Indiana Jones and the [Insert Your Own Geriatric Joke Here]

So George Lucas has announced that Indy 4 is set to begin filming next year. I can't help it - I'm excited about it. There's a lot of nerds out there convinced sight unseen that it will suck, and who can blame them? After the general suckitude of the Star Wars "Special Editions" and prequels, everyone's understandably a little gun-shy about George Lucas ressurrecting old franchises. "It's going to be fantastic," Lucas said. "It's going to be the best one yet." Fair enough, but I think he said the same thing about Attack of the Clones, didn't he?

Still, I can't help it. I can't wait to see this movie. Hell, I can't wait to see the trailer for this movie. Yes, I'm a big enough nerd that just sitting in a theater next Xmastime, watching the trailers and hearing the "Raiders March" is going to give me goosebumps. Can't help it. It comes with the territory of nerd-dom. This is the sort of thing that gets us excited. I'll admit it - I'm one of those nerds who paid good money to see the Freddie Prinze Jr. sci-fi/videogame epic Wing Commander just to see the Episode I teaser trailer. And that's not even the lowest I've sunk just to see a trailer.*

Of course, the trailer will be fun and make the movie look great. It's the movie itself, of course, that will be the real event. And I just don't think I can even describe the enormous goofy grin that will surely be on my face as the Paramount Logo dissolves into some other sort of mountain in the actual movie. Of course, I had just the same enormous goofy grin on my face back in 1999 when "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared on-screen at the beginning of Episode I, and look how that turned out.

Still, "Hopes High, Expectations Low," that's my motto. I hope it's great, every bit the equal of Raiders, or at the very least the equal of Last Crusade, and I'm excited about seeing it based on my hopes. But I don't expect much from it at all. If it meets my hopes, great. If it meets my expectations, too bad, but at least I'm not disappointed.



* To just what depths I've sunk, I don't think I can even admit.

Cat/Bird Seat

After several visits to my parents' house, the Kitties are quite comfortable there. And their favorite pastime while visiting is watching and/or terrorizing my Mom's pet cockatiel, Rosie. Rosie seems unperturbed by this.


Again? Do We Have To?

As if last week's blizzard wasn't enough, we're getting dumped on again.

We're just not used to this. This isn't Chicago. This isn't Buffalo. This is Denver, where the snow from the last storm is supposed to be melted away by the time the next storm hits. I'm pretty sure that's in the City Charter. But no, there's still two feet of snow on the lawn and giant piles along the barely-plowed streets. And now we're getting more.

This sucks.

It's another morning of TV news morons babbling about the same three topics over and over again - traffic, the airport and the actual weather report. They go to their reporters out in the field and ask, "Steve, what's it like out there?" Just once, I'd love to see one of the reporters reply what we're all thinking: "What's it like out here? Anne, you have a lot of damn gall asking me what it's like out here when you can see me on your monitor there in the nice warm studio. I'll tell you what it's like out here: it's fucking miserable, Anne. It's 22 degrees and it's snowing goddamn sideways. When the news director finally decides he doesn't need me to stand out here by the highway to inform the folks at home that, surprise, surprise, it's still fucking snowing out here, I'm coming back to the studio and I'm going to strangle you. Back to you, Anne." But instead, they chuckle and make inane jokes just like they always do.

Well, fuck it. I'm going back to bed. Wake me in May.

Digging Out


Yesterday, as the snow was dumping on us, we didn't do much. Mostly we spent the day sitting on the couch, watching movies, eating popcorn and drinking mulled wine. It was a nice way to while away a snowy day, overall, but the lack of activity left us both feeling like slugs by the time we went to bed.

This morning, the snowfall was easing up. As we finished our breakfast and I drank my coffee, Em looked out the window and said, "Well, Jim's out there shoveling." And so he was. Our neighbor was hard at work, clearing off his sidewalks. I watched him for a few minutes, sipping coffee, and I started feeling lazy. What could I do?


Of course I bundled up, waded through the snow to the toolshed, retrieved the snow shovel, and started digging. After a while, Em came out to do some digging her own self. In a couple of hours or so, we had cleared two feet of snow off the sidewalks and walkways all around the house. It was cold out there, but it was hard work and I was shedding layers fairly quickly. I felt like I made up for yesterday's lack of activity and then some. After that, we bundled up again and took a much-more-arduous-than-usual walk to the grocery store. We thought we were getting eggs for tomorrow's breakfast, but as it turned out, there wasn't a single egg left in the store, so we got pancake mix instead.



And, of course, between the shoveling and the supply run, Em paused to make a snow angel.

Billions and Billions

I would be a very remiss Great Big Nerd, indeed, if I did not participate in the Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-thon. Ten years ago today, 20 December 1996, Carl Sagan died. He was only 62.

Among my earliest TV memories, alongside the cartoons and the "Sesame Street" and the "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," there is "Cosmos." Obviously, I was very small and wouldn't have watched it on my own, but my Dad was a fan. I remember bits and pieces - some interesting visuals and the distinctive music, mostly.

My strongest association with Sagan is with the movie Contact, based on his novel. Okay, so Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey have all the chemistry of a couple of mannequins. But it's one of the few sci-fi movies I can think of that's really about ideas rather than bug-eyed monsters and evil robots.

I'm also a big fan of his 1977 book The Dragons of Eden - Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. It's perhaps a bit dated nearly thirty years later, but it remains a fascinating read. There's all kinds of great stuff in it about how and why human beings are intelligent, the capacity for language in the great apes, the origins of the myth of Eden, mammals' ancient rivalry with reptiles, and much, much more. And he's quite capable of an evocative turn of phrase: "Late at night," he writes in Chapter 6, about the function of dreaming, "when it is very still and the obligatory daily dreams have been dreamt, the gazelles and the dragons begin to stir."

If there's a silver lining in Sagan's death, it is that he did not live to see the dreadful state of reason in America today. Sagan would have been more appalled than anyone to hear the President of the United States advocating for the teaching of "intelligent design" in the science classroom. He would have been horrified by the administration's - and the public's - disregard for science on the subjects of stem cell research and climate change. He would have been disgusted by the overwhelming and increasing influence of religion on public policy.

Sagan was, above all, a believer in the power of reason and rational thinking. He had no tolerance for talk of mysticism, astrology, ESP, UFOs, or anything else that couldnt' be demonstrated or tested. He believed in the potential of humanity to achieve anything, but feared that we might well blow ourselves up before we got there. In short, Carl Sagan was exactly the kind of thinker the world desperately needs more of today.

Plus, he could rock the turtleneck-and-blazer combo like nobody's business.

Grr. Arrgh.

Now that I'm out of class for a while, my creative energies can be directed back at my long-in-the-works webcomic. It's going to be a while before it's actually up and running, but in the meantime, here's a little sneak peak for yez.

And Then We Retired to the Drawing Room for Coffee, Brandy and Cigars


We had people over for dinner tonight.

Sometimes, my parents come down for dinner, which is nice. But tonight, it was some of our very best friends, Julie, Chris and Amber, which is even better. My parents are great, and always good dinner company. But it's always better having friends over, in my opinion. One's parents are a family obligation. Friends are a different matter. Having friends for dinner has a way of making me feel very grown-up. Planning what to cook, what wine to serve, what to serve for dessert is always a pleasure. The cooking is always fun, too - how can I be unhappy or stressed with a chance to show off my mad kitchen skillz? It's kind of silly, but it's one of the only times I really feel like an Adult-with-a-capital-"A".

Tonight it was chicken tortilla soup (my own recipe, natch) and cornbread - perfect for a day when the weather finally turned back into typical, frosty December weather after a week of 60-degree days. Em made two kinds of Christmas cookies for dessert - Austrian Chocolate Balls and Mexican Wedding Cakes. Both delicious. Much wine was drunk. Matters both weighty and frivolous were discussed. I earned props for my soup, and far too many cookies were consumed.

The guests are gone and the music has been turned off. It feels a little strange to have the house suddenly be so quiet after an evening of noise.

All in all, I must say, the post-dinner-party relaxation time is one of the most perfect, simple and uncomplicated feelings of contentment I know.

Puttin' on the Ritz

A moment of silence, please, for the late, great Peter Boyle, who died yesterday at the age of 71.

Most people probably know him from his work on Everybody Loves Raymond. My limited experience with that show suggests that Boyle was far and away the best, funniest thing it had going. Still, I really couldn't care less about Raymond. Ray Romano's voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Anyway, Peter Boyle is eternally worth remembering for his part in my personal choice for Funniest Movie of All Time, Young Frankenstein.

It's an absolute Murderer's Row of a cast: the immortal Gene Wilder, Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, and Boyle more than holds his own. One might say, "How hard can it be playing Frankenstein's Monster?" I donno, but I think that if you replace Peter Boyle in that role, you lose something vital. He speaks volumes with a single grunt. His timing and facial expressions are dead-on. Check out the scene between Boyle and Gene Hackman as the Blind Hermit. Hackman is a great actor overall, and underrated as a comic actor, and he's very funny in the scene. But Boyle's acting is what makes the scene the funniest thing in the Funniest Movie of All Time. His constantly thwarted anticipation and ultimate (quite literal) slow burn are just brilliant. And he's equally great in the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene - how many actors can really dance in a way that is at once stiff and lumbering and yet strangely graceful?

He was also memorable as the Wizard in Taxi Driver, and as the psychic Clyde Bruckman in one of the great X-Files episodes, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose."

And, according to his IMDB trivia page, he spent time as a monk before becoming an actor, and John Lennon was his best man at his wedding. So that's pretty good, right?

Angsty Birthday!



As you might guess from Google's wikid cool Dec. 12 logo, today is Edvard Munch's birthday. I don't have much to say about it, I just thought the Google logo was neat.

So if you're a college kid living in a shitty basement apartment, pause between bingers today to look up at that print of "The Scream" that's hanging on the wall between the Che Guevara and Bob Marley posters and give a mental salute to Norway's greatest artist, the Godfather of Expressionism, Edvard Munch, whose 143rd birthday it is.

Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures! Shazam!

I've recently discovered another comics pro blog, written by the great Jeff Smith. For those of you not familiar (which, I assume, is all of you), Jeff Smith is the creator of one of the all-time great comics, Bone. Bone is coming out these days in new colorized editions, which are kind of cool, but I like the old-school b&w better.


Anyway, I've learned that Jeff Smith is working on a Captain Marvel miniseries for DC. This is very, very, very, very, very exciting news. This means that one of my very favorite comics artists is writing and drawing my very favorite superhero.


Yes, that's right. Captain Marvel. The Greatest Superhero Ever. And, since you asked, I'll gladly tell you why.
Billy Batson, poor orphan boy, is chosen by the great wizard Shazam as his champion. When Billy says the wizard's name, he transforms into Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal. He has the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the courage of Achilles, the power of Zeus, the stamina of Atlas and the speed of Mercury. Yes, sharp-eyed readers, the names of those mythological figures do, indeed, spell out SHAZAM.
Anyway, the concept of the superhero is at heart a power fantasy. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker...all wimps and nerds, ignored by women and tormented by bullies, until they put on a silly costume, becoming powerful and above such petty concerns. Captain Marvel is the purest distillation of this - his transformation is literal, not just figurative. He truly transforms from being insignificant and completely vulnerable to the hero of millions and all-powerful. He flies, he's super-strong, he's bulletproof.
Captain Marvel is full of joyous comic book silliness - his enemies include Black Adam, the requisite "evil twin," Dr. Sivana, maddest of mad scientists, and Mr. Mind, master of the Monster Society of Evil and tiny green worm. One of his best friends is Mr. Talky Tawny, an anthropomorphic, talking tiger. There is much goofiness. Silliness abounds.
A lot of modern nerds can't get into Captain Marvel because of the silliness. I don't get it. Superheroes are inherently silly. Batman is the world's greatest detective, a master of dozens of fighting forms, and carts a teenage boy around with him to help him fight crime. The X-Men are described as "the next stage of human evolution," which apparently involves being able to shoot laser beams out of their eyes, mastery over elemental forces of nature like the weather and magnetism. A pair of glasses prevents anyone from realizing that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. Apparently, all of this is far more believable and less silly than a wizard, a mad scientist and a talking tiger.
Anyone who says different is wrong. Captain Marvel kicks giant ass.
Shazam!

Things I Made in Art Class



This is a Surrealist Self-Portrait, created with PhotoShop. It is meant to reflect my preoccupation with my rapidly approaching 30th birthdy.



Here we have the Neo-Dada Social Commentary piece, also done in PhotoShop. It's about, like, you know, drugs and stuff, and how things that are called "drugs" are only called that because they're illegal, whereas there's plenty of things out there that are addictive and/or mind-altering that are perfectly legal.



Finally, the Expressionistic Still Life, created using Corel Painter. The assignment was to create an image that reflected a particular emotional state. See if you can guess what I was going for.

Lies Your Parents Told You

Many of us, if not most of us, spent the earliest years of our lives believing a big fat lie. You know what I'm talking about, right? The Fat Man. Pere Noel. Sinterklaas. Father Christmas. Jolly Ol' Saint Nick.

I realized there was no Santa the year my Mom "just happened to have the right battery" required for Snake Mountain, which Santa had brought for me. But everyone's got a story like that, right? Everybody remembers the moment of realization.

Think about any other lie your parents may have told you for a moment. Think about learning the truth behind it - "The mailman is your real father." If your parents told you a lie that big, you resent it, right? You're still angry about it, aren't you?

But do you know anyone who resents their parents for lying to them about Santa Claus? It's weird, isn't it? Your parents tell you a bald-faced lie for years, for no real reason other than to get you to "be good." But nobody's ever angry about it. We all look back at this great deception and laugh about it.

I'm not saying I'm angry or resentful. I just find it damned odd, that's all.

Just for EEK


Some San Francisco sidewalk art we thought you'd enjoy...

Joyful and Triumphant

The dreaded month of December has arrived, and with it...

Well, no, not "with it," as they've been blabbing about Christmas since mid-October on the teevee.

But now that it's actually Xmastime, I don't find all the Xmas stuff nearly so offensive. Still, there are things that get to me. The advertising, mostly. If I ever in real life actually witness some insufferable douchebag present his wife with a giant-bow-betopped Lexus, I won't be able to stop myself from punching him.

It's funny - you make a single ill-tempered comment about the holiday, and everybody's calling you a Scrooge or a Grinch. But both the esteemed Mr. Dickens and the good Doctor who created those iconic holiday figures were commenting about Christmas becoming meaningless and over-comercialized. In 1843, Dickens felt Christmas was over-commercialized. I can't imagine what he'd think were he alive today.*

Of course, even learning a Heartwarming Lesson About the True Meaning of Christmas has become cliche. Everyone from Charlie Brown to Bill Murray to Arnold Schwarzenegger has learned a Heartwarming Lesson About the True Meaning of Christmas. I'm sure that Mattew Broderick and Danny DeVito will learn some Heartwarming Lessons about the True Meaning of Christmas in this year's Deck the Halls, as will Lewis Black, The Guy Who Played Fez, The Kid Who Plays Chris on "Everybody Hates Chris" and the rest of the cast of Unacompanied Minors (which, while it looks pretty awful does at least have the merit of not being lazily named after a line in a familiar Christmas carol, and was directed by Paul "Freaks & Geeks" Feig, so it can't be all bad).

Another thing that gets to me is the music. There's very little good Christmas music in the world. A good chunk of it is on the Xmas mixes that Eek has sent out over the years. A bit of Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra or Der Bingle singing "Jingle Bells" or somesuch is okay (I know it is in itself kind of trite at this point, but the Crosby/Bowie Xmas duet where Bing croons out "Little Drummer Boy" while Bowie sings "Peace on Earth" is, in fact, wikid cool). Can't go wrong with Vince Guaraldi's "Charlie Brown Christmas" stuff, either. The rest of it? Yecch. I could go the rest of my life without hearing Mariah fucking Carey warble her way through "Santa, Baby" or do that horrifying warbly/belty vibrato-ish thing she does where she makes that sound that's like a Tarzan yell if Tarzan was a castrato that she thinks proves what a great singer she is, which is in pretty much all of her songs, but especially in that pinnacle of Xmas music craptacularity, "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Or "Wonderful Christmastime." Or that crappy one where there's a pretty bad children's choir singing, "Don't you wish it could be Christmas every day?" Or "Silver Bells." Maybe my least favorite is "Jingle Bell Rock." Unless it's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

My parents, posessors of the lamest musical taste ever, are champions of awful Christmas music. Among the discs that get heavy rotation in their house every December is Jimmy Buffet's Xmas album, which features a variety of skull-crushingly awful tunes, not worst of which is Buffet's terrible rendition of John Lennon's "Merry Christmas (War is Over)." Worse than that, they own and love Kenny G's Xmas album. Burned into my memory is a Christmas Eve where my Dad turned off a Coltrane album my brother was playing in order to play Kenny G's psuedo-jazz stylings of "Winter Wonderland." Ugh.

Today, I went out and acquired some real, worthwhile Christmas music. Oddly, even though I'm not even remotely a Christian, it's the old-school really religious stuff that I really dig the most. Handel's Messiah, Bach's Christmas Oratorio...that's where it's at, man. What I really like about it is that it really is, to borrow a phrase, joyful and triumphant. It's not about making a buck like so much modern Christmas music (although Handel was, in fact, quite wealthy when he died, largely based on the success of the Messiah). It was music that was created with feeling and passion. It is a musical expression of the sheer joy of the birth of the savior. Like I said, funny, because I couldn't really care less ultimately about the birth of the savior. But, unlike a baffling number of people out there who can't wait for "Now That's What I Call Christmas! Vol. 47," I respond much more strongly to something with real meaning than to yet another idiotic rendition of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer."



* After, "I hope someone lets me out of this coffin," of course.

Will it Be You?

Hey, do you like Chick tracts? What am I asking, of course you do. Who doesn't love Chick tracts? The terrible art, the hilariously wooden dialogue, the smug-yet-totally-inept proselytizing, people who say "Haw Haw" a lot, the rampant bigotry against basically anyone who's not a born-again Christian, though with special venom reserved for Jews, Mormons, Catholics and Muslims...what's not to love? Chick tracts are to comics as those bizarre Left Behind books are to actual novels.

And here is the best Chick tract ever.

Except, it's not really a Chick tract, but a spot-on parody that's every bit as funny as anything Jack Chick ever produced, except this one's funny on purpose. Enjoy.

With Guns. And Knives. They're Fighting For Their Lives...

An interesting credit appears on the screen, and it makes me chuckle.

"What made you laugh?" Emily whispers.

"That's the first time the it's said 'Based upon the novel by Ian Fleming' in the credits of a James Bond movie in a long, long time," I reply.

The main title theme to Casino Royale, "You Know My Name," sung by Chris Cornell, late of Soundgarden, just blows. Terrible. Up there (down there?) with Tina Turner's GoldenEye and Gladys Knight's License to Kill. Happily, that's about the only thing in this movie that's not fucking awesome.

One of the best things about the movie is that the credit that made me laugh is no joke. Casino Royale follows Fleming's novel quite closely, hearkening back to the early days of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, before the writers and producers started veering wildly away from the plots of the books and adding absurdity on top of absurdity. It's been modernized, of course - the villain, Le Chiffre, is a banker for terrorist organizations instead of Communist fifth-columnists, of course. Plenty of action has been added, too, as Fleming's book doesn't feature a whole lot of that trait.

And action, it turns out, is something for which Daniel Craig is well-suited. He makes a very muscular Bond in both a literal and figurative sense. Best since Connery? No doubt. He has the right combination of physicality, forceful personality and intelligence to make the character hit all the right notes. There's an on-foot chase early on that's one of the best chase sequences I've ever seen in a movie.

The movie does drag a bit in the middle. It proves my long-held belief that one of the most boring things a human can do is watch other people play poker. Unlike the supreme boredom of watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN, at least in the movie there's an actual plot that I was invested in. Also, there are some nice breaks in the poker sequences for Bond to go get in fights and kill people.

There's not a whole ton of humor, but that's a good thing. The over-the-top silliness and the long-cliche "I think he got the point" post-killing-somebody one-liners are gone. There is just enough, and they wisely reserve the funniest moment in the movie as comic relief in an otherwise brutal and highly disturbing torture sequence.

QIR wanted to sit through the end credits in order to see where the movie had been filmed. I didn't mind. Instead of the crappy theme song or some new techno-y remix, they were playing the classic Monty Norman electric guitar and orchestra James Bond theme. Sweet.

Thanks

Thanks to the super-heroes, whose tireless efforts protect us all from the nefarious plans of Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, the Red Skull and their ilk.

Thanks to the Illuminati, the Freemasons and the Shadow Government, for controlling the entire world so we don't have to.

Thanks to the professional wrestlers, whose high-flying acrobatics, absurdist soap-operatic shenanigans and somewhat hushed-up steroid abuse entertain us all in such a delightfully lowbrow way.

Thanks to James Tiberius Kirk, for rocking the two-fisted-club punch and being a general Intergalactic Lothario for all these years.

Thanks to the Denver Broncos Barrel Man, for being a fat old man so devoted to a professional football franchise that he allows himself to be seen in public wearing an orange barrel, a Stetson hat and cowboy boots.

Thanks to Masi Oka for being thoroughly charming and entertaining each week as Hiro Nakamura on Heroes.

Thanks to the folks at Ocean Spray for inventing the idiotic word "Craisins" because they surmise that the average American consumer is too dumb to understand what "dried cranberries" are.

Thanks to Trey Parker and Matt Stone for continuing to create snarky, insanely juvenile humor with a light patina of social comentary.

Thanks to Neil Gaiman, just for being himself.

Thanks to the potheads of the state of Colorado, for failing to pass pot-legalization initiative Amendment 44 in such a hilariously spectacular/spectacularly hilarious way, and for their reaction to to its inevitable failure being even more hilarious.

Thanks to monkeys, for flinging their poo and being hilarious.

Thanks to reruns of Seinfeld and the early seasons of Friends for proving to us all that the fashion trends of the '90s are no less silly than those of the '70s or '80s, just silly in a different way.

Thanks to meth-buying, gay-prostitute-hiring Pastor Ted Haggard for being a source of absolutely delightful and comical schadenfreude.

And finally, as my lovely Thanksgiving Day winds down, a big, heartfelt thanks to turkeys, for being so, so delicious.

Good night, and good luck. And happy Thanksgiving.

Headwear, Liver Damage, Lung Damage

Last night, I wore a fez, I drank exotic liquor, I smoked strawberry and mint flavored tobacco in a hookah.

Many thanks to Leah and Simon for a lovely evening of not exactly debauchery, but good times, good booze and one of the more interesting smoking experiences I've had. Even the finest cigar or bowl of pipe tobacco has a tendency to leave a kind of assy taste in one's mouth afterward. Smoking a hookah is somewhat like smoking a bong, only moreso and with tobacco rather than weed. Smooth, cool, mellow smoke, and no assy aftertaste. That would be the slogan if I were an adman working on a big hookah campaign.

The promised Casino Royale review is coming when I manage to get around to seeing it - maybe today, maybe tomorrow.

Men want him. Women want to be him.

Tomorrow, there's going to be a new James Bond movie. Because I'm as nerdy a nerd who ever nerded, this is very exciting to me. I think that all the naysayers who are up in arms about how much Daniel Craig is going to suck are way wrong. They clearly haven't seen Layer Cake, in which Craig proves himself to have the chops to play a good 007. Simon, the Boy of A Girl & A Boy, predicts that Craig will be the Best...Bond...Ever... amongst a lengthy and hilarious discussion of the making of Honey Martinis. Of course, he predicts that Craig will steal the title from Timothy Dalton, so maybe take his statements with a grain of salt.

Bonds in order from best to worst - Sean Connery (natch), Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan (points subtracted for being named Pierce), George Lazenby, Roger Moore.

Seriously, anyone who says they think Roger Moore is the best Bond is simply not to be trusted. That dude just flat-out sucked. The Spy Who Loved Me is pretty good, but that has more to do with cool villains, the strong female lead and a fucking Lotus that turns into a submarine.

My controversial choice for best Bond movie? On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Lazenby's weak, but everything around him is great. Blofeld's mountaintop hideout, Diana Rigg, the first-and-still-the-best ski chase, and the cherry on top that is a fistfight on a bobsled at the end.

Worst Bond movie: A View to a Kill. San Francisco is a beautiful location, one of the most photogenic cities in the world. And that's about all this movie has going for it. Moore is old and bored, that "Charlie's Angels" chick is just terrible, Christopher Walken is weird and creepy as usual but never terribly entertaining.

I'll be back with more Bondy goodness next time I post (Tomorrow night, maybe, more likely Sunday or Monday) with a full nerdy-ass-nerd review of Casino Royale.

Pitagora Suicchi



Dude, Japanese TV is cool.



The video is pretty long, so don't feel obligated to watch all of it, but it's pretty amusing.

For the final project in my 3D Design class, I've got to make a Rube Goldberg machine that makes a mark of some sort on a piece of paper. It can't involve fire, hazardous materials or live animals. It has to have some sort of overall visual theme. The process has to be repeatable in a relatively short amount of time. Other than that, the requirements for the project are pretty wide-open.

So...readers, any brilliant ideas? If I could just re-create the Breakfast Cooker from Pee-wee's Big Adventure, I would. But I can't, so I'm looking for inspiration from all sources. Anyone?

Guatemala Schmolla


Katherine was having a lousy time at the Marine Corps Ball...


Until Matt showed up and saved the day!

Holla!

Walk-and-Talk to be Replaced by Just Walk

I've tried. I've watched every episode so far. The first one was good enough to keep me interested. I've watched the rest hoping it would at least get back to that level, if not better. No such luck. I've officially given up on "Studio 60."

I came to a few realizations last night while watching this show.

1. There's really no possible subject matter for a TV show more boring than studio politics. On Sorkin's previous (and highly, highly superior) "backstage" show, "SportsNight," there was the occasional subplot about, "The big bosses want this and that," but mostly the show was about the people working on the show-within-a-show and the various ways they related with one another. "Studio 60" is just constant, unending waves of "the guy from 'Wings' wants this, Chandler Bing and Whatsisname from 'West Wing' don't want to do it, and Whatsername Who Can't Act makes a compromise." It never ends, and it's like watching paint dry, only it's on television, so you don't even get the mild high from the fumes.

2. The bits and pieces of comedy sketches we see from the show-within-a-show? Not even remotely funny. Smug, sarcastic, trying way too hard to be funny? Yes, all of these things. But actually make-you-laugh funny? Nope. Sorkin can do funny - "SportsNight" was, in its day, one of the funniest shows on TV. But he's not doing it here...

3. Following on that, one of the main reasons it's never funny: Too much Jesus. The half of the show that doesn't revolve around boring-as-fuck studio/network politics revolves around Chandler Bing writing sketches that mock Christianity, and somebody, usually but not always That One Blonde Chick Whose Character is a Christian But Not One of the Bad Ones, gets in a snit and says, "You're mocking the deeply-held beliefs of millions of people!" I think Sorkin just wants to see how many weeks in a row he can include the same line in a show, because with little variation, it seems to be there every week. Last night, special guest star John Goodman got to say it.

And the thing is, they're right. If Observation #2 weren't true, it would be a different story. That is to say, if we were seeing them mock Christians and Christianity in a funny way, it would be easier to buy that there's actually an argument worth having there. But as it stands, all they're doing is taking smug, easy cheap shots at Christians and Christianity, and it's stupid and insulting. Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the hypocritical Jerry Falwells and Ted Haggards of the world, who deserve every cheap shot that gets lobbed at them. But as much as Sorkin tries to disguise it, he seems to be pretty clearly of the opinion that the entire religion and all of its adherents deserve no mercy from his (and his proxy Chandler Bing's) rapier wit.

***

At the other end of the "shows about a not-so-thinly-veiled-standin-for-SNL" spectrum, my not-so-secret Secret Girlfriend Tina Fey's "30 Rock," which I've caught a couple of times now, has been at least entertaining and amusing if not uproariously funny.

Also, "Heroes," about which I was cautiously excited, just rocks, and is getting better and better.

In Which Wolverine and Batman are Total Dicks to One Another

Went to see The Prestige last night, and I dug it quite a lot. Batman and Wolverine are both excellent, Michael Caine is as good as ever, Scarlett Johannsen is quite good in a small role and, of course, quite lovely to behold. It's also nice to see David Bowie in a movie and not have to spend two hours unable to look away from his mule knuckle. Also nice to see Andy Serkis getting work from someone besides Peter Jackson. The plot turned kind of science-fictiony partway through, which bothered Emily, but did not bother me. Some aspects of the inevitable surprise ending are a bit Shyamalanian - kind of forced and meant to be surprising but ultimately predictable. Still, it's a fairly minor flaw in an overall outstanding movie.

It's kind of difficult to write much about this movie because it's similar in so many ways to The Illusionist. A lot of the ideas and themes in both movies are very similar. Both movies even used Ricky Jay as a technical advisor (Jay even has a small role as the magician that both Batman and Wolverine work for early on in The Prestige). A lot of what I might write about this movie, I already wrote a month ago. And this isn't like comparing Deep Impact (kinda dopey and forgetable) with Armageddon (willfully stupid and almost insultingly bad), as both of these magician movies are quite good. The key difference is that The Illusionist is a love story and The Prestige is a hate story. It's difficult to pick sides in The Prestige, as neither of the leads is terribly sympathetic. Not only are Wolverine and Batman, as noted in the title, total dicks to one another, but they're also total dicks to pretty much everyone around them, too. Obsession is a key element in both movies - but where Eisenheim is obsessed with saving his true love in The Illusionist, here Wolverine and Batman are obsessed with destroying each other. Both movies have similar themes, but take them in interestingly different directions.

The Wolverine/Batman pairing, as you can probably tell, amuses me to no end. It's almost as good as the 1994 romantic comedy Speechless, in which Batman (Michael Keaton) and Superman (Christopher Reeve) compete for the affections of Geena Davis.

Wolverine is a busy boy these days. We also saw the trailer for The Fountain, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, which looks fucking awesome. Also the trailer for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, which looks very strange but also potentially pretty good.

A Rag-Tag Fugitive Fleet

How often is the remake as good as the original? Almost never.

How often is the remake actually better than the original? Maybe one in a million.

How often is the remake leaps and bounds beyond the original, a complete improvement in pretty much every way? I can think of exactly one example.

My brother and I were huge "Battlestar Galactica" fans when we were kids. But then, we were kids, and just about anything with spaceships and rayguns and evil robots is cool as hell when you're a five-year-old boy. The original "Battlestar Galactica" was cheesey as hell, featuring Ben Cartwright and Faceman from "The A-Team" in velour spacesuits doing battle with guys in chintzy robot costumes. Also, there was a cute kid with a robotic dog.

I always thought the basic story concept was interesting, and could be done well. Turns out I was right.

We're partway through season "2.5" of the new "Galactica" on DVD, and every episode just blows my mind. A lot of nerds are saying it's the best sci-fi TV show ever, and I'm inclined to agree. My love for "Star Trek" in both Classic and Next Generation varieties knows no bounds, but "Galactica" is at least the equal of those shows. Great characters played by great actors, compelling plots, just the right amount of action...what's not to love? Toss in a bit of eye candy for men (Katee Sackhoff is just wikid, wikid hot) and for women ('cuz I know craggy, pock-marked Edward James Olmos just drives the ladies wild), and you've got a great show.

To call it the best sci-fi show is to damn with faint praise. It still ghettoizes the show, lumping it in with crap like "Stargate" and the last couple of "Star Trek" spinoffs. "Battlestar Galactica" is as good as anything on TV right now.

White People Food

We arrive home from a couple of days away, hungry but unwilling to go to the grocery store. I've just been driving for three hours; Emily spent most of the day working. Neither of us has much creative energy. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We must make do with what is in the house.

The green beens are rotten. The bread is moldy. There is some chicken, but not enough to make a meal for two. I gather what I can, and set to work.

Forty-five minutes later, I present Emily with what I proudly proclaim to be, "the Whitest meal ever served that doesn't actually involve Wonder Bread or Velveeta." I've browned a bit of plain ground turkey with diced peppers and onions and mixed it with mac-n-cheese. On the side, owing to a shocking lack of edible vegetables, I'm serving the best I could come up with, glazed carrots. It's all mitigated somewhat by the fact that it's Annie's organic shells and cheese rather than the ever-reliable bluebox Kraft Dinner. Moreso by the fact that, not hampered by the standard whitebread middle-America aversion to seasonings more exotic than black pepper, I've actually managed to make a fairly tasty rendition of White People Food.

Still, eating it makes me feel like Emily and I should watch some "CSI," then read a few pages of a John Grisham or Danielle Steele novel before settling down for the night in Pleasantville-style twin beds, finally lulling ourselves to sleep with comforting thoughts of the Republican party defending Traditional American Values and protecting us from the illegal immigrants and the gays...

Right. Curried red lentils and naan for dinner this weekend, then...

An Idiot, I Suppose

Sigh.

It just never ends.

Gene Yang's comic book American Born Chinese has been praised far and wide. In fact, it's been nominated for a National Book Award. Tony Long at Wired News weighs in with a well-informed opinion that this is a bad thing. Just how well-informed is his opinion? Well, he tells us, "I have not read this particular 'novel' but I'm familiar with the genre so I'm going to go out on a limb here." That's a good way to establish some credibility. In the same vein, I haven't seen the "movie" The Wind that Shakes the Barley, but I'm familiar with the genre, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it quite obviously did not deserve to win the 2006 Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Though he assures us that, "this is not about denigrating the comic book," Long provides this nugget of brilliance: "comic books should not be nominated for National Book Awards, in any category. That should be reserved for books that are, well, all words." Wow, good thing you're not denigrating comic books, Tony.

But he's not done, of course. He provides further brilliance: "If you've ever tried writing a real novel, you'll know where I'm coming from. To do it, and especially to do it well enough to be nominated for this award, the American equivalent of France's Prix Goncourt or Britain's Booker Prize, is exceedingly difficult." Yes, novel-writing is exceedingly difficult. Writing and drawing a 240-page comic book, though, is as easy as steering a train. Nothin' to it. Requires basically no effort, skill or talent whatsoever.

The guy does, in an idiotic and backhanded fashion, have a somewhat valid point, though. "This is simply to say that, as literature, the comic book does not deserve equal status with real novels, or short stories. It's apples and oranges." His judgement about what sort of status and consideration a comic book "deserves" is not just insulting, it's downright stupid. But trying to compare comics to prose is, indeed fairly useless. Any narrative form can be compared to any other...but comics are comics. They don't nominate movies or plays for National Book Awards, and comics probably shouldn't be nominated for awards intended for prose fiction, either. Not that they don't "deserve" it, just that they're an entirely different art form.

So insulting. "Juvenile literature attracts a lot of first-rate authors. Always has.
Sorry, but no comic book, regardless of how cleverly executed, belongs in that class." I really love the use of the phrase, "cleverly executed" to describe what he supposes is a first-rate comic book, like he was describing a magic trick or a witty remark.

I think Neil Gaiman summed it up best in his response:

I suppose if he builds a time machine he could do something about Maus's 1992 Pulitzer, or Sandman's 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, or Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan winning the 2001 Guardian First Book Award, or even Watchmen's appearance on Time's Hundred Best Novels of the 20th Century list. Lacking a Time Machine, it seems a rather silly and antiquated argument, like hearing someone complain that women have the vote or that be-bop music and crooners are turning up in the pop charts.

I like the bit where he says that he hasn't read the comic in question, but he just knows what things like that are like. It's always best to be offended by things you haven't read. That way you keep your mind uncluttered by things that might change it.

The Other Other Other White Meat

This commercial just came on TV...

"It happens every year. Just about the time the Broncos hit the field, the McRib comes back to McDonald's!" Boy, what an exciting event.

I think that of all the disgusting things they serve at McDonald's, the McRib is one of them.

For those not familiar, the McRib is a sandwich comprised of reconstituted meat-like product, shaped vaguely like a rack of ribs slathered in a substance that is not unlike barbecue sauce and topped with diced onions.

It does not escape my notice that they're very vague about what kind of meat the McRib is actually made of. I sampled a McRib once when I was in high school, and I recall not being able to tell just what the meat was. Theoretically, one would suppose that a barbecue sandwich ought to be made of pork. It could, however, be beef. It could be horse. It could be pigeon. Hard to tell, really. And they just don't say. It reminds me of the old myth that the Col. Sanders folks changed over to "KFC" from "Kentucky Fried Chicken" because they couldn't legally call what they serve "chicken" anymore.

At least, I think that's a myth...

Dare To Be Stupid

Show me a nerd who doesn't love Weird Al Yankovic like a fat kid loves cake, and I'll show you someone who's not really a nerd at all. Writer Sam Anderson muses on the pop-cultural significance of Weird Al over at Slate, under a great title: "Troubadork."

And by the way, if you haven't seen "White & Nerdy," you really do need to check it out. Hilarious.

I got my first CD player when I was in 9th grade, and the first two CDs I bought were Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack and Weird Al's Off the Deep End. That neither of these purchases struck me as even remotely odd should be a good indicator that the title of this blog is quite apt.

Another indicator is the fact that I still occasionally listen to Freddie Mercury and the boys explaining that Flash (Ah-aah!) will save ev'ry one of us. Can't say I still pull the Weird Al CD out of the book at all, though. "Smells Like Nirvana" remains funny and will probably remain so for as long as people are listening to Nirvana. On the other hand, the album's parodies of Milli Vanilli, NKOTB and Gerardo (aka the "Rico Suave" guy) are, like their subjects, interesting but essentially irrelevant pop-cultural fossils, only moreso. Playing "The Right Stuff" or "Baby Don't Forget My Number" at a party might get you a laugh. Playing "The White Stuff" or "Don't Forget My Plumber" at a party will probably just get you strange looks.

That's the tricky part about what Weird Al does, I suppose, along the same lines of something I mentioned in my post about MAD magazine not long ago. Parody is a very of-the-moment art, a delicate balance. You mostly just have to throw everything you can think of up against the wall and see what sticks. If your subject ages like fine wine, then your parody will, too. The rest will age like prison hooch. A parody of Gone With the Wind is still funny and interesting, because Rhett and Scarlett have endured and the movie remains popular nearly seventy years on. A parody of Twister isn't funny or interesting because the movie, only ten years old, is already little more than a curiosity, a cultural relic of the mid-'90s. Similarly, "Smells Like Nirvana" is still relevant because "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is, too, whereas I can't even say "Gerardo" and expect anyone will know who I'm talking about without appending "(aka the 'Rico Suave' guy)," and even then there's some doubt.

In other words, it's a tough job, skewering the pomposity and bombast of modern popular music, but Weird Al's been doing it pretty well for twenty-five years now, from "My Bologna" to "White & Nerdy."

Plus, who else can you name who can fucking ROCK OUT on the accordion?

Here Comes Santa Claus

Jeebus Fucking Christ in a birchbark canoe...

It begins.

I remind you, gentle reader, that it's two weeks until Halloween. And they're already starting to phase out Halloween candy on the store shelves and replace it with Christmas decorations. Remember when nobody even mentioned Christmas until after Thanksgiving? I'm now mere days away from a constant barrage of TV ads telling me that I can get all my Christmas shopping done at JC Penney, that I can only really show her that I love her by buying forty thousand dollars worth of diamonds for Christmas, that I'm a bad person if I'm not buying extravagant Christmas gifts for every single person I know, from my parents to the postman to Aloysius, my fourth cousin twelve times removed who I met once at the family reunion when I was eleven, that I need to stock up on Chex Mix and Cool Whip to make The Holidays extra-special and if I don't, I'm a thoughtless asshole who will RUIN CHRISTMAS FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY right down to Cousin Aloysius, that Christmas is a special fucking time when special fucking memories are made but only in direct proportion to the amount of money I spend.

As I write this, Sarah McLachlan is on the Tonight Show singing a fucking Christmas song. It's October goddamn 18th. It's happening already, and it's only going to get worse. Two weeks from now, every store and restaurant I go into is going to be playing endless craptacular Christmas music.

I just saw another ad for The Santa Clause 3. The movie is billing itself as "the final chapter in the greatest holiday trilogy of all time!" Quick, name another holiday trilogy!

Yeah, me neither.

This ad was followed, by the way, by an ad for the "Colorado Country Christmas Gift Show, November 3-5 at the Denver Merchandise Mart." Ugh.

The sum total of all this is...well...here it is...

Here it comes...

I hate Christmas.

There's a tiny bit of me that spends the first ten months of each year dreading the last two. This piece of me knows that I'll spend those two months wanting to put a bullet through my TV screen, Elvis-style, that I'm going to be fucking bombarded by holly and mistletoe and Jessica goddamn Simpson warbling her way through "Santa, Baby" every time I step foot out of the house. This piece of me also knows that if I make even the tiniest peep of complaint about any of this, somebody will be right there to call me a Grinch or a Scrooge or something, because it's my patriotic duty as an American to luv luv luv Christmas.

You know what holiday I like? The Fourth of July. It's low-stress. It's fun and there are interesting things going on, parades and fireworks and suchlike, but there's not much advertising associated with it, there's no fucking Fourth of July carols (unless you count the Star-Spangled Banner and the works of John Phillip Sousa), and it's mostly about cheeseburgers and cold beer. What's not to love?

gcxplbz

I've been trying for two hours now to write a post. I've been completely unable to organize my thoughts into anything remotely coherent or interesting. I suppose all of my creative energies have been pouring into the two huge projects I turned in today. So maybe I'll have a resurgence of bloggish creativity soon - stay tuned. For now, I'm fuckin beat, man.

Nakedity

Dude, check out David. You can totally see his weiner! And his nutsack. And his pubes.

An art teacher in Texas has been fired because she took her students on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art where, it seems, they saw depictions of the human form.

Naked.

Without clothes.

The news article doesn't say just exactly what they saw at the museum. It may have been a weiner, like ol' Dave's at left. It may have been boobies. Who knows?

What I do know for sure is that the human body is dirty, evil, wicked, sinful, and lots of other words besides.

This, my friends, is a blow for the traditional values that made America great. For God's sake, if we allow fifth-graders to see nude art, what's next? I'll tell you what's next. This is a slippery slope, my friends, and if we do let ten-year-olds see nudity at a museum, before you know it, they'll be swapping strange rumors and wild, uneducated theories about...um, well, you know...ess-eee-ecks...on the playground at recess. They'll be sneaking looks at their Dad's Playboy magazines when their parents aren't home.

Of course, we can't fire filthy-minded smut-peddlers like this art teacher for being filthy-minded smut-peddlers or the pinkos at the ACLU get all fired up and start sticking their noses where they don't belong. Fortunately, this particular 28-year veteran, award-winning teacher also just happens to be a lousy, awful teacher, in dire need of performance improvement. What an unusual but fortunate coincidence!

Thank God we've got people like the fine, fine administrators like Principal Nancy McGee and Assistant Principal Manuel Gonzalez. Some people, some ACLU pinko types, might say that McGee and Gonzalez are over-reactive morons who respond like trained monkeys to a single slack-jawed, drooling fuckwit of a parent who doesn't want their precious fifth-grader to be exposed to dirty, evil, sinful nudity instead of standing by and defending long-time teachers. But those people are wrong. McGee and Gonzalez are clearly fine Americans, defenders of traditional values and of our precious, innocent children.



The artwork pictured above contains nudity and adult situations, and should not have been viewed by children.

Merely Wires and Lights in a Box

It is not my intention to turn this blog into yet another ranting-about-politics thing or an all-video-all-the-time thing...

...but if you haven't seen it, and you have ten minutes to spare, you really owe it to yourself to watch Keith Olbermann ripping George W. Bush and his assorted cronies, sycophants, hangers-on and apologists a collective new asshole. It's a brilliant, rousing expression of seething, barely-contained rage. He's been "borrowing" Edward R. Murrow's "Good night and good luck" sign-off lately, and I think in this case he's really earned it.

Okay, that's all. Next time, a video-free post about comic books or an in-depth compare & contrast of James Bond novels vs. movies or something like that...

The Nerdiest Thing Ever

The video linked in this post is, without any doubt, the nerdiest thing ever. As Jack Ross once said, "These are the facts of the case, and they are not in dispute." I don't think anyone could possibly argue otherwise.

Here, why don't you go take a look at it, then come back here so we can discuss.

Two Nerdy Tastes That Taste Nerdy as Fuck Together



Back? Okay, good. Am I right, or am I right?

I mean, the guy (yes, I can be quite certain it was a guy) who made this thing is not a cool guy. He has probably had a heated discussion on more than one occasion about who would win a fight between the Injustice League and the Masters of Evil, maybe even one that has come to blows. He and his friends have probably staged hours-long Starfleet Battles sessions to prove their theory that Kirk and the original Enterprise could beat Picard and the Enterprise-D in a fight. He probably owns (and frequently wears) a t-shirt that says, "Joss Whedon is my Master now." His apartment probably looks like Andy Stitzer's.

Not that I'm Mr. Cool or anything...but, like, wow, man...

No Coincidences

"I'm not against machines, as are some people who feel that the computer is leading us back into the jungle...I'm against machines only when the convenience they afford to some people is regarded as more important than the inconvenience they cause to all."

- E.B. White, 1967





Generally speaking, I avoid discussing politics 'round these parts. Who wants to read that shit?

But take ten minutes to watch this video, in which Princeton computer scientists demonstrate how easy it is to hack Diebold's voting machines.

Then take a few more minutes to read Robert Kennedy Jr's Rolling Stone article about Diebold's electoral shenanigans. His description of the events surrounding the 2002 election in Georgia seems to be exactly what the Princeton video describes.

This concerns me.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride it Where I Like

I had a strange feeling almost from the start. I rode down the block to the corner, just like always, and turned right onto 13th, just like always. The weird thing was that I suddenly found myself in a small pack with two other bicyclists, looking like they were also on their way to campus. I'm generally the only bicyclist on 13th at 8:15 in the morning.

We all three rode down to Speer, then got on the Cherry Creek bike path to take us the rest of the way to campus. Suddenly, the guy in front of me just wiped out. I don't know why, he was just suddenly (and very briefly) airborne, and then sprawled on the pavement. Bad enough for him, but things were worse, because I was only about ten or fifteen feet behind him and cruising fast when he crashed.

How often during the course of an average day do you curse? I throw an f-word into a conversation every now and then for emphasis or just for the childish joy of swearing, like I suppose a lot of people do. But how often do you curse because there's really just no better alternative to express how you're feeling at a given moment? For me, it almost never comes up. But here was a moment where it was absolutely necessary.

"Holy shit!" I yelled as he hit the ground. I squoze the brakes so hard that my hands hurt, to no avail. It looked like this was about to become a two-bike wreck. Time slowed as my wheels kept turning and I loomed over the poor guy and his bike. Our eyes met in a shared look of horror, dreading what we were both certain was about to make both our days a lot worse.

I rolled right over him. More accurately, I rolled right over his bike, which was on top of him, and I surmise protected him from damage from my own bike. I finally came to a stop after that.

"Holy shit," I said again while I caught my breath and waited for my heart to resume beating. I hopped off my bike and helped him up. He was dripping blood from a pretty ugly gash on his left eyebrow, but appeared otherwise unhurt. His bike wasn't so lucky. The front end was pretty mangled. Still, the whole deal could have been an awful lot worse. After confirming that the dude was okay, I got back on my bike and rode on.

Guy was especially lucky not to be hurt worse than he was, as he wasn't wearing a helmet. I've been a helmet-wearer since I got a concussion in a bike accident when I was twelve. Even though I wound up not crashing, I was very glad I was wearing my helmet. I was thinking about this as I rode on, and wasn't paying much attention to what I was doing and took the wrong exit from the bike path, bringing me out on the wrong side of campus. Still not thinking much, I rode across campus to the spot where I usually lock up my bike. I was really rattled, because I didn't even think about most of campus being a mandatory pedestrians-only dismount zone. As I'm locking up, a cop rides up to me and I realize what I just did.

"Riding through there's a $60 ticket," he tells me. Aw, fuck. That's all I need. "You're lucky it was me on duty," he continues. "I'm the last guy to write a ticket for that unless I have to. Just mind the dismount zone." I assure him I will.

Oy. Heck of a way to start the day.

Let's be careful out there. If you're riding a bike, wear them helmets, boys and girls.

I Know Kung Fu

There's all these ads on TV right now for the latest wire-fu import, Fearless...or perhaps, as they're calling it, Jet Li's Fearless, I guess. The ads are calling it "Jet Li's final martial arts epic." I realize he's over 40 and all...but what's he going to do now? Shakespeare?

Jet Li is probably the best kung fu star going these days (I know all the in-the-know nerds are calling it "wushu" these days, but that just ain't how I roll). Jackie Chan is pretty cool, but not what he once was in a variety of ways, and was kind of slapsticky at his best. Jet Li's got the total-badass-beat-the-shit-out-of-you-before-you-can-blink thing going on. The spiritual heir to Bruce Lee.* Jet Li beating the shit out of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover was the only thing that made Lethal Weapon 4 even remotely watchable. But he doesn't strike me as much of a Thespian. Maybe I'm wrong - maybe he's going to begin starring in subdues Kaige Chen dramas. But somehow I suspect that "Jet Li's final martial arts epic" is going to be sort of like The Who's 1989 Farewell Tour.



*And by the way, no matter what anyone tells you, no one was ever better than Bruce Lee. I mean, yeah, Game of Death was overall pretty lame, slapped together after Lee died from old footage...but it features the single coolest scene in any kung fu movie ever, in which Bruce Lee figthts Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And his other movies are just pure, solid, 100% kung fu gold.

Obligatory Football Post

I know that probably only one of my loyal legion of readers really cares at all about football (hi, Matt!), but I'm going to babble about it, anyway...



Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ESPN.com headline for the recap of Saturday's game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Colorado Golden Buffaloes:

No. 22 Arizona State stumbles past lowly Colorado

I knew going in that the Buffs would suck this year, but I didn't think they would suck bad enough that the headline writers would be calling them "lowly." The Big 12 North champs four of the last five years, the 1990 National Champions, are now being referred to as "lowly." I thought "lowly" was reserved for teams like Duke or Temple that never, ever win...I really didn't expect it to be this bad. The way they're playing, I look down the rest of their schedule and see that they could easily wind up 0-12 this season. They've got pretty much guaranteed losses looming at Georgia, at Oklahoma and at Nebraska, almost certain losses against Texas Tech, Missouri, Iowa State and Kansas State, and there's no real reason to expect that they can beat even Kansas or Baylor.

Ugh.

Still, it wasn't all bad in college football this weekend. After hearing everyone babble constantly for weeks and weeks about how great Notre Dame was going to be this season, how they were on their way to an undefeated season and clearly headed straight to the Fiesta Bowl, they were absolutely destroyed by Michigan on Saturday. Not just beaten, but slaughtered. Creamed. Wiped out. Laughed off the field. In South Bend, no less. I'm a long, long way from being a Michigan fan...but every time the Fightin' Irish lose, another angel gets its wings.

Things weren't a lot better on the pro side. The Broncos tried as hard as they could to lose to the Chiefs, just barely managing to squeak it out in overtime. I think it's kinda silly that so many fans are saying that Shanahan should play Cutler; still, Jake Plummer is sure stinking up the joint these days. Things probably won't get much better for the Broncos next week when they play on Sunday night in New England.

It's going to be a long, long season for football fans here in Colorado...

Nothing Up My Sleeve

The list of my qualities that classify me as a nerd is, as I'm sure you are by now aware, as long as your arm. Or my arm. Or someone's arm, anyway. One of the entries on that list that you may not be aware of is my interest in/minor obsession with magic. There was a magic shop tucked away in a corner of the local shopping mall, and when we went to the mall, I would always go watch the proprietor demonstrating his wares. It wasn't long before I went from spectator to buyer. At first I didn't really have the patience for the stuff that required a lot of sleight-of-hand, so I mostly stuck with the more idiot-proof self-working kind of stuff. Before long, I was checking out magic books from the library and spending hours practicing all manner of sleights, forces, flourishes and so on. I didn't generally perform my tricks for anyone except my family, who generally at least feigned the proper amazement. I did put on a little show for my 7th grade class when we were doing demonstration speeches, and that went pretty well, but I didn't do children's parties or anything. I practically lived for the (at the time) annual David Copperfield TV specials. I begged and pleaded to get my Mom to take me to see him when he performed live in Boulder - and Copperfield's version of the old magician's stand-by, the saw-a-lady-in-half trick, remains one of the coolest, most amazing things I've ever seen.

Last night, we went to see The Illusionist. Emily has a not-so-secret little crush on Edward Norton, and I have my obsession with magic, so of course we had to see this one. This movie, strangely, hasn't gotten a whole lot of press, so I imagine a brief summary is in order.

Norton plays Eisenheim, the most popular illusionist in circa-1900 Vienna. His relationship with the Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel) gets him on the bad side of the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell, playing the Victorian equivalent of Hollywood's ever-reliable Asshole Boyfriend archetype), and therefore under the eye of Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti). Norton and Giamatti are two of the most reliably excellent actors working today, and they are as good as we have come to expect of them. Giamatti is especially good as the conflicted police inspector, torn between his duty to the crown and his admiration for and developing friendship with Eisenheim. Sewell's role is a bit of a cliché, but he plays it to the hilt and is suitably villainous. Jessica Biel...well, she's very pretty, wears the corset-and-high-collar wardrobe very well, but isn't given a whole lot to do. Still, she acquits herself much better than many of her contemporaries would, at least holding her own against some great actors when necessary.

The movie is very pretty to look at. Prague is the city of choice these days for filming any movie set in any Victorian-era European city. Eastern Europe is, of course, cheaper than the western EU countries, to begin with. Prague is also one of the few eastern cities that wasn't bombed to the ground during the War and rebuilt in the '50s in Communist big-concrete-slab style, so the look is just right. It makes a lovely Vienna here, full of shadowy cobblestone streets, mansions and interesting old theaters. There are a few flashback sequences in the film, which are done in an interesting and beautiful way, slightly sepia-toned, and luminous and flickery like old silent films.

Above all, there is the magic. Writer/director Neil Burger really seems to understand the appeal of illusion, that it's a delicate balance between what you conceal and what you reveal. Ricky Jay, a talented magician and a well-regarded magic historian, served as a consultant on the film, and it shows. The feel of the scenes where Norton is actually performing magic is just right for the era. Magicians of the day were showmen, but their performances didn't have the more flashy theatricality and comedy of modern magicians like David Copperfield or Penn & Teller. The illusions themselves are also era-appropriate - the "Orange Tree" effect Eisenheim performs was actually performed by the popular French illusionist Robert Houdin. Of course, the technical side of stage magic actually hasn't changed much in 150 years. Copperfield and Penn & Teller achieve a lot of what they do in very similar ways to the illusionists of the Victorian era. The old trope about doing it with "smoke and mirrors" was very true at the time, and remains true to this day.

The film's ending is kind of tricky, and depending on how you read it, could be considered either a betrayal of the conceal/reveal balance, or a perfect application of it. My reading of it makes me think that Burger understands that the cinema itself is an illusion and employs many of the same techniques. Another old trope about magic and illusion is not, in fact, true. The hand is not really quicker than the eye...but by definition, the movie camera is.

It is significant that all the magic in the movie is performed for the audience, both within the movie and on the other side of the fourth wall. In the end, this movie isn't about how magic is done, but why, and that's an awful lot more interesting, I think.


***


Also, there was a trailer for the fall's other Victorian magician movie, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johannsen, and that one looks even better. That one has jumped up alongside Casino Royale on my Autumn must-see movie list.

Stupid TV Fucks

I know it's probably not very hip to say so, it probably marks me as a shockingly uncultured mouth-breathing troglodyte...but I think the American version of "The Office" is better and funnier than the original British version. I know, I know. The British "Office" is just a bit too mean-spirited and a bit too dry for me to really get into. Steve Carrell is funnier than Ricky Gervaise. Rainn Wilson is funnier than Mackenzie Crook. Not hip, but true.

And now NBC is trying to turn it into a sitcom soap opera, "Friends" style. Instead of a weird, funny show about the weird, quirky people who work at Dunder-Miflin, they're turning it into "Jim loves Pam, does Pam love Jim?" crap, with sappy piano music in the promos and focusing on the kissing and crying and suchlike.

Shenanigans, I tell you.

The "will-they-or-won't-they" thing can work in a sitcom - "Cheers" is the prime example here - but it's a delicate balance, and it usually doesn't.

Speaking of the idiot box...

Can somebody explain "Deal or No Deal" to me? This is a game show for morons. They could eliminate all the vamping models and the trumped-up drama, have each moron pick a briefcase and tell them how much they win, the end. And it inflicts Howie Mandel on a world that thought it was done with him ten years ago, to boot.

"Grey's Anatomy" is running that crappy Fray song into the ground ril, ril fast, "Dawson's Creek" style. Yes, yes, whiney-voiced singer man, how to save a life, yadda yadda yadda, shuddup...

I'm really sick of NBC telling my how great "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is going to be. Yeah, it actually looks like it could be pretty good. Aaron Sorkin is responsible for "Sports Night" and the good seasons of "The West Wing," so it's got that goin' for it. I just can't stand hearing about how great it's going to be in every frickin' promo.

Am I the only one who wants to whack that "Extreme Makeover - Home Edition" guy over the head with a two-by-four?

And finally...does it surprise you to learn that "Heroes" is the only new fall show I'm even remotely interested in watching?

Of Gordon Shumway and Bill the Cat and Other Mythical Beasts

I don't know if any of y'all ever read any of the webcomics I link to. You should, because every last one of them rules. You may not have noticed, but I just added a new one, Rob and Elliot. All I can really say about it is that one of their strips features the scene from "ALF" you never knew you always wanted to see.

Webcomics, you see, are the wave of the future. Those of us who are closer to 30 than to 20 are probably the last generation to remember when newspaper comics were any good at all. For Christmas last year, Emily got me "The Complete Calvin & Hobbes," three rat-squashing volumes of Bill Watterson's mind-blowingly brilliant comic strip. I've been pulling it out now and then over the last eight months, savoring the gorgeous art and finely crafted humor. "Calvin & Hobbes" ended when I was in high school, not long after Gary Larson ended his crude-but-almost-always-funny "The Far Side." A couple of years previously, Berke Breathed had ended his great "Bloom County," of which my brother and I had been big fans. Breathed has brought Opus and Bill the Cat and Steve Dallas back in "Outland" and "Opus," the returns ever-diminishing.

Today's newspaper comics section is essentially two pages of wasted ink. A few bright spots - Stephan Pastis' "Pearls Before Swine" and Jef Mallet's "Frazz" are often amusing, and "Frazz" is quite well-drawn - swim in a sea of tired old strips that have been running since God was a boy and which need to be put out of their misery. Worse still are the newer ones, painfully unfunny and artistically inept to boot. Say what you will about "Beetle Bailey" or "Blondie," at least the cartoonists who draw them are reasonably if not wildly talented. On the other hand you've got the new stuff like "Brewster Rocket: Space Guy!" and "A Doctor, a Lawyer and a Cop," which come from the "Dilbert" school of "you don't even have to be able to draw or be funny to have a successful comic strip." And the less said about stuff like "Baby Blues" and "Jump Start" that comes from the "Family Circus" school of "cutesy kids are funny!" humor, the better.

In contrast, the world of webcomics is vibrant and exciting, full of interesting new talent and bizarre humor. Admittedly, webcomics can be overly nerd-focused, too obscure, and there's far more chance of encountering sub-par art on the web than in the paper. Still, if you know where to look (and my links are a decent place to start), you can find more humor, style and personality than in every ink-and-paper "A&E," "Lifestyles," "People" and "Places" section in North America.

Potato Man

Amber's new sunglasses make her look disconcertingly like Bono. Inspired by this, she puts U2's "Best of 1980-1991" into the CD player. Nate makes a startling statement.

"I hate U2," Nate says.

I am startled. Arguing with Nate is pointless, and asking for an explanation will lead only to an hour of drunken babbling. So I remain silent and let the kickass opening bars of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" wash over me.

Who the fuck hates U2?

Maybe they're not your favorite band, maybe you don't own all their albums, maybe you can't name the ones who aren't Bono and The Edge. Maybe you don't own any of their albums and you're not even sure which one's The Edge. But still...how can you hate U2? They're one of those bands that pretty much everyone can agree on. Everyone can at least listen to U2 for a while and not be bothered by it.

This isn't my first encounter with this baffling phenomenon. Back when "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" was coming out and "Vertigo" (admittedly not U2's best effort) was getting lots of airtime, a co-worker said, "I could get more into U2 if Bono wasn't such a choad!"

This is, of course, an even more startling statement. Bono is a choad? What? Okay, so U2's not your favorite band. But Bono is a choad? I can see, "I don't listen to Limp Bizkit. Fred Durst is such a choad!" Quite true, though Limp Bizkit would pretty much suck balls whether Fred Durst was a choad or not. (Yes, by the way, I am just trying to make you read the word "choad" as many times as possible).

Bono is actually quite the humanitarian, of course, donating bags and bags of money and not just a little time to criminally underfunded and unsung causes. Seriously, every Beastie Boys-listenin' fuckwit out there has a "Free Tibet" sticker on his Jetta 'cuz MCA hangs out with the Dalai Lama but couldn't give two shits about the stinking mess that the world has made of Africa.

Bono (and the rest of the lads from Dublin) also made a self-mocking guest appearance on one of the last great episodes of "The Simpsons." "The man's talking about waste management, people! That affects the whole damn planet!" Bono filled the "Andy Richter" role in Conan O'Brien's "In the Year 2000" sketch, too...and that's pretty good.

So...definitely not a choad, then (ooo, there's one more!).

And still I just can't get over "I hate U2." How is this even possible? Sure, there are bands out there that some people dig and some people just hate. Not long ago, the same Nate was shocked, shocked I tell you, when I countered his assertion that "everyone" owns a copy of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. I do not own said Spiral. NIN just doesn't do it for me. Never has. Too aggressive, too industrial, too much. Not my cuppa.

But what's to hate about U2? Maybe I'm way, way off-base here, but I just always grouped U2 in with those bands that pretty much everybody with any taste in music at all likes at least a little. It's a select group - U2, the Beatles, the Stones, R.E.M.... Not necessarily everybody's favorite bands, but the ones that are likely to find general agreement in a large, mixed group when you put one of their discs into the player, y'know?

Am I wrong? No way, I'm not wrong - Nate's just fuckin crazy, right?

Grumpy Old Man


The Cabin is a lovely, beautiful, amazing place. I love the Cabin nearly as much as my buddy Toph, whose Dad owns the Cabin. It's worth the giant pain in the ass of getting there just to be there. You drive north from Denver for three hours, until you hit a town called Glendo, Wyoming. You turn left at Glendo and follow a twisty, forking dirt road for another hour - it's not bad at first, but then you cross the dividing line between County Road and unmaintained private road, and things get hairy.

Anyway...

For all the years I've been going there (about four at this point), the Cabin has been Hedonism Central. There is sleeping until noon or later. There is much boozing. There is smoking of pot. And there is, Coneheads-style, the consumption of mass quantities. Oh, for the love of God, the mass quantities. More on this later.

I first noticed something was amiss on Friday morning. Ordinarily, everyone brings a 12-pack or two of soda (or, if you prefer, "pop"). Soda for drinkin', soda for mixin' with booze...you know, soda. As I stared at the pile of "fridge packs" on the porch, something occurred to me. Every single can of soda we had with us was diet. Diet Coke. Diet Coke with Splenda. Diet Cherry Coke. Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. No real sugar (or even high fructose corn syrup) to be found. "Dude, we're getting old," I said to Emily.

Then the drinking started. What was once an all-day booze binge had become "having a few drinks." I've never been a heavyweight, but I was shocked to discover how little liquor it takes for me to be pretty blitzed. The effect of the weed was about the same as usual - though I only partake of the herb at the Cabin these days, so I have no tolerance at all for it.

Are you ready to hear about the final straw?

I urge caution, gentle reader. What you are about to read is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation - life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even - horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to - uh, well, we warned you.

I participated in a hot dog eating contest.

I ate sixteen hot dogs in the course of an hour.

Believe me, I'm every bit as disgusted as you are right now. I don't really know what to say - it seemed like a good idea at the time.

A week or so before the Cabin trip, Toph made some off-handed comment about our friend Nicki eating six hot dogs in a sitting. Full of bravado, I said, "That's not so many. I could eat more than that!" This may be one of the most appropriate moments ever to deploy the phrase, "I rue the day I made that statement." Man, do I ever rue. Rue rue rue.

My brash boast turned into a full-blown contest. Most dogs in an hour, straight up. I am simultaneously proud and ashamed to say (admit?) that I won the contest. My digestive system, however, lost. Ugh.

Time was, I could eat sixteen hot dogs in a sitting and not feel a thing. Be ready to go out and run a 10K the next day. Not so much as I push ever closer to 30. I've felt awful for two days straight. "I'm sorry you don't feel good," Emily said last night. "But not that sorry." I brought it on myself...but jeebus, I didn't think it would be this bad.

Combine that with our friend Amber clinging desperately to youth and innocence by planning ever more elaborate kid-oriented birthday parties for everyone in the group - I swear to God, Toph's birthday in October is going to involve a clown, a magician and a pony - and you've got a weekend (and a weekend aftermath) where you spend most of your time feeling like a decrepit, run-down old man.

A decrepit old man who is never, ever, ever eating a hot dog again.

Shameless

So, inspired by EEK!'s blog, I have decided to shamelessly rip off her idea. As she shamelessly ripped it off from SPIN, I don't feel too bad. As I was composing my list of "Ten Albums That Changed My Life," I was thinking about other bits of pop culture, too. "What about movies?" I thought. Too much, too big - I'll save it for another time. "What about books?"

So...Ten Books That Changed My Life? Maybe. Ten Books That Are Super Important To Me and Mean Something in a Great Big Way? Definitely.

1. "Watchmen" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. A comic nerd putting "Watchmen" on a list like this is as predictable as...well, as 20/30-somethings putting Nirvana on a list of ten life-changing albums. I finally got around to reading this when I was seventeen or eighteen, and it happened at the perfect time. I hadn't quite outgrown super-heroes, but I was ready for something bigger and better than the standard-issue monthly soap-operatics of the X-Men. Every single aspect of this book is perfectly rendered, both in terms of story and art. Neither Moore nor Gibbons has ever been better. At least once a month, I pull it off the shelf to leaf through - I still read it cover-to-cover now and then, but I know it by heart.

2. "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller (with an always underrated assist from Klaus Jannsen and Lynne Varley). Frank Miller shattered forever the image of paunchy Adam West in grey lycra trading campy quips with Burt Ward and spearheaded a revolution in the comics world. It's tempting to call "Dark Knight" the mainstream "graphic novel"* for adults, but in spite of the fact that it's about an older version of Batman, it's just swimming in adolescent angst. This thing rocked my world when I was twelve. "Watchmen" is deeper, more refined, more layered, but "Dark Knight" is the best story about super-heroes at their purest, most ass-kicking level. And it started the cliche of Batman beating Superman in a fight, too.

3. "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud. Everything I'd always suspected about comics as a medium but had never been able to express, McCloud summed up and made concrete. It's the place where anyone who wants to understand comics (so to speak) on a more intellectual level should begin. It could be (and should be and probably is) a textbook in any class about creating comics or about analyzing comics as literature. In spite of this, it's an effortless read, every bit as easy and entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

4. "Bone" by Jeff Smith. The story is good, no doubt. It's a not-terribly-original but still well-done Tolkienesque fantasy, involving and entertaining. But for me, this one's all about the art. Book 3, "Eyes of the Storm" stuns me every time I look at it. This is the book that made me want to make comics. Sure, as a kid I'd dreamed of working for Marvel or DC - what comics-reading kid doesn't? But this is the book that made me realize that a comic book could be a finite story and one writer/artist's own personal vision.

5. "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett. Neil Gaiman talks about doing signing events and constantly encountering "those copies" of "Good Omens." The ones that are battered, dog-eared, torn, folded, held together by scotch tape and pure love. Mine is one of those copies. I was absolutely thrilled last year to have the opportunity to have it signed by both authors. This is one of the only books I've ever read that actually made me laugh out loud - moreso even than the much-venerated "Hitchhiker's Guide."

6. "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. High school lit classes are such a bore. Yeah, everyone loves "To Kill a Mockingbird." Alienated teenagers identify with Holden Caulfield. But other than that? "The Great Gatsby." Bleah. "Ethan Frome." Double bleah. "The Red Badge of Courage." Triple bleah with curdled whipped cream and a rancid cherry on top. So imagine my delight when I found myself enjoying Steinbeck. First "Of Mice and Men." Then "The Grapes of Wrath." Finally, senior year, "East of Eden," which just nailed me right between the eyes. That it's primarily about sibling rivalries, a subject of much interest to me at the time as well as today, certainly didn't hurt.

7. "The Twenty-One Balloons" by William Pene DuBois. This was one of my absolute favorites when I was a kid. Oz and Alice were beloved by millions. Beverly Cleary's adventures of Ramona Quimby and Judy Blume's adventures of Pee-tah and Fudge were de rigeur for the elementary set in the '80s. But no one else I knew had read this one. No one gave it to me, no one told me to read it. I picked it out myself. It was mine, my own perfect little discovery.

8. "The Book of Three" and its sequels by Lloyd Alexander. Another childhood classic, handily beating out "The Lord of the Rings" for a spot on this list. Don't get me wrong, I love Tolkien, but Alexander's Prydain series captured my imagination first. There just ain't no justice in a world where Christopher Paolini's craptacular "Eragon" is a giant hit and gets adapted into a big movie while Alexander's perfect little world and terrific characters remain unheralded. More than Middle-earth, more than Narnia, I love Prydain.

9. "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. I did something with this book I've never done with any other. I read it twice in a row. I was so fascinated by the way Niffenegger constructed an almost impossibly intricate story told through two overlapping POVs, and never misses a single beat. Nothing doesn't work, nothing rings false. It is unquestionably the best time-travel story I've ever read. Beyond that, it's a moving and beautifully written love story and prominently features a Violent Femmes concert, which is always a good thing.

10. "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell. This book is just incredible. Campbell's not easy reading, but it's worthwhile. Once I had read it, I felt like I had a key to unlock any story, from "Cinderella" to "Star Wars." It's like a guide to what a story is and why stories are important.



* Remind me sometime to tell you why I despise that term so much.

The Most Funnest Toy Ever

So for one of my art classes this semester, I had to acquire a Wacom Graphire 4 Tablet. I had been wanting to get one for a while, so it was nice to have the "I need it for school" excuse to justify the expense (though it was only $70 at Best Buy, so not all that expensive, really). I've never been very good at drawing with a mouse, so I was very excited to try this thing out.

I hooked it up to my crappy old computer and spent basically the entire evening playing with it. It doesn't hurt that it includes pared-down versions of Corel Painter and Photoshop. Even as the scaled-back "Essentials" versions of these programs, they're far and away the most powerful graphics tools I've got on my machine, now. Even without these, the tablet is great. I did some fairly cool stuff with the previously more-or-less useless MS Paint before I got around to playing with the other stuff.

I know a fair number of people have learned to draw with a mouse, but I've never gotten the hang of it. Trying to create an image with a mouse or a trackball has always felt clunky and counter-intuituve to me. The tablet allows me to apply the drawing skills I've spent my whole life developing directly to the computer, and it's an amazing feeling. Already I'm feeling that this is the beginning of a major change in the way I approach my artwork. I'll always keep a sketchbook, I'm sure, just as I always have. And I'll still draw the old-fashioned way when I travel, because trying to keep a travel sketchbook with a laptop and a tablet would be far more trouble than it's worth. But I don't know right now how much need I'll ever feel to do other non-digital artwork in the future. We'll see.

But I do know for sure that the webcomic I mentioned in the comments section a couple of posts back is coming soon.

Kid Stuff

Two comics creators, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, have adapted the 9/11 Commission Report into comics form. You can hear them discussing it here with Neal Conan on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" yesterday. NBC News also did a story about it - video here. The project is being serialized on Slate, and it's well worth a look.

Maybe one of these days we'll bring to an end once and for all the idea that comic books are just for kids. Creators and fans have been hammering away at it for years and years now, since Will Eisner's A Contract With God in the mid-'70s. The newsmedia is certainly in no mood to help, though. For their report, NBC collected a soundbite from the daughter of a woman killed on 9/11. Her brilliant insight? "I don't think this is appropriate for children, and I don't see why adults would want to read it."* The situation was little better at NPR. The usually even-handed Neal Conan began his segment, before even introducing Jacobson and Colón, by saying, "The purpose of the project is unclear. The images are too disturbing and the subject matter too dry for children, and adults, well, they can just read the book." Later, during the interview, Conan asked them, "Isn't this dumbing it down?" as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and he expected them to say, "Oh, yeah, we're dumbing it down. Really aiming for the lowest common denominator here."

The 9/11 Report is a heavy tome, densely written and difficult to read. What Jacobson and Colón have done is distill it into a simple, easy to read format. Faces are applied to unfamiliar names and the often nebulous sequence of events is made crystal clear (the timeline of events on the morning of 9/11, beginning here, is especially enlightening) The crucial details are still present. What was dense and impenetrable has been made accessible.

And yet the newsmedia gives us hand-wringing, "Is this appropriate?" and "Isn't this disrespectful?" Both NBC and Conan made a point of taking offense at the inclusion of comic-book sound effects - a RRRRUMBLE! as the first tower collapses, BLAMM! as the jet crashes into the Pentagon. NBC, of course, relies on a higher authority to tell us how wrong this is by bringing in the 9/11 victim's daughter to tell us all how offended she is. Did they wonder about the appropriateness of filmmakers Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stone using the stylistic methods and techniques of cinema in United 93 and World Trade Center?

The creators call what they've done "graphic journalism." I have plenty of problems with the stigma attached to the word "comics" that leads to the creation of terms like "graphic novel" and "graphic journalism," but the term does seem apt. It's no different from Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo or Joe Sacco's innovative non-fiction comics, including Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize for Maus, a "graphic novel" and as harrowing a depiction of the Holocaust as Schindler's List - the novel or the movie.

Comics aren't an insult. Comics aren't disrespectful. Comics don't have to be stupid. Comics can be literate, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, emotional, meaningful. They can tell a gripping story, they can have a message. Yes, they can also be silly and as empty as cotton candy. It's a medium, y'all. It's a narrative format capable of telling stories and imparting information, like any other. It's got its own strengths and weaknesses, just like prose, cinema, television, drama... Assuming that comic books are inherently for children is as wrong-headed and arbitrary as declaring that television is only for women, or that prose novels are exclusively for Chinese people. Assuming that adapting the 9/11 Commission Report to comics is stupid or disrespectful because it is the medium of Archie and Scrooge McDuck and Batman just doesn't make sense. They discussed the 9/11 Commission Report extensively on television, the medium of "Fear Factor" and "According to Jim" and "General Hospital." They discussed the 9/11 Commission Report extensively in newspapers, the medium of "Garfield" and Dear Abby and a whole section devoted to grown men being paid millions of dollars to play children's games. The report itself was published as a book, the medium of Danielle Steele and Chicken Soup for the Soul and Harry Potter. In all these cases, not a hand was wrung and, in fact, it wasn't even considered noteworthy.

Enough ranting. Ultimately, respect isn't given, it's earned. And despite what NBC News and National Public Radio would apparently like me to think, I'd like to end this simply by extending my thanks to Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón for taking the medium another step farther on the long, long journey towards the respect it deserves. You guys (I address them as if they'll ever read this) have realized a tremendously difficult project very well indeed, and have handled the resulting tempest-in-a-teacup the media has tried to generate with grace, dignity and aplomb. Nice work, guys.



* I don't remember the exact words here, so I'm paraphrasing.