Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Red Dwarf Gets Obamiconned

In honor of Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America and the upcoming Red Dwarf reunion special, I used the Obamicon service to create four Red Dwarf themed Obama posters. Let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hooray for Vintage Advertising

Provided B/W of the always entertaining but hardly illuminating Christopher Hitchens Watch:

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Clear Evil? Sometimes. Clear Good? Not so much.

Writer Bill Willingham has gotten comic book fans riled and uncharacteristically political with his calls for an end to the "Age of Superhero Decadence:"

Folks, we’re smack dab in the midst of the Age of Superhero Decadence. Old fashioned ideals of courage and patriotism, backed by a deep virtue and unshakable code, seem to be… well, old fashioned.

Full disclosure time. I’m at least partially to blame for this steady chipping away of the goodness of our comic book heroes. In my very first comic series Elementals, first published close to thirty years ago, I was eager to update old superhero tropes, making my characters more real, edgier, darker — less heroic and a good deal more vulgar than the (then) current standard. Elementals was one of the first of what was later dubbed the ‘grim and gritty’ movement in comic books. And to complicate my confession, I’m still proud of much of that early work. At least my crass and corrupted Elemental heroes still fought, albeit imperfectly, for the clear good, against the clear evil.

Mr. Willingham,

I believe there is such a thing as pure evil. I've seen it. There are people in this world who do not have good intentions and that simply want to tear the world down. I thought The Dark Knight portrayed this aspect of the Joker well. However, while I do believe in evil I do not believe in pure, infallible good. The good make mistakes. The good make bad alliances. The good do the wrong thing.

Up until the 1970s, when Avengers storylines showed Henry Pym beating his wife in a fit of madness and Tony Stark succumbing to alcoholism, this aspect of heroism was extremely downplayed. A trip through early Superman comic books is a trip through the journeys of a colossally one-dimensional character.

This, of course, is a balancing act. Deadpool, the Punisher and some stories featuring Wolverine get very excessive at times in romping through extreme violence. Since comic books are read by children, they should cast images of morality. However, please don't fall into the world of one-dimensional characters. The greatest American icons, from Humphrey Bogart's love betrayed and apathetic Rick in Casablanca to Harrison Ford's money-obsessed scoundrel turned freedom fighter Han Solo in Star Wars, have been men of conflicted emotions who eventually wind up doing the right thing. Stan Lee was revolutionary in creating characters like Peter Parker (who failed to save his uncle from murder due to his own selfishness), Ben Grimm, Wolverine and Daredevil, who were all deeply flawed characters. That's what men are really like and that's what they'd still be like even with superpowers. Men are not really like Superman.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

An Original Bush Bashing

I tend to avoid Bush-bashing because I find it to be the most incredibly tired and cliched aspect in modern America. I prefer to sift through and find the aspects of his administration that have been successes (as rare as those are.)

Columnist Ron Hart, however, does something original in his criticism of Bush, coming from a humorous libertarian perspective. Starting off with a much needed bashing of NPR:

As giddy with anticipation as a schoolgirl, NPR reports that a record 5 million people will attend Barack Obama's inauguration this month. Ever the inquisitive columnist, I have examined these claims, determined that NPR might be right on this one, and got a nice tote bag from them for my efforts. Worry not about the impact on the economy. Even with 4 or 5 million Obama supporters in Washington for the inaugural festivities, only 28 of them will be missing work.

NPR, as we all know, is National Public Radio, which will be in an enviable position once the Democrats in Congress silence the free market of ideas that is talk radio. NPR is the monotone talking points of the left, subsidized with our tax dollars and pressurized pledge drives that seem to take place 365 days a year. If you are wondering what Congress would like your news and information stream to be like in the future, look no further than Castro's state-owned paper that talks about him in every issue, or Oprah's "O" magazine, dedicated to her and to her struggles with her weight.

Hart's assessment of Bush makes you say "ouch" out loud:

Now all that is left for him is to pardon a few folks and try to burnish his legacy. To date he has pardoned fewer felons than his predecessors. My guess is that even criminals don't want a pardon from W because they don't want to be too closely associated with him.

If you thought that was harsh, take this one:

The White House has been called on to answer for the Iraq War, which has been called the worst foreign policy blunder in history. That seems to me to be unfair and premature. Bush still has two more weeks in office.

Ouch squared. Thank goodness I never voted for Dubya. (I voted for Kerry in 2004.)

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Comics Will Rot Your Brains!!

A couple years ago, I set up a booth at a flea market in order to get rid of a huge number of comic books. I wasn't giving up the medium or anything like that but was instead trying to clear house of a good deal of comics that I'd acquired during a comic shop's going out of business sale in the mid-90s. The comics were mostly published by the now-defunct Malibu Comics and were published during the 1990s, easily one of the lowest points in comic book publishing history. I just wanted them off my hands.

I was struck by a hostility from older people at what I was selling. I kept hearing, "You know, these things will rot your brains" being said by grown men in a serious tone of voice. At the time I thought they were just "old," but in retrospect most of these nervous pervises were Baby Boomers. They were kids during the Red Scare, which was also a time when comic books were tackled by demagogic lawmakers and imposed with a rating system called the Comics Code Authority. (While mainstream publishers like Marvel Comics have abandoned the Comics Code, it can still be found on the covers of Archie Comics.)

In a recent Reason magazine article, writer Brian Doherty reviewed the book The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America by David Hajdu. Doherty writes that Hajdu argues that the comic book genre was subjected to a witch hunt by lawmakers, churches and academics comparable to the ones that took on Elvis Presley and communists. Hajdu's argument makes sense in explaining why so many Baby Boomers were getting freaked out about the comic books I was selling at that flea market. The book describes kids that beat up other kids who were caught with comic books. Were some of those bullies at that flea market?

Doherty notes that this may not seem relevant to the average reader but it should. Similar assaults have been made on music and video games and will likely continue towards new entertainment mediums in the future. Recall Tipper Gore, the wife of former presidential candidate Al Gore, and her Parents Music Resource Center or Hillary Clinton's efforts to legislate against violent video games.

Comic book companies are still being assaulted by moralist authoritarians in this country, and organizations like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund have been set up to aid poor comic book creators that are defending themselves in court against bullying censors. While there are a few pretty racy comic books out there (both in regards to sexual and violent content), comic book publishers do a pretty good job of making it evident on the cover. Marvel has many "All Ages" lines that are tame and fine for little kids. In contrast to that, they have also set up a line called "MAX" that is clearly aimed at teenage and older readers. Comics that don't fall into those lines but have mature or older content are usually labeled as such. Like any medium, be it video games or movies, what ends up in the hands of kids falls down to the individual parent or guardian who is buying it or the retailer who is selling it, and not the publisher, who has little control over where their comics end up.

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