Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, May 30, 2009
      ( 5/30/2009 07:27:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC: Cats in the tree: Savannah on the top tier plus Willow on the lower tier:

THE USUAL NOTE: For more cool pics of companion animals, please check out Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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Friday, May 29, 2009
      ( 5/29/2009 11:02:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I HAVE SEEN THEM IN THE TWILIGHT." Considering the material adapted in the newest (Volume 17) edition of Tom Pomplun's Graphic Classics series, Science Fiction Classics, I started idly wondering whether a better title might be "Scientifiction Classics."

That ungainly term, first floated in 1926 with the publication of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, arguably comes closer to the early sci-fi exercises presented in comics form here -- especially a more technocratic work like Jules Verne's "In the Year 2889" -- in part because it implies a stronger emphasis on the science component over storytelling. You can see this imbalance in Verne's tale, as well as a one-page Hunt Emerson illustrated comic of Hans Christian Anderson predictions "In A Thousand Years." Neither piece has much in the way of character or story conflict. To a slightly lesser extent, the emphasis on ideas also extends to pieces like Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Disintegration Machine" and E.M. Forster's classic cautionary "The Machine Stops."

Still, even in the book's potentially driest offering, editor Pomplun has the smarts to couple it with a sprightly cartoonist like Angry Youth Comix creator Johnny Ryan. And where the didactic "Machine Stops" might have been deadly in less visually inventive hands, Ellen Lindner's expressive cartooning and coloring keeps things interesting. This is the first Graphic Classics volume to feature color in all of its stories, and in Lindner and Ryan's pieces, it is smartly deployed. In the latter case, the bright flat colors enhance the Hanna-Barbera cartoonishness of Ryan's art; in the former, the more subdued coloration suits the washed out decadence of Forster's doomed dystopia.

The cover story, a 48-page version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, is the book's first draw, of course. Wells' classic has been adapted into comics before -- the Classics Illustrated version from 1955 was my first introduction to the story -- while its status as a public domain work has inspired more than one comic company's attempt at picking up where the story ends. The Graphic Classics version, scripted by Rich Rainey and illustrated by Micah Farritor, proves closer to Wells' original intentions than the Eisenhower Era adaptation: a once bowdlerized scene featuring a hysterical curate has been reinstated in the story, while the narrator protagonist's less-than-noble moments are also unapologetically depicted. The reinsertions strengthen this retelling of Wells' familiar s-f story significantly.

Less familiar, though no less influential as an early s-f story, is Stanley G. Weinbaum's 1934 "A Martian Odyssey," generally acknowledged to be the first of its kind to depict an alien character whose thought processes are distinctly different from that of humans. Adapted by Ben Avery and effectively illustrated in a whimsical zap gun style by George Sella, it entertainingly captures Weinbaum's voice and distinct sense of wonder: "scientification" at its greatest.

Two other tales don't fare as well, in large part due to the original sources' slightness. Tod Lott and Roger Langridge's version of Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger story, "The Disintegration Machine," is well presented, though Doyle's original story -- which basically involves the egotistical Challenger's besting a grotesque mad scientist in the simplest fashion -- is fairly weak. Antonello Caputo and Brad Teare's retelling of Lord Dunsay's "The Bureau d'Exchange de Maux" has an appealingly dark woodcut look, though it's debatable whether the actual story fits under the science-fiction rubric. In it, Dunsany's narrator enters a shop where customers exchange a personal "evil or misfortune" for that of another's. Our hero does this, of course, exchanging a long-held phobia for a fresh one, though Dunsany doesn't take this basic conceit much further.

As a full collection of early s-f, Pomplun's volume is the most consistently accessible of Graphic Classics' genre collections that I've seen to date. (In contrast, consider the overly wordy adaptation of "Northanger Abby" in Gothic Classics.) Next up, a book devoted to adaptations of Louisa May Alcott. I wonder if it'll include any of her scandalous A.M. Barnard thrillers? It's been ages since I've read 'em, but I seem to remember they were considerably zippier than Jane Austen.


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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
      ( 5/27/2009 07:55:00 AM ) Bill S.  

MID-WEEK MUSIC VID: Slo-mo food fight! It's Puffy Amiyumi doing a reggae-fied version of Jellyfish's "Joining A Fan Club."

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
      ( 5/26/2009 01:16:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"HE'S A TRUE DEMON!" Soichi Negishi, the nice guy hero of Kimihori Wakasugi's energetically rude death metal comedy, Detroit Metal City (Viz Media), is a man of dual identities. As Negishi, the sweet face 23-year-old with a bowl cut and a predilection for Swedish pop bands, he's a sensitive man/boy. But when he dons a wig, whiteface and a futuristic KISS-style costume, he becomes Johannes Krauser II, mother-rapin' front man for the indy "evil-core" band Detroit Metal City (any echo of KISS' "Detroit Rock City" is strictly intentional).

Loved by his rabid fans for his shrieking lyrics about sexual assault and murder (the band's signature song, "Satsugai" translates into "Kill 'em all") and hardcore monstrous persona, Krauser is an embarrassment to Soichi, who would rather be a singer in the mold of whispery-voiced Kari Kahimi than the raspy creature he portrays in DMC. Unfortunately for our sensitive new age guy, he can't get arrested singing sweet pop confections like "Raspberry Kiss" while his celebrations of rape and domination are finding a growing cult of fans. The foul-mouthed president of the band's label puts it bluntly: Krauser's violent lyrics get her wet, while just a few stanzas of "Raspberry Kiss" are a dehydrating turn-off.

The conflict between these two aspects of Soichi provide most of the comedy in this "mature" readers manga -- which has also inspired a live action movie and a direct-to-video anime -- the first volume of which is reaching American shores in an understandably shrink-wrapped edition. "This album contains nothing but the most profane of profanities," the back cover of DMC's debut disc warns. "Listen at the risk of your immortal soul." Viz could just as easily put a variation of this sticker warning on the back cover of the book since much of its dialog (especially that delivered by Death Records' leather-wearing president) can be gleefully obscene.

Poor Soichi is a victim of his underground success. When he's falsely accused of groping a cute young thing on the subway, a notepad of prospective DMC song lyrics ("Spread 'em wide, you sows!") makes him look even guiltier to both girl and subway cop. To make matters worse, his ability to lose himself in the Krauser interferes with his attempts at wooing a pop-loving girl named Aikawa. Prodded into doing air guitar to one of DMC's songs in a music store, Soichi so gets into character that he begins shouting abusive invective at Aikawa. Singing one of his death metal compositions in a karaoke bar, he becomes so wrapped up in the song's nasty lyrics that he gobs on his would-be girlfriend.

The big joke is that, though he'd hate to admit it, the appalling faux demon Krauser is as much a part of Soichi as his regular girly/man day self. Soichi's unwillingness to be open about his show biz creation makes Krauser an even more formidable figure in his life. Visiting his kid brother Toshihiko back on the family farm, for isntance, he learns the boy's fannish adulation of the creature has led to his turning into a young delinquent. ("My music," Soichi thinks, "has wrought chaos on this family!") Instead of just telling the boy that Krauser isn't real, he dons the character's costume and makeup and convinces Toshihiko that doing family chores and studying will make him a better Agent of Evil.

Wakasugi's art has a loose alt comics look that's well suited to this broad material. He's especially fun capturing the awkward Soichi in poses that emphasize his geekiness and contrasting this with the strutting, self-assured Krauser. In DSMC, the pop geeks blush becomingly and stand stiffly and modestly, while the death metal types thrust themselves with aggressive abandon. Though the manga writer/artist states that he's musically more attuned to the sweet stuff than the hard core, the latter is obviously more fun for him to draw.

Volume One contains twelve stories, plus a bonus throwaway gag centered on Death Records' president. A few of the earliest pieces can get repetitious, our whiny hero bemoaning his role as Krauser one too many times, but once Soichi begins his comically erratic relationship with Aikawa, the book picks up steam and gets you rooting for its hapless Romeo. As a humorous dissection of the evergreen fight between day-to-day existence and art, between commerce and creative expression, Detroit Metal City nails its subjects with cheerful offensiveness. I'm thinking if the anime adaptation ever shows up on "Adult Swim," they're gonna have to do a hell of a lot of bleeping.


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Sunday, May 24, 2009
      ( 5/24/2009 09:12:00 AM ) Bill S.  

THE CUB REPORTER: For those wondering where I am on the job-hunting front: the quest continues. Though I'd like to stay where we've landed, a realistic examination of the social services scene in my part of Arizona dictates that I also look further out. Been spending a decent amount of time on all the usual suspect job sites, have had several interviews, but at this point, I'm still looking. One of the effects of our current Recession: a lot of agencies, faced with an uncertain fiscal year in the near future, are taking their own sweet time refilling vacant positions. I can understand why they're doing this, but, as one of the nervous jobseekers out there, the waiting is definitely the hardest part.

I have started doing some part-time writing for a new local paper, the Southwest Express News, a new weekly paper that pays by the story. If we remain in Safford, I wouldn't mind doing this as a regular source of supplemental income: I'm spending part of the Memorial Day Weekend covering two ceremonies and am definitely enjoying doing this. Been years since I wore a reporter's hat, and I forgot what a kick it could be. Nothing too heavy to report -- just ribbon cutting ceremonies and the like -- but it's keeping me out of trouble.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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