Linkblogging for 27/02/09

Sorry for the lack of posts this week – I’ve ended up working late most days, and been too tired to write when I got in, and Holly and I have been flathunting. With some luck I’ll have a post up tomorrow about the Convention on Modern Liberty, and a Cerebus post on Sunday. Meanwhile, have some links.

Bobsy has another pair of underpants.

Several people are infuriated by the racism of the Mail this week, including Laurie, Anton Vowl and Jennie. Meanwhile Andrew Rilstone is pointing out a similar lovely piece from the Express.

James at Quaequam blog has a post which manages to be about British politics, comics and (tangentially at least) Doctor Who.

Calamity Jon Morris has been tagged for a meme

And a very interesting article in SciAm where, if you can get past the misrepresentations in the text itself and look at the research it’s talking about, it seems to be suggested that hereditary mechanisms other than purely genetic ones operate, allowing the selection of acquired characteristics. I’ve not looked at the actual papers themselves yet though, but this seems… unusual, to say the least.

A quick Cerebus link

I’ll be continuing my Cerebus posts sometime soon (tonight or tomorrow) but before I do, I thought everyone should go and read/re-read Andrew Rilstone’s look at the last issue ,which says a lot of things I want to say myself. Especially this bit:

And by the way, Dave. Damn right I am a liberal. I read your comic precisely because I am a liberal. Where ‘liberal’ is defined as ‘one who believes in freedom, and in particular, the freedom of expression.’ One who believes in pluralism, different viewpoints, and listening to opinions other than one’s own. One who has contempt for what you say, but will not only defend to the death your right to say it, but will actually read it, and recommend that other people do the same.

Hail, Dave Sim. Greatest living comic book creator, and total asshole.

Linkblogging for 22/02/09

A few quick links here…

Found via Douglas Wolk on Twitter – WFMU’s Beware Of The Blog have 11 CDs worth of rockabilly, garage rock and exotica, as chosen by Lux and Ivy of the Cramps, for download. Everything from Ersel Hickey to Jack Nitzsche to the Stooges to Jan & Arnie. I’m fairly up on this kind of music, but even I’d only heard of half the stuff there. Well worth getting hold of (but remember, kids, home taping is killing music…)

A great article on how the new Dalek War boxset was colourised – using BBC BASIC!

The Mindless Ones have moved on from pants, and are now discussing Spider-Man socks

It’s not often I have much in common with jet pilots, but for once I do – they’re refusing to take part in the next step of the stealth rollout of ID cards. Notice how yet again Manchester is the first place to suffer under a Labour regulation, yet we keep electing the bastards…

And in case I haven’t mentioned it, though I’m sure I have, we have a government that colludes in slicing men’s genitals with scalpels (and of course the US government actually *did* it, rather than just helping with the coverup). Even had this been the only thing that had been done wrong, it would still make the British government accessories to war crimes after the fact. If anyone reading this actually voted for this gang of torturers and murderers, how do you continue to live with yourselves? There are things that can be a matter of respectful disagreement between people of goodwill – you can argue for tougher or more lenient sentencing in prisons, higher or lower rates of income tax and so on and mean well. But *slashing at a bloke’s cock with a scalpel*?

Why An Aardvark?

I would really appreciate feedback, especially from my politically-aware female readers, for this and the next few Cerebus posts, even if you don’t know anything about Cerebus. I am very aware of my white male privilege, and I am talking about works that are incredibly problematic in every conceivable way, but for which I have an absolute adoring love. I could *very* easily fall here into being That Bloke, and I don’t want to…

This is part one of what will, I think, be a three- or four-part series on Cerebus. I’ve noticed a number of comic bloggers recently start talking, rather cautiously, about Cerebus as one of the great comics again. For a long time very, very few people have publicly stated a liking for Dave Sim’s 300-issue story about an aardvark, and it’s gratifying to see that, now the series has been over for a few years, people are slowly starting to put it in its proper perspective.

For those of you who don’t know about comics, the problem with Cerebus is that its creator, Dave Sim, is incredibly, unbelievably misogynist. His widely-publicised views are so repellent that many people absolutely refuse to even consider reading his comic work, because they don’t want to give money to anyone who espouses those views (a stance I can absolutely understand – I boycott Nestle, try to boycott Coke, and where possible given their near-monopoly on public transport in this city I refuse to give money to Stagecoach (whose CEO has donated money to groups teaching creationism and trying to get rid of homosexual rights) so I quite agree that this is a perfectly reasonable stance to take). Others, less reasonably, refuse to admit that there could possibly be anything good in the work of someone with such repellent views.

For many comics fans, this misogyny is the defining feature of Sim’s views and work – a view not helped by the vocal coterie of online fans he has who seem to think that making public claims that women should be denied the vote, or going on to Gail Simone’s message board and calling her a fat cunt, are ways to increase public respect for Sim’s work.

But Sim presents a more interesting case than most for discussing whether it’s possible to separate the artist and the art. In the first place – and it’s a minor point – he’s not the only creator of the Cerebus comics. Gerhard, the background artist, has never supported Sim’s views (though he did, until relatively recently, tacitly support Sim-the-person) and did a huge amount of work which does deserve reward. In fact at the moment I think he’s getting all of the money from current Cerebus sales, as Sim is buying out his share of Aardvark-Vanaheim, their publishing company.

Also, Sim apparently lives a spartan life with little or nothing in the way of luxuries, and gives very large amounts of money to charity, so your money is very unlikely to be of any benefit to him anyway.

But these are minor points. The main question, in my view, is to what extent Sim is responsible for his own views. This is a trickier question than it might seem. Most comic fans just know of SIm as a misogynist, but this is primarily because the vast majority of people reading the comic dropped it after issue 186, where Sim first advanced his then ‘thesis’ that women were soul-sucking voids destroying the ‘inner male light’ that was the basis for all creative work and all civilisation.

And reading that essay, or some of the others he published around that time, it is quite possible to see Sim as just a misogynist arsehole, and even to see how he might have come by his views ‘rationally’. He was an intelligent man, but not particularly educated, and very interested in Big Ideas. Almost all his social life was based around comics fans and creators, who are a self-selecting group that is overwhelmingly male and (at least in the circles Sim was moving in, people like Rick Veitch, Chester Brown, Neil Gaiman and so on) more intelligent than average, while most of the women he socialised with were his girlfriends, chosen primarily for their physical attractiveness. You can see how someone in that situation could come to the conclusion that women are just less capable of thought than men. (This is not – NOT – to say it’s a defensible conclusion. Just that it appears to be one that one could come to while still remaining more-or-less rational, given Sim’s circumstances).

But having dropped the comic, most people didn’t see the evidence of Sim’s increasing mental deterioration. Sim had had a spell in a psychiatric hospital in the late 1970s, and later claimed that he spent most of the 80s ‘faking’ ‘normalcy’ – acting normal to fit in, while secretly holding many of the opinions for which he was later ostracised. He also, for the whole of the 80s and much of the early 90s, smoked *huge* amounts of cannabis.

Even without knowing these facts, though, it’s apparent in retrospect that SIm’s views on women are not the aberrant and abhorrent views of an otherwise rational man, as they appeared when he first went public with them. Since that time, he has announced that he has found a secret hidden meaning in the King James version of the Bible (and also in the Koran) which ‘proves’ that all of history is a conflict between God and a transsexual demiurge who is the YHWH of the Bible and lives in the middle of the Earth. This demiurge also caused the 2004 tsunami as a result of Sim revealing the ‘truth’ in his comic, as well as possessing many people around him and making them think he was mad. Sim also gave up masturbation because he believes YHWH gives psychic powers to women, which they use to read men’s minds while they are masturbating.

A typical example of Sim’s ‘reasoning’, from Collected Letters 2004, Vol 1:

I think YHWH’s contribution back in the early 60s was Peter, Paul and Mary. I mean it is a way of looking at Christianity; seeing Peter, Paul and Mary as the three cornerstones after Jesus. Of course, being YHWH her point was; if you have Peter, Paul and Mary, what do you need Jesus for? I think this amused God a great deal – to the extent that he countered with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Paul, of course,was actually James: James Paul McCartney. So John and James were the leaders of the band, like the sons of Zebedee, John and James, the brothers Boanerges, the sons of thunder[…] So it was a good joke that on the cusp of becoming famous John and James had ditched Peter, Pete Best, the drummer since this is basically what the biblical John and James had attempted to do with Peter the apostle[…] Now, having ditched Peter, that meant that you had three kings or a Ring of Stars (Ringo Starr)[…]The Beatles were the template that attracted their own disciples, the Rolling Stones, which was another play, in my view, on the fact that there had been a pool of disciples for the two Jesus’. There was Peter, Cephas, the rock or stone, but he rolled back and forth between the two Jesus'[…]
Both bands, by the way, noticed the James and John connection and were led to wonder: in that case, who was Jesus? The conclusion was Brian Epstein. Which conclusion, I think, led to the premature demise of the Beatles manager and the exiled member of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones. And, of course, later on Monty Python with the financing of George Harrison incarnated the viewpoint[… etc ad infinitum]

Now, I have no formal psychiatric qualifications so wouldn’t want to speculate publicly on what diagnosis, if any, someone would give Sim based on this kind of thing, but I’ve had a lot of experience working with people with mental illnesses (I worked as a nursing assistant on a psychiatric ward for a couple of years fairly recently) and I’ll just say that this stuff sounds awfully familiar.

So how responsible is Sim for his views on women, and to what extent are they even ‘his’ views, as opposed to ‘his illness” views? Does that question even make sense? Should one boycott his work for his views, or would that be punishing someone for their mental illness?

This wouldn’t matter were Sim’s work the kind of ‘outsider art’ one normally associates with this kind of statement – reading Sim’s writings, one would get the impression that his work would be the comic equivalent of Wesley Willis or Wild Man Fischer or at best Charles Manson’s music – interesting far more for what it says about the mental state of the creator than for any quality of the work. But the fact is, Sim is the single most talented comic creator I’ve ever known of. I would take Sim’s work over the complete work of *any two* of, say, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Chris Ware, Eddie Campbell, Darwyn Cooke, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, J.H. Williams and George Herriman. No exaggeration.

So, can I possibly justify promoting work by someone who considers many – most – of the people I know, love and admire to be literally Satanic and subhuman? Or can I justify *NOT* promoting work that would significantly enrich the lives of those same people to a great extent?

I’m very torn about this… but I’m going to go ahead and look at Cerebus as a whole work over the next few days…

This Week I Are Be Mostly Listening To

Yesterday, I decided it’d be an interesting idea if every week I created a playlist of 45 songs I’ve been listening to that week. Unfortunately, after I created the first one, I discovered last.fm no longer allows embedding, so if you want to hear it you’ll have to visit http://www.last.fm/listen/playlist/4404981/shuffle. Let me know if you think it’s worthwhile me bothering with this in future. This week’s playlist includes the Beach Boys, my own band, Jonathan Richman, Bartok, Elvis Presley, XTC, Don & Dewey, Stew, Martin Newell, Don Preston, Norma Waterson, The Carter Family, Cab Calloway, Captain Beefheart, Belle & Sebastian and more…

A Big Finish A ‘Week’ 21 – The StagePlays

Well, I know it’s been a little more than a week… in fact some pedants might say it’s been closer to a month… since I did one of these (just as some might say that I still owe a proper Final Crisis summing up) but to make up for that I am going to review (albeit in less detail than usual) three newish Big Finish adventures.

Last year, Big Finish decided to produce audio adaptations of the three official Dalek stage plays that had been produced over the years, sticking as closely to the original scripts as possible and, where possible, using original cast members. As two of these were by Terrance DIcks, and the third by Terry Nation and David Whittaker, you would be forgiven for not going in with the highest expectations. But as you can currently download all three for twenty pounds, I thought I’d give them a go.

The first to be released, and by far the worst, is Dicks’ The Ultimate Adventure from 1989. This was originally staged with Jon Pertwee in the lead, with Colin Baker taking over in the later versions, and here Baker reprises the part, along with a companion with a rrreedeeculuz Frrrainch eczent. Unfortunately, the part doesn’t seem to sit right with him here – possibly because the show was originally written for Pertwee’s very different Doctor, or possibly because Dicks had never written for Baker (the sixth Doctor was the first one never to have a TV story written by Dicks (he never wrote for Hartnell, either, but did write the First Doctor in The Five Doctors)).

The story itself is a pantomime rather than a serious story, with several terrible songs (“Business Is Business” being the least-worst, but it should have been cut to roughly a fifth of its present length), a plot involving Daleks and Cybermen teaming up with mercenaries to take over the earth for what I’m sure must be good and adequate reasons, and the Doctor working for Mrs Thatcher. I imagine it must have been great fun for any young children in the audience at the time, but it’s inessential at best. Baker does his best, but this is quite weak stuff.

Doctor Who And The Daleks In Seven Keys To Doomsday, another DIcks story, this time from 1974, is much better. Written at a time when Dicks was the script editor for the show, it very much has the feel of late Pertwee about it (the original stage show was on during the gap between Pertwee’s last episode and Tom Baker’s first, and starts with a regeneration sequence), though both stage show and audio release starred Trevor Martin as the Doctor. If you listen to this and The Ultimate Adventure back-to-back you may get a sense of deja vu, as a couple of plot points (notably a companion getting into a Dalek travel-machine and using a handy ‘make your voice sound Dalekky’ machine that the Doctor just happens to have on him) are reused. But the difference is that here there *is* a plot. Not a hugely interesting or original one – the Doctor and his companions turn up on an alien world where they have to recover the Seven MacGuffins Of Doom before the Daleks can, aided by some locals (one of whom is a traitor!) and hindered by some spiderlike creatures called Clawrentulars.

It’s a thin plot, and its not helped by one of the companions (Jimmy, the other being called Jenny) being absolutely insufferable. Some of this is intentional – the Doctor gets exasperated at him on a regular basis – but some of it is down to actor Joe Thompson’s utterly horrible Mockney (it may be his real accent, in which case I feel sorry for the poor man, but I doubt it…). However, the plot suffices, and the play is made enjoyable by Trevor Martin’s frankly wonderful performance. At times he sounds scarily like Patrick Troughton, and while his Doctor is written like Pertwee’s, Martin plays it much more like the first two Doctors. He inhabits the role in a way that few others have (I’d put him behind Hartnell, Troughton and the Bakers, but ahead of Pertwee, Davison, McCoy and McGann). I’d be very interested in hearing more of Martin as the Doctor – maybe in Big Finish’s Unbound series?

The final one, though the first to be staged, is 1965’s Curse Of The Daleks by Terry Nation and David Whittaker. As you would expect from those writers at that date, the science is wrong, it’s laughably sexist, it makes no sense if you examine it for a moment – and it’s absolutely great. Even though this story doesn’t feature the Doctor at all, being the first of Nation’s increasingly desperate attempts to cash in on Dalekmania separately from the show, it has much of the feeling of the early series.

This is possibly explainable by the fact that while Terrance Dicks said he had to learn to write for the stage after having written for the TV, early-60s Doctor Who was essentially done as live, at a time when the medium was essentially broadcast theatre rather than the miniature cinema it later attempted to be (and Dicks’ vision of the Doctor was always more cinematic than his predecessors and successors on the original series). Nation in particular had started out as a writer of stage shows, and the character of Rocket Smith (a name which now makes me think of Computer Jones or Synthesiser Patel) has a lot of the speech rhythms of Tony Hancock, for whose stage show Nation was a writer before writing The Daleks.

Curse of the Daleks is also helped by the fact that, due to its writers’ deaths, it has not been updated for the audio release, so Nicholas Briggs reads the stage directions for purely visual events. This gives it the feel of a partly-dramatised audiobook of a Target novelisation, which again makes it feel more like ‘proper Doctor Who’ to me than the other stories which actually have the Doctor in them. As a return trip to Skaro, it’s well worth a listen, even though it’s just good pulpy adventure in an early-60’s Eagle manner.

None of these are up to even Big Finish’s slightly diminished recent standards, let alone their best work, but given that you can download all three for not much more than the cost of a single download of one of their other audios, they’re definitely worth a shot – even the worst has fun moments in it.

Normal bloggery resumes tomorrow…

When hopefully there will be some bits of my head that don’t hurt. In the meantime, I’d just like to say thanks to those of you who said such nice things about the proposal below (especially Hayden Childs, whose book on Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time). I wasn’t posting it, though, to say “Look how foolish those editors are – I’ll show them!” but just because I thought some of you might be interested. I’ll be sure to submit again next time they’re after proposals.

Incidentally, the comments thread on the blog post where they announce their shortlist is truly horrendous – tons of barely-literate rants about how only music journalists would possibly be interested in the book on Britney Spears and so on. As a comic fan, I know a *lot* of people (myself included) wish the big comics companies would open up their submissions process for new writers more. Well, those of you who wonder why they don’t, have a look here. Why anyone would voluntarily put themselves through that, I have no idea.

With a bit of luck, over the next few days I should have posts on Neil Gaiman’s Batman, the Doctor Who stageplays collection from Big Finish, and a couple of other bits. Thanks for bearing with me while I can’t think straight…