Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford

I’m a bottom line kind of guy I’m just gonna lay it out. It’s gonna hurt and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may...I spent the last five days crying in Argentina

Celebrity Portrait: Mark Sanford

Traditional pen and ink.


Tina Fey

Tina Fey vector portrait illustration

I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers

Celebrity Portrait: Tina Fey


The Direct Market Ghetto

Panel from Elmer #1 by Gerry Alanguilan
Filipino comics creator Gerry Alanguilan is considering not distributing his ELMER graphic novel through the franchise after learning that they charge a 40-50% reseller fee. National is by a significant margin the largest bookstore chain in the Philippines, so the decision severely limits his ability to attain broad national exposure. His comments encapsulates the available options for Filipino indie comics creators (which is almost everyone): "Within Metro Manila I already have several comic book stores that could carry it for me, and with more comics conventions in a year where I could sell these, I could make reasonable business with this, as I have done the previous individual issues of Elmer."


Design Classic: Macintosh Interface Icons

Original Macintosh Icon samples by Susan Kare
Anyone who has used personal computers for much of the last twenty five years is already acquainted with the contributions of Susan Kare, whether or not they are familiar with her name. No doubt her multifaceted work on the original Macintosh graphic user interface is her most uhhh...iconic achievement. Designed to fit within a 32x32 pixel black and white grid, these images would continue to evolve and define the understated look and and feel of the desktop environment until they were replaced by the flashier Aqua visual theme. Nonetheless her influence can still be felt among user interface designers of today.

Dueling Fandoms

I've been enjoying Wednesday Comics so far, but it's never even occurred to me that this project would appeal to casual readers. Both the genre overwhelmingly represented and the format used are more likely to either attract DC's traditional fan base or dilettantes like me. If the series does pick-up new readers, then I have the same question as I did for Marvel Divas: Where are they supposed to go to next? Just like its Marvel counterpart, Wednesday Comics adapts an unorthodox approach to old and familiar characters. But it's so different from DC's corporate shared universe that I can't imagine many new readers who liked it sticking around to become full-time DC fans.

While I can't make it to Comic Con, I would like to be there if only just to witness the feared showdown between Twilight fans and traditional comic book fans. As far as I'm concerned, the Brigid Alverson hosted roundtable was preaching to the choir - the fanboys are overreacting to the perceived invasion of their hallowed grounds by hordes of screaming fangirls. Still I couldn't help noting a bit of defensiveness among the participants when the topic of shojo manga readership was brought up. Now in no way are those two reactions morally equivalent. God knows that manga fans and especially female comics book fans have had to put up with plenty of bullshit from the industry through the years. And they continue to do so. I'm just saying that fans sometimes feel the impulse to be a tad overprotective when someone expresses a disinterest in their beloved pastime. Lecturing doesn't help when done in that tone.


Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

In the words of General MacArthur, we are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction

Celebrity Portrait: Sarah Palin

Getting back to working on traditional pen and ink.


Design Classic: Hasselblad 500 EL Data Camera

Hasselblad 500 EL Data Moon Camera
The camera used by the crew was a modified Hasselblad 500 EL with a Carl Zeiss Biogon C 5.6/60 mm lens. The originals were left on the Moon. The accompanying film magazines were modified 70 mm magazines which could handle up to 200 exposures. Those came back to Earth.


An Uneven Trinity

In his series of Wonder Woman related posts, Noah Berlatsky argues that DC's problems with the character stems from their inability to wrap their minds around William Moulton Marston's highly idiosyncratic personal vision. Of course it could be said that other properties like Superman and Batman have also been watered-down from their original conceptions. But it doesn't help that rehashing Marston's contentious brand of gender politics, which Berlatsky considers important to Wonder Woman's identity, would not sit well with the majority of writers or the current fan base.

In his most recent post Berlatsky tackles what I think is a more obvious reason for Wonder Woman's diminished status - Superman. Neither he nor Wonder Woman were originally designed to interact with each other, but are forced to do so within that piecemeal corporate entity called the shared universe. Both characters are meant to represent the highest form of heroism, but when made to coexist in the same fictional plane, one ends up playing second fiddle to the other:

"WW is different than Superman in a lot of ways. But she's the same in that her point is really to be a paragon; the quintessence of heroism...So when you put her in a story with Superman...well, one of them has to lose focus. If it was Marston, of course, that one would be Superman, and it would be all about how men, even superman, have to submit to women, and love their submission, and so forth. But, alas, Marston's dead, and what we get instead is the much more conventional idea that women (even wonder women) are mostly there to serve as supportive figures in male psychodrama."

Which brings me to the other character to be constrained under a similar arrangement. The one that, when he was being published by another company, actually gave Superman a run for his money:

panel from Len Wein and John Byrne Legends
Seeing them stand side by side makes visible the DC habit of collecting characters who are basically embodiments of generic heroism. Wonder Woman's gender at least gives her some level of visual contrast. While hardly the most dignified role, making her a glorified personal assistant, close ally, best friend, potential love interest etc. to Superman at least guarantees her some visibility during the annual super-hero pile-up. DC can also pay lip service to her as the world's greatest female super-hero even when she's not allowed to be the world's greatest hero. That's a lot of BS of course.

Captain Marvel is an idea that seems to have walked out of a child's daydream of what a cool adult should be like. It's not the specific powers that matter because he is power. He's The World's Mightiest Mortal: He's a marvel. He's a superman. That may have been true when he was part of Fawcett's line-up, but what happens when after a long period out of the limelight he moves to DC and meets his rival male counterpart? How do you settle which superman should be the greatest?

You can make them fight for dominance like typical males:

Justice League of America #137 coverSuperman vs Shazam cover All Star Squadron #37 cover

But the outcomes of many of these battles were never in doubt because they're never allowed to unseat Superman's place in the DC Universe. Forget that Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are beings who should be able to exploit Superman's supposed weakness to magic, or any other hair splitting arguments that fans can come up with. What matters is that Superman has been locked into his primary role as the quintessential super-hero. DC initially shunted off the Fawcett characters to their own parallel universe. But even after they were merged into DC's main universe, Captain Marvel has remained a consistent second or third stringer. If anything, separating him from familiar settings and supporting characters has made him more of an orphan within DC. Meanwhile Superman benefits from a universe which treats him as an integral member: He gets to tussle with evil New God on a semi-regular basis. He gets outwitted by Batman at every opportunity. He fights alongside Wonder Woman in DC's version of Ragnarok. And it's Superman and Wonder Woman who have Earth-shattering sex while Marvel barely registers as a presence before getting clobbered by Braniac in Dark Knight II. This is not a question of whether this is fair. This is fiction after all, and DC has assigned Marvel a smaller role.

What's unfortunate is that just as with Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel's original qualities tend to get diluted within DC's environment. The essence of his appeal is the idea that an average child could be wholly trusted with the use of godlike power. He was conceived in an era when super-powers were still treated more as a wondrous gift than as an unsought for responsibility. From the pages that I've read, he possessed a certain goofball charm that hardly anyone today cares to replicate. But I don't think anyone at DC has believed in that premise for a long time. On the contrary, Marvel's perceived immaturity and naivete are sometimes treated as a dangerous liability, and used against him in Post-Crisis stories like Legends and Kingdom Come.

panel from Mark Waid and Alex Ross Kingdom Come
Superman's seniority also leads him to assume a paternal role towards Captain Marvel's Billy Batson identity. In the recent Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder, the still neophyte Billy at first revels in the use of his newly received powers. But when this leads to tragedy, he loses all self-control, forcing Superman's intervention. While the inevitable confrontation between Marvel and Superman doesn't devolve into the usual slugfest, Clark Kent becomes Billy's mentor because the kid obviously needs moral guidance and adult supervision.

panel from Judd Winick and Joshua Middleton Superman/Shazam First Thunder
It doesn't come as a surprise to me that the recent Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith works very well as a "back to basics" approach, partly because of the noticeable absence of DC Universe elements. But speaking us someone who would on some level find it emotionally satisfying to see The Big Red Cheese upstage the Man of Steel, to most fans the character may simply have grown too old-fashioned, stale, familiar, and that his best days are already far behind him.


Not Another List

When The Comics Journal assembled their list of 100 best comics of the century in 1999, their staff had the good sense to parenthetically add "English-Language" to the list's description. This poll of 187 critics for the 50 greatest films is similar in it's provincialism. The choices are both conventional and lean heavily Anglo-American, especially its top ten. Like any "Best of" list that targets works of art or entertainment, it's a reflection of the biases of the people involved and the context in which it was created.


Jumping Late on The Wednesday Comics Bandwagon

Wednesday Comics is a perfect distillation of super-hero nostalgia. DC's decades-old stable of characters are in themselves enough to evoke nostalgia. But the format used predates those characters and taps into America's rich history of newspaper cartoon strips. It would seem to naturally repudiate the currently favored "decompressed" storytelling style, and it forces the artist to effectively maximize use of the one-page chapter while minimizing concerns about composing coherent long form visual narratives.

Anyway, here are my three favorite pages in no particular order:

Wednesday Comics Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. by Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert
Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. by Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert
Adam Strange: Strange Adventures by Paul Pope and Jose Villarrubia
Metamorpho The Element Man by Neil Gaiman, Mike Allred, Laura Allred and Nate Piekos

And my honorable mentions:

Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook
Hawkman by Kyle Baker
Wonder Woman by Ben Caldwell
Deadman: The Dearly Departed Detective by Dave Bullock, Vinton Heuck, Jared Fletcher and Dave Stewart


More on The Cult of Moe

Moe magnet Sasami Masaki Jurai
Moe Magnet Sasami
"She looks like she has an elementary school girl's head on a woman's body," my father, a child psychiatrist, commented on one of the first pieces of manga art he ever saw. That was 10 years ago, when I'd just started working at VIZ and very little manga was available in English, but if he'd said the same thing in 2009, I could have shown him the elementary school girl's body too.
- Jason Thompson

Jason summarizes the moe phenomenon in his ComiXology article, which he traces back to 70s lolicon and fan art that fixated on the young female protagonists of Hayao Miyazaki, and forward to today's otaku subculture. I first tried to tackle the moe subject matter in my Yotsuba&! post. Whereas I concentrated more on the paternalistic attitudes behind the more "pure" expression of moe, Jason covers the larger issues of traditional male chauvinism, prurient sexual fetishes, the graying of Japan's population, and the wish-fulfillment traits of fandom.

What's interesting is how successfully the cult of moe has been mirrored outside of Japan despite manga's relatively late popularity in the West. My own first recollection of moe would be with fan reactions to the female cast of Tenchi Muyo!, in particular the prepubescent Sasami*. For others it may have been Sailor Moon. While others might claim Neon Genesis Evangelion as their first encounter with moe. Whatever the case, the current success of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star, Moon Phase, et al. demonstrates how much the concept has been embraced by Western fans. That would seem to indicate that despite the Japanese origins of the term, the underpinnings of its appeal are no longer purely Japanese. It could be explained as a response to recent common trends/social changes found within industrial countries. Or perhaps moe simply reverberates with something older and more traditional? It's not as if paternalism and chauvanism are exclusively Japanese attitudes.

*Referred to at the time by Carl Horn as The Sasami Effect


Macheads Use Ubuntu

Ubunchu! Epidode 2 Excerpt
Only a true master can understand the CLI

I missed this, but the second chapter of Ubunchu! has been out for a bit. The original manga by Hiroshi Seo has been "open sourced", like its subject matter, into different language translations. It's pretty accessible, with the characters mostly conforming to type. The Windows guy is a cranky gamer set in his ways. The Mac user is an open-minded but naive comic book fan. And the Linux guru is smart, but a Command Line zealot. Krishna has also been touching on the same topic in his recent strips. This chapter contains the only attempt I'm aware of to explain the command pipe to laypeople in comic form.


Old vs. New Azumanga Daioh

The original Azumanga Daioh yonkoma published by MediaWorks are on the left. The 10th Anniversary Edition versions published by Shogakukan are on the right. As the side-by-side comparison shows, the redrawing of these comic strips are very thorough. The stylistic changes are also pretty clear-cut.

Azumanga Daioh old vs. new versions comparison: Pop Quiz 1 Azumanga Daioh old vs. new versions comparison: Pop Quiz 2 Azumanga Daioh old vs. new versions comparison: Don't Get Cocky! Azumanga Daioh old vs. new versions comparison: Child Prodigy


Greek Street #1

Greek Street #1 by Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice.
Greek Street is a typical high concept Vertigo book that self-consciously draws from and blends myth, fantasy, horror, and genre pulp fiction. These books are in some ways the mirror image of the super-hero universe titles that DC (and Marvel) maintain. Both fetishize violence and power in their own ways. And both can take too much pride in regurgitating their respective traditions. Vertigo's serials just prefer citing the likes of Lovecraft, Brothers Grimm, Sophocles or the Bible to Julius Schwartz or Stan Lee. This reinvention can certainly work. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have built their careers on it and have written some brilliant comics in the process. But over-reliance on any formula can also be used to mask a lack of originality or narrative weaknesses.

Set in modern-day London, Greek Street starts off on an unfortunately pedantic note when a stripper fends off the unwanted attentions of a patron by revealing that history is composed of "eternal recurrences" and people are like "Medea and Agamemnon...still playing at the temple of Dionysus." The scene shifts to the main protagonist and Oedipal figure as he reconnects with his long lost mother. Their story is a complete reversal of the classic myth in that the hero knowingly tracks down and manipulates his mother before their blood relationship is revealed. But after accidentally killing her, he becomes a latter day Orestes fleeing to Soho's Greek Street, but unable to escape his guilt over his dead mother.

The decision of veteran Vertigo writer Peter Milligan and artist Davide Gianfelice to reinterpret ancient mythology as noir fiction is on the surface a pretty self-evident choice. There's plenty of sex, violence, and general brutality in those old stories that can be easily transposed to the present, not to mention that the themes of murder causing an endless cycle of revenge make for great drama. But the compelling power of these myths have more to do with the immortal works that convey these stories than the basic ideas found in them. Greek Street contains some rather effective and disturbing imagery. But their impact is blunted by dense plotting and a brisk pace that leaves that little room to develop the dozen or more supporting characters that are thrown at the reader. Most of them only get to occupy a few panels before the story moves on to the next character. The action isn't actually helped by the Vertigo preference for moody monochromatic coloring or the interchangeable grimacing faces. As this is a first issue, it is mostly set-up for the rest of the series. But the overall impression I get is that of Milligan trying to cram in as many Classical references as he could within the forty pages of the issue. The resulting narrative doesn't quite mesh.

While it's always premature to judge the success of a series on reading just the first issue, Greek Street's #1 seems a bit too aware of its ancient predecessors to stand-out as a work worthy of being regarded on its own merits. The series might eventually prove to be better than this premiere suggests, but I doubt it will be turn out to be a particularly memorable achievement for Vertigo.


The Marvel Divas Problem

Marvel Divas, the latest female-oriented comic series from Marvel, has had virtually all-negative press coverage since it was first announced. There's that unfortunate title, awkward advertising copy, and that embarrassing cheesecake cover which has been roundly, and IMO justifiably, criticized on the web.

 MARVEL DIVAS #1 COVER BY: J. Scott Campbell
But this is pretty much par for the course at Marvel Central. And it's what their male-dominated fan base expects. Unlike DC with its numerous imprints, Marvel makes comparatively fewer attempts to publish material outside of their super-hero universe. They're consistent that way. But I don't see how anyone with half a brain at Marvel could have seriously believed that the cover would work with the Sex in The City crowd. This looks more like a disingenuous move to get fanboys to pick-up a title they would normally avoid.

The interiors are a different story altogether. The art by Tonci Zonjic and company isn't striking, but it's perfectly matched to the content of the story. And It's far superior to the solicited cover art. The characters look real, down-to-earth, and clearly delineated from each other with distinct faces and body types. The dialogue centers on the lead characters bonding over their particular problems balancing their professional careers and personal love lives. Hardly groundbreaking material, but different from the usual Marvel fare.

 MARVEL DIVAS #1 PENCILS: Tonci Zonjic INKS: Tonci Zonjic COLORED BY: Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic WRITER: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
This raises the question of what is the point of setting this kind of series in a shared universe in the first place. The women here are mostly second stringers currently not involved with any super-hero teams. Their minor character status gives writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa more room to develop them in this particular direction. But they're still Marvel Universe super-heroes. It's only a matter of time before they're appropriated by another writer. Given how different in tone Marvel Divas is from the rest of Marvel, any newly acquired readers are unlikely to stick around. In the end the series seems less an attempt to attract more female readers than as a way to placate accusations of chauvinism among super-hero publishers. But this little experiment has no chance of appealing to most of Marvel's traditional fan base. So enjoy it while it lasts.

What The F#@k is Going On in Pyongyang?

Pyongyangn by Guy Delisle.
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast Saturday in a show of military firepower that defied U.N. resolutions and drew international condemnation and concern. It also fired four short-range missiles Thursday believed to be cruise missiles.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency -- citing a South Korean government source it did not identify -- reported that five of the seven ballistic missiles landed in the same area, indicating their accuracy has improved.

- KELLY OLSEN Associated Press


Culinary Curiosities: The MOSDO and POTEDO

Mister Donut MOSDO menu モスド and ポテド
Mister Donut MOSDO menu モスド and ポテド

Here's the kind of fusion tailor-made to bring-out my inner Homer Simpson. The MOSDO is the brainchild of a partnership between popular doughnut chain and Japanese burger franchise . Each company makes its own product under this common brand name (A portmanteau of 'MOS' and 'Donut'). The Mister Donut variety is a doughnut burger - Burger on the outside but doughnut on the inside. The accompanyinng POTEDO (A portmanteau of 'Potato' and 'Donut') are french fry shaped doughnut sticks. Christopher Butcher enjoyed this inventive fast-food combo. Now I really want to go to Japan.

MOS Burger MOSDO モスド
MOS Burger MOSDO モスド

The MOS Burger version has a traditional looking burger patty with a doughnut hole in the middle filled with wasabi mayonnaise. Mmmmm spicy. While not as clever as its Mister Donut counterpart, it still sounds like something that could only come from Japan.


Farewell Kodachrome

Kodachrome 64 Color Film
I've never personally used , as the film was already falling out of favor by the time I began experimenting with color photography. There just weren't many labs that could process it. But the discontinuation of another classic product marks one more step on the march towards an all-digital future. Ars Technica has a nice article about the film's landmark importance to the photographic world. And Kodak has put up an online gallery of Kodachrome images mainly from National Geographic photographers.