Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oh, man is not made for the cognitive dissonance that comes about from the day I had. Whereas last year's new Pixar movie was attended, in my life, by listening to an interview with CF that left me feeling deeply inspired, today I watched Up and read Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare At Goats- which goes back and forth between the sort-of-amusing and conspiracy theories that leave you feeling awful.

Up is pretty much great. It starts sad, to give emotional underpinnings, and then starts moving fast. It ends up containing genuinely funny material. It feels like less of a curiosity than Wall-E did, more like a normal movie, but well-crafted and strongly executed in a way that I doubt any other summer blockbuster would be. In some ways, it might be more satisfying than Wall-E: Wall-E is sort of more deeply sad, to a point where it even creates a sad ending that it then avoids in a swerve. Up has emotion underpinning it, but moves according to "fun romp" tradition, and allows for a more cartoony world. Lots of fun.

The Men Who Stare At Goats is not terribly well-written: It's all over the place in its subject matter, in a way where it does this paradoxical thing where it ends up not being convincing of things you already know to be true. Certain things are covered in such a cursory or haphazard manner where characters start to seem made up even though they clearly are real. But then there's the conspiracy theory stuff, which doesn't really jibe with what the rest of the book is about, but still feels like evidence of a really horrible evil... I don't know know. It's written so poorly that the whole thing feels like it's only going to convince utter crackpots, despite being about real and interesting things. The book, ostensibly, is about the CIA's use of new age and psychic practices, remote viewing and such. The CIA used remote viewing during the cold war to try to monitor the soviets- but that's not really talked about so much as some tangential figure who went on Coast To Coast AM and ended up inspiring the Heaven's Gate cult to kill themselves.

They really should not have been consumed in the same day, two things each lying on the extremes of my interest in cultural consumption. The universal humanity and humor of Up, that makes you want to engage in the world and being understandable, contrasting against the way a book of conspiracy theories puts one's thought into a spiral of half-digested information as concentric circles around a void of sheer terror. Go see Up.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I recently checked out Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives from the library. It has since been returned, with only its first section read, and I am left to wonder why that book found the praise it did. Certainly, some of the praise- the comparisons to Marquez and Borges- feels like it comes from a place of racist oversimplifying. The Marquez comparisons have more to do with the amount each received by their respective generations, and most longer reviews (not the kind of thing to run on book-jackets) would grant that Bolano has nothing to do with magic realism. The book-jacket statement that "This is the sort of novel that Borges would have written" feels like it has only the most specious involvement with Borges, or novels. Here is a novel about writers (Borges talked about books) running around having sex with each other (That's what a novel is, right?).

As near as I can tell, the book is successful for how easy it is to read: It's compulsively readable, tales of the soap-operas of youth. But there's a lot of it: At over 500 pages, it feels like "You like books? Here's 500 pages of stuff to read; that's a book, isn't it, by definition?" It disregards content. But then, the content- about poets- allows for lots of name-dropping and reference points. It feels like preaching to the converted, or pandering, for a book to be so much about books and authors, but some people love being pandered to.

Granted, I only read the first section of the book, written in the form of a journal, but any skimming I did did not point to seismic shifts in terms of subject matter.

Meanwhile, I recently found myself employed at a job that had a comic book store within easy walking distance of it. I found myself there on lunch breaks, combing through quarter boxes. That is where I found Bernie Mireault's The Jam Urban Adventure Color Special, from 1987. That's a pretty good comic, for what it is: 1980s alternative comics in a superhero mold, roughly comparable to a bunch of comics from that era, but maybe nothing modern. The closest thing would be Madman, I guess, but these days that comic mostly stumbles on, with none of the weird vigor (or density of plotting) seen in this comic.

There was a Jam/Madman crossover comic in the nineties, that I've never read, and after that for a while Mireault was doing some backup strips in Madman. Those backup strips felt pretty markedly less ambitious: Silent comics, marked by (I think) a six-panel grid and some (I think) painted coloring. That was about a guy called Dr. Robot, who ran around in a big robot. He also did a comic around the same time called High Hat, which was about a guy in a top hat smoking joints. I guess he gave up, at least in terms of writing. They're alright to look at, I suppose, and maybe that was how he was pushing himself, towards painted color that felt designed for either glossy stock or computer monitors.

This Jam comic has flatter colors, that fit nicely with the brighter than newsprint paper. I think it looks great, and it reads well, a little clearer than the black and white issue of The Jam from a year later found in the same quarter box. The coloring really focuses the compositions, while still allowing for hyperactive layouts or delineations of architecture. A really cool comic.

Poking around the internet, though, I see pages from newer, yet unpublished work, and it, in black and white, doesn't look that good at all, actually: It has that sort of generic black and white boom comic look, inspired by underground comic's sense of style and texture, but with this frozen stiffness of Jack Chick tracts, or seventies Marvel comics. There's this grey-toned slickness that removes detail, rather than gives it room to breathe. It looks really bad. Oh well.