Tagged: Scott McCloud

Glenn Hauman: Is Binge-Reading Bad For Comics?

On a whim the other day, I decided to go re-read some old Warlock comics.

It was an extremely mind-blowing experience, and not for the usual reasons when reading Warlock.

The issues blurred by in a smear— or maybe that was the old crappy printing. The seams in the stories were much more visible than I remembered. Things that seemed deep and profound just came off as silly and obvious. Even Adam Warlock himself, instead of being the tormented golden child trying to find his place in the universe, sounded and acted like a whiny brat.

Why? What happened? Was this book hit by the suck fairy?

No, that wasn’t it. It was because I was taking it in waaaay too fast. These books were simply not designed to be consumed one after the other so quickly.

You may have noticed this phenomenon yourself.

Scott McCloud spends a chapter in Understanding Comics about the way time flows when you read comics, how time is perceived, and the relationship between time as depicted in the comics by the creators and how it’s perceived by the reader. But, amazingly, he missed one important unit of time— the gap in time (and therefore reading) imposed from publishing.

We’ve talked for a long time about comics being written for the trades — that moment where we gather up six or so issues at a time, every six months or so, and put them together for a single unit of consumption. But for a lot of history, comics weren’t like that. There were no trades to be had. There were just single issues that you had to wait a month for. (Or, depending on where you grew up, you waited a week for 5-8 page chunks of stories, either in The Spirit section of the Sunday paper or something like 2000 AD.)

There were gaps of time. Cliffhangers. Come back next issue, kids!

Comics creators in the past used those intervals at the same time they were constricted by them. Chris Claremont was mocked for years for reintroducing all the X-Men every single issue, but he knew that every issue was going to be somebody’s first, while other readers were just going to have forgotten who was who over a month’s time. (And over time, X-Men became the most popular title Marvel published. He had to be doing something right.)

The biggest beneficiary of this gap? I claim it was Watchmen. Readers were tossed into a such a deeply detailed world where we were trying to just get more – we had to read the back matter of the issues, the non-comics stuff which hinted at a much larger world because there was nothing else to read. And fans would pore over it and discuss and argue while waiting, waiting for the next issue.

Around 400,000 readers read Watchmen episodically, you can tell who was screaming over the three-month gap between issues #10 and #11. But since then, there’s been the Watchmen collected editions, which is the way most people have read it in the three decades (yikes!) since with a total print run well over 4 million copies at this point.

And I really have to wonder… how are the new folks reading it? Are they going straight through? Are they skipping over the text pieces, and maybe coming back later? I don’t know, but I do know that they don’t have to wait for the next installment… and that has to change how the book impacts you.

What do you think?

Mike Gold: There’s No Business Like…

For some odd reason, over the past several decades many a wannabe comics creator has consulted me for advice. That’s quite nice; it makes me feel like I might know something. Of course, that also means I’ve been around the block so many times I’m prone to tripping over my own tracks. That’s the yin and yang of life.

No matter who the victim wannabe is, be that person a writer wannabe, an artist wannabe, or in extremely rare and unusual cases an editor wannabe, there are several chunks of hot glowing wisdom that I try to impart. Now you, if you’re a wannabe or you’re simply comics-curious, get to experience some of these radiant pearls without having to suffer through what I alone like to think of as “my sense of humor.”

I shall start with the most important lesson of them all. It is absolutely true for everybody, although some might find it daunting. “For every truly great guitar player with a contract and an entourage, there are well over 1,000 guitar players who are even better who never make it out of the garage.”

Even though truer words were never spoken, you might be wondering what the hell that has to do with producing comic book stories. Well… everything. The business of comics is show business. Admittedly, comics creators get less money than our performing counterparts, and we get less cocaine and cars and hardly any nookie, but we are in show business nonetheless.

Assuming you haven’t just decided to switch your major and wiki “hedge funds,” I shall drop the definition into your lap. You want to get in to the comics business, editorially speaking. Well, so do a zillion other people – and that’s growing as the medium achieves greater public acceptance. Let’s say you want to be a writer. For every Neil Gaiman out there, we’ve got a thousand people who aren’t in the racket, would like to be, and are better writers than my friend Neil Gaiman (sorry, pal).

O.K., there probably is nobody faster than Neil and that’s important, but we’ll leave that aside. On a planet with 7.5 billion human beings on it right now and births outnumbering deaths by more than two-to-one, there’s got to be at least 1,000 writers who are better than just about anybody we’ve seen thus far.

In order to get in the front door, you may ask, do you have to be better than the best? Well, that would be great and we can always use another bright, shiny beacon, but no – you don’t have to be better than the best. But you damn well better be more than half as good as the best to get noticed.

Yeah, there are schools that purport to teach you how to write (or draw, but not edit), but there are no schools that will teach you how to think. Most are incapable of teaching you how to be creative, but if you excel at the basic techniques and take creative chances and polish your work as though it was the Hope Diamond and work hard and eat your veggies, you’ll have a damn good shot.

If I had a dollar for every time I looked through an artist’s portfolio and offered some words of alleged wisdom only to be told that the wannabe’s work was better than, say, the two or three worst artists available, I’d have enough cash on hand to get somebody from Lenexa Kansas to drive out some Zarda’s barbecue to me here in Connecticut. The fact is, we’ve already got those “lousy” artists. Why would we need more?

Besides, that lesser talent might have been saving our deadline ass for years and years. Sometimes you just need the damn job finished, and I’ll bet you any long-term D-lister you care to mention has paid his or her dues and deserves the respect and the work.

Or not. There are assholes out there. I said this was show business.

So what do you do? After you’ve studied the masters who have written brilliant books on the subject – start with every prose-and-pictures instructional written by Will Eisner and Scott McCloud – and you’ve started producing and polishing and redoing everything and make it better, take copies of a few pages to your friendly neighborhood comic book store at some time when conversation is available (as opposed to, say, Free Comic Book Day) and show it around. Listen to what the clerks and your fellow fans have to say. And by “listen” I mean “pay complete attention, don’t be defensive and don’t be a dick.”

Then you take your pages back and redo them with all the additional knowledge you’ve just acquired. Eventually – and it’ll take a while – you’ll get good enough that you can put it online or work with one of the smaller “independent” publishers or even self-publish. And then you listen some more. And redo it some more. Then you might have something worthy of showing a comics editor or a comics bureaucrat (there’s a difference) or a friendly writer or artist, and… you’ll get some more advice.

Continue along that path, even though there are 1,000 wannabes behind you. Do not get off that path. No, you do not suck (probably; hey, a few do). Persevere. You are on your own personal lifequest. A jihad, if you will. You only lose if you quit before getting to the finish line.

There’s more stuff I will probably get around to saying in the future, and many of my comrade columnists here at ComicMix with names like “O’Neil,” “Newell,” and “Ostrander” have given out some great advice. Marc Fishman, who occupies this space every Saturday, has been on this quest for a while and is nearing that bright light of success – and he’s been sharing every step of the way with our readers.

One more thing.

Don’t give up.



Martha Thomases: Here Comes The Judge!

The secret is out.

I’m an Eisner judge next year.

Me me me me me me me!

It hasn’t been easy for me to keep this to myself, especially since telling it would enable me to enjoy so much bragging. I had basically told only my knitting group and my cat sitter. With one exception, none of these people cared.

Besides reading even more comics than I do already, I’m not sure what this job entails. I expect a certain amount of graft, although that will probably take the form of free books that I need to read to do my job properly. Thus far, there have been no offers of fat envelopes of cash, nor has anyone sent any nubile young boys to my door.

(If you would like to send a nubile young boy to my door, or if you are a nubile young boy who would like to meet me, please make the case for yourself in the comments. Don’t just show up. I have a doorman.)

I do take this responsibility seriously. Which means I have homework. Lots of homework.

Even though I’ve been reading comics for more than 55 years, there is so much I don’t know. There are so many corners of the graphic-story medium that I just pop into now and then. Biographies? Non-fiction? Memoirs? These are not part of the pillar of books that topple from my night-table.

So far, I have only stuck my littlest toe into the waters, reading a few things from year-end “Ten Best” lists. It is possible that, through random chance, I chose the wrong books first. Or perhaps my feelings about the current state of world affairs colored the tone of voice in which I read.

Those first few books I read were so dreary!

There is every reason in the world for artists to want to tell stories that might strike me as dreary. The purpose of art is to illuminate the world in new and different ways, some of which will be scary or sad or pessimistic. Art might be entertaining, but it does not have to be.

Still, sometimes I think that there is a bias in our culture against pleasure. If something is fun, it can’t also be serious and important. I see this most in teenagers, who embrace despair with the kind of zeal that one can only feel when rejecting everything one’s parents ever said. Certainly, that was true for me.

And then I got older, and lost people I loved to war and disease and disagreements, and, eventually, pessimism didn’t seem so romantic anymore. I embraced my love of laughter and super-heroes.

I continue to do so.

It is my fondest hope that I will find books like this among those clamoring for my attention this year. I feel like I owe it to comics.

I certainly owe it to 2017.

Ed Catto: Teaching The Teacher at the Bergen Arts Festival

Teen Arts Students in Class

Teen Arts Freida CryingKids these days… they’re all irreverent slackers, consumed in the little bubbles of social media and self-absorption, right? Not so fast! That’s not what I just experienced at all.

Each year, Bergen (County New Jersey) Community College is the site for the Bergen Teen Arts Festival. This impressive event invites outstanding high school students to participate in a daylong celebration of creativity, youth and the arts. It’s packed full of live performances – music, theater and more. An art exhibit showcases impressive drawing, painting and sculpting talent. The Festival offers more creative workshops than any student could ever attend in one day.

And the weather gods must support it, because it always seems to be held on a gorgeous, sunny day.

Evan Cooper, the Teen Arts Administrator is a focused and supportive guy with a great skill for setting the stage and then letting the students and teachers shine. Three years ago, Evan, along with creative writing expert Jim O’Rourke, recruited me to teach a class on creating graphic novels.

Teen Arts Superhero GuitarIt’s been a fantastic experience. For my part, I try to distill some of my best (art) life lessons, learned from the likes of everyone from Scott McCloud to Joe Kubert to all my own art teachers. My goal is to help spark an interest in kids for the art form of comics. We have a lot fun in these classes, and if you’ll allow me to brag, they are always SRO.

Newsflash – they don’t really need me. They already get it. They’ve already earned their pilots licenses, or are in the process. I’m just the airport runway.

So, in fact, as the teacher, I have the opportunity to learn a lot in these classes. Here are some of this year’s observations:

Teen Arts Student Manga SketchbookManga is a Second Language to Many – If you attended the Book Expo and talked with bookstore retailers, they might have told you that the Manga craze (i.e. Japanese Comics) is dead. That’s not what I saw at all. So many of today’s high school students, presumably having enjoyed manga in their formative years, love this style and love to express themselves in this style.

Today’s Cool Kids – Years ago, when I was in high school, I made the mistake of wearing Batman apparel and was mocked (by one of the school’s prettiest blondes, no less) for my absurd, immature pop culture tastes. Today it’s so much the opposite. This isn’t a newsflash to anyone who’s been paying attention, but it’s still just incredible to me.

In each of the three classes I taught that day, there were one or two kids who wore superhero shirts and they were instantly the experts. They’d talk about the recent Captain America: Civil War movie, or Steve Ditko or digital comics or AMC’s new Preacher series. They knew their stuff and everyone respected them.

Lots of Talent – These kids were good! One student had already had his work accepted onto ComiXology’s Submit program (click here for more details) there was such a wide range of imagination and creativity.

What a day! Can’t we just fast-forward to the near future when these kids are published and see what they have to say?

Martha Thomases: Understanding Scott McCloud

If you haven’t read The Sculptor, stop reading this and go get yourself a copy immediately,

Need more persuasion? Okay, but you’re missing out on valuable time that could be spent reading this awesome book. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s since Zot because it was funny and human and had a villain named Art Deco. More people became fans when he published the brilliant Understanding Comics. There is no one who uses the graphic story medium to better effect than Scott McCloud.

The Sculptor showcases McCloud’s mastery of technique. His use of color is impeccable. The book is black and white with blue tones, giving the different scenes a variety of moods and weights. The way he uses overlapping word balloons reminds me of an Altman movie. The panel arrangements speed up time and slow it down, depending on the needs of the character.

All of this is in service to the story: David Smith is a frustrated artist trying to make it in New York. He makes a deal with Death (not the cute girl but an old Jewish man who reminds me of my mom’s Uncle Harry) to have 200 days when he create whatever art he wants, in exchange for dying at the end of the deal.

Then he falls in love.

Meg isn’t anyone’s dream girl. A struggling actress, she has serious emotional problems including, I think, a variation of bi-polar disorder (Note: I am not a doctor). Still, her energy and her compassion strike a chord with David. It’s not an easy relationship for either of them. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to believe it.

I’ve seen people compare the story to Faust, and I guess I get that analogy, but it doesn’t really hold up. David doesn’t ask for fame or power – he just wants to make his art the way he wants to make his art. He doesn’t even negotiate for a gallery show where people can see his work.

It’s all about the art.

A major character in this book is New York City. Not the New York of Friends or Sex and the City or even Peter Parker, this is the New York of cheap rent, scummy landlords, tight money and brilliant, artistic friends. It’s the New York I wanted to live in when I came here nearly 40 years ago. So much so that I almost thought the story took place at that time, until I noticed everyone had cell phones.

I thought that New York was gone. Maybe I’m just too old for it. I’m grateful to The Sculptor for letting me live there again, for at least as long as it took to read.

And another thing! It’s bugged me lately that critics seem to think that superhero movies are the root of all evil. It’s a genre that gets sneers from everyone, even though it’s relatively new (I would say it started with Superman in 1978).

Okay, we can discuss whether or not Thor: The Dark World was as good a film as The Imitation Game. I don’t think it was. Still, it brought happiness to millions. I think that’s a good thing.

And it gives a lot of people a chance to make a living in a field they love. Or, as Marvel writer Gerry Duggan said on Twitter Sunday night after J. K. Simmons won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, “J Jonah Jameson beat two Hulks to win an Oscar, then Ra’s al Ghul said there are too many comic adaptations. #Oscars2015”


Mindy Newell: Up, Up And Away In My Beautiful Balloon

Word BalloonsI wanted to write about word balloons, which I’m pretty sure hasn’t been talked about here at ComicMix before, at least since I arrived here, is it coming on three years already? And now I’m incredibly frustrated and possibly going crazy.

I got the idea from seeing a piece in Entertainment Weekly featuring an interview with Scott McCloud in which he talked about the use of word balloons in comics. I thought I set the magazine aside to use as a reference – and I’ve been tearing about the house for over an hour looking for it. Can’t find it anywhere…and I even went through my recycle bin. And I went to EW’s website, but have you been there recently? It’s H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E! Supposedly it was “redesigned,” but it looks more like it was hacked into by The Onion’s staff, or maybe the same goons from North Korea who hacked into Sony. I mean, what kind of website doesn’t have a search engine icon?? Go ahead, go try searching the site for an old article… even a recap of Downton Abbey from two weeks ago. Unless I’m blind, it just ain’t there, folks – and if I am, please let me know how to search the EW website down below in the comments!

But back to word balloons.

If I could get a nickel for every time someone, upon learning that I’ve written comics, has said something like so you put the words in those little balloons, I’d be a rich lady. Maybe not part of the 1%, but at least a member of the 7%. Well, I do, actually. Put the words in the balloons, I mean. Only it all starts on the written page, whether it’s done as a full script or in what’s often called “Marvel style.”

I think I’ve said this before, but for me, when I’m really in the zone as I’m writing a story, it’s like watching a movie unfold in my head and all I’m doing is transcribing. As Scott pointed out in that article and in his brilliant Understanding Comics, the trick is, since it’s a visual medium, to convey the emotion behind the lettered words. And by using the art of the balloon, not only in its lettering, but in its presentation and placement within the panel. For example, if I were writing a key scene in a story between Clark Kent and Lois Lane in which Lois Lane has had enough of the bullshit, my script would look like this:

Lois: Well, you know what, Clark….

Lois: (big, bold letters in a big, bold balloon, because she’s done with the whole situation) GO FUCK YOURSELF AND THE ROCKET YOU FLEW IN ON!

Not that I could ever get away with that particular terminology in DC land. Well, I could if it was Vertigo.

If you’re lucky and you’ve got a great artist and a great letterer who really get it – and I have been – the final result will really hit the reader. If you’re not lucky, and you’ve got a hack artist and a hack letterer – and I’ve been there, too – the final result is just another panel among many, and that key moment will leave the reader skimming the page and feeling nothing.

Another trick I’ve used when writing scripts is what I call the “Howard Hawks” method. Film director Howard Hawks (The Thing from Another World, His Girl Friday) was known for his ability to have his actors talk the way real people talk, i.e., interrupting each other, overlapping, talking to themselves while the other person is continuing to talk, conversations going on in the background – he was so good at directing his actors in this that quite often you have to watch a scene at least twice to get everything. (Watch those two movies I reference above, and this time don’t pay attention to the main action– listen for what’s going on in the background. It’s quite a kick– for instance, did you know that the leading man and the leading lady in The Thing from Another World were sleeping together? I bet the censors didn’t catch that either, which is probably why it got through the finished cut. And of course Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were superb at talking over one another in Friday.

The way you do this in comics is to have the balloons themselves overlapping and trying to crowd each other out. In that EW piece, a panel from one of Scott’s comics – I believe it is the upcoming The Sculptor, for which he is getting tremendous praise – has his character walking through Times Square, in his own world – but Scott gives you the sense of the thousands of people crowding and walking through the area with word balloons “floating” everywhere – bits of conversation that are going on around the main character which he doesn’t really hear except as the “buzz” of the city. Again, as a reader, because of the placement of the balloons, the number of balloon, the art of the balloon, you are with the character, not just a casual bystander.

Mindy: (faintly lined balloon with small letters, she’s whispering to herself) shit, it’s 6:27. mike is gonna kill me. better wrap this up.

Mindy: Let me know if any of you find that EW piece, okay, guys? See ya next week. And thanks.


Martha Thomases Loves Mark Millar

Thomases Art 130816Kick-Ass 2 opened and I’m very psyched. Loved the comics. Loved the first movie. Even liked the Wanted movie, although it isn’t as sharp and funny as the book.

You see, I’m a big fan of Mark Millar. I’ve followed him ever since he wrote Swamp Thing with Grant Morrison, and, as DC’s Publicity Manager, I had to explain to people who he was. And while I haven’t read absolutely everything he’s written, nor have I loved absolutely everything I’ve read, he always engages me with his characters, entertains me and, in places, makes me laugh.

So it surprised me when I read this.

To be sure, I’m not surprised that there is a backlash against someone who is commercially successful in a popular art form. There are always those people, desperate to be cool, who affect disdain for anything popular. There is a subset of this group, who claim to have liked the person/band/actor/director’s work before, when they were unknown. I, myself, am capable of rambling on pretentiously about the first time I saw Talking Heads, when they were a trio.

That’s not what I’m talking about here. Instead, a (reasonably) well-respected magazine, The New Republic, did an overview of Mark’s work and didn’t like what they saw. They spoke with some people who defended Millar, and with some who criticized him. Mostly, the article focused on sex, violence and rape.

Of which there is a lot in Millar’s work. To quote from the article:

“Laura Hudson, the former editor-in-chief of the popular blog Comics Alliance and a senior editor at Wired, thought that scene was deplorable, but typical of Millar. ‘There’s one and only one reason that happens, and it’s to piss off the male character,” she said. “It’s using a trauma you don’t understand in a way whose implications you can’t understand, and then talking about it as though you’re doing the same thing as having someone’s head explode. You’re not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be writing rape scenes.’”

Laura Hudson is someone I admire and respect. When I say I disagree with her, it is not my intention to dismiss her point of view (and I’m aware it can sound like that in print, when you can’t hear my tone of voice or see my evocative hand gestures). Having said that, I suspect we’re having a similar problem when we read the stories. I don’t pick up a tone in the work that celebrates actual violence or rape. I see those actions being used to define characters. Unlike Laura, I don’t think women in the stories are raped solely to motivate men. I think rape is used to show how awful the person is who commits it.

Is this a comic book problem? John Irving writes books that are full of raped characters and the men who love them. Most contemporary critics consider him to be a feminist, or at least an ally to feminists.

(And this will probably be the only time anyone ever discusses Mark Millar and John Irving in the same article.)

Writing about something – even illustrating something – is not the same as endorsing it. I’ve been involved in the non-violent movement for social justice for more than 45 years, yet I enjoyed these comics a lot. I’m tickled by the cartoon violence, in no small part because I know that no actual humans are involved. This may be because of the tone I infer from the stories, or because, as Scott McCloud describes, we each supply our own interpretation of what happens between the panels.

We bring our lives to comics in a way that’s different from other popular art forms. Maybe this is why we can differ so profoundly in our reactions to what we read. In my version, Mark Millar is sort of kind of related to Chuck Jones by way of Francis Ford Coppola.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


REVIEW: How to Fake a Moon Landing

How to Fake a Moon Landing
By Darryl Cunningham
176 pages, Abrams ComicArts, $16.95

HowtoFakeaMoonlandingThere has been a preponderance of memoirs as graphic novels filling bookshelves over the last few years but with the exception of Joe Sacco’s work, there has been precious little journalism done in the graphic form. Cartoonist Darryl Cunningham, therefore, is a welcome voice, shedding some much needed light on the darker areas of science and culture. He made his name with Psychiatric Tales and then turned his attentions to Science Tales; Lies, Hoaxes, and Scams, which was released in England. Since then, he added a chapter and this month Abrams’ ComicArts imprint releases it as How to Fake a Moon Landing.

Cunningham breezily takes us through some of the hot button topics that are used as bludgeons by No Nothing Conservatives or are blown out of proportion by a lazy media. As one expects, the Moon landing is just the beginning, with chapters also dedicated to the MMR Vaccination Scandal, Evolution, Global Warming and so on. Each chapter spells out the facts, sourcing them along the way, and then shows where fact goes off the rails and becomes fodder for others to misuse. While he takes the cranks and critics to task, he also often faults the news media for never digging deep enough or presenting the other side of the argument for a “fair and balanced” look at the issue.

In a sprawling interview with Tom Spurgeon in 2011, he explained, “The comic strip format is particularly good at presenting information in a concise and entertaining way. A comic strip is so easy to read, that you can often find that by the time you’ve decided not to read it, you’ve read half of it. It’s a very immediate format that engages straight away and can deliver a lot of information quickly. It’s the perfect medium for presenting complex information. I’m surprised it’s not done more often. I’ve never thought of myself as part of any social activist tradition. These social and political subjects have naturally evolved out of my own interests, and to some extent, my frustration and anger with the status quo.”

As a result, you might be surprised to learn that the MMR matter was the result of one doctor’s efforts to sell his own medicine or how much money the oil industry spent on lobbying; resulting in Vice President Dick Cheney ensuring a particular bill was effectively neutered. As usual, the common man is left to pay the price or suffer the consequences. Since its initial publication, Cunningham dropped “Electroconvulsive Therapy”, replacing it with “Fracking” which remains a current topic of debate. As a result, the book is exceedingly relevant as it digests the issues down into comprehensible chapters, pointing where you can look next for more detail.

Cunningham’s approach is pretty similar to how Scott McCloud educates us about graphic storytelling and it works. He infuses each chapter with black, white, and one other color, keeping things stark and letting the reader focus on the facts. On the other hand, those who automatically buy into conspiracy theories or refuse to allow facts into the discussion will dismiss the book which is a shame. Wisely, he closes the book with a prophetic chapter on “Science Denial”. Cunningham does a remarkable job with difficult material and for high school students, just opening their eyes to the world around them, this is a terrific primer.

xkcd “Click and Drag” the biggest comic panel ever

Today’s xkcd comic, unless someone can convince me otherwise, now holds the record for the biggest comic panel ever. Fittingly, the strip is called “Click and drag” and you’ll have to do a LOT of it to read the entire thing.

At 165888 x 79872 pixels, or 1.3 terapixels, the image would fill the screens of 4212 iPads with retina displays in an 81 x 52 grid. The grayscale image is 12.3 gigabytes in size. If it was printed at a size big enough that you could see the people, it would cover a football end zone. And as you might expect in a Randall Munroe comic, there are little treasures to be discovered all over the place. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but yes, Waldo’s in there too.

Yes, there are people who have started stitching the full image together, but we’d like to warn you that the full image is not safe for work. Not that there are any naughty bits, but the full-size image is so large it will crash most computers if you try to open it.

Somewhere, Scott McCloud is smiling contentedly to himself, seeing that someone else has tried the infinite canvas. I wonder where Randall Munroe will float next…

Martha Thomases and Seth and Ted and Flash

Pop culture can be a funny thing. I don’t mean “Ha ha” funny, although that is also sometimes true. I mean funny as in a head-shaking “Ain’t that a bitch,” kind of way.

For example, yesterday I went to see Ted. I didn’t want to, but it was the Number One box office hit this weekend and my son, the genius, is doing a blog on the subject, and he was in town for the Del Close Marathon. It’s not a very good movie, in my opinion, but I’m not a huge fan of Seth McFarlane. He’s okay, and I will always support him because his work points out the blistering hypocrisy of our shared alma mater . And I like fart jokes more than the average little old Jewish lady.

Still, I found myself tearing up. Did the film have unexpected emotional depth? No. What it had was a million references to Flash Gordon. Flash Gordon is a terrible movie I saw in 1980 when it was released, with co-columnist Denny O’Neil. It was so deliberately and hilariously bad that I dragged my husband to see it immediately. We own it in at least two different formats. I got him a signed photo of Melody Anderson for an anniversary present. Over the years, we found more opportunities to exclaim “Not the bore worms!” than you would think could credibly arise.

We find each other through shared interests. I met my husband because we both admired Paul Krassner. We laughed at a lot of the same things. He wasn’t into comics, but we found common ground in our appreciation of R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Our tastes weren’t the same, but I was not surprised when he liked Scott McCloud’s Zot! at least as much as I did.

What really bonded us, however, was seeing Pinocchio together at the Annecy Animation Festival. It was 1979, our first trip to Europe together. Annecy is a lovely little town in the French Alps. We were staying in a room in a charming small hotel that, when we went to take a nap with the window open, filled with cats.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson were guests of the festival, and we got to hang out with them. I hadn’t seen Pinocchio since I was a child, and couldn’t remember the way it ended at all (too frightening). Watching it with John, seeing what a perfect film it was, made me love him even more.

Love is about a lot of things, but if you can’t share pleasure, there’s not much point to it.

Thank you, Seth McFarlane, for reminding me of those fun times. And also, the Ryan Reynolds cameo. That was great.

Saturday: Marc Alan Fishman Flames On!