There's no place like home...

Spring is in the air and thoughts are turning to the summer and perhaps a holiday. But rather than travel abroad this year, how about a holiday right here in the UK? According to Tom Wright, chief executive of VisitBritain, 80% of the the travel industry in the UK is created by domestic tourism. However, a recent survey by Travelodge of 2,000 adults showed large numbers of people in the the South who have never ventured North for a holiday, and vice-versa. And they're missing out on such wonders as the Lake District, the Eden Project, Warwick Castle, the Loch Ness monster (or perhaps not!). Not to mention our very own European Capital of Culture - Liverpool of course.

“These distinctions [between north and south], whether factual or perceptual, do exist" says Richard Sharpley, professor of tourism at UCL, "[But] they should be celebrated by Brits and I would urge people to travel further afield in the UK to enjoy them.” (Sunday Times, 24.01.08).

Journals - latest issues

JOHLSTE is available free online; latest contents include articles on the theory of e-learning, postgrad students who work part-time, as well as hospitality and tourism students' part-time employment, and postgrad learning styles. The Journal of Heritage Tourism, available via Multilingual Matters, has had a recent special edition looking at managing world heritage sites, developing community-based tourism, heritage and wilderness preservation and the development of the Ecomuseum in Vietnam. Also available in Multilingual Matters, is the Journal of Sustainable Tourism; click here to view contents. Remember, all subscription journals in Multilingual Matters can be accessed on campus only.

ps. Channel Vew Publications, at Multilingual Matters, are calling for papers for the Journal of International Volunteer Tourism and Social Development - a new journal to be available next year.

Promotional interlude

Well, I still haven't had much time for reading or any real writing - I just yesterday managed to pick up Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume One, but aside from flipping through it and briefly grooving on the psychedelic Sekowsky artwork and ultra-mod O'Neil scripts, I haven't been able to really dive into it. Nonetheless, there are a few news items to share!

Sort-of comics

The New Frontier DVD is coming out soon and I was contacted by M80, the outfit that is promoting this for Warner, and asked to spread the word. Not much of a stretch, since the comic itself is one of my favorites, especially since it features a lot of cool J'onn Jo'nzz action. Here's the official line on the film:

Justice League / The New Frontier
Inspired by the best-selling graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke and produced by the multiple Emmy® award winning animation legend, Bruce Timm, The New Frontier is the epic tale of the founding of the Justice League. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are all here of course, and so are Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Flash - whose incredible origins will be told for the very first time. Strangers at first, these very different heroes must overcome fear and suspicion to forge an alliance against a monster so formidable, even the mighty Superman can not stop it. If they fail, our entire planet will be “cleansed” of humanity.

I find it interesting that the movie is being touted as a "Justice League" movie, although I expect that this is both an attempt to connect to the general public and a bit of a lead-in to the upcoming(?) live-action movie. It also might just be an attempt to counter the pretty heavy nostalgia factor of the book and connect to a wider comics audience as well. A fellow comics fan, a generation younger than me, liked New Frontier, but didn't appreciate it as much as I did; he was a bit puzzled by what he called "all the Green Lantern love" that it contained. In any case, I'm looking forward to the DVD, if for nothing else besides the animated version of one of the best characterizations of Wonder Woman ever:

If I get a preview DVD, I'll have a little premiere party and let you know what a cross-section of folks say. And if you want more info now, check out the official New Frontier website.

Not comics at all, really

A pal of mine, Yojimbo 5, has launched a new movie review blog, Let's Not Talk About Movies. Yojimbo is a good friend of this site and no comics slouch himself, so if you're in the mood for some thoughtful commentary on movies old or new, head over there. Hey, I'll bet I can get him to review The New Frontier...

Comics scholarship

It has been a pretty busy year in the classroom: in addition to a new tenure-track position at a local community college, I have been working out a prior contract as associate faculty at a local university, so I essentially have been teaching an overload all the time. As a present to myself, Spring will be my All-Comics Quarter.

At the university, I am teaching Comics and Graphic Novels: Literary Technique in Sequential Art, a class that I have been developing for about a year. Here's the course description:

Comics in America represent a long history of artistic experimentation and expression in their development from escapist newspaper comic strips to contemporary graphic novels addressing complex themes. As it evolved, the form has developed a rich repertoire of conventions and techniques for story-telling. In this course, students will become familiar with the formal literary qualities present in comics as well as the semiotic principles immanent in pictorial narratives. Students will be able to identify and understand the structure and application of elements such as panel arrangement and design for pacing and mood; “camera angles” as expressions of time, space, and emotion; word balloon and caption types and their particular uses; sound effects and other out-of-balloon texts; narrative arcs/traditional themes; and common script preparation processes. The course is not an art class in the traditional sense of learning drawing techniques, anatomy, or perspective; rather, it explores the requirements, expectations, and particular strengths and weaknesses of the form.

We'll be reading Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics; The Language of Comics, a collection of academic essays; Paul Chadwick's Concrete (Volume 1: Depths); Jar of Fools by Jason Lutes; Kazu Kibuishi's Daisy Kutter; and the great Alison Bechtel's great Fun Home.

At the community college, I have two sections of Writing from Research (English 102); our general theme will be twentieth century popular culture and our model text will be Bradford Wright's Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. I also have a section of College Composition (English 101), so I decided to shoot the moon and use graphic books as the texts for that class, too: Maus, Palestine, Contract with God, and Persepolis.

I have used comics to a greater or lesser degree in my English classes several times before, but haven't yet had the chance to teach comics-as-literature, so this will be fun. If you're in the Seattle area and interested in details, let me know and I'll fill you in.

Next week: maybe I'll actually read a comic book!

Pirate vs. Ninja!

That's right - I said




One of the most proliferant memes on the internets, Pirate versus Ninja is high concept at its highest, a pop culture mash-up cum personality test that is more exciting than anything since the Captain Midnight-Spy Smasher crossover of 1943 and a heckuva lot more fun than a Myers-Briggs assessment.

And now, thanks to assiduous research a lucky Google hit, I believe I have uncovered the ur-document, the prime source, the unmoved mover of the whole megillah.

Unknown Soldier #254 - 256, August - Oct0ber 1981; DC Comics
Captain Fear by Dave Micheline, Walter Simonson, John Workman, and Carl Gafford.

Captain Fear was an 18th-century Pirate of the Caribbean with a twist. Beginning his career in Adventure Comics in 1973, he was a Carib Indian and leader of the indigenous people in the region who becomes a pirate and taunts and twits the Spanish hegemon much like Zorro in California (except that as an actual member of the oppressed people, instead of merely their champion, he gets to keep the booty for himself).

The good captain sailed around the periphery of the DC universe on a course so eccentric he was revived (with a distinctly Ricky Martin vibe) in Architecture & Morality along with other D-list characters representing The Obscure. Back in the summer of 1981, he had found a temporary home in the war title Unknown Soldier, competing for his six or seven pages with Dateline: Frontline (tales of a war correspondent) and miscellaneous non-serial fillers. His stories didn't even get titles, but this three-parter is significant for its ground-breaking theme.

A splash-page prelude establishes some sort of connection between the Battle of Sekigahara in Japan in 1600, the European War of Austrian Succession begun in 1741, and a 1748 confrontation between a Spanish warship and strangely unresponsive Dutch freighter. Fear and his crew of buccaneers interrupt the standoff, seizing the Spanish ship and taking the Dutch ship as their own prize.

Upon boarding the East India trading ship, they find the entire crew slain, by mysterious star-shaped weapons. Fear finds what he believes to be something of value - a scroll, apparently being guarded by a "yellow man." Fear takes the scroll and other booty and leaves a skeleton crew to guard the ship: sailors who are doomed, because the unseen assassin cuts them all down before revealing himself to the reader in this dramatic shot:

In the next installment, Fear takes the scroll, in the middle of the night, to the governor of the island of San Bastienne and, at swordpoint, forces the Spaniard to read it to him. (Why he didn't just find someone friendly is not explained - literacy must have been rare in those parts). The governor soon realizes the document is a "communique between dissident factions in Japan and the King of England" about a possible alliance. Realizing the value of the document in Europe, he offers to buy it from Fear, but their negotiations are interrupted by the ninja, who has tracked the scroll across the world for the Shogun and is sworn to retrieve it. What follows, is, of course, pirate versus ninja, presented here in all its muddy, mando-paper glory:

Ah, if only they had continued to fight until a clear winner was determined - the internets might have been spared so many pointless interesting arguments! But, alas, the governor's guards burst in at that moment, scattering the opponents.

The final chapter begins with two vessels, one piratical and one gubernatorial, moored together so Captain Fear and Governor Luis Castelone (who now has a name) can swap scroll for gold. Of course, the unscrupulous Spaniard attempts a double-cross, but Fear's life is saved - for the moment - by the ninja! Oh, how ironic!

It all goes south from there, as the governor's reinforcements arrive, Fear sets fire to the two ships with a pre-arranged booby-trap, and a melee breaks out in which the captain-san and the neen-ja find themselves on the same side. Oh, irony redux!

You can probably write the rest of this yourself: ninja is killed, Fear avenges his death by killing the governor, Fear gets his gold and leaves the scroll with the ninja on the burning ship, so the ninja can die having completed his mission for his master. Ah, the Bronze Age.

So, there you have it, perhaps the original Pirate vs. Ninja: pre-YouTube, pre-internet, pre-COIE even.

And the world would never be the same.


1. The (clear) covers were skimmed from GCD, as usual. The (crappy) interior scans are from the actual comics, now in the LSB.
2. That whole story took eighteen pages - and that includes the beginning-of-chapter recaps!
3. The best sound effect in the story is not that "SLLLATCH" of a ninja sword slicing a Spanish sailor, but actually the "SHRATCHAFOOM" of a pitch-and-kerosene soaked frigate exploding into flame.
4. Now that I think of it, we see the ninja shot by a volley gun and left on a burning ship, but never actually get his death confirmed. Perhaps we underestimate... a ninja! Maybe there's an even more obscure character waiting to be revived, eh?

Marketing Birmingham

Marketing Birmingham is the destination marketing agency for Birmingham, a public-private partnership with 350 members and financed by Birmingham City Council. It is primarily aimed at the business community with the latest economic news, events and business ventures. Within the site, you may find the Marketing Toolbox particularly useful - contains a gallery with pictures of Birmingham (as you've never seen it), and videos; the Research Section has downloads such as STEAM, which measures the economic impact of leisure tourism in Birmingham. You will also find a Visitor Survey (a 2007 survey is promised) plus other statistical reports. Marketing Opportunities provides further useful links to related sites and the Tourism Matters page has additional statistics.
The IV International Student Conference - SMILE 08! will be taking place 17-19 April in Serbia. As always, it is specifically aimed at students to allow the exchange of ideas and knowledge; this year, the topic will be "Creating Changes in Sports, Tourism and Leisure". Or how about presenting a paper...?
Find out more...
NB. Click on "" and then on "smile" to access details of the 08 conference.

Reading an English translation of a French semiotic analysis of the medium of comics can be fun

I haven't posted this weekend because serious affairs of RL have intervened.

Here is a quotation from my latest bedside book, The System of Comics by Thierry Groensteen, translated by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen (University Press of Mississippi: 2007).

At the end of the day, what makes comics a language that cannot be confused with any other is, on the one hand, the simultaneous mobilization of the entirety of codes (visual and discursive) that constitute it, and, at the same time, the fact that none of these codes probably belongs purely to it, consequently specifying themselves when they apply to particular "subjects of expression," which is the drawing.

And that's just in the introduction! Sheesh!

Regular posting will hopefully resume soon.

International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research

This is a new journal now available in Emerald via Athens. Articles are available in fulltext from Jan 2007 onwards - the journal aims to provide "breadth, depth, provocation and passion in reporting the nuances of humans' lived experiences relating to culture, tourism and hospitality" (Emerald, 2007).
  • Tourist culture and behaviour
  • Marketing practices in tourism and hospitality, and how this relates to cultures
  • Consumer behaviour and trends in tourism and hospitality
  • Destination culture and destination marketing
  • International tourism and hospitality

Twelve-step review: The Phantom: Giovanna

After the Comixtravaganza last week, I met my sweetie for dinner and a stop at the nearby Value Village thrift store. As she was checking out, I found this comic in a box that otherwise held a few miscellaneous Archies. I bought it for thirty-two cents, including sales tax.

The Phantom #1358 (2003)
Writer, Ingebjorg Berg Holm; Illustrator, Dick Giordano
Frew Publications: Sydney Australia

1. While we have been moving though our superheroic ages here in the U.S. of A, from silver age silliness to grim 'n' gritty, with our variant covers and reboots and serial first issues, this publisher in Australia has been quietly publishing a Phantom comic book without interruption since September 9, 1948.

2. Who knew Dick Giordano, one of the grand masters of American comic book art, was still cranking out the comics? His work here, while nothing flashy, shows his consummate craftsmanship and a deep understanding of the form.

3. From the ancillary material in the comic and sources on the web, it is clear that Frew Publications is the keeper of the flame for the extensive mythology surrounding Lee Falk's character: references to the canon and attempts to reconcile the character's 400-year in-story continuity and sixty-year publishing history demonstrate a real respect for the source material.

4. This particular story is an adventure of the fourth Phantom in the early 17th century, read by the current Phantom to his twin children, Kit and Heloise (whom I think I have seen in the newspaper strip). I believe this is a common framing device in Phantom stories.

5. The main story, set in Rome, actually concerns intrigues within the Catholic Church. Plots, politics, betrayals, torture, and poisonings are all portrayed unapologetically as business-as-usual in The Vatican.

6. The Phantom gets involved in the story as he passes through Rome on a quest for his missing ring - the story of which appeared in the comic five years earlier, according to the editorial footnote.

Kit Walker rockin' the shades as his plainclothes disguise, seventeenth-century style.

7. The Phantom not only finds himself drawn into the intrigues that killed his associate Pedro, but he finds himself strangely attracted to Cardinal Giovanni, with whom he suspects Pedro was having an affair. Here's The Ghost Who Walks confronting his own sexual confusion:

Don't fight the feeling...

8. Well, the cardinal is actually a woman after all! Giovanna and Pedro, young lovers, joined a monastery together to avoid being separated, managing to keep her sex a secret. They remained in the church and canoodled their way through the holy orders. Rather, Giovanni rose; Pedro was a bit of a late-renaissance slacker, and remained a monk (although he still got to snuggle a cardinal) until he was accidentally killed in a murder attempt on Giovanni.

9. The Phantom gets dragged deeper into the machinations within the church, and eventually he and Giovanna have an affair. While it's made clear to the reader what's going on with them, the current Phantom describes their first sexual tryst to the children as "Hmm... They... ehh... they embraced each other... for a long time." You'd think that a couple of kids being raised in the jungle to take over the mantle of a legend could handle a little sex.

10. While The Phantom is off following a lead on his ring, Giovanna plots and murders her way into the papacy to prove to her lover that she is strong and capable enough to be his bride without hiding in Bengali. Her Machiavellian methods prove too much for The Phantom, and of course, it all comes to a bad end, but not before we get this totally surreal confrontation scene:

Wait, what?

11. The plot fulcrum for this story was based on the legend of Pope Joan, the apocryphal female pope of the ninth century, whose existence has been all but categorically disproved by historians, but who still holds a fascination for people: viz., this recent book and an upcoming movie with my own screen-crush Franka Potente.

12. In addition to the curiosity value of finding an Australian comic in a thrift store in Seattle and the serendipity of finding Giordano art inside, I was surprised at the relative maturity of the book. The sexual attraction between the characters, the cross-dressing and gender confusion, and the opportunistic and casual brutality of renaissance politics, not to mention the concern of the Church of Rome for matters of material wealth and power - all of these are portrayed frankly and openly, without any winks or nudges or hedging. I don't know who this Ingebjorg Holm is (and the internets didn't help any in finding out) but he she writes a better comics story than a lot of the high-profile prose writers they tout so strongly in the spandex circle. Update: see comments.

Bonus: I just have to say that Fun Home might be the best graphic novel that I have ever read. I just got a copy this week, and I don't know what took me so long. Sometimes I am an idiot. As soon as I read this, I added it the syllabus for my class next quarter, Comics and Graphic Novels: Literary Technique in Sequential Art.

Don't be an idiot, too. If you haven't read this yet, do it now.