Monday, October 29, 2007

The South

The results of the latest poll are in, and you have chosen the South as your favourite direction/imagined cultural space, giving it twice as many votes as its nearest rivals. And quite right too; the North is just dull, the East is weird and frightening - even to an enlightened liberal relativist such as myself - and the West is already a bit overrepresented on this blog. This post, then, is dedicated to the South.

By the South, I of course mean Dixie, so sorry to anyone who hoped for something about Clapham or Antarctica or what-have-you. I've enjoyed rummaging Youtube for something suitable to show, and have unsurprisingly been overwhelmed by possibilities. There is too much to see and hear, too much to get across, and too much to find out. Some choices were too obvious - Lynard Skynard trashing Neil Young, Scarlett O'Hara shooting a Yankee plunderer. I considered Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit laughing it up in Disney's unfortunate Song of the South, George Wallace running for president in '68, Paul Robeson belting out 'Old Man River'. More music suggested itself - Earl Scruggs, Satchmo, Leadbelly - but I could not choose. I even considered a bit of Klan action from Birth of a Nation, but that's a bit wrong, and not nearly as exciting as it was in 1915. Anyway, while looking for the full scene of Pickett's Charge in Gettysburg, I was reminded I haven't yet seen its prequel, Gods and Generals. From this scene, it looks to be equally schmaltzy, but Stonewall Jackson is my favourite Confederate General (though I always imagine him more raggedy than this) and the First Bull Run is my favourite Civil War battle. So here's to Old Virginia and the Lost Cause!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Madman With a Razor

This week President Putin employed the tried, tested and thoroughly enjoyable debating tactic of casting doubts on one opponent's sanity. "It's not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand," he offered sagely, referring to US plans for new sanctions on Iran. Constructive criticism, of course, which will no doubt lead to Bush, Cheney and Rice calmly collecting themselves, wiping the saliva from their chins, returning their carving knives to the kitchen drawer, and immediately checking into the nearest asylum. A lovely image too, which called to mind the wonderful Johnny, the Homicidal Maniac (above). I have a feeling, though, that it is not entirely fair to all those world leaders who have devoted their careers to refining and expressing their lunacy. Gaddafi (the original "Mad Dog of the Middle East"), the late Niyazov of Turkmenistan and Hugo Chavez, for example, delight us with their eccentric pronouncements and confusing behaviour while distracting us from their entirely serious breaches of decency. The Bush Administration, however, pursues danger and decline with a depressing sobriety.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Goodbye, Ming

How's that for coincidence? I resolve to finally send back my party membership form tomorrow (thanks, in part, to the guidance of Dunce readers), and then the leader goes and resigns! Oh well, at least this means I'll get to vote on something this year. Genuinely sorry to see him go.

Graphic Reagan

Apologies to all for the inexcusable lapse in posting.

The above is from Ten Nights of the Beast, a perestroika era Batman story in which the KGBeast goes rogue and attempts to shut SDI research down forever - a dastardly scheme which will ruin the USA and involves the murder of its chief visionary, Ronald Reagan. It is not Reagan's first appearance in a Gotham City tale. In Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns we see his colourful caricature bumble and ramble and reassure Americans as disaster approaches, from the safety of a TV screen and later, a radiation suit. No doubt he pops up elsewhere in the world of graphic literature. I seem to remember his distorted, ghastly visage appear in Alan Moore's ghostly and paranoid Brought to Light - any other examples will be gratefully received.

All this is preamble to the news that Reagan has finally got his own comic book. Ronald Reagan: The Graphic Biography was published last month and has been serialised here at Slate. As some of you may imagine, news of this (which first reached me via the Good Liberal) had me giggling and twirling with gleeful anticipation. It would be a wonderful merging of my interests, something that I had imagined myself on occasion. I had even more than once promised a strangely unenthusiastic Little Red Bull a script for him to draw, encountering Reagan at various stages of his life (this never got off the ground).

It is perhaps unsurprising then that when the book finally made it through the striking postmen and into my hands, I was a bit disappointed. First off, it is too small. It need not be a 300 style monument, but the tiny A5 pages make for a cramped and jerky narrative, and the story definitely deserves some panoramic images. The other problems indicate the difficulty not of incorporating Reagan's life into a visual narrative, but of making that narrative a "serious" biography (the publishing branch behind this is embarrassingly called "serious comics"). It becomes far to text heavy, driven by the captions rather than the panels. We are presented with a necessarily undetailed text, accompanied by illustrations in which the dialogue is almost only taken from actual quotes. This is done out of the understandable desire to keep the book factual, but it means that its medium loses its strengths. There is no fluidity, no action, no drama. The panels often represent scenes days or months apart, only linked by chronology and the explanations in the captions. Occasionally the authors are reduced to the crude iconography of editorial cartoons to represent an event, or a point, which reduces the weight and the innovation of the idea.

The problem is clear - to fully exploit the medium the narrative would be dramatised, and thus fictionalised, or it would have to become a lot more abstract. I'd be happy with either direction, but the purpose here is to write biography, not theatre or art. Kudos anyway to Helfer, Buccaletto and Staton - all experienced comics writers - for the idea and the attempt. Opening up new avenues for the medium to explore is always worth the effort, especially if they are historical, and even more especially if they are Reagan-themed. The next "Serious Comic" to be published will be about J. Edgar Hoover, apparently - hopefully they will have found some solutions to the problems they met with Reagan.