirected contract to supposedly 'downsize' government. As this political steamroller gained momentum, those in power concentrated wealth for themselves and corporate powers in ways almost inconceivable to previous generations. The privatization and/or elimination of interwoven social infrastructures that were conceived and executed in the wake of previous generation's disasters -- the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the horrendous natural storms and disasters of the late 1920s thru the 1940s, WW2 programs streamlined for all levels of society (including veterans), the anti-poverty welfare programs of the '60s, ecological programs and laws instituted in the 1970s (remember when Lake Erie was declared dead? When the Cuyahoga River caught fire?), etc. -- has culminated with gruesome inevitability in the present nightmare in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mississipi, and the Gulf region.

    Katrina alone brought the immediate devastation; but too much of what has followed has been our own doing, the doing (and undoing) of our leaders, elected and unelected (hello, Karl Rove). Katrina ravaged offshore platforms and key refineries, but decades of blissful ignorance and indulgence catering to automotive industry greed and the stupidity of consumers in love with gas-guzzlers has fed the current sky-rocketing gas prices as surely as Katrina's shrieking winds. The first President Bush once roused cheers when he proclaimed, "The American way of life is not for sale!" But we let our leaders sell it, sell ourselves, down the river long ago.

    Erosion is as devastating a natural process as storms, and its effects can be longer lasting. What we are seeing today is the devastating effects of a major storm colliding with the cumulative effects of social and political erosion.

    I have been listening all morning to pundits saying it's wrong to politicize this matter, insisting "those" debates once again be postponed -- as they were after 9/11, after we entered Afghanistan, after we attacked and invaded Iraq.

    But the debates, these debates, can be postponed and derailed no longer.

    Katrina hit the fan, and the very government powers and individuals who shamelessly fear-mongered and plundered the last election on a sham platform of national security and the American people's safety have failed in the very arena they defined as their turf.

    Willful deconstruction of The New Deal and social programs that elevated the US to the nation we once believed ourselves to be didn't bring Katrina to our shores -- but it did erode the levvies and leave them neglected and vulnerable. Willful diversion of national, financial, and human resources away from American soil and genuine human needs and safety to pursue unnecessary wars in countries that had nothing to do with 9/11 has led to the woeful lack of timely federal response to a disaster on our own soil that echoes the horrors of the Asian tsunamis of last year. Eroded national environmental policies (revised at the end of the first Bush administration) that blithely redefined wetlands and salt marshes (that once provided some natural cushions from the effects of storms and hurricanes) into areas for urban development fueled this, too: we now reap what speculative development and "business as usual" has sown (note, too, the series of administrations -- including both Bush tenures -- that seem to think science can be reshaped, redefined, ignored and/or reconfigured to suit their moral, political, and fiscal agendas; we can no longer afford to disregard what the rest of the planet accepts as science, particularly as it relates to global weather and warming).

    Aggravated by a grossly misdirected 'pre-emptive' foreign policy that has squandered a trillion dollars, thousands of lives, and hundreds of thousands of our military and National Guard personel, state and regional authorities and organizations have been powerless to rush aid to those in immediate need -- the approximately 70% of the New Orleans population who were, we now know, living at or below the poverty level.

    The vulnerable.

    They didn't have health care before, and they sure don't have it now. The consequences will be terrible to behold. Five days after Katrina descended, we still see, hear, read news of two hospitals that are only half-a-mile from National Guard outposts and remain stranded, unattended to, and increasingly desperate. We and the world watch with horror at our own inability to respond, to provide the most fundamental of needs (water, shelter, food) for those left behind.

    Left behind...

    This morning, I heard an exasperated ten-year-veteran reporter (who continues to cover storm-stricking Gulf areas where he is still the first outside person stranded and destitute survivors have seen) respond to the question whether he had seen conditions like this in the Third World.

    "This is the Third World!"

    The shock waves are global, and will continue to be global.

    But regionally, the shock waves have faces, arms, legs, names, children, and once had homes.

    I shudder to think what news follows. We have not yet heard the worst: if the hospitals have become such dangerously isolated hellholes, what of the nursing homes, the asylums, the prisons?

    As the thousands who are homeless seek shelter, water, food, the necessities of life, there will be ripples we try not to think about -- but must, as they are part of the new reality that is America. Let me follow just one ripple: Looting will not remain centralized to the most immediately stricken regions, as desperation, hunger, need assert themselves in the implacable uncaring country we have allowed ourselves to become.

    (I hasten to add, I do not mean "implacable and uncaring" as individuals, but as a country, as a society, as a political entity; as those who can barely afford their own rent or mortgage lovingly take in those without homes, how will they make ends meet, and for how long? Are there any functional social support systems left in place??).

    When the authorities respond to looting in the same manner they responded to 9/11 -- with violence, as if "looting," like "terrorism," were a localized foe rather than a reaction to repression, destitution, and neglect that becomes malicious when nurtured for so long with such bravado, arrogance, and lack of the basest human empathy -- the lack of health care to all but those who can afford it will also take a toll. (Can those in power have forgotten, really forgotten, that viruses observe no class barriers? Unlike the 30+% who were able to afford to leave New Orleans before Katrina struck with her full force, you can't outrun disease.)

    And that's just one ripple -- the mind reels.

    As we drink this week's horrors in, as best we can, and respond, as best we can, frail and vulnerable beings that we are, we must also remind ourselves:

    This is just the beginning.


    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    I'll write more later today, but suffice to say now it's hard to grasp the enormity of the devastation in Louisiana -- a part of the country I've twice had the pleasure of exploring, including a trip through Houma researching Swamp Thing in '84 -- and the crippling blow that's been dealt by the raw forces of nature. It's been a long time since New England saw anything close -- the flood of 1927 (which I studied at length last year, including viewings of all the extant film footage), the hurricanes of 1936 and especially 1938 -- but we never saw anything like Katrina. New Orleans has essentially been swept from the face of the planet (though reports from the French Quarter indicate that venerable core of the city stands intact), and our leaders are busily downplaying the economic consequences with the same indifference they've downplayed the reality of the wars they've so blithely squandered a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives on. No joke: as a nation, we should have been saving for "a rainy day," eh?

    On the home front, my 19-year-old son Dan called home last night with the heartbreaking news one of his friends had died in an apparent drowning accident. Dan's home with me now, and we're going out for some lunch soon; it has shaken him and his circle to the core.

    Just two weeks ago, he was at a farewell party for a friend he's known since age three who was leaving for Iraq; I never thought I'd see my son going through these kinds of things, but here we are.

    Here we all are, in so many ways.

    The warnings from awake economists during Bush's first three months in office that we would be seeing increasing poverty and Dickensian destitution on a growing scale are manifesting in all corners of our country, Vermont included.

    On the most mundane level, it's coming home. Driving the eight or so miles to Brattleboro yesterday, I passed our local store at 1 PM and regular gas was $2.59; I decided to fill up on the way home. When I returned at 2:30 PM, regular had gone up to $2.85. A station in town was closed with "NO MORE GAS" signs up and their pumps blocked off; in a heartbeat, I remembered scenes of the 'even/odd' license plate lines in New Jersey in the late 1970s, the fistfights among people waiting in lines for hours, even days, the closed gas stations one would pass in search of somewhere to fill up.

    We haven't learned a fucking thing, have we?

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