Ending the year on a high note: Manhunter

A couple of days ago, my sweetie wanted to stop at a place with the unexciting but clear name of Half-Price Books to sell some CDs (which she no longer needs since some nice fellow gave her an iPod for her birthday), I tagged along, and while she went about her business, I dug through the comics. The store has a pretty good collection of graphic books and a not-inconsiderable back issue collection, and it was there that I browsed, shuffling through all of the bins looking for something that would capture my attention. I passed up a NM Dell Turok, Son of Stone for $10; that'll probably turn out to be a mistake, since the price will likely double when the movie comes out. But I did find this wonderful book:

Manhunter: The Special Edition
Archie Goodwin, Walt Simonson, Klaus Janson
DC Comics: 1999

That less-than-wonderful image above is the gold-foil cover, so here's a better shot: a pin-up from the interior:

This was actually the second collection of this 1973-1974 back-up strip from Detective Comics; the first was published in 1979, and this special edition shortly after the death of writer/editor extraordinaire Archie Goodwin, who created the character.

And what a back-up this was! Like the recent Dr. 13 strip that seemed to overshadow anything else about Tales of the Unexpected, this strip commands my memory of 'Tec from back in the day: it was quite simply one of the most imaginative and wonderful strips ever.

Goodwin took a minor character from the forties - Paul Kirk, The Manhunter - and used his backstory as a springboard for a contemporary adventure that blended the spy genre and the ninja motif into a quest saga, and even managed to work The Batman into its climax without losing its own narrative integrity. The story was visualized by Walt Simonson, whose stylistic drawings managed to accommodate more plot and action in eight-page episodes than many artists could fit in a full book. He was particularly adept at filling each page with ten or twelve panels without sacrificing any necessary detail or falling into a grid pattern.

Here's an example of an extended action sequence compressed into one page, as Kirk (in red) takes on some evil clones (in blue) after he discovers the intrigue that surrounds his resurrection almost thirty years after WW2:

Simonson's beautiful artwork is matched by Goodwin's prose, which slides through the registers from hard-boiled to lyrical without missing a beat. This sequence, which describes Kirk's foray against the "legendary blind zen archers of Pendrang," the guardians of a hidden monastery, is perhaps my all-time favorite comics page, and is inarguably an example of comics storytelling at its best:

The Manhunter's search took him though six back-up strips and then found its conclusion in a full-length story that featured the magazine's star, Batman. This version of the Darknight Detective is so much more appealing than the perfect strategist/living encyclopedia that we currently know. Here's Batman checking out an assassin's rifle, found at a crime scene:

That's the kind of scene that speaks to pulpy roots of The Batman. He doesn't need to know everything; he knows people who knows lots of things. He is a detective - asking questions and finding information. Cool.

Manhunter's quest plays out to its formally necessary conclusion; I don't think anyone will be surprised to learn why this character has not appeared in any new adventures in thirty years. Perhaps that closure is one of the reasons the character is remembered so fondly; like celebrities who die young, he wasn't around long enough to be in anything crappy. Or maybe it's something bigger than that: maybe when Goodwin and Simonson created a story with an ending in mind, the storytelling became deeper and more meaningful that that done for a franchise or a open-ended serial. Whatever the case, the seventies Manhunter series is a masterpiece, and discovering this gem allowed me relive the thrills I had when I first encountered it.

You can check out the original comics if you have the spare change, or find the 1979 "Complete Saga" version, but this edition has some nice bonus features, the best of which might be a sort of coda: a follow-up strip completed by Simonson after Goodwin's death, from a story they co-plotted but never had a chance to produce.

Bonus note: I am the proud owner of a DC Direct cold-cast porcelain hand-painted statue of The Manhunter, number 456 in a limited series of 900 made in 2ooo, a gift from a great and good friend who has graced these pages before. It's pretty sweet:

Two years down

Today is the last day of the second year that I have been blogging about comics.

I don't know where the time has gone: there has been so much from The Last Shortbox® that I haven't gotten to yet.

The first twelve issues of the wildly exuberant American Flagg.
The only twelve issues of the nearly incomprehensible Thriller.
The thirteen issues of the spectacularly bitter Haywire.

Keif Llama, Dalgoda, Evangeline.
Somerset Holmes.
The Desert Peach.
Gilgamesh II.

And yet, I have pretty much kept to my once-a-week publishing schedule.

I hit my hit-high over last summer, and viewership has been declining since. In the last few weeks, however, when posting has been especially spotty, the numbers are going back up. I can only conclude people like the blog better when I don't write new things. That sure makes it easy.

Along the way, I have been distracted by a dalliance with buying new comics, a commitment to waiting for the trades, and a habit of spending way too much time reading other people's blogs. (I have no idea how y'all make enough time for the (usually) entertaining posts I keep reading.)

I am seriously considering a PhD program with a focus on comics, if I ever get my teaching situation completely sorted out. If that plan pans out, who knows what will become of this place?

I am also seriously considering re-structuring all of my blogs into a different sort of web presence, so even without any life changes, this site might have (another) new name and a new address.

I guess this blog is of excruciatingly minor importance in the grand scheme of things, but it's worth continuing if it's still fun.

And it's still fun.

And as Captain Fear would say,

'Appy 'Olleedaize and a 'Appy Noo Jear!
The Daily Telegraph Adventure Travel Show is coming to London, 25-27 January 2008. Some of the confirmed features include the Wanderlust Travel Advice and Travel Health and Equipment Theatres, Travel Writing and Photography seminars, Adventures for Over 50's and Solo Travel, and together with an impressive exhibitor list, it's bound to be a journey of discovery. Call 0870 112 9133 to book tickets or online here; they're £8 in advance.

Bangs, not Bams

I have been seeing stuff talking about Evan Dorkin's new book, Biff Bam Pow. The title rang a bell but the comic didn't look at all familiar (although it does look promising). It only took a second to remember what I was thinking of, and it was the work of moments to find it in the Last Shortbox:

BIFF BANG POW! #1 and #2
1991 & 1992: Paisano Publishing Company
Edited by Ivan Brunetti, with various contributio

I'm sure I picked these up new at Zanadu Comics in Seattle, In the nineties, I wasn't buying much regularly; the grim 'n' gritty, Liefield/Image era held no interest for me at all. This kind of oddball publication would have been the kind of thing that I sought out.

And it was oddball: an anthology title with a few continuing stories, it has an aggressively hip, art school, anti-establishment vibe to it that seems (from the perspective of fifteen years or so) a little contrived and pretentious.

The Fine Art Force, by Brunetti and Thad Doria, was a JLA-esque group of superheroes-based-on-art-styles (Impressionist Girl, Ms. Minimalist, Dr, realistic, Captain Cubist, and so on). It combined traditional spandex antics with art-based puns and in-jokes; it could have been insufferable, but it had a breezy charm that was hard to resist. They had adventures in both issues: "Hello, Dali!" and "Lend Me Your Ear" (and I'll bet you can guess who that one featured).

Brunetti contributed to a lot of the features. Here's his illustration of a slice-of-life story by Joe Schmitt:

And here's some early work by the great Jessica Abel:

Besides arty superheroes and the dread b&w autobiographicals, the series had all kinds of weird stuff. Ben Spide, Arachnid Investigator cast a big round spider in a hardboiled detective role; the Hanson Family Circus modified Keane panels in gruesome ways; Hitler's Sunday Comics gave Calvin's dad, Dagwood, Hi Flagstone, Dennis the Menace and others the dictator's hair, mustache, and evil personality; and It's the Precocious Little Shit was about -- well, you probably get the picture by now.

There were other, less crass features. Thad Doria tried some formalist tricks in a totally graphic story that had not word-balloons, but rather glyph-balloons: Agent C.:

My personal favorite was Lone Wolf and Bob, by Ken Hite, Doria, and Schmitt. Starting from sound-play with the title of the seminal series, the strip gave us the premise (without explanation) of a 16th Century ronin traveling in the cab of a contemporary semi driven by a tough trucker. In their brief career, they meet ninjas, a rival samurai clan, and an alien, coming out on top by a combination a eastern and western ass-kicking tactics. It was full of rollicking action and some surprisingly dry humor. Here's a sample joke, after Bob shotguns some evil samurai to help Lone Wolf out:

Overall, the books haven't aged extremely well: while the writing is sometimes inspired, it is often merely shocking for its own sake and generally undisciplined. The art demonstrated promise and potential, but occasionally careers into crappiness, and little details (like the lettering!) are often amateurish. In point of fact, there probably weren't a whole lot of resources available to Paisano Publishing (which I suspect was just Brunetti) and in that context, the books represent pretty good product. Check them out if you happen to run across any copies.

Note: Issue # 2 contains a house ad for issue #3, but I'm not sure it ever came out. The Great Comics Database Project has no listing at all.

Vote Now!

The People's 50 million Lottery Giveaway - 4 very worthy causes, including a local one, but there can only be one winner. Here's the countdown -

6th December:
Black Country as an Urban Park, supported by Toyah Willcox (11.05–11.20pm, ITV1)

7th December:
A recap of all four projects by their celebrity supporters (11.05–11.20pm, ITV1)

7-10th December:
Time to vote; voting closes 12pm on 10th December.

You will need to register in order to vote.

Conference Update

Journeys of Expression VII - Celebrating the Edges of the World: Tourism and Festivals of the Coast and Sea will be held 29th Feb-1st March 08 at University of Iceland, Reykjavík. Abstracts required by 14th December 2007 more...

Football & Television is a free event sponsored and supported by Coventry & Warwickshire 2012 Partnership and the BBC, to be held at Coventry University on 24th Jan 08. Admission is free, email Dr Simon Chadwick.

Call for Papers: Community, Capital and Cultures:Leisure and Regeneration as Cultural Practice for conference taking place 8-10th July 08 at Liverpool John Moores University. Deadline for abstracts - 15th Jan 08 more...

Call for Papers: The University of Savoie at Chambéry will be hosting their 4th research conference on leisure and tourism marketing with a specific focus on mountain tourism, 6th June 08, submissions by 10th March 08. Email me for further details.

Travel to another world...

Second Life is an internet-based 3-D virtual world; increasingly popular, around 10 million accounts have been opened since its launch in 2003. The possibilities this brings to the travel and tourism industry are huge and already, Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) are beginning to jump on the bandwagon and creating virtual destinations. Netherlands Tourism recently opened a national tourism board in Second Life, providing visitors with the chance to become part of an interactive community. Earlier this year, the city of Galveston launched a virtual replica of itself in Second Life. And recently, Tourism Ireland launched the world's first tourism marketing campaign in Second Life. As part of this, Tourism Ireland sponsored a range of events and activities, including concerts, fashion shows, and photographic exhibitions, in Second Life's replica city of Dublin. See full article...

Twelve-step review: Samurai: Heaven and Earth

Samurai: Heaven and Earth
by Ron Marz, Luke Ross, Jason Keith, and Dave Lanphear
Dark Horse: 2006

1. Shiro, a samurai in 1704 Japan, loses his beloved Yoshi during the final battle between his master and Chinese warlord. Finding she has been abducted, he follows her trail first to China, and then westward along the Silk Road, eventually finding her in France, at Versailles, in the Court of Louis XIV. Adventures, of course, ensue as he attempts to reunite with her.

2. Yojimbo Meets the Three Musketeers is such an inherently cool high concept that I can forgive the historical inaccuracy of placing the story eighty years after the heyday of Dumas's heroes, one Louis later, and yet still featuring the famous quartet.

3. While the French swordsmen are not named, in dialog and affect they are clearly Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan. It is actually my third-favorite realization of the characters, after Dumas's own and the 1973 Richard Lester film.

4. Ron Marz's script is engaging, merging classic tropes and fresh ideas seamlessly. His dialog varies between old-movie formality (not a bad thing) and real-sounding naturalism a little less smoothly, however.

5. One small sticking point in the story is Shiro's preternatural ability to learn languages, which is never adequately addressed or given background. We just have to accept it, and since the story won't work unless the protagonist can speak French, we sort of just do.

6. A bigger flaw in the plot is the apparent maintenance of Yoshi's virtue throughout her abduction. We know she is not a virgin even at the beginning of the story, so the "keeping her unsullied to maintain her high value" trope is out; without it, it would be hard to imagine her not being sexually abused, given her circumstances, no matter how "disagreeable" she is to her captors. And since the love between Yoshi and Shiro is what drives him to cross Heaven and Earth for her, it's hard to imagine this aspect would not come up, but the book basically asks us to ignore it. And, once again, in the moment, we sort of just do.

7. Luke Ross's art is just gorgeous: his set pieces, landscapes, and establishing shots are are like museum-quality oil paintings, but he's not afraid to get "comicky" and use technique to advance the story. His attention to detail might be responsible for sucking some of the dynamism out of his action sequences at times. Jason Keith's colors are wonderfully rich and textured and complement the graphics nicely.

8. One technique that Ross used involved a two-page sequence combining one large, borderless image that establishes the action with a couple dozen small panels that shows its progress. Oddly, he uses this format twice: once to depict Shiro and Yoshi making love, and once for a bloody battle. I found the juxtaposition jarring, but I don't know if it was deliberate or if I would even have noticed had I read monthly magazines rather than a collection. (Another unintended consequence in the shift away from serial narrative.)

9. Ross also occasionally uses that photshoppy blurring business I have been seeing in comics lately. Maybe I'm just a geezer, but I don't like it much.

10. The collection features several pin-ups, in styles from cartoony to faux-Japanese print. I liked them, but wanted to see more other characters besides Shiro.

11. The other special feature was a sketchbook, which includes some unused cover designs. I found this section particularly instructive.

12. Volume Two of Samurai: Heaven and Earth follows Shiro to North Africa to confront the slave trader who abducted Yoshi (and some other no-goods, I am sure). I'm certainly going to pick it up.

Latest Issue

Contents include:
  • The evaluation of tourism journals: a quality model
  • Adapting the TSA to measure the economic importance of the meetings industry
  • Trends in outbound group package tours in China & Taiwan
  • Benchmarking destinations via DMO websites
  • State tourism funding
  • The image of central Asia countries
...plus book reviews.

(Ingenta Journals via Athens)

Conference : The Economics of Tourism

On 18th December 07, The Christel DeHaan Tourism and Travel Research Institute will host a one-day conference on The Economics of Tourism. The programme will include Modelling the economic impact of tourism, Tourism and economic development and Forecasting tourism demand. To find out more click here or register.

The latest issue includes the following articles:
  • Towards a theory of e-learning - experiential learning
  • Approaches to studying in HE sports students
  • Part-time work and postgraduate students
  • Hospitality and tourism students' part-time employment
  • In search of postgrad learning styles in tourism & hospitality education
  • Facilitating reflective learning journeys in sport co-operative education


Touching the Void

Simon Yates is one of the two mountaineers who undertook the climb in the Peruvian Andes in 1985 which nearly killed them both. They lived to tell the tale, the result being a book 'Touching the Void' (911.852 SIM) and an award-winning documentary film; Yates will now be giving a lecture on his mountaineering experiences spanning 20 years, at the newly opened Town Hall in Birmingham, next week more...

By definition

One of the trickier intellectual challenges surrounding the study of comics is coming up with a definition of what "comics" is. On the one hand, creating a definition may be an empty enterprise; it could be said that poetry and prose get their share of analysis without anyone needing to pin down a universally accepted definition of either. On the other hand, as more scholarly study of comics is conducted and colleges and universities have to decide which programs will focus on the research and offer the classes and degree programs &c., a definition - particularly one that addresses the literary/artistic divide - might be useful.

Several candidates vie for our attention, Scott McCloud's "sequential art" proposition (after Eisner) and Robert Harvey's "juncture of word and image" articulation among the foremost. An argument is leveled against the first as being too broad (is the Bayeaux Tapestry really comics?) and the second as being too narrow (is there really no such thing as a wordless comic?). In the blogosphere, Eddie Campell has jumped in, and Patrick Lewandowski, each offering definitions that
to my mind are less rigorous and useful than idiosyncratic and interesting.

On the academic front, Greg Hayman and Henry John Pratt offered a comprehensive definition
("x is a comic iff x is a sequence of discrete, juxtaposed pictures that comprise a narrative, either in their own right or when combined with text") in their article "What Are Comics?" (which I haven't read); this definition was deconstructed by Aaron Meskin in his forthcoming article "Defining Comics?", in which he decides that the effort of definition is not worth the trouble.

And of course, there's Neil Cohn's Visual Language Theory, which, since it rises from a psycholinguistic frame rather than an aesthetic, will need a great deal more clinical research to establish its usefulness.

There are others I am not naming; my intent is not a full inventory but just a sketch of the terrain. I also offer no Unified Field Theory of my own; I confess that I am here to muddy the waters further. My impetus comes from perhaps an unusual source: children's literature.

I am not going to revisit the problematic "are children's picture books comics?" question; my question is, I think, deeper and applicable to more creators and creations in the comics world. The question has its origin in a mention to me last Friday by one of our campus librarians of this new acquisition:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press: 2007

The librarian knows my interest in comics, and thought that I would be intrigued by the book. It tells the story of a resourceful orphan boy, living in a Paris train station, who gets involved in a series of adventures while he reconstructs a clockwork man that is somehow related to the pioneering filmmaker Georges Melies. She told me that the story was part prose, part illustration, and that the illustrations actually advance the story and are essential, not extra, to the overall narrative. She mentioned a dilemma inside Library-land: that everyone loves the book, but no one is sure whether it should be nominated for a Newberry Medal (for literature for children) or for a Caldecott Medal (for picture books). Of course, I was intrigued, checked the book out, and read it this weekend.

First of all, it's a great book; the story is compelling and real and the characters are engaging and complex, no matter how old you are.

It's also a hefty book: over 500 pages. I think it's aimed at the same crowd that reads about that Potter fellow.

But here's the rub: about 300 of those 500 pages are (imho) comics. There are no panels or word balloons in sight; these are wordless comics, to be sure, and each two-page spread is one image. There is, however, the definite control of the narrative through sequenced images, and the actualization of McCloud's "choices" - of moment, frame, and image - is very much in evidence.

The other pages? Straight prose.

How do these work together? Let me illustrate by example:

Page 205 ends this way:

Hugo stopped short and stared at her.
"I don't know anything about you," she said. "You know where I live, you know about my parents. If we're going to be friends, then I think I should know about you. Why won't you tell me?"

Suddenly, Hugo started to run.

"Hugo!" she yelled. "Stop! Wait for me!"

The next text appears on page 222, and begins:

Hugo helped Isabelle to her feet, but he couldn't stop staring at the key. Isabelle noticed and tucked it back in her dress.

Doesn't make much sense. does it? It does if you insert these panels in between:

1: Train station lobby, full of people; Hugo is to the left of the panel, running away from Isabelle, who is right center.
2: Closer image of Isabelle crashing into a hatted man; they both lose their balance.
3. Isabelle, looking scared, falls backwards; a small key on a chain around her neck swings out.

4. A close-up of Hugo's face, looking toward the right, shocked.

5. Near repeat of panel 1; this time, Hugo is running toward Isabelle, who is on the floor.

6. Close-up of Hugo's hand as he offers it to Isabelle.
7. Isabelle reaching up to take Hugo's hand; the key hangs around her neck.

8. Close-up of the key on its chain; it has a distinctive heart shape, and a clever reader may have seen the keyhole already!

Wow! What do we do with this? The whole book is like this: some sequences are presented as wordless comics and some as straight prose. If you just took the text bits, you would have an incoherent story; if you just took the illustrations, the result would be the same. It's not a comic book; it's a book-comic! I have to wonder why Selznick took this path, and what his creative processes were like: how did he choose which instances to illustrate and which to write?

The author is not much help in figuring out the work. On the official website, he says that the book is "
not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things." Maybe it really is a new, hybrid form, but the illustrated sections are definitely comics in even a narrow sense of the term, employing the techniques that we commonly associate with the form.

So, the question: do we shelve it in the literature section or the art section or the graphic book section? Or does it matter?

Non-web resources:

McCloud, Scott.
Making Comics (Harper Collins: 2006)
McCloud, Scott.
Understanding Comics (Harper Collins: 1993)
Varnum, Robert and Christina T. Gibbons, eds.
The Language of Comics (University Press of Mississippi: 2001)

Dark Tourism - KZ

The KZ DVD can now be found on the Multimedia shelf at 940.53 SHO. There are extra copies, please ask counter staff. As always, these can be viewed in the Library with earphones which can be collected from the counter.
Watch the trailer...

** Developing Excellent Cultural Destinations **

The IV European Cultural Tourism Network Conference will take place in Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain) from 22-24th November 2007. The aim of this event is to exchange experiences on the development of European Cultural Tourism, to learn about the management of cultural tourism destinations in Europe and to develop a project to pilot a cultural tourism destination management model, which can be submitted for European Funding more...

Book report

Soon I Will Be Invincible

by Austin Grossman
Pantheon Books: 2007

I have been trying to carve out time to read more "proper books" lately. As a teacher of rhetoric, what I mostly read are student papers, and I have been feeling a need for more finished prose. In between academic articles, I have been reading some popular fiction and literature, and in the middle of that lot was Austin Grossman's superhero novel.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, Grossman is a clearly capable writer: he balances plot and character development nicely, and the book moves along briskly. He has a deft hand with description, even detailing the costumes various heroes and villains wear without sounding silly, and he handles shifting points of view well - the book is narrated in alternate chapters by the villain Dr. Impossible and the hero Fatale - giving the book a strong voice in either case. He even narrates in the present tense without getting tiresome.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what this book is. Is it a serious literary novel using the conventions and tropes of superhero fiction? Well, sometimes it seems so, with Dr. Impossible musing at length on the ebb and flow of power and control and the nature of identity, but then it winks at the reader and gets a bit campy and too self-aware. Is it an attempt to write a realistic superhero story? Maybe, but the plot doesn't require all that much less suspension of disbelief than your typical Haneygram, however much naturalistic dialogue is grafted on. Is it just disguised fanfic, better-written and promoted? I don't think so, but sometimes it is tempting to think oh, that's Batman and Wonder Woman making out and if those are the Avengers, then those guys must be the Justice League and so on.

Overall, I got the impression that if the book were read by someone not already steeped in the superhero tradition, it would be too outre to make much of an impression, and if were read by someone familiar with the spandex set, it wouldn't contain enough new insights or treatments to be exceptional or even unusual.

I guess I enjoyed it, but I'm still not sure why.

Bonus review preview, How the heck did I miss this? Department:

I picked up a copy of Samurai: Heaven and Earth Volume 1 today.

A ronin versus the Three Musketeers? All four of them!?

How did this slip by me for over a year?

I've only given it a quick read so far, but I like what I've seen. More soon.

Focus on...Pro-Poor Tourism

Pro-poor tourism is a term which refers to tourism that is positively working towards poverty reduction by strengthening links between the tourism industry and local poor people such as craft stall holders, fruit pickers or taxi-drivers. There are a number of organisations who aim to promote pro-poor tourism, here are a few:

ODI is Britain's leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. Their aim is to inspire and inform policy and practice in pro-poor issues. The section on their website dedicated to tourism includes events and resources which has briefing papers, guides and toolkits, and working, journal and project papers. Details of their current projects are also available.

The ID21 website has also produced some useful research articles which are published online in their newsletter 'Insights'.

The Pro-Poor Tourism Partnership website also provides up-to-date information in this area with a range of resources including publications and working papers. You may also choose to sign up to their newsletter.

A new book by Hall entitled 'Pro-Poor Tourism' should soon be available in the Library, with an online version via EBLibrary. A special issue of 'Current Issues in Tourism' via Multilingual Matters (on campus only), includes articles that may be useful.

Where can I find...? Host-Guest Relationships

If you are currently researching the host-guest relationship, you will find many relevant resources and to help you along, I've listed some of them here. In the Library, useful titles include:
  • Tourism: economic physical and social impacts (911.22 MAT)
  • World tourism leaders meeting on the social impacts of tourism (911.92599 WTO)
  • The economic impact of tourism (911 TOU)
  • Hosts and Guests (911.301 SMI)
Similarly, there is a plenty of information to be found online; if you're after journal articles, Sciencedirect, Emerald and Sage will give good results. And don't forget ebooks - ' Economics of tourism destinations', 'Tourism area life cycle' and 'Tourism, globalisation and cultural change' which looks at how tourism can change a host community, can be read online at EBLibrary.

A good illustration of Doxey's Irridex model is given here and an article entitled 'A Framework for Monitoring Community Impacts of Tourism' (Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1997, vol. 5, no. 1) which can be accessed in Multilingual Matters (articles accessible on-campus only, no login required). Please remember, I haven't included every possible source, but hopefully this'll be a start.

I read stuff

Wow, this might explain why I am behind on reading student papers: I've picked up a bit of stuff over the past week or so and have actually been reading stuff!

First of all, I finally got my hands on a copy of the Fletcher Hanks collection I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! This thing is even more of a mind-blower than I thought it was going to be. None of the work in it (with the exception of the expository strip by editor Paul Karasik) can be called good in any sense of the word: the plots of these Golden Age stories (from the sci-fi, jungle girl, and tough-guy adventure genres) are fantastic and implausible, the characters are mere stereotypes and collections of cliches, and the art demonstrates an imaginative grasp of human anatomy.

And yet - and yet there is something grand about these stories; something sets them apart from the mediocre and the mundane. It might be the energy of Hanks's art, compelling in its gusto and harshness and in the grandeur and ugliness of the figures; it might be the sheer bravado and scope of his melodrama, defying you to suspend disbelief for the frankly unbelievable and the unaccountably bizarre. Whatever they are, these comics are not ordinary, and do not fail for lack of brio.

I can't honestly say I expect anyone to enjoy reading these, but I am glad I had the chance to.

In a bit more traditional vein (and only a dada convention could be less traditional than Hanks) comes this offering from Steve Rude:

The Moth
Gary Martin & Steve Rude
Dark Horse/Rocket Comics, 2005

This collection presents five issues’ (and some additional material’s) worth of adventures of the Rude-created bounty hunter/sort-of super-hero, The Moth. By all rights, I should love this comic; it’s got so many great elements: a pulp-style mystery man who is actually a circus manager/performer, a sexy bearded lady, a bald strongman in a leopard-skin loincloth, African were-lions, Chinese acrobat jewel thieves, and a pistol-packing, star-spangled aviator named Amercian Liberty who is both a commercial spokesmodel and an FBI operative. Wow.

Unfortunately, Gary Martin’s scripts, while presenting competent plots and conflicts, seem to stop dead for exposition every now and again, totally throwing off the rhythm of the stories so we can hear Who He Is and How He Came To Be. The comic relief seems equally disruptive - the stories either take a break so the hero can get shit on him (literally) or detour to spend some time with the least funny collection of circus clowns that have ever seen print. I know this collection covers the very beginnings of the series and there s a lot of information to get across; I just wish the backstory and character bits had been incorporated a little more smoothly.

Luckily, Steve Rude’s art makes up for any shortcomings of the script. He seems to be channeling the raw power of Kirby, adding some Ditko bounce, and drawing it all like the master draughtsman that he is. His character designs are exquisite, and his action scenes practically jump off the page.

While I can t recommend it unreservedly, this book was a solid read; if you liked Dave Stevens’s Rocketeeer stories, there are probably enough chills and spills in The Moth to make you happy.

There's a phenomenon I have noticed: TV shows that aren't quite the same thing as their more famous inspirations, but rather a more lightweight treatment of same same themes in the same genre. The success of Star Wars begat Battlestar Galactica; Raiders of the Lost Ark gave us Tales of the Gold Monkey, and long ago, The Three Musketeers with Oliver Reed spawned Panache with Rene Auberjunois. Even when the heritage is more direct, the TV show seems a pale imitation: Stargate SG-1 is no Stargate.

In some ways, that also-ran vibe attaches to this comic, yet I like it a lot:

The Perhapanauts: First Blood

Todd Dezago & Craig Rousseau
Dark Horse Comics, 2006

This trade collects the first four adventures of the Bureau of ExtraDimensional Liabilties and Management's Blue Team: the leader Arisa, a telepath/telekinetic; Molly, a ghost; MG, an interdimensional traveler; Bigfoot (yeah, the Bigfoot); and Choopie, a chupacabra. The agents are dispatched to scenes of paranormal trouble (sort like in an X-files MotW episode) and try to protect the fabric of our reality from rips and the creatures who find their way through them.

You might be forgiven if you are reminded of Hellboy and the BPRD. Although haven’t been devoted follower of Earth-Mignola, I sure get the sense that if Hellboy was the big-screen blockbuster, Perhapanauts is the TV series that airs on the sci-fi network on Saturdays at midnight. This is not just a case of post hoc, propter hoc, either; the world of BEDLAM seems derivative, in theme and mood, of the Hellboy universe, and the characters are similar, but a bit sketchy and formulaic, and a little too contrived.

This feeling is made harder to shake by Craig Rousseau's art, which seems very evocative of Mignola in character design and some compositions, but without the use of heavy blacks. And although this similarity is there, there is none of the idiosyncratic style in architecture and artifacts that marks Mignola's work; Rouseau's world has a more generic comic book look. Nonetheless, he does a good job with both fight scenes and the quieter moments, and I can't really fault the art.

Todd Dezago provides some exciting action, dropping us "In Media Res" (the title of the first story) and filling us in on the cast with integrated (if still obvious) exposition that barely slows the plot at all. The menaces that the team faces are clever, and the relationships among the agents are falling nicely into place.

While nothing in the book struck me as genius, or groundbreaking, or breathtaking, I had a great time anyway. The adventures are fun, the good guys are good, and there's no gratuitous violence or T&A. It's solid genre entertainment. If this were a series, I would even stay up late to watch it.

News - Visitor Attractions

A visitor survey by BDRC, based on the views of 1,000 respondents has found that nearly half of adults living in London and the South East plan to visit a museum in the next three months. It also found that 42% planned to visit an historic property and 40% a public garden. A further 38% planned to go to a zoo or safari park and 35% to a theme park. Alton Towers was voted the most popular visitor attraction, with the London Eye and London Zoo in second and third place respectively. Advertising posters at train and underground stations or at the roadside were considered particularly effective for generating awareness of tourist attractions.

A new exhibit, the Bournville Experience is now open at Cadbury World; visitors will be able to create an imaginary, computer-generated town based on the founder’s values, and design new packaging for Cadbury’s Flake and Milk Tray chocolate products.

For more news on attractions:
Leisure Opportunities
Attractions Management

Trailer Reel/PSA/Clip Show

Well, I can quibble all I want about how late is late, and whether this post counts as last week’s or this week’s or next week’s, but the unavoidable fact is I missed a week. I think consistency is an important characteristic of a blog, and even though I set the bar for myself pretty darn low, it is irksome when I don't meet it. (On the other hand, RAB posts only sporadically on Estoreal, and I think he has one of the finest blogs going, so go figure.)

I think part of the problem is an identity issue (not to be confused with an Identity Crisis). I still haven’t decided what I really want to do here. I do know for sure what’s not on the list: I don’t want snark or irony or smug hipness (hip smugness?) to be what this blog is about. I think from the beginning , I wanted to stake out the territory articulated by our dear pal Squirrel Girl here:

At its best, this approach is fun; at its worst, it turns into wallowing in nostalgia and yelling at those kids to get off your lawn. (For some of the best, check out the Keeper in the Fortress of Fortitude.) There’s charm in looking back at old school features like Cap’s Hobby Shop

…and wondering what it says about how the audience for comics and their place in our broader popular culture have changed. (It's also just fun to wonder why they were called “Turkish Towels” and if anyone still calls them that and whether this cunning plan merely delays the dripping until the towels become saturated, but that’s a horse of a different color.)

Sometimes I worry about merely living in the past, however, and I want to talk about new and exciting comics, especially the ones that aren't trying to be The Sopranos in spandex. Things like the American launch of The Ninety-nine

… the Islamic-themed superhero adventure series (which has potential) from Teshkeel Comics. That would be fun to do, but I am so slow on the draw that most people will have already read the comic and several reviews before I get around to posting about it. And my new and evolving policy of waiting for the trades (notice that The 99 preview was free) gets in the way of this plan as well.

I am also interested, particularly in light of my the recent additions to my prose library (and you can add Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman to that list), in exploring the connections between traditional literature and comics. For example, this excerpt from Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

…led me right to these images from the Grand Comic Book Database

..and to the knowledge that first title actually pre-dates Bryson’s comic reading heyday, making me wonder if he actually remembers it from reading back issues or if he inserted it into the narrative after some research.

I guess what it comes down to, in the end, is time. We all only have so much of it, and we have to choose carefully what we spend it on. With my new full-time faculty position, I am still sorting out just how much time I have available to me; on top of that, I would be wise to devote some, if not most, of my comics-related writing energy to scholarly articles, the kind of stuff I might present somewhere like this conference, and I doubt that stuff would make compelling blog reading, at least not in this context. But in another – maybe. And that possibility is there.

So, this has turned into a kind of apology for erratic posting, a self-exploration of motives, a plug for some other blogs, and fair warning that there might be some major changes coming down the pike.

Thank you. We now return you to your regular programming.

Visitbritain's Sustainable Tourism Workshop

Visitbritain's Fit for the Future - Sustainable Tourism Workshop will take place on 27th November 2007 at London Zoo. The practical workshop will consider how the countryside, coast and natural aspects of the British product can be sensitively developed and promoted. It will look at changing consumer attitudes, communicating key messages and new practices, businesses and perspectives. Strong emphasis will be placed on practical recommendations and case studies to ensure that tourism benefits local communities and encourages sustainable businesses.

Book now...

A new edition of the Internet for Leisure, Sport and Recreation online tutorial has been released in the Intute: Virtual Training Suite. The tutorial, which teaches Internet research skills, has been completely updated and revised.

The tutorial recommends key Internet resources for students of these subjects; offers advice on Internet searching and website evaluation. Includes a new section called "Success Stories" to illustrate how the Internet can be used to support education and research in a variety of scenarios.
Today, it's Blog Action Day and bloggers everywhere have been asked to join in by posting on an issue related to the environment. We're getting better at recycling paper and glass, what about things like your old sofa, CDs or mobile phone? In a two-part series, The Sunday Times (InGear section) published a useful guide recently. In the first issue, learn how useful your old mobile could be to someone else. For example, did you know it could be reconfigured to dial 999 only and issued to victims of domestic violence? Or that it could help to raise money for a designated charity? In the second part of the series, a charity which donates your unwanted goods to homeless people is mentioned (how great is that?) and if you have just finished decorating and have bits (of paper) and bobs (of paint) left over, donate it to community groups, charities and schools. Ideas for many more items can be found at these links, so get recycling!

On a more serious note regarding climate change, some may argue it is just hype - have a look at these pictures and you can decide for yourself...

Early or late?

Thursday may seen like an early next-weekend entry, but really it's a late last-weekend entry. Social life and work life have combined to keep me pretty well occupied since last time I was here, but I'm not dead.

I finally got a copy of Architecture and Mortality and I must say I enjoyed it immensely. Cliff Chiang's artwork was nothing short of wonderful - he has a dynamism that borders on the cartoony (for want of a better word) yet can handle nuance of expression and dramatic composition as well (and the beautiful people - like Traci 13 and Captain Fear - looked beautiful).

Brain Azzarello's story used cleverness and brio to overcome the tendency of meta-narrative toward turgidity - in other words, it was fun! I loved seeing all these obscure characters - some quite dear to my heart - running through their paces, I got most of the in-jokes (I think), and I enjoyed the slapstick (I almost felt sorry for Dr. 13, but then I remembered that he really was a prick a lot of the time).

A pal suggested that the story might have worked better as initially presented: short back-up features, where the bits of humor could be discovered like jewels, each one a surprise. At first, I agreed with him, but on second and third readings, I felt that with a few small flaws, A&M works very well as unified piece. Of course, the sheer amount of intertextuality in the piece and the immense background knowledge of conventions, tropes, and facts necessary to understand it render all but inaccessible to anyone who isn't a long time comics reader, sort of like some of the short fiction the Baker Street Irregulars put out from time to time or a collection of Dickensian puns.

Anyway, I liked it, and of course I would get the next Team 13 book, if ever there is one.

The same aforementioned pal has lent me his DVD collection of the George Reeves Superman television series, and my Delightful Companion has been encountering them for the first time (as opposed to my nostalgia-wallow every time she puts one on). She really digs them for their period charm, corniness, and comforting predictability. Upon rediscovering them, I realized two things:

George Reeves was a heck of an actor and did a great job in this series. His death was tragic in many ways, and if there is any justice in the multiverse, the Earth-2 George had a long and productive career.


Phyllis Coates was hot! Tough and no-nonsense, she would have made a great Hildy Johnson or Sarah Connor.

As hokey as these episodes can be, catch them if you get a chance; they are worth another look. Get a pal to lend them to you.

New Issue - Current Issues in Tourism -

Access through Multilingual Matters (fulltext available on campus only). Recent contents include:

  • Community Based Toursim in Namibia: 'reality show' or 'window dressing'?
  • Methodology Influences on Destination Image: the case of Michigan
  • Tourism & Hotel Development in China: from political to economic success
  • An Examination of Destination Resort Research
  • Sustainable Tourism and Policy Implementation: lessons from Calvia, Spain
  • Pilgrimage and the Environment
  • VFR Travel

Archive available...

Backpacker Mobilities? ATLAS Conference

The ATLAS Backpacker Research Group are organising a conference on backpacker tourism from 26-28th March 2008. It will be held at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla in India and are now calling for papers on the following themes:

  • The rituals of preparation for backpacker travel
  • Relationships between work and leisure
  • Issues of gender, race, ethnicity and class
  • Issues of food and drink
  • Emotional geographies
  • Sub-cultural fashions in backpacking
  • community contact and host-guest relationships
  • Policy and planning dilemmas
  • The return home and the influence on traveller's life course
  • Change of backpacker phenomenon over time
  • Alternative methodologies
For more info and registration...

Happy returns

There is no insightful commentary or deep analysis or pungent wit this week (not that those are normal anyway, but this time I have a reason) because my Delightful Companion threw me a surprise birthday party (and man, was she sneaky about it). Since this celebrated my attaining the half-century mark, she decided to do it up with dignity and decorum, and the whole thing had a superhero theme!

All the guests came in costume; DC led the way as Force of Nature, inspired by the Layla character in Sky High.

Other guests included Celtic Power Girl, Spawn of Hellboy, Crowella, Social Justice Man, Mighty Pretzel Woman, and the super-team of Electro & Cute (get it?). My friends aren't terribly comics-savvy.

In addition to six huge bottles of Russian lager (and that'll lose a weekend PDQ) my thoughtful guests also gifted me with the following books:

The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios (Gotham Books)

A "scintillating survey of superpowers" that attempts to explain how (and if) super-feats could actually work. Here's a feature and interview from Newsarama.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson (Broadway Books)

Bryson is the best and funniest non-fiction writer I know, and while this memoir of growing up in the fifties is only incidentally about comics, I am sure this book is hilarious and engaging. Here's a review from Powell's City of Books.

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden (Harper Collins)

This book is only tangentially related to superheroics, but it's got codes and ciphers, plans to build a treehouse, instructions for making a battery out of coins, the seven wonders of the world, a Navajo code-talkers dictionary, and "Extraordinary Stories" about arctic explorers and such. I'll bet Grant Morrison has a copy. Here's a little HC-sponsored piece on Neatorama.

But the wildest of all gifts was this:

That's right: it's a vegetable peeler designed like a monkey. A shiny orange monkey.

I have no idea what this means. But he reminds me of Cryll or Zook or someone like that, so we'll let it slide.