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Ward Sutton sez “Do The White Thing”

2/05/2015

Ward Sutton says Do The White Thing

more. here.
right. now.

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“Thou Art The Man”

21/04/2015

We’re going to examine a Bible story but — surprise! surprise! — not for its theological content.

Rather, we’re going to look at the way all stories convey deeper, hidden truths; and how the best stories pull us in to get us to identify & empathize with the core theme.

The story in question is actually a story within a story, so we’ll start with the broader context:

King David, from his palace, spies a woman bathing on her rooftop. He asks his servants who she is; they tell him she’s Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers, Uriah.

Instead of saying “Whoops! Married lady — no can touch!” King David invites her up to the palace to, y’know, chat & whatnot.

The whatnot results in her getting pregnant.

No biggie, thinks King David. He calls Uriah back from the front, purportedly to have him report on the situation, but in reality hoping he’ll spend his off duty hours boffing his wife Bathsheba so David’s genetic contribution will be overlooked.

Only Uriah is a real straight arrow and refuses to go home, saying he can’t betray his fellow soldiers by enjoying his marital bed while they’re slogging it out in the field.

So King David sends a secret message back with Uriah to his general, telling him to launch an attack but leave Uriah in an exposed position.

The general does so, Uriah gets killed, and David moves Bathsheba into the palace to “comfort” her.

He thinks nobody will know about his shenanigans, but if you want to keep a secret from your political enemies, don’t employ a palace full of servants. The word spreads, and discontent rises in the kingdom. Murmurings of civil war start circulating, and people outraged by David’s behavior go to Nathan, the prophet on duty, and ask him to do something about it.

What Nathan does is to tell King David a story:

“There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.

“And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.”

And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

And Nathan said to David,
“Thou art the man.”

thou-art-the-man_peter_rothermel_david_nathan_bYowza! Were there ever four words with a more chilling impact than that? And again, we’re putting theological implications aside; what Nathan did was to present a fiction that David identified so closely with from his humble beginnings as a lowly shepherd boy that his heart instantly leapt in outrage and a cry for justice –

– and then Nathan lowered the boom on him and made him realize he was judging himself for his own crime.

That is what fiction is meant to do.

Not specifically convict us of our own sins & shortcomings, but to make us identify with another point of view so that we are then drawn to an inescapable application to our own lives.

If Nathan had approached David with a straight on attack as to why betraying a trusted subordinate by schtuping his wife and then having him killed to cover it up was A Very Bad Idea, David would have produced a battalion of priests / philosophers / poets who would have explained that oh no not in this case; in this specific case it was not only justifiable for David to boff Bathsheba and kill Uriah but it was actually a good thing — a very good thing! — and that Nathan was a party pooper for even daring to bring the matter up.

Don’t believe me?

Spend five minutes scanning political headlines;
see how many people justify behaviors
they decried as crimes the day before.

All great stories do that. Call it the moral of the story, the theme, the subtext, the point; whatever it is, it’s the underlying unspoken truth that lays unseen below the surface, but like great rocks in a flowing river shape the current of the story.

Recently there have been calls by some to stop promoting stories that openly tackle certain topics and themes.

It’s one thing to criticize a story for being so ineptly written that the theme jarringly intrudes on the narrative — though truth be told, you can do anything you want in a story as long as you do it entertainingly.

It’s another thing to say the only stories worth reading or viewing are those that strip away all moral & ethical content and are just paper thin mono-dimensional characters engaged in a series of spectacular but ultimately pointless conflicts with other paper thin mono-dimensional characters.

I got in trouble a lot when I was writing Saturday morning cartoon shows lo these many years decades in the last century moons ago, and vey often it was because I would rather insistently demand to know why our characters were doing what they were doing.

“What difference does it make to Batman and Robin if the Joker steals the Eiffel tower? Are they going to miss a meal if he does so? Is anybody going to suffer because of it? I’ll grant you’re the Joker is crazy and does crazy stuff, but why would that involve Batman and Robin?”

The suits would look at me and say “they’re superheroes” and I’d say “yeah, so? What motivates them personally to get involved?”

Because that’s where the theme, the moral, the subtext comes in. It’s all a pointless chase unless the characters’ actions reflect some deeper symbol of truth. [1]

You cannot escape subtext; it will be there no matter how hard you try to drive it out. The human mind craves meaning, and even a random arrangement of images will spark some linkage in our brain, some sequence that conveys some sort of deeper meaning than the mere arbitrary arrangement of pictures.

Indeed, the more you try to drive it out, the more you will reveal what causes you to fear subtext.[2]

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art by Peter Rothermel 

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[1] Too often the shows we did were crap because we’d try to shoehorn a motivation in after the fact; we’d come up with a great gimmick and then try to find a way of justifying it. You see that in overly clever murder mysteries and sloppily plotted superhero stories; characters who go to insane lengths to commit not-very-profitable crimes when applying the same effort to a non-criminal endeavor would enrich them greatly.

[2] Back in the 1970s/80s there was a concept among fans of psychotronic films called Bad Truth. Bad Truth was what occurred when there was no censorship between the brain and what ended up on the screen. And by censorship I’m not referring to the morality police, but rather the inhibitors of taste brought about by adequate time and money. Most Bad Truth films were ultra-low budget / no budget affairs hastily thrown together with no time to polish the extreme rough edges; as a result they tended to be pretty naked reflections of their film makers’ ids. Bad Truth can be found at the far other end of the economic spectrum as well; big budget productions helmed by a film maker with enough clout not to be answerable to the studio funding them.

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Fictoid: …it’s lonely out in space…

8/04/2015

disney mission mars cap

“…it gets awfully lonely out here…no one to talk to…if
it wasn’t for your guys at ground control I’d go insane…”

“We’ll always be here for you.”

photo from Disney mission mars
text © Buzz Dixon

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Ode To A Christianist Screechweasel

6/04/2015

today you shout Muslim!
yesterday you shouted Communist!
and before that it was ******-lover!

shut up
we’re tired of hearing it
we’re tired of you

I’d tell you to go to hell
but you’re already there

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…On The Convention Trail: WonderCon 2015

2/04/2015

on conv trail 1950_04 ed_cartier_gnomepresscalendar

I’m moderating the annual Spiritual Themes In Comics panel for the Christian Comics Art Society at this year’s WonderCon in Anaheim on Friday, April 3, at 12 noon.  It’s my understanding there are no badge sales at the door, and all badge purchases must be online.

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Ruben Bolling on Indiana

2/04/2015

Tom the Dancing Bug

find more of Ruben’s strips at GoComics.Com

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Die! Die! DIE!!!

1/04/2015

Angelo Torres - vampire hunter

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear Stan Lee Media’s case against Stan Lee and POW! Entertainment, bringing to a definitive end at least one part of a legal battle that’s been waged for the better part of a decade.

story found at Comic Book Resources
art by Angelo Torres

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Fictoid: one day in geosynchronous earth orbit…

31/03/2015

Pete Elson - checking the engines large cap

underlying art by Pete Elson

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Roger Slifer [1954 - 2015]

30/03/2015

Roger Slifer was killed by a hit & run driver on June 23, 2012.

He died today.

Roger was a born & bred Hoosier, an Indiana lad ala John Wickliff Shawnessey from the novel Raintree County.  He was a quiet, self-efacing, hardworking writer / editor / creator.  While not as outsized a character as many of his friends and co-workers — imagine Harry Dean Stanton mellowed out with two fingers’ worth of smooth Kentucky bourbon and you’ll have a good idea of his personality — he was well loved and highly respected.

Roger-Slifer-e-Lobo-586x305Roger & his creation, Lobo
He also wrote My Little Pony 
Deal with it

Roger assumed a cornerstone position in any creative team he worked with.  He was one of the “go to” guys in both comics and TV animation, somebody who was not only trustworthy and reliable, but a pleasure to work with.

We are all shocked and saddened by this news; shocked because his death came quite suddenly and unexpectedly after slow but steady progress in recovery after the accident crime that left him comatose and brain damaged, saddened because our last hope of seeing him regain even a moderate portion of his once razor sharp mind is now gone.

I feel like a character in an Agatha Christies novel.  One by one all the people I know are getting bumped off and I have no idea when it will be my turn…

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4 (or Perhaps 54) Odd Movies I Saw Recently

28/03/2015

For reasons too complex to go into[1], I usually watch a movie or two late night thru the early morning hours. Recently I saw four films that rank among the oddest I’ve seen.

Charlie Victor Romeo is a series of six staged vignettes, using the same group of actors and the same minimalist airplane cockpit set, that recreate the final moments of six doomed flights via dramatizations of the black box transcripts.

This is definitely one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen;
not strangest, not weirdest, not most outrageous, just…odd.

There’s virtually nothing to be gleaned from this other than a voyeuristic look into how the last few moments of six seemingly random flights went down.

Literally.

Some of the air crews appear to be more professional and less hysterical than others, but there is virtually no characterization (other than one pilot who goes back to chat up with the stewardesses). There are schematic drawings of the aircraft, but nothing else: No documentary footage, no computer simulations, nothing except the exact same dinky little set.

CVR1w_BobBerger-520x428The same high production values found
in Plan Nine From Outer Space…

From a forensic POV, I suppose it has its merits: Flight crews can analyze what others did wrong.[2]  I can see how this might have some dramatic punch in a small intimate theater, but as a movie? Odd.

Not bad, just…odd.

Holy Motors is the first feature by director Leos Carax in over a dozen years, a film seemingly evocative of Louis Malle’s Black Moon, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, and Paul Bartel’s The Secret Cinema, yet at the same time not strictly derivative of any of them.

The film is a series of vignettes in which an actor (played by Denis Lavant) is driven in a long white stretch limo to various locales where, after changing costume and make-up in the limo-cum-dressing room, he acts out a variety of disturbing / violent / insane improvised scenes, occasionally in public but often in deserted buildings or tunnels. In the course of these scenes, it is learned he is an actor performing a wide variety of roles for an organization that uses tiny hidden cameras to record his performances — but then that scene is revealed to be another role he is playing!

Holy-Motors-612x300Say what you will, Denis Lavant
knows how to make an entrance…

It’s a well mounted film, and while some of the vignettes are violent and bloody with copious male nudity, others are funny.[3]

In the end the stretch limo has a conversation with other stretch limos who carry other actors performing other scenes; the cars realize their own days are coming to an end and soon the digital world will remove the need for them to actually carry actors about.

Thought provoking and never boring.
There are far worse ways to spend two hours.

The ABCs Of Death & The ABCs Of Death 2 are two anthology films in which 26 teams of film makers[4] produce short films / vignettes that each illustrate some point or aspect of death based on a particular word.

NOT a double bill for everyone.[5] Unrated — and for damn good reasons — the vignettes run from sophomoric excursions into gore and torture to genuinely insightful and chilling meditations on death and fate to outrageously funny odd ball examinations of the macabre (animator Bill Plympton, the only recognizable name in the two films, contributes a funny example of extreme kissing).

ABCs 8053_5Simultaneously the safest, cutest, and
most disturbing image from the two films.

The good segments are very good, the gross segments are very gross, the Japanese segments are so fncking Japanese you won’t believe it, but the worst & weakest are still solid C+ material and the best are A+.

The shortness of the mini-films forces a stripped down narrative and character construction; you get straight to the point ASAP and then move on to the next story. As I find myself becoming more and more easily bored by long form stories (including feature films, mini-series, and even hour long episodics), The ABCs Of Death were welcome excursions in efficient streamlined story telling and for that I give them all high marks.

Would that somebody use the same format for other types of stories: Comedies, love, etc.

As the film makers were working independently of one another there is a certain overlap of ideas and themes, but nothing that detracts from the final films. In the first film I was particularly impressed with “Dogfight”, “Hydro-Electric Diffusion” (see above), “Klutz”, and “Pressure” (arguably the most disturbing of all the short films even without explicit gore and violence); while in the second my favorites were “Capital Punishment”, “Questionnaire”, “Roulette”, “Split”, “Vacation”, and “Wish”.

But remember, if I think a movie is pushing the
boundaries, it’s really pushing the boundaries!

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[1] Okay, here’s the deal: We inherited Jeffrey Cat from my late aunt. He is set in his ways, and those ways require somebody to be in the living room with him late at night or else he starts meowing and raising a ruckus. No, he cannot come into my office and lay quietly while I work; no, he cannot let Soon-ok sleep and simply join her at the foot of the bed; he has to have somebody downstairs with him or else he makes enough racket to awaken Soon-ok and then I catch hell. From the moment Soon-ok turns in to the wee hours of the morning, I have to go downstairs and cat sit. Jeffrey Cat, we luvz ya and we’ll take good care of you for the rest of your days, but we will shed few tears when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil…

[2]  Or what they did  right; the last vignette recounts the truly heroic efforts of United Flight 232 to bring their craft down as safely as possible, thus managing to save the lives of over half the people on board.

[3] Whether in spite of or because of their outrageousness is a question best answered by each individual viewer.

[4] The movies promote the directors primarily, but these films required writers and actors and tech crews and animators and special effects teams to make their impact, so let’s hear it for the teams!

[5] In January of this year, Ohio substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was convicted of four felony counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles after she showed the first ABCs Of Death to five different Spanish language classes (the film has Spanish language segments). She had been charged with five counts, but the jury was inclined to think she didn’t know what was in the movie when she showed it to the first class, but that she should have then realized it was inappropriate and not shown it to the remaining classes. Personally, I think the average high school student would probably enjoy both films, though I am sure plenty of teens would rather avoid it as is their right. It was a bonehead move on Ms Kearns part, and while her punishment is excessive, she had to expect some sort of blow back.

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