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.

End of a TV Era

The last boxlike TV set I will ever own has just been hauled away by trash collectors. My family’s first set, about 60 years ago, had a screen about a third as big and tried very hard to be a boxlike piece of furniture.

I did not see the haul happen, but don’t care I did not get to say goodbye. Damned set had become a pain in the vacuum tube when it was evident we couldn’t get rid of it easily. Nobody wanted a boxlike TV even as a donation.

“National Lampoon” (What, Again?!?!)

Almost all of these depressing and catastrophic developments were news to me.  As I said earlier, in what has proved to be the most surprising frequent topic in this blog, I stopped paying much attention to the operation and its spin-offs after 1978 or so. (I’ve never even seen a “Vacation” movie since I regard Chevy Van Chaser as toxic unfunny.) But the NatLamp story is still enlightening on several levels.

One, in the contest to revive a once-notorious outsider magazine, Punk and CREEM now have to give up the Botch Crown to National Lampoon. Obviously no other publication has fallen as far or squandered so much energy.

Two, this is further confirmation of a most peculiar failure of understanding: reviving a brand is weak and lazy. It’s just throwing out an imitation. Inventing a hit brand is a lot harder, but the real task at hand.

Third, the piece touches on a crucial transformation: NatLamp started as a mixture of the subversive and the sophomoric. And it eventually went with the easier option. Part of that whole horrible wave where racist and sexist and generally bigoted humor was considered “bold” or “rule-breaking,” whereas the opposite type of satire was and is the tough way forward.

Yeh, I know — it’s cheap fun to satirize the squares and the Establishment. But those are extinct. The powerful and smug and cruel and hate-mongers and anti-thinkers are the targets of our time, and they can be fired upon.

Presidents and Fantasies

Important piece about, well, POTUS doing the job.

And also the importance of the fantasy pushed by the administration. It was important to the Establishment for the compliant press to present JFK and Jackie as this magic, perfect couple. Of course that made the assassination more shattering, but an odd followup that almost nobody noted was that Jackie seemed to get over him pretty damned pronto. I half expected her to mourn the rest of her life.

It was important to sell the fantasy that pipsqueak Viet Nam was nothing and we were winning, any day now. LBJ was hated more because of the deception.

Now the fantasy of the return of high-paying manufacturing jobs is crucial to scads of people. They just want it to happen — who cares if there’s a plan or a program or even a possibility.

Every time I’m tempted to yield to thoughts of  “Boy, maybe cool careers writing about the arts are gonna come back,” I remember these sorts of insistent fantasies.

R.I.P.: Jonathan Demme

(I may say more later — right now I’m having trouble processing all these people passing on.)

Equals parts filmmaker and music nut and creator after my own heart. I thought a good deal of his stuff didn’t quite work, but every time out I could precisely feel and understand where he was trying to go.

The neglected item: Melvin and Howard. Eccentric, sure, but how many movies are not only eccentric but one-of-a-kind?

Favorite uplift from source material: Silence of the Lambs. The book, which I was captivated by the flick enough to read afterward, is clunky and ordinary in comparison. Every change Demme made is an improvement. Wise to shun sequels.

The ultimate of course is Stop Making Sense. Changed the way amplified concerts were filmed. No band could ask for a finer monument. I was riveted by right from the first of the several times I’ve seen it. About halfway through it hit me: “Ho-lee crap — there’s no question this is more exciting and overwhelming than seeing the actual show. No single audience position could knock out your brains like this!”

William Hjortsberg — Somebody You Should Read, Hear?

Official site of one of the writers who fundamentally changed the character of my home town.

The musts? These —

Alp (belongs with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Catch-22 and more playful and funny than either)

Grey Matters (forgotten even among his fans — sure as hell deserving of the next lost-marvel-of-science-fiction revival)

Toro! Toro! Toro! (the “bullfight novel” the ghost of Hemingway wishes he had written)

Falling Angel (at least this was seen right away as a noir as sharp and inventive as Grey Matters in sci-fi was not)

Nevermore (unclassifiable as Alp and as much, if darker, fun).

MOVIES:

Angel Heart (a perfect adaptation of Falling Angel)

One I’d most like to see made: Morning of the Magicians

 

The High Days —

 

Gatz 1

Paradise Players production of Twelfth Night in Emigrant, MT, 1974 —

 

Feste the jester is “Gatz” — in the middle. Grand artist Russell Chatham who designed the sets, in white shirt in back.

 

Cosmik Loop Closed By GET OUT

Hmmmmm. Writer/director/producer Jordan Peele got his breakout on MADtv. MAD magazine took off when the line of EC horror comics was effectively censored. Get Out is perfect as a no-holds-barred current combo of EC and MAD on screen. Something has come full circle. Whoo-hooo-haa-HAAAH!

The ghost of William Gains has opened one of the most expensive bottles in his otherworldly wine cellar.