Hearing AIDS

I’ve always enjoyed an undeservedly hardy immunity to common disease: I feel it’s harder to get me sick & keep me there. I claim nothing superhuman about this; it may be nothing better than dumb luck. Certainly I have not engaged in enough practices of exercise and sanitation to merit this gift. This has barely faded now into my late 30’s, and my practices are only marginally better than they ever were. Couple this with a freakish insensitivity to temperatures to which others react more acutely than I do and it’s an outright fluke I’ve not been more sick. I maintain a low-level paranoia that it’ll all crash down on my head at any moment. I’d be well and truly fucked then, and I actually have medical insurance.

Speaking of being fucked, the only good thing about having a pathetic sex life (despite having baller sex GAME, I hasten to add, perhaps too desperately) is the decreased risk of catching anything through that channel. I was pre-pubescent when the fear of AIDS blossomed into the public’s shared memespace. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never had sex without contraception, and when I’ve gone without condoms it was with someone I felt was low risk. Not a perfect record but trying for zero risk is psychotic and fantastical.

It’s all well and good that rich people have been able to survive 20+ years after HIV infection, but never kid yourself that nobody dies from AIDS anymore. There’s still no cure and, misadventure notwithstanding, whatever gets you in the end will have likely rode in on its shoulders. I think it’s worth reminding ourselves exactly how HIV works.

(And before anyone is tempted to crawl up my ass, I do not purport any expertise in this realm. This is the broad strokes of how I understand it as a layman.)

Normal viruses usually don’t get the chance to do much damage. The immune system’s T-cells swoop in and excrete the compounds that kill them off. The symptoms you experience aren’t so much from the viruses themselves as they are from the process of evicting them. A normal virus is primarily bent on carnage, nothing more. But HIV is a shapeshifting sonuvabitch and usually a few survive the immune system’s initial bombardment, so a few sneak through, and then it’s all over. Rather than attack the body directly, HIV attacks the body’s defenses, using its own adaptability to do its dirty work by inserting its genetic code into T-cells to make them into HIV factories. Insidious, isn’t it? It’s a numbers game: The body risks ever larger turf to HIV every time it attempts an attack. Eventually a balance between functional T-cells and corrupted ones is upset, and a normally mundane infection compromises the entire system, the condition we call AIDS, leading to death.

One wishes one could attribute some deeper motivations to HIV than the blind idiot urge to consume that is almost certainly its drive. Which is why it is even more disconcerting to find an analogous pathology in supposedly higher organisms: humans.

Remember how great this scene was? It was even better originally in THE INVISIBLES.

Lest you think I mean Agent Smith had it right that mankind’s proper kingdom is not Animalia, but Virii, fear not. We are hideously mammals. But if we consider Humanity as a single organism, it’s quite astray of optimal health. There are elements of said organism that have convinced themselves that the rest of it is incidental at best and more often inconvenient to their preferred state. To this end they have persuaded other elements of lesser value to them to be their proxies for pennies on the dollar of what they themselves reap. These secondary elements, fancying themselves more favored than they are, aspiring to communion with this ideal, likewise delude still hierarchically,  perceivedly-lesser elements with pointedly incorrect information. The line between sheer incompetence and outright malice is all that divides corrupted data from corrupted data collectors. The electoral college of the state of Florida is well-aware of that distinction.

But let me not leave any confusion in the reader’s head: I am of course speaking of outlets that are serving as willing mouthpieces for those who have no higher standards than themselves. There are the obvious ones, and it is to these truckstop gigolos I hope the comparison to AIDS, associated in their minds with groups they on the whole despise, is most repellant. I suppose it may be too much to hope that the types who so shamelessly, unceasingly prevaricate no matter how often & completely they’re exposed would allow themselves to consciously acknowledge this apt parallel’s application to their lives. I say it regardless, because it is the truth, and better that it’s out in the open.

But the situation is so much more dire than a clump of deluded assholes: the entire information dissemination organ of the organism is undermined. Be it viral or genetic, civilization’s neurological system is deteriorating. The former vanguards of uncompromising reportage are all now on the take, be it within the law in the form of advertising & lobbying, or above it in outright payola. Free speech is allowed so far as its reach is minimal and lost in a sea of those similarly exercising their right, veracity be damned. The coin of information has been devalued by rampant inflation. Qui custodiet ipsos custodes? Not just graffiti in Watchmen.

“No, it came from me! Juvenal! What? No, I wasn’t calling you names.” – Juvenal

Ultimately, who is the authority who settles the argument? All that’s needed to undermine facts is the kernel of anything less than impartial, immediately-demonstrable certainty, even if it can be debunked. When even the supposedly controlled, unimpeachable results of science are called into doubt, what are you meant to believe? You are meant to believe in a god, mediated by people who posture themselves as specially-chosen by the uninterrogatable. Traditionally, that meant a church, but too many became hip to that scheme. Now it’s an institution: America, capitalism, intrinsic exceptionalism.

There is no more unabashedly stark an avatar for precisely this self-cannibalistic Moloch than Wall Street investment banker Martin Shkreli. You’ve heard of this weaselly little libertarian, who naturally subscribes to the notion that if one can potentially profit off of something, no matter the damage it might do to the larger organism, one is leaving money on the table someone else of lesser scruples will just pick up. In his case, he did this by buying the rights to an AIDS medication that’s gone generic & raising its price by over 3,000%, essentially dooming all but the richest to quicker demises. While exposure did shame him down to only doubling the medication’s price, he nevertheless holds a monopoly on these pills, of which he could still jack up the price whenever his black shriveled heart desires.

Martin Shkreli is a macrocosm of HIV: hardly the origin of such a callous, greedy mindset, nor sadly the apotheosis, either, and not likely to stop converting the world he sees into dollars for any good goddamn reason. And Martin Shkreli is a microcosm of the omnivorous zombification of an onerously large portion of the population whose own individual glories are paramount to all others, even as they overtax the system that makes said glories possible. The various flagella of the right wing agenda only complete the complete its connection to HIV. Fractal conservativism wrecking the boat from which they throw T-cells into the harbor. It is really is elephants all the way down.

Advertisements

Insider, Outsider, Upsider-Down: A New York Comic Con 2014 Journal

Literally, foreshadowing.

Ready to go to the New York Comic Con 2015!
(wait for it…)

This weekend is the 2015 New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javits Center. I am not there. I am at home, on vacation, but also quite poor, due in part to having gone a 2nd month with only 1 of 2 necessary roommates in my apartment, thus being on the hook for part of a second rent. I’ve long given up on getting the Professional status I used to enjoy from NYCC for reduced, originally free admission, but when Midtown Comics suddenly made a batch of passes available, I had a lovely moment of “What the hell” and bought a weekend pass. A couple weeks later, after one of the greatest professional victories of my life, I found that I had to sell the pass to keep my head above water. Once I got past that realization, I’ve not had much regret about it (yet; the Con has only been open a few hours). I need no excuses to spend money right now. I now have time available to be creative (to wit), get some household projects done and even babysit a toddler, which I quite enjoy.

However, last year I was suddenly afforded the opportunity to go for 2 days as a special correspondent to the most respected comics news blog, The Beat, direct from E-in-C Heidi MacDonald. I’ve known Heidi for a good long while, and she remembers my work for the seminal & defunct online comic magazine Savant. I was never what would be mistaken for a comic journalist, which could well be my first error herein; I don’t copy & paste PR memos well enough. If you’ve read nearly any other post on this blog you would have a flavor for my approach, which is: Everything through the refraction of myself. Objectivity? What’s that?

So it was somewhat irking that this piece never saw print on The Beat. Oh yes, it’s long, rambling in spots and doesn’t have much in the way of a point. Sometimes the ride is the point, not the destination. The reader is always at liberty to pull the ejector seat. I think I usually manage to justify their continued interest, even when nothing of consequence is happening, even if I have to cast myself in unflattering light to achieve it. If not, then not. In the words of my generation, “Whatever.”

It’s interesting to revisit this as I intended it to be published. By no means is it an exhaustive exploration of the show or any particular aspect of it besides my experience there. Of course, any hot tips included have likely long since expired, but there still may be an exclusive or two hidden inside.

MCGUINNESS, OUT

“Don’t you wish the next Batman movie you’d see starred me? Tough shit, kids!”

It’s passing strange to be writing this rundown on the 2014 New York Comic Con for a few reasons. For starters, last year was the first year since the event began that I didn’t attend, having waited too long to register as a professional. This year I got my pro registration in on time, if barely, despite the last moment moving up of the deadline by ReedPop. Yet I was nearly instantly denied professional status, begging the question: If I’ve previously enjoyed professional status, how am I no longer a professional? Did ReedPop err back then and now want their money back? I’ve been a writer, artist, editor, publisher, journalist, retailer, student and educator. I auditioned to host the official 2007 NYCC podcast. Did I forget to check something off a list to qualify for a free sandwich?

I had resigned myself to the idea of not going again. To be honest, it HAD been a while since I considered myself to be a professional in anything more than technical terms. So when fearless editor Heidi put out the call using a giant Ricola ram’s horn for all hands on deck, I was more surprised than anyone that some autonomic reflex compelled me to respond in the affirmative. It’s a mystery, Charlie Brown, along with why I showed up dressed like a Baptist minister from The Jetsons.

Hello, I’m Ken Applebaum. I used to be a comics journalist. I guess I’m officially a comics journalist again. That’d be the other reason why this is so effing strange for me. I intend to make it every bit as strange for you, too.

All right, I’d planned. I was only going for two days this time and I needed to economize. I knew what panels I wanted to hit by the NYCC app. I’d bookmarked artists and retailers I wanted to see. Naturally, I immediately got distracted by the floor. The pull of the welovefine booth was too strong to resist. Can you blame me? Don’t answer that, answer this: What good are the bootleg DVD sellers if they don’t even have Titmouse Studios’ transcendent Motorcity, late of Disney XD? For shame, black marketers; for shame.

Except the babies will eat him alive.

Sure, she looks cute, but when she gives birth it’ll be like the end of CHARLOTTE’S WEB.

Trucking past the Geeks Out booth I spotted my pal Bill Roundy representing. I’d recently seen an art show of some of Bill’s bar review comics, appropriately enough in one of my favorite Brooklyn bars, Supercollider. His newest project was redrawing many of the classic Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual creatures as inoffensively cute monster guys. I pointed past his head. “I love the Quentin Quire-style ‘McKellen Was Right’ T-shirt,” I said. “I just happen to be wearing this.”

I pulled up my shirt to show a tee beneath referencing Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa’s High Crimes, emblazoned “Wertham Was Right.” Then I remembered I was partially disrobing by the Geeks Out table and covered back up lest anyone get the right idea.

Bill chuckled. “Hmm, yeah, I would say you’d want to keep that under wraps around here if you don’t want to catch a beatdown.”

Unsure what the antecedent of "it" is.

I’m not sure to which fetish scene this is meant to cater, but I might be feeling it.

When I arrived 10 minutes late and $65 lighter to the Big Hero 6 and Tomorrowland panel, the guard told me only Press was allowed.

“I’m Press.” I showed my badge.

“You’re not the Press on this list.” He’d neither asked my name nor who I was with. But honestly, it wasn’t important enough to argue. I’ll be seeing both these movies. You’ll be seeing both these movies. Why would we want to know more than that going in? This isn’t a tabloid. How dare you. This is exactly how that panel would go if I was on it:

Why should we see these movies?

Clears throat, mic feedback. “Um, because they’re going to be freakin’ awesome. No spoilers. Thanks, that’s all the time I can spare.”

Look, you rationalize not getting into a panel your way; I’ll rationalize it mine. We all have our coping strategies.

NON-PRO TIP: Pack a lunch. Better yet, pack two. With drinks. Alcohol, if you can swing it. Absinthe? I ain’t your daddy. There’s no reason to pay Javits Center prices or, really, anyone else’s, for that matter. Conserve money for the stupid things on which you’re about to waste Junior’s college fund. If you’re anything like me, you have a small collection of nerdy lunchboxes to complement whatever overpriced referential T-shirt you settled upon after hours browsing your voluminous library thereof.

This is not to say I was trying to spend all my time in panels, but those few I hit felt relevant. Coincidentally, those I attended and some I did not which sounded to be asking the pertinent questions were concentrated in Room 1A01, at the very end of the hall, often confused for the boiler room. And the group that made it so was the American Library Association. This leads me to wonder: Was the room assignment consciously chosen to subvert Room 101 from Orwell’s 1984, or is it mere synchronicity that’s an oft overlooked corner of the Javits Center?

Or is that Happy Gilmour? Ah, who gives a shit.

“Wertham was WRONG, bitch!” – Prof. Carol Tilley. Or possibly Billy Madison.

The first I caught was “What We’ve Lost, What’s Ahead,” presented by Prof. Carol Tilley of University of Illinois-Urbana, who to some but not enough acclaim uncovered the evidence that Frederick Wertham largely fabricated or monkeyed with his results that he published in the notorious Seduction Of The Innocent. Certainly we live with its results, but fewer remember what the comics scene was like before he helped to cripple it, the answer being UBIQUITOUS. Furthermore, in that nascent time of fandom, the communities that sprung up because of them were less crass, innocent entities. In their crusade to supposedly protect that quality by kneecapping an industry that never fully recovered, the moralists of the time demonstrably undermined it. How is it we need to relearn that lesson every generation?

OK, I kept the “Wertham Was Right” tee covered. I’m not that big of a dick, and besides, it worked better with the rest of my outfit that way.

Prof. Tilley, as a member of the American Library Association, turned her beam onto that very organization, asking why they’d failed to push back against this tide against comics. My guess is because unlike some Hollywood types, your average librarian couldn’t weather being painted with the “Commie” brush. They have more of a backbone now, as they generally did not cooperate with the Patriot Act; bookish types are not as easily labelled “terrorists,” even if our culture is trending towards anti-intellectualism.

Down in front, Pikachu!

L to R: Marissa Lieberman, Jessikah Chautin, Anna Call, Huyen Diep, Thomas Maluck

That recently-developed spine was featured on the next panel in 1A01, “Saving Indecent Comics,” also hosted by the ALA, and primarily featuring contributors to graphic novel review site No Flying No Tights. It was moderated by Thomas Maluck of the Richland (SC) Library, who has policed teens asking for yaoi, albeit how-to guides over the actual content. Huyen Diep had an order of graphic novels go through a hastily-constructed standards committee just about them and trimmed those they offered considerably. This contributed to her eventually leaving the Lexington County (SC) library system, but was later consulted by other library systems on which books they ought to carry that more discriminating systems refuse. Both Diep and Maluck witnessed the defunding of $35,000 for College of Charleston for the inclusion of Alison Bechdel’s best-selling and award-winning Fun Home in its curriculum, only to have it restored, earmarked for an obviously politically-motivated course. Marissa Lieberman and Jessikah Chautin truly luxuriated in their geekiness, the former dressing in a kimono as a true representative of manga otaku. They acknowledged that what is considered harmless to the Japanese is not always so in the U.S., but is nevertheless comparable to certain well-beloved, Western children’s media.

But Anna Call, Adult Services Librarian for Wilmington Memorial Library, was the most incendiary (and rapid-fire) speaker, telling those assembled, “The fact that you are here means that you are an activist.” Her angle on the thought process of would-be censors is that comics are the ultimate in “show, don’t tell,” which is why they are such a potent medium, but that the visuals without the narrative context can be confusing to the uninitiated. She called up the spectre of Mike Diana’s Boiled Angel and his subsequent demonization by the state of Florida as a still recent history of systemic scapegoating. My takeaway from these two panels in concert is that the most important function of the comics community, in whatever function we serve independently, is to protect the form and any other media considered an easy target from becoming anyone’s whipping boy again.

NON-PRO TIP: You may be too cool to spend much time on the main floor, eschewing the spectacle for community, but if you aren’t thorough you may miss something you’ll be kicking yourself over later when you’re writing up your experience. Ow. Ow. Ow. Dammit.

What is "the two major U.S. political parties," Alex?

Something, something, hands up their butts.

My choices in panels were not strictly academic, however. Elementary? More like Pre-K. On Sunday afternoon I attended a packed large conference room for “Sesame Street & Pop Culture: 45 Years of Spoofs on the ‘Street,’” with Murray Monster, Abby Cadabby and Grover in attendance. I’m an old school Sesame Street fanboy and short-lived castmember myself, so Murray and Abby are alien to me (she seems cool; he gets on my frickin’ nerves). As dear as Grover is to me, though, my friend Charles Stunning of Nerdy Show Network’s “Epic Piecast,” over a decade my junior and dressed up as Indiana Jones, was positively starstruck.

“I can’t believe I’m in the same room with Grover!” she squeed.

“Why don’t you go get your picture taken with him?” I asked her.

“Oh no. I would totally start crying hysterically.”

“It’s not like it’s Frank Oz performing him anymore, though Eric Jacobsen is one of the more seamless replacements I’ve seen among the Muppets.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s Grover.”

“OK, I know this level of fandom well enough. Then you’ll regret it if you don’t get a picture with him.”

“I’ll regret it more if I make a big scene in public!”

I backed off. Hey, the first time I saw Louise Simonson in person I couldn’t approach her. The second time I had to use Dean Haspiel to vouch I wasn’t a total rando if I should lose my composure over her; I came damn close. That was just one of my heros, while Grover is a legit superhero. “And cute, too!”

BLIND ITEM! What webcomic “creator” whose content is predicated on corporately-owned properties and avowedly on hiatus while he addresses “issues” involving unsolicited dick pics was nevertheless hawking his wares adjacent to original all-ages joyride Bodie Troll‘s table?

Yes, "hug"...

Bodie Troll & Cholly! I want to hug them both!

I had been on the show floor for maybe 10 minutes when I spied a woman in costume that seemed a bit too unlikely to be a general cosplayer. I approached her and asked, “Are you supposed to be Cholly from Bodie Troll?”

“Yes,” she said, turning around, and my jaw just about dropped. On her arm was a full-sized Bodie Troll puppet! “We just got him yesterday from our friend who fabricates for Henson.”

Once I got to Artist’s Alley it was easy enough to track down Bodie Troll creator Jay Fosgitt’s table by those two avatars of his book. It’s been a minute since I’ve outrightly gushed how much I love a book to its author in person, but it all came back to me quickly enough. Like Jamie Smart’s Bear, it begs to be read aloud because there’s no good reason why there isn’t already an animated series based upon it. Unlike Bear, it would be all right to read aloud to a child.

“How do you voice Bodie?” Scott asked. I gave him some lines in a delivery reminiscent of Hanna-Barbera’s Speed Buggy. “Everybody goes for raspy. It’s the consensus. But I always hear his voice as being higher.” I told him I’d work on it.

Meanwhile, there’s a Bodie Troll collection from Red 5 Comics and a standalone story in their Free Comic Book Day sampler next year, so hop on that if you, I dunno, like great comics?

Hm? "Go West"? They DID have a hit with "We Close Our Eyes".

To date, I still have not seen WALL-E.

The last time I attended NYCC I made the discovery of Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts in its original small press edition. Now in the Image fold, he may be better known for stories set in Oppenheimer’s internal world from Jonathan Hickman’s The Manhattan Projects, but God Hates Astronauts is back with a new series and it picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue.

“Is that a Jim Rugg cover for #2?” I asked.

Browne beamed. “And he gave me the original art for it.”

“GUUHHH, jealous. I remember him when he was Dick Troutman.”

“Who???”

“In the ‘90s under that name he put out a thinly-veiled autobio comic called Outfitters about when he was a whitewater rafting guide.”

“I’ve never heard of this!”

Pull pin, drop grenade, walk away, be too cool to look back at the explosion.

JACK FROST wasn't a documentary?

Michael Keaton! I can’t wait to see BIRDMAN!

“I went to college with your brother Victor.”

“What? For real?” Brent Schoonover responded. “Are you a townie, too?”

“No, I’m from here.”

“Then how did you end up in Wisconsin?”

“My stepmother went there and it was cheap.”

“Sounds about right. Did we ever meet back then?”

“I don’t think so. I’m not even sure I knew you existed before you did that Kirby-style Voltron pinup. What are you working on now?”

“Dynamite just announced I’m doing the art on the new Phantom series.”

“Slamming evil, eh? Glad they’re distancing him from that King’s Watch series; fooey!”

“Actually, it’s picking up where that one left off.”

I spit out my foot. “Ah.”

NON-PRO TIP: Bring coffee to Chandra Free of The God Machine, for she is a sphinx and without a boon she may cast you into a pit with all other hapless travellers. That I had none for her yet escaped with my life only proves just how badly she needed caffeine.

Katie Delano averts her eyes to save her sanity.

“Man.”
“I didn’t ask you the question yet!”
“Doesn’t matter. Man.”
“Dammit!”

“Oh, yo, James,” I greeted James O. Smith III, leading into the most awkward handshake/hug known to man due to my swag bag. I’ve known James for fourteen years since we rolled with the local fan club for an overrated writer and we both had hair. When my luck ran out he let me crash on his couch for too long and he was my neighbor in Bed-Stuy when I’d bounced back. What I’m saying is, sign your bank accounts over to him.

“Look at that,” James said. “There are seriously people who love Rob Liefeld. They love him. He was their rock star and he never has nor will do wrong by them. What does he do now?”

“Covers,” I said. “Some early DC New52 that went nowhere. And farms his old creations out to much more interesting writers and artists, so at least he has decent taste. What are you doing?”

“More Gang of Fools through jamesmith.org. Are you working on anything?”

I deftly turned the conversation to How To Train Your Dragon 2; it was officially unsalvageable for journalistic purposes from our high-pitched shrieks of delight.

Which you definitely shouldn't.

It’s a little weird that the mom is Astrid, if you think about it.

“O Carl Potts, I know you of old,” I declared as I approached Carl Potts’ table. “I was The World’s Number One Power Pack Fanboy, and you were its editor. Twenty-eight years ago, when I was in fourth grade, I arranged a field trip for my class to the Marvel offices. I still have my copies of numbers 8 & 20 that you signed to me.”

“Wow. You know, Weezi is here this year.”

I smiled. “Yeah, I’ve met Weezi. Actually, I thought June Brigman was going to be here.”

“Is she?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh. Did your class come at the time Mark Gruenwald was making us dress up in red jumpsuits and white construction helmets for the tours on Fridays?”

That stopped me dead in my tracks. “…nnnno, I think I would remember that. Sounds like you inspired Joel from Mystery Science Theater 3000 four years before it debuted.”

“We’d sew patches for the books on which we worked onto the sleeves. It got kinda meta.”

[innocent]

[whistles]

“You were the original editor on Cloak & Dagger, weren’t you? I have one of those patches. What are you working on now?”

“I just edited Chuck Dixon’s new Alien Legion OGN.”

“Its existence is a minor miracle.”

“I sold a screenplay of it to Jerry Bruckheimer back in 2010; supposedly they’ve had half of Hollywood rewriting it since. Screenplays are mainly what I do now.”

Red jumpsuit and a white helmet not required to watch Potts-penned productions. Print that!

Mr. Cheadle? Hello?

Mr. Cheadle, would you be willing to return for METEOR MAN 2?

NON-PRO TIP: Even if an organization has denied you the dignity of attending your industry’s event as a professional, bring examples of exactly that which qualifies you as such; you never know who you might meet.

I had seen the name “Daryl Freimark” in the NYCC app, which rung a bell with me though I couldn’t be sure from what. I found him by accident on Sunday while checking out his Artists’ Alley table mate, Kristen Gudsnuk of Henchgirl.

The Devil Is Due In Dreary was a story my friends and I had tried to sell as a screenplay a few years back,” Freimark said. “That got held up, so in the meantime, we decided to make a graphic novel out of it. This minister predicted on his deathbed that two strangers would be harbingers of the devil, so no one has really left town in decades. These two guys’ car breaks down outside town and everyone decides they’re the harbingers.”

“Sort of a Tarantino occult Western gothic hook, eh?” I ventured.

“That’s one way of approaching it. Can I offer you a review copy?”

I hedged. “I don’t know whether I’ll be doing any reviews for The Beat, so I don’t wanna deprive you of a copy you can sell.”

“OK, let me give you my contact info instead.” He began to write.

I was staring at his name when suddenly something clicked. “Did you go to sleepaway camp in Hinsdale, MA, in the eighties?” I asked.

He stopped writing and slowly swivelled his head towards me, his eyes enormous. “WHO ARE YOU?” he demanded.

The moment was so magnificently pregnant I didn’t want it to end. “Daryl, it’s ‘Apple.’”

He lunged out from behind his table and gave me an enormous bear hug. “I haven’t seen you since your 15th birthday when you made us watch all the Back To The Future movies in a row!”

“Oh God, what a self-indulgent twerp I was.” (“Was”?)

He pushed his book into my hands. “Now as an old friend, will you please take my goddamn graphic novel??” I did but made sure he had a copy of my comic in exchange. If you should see a review from me of it, my bias is on record.

You will never read a better SAGA-based joke. Ever.

She couldn’t find Marko, so she grabbed a Polo.

“Sailor Scout Amy Reeder, where is your uniform today?” I barked.

“I decided not to cosplay anymore this weekend,” Reeder replied. “For some reason people don’t take you seriously as a professional if you’re in costume.”

“That’s the only reason I’m not in something garish,” I said, straightening my loud Mcbess Kidrobot jacket. “Those Rocket Girl tees you and Brandon [Montclair] silkscreened turned out great. And the book is so ‘80s it hurts.”

“Awesome. We’ll be announcing some schedule changes for it soon because–” Here her voice turned to a stage whisper: “–we fell behind.”

So behind it’s in the ‘80s! Gnarly!

He looks GREAT, doesn't he?

Rick Moranis will not do a GHOSTBUSTERS sequel, but he WILL cosplay.

“I never got to tell you how amazing King Kirby was at the time,” I told Fred Van Lente of his recent play co-written with his wife, playwright Crystal Skillman.

“Gee, thanks,” Fred said. “We were very proud of it.”

“Are the two of you working on anything together now? Maybe another play or a book?”

He shifted. “Yes, no, and I actually can’t talk about it.”

“Ooh, mysterious. I’m also stoked that Silencers is back in print; I bought those from you at MoCCA maybe 10 years ago.”

“Sounds about right. All praise due to Steve Ellis. It was one of my first real credits. And look at me now!”

“Yeah, you’re all over Valiant. Who’d’ve thought that would be a player at this late date?”

“I also co-wrote this comics textbook with Greg Pak.”

“I think I need one of those in my library. I’ve taught comics before and you never know if I might again. Would you sign it for me?”

“Sure, and if you’re quick you can get Greg to sign before he runs out. HEY GREG! BOOK! SIGN!”

“Can I go to the men’s room first?”

“NEVER!” I chimed in. “Nah, go ahead.” I turned back to Fred. “Wasn’t it Greg who did those Gurihiri Power Pack series a decade ago?”

“Uh, no, some of those were me.”

“Oh. I wasn’t crazy about those.”

“Really? Why?”

“I felt the characterization was off.”

“Nah, it wasn’t.”

ABORT ABORT ABORT ABORT

“To be fair, I had been working on my own Power Pack script at the time the first was announced. I remember Vito Delsante emailed me his condolences when the news broke.”

“Ah, I think we’ve figured this one out. GREG!!!”

"What's a 'Tom Servo'?"

“Comic Con? I thought this was a bong convention!”

Speaking of Steve Ellis, I found him with his frequent and present collaborator on The Only Living Boy, writer David Gallaher, who asked me, “Oh hey, did you ever fill the open rooms in your apartment?”

My eyes rolled back in my head harder than yours are right now. “Yes, after over two months and the threat of eviction looming over me; thanks. How are things progressing on The Altern-80s?”

“Good! Kevin [Colden] is chugging away at it. I hope to have more to say on it soon. Would you like the LAST copy of Boy #3? After you, we’re sold out.” In answer I lifted the book aloft and sang a high, operatic note.

Steve turned to David. “Hey, those double dustjacket commissions are ready.”

“Did you see we have these blank dustjackets for the hardcover compilation of the first several issues of Boy?” David asked me. “A couple commissioned Steve to do a linked image between a pair.”

All in presence cooed. “Sick,” I groaned, and raised my smartphone.

Even stranger, it's as a horse.

This is an elaborate conceptual 2-person Halloween costume.

NON-PRO TIP: If you can get a hug from Marvel Social Media Manager Adri Cowan on your way out the door, it’s like a ribbon on the entire adventure.

Either way, I'll be arrested.

If I pinch his adorable little tush, will his hair turn blonde?

At the end of Sunday, after I could no longer get back on the show floor, I was snapping pics of any halfway decent cosplayers. I waited my turn behind a gal who was taking a photo of a toddler dressed as Son Goku. “I’m reporting for The Beat,” she told the toddler’s dad.

Huh, I thought, I’m reporting for The Beat. But it wasn’t Heidi. Who else was reporting for The Beat? I hadn’t even checked the site.

She stood up, and it was my old friend Edie Nugent, who I hadn’t seen in close to a decade. We met at Twenty-Four Hour Comic Day 2004 at the former Jim Hanley’s Universe (now JHU Comic Books). We were catching up when my eyes wandered. “Is that a Doctor Who-related cosplay down there?”

“Oh my God!” she squealed, and bounded down the steps. I didn’t have time to be offended, because I had the same reaction when I saw a little girl dressed as Astrid from How To Train Your Dragon 2.

So do you like Polanski films?

Just an adult man taking photos of an adolescent girl.

Edie and I left the Javits Center together, noting the new “Cosplay Is Not Consent” signs on our way out. “It’s sad that needs to be said to purported adults, but at least someone is saying it,” she said.

“Haven’t you been following Gamergate? Telling one group not to dehumanize another is discrimination. Logics!”

“I’ve had to deal with that kind of crap my entire life. I’ve been told to leave comic shops, and even when I’ve been allowed in, they can’t believe that I’m shopping for myself. Luckily I’m a loud broad who doesn’t take anyone’s guff, but not every woman is.”

“Oh yeah, there was that time some nerd got mad at you and ordered you not to shop at the same comic store as him anymore.”

She was puzzled. “Who was that?”

“Me.”

“Oh, right. Thanks for reminding me, douchebag.”

The one in his pocket is off-model, too.

Perfect clone; ALIEN 4 reject clone.

Unlike some conventions, NYCC’s neither chintzy nor faceless, for all its corporate presences. Or perhaps after all these years I’m just adept enough at avoiding that which I know bores me. It’s not a perfect science, as I found out to my detriment. (Ow. Dammit. Seriously, anyone at Dreamworks and/or Oculus Rift, in the words of “Golden Age” Larry Johnson: Hook a brutha up.)

I could try to shoehorn these moments into a theme, a distillation, a cross-section of the NYCC to give you a flavor, a judgment, a moral. I could act contrite or overcompensate for not meeting more pros and landing more exclusives, but I wouldn’t trade these genuine interactions for scoops. I’m one person, and the show is so massive that to expect one’s experience to be authoritative is fatuous. It’s a common space, yes, but packed densely with so much vying for attention we’ll each have seen scores of things most others did not.

The most important part is and always will be the people. The best thing someone in this ballooning culture can be to me is themselves. Many of us who’ve been in this game a while know that whatever our entry point, it was our first genuine community with which we connected. It was founded on certain ideals of acceptance of misfits and endless possibility: it not only holds its freak flag high, it posits that the so-called freaks are the true heros, and best of all, IT BELIEVES IT. That sincerity has finally brought the rest of the world to our table; we would be unworthy to play favorites at this late date.

Which, when you think about it, is exactly why I should’ve been granted professional registration.

"Oh, sorry, I forgot I'm dead."

“Start saving up to go to San Diego, dipwad!”

Can You Tell Me How Much To Get Sesame Street?

Right now there is no shortage of things in this world for people of conscience to get righteously indignant over: the rollback of the civil rights of minorities and women, government overreach in the name of security, corporate greed run rampant, increasing evidence of environmental collapse, and so forth. These are well-trod topics that writers better versed in their particulars can speak to with greater authority than I could.

So I will keep to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to. Let me tell you something that disturbs me right down to my core: the idea of Sesame Street moving to a distribution model wherein HBO airs episodes before PBS can.

n.b.: Not the letters H., B. and O.

Marc Maron has not been implicated in this deal.

I can’t claim much in the way of great personal accomplishment in this life to date, but one thing no one can take from me is that I was on Sesame Street in 1980 at the age of four. Before you get too excited, I was only on for about a month of taping, which pales in comparison to how long my sister and several of my cousins were on. This was all thanks to my aunt Amy, who from 1970 to 1980 was a floor producer on the show, generally thought to be the highwater period of its run. (My apologies to my aunt if I’m misparsing those dates & her job function.) In total I was in maybe 5 or 6 segments, though definitely conspicuously; unlike nowadays, the kids were still front and center. Before you ask, no, I do not have any tapes of my appearances. This predates widespread home video, thus it would not have been shared like that, and I’ve not pursued it since. My sister, who was on for years, has access to only a handful of her appearances online.

It isn’t anything special, but it’s mine. Thousands of kids have been on Sesame Street in its 46 years on the air. And that’s the operative phrase: “on the air.” It’s been a cornerstone of public television, a taxpayer-funded nigh-utility, meant as the exception to corporately-owned media that ever-increasingly dominates all channels of information, the internet being the saving grace those corporations have tirelessly assailed through lobbying for legislative sabotage over the past two decades. If this stalwart of public television takes its ball and, while not leaving, lets the rich kids play with it nine months earlier, does it not leave the rest of PBS to have to consider their profitability over their utility, exactly what PBS is NOT supposed to be about?

If I were more the conspiracy-minded type, I might suspect this was the 3 years-coming revenge of Mitt Romney for the palpable drop in his polls when he questioned whether Sesame Street could exist under his paradigm. Unfortunately, I don’t give Romney that much credit as an evil mastermind, nor a benevolent one, for that matter.

Someone else I don’t hold complicit in this betrayal is Sonja Manzano. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, this one should: “Maria.” For over 40 years Manzano portrayed the character, one of the first Hispanic women in a regular capacity on a mainstream television show, much less presented to as formative an audience. Less well known is that she’s been one of the executive producers of the show for some time, and while I don’t always agree with some of the creative directions they’ve taken with the format (“Elmo’s World,” anyone?), I’ve always believed she had the best of intentions there. I cannot prove anything, but her recent retirement just ahead of this announcement causes me to believe she may have strenuously disagreed with the decision, and made her bow to get going while the getting was good.

“You’re doing what? The ‘Real Sex’ people? Yeah, um, I’m done.”

“But it’s just a kids TV show!” Well, if it was, then surely HBO wouldn’t consider it such a hot property, would they? Because it is not. It’s a cultural phenomenon, and that comes out of what high quailty it maintained for the pure love of educating children. When Jim Henson and company created it in the late ’60s, it was meant as a supplement for underprivileged kids, primarily those in urban slums. The original set evoked the ghetto, albeit a somewhat sanitized one; as the decades have passed, like reality, that ghetto has become gentrified, having been focus-grouped to death, or America’s lowest common denominator. Same difference: as a cash cow, its trappings had to contain minimal potential to offend the broadest audience.

Certainly, intellectual property owners can drive themselves into creative stultification by wondering what the creators would or would not have done. But that may be more a statement on the stagnating effect of copyright extension, when someone other than who is responsible for its inception attempts to continue to wring profits out of a marionette with its strings cut. There are exceptions, of course: One cannot begrudge those like Jack Kirby’s heirs for getting their fair share of the bonanza their sire was denied in life, and we may yet see a renaissance of the world of Star Wars now that The Maker has relinquished the reins to The House Of Mouse. Nevertheless, the tendency is to be either too conservative, trapping vitality in amber for fear of changing a good thing too much to remain profitable, or going too far off the reservation, to the extent that one wonders if it were necessary to slap established branding on something that is essentially a new concept.

In this life, you either die the hero, or live long enough to become the villain. And perhaps, in the realm of children’s edutainment, 50 years is just too long for intentions to remain as pure as they must be. Maybe it’s time for Sesame Street to call it a (sunny) day.

Nightmare by Sesame Workshop

Image by Dan Hipp

The Unknown Country

Nimoy Simpson, beaming out

I’m over 2 months late in doing so, but I want to eulogize Leonard Nimoy. Yet I don’t feel like I have an expansive enough familiarity with his totality beyond Spock, of course, and those handful of other roles in which I’ve seen him. It feels selfish that as important as Spock may have been to culture we should remember him primarily for that. His life in entertainment is merely the tip of the iceberg of an extraordinarily rich existence. So while I’m sad that existence has come to an end, I am more in awe that it existed at all.

Leonard Nimoy was a mensch. I don’t think there’s a wide familiarity with the meaning of that word outside of Jewish culture, save perhaps as simply “a good guy.” Of course Leonard Nimoy was a good guy. But a mensch is a good guy who recognizes a situation in which he believes he may be of help and does it with little to no hesitation. He has empathy which could be maddening for a weaker person. He got Nichelle Nichols equal pay on Star Trek. He used his public persona to offer wisdom where he saw it was needed. He celebrated dignified women who didn’t conform to reinforced ideas of what is beautiful. He never stopped growing as a person and never thought of himself as too good for his circumstances. He was William Shatner’s AA sponsor, fer crissakes.

I have a lot of fear about mortality. That’s not a particularly unusual fear. Not just my own demise: I’m honestly terrified of the day my dad will die. (For the record, he’s nearly 75 and in excellent shape as such, but really, it wouldn’t be unheard of for something to come out of nowhere and lay him low. At the same time, he’s outlived both his father and grandfather by 17 years and his mother lived into her nineties.) But it’s from a constant sensation that there is never enough time. And there isn’t: However much we get, we could always ask for more. But there is: Because however much we get, it was all always ours.

There are no truly “wasted” lives, even when a life was abbreviated. It was what it was while it was. And lives consumed by baser emotions are to be pitied, but even those have value, a practical application of the philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Celebrity and history certainly can confirm certain quantifiable attributes brought to the table, though the details tend to distort & fade if they ever were accurate; notoriety is only so much immortality. Life is for living while you’re doing so; any impact a life might have is inevitable, impermeable and ultimately irrelevant on either side of its temporal boundaries.

A warbly tape recording of Billy Corgan on one of The Smashing Pumpkins’ albums emotes, “I’m afraid to die but I’m more afraid to live.” They are yin & yang: Death may mean oblivion, but it’s meaning in Life that throws that desolation into such sharp relief. I may have gone into creative stagnification in my 20s and 30s because I was too afraid to make my life mean something to then eventually lose it all. The dual truths are that I can never lose my life, as it was and is forever mine, but also that it’s never been anything but a lease, not to own.

So Leonard has gone where all men have gone before. A mensch does not worry about whether or not he gets another chance to do what he could have; he can so he does. Anyone who’d like to preach about an übermensch needs to acknowledge the redundancy in the prefix. That’s Vulcan logic for you suckaz.

And lest we not say it for a more recent loss: R.I.P., Grace Lee Whitney.
 

The Girl In The Box From The Future

In spring of 2013 I attended the launch party for Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, the latest book by outgoing io9.com editor-in-chief Annalee Newitz. This was held at a nearly secret store in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn called Singularity & Co., which deals almost exclusively in hard-to-find & obscure sci-fi books of the past, though the store itself serves in more than a retail capacity. During her Q&A session, I asked Annalee how a balance might be struck between present day orthodoxies and a mission favoring our species’ survival over the longer term when it is so easy for such a directive to become inflexible and maladaptive. Later, she commended me on my question, saying, “It actually made me work!” That’s probably why she agreed to bum me a smoke.

Also in attendance at the party was Annalee’s First Among Deputies, then io9.com managing editor, now editor-in-chief Charlie Jane Anders. Since she wasn’t the main attraction that evening I had difficulty figuring at what angle I ought to approach her. My icebreaker came in the form of discovering a copy of what was my favorite Choose Your Own Adventure book from when I was 11 years old, The Mystery of the Secret Room. To my surprise, Charlie Jane was actually more excited about it than I was. “This is by Ellen Kushner!” she exclaimed.

This is by Ellen Kushner.

“Um,” I said. “Okay, I guess so, if that what it says…”

Beyond some of the founding CYOA authors like Edward Packard and R.A. Montgomery, I’m not familiar by name with anyone else who’d written one. I’ve since educated myself that Ellen Kushner is not only a successful and well-regarded sci-fi/fantasy author and editor, but she also hosted a public radio show for 14 years and is a noted LGBTQ advocate. Her four CYOA books were indeed her first published novels. Auspicious beginnings.

If you didn’t grow up in the 1980s it’s entirely possible, if galling, that you might not know what a Choose Your Own Adventure book is. A by-product of the then-niche computer culture, they were essentially expanded flowcharts, text adventure games crystalized into print. A chunk of story would be told and then two, occasionally three options would be presented, the outcomes of which would be at certain separate pages; lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes a clever author would manage to make a story branch off and then re-merge with a different one down the line: I remember one Egypt-themed book where, if you chose the wrong path in a labyrinth, the same three scenes of walking in the dark would repeat ad infinitum, to chilling effect.

In 3rd grade an enviably clever classmate began posting his own crude CYOAs in the hall outside our classroom, though I’ll be damned if I can remember anything of what it was about. There were spinoffs like the Time Machine series, and outright ripoffs like Pick-A-Path, Which Way and U-Decide, but Choose Your Own Adventure remained the king well into the ’90’s, perhaps only unseated by the advent of CD-ROMs. Ironic that the same field which spawned this form of storytelling should also be its undoing.

The gist of The Mystery of the Secret Room is this: Your distant, eccentric aunt supposedly has passed away and left you her home in her will. You discover a camouflaged door under the staircase that leads into an eponymous secret room where there are three boxes laid out on a table, labeled “Past,” “Future” and “Never-Was.” If you choose the box engraved “Past,” a boy pops out swinging a sword; he would seem to be some teen version of Beowulf. If you open the box reading “Never-Was,” a griffin emerges which may or may not wish to eat you. And if you want a taste of “Future,” a girl with a funky, short, half-green/half-purple, winged hairdo and a bizarre spandex outfit comes through… taking a survey.

At age 11, I thought that was pretty hot. Well, perhaps not so much the survey part, but the illustrations, especially how she was painted on the cover, sent me over the moon. The Future was one of my great obsessions. I thought, If this was how girls in The Future would look, sign me up! The fixation may be attributed to an outside resemblance to a girl who lived across the street from my dad who I would say was my girlfriend to the other boys in my class in New York. Even her name seemed exotic to me: Tiffany Woodstock Lunasdottir, or “Woody” for short. (Why anyone in Iceland of The Future would name their child after that bird is beyond me.) Curiously, of the three options, hers was the least developed in the book: Any adventures one could have with her in the present were lackluster, and if you followed her into The Future, an earthquake would hit and promptly collapse a skyscraper on your heads. Fuck you, too, The Future.

Hey, but I didn’t mind: I was a man (?) in love. I drew pictures of her and, for plausible deniability, of the griffin and the Viking kid, also. This didn’t satisfy my itch, but I knew of no further option; there was no sequel. One day in my school library my eyes alit upon the magazine rack where, nestled amongst your humdrum U.S. News & World Reports and National Geographics, was the April 1987 issue of OMNI Magazine. (Sidebar: While talking to Annalee, she confided that one of the primary models for io9.com was, in fact, OMNI.) What in retrospect was even more amazing about it being in our library was that it was published by Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse, though the founding editor-in-chief was Kathy Keeton, his wife. Still, one wonders decades later whether our grandmotherly librarian might have had a more colorful life than we suspected.

What’s the over/under on that “Biology of Homosexuality” article being a huge pile of shit?

That particular issue’s cover story was about the concept of lucid dreaming. Dr. Stephen LaBerge of Berkeley University (where else?) had for years been experimenting in consciousness within dreamspace: maintaining it, moving purposefully inside it and controlling it. Some claimed being able to problem-solve and even unburden themselves of old trauma within a state of ur-omnipotence. As I was a lonely, abused 11 year old, I was all too eager to sign up for this plan. Also, I knew I was going to attend Berkeley for college. (I did not.)

In this summary of Dr. LaBerge’s techniques there were exercises one was meant to perform, both during wakefulness and sleep, to hone one’s ability to dream lucidly. I have a feeling that even as an exceptional 11 year old there were nuances I failed to grasp, but I threw my little heart into the task nevertheless. I rarely if ever progressed past stating my intent before bed and what was meant to keep me lucid, visualizing myself spinning in a space; the former made me self-conscious and the latter was so disorienting and so taxed my ADHD it tended to wake me up. To be honest, I wonder if any “success” I ever had was simply imagination while I was in more of a hypnagogic, half-awake state. At least, that’s what I tell myself ever since I gave up on the pursuit. Or perhaps it was that I couldn’t reconcile any divinity of my subconscious in the context of my life of desperation.

There are truly only two times I recall it appeared to have worked. In the first, I was standing alone on the soccer pitch of the island in New York’s East River where my plutocratic private school conducted their oppressive, all-consuming sports program. I began to run, taking longer and longer strides, until at last I left the ground beneath me and took flight under my own power. I swooped over the baseball backstops and under the bridge, spiralled into the sky and plunged into a tailspin I pulled out of at an impossible angle, skimming over the sparkling water like a dragonfly. As I was and am a person terrified of heights it was all the more striking that I felt no fear, only exhilaration.

But it was the second success that was the true wish fulfillment: I went on an epic adventure with Woody, Beowulf and the griffin! Chopping through tar creatures, exploring lost cities, defeating the seemingly invincible boss, none of which had been in Mystery of the Secret Room. And then, after the presentation of our quartet as liberators to all the good citizenry, I led Woody by the hand into a glade, laid her down on a bed of reeds, and then… made us both feel good. Look, I was 12, tops, and though I understood sex in principle and had sexual thoughts, it was as yet merely rumored terrain upon which I would not set foot for many years thereafter.

Nevertheless it was a pleasing experience, but my pursuit of the whole endeavor ended not long thereafter. This may be due to my discovery of Bob Guccione’s other publications and their like; I remember fondly how little difficulty I had in buying porn mags off the stands before I was even a teenager. I continued my subscription to OMNI, though once Keeton, a health & longevity specialist, had a sudden heart attack and died in her fifties, it foundered for several years until it sputtered out around 1995. I never soured on lucid dreaming, but I remained an outsider to its benefits; my wish fulfillment was now trained like a spotlight on the idea of working for Disney Imagineering as an adult. I held onto my Choose Your Own Adventures through high school, then gave them all away as a token of good esteem to a little boy for whom I babysat.

Smash cut to 2007. I had been living in rural Pennsylvania with my dad & stepmom for roughly a year after bottoming out only a few months after my thirtieth birthday. I’d returned to NYC several times since to visit & keep my name present in my networks, one of which was the comic book scene. I was attending the New York Comic Con, then in only its second year and its first on the main floor of the Jacob Javits Center. It was close to Halloween, for which I would not be in the city, made all the more painful since I would miss my favorite dance party, the late great Motherfucker Ball.

I’m a longtime fanboy of cartoonist Evan Dorkin; I first met him at the Small Press Expo in 1995, though he doesn’t remember me from that. (To be fair, I was by then a total hippy type, a look I believe I’d shed by the time I saw him next.) At a particular moment at NYCC 2007 I was hanging by his and his wife Sarah Dyer’s spot at the Slave Labor Graphics booth, kitchy-kooing their toddler Emily, killing time until I could get a word in edgewise with table neighbor Jhonen Vasquez, and trying, I now see in vain, to sell Evan on The Motherfucker Ball by the inferred testimonial of a mutual friend’s preference for it.

There came an eerie moment when, just to my right, I heard a female voice all but echoing my endorsement of Motherfucker to Jhonen. I scanned over and just about fell over. Dressed in a punky explosion of clashing colors & patterns, some of them on spandex, was a woman with short, half-green/half-purple hair styled into wings.

I found my voice and corroborated her statements, but then blurted out, “Have you ever read The Mystery of the Secret Room?”

She fixed me with as much put-upon apathy as she could broadcast through her heavy mascara. “What the fuck is that?” She wasn’t cosplaying. I feel confident I began to gibber and lost the opportunity to make a better impression before she left not long thereafter; I can only hope I was not her reason for leaving. I never did get to talk to Jhonen directly.

Later a friend would inform me she was named after a post-punk icon of whom my sister was a fan since 1981. I looked her up on Myspace and tried to engage without being a creep, but I evidently wasn’t not a creep enough, because she never replied. But I could see by her public photos that although the hairstyle was relatively recent, it was in a continuum of similarly unconventional looks in which the visual noise spandex commonly featured. It was her.

I have no idea what became of her, and I don’t know if I’d be more disappointed if I learned she was a crack whore in a bus terminal in New Mexico or that she toned it down and became a suburban homemaker; both seem a different brand of ignoble fate for a dream given flesh. I can only hope she chose her own adventure wisely.

This long overdue update is in memory of Raymond Almiran Montgomery, Jr. (1936 – 2014).

America’s Arlington

Today is Veterans Day, which of course needed to be a separate holiday than is Memorial Day, because instead of remembering our war dead, we need to be reminded of our war dead-inside.

I am not so much a media victim that I believe everyone who serves in our military does unspeakable things for ulterior motives that leaves them a broken husk back in the apathetic society they just risked life and limb to protect. But neither do I think they are blameless pawns of the Western all-consuming Moloch nor alpha loose cannons a hapless, pencil-pushing bureaucracy is unable to reign in. The truth, as usual, lays somewhere squarely in the three-way Venn diagram of the three faults. Yet who will accept the blame with the honor? Who is that hero? And if they take as much pride in the former as the latter, are they actually a villain?

A common slogan in these regards is “Freedom Isn’t Free.” I’ve seen it more than once today. Except it isn’t true. Freedom is in fact the most free thing on Earth. You have it when you’re born and your choices are all that mitigate it. If you choose to live in a society of certain laws, and you break any of those laws and get caught, you may be imprisoned. But if you did not make an effort in all good conscience to change the laws that had those ramifications or sought to live somewhere that better reflected the nuances of your morality, then felt called to violate those laws anyway, you are nevertheless free of judgment beyond whatever you consider your highest power. Being true to yourself under your given circumstances is as free as it gets. Yes, the mentally ill have the freedom to believe God is on their side, but since the bulk of us in whose midst they act agree what more fundamentally trespasses upon our own freedoms, we are likewise compelled to prevent, mitigate and/or punish any attempt to exercise that confidence. Both can be true and everyone could still look at themselves in the mirror.

Now suppose you are someone with a choice whether or not to serve in the armed forces of a society that was founded on genocide and slavery and whose military adventures are overwhelmingly for the benefit of a few elites. The odds are that any similar effort you might be enlisted into is going to be analogously depraved. All rhetoric you could regurgitate tends to favor a subsection of society at the direct expense of tiers of the remainder. You say “Freedom Isn’t Free,” but the cost is your moral high ground and the welfares of countless innocents who, like even this complicit serviceperson, are at the mercy of the machinations of those they may or may not have had a fractional hand in giving power, or at very least not having deposed with whatever tools they have at their disposal. If militaries were people and nations houses, we would not stand for the manner in which either conduct themselves.

The built-up images of soldiers, like police officers, is a comfortable fiction to spare them and the rest of us from the reality of their work. It is in its essential function a brutal horrorshow, as no doubt almost every one of them would be the first to tell you. The very concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a product of the trauma — right there in the name — experienced on the battlefield. But we’ve shut ourselves off from true sympathy by reducing it to the PTSD diagnosis, and instead just try to make troops a just another cog of the war machine that is increasingly mechanized. Rather than truly helping veterans now, we try to make less veterans, not by reducing war but by removing the human element from it. Not, of course, the human element of our targets, for whom we have no sympathy: they are complicit in whatever trumped up crimes we accuse their masters by dint of proximity. No, we want them to feel every single death as acutely as we blunt ourselves to them. But we are the enlightened society. We are The Champions of Freedom.

I do not hate veterans. Each one of them has a certain bravery I may never know. But bravery is not necessarily virtue, and we need to stop conflating the two. How does bravery in war compare to standing up to the seemingly impossible odds the status quo has stacked against being deprived of power? Either may require acts that anyone outside that role might find reprehensible, but at the end of the day, one is usually cowtowing to the will of another, while the other is enacting the will of the many to be free to make their own choices. If a soldier has a cleaner conscience than the rabble-rouser, it is only in the same way as a puppet feels no guilt for what the hand controlling it forces it to do.

The choice is between your life and your soul. In 1984, Big Brother’s final victory over Winston Smith is not merely in brainwashing him but in making him so fearful of his life that he would gladly assign his pain to someone he loves. That is “fearful OF his life”; he would welcome an instant death, but to live in pain and disfigurement is more than he could stand. It is a life we’ve forced upon so much of the world’s people using our brave troops. Patrick Henry, the great patriot, famously told his executioners, “I regret I have but one life to give for my country.” No mention was made of his soul because it was already free. Patrick Henry was not a soldier. He was a school teacher. Why does the imperialist Christopher Columbus get a federal holiday but the defender of liberty Henry does not? Why do we not celebrate the builders as we do the destroyers? Where is their trillion-dollar budget?

Our society decided we’d rather be feared than loved. And faced with the choice between keeping their lives as cattle or dying for something they believed in, both more so than any of our troops will ever know, the world we have exploited is exercising what’s left of their freedom via the few avenues in which we will even acknowledge them. Marshall McLuhan, the great media theorist, said that violence is the media of the disenfranchised; it is the means of expression that proves their existence to an otherwise deaf culture.

It is facile to suggest we could devote the resources we pour into war to affording all of humanity with an equal standard of living instead when we are not just apathetic but outrightly hostile to doing even remotely likewise with those who actually reside within our borders. Our priorities are utterly skewed so our role models are the ridiculously wealthy, today’s versions of royalty; failing to meet those standards, we lionize those who service the unfathomably powerful’s goals and, in turn, those who portray any of the above in a mediaspace that our rulers control. Any “subversion” of that paradigm is directly playing upon the de facto assumption that they would be otherwise, and serves as a placebo for frustrations that might be expressed more palpably.

This essay, if it rates attention at all, will be ignored and reviled by those who ignore and revile any challenge to this condition. They will cloak their fear and hate in God and country, both poorly understood concepts. They will not read this far but interpret what they managed to take in as an attack on all they hold dear. They made their choice of life over their souls. They may have worn a uniform or they may not have, but only those who say NO to the machine of death have a right to call themselves “soldier.”

Arthur and Merlin, Together Again

Remember, remember the time that Jack “The King” Kirby and “Affable” Alan Moore teamed up on their whizz-bang re-imagining of the history of Guy Fawkes, the subject of a holiday in Jolly Olde England this very day? Waaay back when in CRACKING ANARCHY YARNS #5? Exclusively reprinted here on GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST for the first time in decades, a piece of comic history!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Okay, you caught me: This is not a real collaboration between Kirby and Moore; sadly, that never happened, although Moore has paid tribute to Kirby on more than one occasion. All dialogue is taken from the pages of Moore’s classic V FOR VENDETTA, whereas the art is Kirby’s, reprinted in The Simon & Kirby Library’s collection CRIME and previewed on Boing Boing two years back. I didn’t do much massaging to put the text into locations it would be suitable; instead, I did a needle drop in several parts of the book & allowed kismet to dictate how it would line up, sort of like playing “Dark Side of the Moon” over THE WIZARD OF OZ. I can’t guess what The King would have made of it, but I like to think that of all the ways his work has escaped his control, be it as the face of hacker collective Anonymous or, more corporately, the film adaptation, an experiment like this might appeal to Moore on an intellectual if not mystical level.

Stop the Presses!

(Not really your editor.)

Your editor.

Kent! Lane! Olsen! My office! NOW!

No, never mind that, I shan’t be assuming a fictitious character’s voice for this. I’ve kept various blogs for years, and I’ve been a writer for print & online for many more before that. While I’ve tried to cater to niche audiences with my last several tries and petered out, I decided that with this blog I would return to a more general audience, albeit general in the realm of the nerdier arts. Let’s face it: In this day, if you don’t groove on some flavor of what was traditionally the nerd-exclusive province, well, you must be some kinda fuckin’ NERD. And I take it back to its original pejorative there. Feel free to imagine it said in Ted McGinley’s inimitable sneer.

The dual purpose of making this more general purpose is to deprive me of any excuse not to keep updating it on a regular basis. This is to feed the bottomless pit of the Internet audience’s appetites, yes, but to also keep myself consistent, therefore competitive with my professional peers’ outputs. I’ll be rather baldfaced in my intentions (no small feat for a bearded man): I want to monetize this blog, be it through advertising or outrightly selling it to some media entity who will gut it of everything that made it appealing and then shrug when their pageviews plummet to nil, while I get hired by some other such entity who will pay me for my sparkling wit. Just remember I said so down the line so we have no screaming matches about selling out; it’s my goal to do so.

That all said, I hope to show you something perhaps a bit different than the quantillion other such sites, in the form of scavenged bits of culture and personal thoughts delivered with the balance of class, hypertextuality and profanity you should grow to love, or at very least be unable to quit without Dr. Drew’s intervention. The first non-introductory post should give you some idea of exactly for what I’m aiming. Let’s make some alchemy with the leaden deposits of popular culture as its been and see if we can’t invent the next Golden Age.

When I say “we” I mean it: you and me. Come at me, bro. I’m open to submissions so long as they transcend the pedantry of PR-regurgitating, fanboy-servicing “journalism.” Approach the familiar from an unfamiliar angle. Think of this more like a science journal than another place for jackasses to bray into the void. Show your work. Why do you build me up, Buttercup? Construct or deconstruct, but don’t destroy. We have more of that bullshit than anyone could begin to give a pair of fetid dingos’ kidneys over. And hey, have some fun doing it, OK? Don’t look like you’re chewing on a turd while you do it.

I’m certain the breadth of what will be here will be too varied to cleanly fit, I will attempt to categorize what goes up under three headings:

Great: Reviews of what we like. Things we don’t like don’t rate mention and aren’t worth our negativity or even our attention once we’ve come to that opinion of them. Only what gives us joy is what we should share with one another.

Caesars: Politics. By its nature it will likely offset the overriding positivity I’m trying to encourage with Great, which is all the more reason why Great should only be positive. There’s a lot to loathe in the political realm right now, perhaps more so than ever. I’d very much like to ignore it, too, but that tendency is exactly what its bestiary relies upon to enact its will. And yes, I think the political system, allowed to go feral as it has, possesses a will, and it is not to anyone’s benefit but its own and that of the lampreys that feed off of it.

Ghost: Matters of the ineffable. I belong to no organized religion, but I am not an atheist. This frustrates people on both ends of the spectrum, which says more about them than me, I reckon. I’ll take the word of science over faith any day, but I won’t assume it’s the last word. Within the context of our shared culture, we can speak to and be spoken to how our new mythologies are deficient, equal or supercede the previous paradigms, and how said myths can be used to help push this breed of ape further out of the primordial ooze and closer to the best of all worlds for everyone.

All in all, a pretty even course, wouldn’t you say? And if you would say that this sounds rather pollyanna, then you, my friend, do not know me or the dark depths to which my mind roams. And if you would say this actually sounds rather cynical, well, I’m trying just a little harder everyday not to be that dark guy, and I hope you are, too. We have this escapist culture for fun but we cram more & more of the real world into it so we don’t seem like children. We are all children, and our real world deserves more of our escapist culture crammed into it. Or maybe not! Make your case, scholars.

Before we get started, just one more thing: Don’t call me “Chief.”