Two Cul de Sac projects I'd love to see in 2013

I have a 2012 Cul de Sac page a day calendar and I always enjoy tearing off a new comic every day–especially since the retirement of Richard Thompson, though I am glad that when the strip concluded, started to rerun the strip from the beginning.

There are two Cul de Sac items I would like for 2013 and I'm asking Richard and his publishers, if they could make this happen. Admittedly I'd love to see a new project from Richard, but I know that he has more important concerns.

1. A Cul de Sac Treasury similar to the deluxe hardcover slipcased editions of Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side that Andrews McMeel has published in recent years, this one would include the entire run of the strip along with annotations, tributes and whatever other material Richard might want to run in the book.

2. A "Twelve Dills of Christmas" poster. Maybe the name needs some work, but I'd love to see a poster of Dill with his many colorful winter hats. Something colorful and suitable for framing. Or conversely, an advent calendar-like object where there would be pictures of Dill in a hat and when the flap behind it opened, it would reveal another picture of Dill with one of his eminently quotable phrases.

I don't celebrate Advent, but I would put that up on my wall.

Most of all, though, in 2013 I hope that Richard remains healthy. The comics page isn't the same without him, but I hope him nothing but the best.


The Comics Reporter Holiday Interviews

Every year Tom Spurgeon runs a series of interviews–The Holiday Interviews–with cartoonists, editors and various other figures trying to get a sense of the year in comics and where things might be going in the year to come. It's interesting because Tom always gets a great lineup of people and he's a truly great interviewer. It's also a reminder that Tom should be doing more interviews (I say this as one who enjoys reading his interviews, and is at times jealous of who he gets and how well he does it).

Anyway the first interview this year is with Alison Bechdel, who is a lovely human being and a great cartoonist and memoirist. She's also a great interview. Essential reading.

James Romberger's Post York

I've been a fan of James Romberger's artwork for years, which can be seen in graphic novels like "Aaron and Ahmed," "2020 Visions" and "Bronx Kill," which are both available from Vertigo. I first encountered his work in "7 Miles a Second" a biographical comic about the late David Wojnarowicz, which is being reprinted by Fantagraphics early next year.

In recent years Romberger has been trying his hand at writing as well and now we have a new comic out from Uncivilized Books, "Post York." It was a little eerie to be buying this book about a future flooded NYC from him not long after Sandy came through the region. It's a great comic, beautifully drawn. Hopefully we'll get more comics work from Romberger soon.

Ellen Forney and Marbles

I've been a fan of Ellen Forney since her debut book, I Love Led Zeppelin, a great collection of short comics. Since then she's worked on other projects including illustrating Sherman Alexie's great novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian."

Her new book "Marbles" is also her most personal. The story of her diagnosis as bipolar, it is an exploration of what it means to live with illness, what it means to be an artist and exploring the toll that creating art can take. I was thrilled to be able to talk with Ellen about what I think is one of the best comics of the year.

The Sunday Conversation with Kaare Andrews

A few months back I spoke with Kaare Andrews, the writer/director/artist/writer/designer – there's probably a few skills I'm forgetting but the man has talent. In comics there's "Spider-man: Reign" which he wrote and drew, "Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis" which he drew and drawing the covers for relaunched Marvel Ultimate line of comics.

Andrews has directed a number of short films and television pilots. His debut feature film was 2010's "Altitude." He contributed one segment of the anthology film "The ABC's of Death" and also designed the poster for the film–a great movie poster, it should be said.

It was a fun conversation with an insanely talented guy.

Lilli Carre flips "Heads or Tails"

Lilli Carre's collection of short comics "Heads or Tails" is a great collection of work from the animator/illustrator/cartoonist perhaps best known for her graphic novels like "The Lagoon" and "Tales of Woodsman Pete", her animated shorts and her work as co-founder of the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation. It's a great book, out now from Fantagraphics.


Tony Cliff's Delilah Dirk coming to print in Fall 2013

The headline says it all, really. I'm a fan of Cliff and his webcomic, which was probably obvious to everyone who read the interview I conducted with Cliff earlier this year:

Now the news that Cliff was talking about would be revealed has finally been revealed: the comic will be coming to print from First Second Books in Fall 2013.

I'll admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by the official announcement and first look, which was given to a website that failed to mention that the book will be reprinting the Eisner and Harvey nominated webcomic, which has seen print in France in two gorgeous oversize editions. It would have been nice if the people running this news knew a little more about who they're promoting.

It also failed to mention what the dimensions of the book will be - oversize like the French editions? The smaller size of most First Second books? The larger size of :01 titles like Lewis and Clark?

And according to twitter, there will be a dozen new pages.

It's great news. Congrats, Tony! And congrats to the people at First Second who have another great book coming out next year. Can't wait to read it in print.

PRI's RadioWest and comic fun

RadioWest, the daily radio show out of KUER in Salt Lake City is a fabulous program hosted by Doug Fabrizio. Last week he had a series of great shows including one devoted to Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, which is a must even for people who are not fans of the composer of classical music in general.

He also had a Holiday Book Show where Ken Sanders of Ken Sanders Rare Books recommended collections of Carl Barks' Donald Duck and Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse (available now from Fantagraphics). While he didn't recommend the gorgeous new collections of Walt Kelly's Pogo (also from Fantagraphics), Sanders did sing Walt Kelly's holiday song "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie"on the radio, which for those who don't know the song, is a lot of fun. One of my favorite holiday songs (though admittedly, I don't have many)

If you have time, take a listen. There's plenty more great book suggestions.

Chris Ware and the New York Times Book Review's Best Books of the Year

A lot of the time when people talk about comics and the lack of respect that the medium gets, I just roll my eyes. Comics do get little respect, it's true, but that doesn't bother me. Though admittedly I do understand why many of the people who create such things would be bothered by it, I tend to ignore the people who just want more people to have the same taste that they do.

How does an art form gain acceptance and respect? It creates great work.

One of the best works this year (and one of the best works from most years) has been Chris Ware's Building Stories, which is a work that I'll admit after multiple readings, I'm still coming to terms with. I think it's brilliant and overwhelming. It's also a must-read for everyone interested in comics or graphic art. The editors of the book review mentioned that "the graphic novel achieved new heights of mastery in Chris Ware's Building Stories." In their description of the book, "it tackles universal themes including art, sex, family and existential loneliness in a way that's simultaneously playful and profound." I couldn't have said it better.

Among the books that were listed the previous week in the Book Review's lineup of the 100 best books of the year are a few other comics and comic-related titles:

Alison Bechdel's new memoir Are You My Mother? was named one of the year's notable books. It's interesting because many reviewers have compared the book negatively to her first book Fun Home, and I think that this one of the problems where people think you're brilliant and talented, you're always expected to be brilliant and talented. Are You My Mother? is less dramatic than Fun Home, but it's also more nuanced and complicated and I think in some ways less satisfying to readers because of this.

Deirdre Bair's new biography of the great artist Saul Steinberg was on the best of the year list and honestly a book by one of the great contemporary biographers and a talented artist who led a colorful, eventful life seems like a no-brainer and a guaranteed great book.

I was glad to see G. Willow Wilson's debut novel Alif the Unseen on the list, after a long run of comics including Cairo and Air. Despite the book's flaws, it remains a powerful look at the contemporary Middle East that ends where we are today.


Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom

I finally watched Moonrise Kingdom. Maybe it was the fact that so many people told me it was good, but I felt disappointed by the film. I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson, but I wasn't a big fan of it.

Let's break down Anderson's feature films into groups based upon the films' co-writers (Anderson co-writes all his films)

The Owen Wilson films:
Bottle Rocket
The Royal Tenenbaums

The Noah Baumbach films:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Roman Coppola films:
The Darjeeling Limited
Moonrise Kingdom

The first three films that Anderson made, which he co-write with actor Owen Wilson, are hat amde his reputation. It's pretty easy to see why. I still remember seeing Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums in the theater–and have seen both of them since–and loved both.

The Baumbach films feel like Baumbach's work in many ways. They're much the result of a melding of their different sensibilities. Many of Baumbach's films are about families–the ones we chose and the ones we're given, and those two films definitely have those signs.

Now I'm not a fan of the films Anderson co-wrote with Coppola. I liked the film that Coppola wrote and directed, CQ–visually it was gorgeous and it was interesting, but there wasn't a lot there there, to borrow a phrase. I was not a fan of The Darjeeling Limited–it's the weakest of Anderson's films to my mind.

Moonrise Kingdom is for me the second weakest.

Anderson's films have always been set in their own worlds, and I love that aspect of them, the slightly unreal, off-kilter world which is almost exactly like our own. It's visually stunning, but as crazy as things may get, the events of the films are always grounded in emotional truth and emotional realism. As wacky as things may get in Life Aquatic, the family dynamics are real and when Wilson's character dies, it punches you in the gut just as hard as it does the characters.

In Moonrise Kingdom, the acting among the adults is top notch (hard not to with that cast) and has what I think may be Bruce Willis' finest performance. All of Anderson's films have a certain fable quality but they're grounded by the emotion. In Moonrise Kingdom the emotions are those of young children, which is fine, but there's little more than that. The adults on the island are going through things but it's just background. The kids are just kids. They don't grow or change in the course of the film or learn from the events and actions depicted.

I mentioned Bruce Willis earlier. The film has some of his best acting and in the end, his character plays a major role in the events of the film. If his character had a bigger role in the film–think on par with Bill Murray's character in Rushmore–and split between him and the kids, then I think that it would have been a much stronger film and a much more interesting film.

When I mentioned that I saw Moonrise Kingdom, my mother said that she liked the film and "it was cute." It was. But it wasn't any more than that.

Doctor Who?

I finally got around to watching the first half of Season 7 of Doctor Who–I'm still behind on a lot of things from my months away but now at least I'm caught up before the Christmas special. It's an odd season, very different from the two previous seasons that Steven Moffat oversaw and which starred Matt Smith. The two previous seasons had season-long story arcs mixed in with stand alone episodes to a greater degree than the show has had since it returned. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. This season has been about single episodes and really changing it up from one episode to the next.

And the episodes have been fun. In the first one, we get a new take on the daleks. In the fifth we get a new story with the Angels, and while it's no "Blink," it's much better than the two-parter from Season 5 with the Angels. We got another visit from River Song. There was the Doctor in an old west town dealing with a moral quandary. An alien invasion of sorts, featuring a new head of UNIT. Plus dinosaurs on a spaceship.

It also manages to be about aging and change. About dealing with our past, getting a second chance, trying to put things right and struggling to be flexible enough to change and confront new challenges. I'm sure that some people dislike these elements in the stories, but they give it a weight and it wouldn't be the same without it.

Now I'm waiting impatiently for the second half of the season. One episode written by Neil Gaiman. Two episodes written by Neil Cross (the man behind the brilliant "Luther" starring Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson). One episode written by Mark Gatiss starring Dame Diana Rigg and her daughter Rachael Stirling (both of whom I adore). Plus two episodes written by Moffat. I can't wait.

A few things to note:

-Jemma Redgrave. I love Jemma Redgrave–I'm willing to bet that most of the people who remember her from "Bramwell," "The Grid" and other projects feel similarly. Hopefully she'll stop by and see the doctor again. Plus she's apparently starring in another British tv series, Frankie, which also stars Torchwood's Eve Myles. Hopefully we'll get it stateside. It's been too long since I saw her in anything.

-Alex Kingston. I don't know if we'll be seeing more of River Song or not. I hope so. It would deeply depressing if that was her last appearance and in the same year the new "Upstairs Downstairs" get cancelled. We need a new television series or movie starring Alex Kingston. Seriously, her multiple appearances as River Song have shown she can do just about anything.

-Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. I already miss them...


Brom interview on SuicideGirls

Gerald Brom is one of the best fantasy artists in the world. (In addition to being one of my personal favorites) He's also a very talented writer. His new book is "Krampus, The Yule Lord" is a great, fantastic holiday tale–dark and twisted where the characters (and the reader) have to work for their happy endings. Which is how it should be. It's a great holiday tale.

He's also an incredibly nice guy.


November 20's Ear Cave in Hartford

The other night I attended the Ear Cave, a monthly series of audio and video stories curated by Hartford-area media figures. Catie Talarski and Patrick Skahill, both of whom are producers at Hartford's WNPR curated the show, which was largely composed of pieces that they discovered at last month's Third Coast Audio Festival

Ms. Talarski opened the night by talking a little about the Third Coast Audio Festival []and she opened by playing a piece that she had produced for the Festival's ShortDoc challenge. The contest as open to anyone and the rules were that it had to be under three minutes, feature at least two neighbors, involve three seconds of narrative silence and include a color in the title. She was self-deprecating about her own entry titled "Blue Skies, Black Fences":

She then played for us the winning short entry, "The Red White and Blue Bus" which was produced by Luke Eldridge, which took the idea in a different direction and really used the three seconds of narrative silence in an excellent way. And also demonstrated that three seconds of silence can be an eternity:

"The Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators" is the 43rd episode of the podcast 99 Percent Invisible, a show about design by Roman Mars and is a fun piece about the sound that escalators in the Washington, D.C. metro system make

Another piece was from producer Jonathan Mitchell, who was interviewed on Where We Live (the show where Talarski is the Senior Producer) and has a great show called The Truth, where this story originally appeared, about the death of Edgar Allen Poe: 

Mitchell also produced a piece for  Studio 360 by Mitchell about the photographer Michele Iversen titled "She Sees Your Every Move" which was an intensely creepy piece. And it's creepy because of what Iverson does. A few slides of her work were projected while we listened to the piece, which I think made an impression on us that I don't think would have been achieved without the imagery. Iverson photographs people through their windows and it is a gaze that invades people's privacy. What makes her an interesting interviewee is that she freely admits that–and that she wouldn't want to be captured in such a way. I don't think it's possible to look at a photograph of unsuspecting people through a window without feeling unease, but I couldn't help but think about whether it is possible to depict intimate moments in a way that is not voyeuristic.

Obviously there are degrees, and Iverson is at an extreme degree–these are the types of images you see in a movie about a serial killer right before the person being observed is found butchered–but is it possible to witness an intimate moment not as a voyeur? To participate in such a moment is something very different after all.

Adam Curtis is a producer at the BBC and he edited together two video clips of five minutes and then without changing a single frame, placed two very different soundtracks over the clips, and watching them side by side, they produce very different effects for viewers, and I have to admit that I loved both–possibly more than I should, I'll admit, just because I enjoyed the juxtaposition.

Jad Abumrad, the co-host and co-producer of RadioLab in addition to being a MacArthur Genius Grant winner and the recipient of numerous other awards and accolades which make one hate him while being forced to acknowledge his many, considerable talents. He gave a speech at the festival called "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" and Ms. Talaraski and Mr. Skahill spoke about some of pieces he mentioned.

One of them is the opening scene of the movie "Birth," a movie of which I'm not particularly fond, but it is a stunning opening sequence.

Afterwards people talked a little about music, the juxtaposition of different elements and about how to use music or find a way to take the musicality of language and craft the story being told around these elements. One person asked if anyone knew about a radio story that was structured around music, which no one could quite think of an example.

WNPR host John Dankosky, who was there, mentioned the relatively lengthy piece by Robert Siegel which aired Monday night on All Things Considered about classical music–itself a rarity on radio–which was a great piece.

At the same time, I couldn't help but think of cinema. There are a handful of instances where the music has defined the editing of a film. It doesn't happen often–Alexander Nevsky, directed by the legendary Sergei Eisenstein with a score by Sergei Prokofiev, has a great battle sequence and is the result of the two working together. It's also one of the great musical scores ever written for a film.

As far as a radio piece that is structured or shaped around the music, I don't know of one either, though now of course I want to create one if only because if the immense challenge of creating such a thing. In film or in dance, two other art forms that have been very defined by music, creators are working with visual elements which are separate and distinct from the music. To create a radio piece driven by the music is possible but it would be unbelievably difficult. After all what would the other component be? In my head I'm thinking of a radio play defined by a classical piece of music but that would be intense, the rhythm and mood of the dialogue having to play off and be supported by the music. Something with lyrics would throw it off unless one sampled a few pieces and mixed it all together–one part Radiolab, one part Kayne West–though that's even more insane.

Also, I'm fairly certain that this is the only time that anyone will ever use the phrase "one part Radiolab, one part Kanye West"...

Well there's clearly something in the air because on Monday, the great show RadioWest from KUER in Salt Lake City spent an hour talking about the Third Coast Festival, interviewing some of the people involved and playing excerpts of some of the pieces that received awards there this year:

And 90.5 WNPR in Hartford will be playing two hours of work from the Third Coast Festival on Thanksgiving Day, which is worth a listen if you have a chance.

R.I.P. Boss

It was announced this week that Starz has cancelled Boss, the show starring Kelsey Grammar as the Mayor of Chicago. On the one hand I'm not surprised since the show didn't have the greatest ratings, but I'm disappointed. It was an incredibly interesting show, though it was also a deeply flawed one.

When the show was good, it was very good. The pilot episode was, I think, the strongest of the series. Part of the reason for that was the skill of director Gus Van Sant, but it also put Grammar and his character front and center. For far too much of the show, Grammar is off to the side as time is spent with his aides, councilmen, journalists, construction workers, various other political and union officials. I understand the reasoning behind this–it helps provide a sense of the city as a complex system with the mayor at the heart of it, actions reverberating across the city and the state, but sometimes the stories and characters weren't nearly as interesting.

Another problem is that the other characters weren't always compelling or interesting. Or the actors just weren't up to the challenge. And others simply weren't given the opportunity to do more. Martin Donovan had too little to do in the first season, and I think the show would have been stronger if his character played more of a role and there was less of various journalists and construction workers, which were a distraction.

The pilot worked because there was a lot of the mayor and it gave a sense of who he was and the history of Chicago, because he didn't just see himself as being at the center of current events but as part of a history of the city and that works because he knows the history. His lengthy monologue about the late Mayor Anton Cermak and his forgotten role in shaping the city was a great piece of drama.

This is King Lear. This is the Mayor who finds out he has a neurological disorder and is struggling to hold onto power while simultaneously trying to control what will happen after he's gone. Some of the best scenes of the power and influence of the mayor and the fear and loyalty that he could inspire were found in the scenes with Grammar where he was given free reign to chew scenery and offer some great monologues. This wasn't a show that aspired to the West Wing and that mannered patter, but something more theatrical.

Apparently there's talk that the show will wrap up with a two hour movie, which would be a nice touch. Honestly, I've always liked Grammar–I remember him from Cheers, I liked Fraiser, though the show ran too long. This show had too short a run, and I have to admit, I never appreciated what a good actor he is.

The War on Christmas begins again...sigh...

Apparently the so-called "war on Christmas" has begun. Which I suppose is appropriate since the seasons starts long before Thanksgiving, so why shouldn't the war...

I remember back in the early years of first decade of the Twenty-first century...when I first heard of this "War on Christmas" I was excited. Of course I thought that it was about how Christians were being persecuted in Iraq and how since the American invasion, Christians had been systematically targeted for death and harassment, were going into exile, and were very often being denied refuge in the United States and forced to jump through an insane number of hoops to do so.

That was not the "war on Christmas." Apparently those Christians being driven from their homes and killed. The Christians here in the United States have it hard because people say "happy holidays."

This would all be entirely academic but having worked retail and having been verbally assaulted by people who didn't appreciate that I was saying "happy holidays"–something that didn't just happen overnight but has been going on for decades, this felt more like a war on retail employees. Time and again I would see people acting in a vicious, deeply un-Christian fashion towards cashiers.

That's all people need, one more reason to be cruel to cashiers...

I really do not miss working retail.

Life and irony

I don't entirely agree with Christy Wampole's piece from yesterday's New York Times, but the piece offers a great deal of food for thought – which I think is mostly being ignored or scoffed at. Of course the purpose of the piece is that we should think about ourselves and that ultimately living life with ironic detachment means that we're ultimately missing out on something and that it's impossible for a society, especially a democracy, to function where such a large percentage of the population choses not to engage fully.

As much as I agree with such sentiments, I also can't help but think that it was inevitable that a large chunk of the population–and the internet–would rise up to dismissively mock the idea of the article (and the article itself, but mostly the idea of the article).

Regardless, Christy Wampole is now officially my new intellectual crush.


Star Wars...

I'm sick to death of hearing about Star Wars.

Also I'm tired of every publication and everyone with a blog giving their two cents about what the next Star Wars movie should be.

Of course now this movie is going to obsessively tracked by the press and the internet so that by the time the movie gets released, every plot twist will have been splashed everywhere, it will have been analyzed and discussed to death before anyone has seen a single frame and all the fun will have drained out of it.

Or maybe I'm wrong.


Dan Zettwoch goes DIY for Birdseye Bristoe

I'm a fan of Dan Zettwoch and his new book Birdseye Bristoe is great fun. It's a hard book to describe. It's about two kids who spend the summer with their uncle. It's about the world's tallest cellphone tower being built in a small town. The key to the book and what makes it a great comic–and so much fun–is how Zettwoch tells the story.

Zack Giallongo's Broxo

I spoke with cartoonist Zack Giallongo recently about his debut graphic novel Broxo just out from First Second Books. The story of a barbarian who travels to visit a remote tribe to find only a single boy, a strange witch, and comes to find that the dead have risen. Fantasy plus barbarians plus zombies.

Steven Weissman's Barack Hussein Obama

I spoke with Steven Weissman about his new book Barack Hussein Obama. It's a very different book for Weissman, whose work tends to be surreal with oddball characters, colorful turns of phrase and a unique sense of pacing. This isn't a book that is remotely realistic about the President or makes fun of him, but instead uses the names of political figures and does something very different with them.

Mark Siegel and Sailor Twain

I'm a great fan of Mark Siegel, who's the editorial director at First Second. We've met a few times over the years and we spoke recently when he visited the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT to talk about his new book Sailor Twain. His first graphic novel, it was serialized online and I spoke with him about the project when he was posting it a page at a time and was glad to get the chance to talk with him now that the book is completed.

Tom Devlin on D&Q, Highwater and more

I spoke with Tom Devlin, currently the Creative Director at Drawn and Quarterly, about the recent projects he's overseeing for the company, in particular Pippi Longstocking and the Moomins. I've spoken with Devlin over the years about our shared love for the work of Tove Jansson and the Moomins. I also spoke with Devlin about the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of Highwater Books where he published some great cartoonists – John Porcellino, Megan Kelso, Matt Madden, Brian Ralph and more. I also asked when we'll next see one of his comics.


Ahmed Alsoudani at the Wadsworth Atheneum

Ahmed Alsoudani/Matrix 165 at the Wadsworth Atheneum

Because September has been an odd month for me, due in part to a variety of factors including the shock of being back in the U.S. and adjusting the colder weather here, I’ve gotten behind on many things. One of them would have to be writing pieces that are for the blog and thus don’t have a deadline. The other week I attended the opening of a new show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT of paintings by Ahmed Alsoudani, an American born in Baghdad in 1975.

The exhibition consists of a series of works by Alsoudani, all of which are untitled, which are acrylic and graphite on canvas works. By refusing to title the work, one is forced to make sense of the work on its own terms, which is always a challenge in confronting abstract work and the multimedia aspect of them only makes it a bigger challenge.

The show’s catalog includes an essay by Patricia Hickson, the Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth. She opens her essay with the sentence “A visual encounter with a painting by Ahmed Alsoudani feels more like a visceral confrontation with the aftermath of violence.” And while I do feel that the statement is very correct I feel that it does place a limitation on the works’ subjects. Further the biographical details, make it clear that this work is a confrontation with war and its aftermath and make a point of associating Alsoudani with war and violence, in particular the Middle East conflicts with which Americans are familiar.

I feel uncomfortable with this. First of all, I do hesitate to draw too many conclusions between biography and art. I think that it’s possible to view work through such a lens but I think that seeing in such terms is inherently limiting. Because while I do think that Alsoudani’s work is about violence and its aftermath, about war and destruction, looking at it through the lens of, this is work created by an Iraqi about war prejudices how the audience reads the canvases.

Alsoudani avoids titling his work to prevent people from seeing things in certain ways. To allow the work to be open to interpretation and to let people find their own way through the imagery and associations.

For example, I’m uncertain about the meaning of Alsoudani’s use of graphite in the canvases. The figures of systems which have been rebuilt into what could be described as monstrous and grotesque but could also be the face of survivors, the way that in the face of violence and loss we often try to rebuild our lives and our selves, not always successfully. That’s not to say that such figures or systems are not destructive forces but there is a sadness at the heart of them, broken and incomplete, still alive through force of will or simply the result of habit.

In this sense the use of graphite takes on two possible meanings, that it either represents an incomplete aspect or it shows us what has been lost. It may represent what we paper over, unable to replace or rebuild that part of ourselves or lives and the ways we try to make do. Or it could be the way that we unconsciously try to replicate our lives as they were before even though we can’t, even if we may not know why. They’re ghost limbs of our lives as they used to be and now whether we’re aware of it or not, they can never be like that again.

In this sense the grotesque can be seen as a testament to survival. Also I can’t help but think of the paintings as very contemporary. Not because of the style or approach, necessarily, but I can’t help but feel that the imagery could not have been possible a generation ago. Not because he’s using lots of modern technology or shorthand that a contemporary audience would understand, but because I can’t help but feel that these figures and these systems are representative in many respects of how we live today.

I really enjoyed Alsoudani’s work–and I think there are a few canvases that would make a great addition to the museum’s permanent collection–but I can’t help but feel that the presentation of his work by the Atheneum did him and the paintings a small disservice. The room that most of them are exhibited it has bare white walls and really does provide the right environment. The essay is interesting if you've already spent time with the paintings but if you read it before spending time sitting with the art, it just diminishes them. There’s so much in those canvases; I think the best of them would have been better off speaking for themselves.

Ghassan Zaqtan and Fady Joudah across America

The Palestinian writer Ghassan Zaqtan is finally coming to the United States. He was supposed to tour the country in the spring when his book, Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me and Other Poems was first published. Zaqtan will be touring with his translator, the poet Fady Joudah. The book, published by Yale University Press as part of their Margellos World Republic of Letters series, is fabulous and I'm looking forward to hearing them during their tour. 

And if the chance to meet and hear a great poet read isn't enough encouragement, the fact that Zaqtan had a hard time getting into this country in the first place–his spring book tour was cancelled because he wasn't granted a visa–should push to make a point of seeing him while you can.

The Final Cul de Sac that would have been

Richard Thompson writes about the final Cul de Sac comic, or at least what would have been the final strip.

And the syndicate is running the strip online from the beginning. If you haven't read them, or even if you have:


Movie Review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

I'm a huge fan of Aardman Animations, the company behind the Wallace and Gromit films and the great underrated feature Chicken Run. The company's most recent film from directors Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt is "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." It's an awkward title but it's an entertaining film.

It's not a great film. It's one of those works where the individual elements of the film work well but they don't necessarily cohere into a satisfying whole. I think it would have likely worked better as a shorter film.

Some of the highlights: Charles Darwin (as voiced by David Tennant). Darwin's chimpanzee. Cameo appearances by Jane Austen and the Elephant Man. A dodo bird. A particularly entertaining take on Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton). A dirigible. Plus there are many pirates. Who doesn't like pirates? (besides, of course, ninjas, but we're not counting them as part of this rhetorical exercise).

Also, am I alone in noticing that Queen Victoria at one point enters the film riding a fat pony? Or do I just read too many Kate Beaton comics?

Not a perfect movie but a lot of fun.

A Small Endorsement

Apparently one of the glamorous new couples spotlighted at last night' Emmy Awards was Michael C. Hall and Morgan Macgregor. Hall is of course the Emmy Award winning star of Dexter. His significant other, Macgregor, is a book critic.

In the spirit (which is to say blatantly ripping off) Slate's Culture Gabfest Podcast, I would like to endorse dating book critics.

I'd also like to endorse possessing multiple tattoos and looking elegant.

I know. Self-serving. Still. Both excellent points, I think.


Happy Celebrate Bisexuality Day

I'll be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure how to celebrate such a holiday – admittedly a moot point since, after all, the day is over by now. Bisexuals have a rough time of it. A lot of people don't believe that bisexuality exists, which honestly I've never understood. So here's to the B in LGBT.


The End of Cul de Sac

Today is a sad day. It's the conclusion of one of the great comic strips, Cul de Sac. Richard Thompson has been suffering from Parkinson's disease and it's just become too much for him to handle. My love for the strip knows no bounds and my admiration for Thompson's skills as an artist and writer is immense.

All our thoughts and wishes are for your good health.

I certainly hope that someone notes the great devotion that many of us have for the strip and sees fit to publish in the coming years a hardcover slipcased volume collecting the entire run of the strip - similar to what we've seen happen with The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes.

Television This Week: September 23-30

Sunday September 23:

-Treme  -  10 pm at HBO. One of my favorite shows on television with one of the best casts on television. Not to mention the best music.

Monday September 24:

-How I Met Your Mother  -  8 pm on CBS. So Barney is marrying Robin a year from now and that’s where Ted meets the mother. Go.

-Mob Doctor  -  9 pm on Fox. An uneven first episode but let’s see what the second one is like.

-Revolution  -  10 pm on NBC. Let’s see if the second episode gives u a hint where the series is headed.

-Castle  -  10 pm on ABC. Like the actors, bored by the show. But they’re back for more in a new season.

-Hawaii 5-0  -  10 pm on CBS. For the life of me, I really don’t understand why this show is popular and keeps coming back.

Tuesday September 25:

-New Girl  -  8 pm on Fox. Looking forward to this.

-New Girl  -  9 pm on Fox. Wait. Two new episodes, not back to back on the same night. I’m going to forget this second episode, I know it.

-Go On  -  9 pm on NBC. I’ll likely end up watching this at 9 instead.

-The Mindy Project  -  9:30 pm on Fox. Had a lot of fun watching the pilot.Love Mindy Kaling and the show

-Vegas  -  10 pm on CBS. Nick Pileggi, the writer of work like Goodfellas and Casino tells the story of a rancher who became sheriff (played by Dennis Quaid) and the new man from Chicago (played by Michael Chiklis) who’s come to oversee casinos for the mob. With Carrie-Ann Moss and Jason O’Mara. The tale of a small desert community about to become, well, Vegas. Could be genius or disappointing.

Wednesday September 26:

-Animal Practice  -  8 pm on NBC. A good cast plus a monkey.

Thursday September 27:

-Last Resort  -  8 pm on ABC. Good pilot, though I’ll be honest, I’m not sure where this is going or how long they can sustain this premise.

-The Big Bang Theory  -  8 pm on CBS. Five bucks says they’ll make fun of nerds this season.

-Person of Interest  -  9 pm on CBS. The first season was uneven, but the actors were great and kept bringing me back. Hopefully this season they’ve seen what worked and what didn’t.

-Parks and Recreation  -  9:30 pm on NBC. Woo hoo!

-Scandal  -  10 pm on ABC. Okay I’ll admit that I watched the first season for Kerry Washington. Because it wasn’t that good a show. I’m not sure if my love for Ms. Washington is so strong that I can watch another season.

-Elementary  -  10 pm on CBS. A contemporary Sherlock Holmes? Hmm, I think I watched this show earlier this year. This one is set in New York with a Dr. Joan Watson (played by Lucy Liu). I’m intrigued.

-Louie  -  10 pm on FX. Season finale.

Friday September 28:

-Fringe  -  9 pm on Fox. Finally, the team is back and we begin the first of a thirteen episode final season set in 2036. I am so excited!

-Grimm  -  9 pm on NBC. New episodes. Finally.

Television This Week: September 16-22

This Week on TV

Sunday September 16:

-Wallander  -  9 pm on PBS (Or not, check local listings). Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh returns as the titular figure in a new series based on Henning Mankell’s detective. I’m a huge fan of Mankell and his books and I think that Branagh does a great job, but I’m not a big fan of the series. Mankell writes lengthy complex novels and editing them down to 90 minute movies means eliminating a lot of what makes them interesting.

-Leverage  -  Starting at 9 pm on TNT.  The Summer Season finale for the show is a two part season finale. Or it’s just two episodes being aired back to back. One of those. Still, two hours of Leverage.

-Boardwalk Empire  -  9 pm on HBO. The third season launches after last season ended by killing off a major character (I won’t spoil it).

-Weeds  -  10 pm on Showtime. Series Finale. If you weren’t aware the show was still on the air, you’re not alone. But this was a huge series once and even if it overstayed its welcome, well, isn’t that what happens to most shows. Still, it was a great show for a few seasons, Mary-Louise Parker showed what an incredible actress she is, and Nancy Botwin was a loveable often maddening character who you couldn’t help but love and want to smack upside the head (often in the same scene).

Monday September 17:

-Mob Doctor  -  9 pm on Fox. I love Jordana Spiro, William Forsythe and Zeljko Ivanek, so it should be worth watching at least one episode.

-Warehouse 13 and Alphas  -  Starting at 9 pm on SyFy. Based on how both shows ended last week, this week will rachet up the tension a notch as the ongoing stories kick into a slightly higher gear.

-Monday night football on ESPN. The Broncos playing the Falcons in Atlanta. We’re all wondering what Peyton’s capable of and what the Broncs will end up doing this season.

-Revolution  -  10 pm on NBC. A new series from Eric Kripke (the creator of Supernatural) with the help of producer J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk and director Jon Favreau.

Tuesday September 18:

-American Experience: Death and the Civil War  -  8 pm on PBS. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, PBS takes this look at the conflict based largely upon the book by Drew Gilpin Faust, which is one of the great books about the Civil War.

-Go On and New Normal  -  Starting at 9 pm on NBC.

-White Collar  -  9 pm on USA.  The show reaches its summer season finale and hopefully we’ll find out who Treat William’s character really is. Anyone want to take bets?

-Sons of Anarchy  -  10 pm on FX. New season, more mayhem.

Wednesday September 19:

-Revolution  -  10 pm on NBC. A rerun of the pilot episode for those who were watching ESPN or SyFy Monday night.

Thursday September 20:

-Saturday Night Live Election Special  -  8 pm on NBC. I’m not sure whether I should look forward to this or whether it will be a complete waste of time. Based on past SNL political humor, it’ll be either one or the other, and half an hour is just way too long.

-The Office & Parks and Recreation  -  Starting at 9 pm on NBC. Woo hoo!

-Louie  -  10:30 pm on FX. The third of a three part episode, which will hopefully feature another guest appearance by David Lynch.

-Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell  -  1 pm on FX. A great weekly series with topical political humor from a different perspective. Funny, pointed and not getting enough love.

Friday September 21:

-Grimm  -  9 pm on NBC. Can anyone tell me what the point of launching the new season of “Grimm” in August was if NBC is just going to rerun those episodes in September? Did they run out of summer programming at the last minute and needed something to fill the time slot? Was there a plan I’m not seeing?

-Haven  -  10 pm on SyFy. Season premiere of the show in which we’ll hopefully get a few more answers about the troubles.

-Strike Back  -  10 pm on Cinemax. If you get the channel and you’re not watching this action series, you’re missing out on a fun ride. I’m not going to claim it’s anything more than that but neither are the people making it.

Nicola Scott on the Sunday Conversation

I'm a big fan of artist Nicola Scott and had the chance to speak with her for the Sunday Conversation on Comic Book Resources. I asked whether people in Australia use the phrase "down under", and we spoke about real estate, renovation, Sydney and more.


Rick Remender on CBR's Sunday Conversation

I spoke with Rick Remender, a writer and artist I've loved for many years and who has just been announced as one of the major architects of the Marvel NOW initiative, for the Sunday Conversation at Comic Book Resources. We spoke about why he left Portland, Oregon for Southern California, scouting and why we both failed to become Eagle Scouts, skateboarding, surfing, kids and being neurotic. I was a lot of fun and I think it shows.

Richard Thompson ending Cul de Sac

I'm a great fan of Richard Thompson and his comic strip Cul de Sac, which I think is a truly great comic strip which I would rank as one of the great American comic strips of all time. Thompson received the Reuben of the Year Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 2011, but two years earlier, Thompson was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. This year there was a fundraiser among cartoonists to raise funds for Parkinson's research which led to the art book Team Cul de Sac, which is a great book. Today Thompson and the syndicate announced that Cul de Sac will be ending next month on Sunday September 23.

I'm sad to know that there won't be new comics from Thompson every day, but the idea of someone so incredibly skilled and gifted as Thompson being struck by an illness that robs him of his gift is just heartbreaking. Michael Cavna spoke with Thompson about this decision here:

I spoke with Thompson last year and he was every bit as nice a human being and as articulate and thoughtful as one might expect. Thoughts, prayers, well-wishes–please send them his way.

The Pander Brothers on Secret Broadcast Redux and more

I've been a fan of the Pander Brothers for years. I remember when their comic Secret Broadcast was first released by Oni Press years ago–one of Oni's first publications. The brothers made their names with their first major comic project, Grendel: Devil's Legacy, which I still love. The duo went on to draw books like Accelerate (written by Richard Kadrey), Exquisite Corpse, Batman: City of Light, and Triple-X (my personal favorite). The two have directed a lot of music videos and short films and the recent feature film Selfless.

Their new project is Secret Broadcast Redux. The book has been released digitally in full color with new pages telling what happened to the characters. They've also assembled a new soundtrack for the comic, which is a great tale of pirate radio and being young and seeking meaning and a purpose.

Sunday Conversation with Francis Manapul

I spoke with Francis Manapul–The man behind The Flash at DC Comics–for the CBR Sunday Conversation. I'll be honest, I didn't know much about Francis before preparing for the conversation, but I really like the man. We had a great time talking about photography, basketball, the short-lived television show Beast Legends and more.

Tony Cliff talks about Delilah Dirk

I'm a big fan of the Eisner-nominated cartoonist Tony Cliff and his webcomic Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. It's a fun adventure story set in the Nineteenth century about a janissary and an adventurer. Cliff did not win the Eisner this year or the comic, but it's a lot of fun and as Cliff put it, it tries to fill the Indiana Jones-shaped hole in your heart.

G. Willow Wilson talks about Alif the Unseen

I've been a fan of G. Willow Wilson's work since her graphic novel Cairo. I suppose it helps that we share many similar interests and concerns, ranging from contemporary fantasy novels to the Arab world. Her new book is her first prose novel, Alif the Unseen. The story of a hacker in an unnamed Arab country, the story involves the jinn, state security, the nature of fiction, the meaning of freedom and revolution. We spoke about the book, the Arab Spring, Egyptian politics and more.

Bringing the Harlem Renaissance and "The Ren" to life

I recently spoke with Shawn Martinbrough, Joseph Illidge and Grey Williamson about their just-announced graphic novel The Ren, which will be published by First Second Books. The book is set during the Harlem Renaissance and though I'm not familiar with Williamson's work, his artwork and designs for the book look fabulous. It could be a great story and a very important book and it won't be out soon enough.

John Shirley on The Crow and more

I interviewed John Shirley: He’s one of the great cyberpunk authors (City Come A-Walkin’, A Song Called Youth), Shirley’s written a lot of horror and thriller novels (Demons, Dracula in Love), was the first screenwriter on the first Crow movie and wrote for a lot of TV shows including Batman Beyond, Star Trek: DS9, VR.5. His new project - and first comic - is The Crow; Death and Rebirth, a cyberpunk tale of revenge with mythological villains and corporate intrigue set in Japan, which is out now. I've been a fan of Shirley's work for years and it was a thrill to talk with him about his new project.

Troy Little on the return of Angora Napkin

I'm a big fan of the Canadian cartoonist and animator Troy Little. His second graphic novel, Angora Napkin, was a marked departure form his debut book. It was a strange hilarious book that went on to be nominated for an Eisner Award and would be turned into a animated pilot. Now Little is working on the second Angora Napkin graphic novel which will be released by IDW later this year (and you can see an exclusive preview of the book included with the interview) and he's doing a webcomic, which he's drawing in a different style. On the website you can also see the animated pilot. I talked with him about how Angora Napkin has taken over his creative life and he talks a little about another project he's in the midst of:


Speaking with Anne Carson

I had the opportunity to interview the great Anne Carson over e-mail recently. I write "the great" simply because it's hard to find the words to describe Ms. Carson. She is a great translator, poet and essayist. Her theatrical translations (like her newest "Antigonick") are fabulous as is her brilliant translation of the complete work of Sappho. Her essays, in particular her book "Eros the Bittersweet" should be essential reading. It was a great thrill to talk with her and I can't say enough good things about her work.


A.J. Focht wrote about the Aurora, Colorado shooting

A.J. Focht, who like me writes for the suicidegirls website, was at the theater in Aurora Colorado the other week. He survived unscathed. Not all his friends did. He wrote about it here, which I present without comment just because I don't have the words. Go read it:

Celebrating the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival

I'm a great lover of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, which is held every summer in Farmington, CT, and this year celebrates its Twentieth Anniversary. I wrote a short article celebrating the festival for the Poetry Foundation's website. I spoke with the great Richard Wilbur for the article, which was a great thrill as I'm a longtime fan. I'm sorry I wasn't around this summer to hear the many people who have read there so far and will be reading in the coming weeks.

In speaking with former director Rennie McQuilkin, he made the comment that he thought from the beginning that the festival would be a huge success and last forever. I know better than to contradict Rennie. Here's to the next twenty years!


Eisner Awards 2012 Wrap-up

A few thoughts on the Eisner Awards. I wasn't at San Diego this year but looking over the news roundup of the event, I do regret a little that I couldn't be there. (Of course on Friday night I remember sitting outside with people cooking out and thinking how much nicer it was than dealing with San Diego...)

But it was exciting to see that Ramon Perez and the book A Tale of Sand receive so many awards. It's an amazing book and Ramon is besides being a really nice guy, just an unbelievable talent who I think still has so much to show us what he's capable of. It's an amazing book and he just knocked it out of the park. I can't wait to see his next major project.

I was also thrilled to see Roger Langridge win for Snarked and Vera Brogsol win for Anya's Ghost. Both are great comics for younger readers and deserve more attention.

Mike Norton, who I've spoken with a few times and is incredibly nice besides being obviously talented, won for best digital comic for Battlepug.

As far as archival projects, Scott Dunbier and the IDW Artists Edition won one award for the Walt Simonson Thor book. Fantagraphics won for the reprints of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse comic strips, Dark Horse won for the Milo Manara Library and Drawn and Quarterly's edition of Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths won another Eisner. All brilliant books in their own way and all very deserving.

Also it was nice that Tom Spurgeon received the award for best comics-related journalism. Because he is Tom Spurgeon. In the eyes of pretty much all of us in the field, he's a giant.

It is funny to note that over the past four years, Tom Spurgeon and CBR have alternated winning that particular Eisner.


Notes on Summer Programming

To the readers of my blog–all three of you–I think it only fair to let you know that the nature of my postings over the next few months will be a little different. Not entirely, I do have some thoughts on summer television, the new program Longmire based on a book series by Craig Johnson that I love, my problems with the comedy series The Big Bang Theory.  I have articles coming up running on different sites for the next few months that I’ll talking about.

The blog will be a little different because I’ll be spending my summer in the Middle East studying Arabic at the University of Jordan. More on that later.


Talking with Michael Robbins about "Alien vs. Predator"

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a great fan of poetry and I was thrilled that I recently got the chance to talk with Michael Robbins, whose debut collection "Alien vs. Predator" is out now from Penguin Poets and I think it's pretty obviously the big poetry collection of the year to date. We talked about all the topics one might expect when conversing with a poet–pop culture, capitalism, Guns n Roses' November Rain video, other poets (both those praised and those scorned), and a little about life, being irresponsible, returning to graduate school, Rimbaud and more.

Congrats to James Sallis on receiving this year's Hammett Prize

The International Crime Writers announced that James Sallis' novel The Killer is Dying is the winner of this year's Hammett Prize for excellence in the field of crime writing. I'm a huge fan of Sallis and a great fan of the book. Honestly, though as someone who read four of the five finalists for this year's prize (including Sara Gran's masterful novel Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, which I'll be writing more about later) I would have been happy with almost any of them winning.

Congratulations, Jim.


Sunday Conversation with Andrew Chambliss

I had a great conversation recently with Andrew Chambliss, the incredibly talented (and annoyingly young) writer behind the Buffy Season Nine comic series who's also currently working as a writer and producer on Once Upon a Time. We talked a lot of things – Los Angeles, mid-century architecture, England...oh yeah, also Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson and Buffy Summers.


Tommy Castillo and Strathmore Sketchpads

I missed this and it annoys me. I'm a big fan of Tommy Castillo, a fabulous fantasy artist (the book Dragons, Myths and Mayhem) who does the occasional comic book (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, George Romero's Toe Tags). In truth I don't think he does enough comics work, but I'll freely admit, that's my own personal preference. Anyway Castillo is working with Strathmore and a drawing of his is featured on the front cover of the 400 series of sketchpads from the company. I'll admit that part of the reason I missed this is because I buy sketchpads infrequently (I tell myself I should draw every day...I don't) and I don't usually buy Strathmore. I was looking for a small pad, though and was thrilled when I saw it.

And as it's been a little while since his last comics work...I now have a new piece of Castillo art to look at...and intimidate me every time I think about drawing...

The 20th Sunken Garden Poetry Festival opens

One of my favorite things about summer in New England is the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. This year marks the twentieth summer that poets have gathered in the garden at the Hillstead Museum to read to hundreds of people. Probably my favorite place to attend a reading anywhere. In the garden there are occasional distractions–birds, planes, squirrels, nearby sheep–but it is precisely that, poetry as a part of our lives, a part of the fabric of the world in a way that it all so rarely is, which makes it so exciting.

It's at the festival that I heard Donald Hall and Richard Wilbur, Stanley Kunitz and Mark Doty, Sharon Olds and Billy Collins, Dick Allen and Patricia Smith, Brendan Galvin and Carolyn Forche, Natasha Tretheway and Eamon Grennan, Joy Harjo and Philip Levine, Marie Howe and Yusef Komunyakaa, Margaret Gibson and Grace Paley, Tony Hoagland and of course Rennie McQuilkin.

I'm excited about the opening weekend of the festival which will feature Richard Wilbur and a number of other poets including Suji Kwock Kim, Bessy Reyna, Minton Sparks, B. Yung, Toi Derricotte, Rennie McQuilkin, Margaret Gibson, Sue Ellen Thompson, Gray Jacobik, Doug Anderson, Bob Cording, Marilyn Nelson, Vivien Shipley, Steve Straight and Pit Pinegar. There will music and dancing, workshops and readings. It should make for a great weekend, assuming that the rain holds off.

I'm sad I won't be able to attend the rest of the season which will include Christian Wiman, Natasha Tretheway, Tony Hoagland and Donald Hall.

Richard Wilbur on today's Writer's Almanac

I'm a daily listener of The Writer's Almanac, a great daily radio feature and podcast from American Public Media. This is where I learn about writers born on that day, and often learn a little more about the lives and work of people whose names I know but whose work I don't know. And there's a poem read every day, not all of which are to my taste, but I'm always a great fan of more poetry anywhere. Today the program included "Blackberries for Amelia," a poem from one of America's great living poets, Richard Wilbur. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Mr. Wilbur recently and I'm very excited to hear him read tomorrow night at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in Farmington.


Congrats to Gutters for 300! (with a visit from Nick Cardy)

If you aren't reading The Gutters, a comic written and overseen by Ryan Sohmer (the guy behind Blind Ferret Entertainment and the webcomics Least I Could Do and Looking For Group) and you're a comics fan, then you're missing out. Sohmer uses the strip to poke fun (sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so) at comics. It's a lot of fun and honestly I think comics could use more commentary (and mockery) in comics form. Sohmer writes the strip and works with a talented lineup of artists and while not every one hits a bullseye (no one does), it's always worth reading.

The 300th comic just went up and the strip is drawn by a living legend, Nick Cardy. I don't know how he got Cardy, much less to poke fun at Aquaman (just one of the series that Cardy defined visually during his lengthy career), but Sohmer continues to impress me (and it should go without saying that Cardy can still draw).

Looking forward to the next 300, guys.


Joe Kubert, for Memorial Day Weekend

Last year I proposed talking with Joe Kubert for an interview to run on Memorial Day on CBR. DC was bringing some recent work of Kubert's back into print and it was a good time in addition to being an appropriate holiday. Anyway we ran the article again today. It's great to know that Mr. Kubert is still with us and still trying to do interesting and different work.

My Sunday Conversation with Greg Rucka

Over at Comic Book Resources, we're trying something a little different. The Sunday Conversation is a talk show-ish interview where we talk about a lot of different topics. The point is to talk about something other than work, but we always inevitably talk about work, because that's just how things go. With Greg we talked about amusement parks (his new novel Alpha which came out last week revolves around a fictional Southern California amusement park), soccer, Portland, and more. It's always great talking with Greg (who I think I've interviewed more often than I've met him in person).

Anyway in the weeks to come I'll be chatting with Boaz Yakin, Rick Remender, Rebekah Isaacs, Kaare Andrews, Andrew Chambliss and many more. Every Sunday morning on CBR.

Television This Week

Ah, summer. When television becomes much less interesting, but it's nice in a way. After all, watching too much TV does rot one's brain, so having a few solid hours of viewing that can be spaced out is a nice thing.

Hemingway and Gellhorn  -  Monday at 9 on HBO. I don't have HBO, I'm not a fan of Nicole Kidman, but I'm very excited for this movie. Phil Kaufman is directing the movie and I love Kaufman, though admittedly some of his projects since 1990's Henry and June have been uneven. Quills was an excellent movie, but Rising Sun and Twisted were...less so. Any new Kaufman film should be an event and can't wait to see this one.

Hatfields and McCoys  -  Monday through Wednesday at 9 on History Channel. Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton star in this miniseries with a great supporting cast that includes Powers Boothe, Mare Winningham, Tom Berenger and the great British actor Sarah Parish. Kevin Reynolds is an uneven director, but let's be honest, we're all a little curious about what the hell the Hatfield and McCoy was about, even if we do end up getting a slightly fictionalized version. And it's a good cast.

Appropriately Adult  -  Monday at 10 on Sundance. A British drama starring Dominic West, as a serial killer, and Emily Watson. I'd watch Emily Watson read the phone book.

Cougar Town  -  Tuesday at 8 on ABC. The series' one hour season finale before moving to cable next year. 

Breaking Pointe  -  Thursday at 8 on the CW. I loathe reality television but am curious about the idea of a series about dance. It could be interesting. I do fear the show becoming bogged down with annoying personalities and not actually depicting dance. I'd be up for watching a behind the scenes drama and the training and the sweat and tears and craziness if at the end we actually got to watch the performance. I fear we'll just get to see the drama with a few second of dancing thrown in as filler.


Television This Week

Masterpiece Theater  -  Sundays at 9 on PBS. Sherlock concludes with "The Reichenbach Fall." I'm curious to see what Andrew Scott will do with the character of Moriarty and where this episode will leave us. The first season ended with a cliffhanger, so I expect that we may see something similar this year.

The Simpsons  -  Sundays at 8 on Fox. The season finale of the animated classic which guest stars Lady Gaga.

House  -  Mondays at 9 on Fox. After a one hour look back at the show's eight seasons, the Hugh Laurie starring series ends its run. I'll be honest, I'm one of those people who loved the show, but feel like it hasn't been as fresh as it used to be. Honestly I haven't watched this season, so I am hoping that it's had a good run up to the finale (which I will watch). There are plenty of reasons why the show isn't what it used to be, but a long-running very talky series with an unlikeable lead character who quite frankly is happy to be hated is a rarity. People always bring up how House is based off of Sherlock Holmes, but I occasionally think of Hickey from Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh." It's a poor comparison for a lot of reasons, but the fervor with which Hickey early in the play is trying to convince people to abandon their illusions reminds me of House and how he believes that everyone is lying and what's important is to get at the truth. The truth may save people's lives, but it doesn't necessarily help them. Still, Laurie was never short of brilliant. He showed depths as a dramatic actor that I didn't know he was capable of and his skill as a comedic actor really transformed a character who could have been much less fun to watch and much less interesting in the hands of an actor who was more interested in making the character more dramatic. The show's promos may have emphasized the strange medical cases that entered Princeton-Plainsboro hospital each week, but it was House's wisecracks, pantomimes and funny asides that kept us watching each week.

Admittedly, I'm biased. I'm more likely to be House than probably any of other character on television.

Don't Trust the B– in Apt. 23  -  Wednesdays at 9:30 on ABC. I've been enjoying this show and looking forward to what they do next season.

Revenge  -  Wednesdays at 10 on ABC. I have a feeling that not everyone will survive this season finale...

Ooh Baby, don't you want to go...

I don't believe I've ever thought to myself, I wish I were in Chicago.... But after hearing about this conference, I wish I was in Chicago...

Someone joked that every great American cartoonist is at this convention except for Los Bros Hernandez, for the same reason that one member of the cabinet spends the State of the Union address in a secure location, because if something happens, not everyone will be together in the same place.

I would risk it. I don't know how Hillary Chute managed to pull this together, but I stand in awe.

R.I.P. Ernie Chan

I was sad to hear that the Filipino artist Ernie Chan passed away this week at the age of 71. His passing is just on the heels of his colleague Tony DeZuniga, who as I and everyone else mentioned, was not just a fine artist but helped open doors for other artists, among them Chan. Chan drew a lot of covers for DC, penciled and inked a lot of comics. Some of his best remembered work was inking over the late John Buscema on Conan. Indeed some of his finest work was on non-superhero work. He retired a number of years ago, but in recent years a lot of his work has been reprinted in new editions. Often in black and white editions where stripped of the colors, it allows his linework and embellishments to shine.


"Abigail/1702" at the Powerhouse Summer Theater Season

One of the great theater events each summer is the Powerhouse Summer Theater Season which New York Stage Film runs at Vassar College. This year there are few interesting productions taking place including a new play by Stephen Belber ("Tape") and a musical, "Fortress of Solitude," based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem.

The most interesting show, though, has to be "Abigail/1702" written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasca, the noted television writer ("Glee," "Big Love"), comics writer ("Fantastic Four: Season One"), musical book writer ("It's a bird...It's a plane...It's Superman," "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," "American Psycho") and playwright ("The Mystery Plays," "Based on a Totally True Story"). Directing the play will be David Esbjornson who directed "Much Ado About Nothing" at New York's Shakespeare Festival and the recent revival of "Driving Miss Daisy" with James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. If that weren't enough, the fabulous Chloe Sevigny is starring in the play.

The official description of the play:  "Ten years after the events of The Crucible, Abigail Williams is living under a new identity in Boston and haunted by her past.  When a mysterious figure appears, she confronts Salem’s dark history head on and must atone for her role in it."

I, of course, won't be around to see the play. Hopefully there will be another production soon. Next year? New York City? Fingers crossed.


R.I.P. Jean Craighead George

Jean Craighead George, the Newbury Award-winning author, died on Tuesday at the age of 92. I'll be honest that I knew her name before I read her, but in the end I read very few of her books. Only three that I can think of, "Julie of the Wolves," "My Side of the Mountain" and its sequel "On The Far Side of the Mountain."George was clearly fascinated by nature, though I remember reading "Mountain" early in middle school and being unable to shake the feeling that it was unrealistic and took place in another time. I was right–she wrote the book in the fifties. It also convinced me that while I enjoyed camping with the Boy Scouts, I was not about to live off the land. (And puzzled me because he could have had such a nicer, easier life on the mountain with just a few simple gadgets)

Anyway, "Mountain" didn't enamor me, though I read it in class in middle school and I'm not sure I read anything for school then that I loved. I did read the sequel, and it's far from the only book I've read about a young man who goes off into the wilderness or into the wider world in search of the essential part of himself. I suppose in that sense, it was a pretty big deal.

Alison Bechdel asks "Are You My Mother?"

It wasn't long ago I was praising Alison Bechdel and congratulating her on being named a Guggenheim Fellow. I recently got to speak with her about her new book, "Are You My Mother?" Her first book, "Fun Home," focused on her father while this one tackles her mother, and the result is a very different book. It's different in ways that are fascinating. In a strange way, I feel as if "Are You My Mother?" is a more accomplished book, and it's a much more challenging one as well.

Memoir is an odd genre. Ignoring all the celebrity stories and tabloid nonsense, the memoirs that tend to attract attention, often do because of their strangeness. Oddball characters, unusual circumstances, strange family environments. "Are You My Mother?" is a story that is more ordinary, the complicated relationship of a mother and daughter, the tension of different ideas and lifestyles, generations and generational possibilities.

I told Alison when we spoke that I really loved the book and then hesitated, because perhaps a better, more accurate description would be to say that I was fairly consumed by the book; reading it three times in as many days. I know that the book isn't for everyone, but for those who will plunge into the book, there are many rewards. I spoke with Alison about the class she's co-teaching this semester at the University of Chicago, Winnicott, Helen Vendler, Terry Tempest Williams and more.


Television This Week

Once Upon a Time  -  Sundays at 8 on ABC. The season finale. I have no idea what's going to happen, what will get wrapped or how it's all going to play out in what is clearly a longer story being told.

Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville  -  Sundays on PBS. They'll be hard-pressed to deliver a show as good as last week's, but looking forward to what's in store.

I continue to be glad I don't pay for expensive channels. If I had HBO, there would be Game of Thrones, Veep and Girls. If I had Showtime, there would be The Borgias. Much easier to not deal with all that and just buy or rent the series on dvd.

How I Met Your Mother  -  Mondays at 8-9. A one hour season finale. We learn who Barney marries, watch Lily give birth and whatever else is happening.

Lost Girl  -  Mondays at 10 on SyFy. Apparently this week's episode involves a stolen Mongolian death worm. Sure, why not? I'm game.

Smash  -  Mondays at 10 on ABC. Season finale. I admit, I gave up on this show early for a few reasons. Among the, that when the show is set up to b about the rivalry between two actresses for a role and one of them is so clearly more talented–and yet every effort is made to create sympathy for the other–it becomes a little annoying after a while. Megan Hilty is just better than Katherine McPhee. I don't say that to be cruel, but one of them is just a better singer and dancer than the other.

30 Rock  -  Thursdays at 8 on NBC. Season finale. Elizabeth Banks and who knows what else.

Community  -  Thursdays on NBC. Season finale. Love this show. 3 episodes in one night, though? That seems odd.

Person of Interest  -  Thursdays at 9 on CBS. I really enjoyed this show for the first half of the season, but then CBS stopped posting new episodes online. So, I'll watch it on dvd when it gets released.

Grimm  -  Fridays at 9 on NBC. The season finale and hopefully it will continue the trend of recent shows in building the mystery and the world of the show.


Television Canceled, Television Renewed

It's that time of year when some television shows get to live on for another year and some get canceled. They get announced piecemeal over months. I mean everyone knows that Pan Am and Bent aren't going to come back (well, except for the people who don't remember what those shows are). Other shows like Smash were renewed weeks ago while other shows like The Simpsons get renewed two years at a time.

It's great to see Community renewed for another season. It's not the most popular show, and I'd love to see if the writers find a way to wrap up the show in the course of the fourth season. 30 Rock will be back for its final season. This season has been the best for a couple years, and hopefully Tina Fey and the other writers will find a way to do the show justice.

Among other renewals, Parks and Recreation, Happy Endings, Don't Trust the B– in Apt 23, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, Grimm, Parenthood, Scandal, Touch.

Among the cancellations aren't many surprises. Missing has done poorly and The River, despite a good cast, wasn't a success.

GCB was canceled. I'm still not quite sure why the show wasn't promoted as "Created by Robert Harling, the writer of Steel Magnolias." It seems like everyone has seen Steel Magnolias, or is at least familiar with the flick. Plus Harling also wrote the scripts for Soapdish and First Wives Club. Again, it might not have helped gain more viewers, but it couldn't have hurt.

R.I.P. Tony DeZuniga

Comics artist Tony DeZuniga passed away the other day. Mr. DeZuniga suffered a stroke in April nd died surrounded by wife and other family members. He was 79.

Mr. DeZuniga is best known as the co-creator, with writer John Albano, of Jonah Hex, the Western anti-hero. The character has had a resurgence in recent years, which led to a very bad movie starring Josh Brolin, but DeZuniga illustrated a graphic novel "Jonah Hex: No Way Back" to coincide with the film's release. DeZuniga also created, with writer Sheldon Mayer, The Black Orchid.

One of his best known accomplishments was in opening the door for other Filipino comic creators, and by extension, creating opportunities for other international creators in American comics. Today it's quite common for creative teams to span the globe, but when DeZuniga convinced DC's Editor-in-Chief Carmine Infantino and Editor Joe Orlando to look at artists there. Among the people who were recruited were Alfredo Alcala, Alex Nino and Nestor Redondo.

I never had the pleasure to meet the man but our thoughts and condolences go his wife Tina and the rest of his family

Josh Neufeld awarded a Knight-Wallace Fellowship

Josh Neufeld, the cartoonist behind "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge," which was serialized online in Smith Magazine before being published as a book. The Knight-Wallace Fellows program is at the University of Michigan and is awarded to mid-career journalists. It's great to see Josh getting such recognition and for a cartoonist to receive acclaim for nonfiction journalism.

According to Josh's blog:

My study plan is to extensively research Bahrain’s Pearl Revolution (which I did a short piece about for Cartoon Movement, the Eisner Award-nominated “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand“). I plan on taking courses in the history of the Persian Gulf, Islam (specifically the Sunni-Shia divide), and the language and culture of the region. The ultimate goal is to produce a long-form comics-format book on the topic.

Can't wait to read it.


Fox Cancels The Finder (no surprise) and Alcatraz (good riddance)

Fox canceled two shows today, but it's no real surprise, since neither show was very successful from either a ratings perspective or a creative one.

The cancellation of The Finder is no real surprise. Since the first episode, I've been lamenting how the show is much less interesting than it could be. It's not a bad show, it's just meh.

Alcatraz is a show that had an interesting premise and the pilot was good, the cast was top notch, but overall the thirteen episodes felt odd and it never managed to find the right tone or the right approach. The elements were all that for an interesting show, but the producer's insistence on making the show a procedural. Each week the team sought a new Alcatraz inmate who has reappeared. The problem is that between the hunt and the flashbacks to events at the prison in the sixties, there was too little time to spend with the characters in the present day or investigate the central mystery in more depth.

What was most striking watching the final episodes was just how badly the series had been managed. At the center of the show were characters played by Sam Neill and Parminder Nagra. They knew each other in Alcatraz back in the sixties, but she–like the inmates and other employees–reappeared decades later, while he aged and tried to learn what had happened. I would have been interested to see the dynamic between the two, where they were once in love but no longer are, because he's become such a very different person.

Consider:  A young man interested in poetry and philosophy who loses the love of his life and he becomes obsessive and intense. He grows lonely and cold, leading an ascetic life because he is no longer anything but his work. After decades, on the verge of retirement, having achieved power and influence that he doesn't enjoy at all, he's reunited with the life of his life, who hasn't aged a day. He's loved the idea of her for so long and has become someone who can't quite be capable of love for another person. She loved the young man he was who bears little resemblance to this older man. And circumstances force them to work together. She's the only one he treats as his equal, and they work well together, know how each other thinks, but in the end, all they have are those glances they steal across the room that remind them of what they used to have and force them to ponder what might have been...

I'm not egotistical, and I'm my own worst critic, but I think there's more emotion in that paragraph that the scenario elicited in thirteen episodes of television.

When many people–genre fans and non-genre fans alike–complain about how science fiction and fantasy stories tend to be flat and uninteresting, this is what we mean. The actual human emotion at the heart of this story was completely eliminated. The result was that the actors were left with all too little to do. Sam Neill is a fabulous actor but he can play intense and grumpy in his sleep.

In fact all the actors had far too little to do in the series. The writers seemed to constantly be trying to figure out how to prolong the mystery, but no one ever asked, shouldn't these characters react like normal human beings?

Again, this is why so many people dislike science fiction. So little attention to and concern for human beings and far too much attention spent on other details. I enjoy world building and mystery as much as the next person–well, more than the next person, really–but as much as I wanted to like this show, it was something of a train wreck. A deeply disappointing one, but a train wreck nonetheless.


Mahmoud Shokraiyeh sentenced in Iran

Cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraiyeh was sentenced to 25 lashes for drawing a cartoon that depicted a member of parliament wearing a football (soccer) jersey. Probably the best explanation for these sad and troubling events can be found on Daryl Cagle's blog on MSNBC. Cagle reached out to Nik Kowsar, an Iranian cartoonist now living in Washington, D.C. who was briefly imprisoned by the Iranian regime, for more details about what this means and what was behind it.

Sal Buscema talks to Comic Book Resources

Sal Buscema may not be a familiar name to non-comics fans, but anyone who read Marvel comics over the past 45 years or so has likely come across his work. The younger brother of Marvel legend John Buscema, Sal Buscema illustrated thousands of pages of comics over the years and he's not planning to quit any time soon. He's inking two books over at IDW, "G.I. Joe" and "Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms." He's always an incredibly nice guy and though he may claim otherwise, a legend in his own right.

Ted Naifeh on Suicidegirls

I spoke with Ted Naifeh recently for suicidegirls. I've been a huge fan of Naifeh for years, ever since the first "Courtney Crumrin" miniseries a decade ago. He's only gotten better since and now Naifeh is bringing out a monthly "Courtney" comic from Oni Press.

I've met Ted a few times over the years in addition to interviewing him, and at conventions, he's honestly one of the nicest people you'll meet and incredibly generous with his time.

R.I.P. Maurice Sendak

It's hard to know what to say about the death of Maurice Sendak. The thing that is so overlooked about the writers and artists that we learned to read with and then read on our own, is that they helped shape our view of the world. Sendak didn't sugarcoat life. He knew it was strange and frightening and miserable and beautiful and he tried to convey that to us as honestly as he could.

What was so stunning was that he worked for long and that for those of us who went back to his work as adults, he remains as fascinating and talented as he seemed when we were children. In interviews, Sendak showed that he was a thoughtful and brilliant man. He suffered through trauma and depression, but he kept working. He said, "Children surviving childhood is my obsessive theme and my life's concern."

Fresh Air posted the interviews he did with them and this quote they pulled out says so much, I think:

"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."


Masterpiece Mystery 2012

Ah, spring. The time when Masterpiece Theatre turns it's eye to crime...

Masterpiece Mystery kicks off the season with the second season of Sherlock. Creators Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss (who co-stars as Mycroft) have brought back Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman for more fun with appearances by Irene Adler and more Moriarty. I'm curious what the show will do with Adler, played by Lara Pulver. The first season was a lot of fun and this one should be no different as the show presents a Holmes who isn't middle-aged and gives a sense of how strange and unsettling a figure he could be. His outbursts may be funny at times, but they can be unsettling and Cumberbatch is unafraid to be unsympathetic.

In June, Masterpiece is repeating Zen from last year. Starring Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, the series was light-hearted and entertaining, but it was very different from the books by Michael Dibdin as far as tone, too the point where I was a little thrown by the series and I'm not sure I was able to judge them on their own merits. They were enjoyable, but the books were much moodier and deeply cynical and quite frankly presented Italy as a painfully corrupt place. It wasn't light and fun like the movies at all.

July 1 marks the US premiere of Endeavour. For fans of Inspector Morse, this film is about a rookie Morse and though when it was first announced I did mock it as "Young Inspector Morse" but the honest truth is that I'll watch the movie. It was enough of a hit in the UK that they're planning a series. I'll admit that I've never quite gotten why Morse is so big. I like Morse, but I just don't why he became so big, though perhaps it's partly because he represents a certain type of Brit and was a gentleman detective.

I was more than a little skeptical about the Morse spinoff series, Inspector Lewis, but I have to say that it quickly became one of my favorites. Ken Whatley and Laurence Fox are two of my current favorite crime-solving duos and I love the different look at Oxford that the show offers.

And finally in September, we welcome autumn with Kenneth Branagh returning as Wallander in three new episodes based on the books by Haskell Manning. We all need some Swedish moodiness in our lives.

Just to point out the obvious. Part of the reasons why these shows work is because they have the time to do so. 90 minutes allows the shows a chance to setup a scenario, introduce characters, give the main characters some moments to shine and craft a mystery that's actually satisfying.

Eliza Griswold and the Female Poets of Afghanistan

I'm behind on my magazine reading so it's taken me a week to get around last week's New York Times Magazine. The magazine features Samuel L. Jackson on the cover, an excerpt from Paul Krugman's new book and a chilling dispatch from Ada Calhoun about how Alabama has criminalized bad mothering.

What stood out for me, though, was a story by Eliza Griswold who wrote a piece about why Afghan women risk death to write poetry. It's heartbreaking.


Television This Week

Sherlock on Masterpiece  -  Sundays on PBS. Benedict Cumberbach as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson return for three new mysteries. I hope that we'll see more of Rupert Graves who was an interesting though underused Inspector Lestrade in the first season. Lara Pulver will be playing Irene Adler and more Moriarty.

GCB  -  Sundays at 10 on ABC.  I haven't seen it, though I do like some of the cast members. And I would have thought that a series from the writer behind Steel Magnolias would have gotten some more attention. I mean that's a fairly big movie. A cast that includes Kristin Chenowith, Annie Potts, Leslie Bibb and a lot of tv veterans.

Two Broke Girls  -  Monday at 8 on CBS. The comedy series wraps up its first season with a one hour finale. I like the show's attitude, but I'm not that fond of its comedy, which I find a little too crude with regards to racial humor (which I wouldn't mind so much except that many of the characters can be so one dimensional). Also I'm not sure what version of New York City the show takes place in, but it does manage to squeeze laughs out of work and class, which ain't easy.

Eureka  -  Monday at 9 on SyFy. Curious to see what happens now that the dangling plot thread has been resolved and where things go from here for the remainder of the season.

New Girl  -  Tuesday at 9 on Fox. Zooey Deschanel's sitcom wraps up its first season. I like Zooey, think that the show's creator Elizabeth Meriweather is fabulously talented, but I only sometimes enjoy the show. It's one of those programs I binge watch when I'm in the mood.

Unforgettable  -  Tuesday at 10 on CBS. Not a great detective show, but a great lead character with a great actor in Poppy Montgomery (who I loved in Blonde, Relativity and Glory Days in addition to Without a Trace). Also the finale will feature Elias Koteas, who's always great.

The Big Bang Theory  -  Thursday at 8 on CBS. I watch the show, I enjoy the show, but I keep wishing that it could be better in many different ways. When Jim Parsons' Sheldon is front and center, though, I rarely care. though I wish that the rest of the show were as good as his character and performance.

The Office  -  Thursday at 9 on NBC. This season James Spader makes that the people who used to run Dunder Mifflin look brilliantly talented, though it's only been intermittently funny. Ed Helms' Andy has been impressive this season and it should be interesting to see what happens next season. Last week's episode made it clear that change is afoot and I wonder what next season will look like and whether there will be more than one season. It would be nice for the show to find a way to wind itself down.

Parks and Recreation  -  Thursday at 9:30 on NBC. Election day and I can't wait to see what happens. This season hasn't been perfect, but I do think it's had some brilliant episodes.

The Finder  -  Friday at 8 on Fox. The show ends its initial season, and the way that the show has been okay but far from spectacular and the ratings have reflected this. I enjoyed Geoff Stults and Michael Clarke Duncan, Duncan especially, and hopefully we'll see something else from them soon.

Fringe  -  Friday at 9 on Fox. Can't wait to see it and excited for what next season will bring.

Common Law  -  Friday at 10 on USA. The commercials seem amusing, though I worry it end up as just another lightweight cop show with a twist–in this case that the two detectives are in couples therapy. Still, Michael Ealy plays one of the detectives and Sonya Walger plays the therapist. But the pilot is worth a look