Why Comic Books Have Trouble With Innovation and Inclusion

It’s this crazy retail-distribution system.  I remember how shocked and befuddled I was when I first discovered the setup. So that’s why there were heaps of comics in the garbage pile behind the store alla time — can’t send back unsold copies! The late, great Jeep Holland, who worked for Diamond Distributors (when it actually had some competition), told me that, rightly or wrongly, comic-book publishers decided that dealing with unsold copies would be a crucial difference between making money and going broke. Jeep thought this was increasingly misguided since it was based on the assumption that nobody but nobody would be interested in a comic book a month after it came out, let alone years later. (Been great for the collectors’ market of course — it’s why really old comics are really rare.) This also explains why Marvel’s huge outburst of innovation came as they were going down the tubes and had nothing to lose. But also a strong component of why I dropped out of mainstream-comic reading. The rehash mode was impossible to stomach.

R.I.P.: Adam West

Never really escaped the Bat Prison. I sure went through a bunch of cycles about the TV show and the Batman character. I was amused by it until it became a hit. I didn’t like the “campy” comics at all — they took off as I was transitioning to Marvel for good. And though Batman and Robin were everywhere, I felt too much of the time it was merely a new way to say “comic books are junk.” West had a good sense of humor about it all because on some level he was aware he simply couldn’t come up with a second act.

And after time, I agreed there was something damned weird about Batman in general. The science and gadgets were window dressing — Frank Miller was on to something. Batman was, at bottom, a vigilante who had always had a vengeful and cruel streak. I suspected the police department he could work with also included Dick Tracey. So, valuable as they might be, I don’t have a lot of Batman in the back-room boxes. I’m more of a Plastic Man man.

Stuff in the Air That Came Out of Speakers Today #61

(After many partial plays of Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues.)

Mac Rebennack AKA Dr. John, Good Times in New Orleans 1958-1962 (Soul Jam, 2017) A collection of the good Dr.’s vintage studio work that I bought without remembering I had an earlier version of such a survey and played in an attempt to decide if I should ditch one or the other.

Khemmis, Hunted (Spin, 2016). Plugged by Motorhead head as something Doom fans should hear. I agree — fresh synthesis of everything Stoner and Doom from before without wretch-inducing lapses and, while songs are humorless, you can feel the love and comprehensive knowledge of the styles. Nothing feels long long long.

Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize Speech. Yep, as brilliant as everybody claims. Guy’s got a unique memory, seems to me — at my most credulous, I think he’s doing as much a bean-dump on the books as he is on his apprehension of rock, R&B and folk. These swirling spiels are what he retains and he polishes up only until it’s all in his own voice.

Dr. John, Storm Warning (The Early Sessions of Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack) (Jazzmine, 2004) See above. Well, chocomo fee nae nae — with a total 55 tracks between them (six or seven overlaps) the contrasting mood and texture of these collections makes them both worth keeping. The recent one has brighter, more detailed sound, this earlier one livelier mood and feels more like a Dr. John album.

Motorhead, Aftershock — Tour Edition (UDR, 2014). When I recently consulted the Motorhead head (see above) he said Aftershock was their best since the ’90s and said the live disc (“Best of the West Coast Tour 2014”) was either #1 or #2 of such programs. I donno about that, but it is exceptionally strong and highly recommended. The studio album is a deep–late-day triumph for Lemmy & crew — and the salute to him I’ve meant to do since the innocent days I thought his death would be the prime blow to the heart in 2016.

 

The Air Is Still and the Light Is Cool #20

(An exercise-session selection so enveloping I couldn’t keep track of my reps.)

Brian Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (Island, 1975 — E.G. reissue, 2004)

Is this a rock and roll record? No, but how many orbits does it cross? How many times can Eno set up an atmosphere, prattle without getting you too concerned about the story and then seduce you with racket or hypno-beats? Ten times, maybe? This track seems to be about sex and this one an army adventure perhaps, but what do you need after “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More”? Wait — tell me again, what is Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland about?

Roma Holiday #4: Pleasant Surprises

(1) We got what I would call an ideal viewing of the Sistine Chapel.

We had long been warned to start a Vatican tour as early as possible and zip right to the Chapel in order not to be distracted and even overwhelmed by a sea of crowds. We went with the 7:30 AM tour done by The Roman Guy and indeed did motor pretty much right into the Sistine Zone. I expected the  groups to be as small and scattered as they were, but I worried that we would be more or less hustled through the room. Instead (though our guide said she was not allowed to say much, she would answer questions — I noticed a couple other guides kinda ignored the silencio requirement) we got absolutely enough time for a full examination. And no question, it’s a pinnacle of human achievement.

Three sub-points and I’ll move on. I’ve always thought “God Separating the Light From the Darkness” looked oddly murky and unfinished (even in the cleaned reproductions I had seen). Observing the work itself, it was plain Michelangelo intended this deliberately. The primal origin is the murkiest moment in the history of the universe — and I think every religion as well as science would agree on this truth. Next, no matter how many dozens and dozens of times I have scanned the “Final Judgement” I never appreciated how horrible and emotionally tempestuous is the figure of Minos. Nightmare.

Minos

Finally my favorite non-Michelangelo work in the Sistine is on the right of the back wall. Shows angels chasing demons away from the corpse (and soul) of Moses, who had a very sordid set of later years, of course. Very demony demons (as I say, you can tell when the artist believes) and a knockout presentation of the principle that the good you do can redeem the bad. I flopped attempts to track down who painted it.

(2) The modern art we saw offered serious competition in wonderfulness to the classical masters.

(And my biggest complaint is that you could do a well-researched visit to Rome and hear next to nothing about the Modern treasures.) The Time Out of Joint exhibition was a thorough treat — well, a few dull rooms — and we would say a must. One of the best aspects is that, while there are themed sections, there’s no right or wrong way to put together your path through the building. Just make sure you take in everything. The Hercules in the link, btw, is the only 19th century mythology-themed statue that rivaled the glory-years works. The others were warnings about how trapped in a wondrous past a country’s traditions could become. And even this Herk is an obscure if intense moment I had to look up to remember.

The Botero retrospective was a surprise treat among surprise treats. We got in during a special-discount late-hours session on Saturday and enjoyed a crowd with more art-devoted locals than usual. Particularly strong on showing how turning pre-existing themes into you own language is potent. The blow-my-heart-and-brains section was the one on circus performers. Only gripe: 80-year-old Botero oversaw the selections himself and chose to present his work as a bit more above politics than it is. Even one of these would have made it a perfect survey.

(3) Food and taste cheerys.

We had forgotten that not just eggs but milk — and cheese and ice cream and yogurt etc. — was richer and more complex in Europe than in the US. I yearn for one of those yogurt and fruit snacks to this minute. Also, sticking rigidly to my new eating schedule felt half deranged and half impossible. Especially as I caved on carbs for unforgettable pasta and even bread sometimes, I worried. We were quite active — walked at least two miles or more every day — I was sure I would gain.

Stepped on the scale the day after we returned: not a single pound added. Joy oh joy. The only change I’m going to make in my routine is to be a tiny bit more forgiving about an occasional slice of bread that seduces me. Should be offset by my reluctance to settle for the lesser pasta hereabouts.

Eternal question: where has Italian wild boar been all my life? Over there, waiting for me to flip out over it.

(4) The stunning clarity of the cleaned-off artwork banished all regret at taking so long to visit the Eternal City.

The freshened stone and canvas and even paper are what to see. An indisputable argument was the Coliseum — where you almost wish they would leave the grime-removal incomplete since the compare-and-contrast was so fascinating.

Speaking of the Coliseum, another pleasant surprise was the extensive temporary display that traced the history of the giant structure in reproductions and reconstructions, including representations in paintings and illustrations.

There was yet still more, but I’m outta poop.