Friday, November 30, 2007

Despite appearances, they were not circus folk

It's Friday night and I'm riding the Number 3 down Main St. to work. I'm thinking about the S.S. Lake Winnipeg and how it left Liverpool in April 1903, full of Barr Colonists.

I'm standing in the aisle, because I go to work just as most of the world is going home and the #3 eventually connects with the Main St. Skytrain station. So the bus is full when I get on at Broadway. In front of me, two kids with snowboarding gear. The taller kid's boots are slung over his snowboard bag, and everytime the bus stops, which is at least once a block, the boots swing into my gut. Not hard enough to hurt, just enough so that I know it's there. A woman laughs. I don't know if she's laughing at me or at some private joke.

I assume that all these people are going home from work. But I don't know. Maybe some of them are on their way to work, nightshifters like me. Some of them might be going to a movie, or for dinner at a fancy restaurant. The snowboard kids are probably headed to the bus station and then off to Whistler. Some of my fellow passengers might even going to meet a boat, to cross an ocean and start a new life.

I don't even know what kind of boat the S.S. Lake Winnipeg was. For all I know it was a 2,000-seat paddlewheeler helmed by Mark Twain. More likely it was a steamliner, I guess. Helmed by not-Mark Twain, obviously. My great-great-grandfather, formerly a gardner at the Crystal Palace in London, embarked on that voyage along with his three-year-old son and pregnant wife. What was he thinking? What was he hoping for? At 37, he could hardly have been hoping for adventure on the frontier. But surely he hoped that whatever lay across the Atlantic Ocean, and then just as many miles of wild land, would be better than what he was leaving behind.

Henry Postle and his family parted ways with the rest of Rev. I.M. Barr's party of teetotalling utopians short after arriving in Saskatoon on April 17, 1903. They eventually settled east of Saskatoon, on a farm near Blucher. Lillian Postle was born about 3 years later.


At 16, she married this dapper fellow and became Lillian Matheson. Her life, viewed through eyes three generations removed, was fascinating.

The Barr Colonists are long gone. Their children, and even their children, are quickly vanishing. I get off the bus on Pender. The air is thick and dark. I've got "Under Cover of the Night" by the Rolling Stones on my headphones as I round the corner into the alley.

MP3: "Louis Riel" by Doug Sahm

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Forget the New Gods, what about the Old Gods?

Okay, I'm still working on my second post re: Jack Kirby's Fourth World, but in the meantime, this article showed up over Comic Book Resources today. Chris Knowles argues (and promotes his new book, Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Superheroes) for the influence of ancient myths on the creation of Superman and subsequent costumed crimefighters in general, and specifically that the cover of Action Comics #1 was all but copied from a Renaissance of Heracles by Antonio Pollauio. I gotta say, I'm not really buying that last bit. It seems a little too Da Vinci Code to me. But what do I know? Maybe someone with some art or design background (you out there, Wade?) can weigh in on these graphs and charts.
Knowles (a dubious name for someone putting forth opinions on the Internet) seems a little single-minded here, and makes no mention of circus strongmen, who most certainly influenced Superman's look. Circus strongmen indeed wore colourful costumes, including tights and leotards and sometimes capes or robes as they made their entrance into the ring, and were not shy at all about drawing comparisons to Greek, Roman and Judeo-Christian legends. Certainly, the circus would be much more familiar to a couple of teenagers growing up in Cleveland in the 1930s than Renaissance art.
And with all due respect to Siegel and Shuster (who, for the record, is as Canadian as Jack Kerouac--which is to say, not really), I think Knowles is giving them too much credit. I'm skeptical of Siegel's supposed contribution to the layout, and the process Knowles describes seems a little beyond the famously near-sighted Shuster's abilities.
All the same, Knowles has an interesting premise for his book (which CBR bafflingly describes as a "256 page novel"). Though its narrow focus seems to lead Knowles towards inflated conclusions, it's probably worth a look.
UPDATE: Knowles posted an interesting bit on his blog on the symbolism and metaphoric properties of superheroes, which is the stuff I like. Again, he's a little wide of his mark and a little too narrowly focused, but he's playing with fun ideas.

Finally, something cool about the 2010 Olympics

The mascots are revealed! And they are pretty rad. I particularly like Quatchie, the baby Sasquatch. There's been a bit of criticism that the characters are "too Asian-looking", to which I can only say: Shut up.

First of all, they're not that Asian-looking. If anything, they look like a very nice blend of Japanese pop art with West Coast First Nations flourishes. Second of all, so what? Have you been to Vancouver? Asian cultures are at least as much a part of the local fabric as Western traditions, and just as emblematic of West Coast life. If you don't like that, to paraphrase Bruce Allen, go home.

Bottom line, they're fun

Sunday, November 25, 2007

my other brother is on TV right now

Ben, the youngest, is in the front row on the 45-yard line at the Grey Cup. Wearing a cape.

Friday, November 23, 2007

This week: so glad it's over

I don't know, the whole Kirby thing is awesome and blowing my mind, and I'm looking forward to the football game on Sunday, but otherwise, I'm just DONE with this week. I don't even want to look at this week anymore, but there's still so much of it left.

Mp3: "Saskatchewan" by the Wooden Stars (from the Rheostatics tribute album The Secret Sessions)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thus he comes--the protector-wielder of the ASTRO-FORCE!

RX Comics had a giant sale over the weekend, and I stopped by on Sunday to look for Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's Whiteout, since I accidentally picked up the sequel last week (thinking it was the first volume, of course). They didn't have it in stock, but they did have the first two volumes of DC's amazing reprint collection of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, and let's just say the discounted price made them irresistible.

In the comics world, Jack Kirby is without peer. He was there at the start of the superhero genre, co-creating Captain America with Joe Simon in 1940 and was still doing high profile work until the mid-80s. Along the way, he either created or helped to create: the Challengers of the Unknown, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, and the Uncanny X-Men (Kirby's input on Spider-Man was minor, but he draw the cover to Amazing Fantasy #15, which was the first the world saw of the webbed-wallcrawler).

His Fourth World series, which included Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mr. Miracle, were pretty much the last great acts of imagination and creation in superhero comics. Everything since then has been pretty much about either lionizing the canon, or tearing it down. But the Fourth World characters and storylines were all new (excluding the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, Kirby creations dormant since the 40s), and they were all Kirby. be continued...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Prepare to be amazed.

I love songs about places. I love books about places. Movies about places? They also rate highly with me. Maybe...I just like places.
I like to hear/read/see about where people live, and how they live there. I like the ambiguity of hometowns. I'm lucky, I have two hometowns, Saskatoon and Regina.
Saskatoon is where I was a child, and in my dreams, that's usually where you'll find me. In my subconscious, downtown Saskatoon is massive and metropolitan, and usually wintry. It's like the Gotham City of the 70s (as seen by young me in used comics bought in a stripmall on 22nd); diamond shops and theatres line wide boulevards below, water towers and gargoyles haunt the skyline above. So Saskatoon's not a real place to me. Not in the way Regina is.
My relationship with Regina is...problematic. The less said the better. I've got a lot to say about it, but not here, not now. I'll always love Saskatchewan, both real and imagined, we just need some time apart.
This has all been a long way of getting around to saying that Cuff the Duke is in Vancouver tonight, playing at Richard's on Richard's. If you're not working, you should go. They're a terrific band, and even more terrific live. I've been listening to their brand new album, Sidelines of the City, for the last week. It's full of songs about places, so how could I resist?

MP3: "Rossland Square" by Cuff the Duke

The above image is inked artwork by Frank Espinosa from the upcoming second volume of his awesome Rocketo series. Rocketo is another example of a comic that doesn't have to be "good" to be great. Espinosa's art is beautiful, and his ideas are epic, but his storytelling skills.... Well, they're less than perfect, but throughout the 12 issues of the first series (collected in two trade paperbacks) the narrative definitely gets better and I'm expecting big things for part two. RIYL: Jules Verne, Tintin, Curious George, Aquaman, Darwyn Cooke

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Comics Shouldn't Necessarily Be Good

I did something I'm not proud of. I posted a snarky message on a blog about comics. Comics Should Be Good is usually a pretty good blog, though quite often it loses the plot or displays questionable judgment.

To tell the truth, I have no problem with good comics, or even comics that aspire to be good. It's just that the bad ones are usually more fun. Take for example one of my all-time favourite issues, Challengers of the Unknown #87 from 1978. With early, unremarkable art from future awesomizor Keith Giffen, the Challs team up with Deadman and a pre-Alan Moore Swamp Thing in the year 12,000,000 AD to pit battle against the fearsome-sounding Sunset Lords and their hordes of mutants. It was the last issue of the series (the Challs wouldn't be seen again until 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths--another exhilaratingly fun awful comic--and wouldn't get their own title again until future comics superstars Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale did their first work for DC on good-aspirant miniseries in 1991) and included the awesome cut-away map of Challengers' Mountain similar to the one seen here (which is from the 1980s Who's Who). The dialogue is winceworthy and most of the concepts are lifted (as was the trend between '78 and, oh, '86) from Star Wars. It is not, by any sane definition, a "good comic". But I highly recommend it.

Douglas Wolk in his recent Reading Comics, made a case for bad comics in his chapter on The Tomb of Dracula called "The Cheap, Strong Stuff", which jibes with what British comics fans have come to call thrillpower! Most of the stuff in the Showcase Presents line of reprints from DC fits under this umbrella. It was knocked out quickly and cheaply, full of gimmicks, and never aspired to transcend any ridiculous notion of what a comic book should or shouldn't be. They simply were. Comics weren't, and didn't want to be, good until Alan Moore's Watchmen. Oh sure, there were pretentious comics before that, most famously the O'Neil and Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow run from the late 60s. But even those were, at least, still gimmicky. After Watchmen, comics didn't just want to be good, they wanted to be Important. Yechhh. They wanted to be BIFF! POW! NOT JUST FOR KIDS ANYMORE! And, in that, they succeeded. Not only weren't comics for kids, but they weren't even for human beings anymore.
There's a lot of bad comics out there, but none so willfully awful as All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder by Frank Miller and Jim Lee. Even the publishing schedule of the mag (a full year once passed between issues) makes you want to blow chunks. Blow. Chunks. With each new issue it becomes more repellant, exaggerating the most excruciating elements of the previous issue. It's pretty rad.
Its direct opposite, the Bizarro All Star Batman, if you will, is All Star Superman. Tenderly written by Grant Morrison and gorgeously rendered by Frank Quitely, ASS edifies and revels in the Silver Age gimmickry and goofiness that ASSBATS pretends to abhor and bulldoze over with unchecked MANLINESS.
Compare any issue of All Star Batman with the nearly-universally praised Criminal, a noirish caper mag by generally pretty good Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (who for some reason keeps turning up as an inker on shitty DC superhero books). Even though you may feel more, um, intellectually satisfied after reading Criminal, you'll feel even more intellectually satisfied after reading Crime & Punishment. But All Star Batman touches you in that sick, venal way that only comics can.

Friday, November 09, 2007

At last, Stephane Dion talks like a leader

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion made a speech in Toronto today. I'm not saying I want a federal election right this minute, but it would be nice if Dion brought this attitude to Parliament.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What Can I Say About This Sask Election?

The writing's on the wall, so to speak. This time tomorrow will probably be the beginning of the short and miserable life of the Saskatchewan Party government. Watching clips of the CBC Leader's Debate, it was hard not remark how much Brad Wall looks like Grant Devine these days, or maybe even a creepy cross between Devine and Lorne Calvert. Which, I imagine, is how he'll govern as premier. The Sask Party has been forced into what they imagine to be centrist territory by their desire to debunk the NDP's sole campaign tactic for the last few elections. Namely, that the Sask Party are little more than the old Conservative Party. Nevermind that the Sask Party pretty much is the old Conservative Party (or at the very least, aspires to be what was popular about the Tories in the 80s), what Calvert et al have failed repeatedly and miserably to do is give voters a reason to vote for the NDP, rather than merely against the Sask Party. You can only pull that shit off for ten, eleven years max.

Neither of the Sask Party nor the NDP (and why the Saskatchewan Liberals are even invited to the big kids' table anymore is beyond me) have really done anything, either in Legislature or in the public arena, to demonstrate that either party is anything other than a bunch of careerists fighting for their jobs.

It's sad that the NDP wasn't up to putting up a fight, and sadder still that the best thing (in voters' minds) the Sask Party has going for it is that it's not the NDP. A page, you'll note, they stole from the NDP's playbook.

This is where I'd tell you, my sweet Saskatchewani readers who continue to follow me in my exile, to vote your conscience, but I think instead I'll pass the mic to Murray Mandryk to drop some stone cold science.

MP3: "Elected" by Alice Cooper

Monday, November 05, 2007

Aquaman in New York City

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but I've been so sleepy lately. The Minor Thirds (tm3) are a band in Portland, Oregon. They make lo-fi folk music. They once made an entire album about Saskatchewan that you can download for free!
Their latest album is about the Saskatchewan of the South, and it's called Nebraska from Afar.

If you want to have your mind blown, check out this cover gallery of Aquaman comics from the 1960s. Even though the stories were as tame and toothless as you'd expect from DC stuff from that era, from '65 to '71, Nick Cardy pulled off some pretty righteous feats of layout and design.

Mp3: "Aquaman in New York City" by the Minor Thirds