24 November 2014

Having Trouble with This Aspect of Darren Wilson’s Testmony

According to Officer Darren Wilson, after his first brief exchange on 9 August with Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson about walking in a Ferguson, Missouri, street, he backed up his police vehicle and confronted them again because one of them was wearing a black T-shirt.

In an interview on 10 August, the day after the shooting, Wilson stated: “I heard on the radio that there was a stealing in progress from the Ferguson Market on West Florissant. I heard a brief description of a black male with a black T-shirt.”

In his grand jury testimony several weeks later, Wilson repeated that: “I was on my portable radio, which isn’t exactly the best. I did hear that a suspect was wearing a black shirt and that a box of Cigarillos was stolen.” That description confirmed for him that he’d come across the two suspects from the store robbery: “I did a doublecheck that Johnson was wearing a black shirt, these are the two from the stealing.”

However, earlier this month the police radio dispatches from that day were released.

The dispatcher said, “it's going to be a black male in a white T-shirt.”

An officer confirmed, “Black male, white T-shirt.”

Four minutes later, another voice added: “He’s with another male, he’s got a red Cardinals hat, white T-shirt, yellow socks and khaki shorts.” That was an accurate description of what Michael Brown was wearing.

Officer Wilson couldn’t have heard anything about a “black shirt” on the radio. The radio calls, as recorded and released, mention only Brown’s “white T-shirt.” Three times.

How much did Wilson, consciously or unconsciously, massage his memory to conform to what he saw after shooting Michael Brown dead?

21 November 2014

The Benghazi Strain of OIP Derangement Syndrome

One easy diagnostic test for OIP Derangement Syndrome is an abiding belief in conspiracies and secrets surrounding the fatal attack on the US consulate and CIA outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

In my personal experience, the people who say they’re most concerned with digging out more facts about that event also have a lot of trouble keeping the existing facts straight, such as how the US had no embassy in Benghazi.

There have been multiple investigations of the attack. In fact, the “Asked and Answered” website not only answers common right-wing questions and claims about Benghazi but also a list of how many times those questions have already been authoritatively answered.

Today, two weeks after the national elections, the House Intelligence Committee finally released its report on the event. And that bipartisan but GOP-controlled body came to the same conclusions as the previous inquiries.

As the Associated Press reported:
A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people. . . .

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report. . . .

Rice's comments were based on faulty intelligence from multiple agencies, according to the report. Analysts received 21 reports that a protest occurred in Benghazi, the report said—14 from the Open Source Center, which reviews news reports; one from the CIA; two from the Defense Department; and four from the National Security Agency.
The AP also noted that this report “was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week,” despite how much importance some Americans have attached to the subject in recent years.

Sadly, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have already taken steps to feed those people’s delusions further. Earlier this year it commissioned a special House committee to conduct an eighth government investigation. Based on this one’s schedule, we can expect its report days after the 2016 election.

(Shown above is the cover of a book that supposedly exposed some of those lies and conspiracies about the bengahi attacks. It was featured on Sixty Minutes, then pulled by the publisher when the author was found to be lying. Note how the cover twice uses the word “embassy”—that should really have been a clue about its accuracy.)

20 November 2014

Publishers as Venture Capitalists?

Another of Paul Levitz’s observations about the publishing industry last week was that book publishers have usually operated like bankers. They extend interest-free loans to authors in the form of advances, to be paid back (they hope) in royalties over succeeding years.

And like bankers, those companies are quicker to loan money to people who don’t need it: authors who are already earning a fine living off past books or in other fields. New or unknown authors, especially in fiction, have to do most of their work before they see any money, and then they don’t see much.

(That of course reflects that publishing advances aren’t exactly like loans. They’re also bids on properties, and in any business what looks more like a sure thing commands a higher price than an unproven quantity.)

Levitz suggested that publishers will have to become more like venture-capital firms, investing earlier in authors’ careers and projects. And, presumably, offering more guidance and control over their creations, as venture capitalists watch over the start-ups they invest in. Hollywood studios work closer to that model, paying earlier in the process to develop projects with a larger payoff.

I see a couple of problems for authors with that model. First, Hollywood studios are notorious for the number of projects they abandon: scripts in turnaround, TV pilots shot and never aired, and so on. Likewise, venture capitalists know that many of their investments won’t pay off, and they pull the plug a lot. Right now authors who get as far as a publishing contract are usually sure that their books will eventually see print, even if they’re marketed even more weakly than usual.

Hollywood studios are also notorious for getting involved in the creative process with script notes, personnel ultimatums, recutting, and so on. All to make the final stories more entertaining, of course. But does that work?

The screenwriter and novelist William Goldman famously wrote in Adventures in the Screen Trade:
Nobody knows anything. . . . Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.
What’s more, writing a book is a far less collaborative process than making a movie, or creating a tech company. How much solid advice can publishers offer to authors early in the creative processs? How many experts can they bring on board, or how many systems can they put in place, when the whole enterprise consists of one person and one keyboard?

19 November 2014

A Paradox of Geek Fandom

Last week I sat in on a discussion with Paul Levitz, former President at DC Comics, at MIT’s Media Lab. (The door to the building said I had to have an MIT identification to enter, but I rode up the elevator with Levitz and helped him find the auditorium, so I figured I deserved to stay.)

Levitz started at DC Comics as a sixteen-year-old freelance writer and editor, and is still scripting comics. From 1976 to 2009 he took on increasing internal responsibilities, spending the last seven years as President. Having long functioned as a big part of the corporate memory, he recently wrote a gigantic history of the company.

Among other observations at MIT, Levitz said that “geek culture” has overtaken “pop culture.” That reflects the popularity of videogames and of superhero and science-fiction movies and TV shows, of course, but it also speaks to a certain style of consuming entertainment.

I asked Levitz for his thoughts about one paradoxical aspect of “geek culture.” On the one hand, that form of fandom is very interested in seeing the process of storytelling:
  • comics collections often include early sketches, scripts, and creators’ discussions of roads not taken. We rarely see that in novels.
  • DVDs feature deleted scenes, commentary tracks, outtakes, and other peeks into the creation of the movies or TV shows they document.
  • TV “show runners” are becoming celebrities with their own following.
  • the moviegoing/viewing/reading/gaming public follows the creation of a new piece of entertainment earlier than ever; news that used to be restricted to the industry is now spread everywhere.
In sum, it’s more obvious than ever that those stories we like are artificial creations designed to entertain us and earn our dollars. And we enjoy the reminders of that.

And yet “geek culture” is also marked by a fervid, sometimes rabid, protectiveness about those stories and the characters in them, as if they were real or deserved to be. Fans want to guard their favorites from the very companies and people who have the assignment of keeping them alive.

Levitz could only reply that part of his job as a DC executive was to warn people adapting the company’s properties to other media when they were straying too far from the characters’ “core.” He found that he couldn’t define in advance what would raise most fans’ protective responses, but he knew it when he saw it. And that emotional attachment remains, still hard to map but perilous to cross.

18 November 2014

The Wizard of Oz teapot tempest”

In 1957 Ralph Ulveling, director of the Detroit Public Library, received nationwide criticism for remarks he was reported as having made about the Oz books.

I’ve been looking into that story, and this is part of one of the documents from it: Ulveling’s counterattack in the October 1957 American Library Association Bulletin.

Ulveling insisted that his library system hadn’t gotten rid of The Wizard of Oz—it simply wasn’t in the children’s rooms. To be fair to him, that decision had been made “More than thirty years ago,” or shortly after L. Frank Baum’s death. On the other hand, his endorsement of that policy acknowledged rather than refuted the anti-Oz-book sentiments attributed to him.

Ulveling went on to accuse the Michigan State University Press, of all people, of ginning up the controversy to sell books.

And you know, he might have been right.

16 November 2014

DC to Feed Nostalgia for Six to Twelve Years Ago

DC Comics executive Dan DiDio told USA Today that the company’s “Convergence” crossover event for next spring will return to older versions of its primary characters. “We’re picking up at points of their lives where we left them and finding out what’s gone on with them since then,” he said.

Closer examination at Comic Book Resources confirms that these stories hearken back to the company’s continuity before the “New 52.” But each tale seems designed to return its hero to a happy high point popular with his or her following. Back in June, the gossipy site Bleeding Cool heard from a creator that the upcoming project would be “a love letter to DC Comics fans.”

Thus, Wally West is not only the Flash once more, but he’s married to Linda and both their kids appear to have superpowers. (After 2010, only their daughter had powers.) In another nod to the domesticity of about eight years ago, Superman and Lois Lane are expecting a child.

Stephanie Brown will be back at Batgirl, with Tim Drake in his first Red Robin costume and Cass Cain as the Black Bat. That also reflects their situation in about 2010 (though we didn’t see much of Cass back then). Damian Wayne, who appears to be coming back in some form in the regular continuity, might well show up in one of these miniseries without ever having died.

“Convergence” thus gives DC a chance to “correct,” at least temporarily, recent developments that many fans vocally disliked, such as the murder of the Atom Ryan Choi and Roy Harper’s loss of both his arm and his little daughter.

Indeed, in some way, these series “correct” the entire “New 52” as they show the heroes fending off attacks from “Flashpoint versions” of other heroes; Flashpoint was a 2011 crossover presenting dystopic versions of the world which led to the “New 52.” The characters or versions of characters that disappeared in that transition have, the summaries suggest, been living under a protective “dome.”

I have particular questions about the Nightwing/Oracle title, to be scripted by Gail Simone. The teaser for the first issue says:
Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon reevaluate their relationship under the dome (wedding!), but Flashpoint Hawkman and Hawkwoman attack, and everything changes.
For many fans, Dick and Barbara are meant to be together. But the last time they were talking marriage in DC’s regular continuity was back in 2006. So are they reevaluating from that perspective, or after all the events that happened between then and Flashpoint? If the latter, that means Dick has become Batman, and no one has successfully penned his decision to go back to being Nightwing. At least not yet.

15 November 2014

It Should —— Scan

The New York Times coverage of the new picture book for frazzled parents, You Have to —— Eat, reminds me of why I didn’t see the first one as worth noticing.

There’s this thing in verse called metre. If you’re going to write parody picture books, you should get to know that.

This quoted passage from the new book starts out anapestically enough but stumbles in the second line.

The sunrise is golden and lovely,
The birds chirp and twitter and tweet,
You woke me up and asked for some breakfast,
So why the —— won’t you eat?
And the third. And the fourth.

These books come from a small press that hasn’t specialized in the form, so perhaps its editors don’t notice the problem.
The sunrise is golden and lovely,
The birds in their nests chirp and tweet,
You woke up and asked me for breakfast,
So why in the hell won’t you eat?
But it’s really not that hard.

14 November 2014

Family Fairness, Then and Now

Back in early October, The Hill reported:

Congressional Republicans are outraged that President Obama may take executive action on immigration reform after the mid-term elections—perhaps by deferring deportations and providing work authorization to millions of unauthorized immigrants with strong family ties to the United States. However, past Republican presidents have not been shy to use the White House’s power to retool immigration policy. In fact, Obama could learn a lot from presidents Ronald Reagan’s and George H. W. Bush’s executive actions to preserve the unity of immigrant families, and move past Congressional refusal to enact immigration reform.
After President Reagan signed the 1986 immigration reform law, people noted that it could apply to some members of certain families but not all, thus putting the US government in the position of splitting up families. Advocates like the US Catholic bishops argued that the government should take care to prevent that, but bills went nowhere in Congress. In 1987, therefore, Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner announced the agency was “exercising the Attorney General’s discretion” to defer deportation for many illegal immigrants.

Immigrant advocates worried that still left many families at risk. Legislation once more stalled in Congress. In February 1990 President Bush used executive action to implement the provisions of a bill that the Senate had passed overwhelmingly and the House hadn’t acted on. Bush’s INS commissioner explained the “family fairness” policy by saying, “we can enforce the law humanely. To split families encourages further violations of the law as they reunite.” The administration estimated that action would affect 40% of the illegal immigrants in the US at the time.

Today the Obama administration faces very similar challenges: keeping families intact, not coming down hard on children, bringing productive members of American society out of the shadows, a Congress too divided to act. The US people granted President Obama executive power in the 2008 and 2012 elections, which clearly includes the Reagan and Bush administration precedents. So far Obama has issued fewer executive actions than his recent predecessors.

And yet top Republicans in Congress are now saying that if President Obama uses the same executive power as Presidents Reagan and Bush to address the same problem, that would justify either shutting down the federal (again) or impeachment (again).

12 November 2014

Writing Advice from Leonard and Busiek

In 2001, Elmore Leonard published an essay in the New York Times’s “Writers on Writing” series headlined “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”.

Leonard offered advice like:
3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.
Eventually that article was the seed of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

Last August, when Leonard died, the comics scripter Brian Michael Bendis featured that on his Tumblr site. In the way that Tumblr works, the scripter Kurt Busiek quoted it on his but added these comments:
I disagree with almost all of Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing, largely because any time someone says “never do X,” I immediately try to think of times it works.

But all of his rules are worth thinking about, and can be extremely useful in thinking about whether to use them. If you decide not to use a rule because you’re aware of the hurdle Leonard’s warning of but have overcome that hurdle another way, then the rule was still useful, because it got you to think about how to avoid the problem.

11 November 2014

“Perhaps the women are made of cast-iron”

In The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum introduces the character of General Jinjur, leader of an army of girls. She aims to depose the Scarecrow as ruler of the central part of Oz. Why? “Because the Emerald City has been ruled by men long enough, for one reason,” she says.

Jinjur is thus a comedic version of turn-of-the-century suffragists. And soon she succeeds in conquering the Emerald City. When the Scarecrow returns with his friend the Tin Woodman and others, they find domestic society turned upside-down:
As they passed the rows of houses they saw through the open doors that men were sweeping and dusting and washing dishes, while the women sat around in groups, gossiping and laughing.

“What has happened?” the Scarecrow asked a sad-looking man with a bushy beard, who wore an apron and was wheeling a baby-carriage along the sidewalk.

“Why, we’ve had a revolution, your Majesty as you ought to know very well,” replied the man; “and since you went away the women have been running things to suit themselves. I’m glad you have decided to come back and restore order, for doing housework and minding the children is wearing out the strength of every man in the Emerald City.”

“Hm!” said the Scarecrow, thoughtfully. “If it is such hard work as you say, how did the women manage it so easily?”

“I really do not know” replied the man, with a deep sigh. “Perhaps the women are made of cast-iron.”
At the end of the book, Glinda conquers Jinjur and crowns the young princess Ozma. As for the conflict between the genders, Baum writes:
At once the men of the Emerald City cast off their aprons. And it is said that the women were so tired eating of their husbands’ cooking that they all hailed the conquest of Jinjur with Joy. Certain it is that, rushing one and all to the kitchens of their houses, the good wives prepared so delicious a feast for the weary men that harmony was immediately restored in every family.
Baum was on record as a supporter of woman suffrage, and had even written about a female US President by the 1990s. His mother-in-law, Matilda Gage, was one of America’s most radical feminist authors. Without that history, however, I don’t know if people would be so quick to read this part of the book as a gentle parody of feminism rather than a dismissal of it.

10 November 2014

Hellcat Press Wants Horror Comics from Female Creators

Lindsay Moore, a Boston comics writer who has had several stories published in Hellbound, In a Single Bound, and other local anthologies, and who has shepherded her own pop-music superhero comic The Quartette into print, has announced the formation of Hellcat Press to publish horror comics.

Hellcat’s first anthology, scheduled for publication next fall, will be titled Dark Lady. From the press’s Facebook page, here are extracts from that call for submissions:
Dark Lady is an all-female horror anthology. If you’re a woman with a horror story to tell, then Hellcat Press wants to read it!

All stories must fall under the horror genre. That being said, the horror genre is vast and all-encompassing.

Can I adapt a pre-existing short story (such as “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe) into comic-book format?
No. We are looking for original work.

If my story is accepted and published, can I still print minis and sell them at conventions?

If my story is accepted and published, can I still submit it to other anthologies?

What will I get out of this?
In addition to having your work published, you will receive one (1) free copy of the book and ten (10) dollars. As of right now, ten dollars is all that Hellcat Press can provide. You may receive more depending on sales.

What are the specs?
The book will be printed in black and white. The pages are 8.5 x 11 inches (standard magazine size). Keep all type 1/4" away from the edge to ensure that no text is cut off. Please keep your stories ten pages or under.

Is there a submission process?
Yes, there is! Please email me with your pitch before February 1, 2015. Please send in either a detailed outline/synopsis of your story or a full script (if you have one). Anything submitted after February 1, 2015 will not be considered. If your proposal is accepted, you will be notified as quickly as possible.

What is the deadline for finished artwork?
August 1, 2015.

Where will you be selling this book?
Hopefully, at all the conventions that the Boston Comics Roundtable attends (Boston Comic Con, MECAF, MICE, Hartford Comic Con, New York Comic Con, etc). I also hope to get it into a few local stores (Comicazi, The Million Year Picnic, The Outer Limits, Comicopia, etc). Once Hellcat Press’s website launches, we will also sell copies online.

Can you pair me with an artist/writer?
I cannot guarantee anything, but I will try.
Future collections may feature male artists and writers, or other themes.

Here are the technical specs for people preparing files to submit, an announced on the email list of the Boston Comics Roundtable:
The book will be printed in black and white. The pages are 8.5 x 11 inches (standard magazine size). Please keep your stories ten pages or under.
Safe image area: 8" (width) by 10.5" (height)
Full bleed: 8.75" (width) by 11.25" (height)
Trim size: 8.5" (width) by 11" (height)
NOTE: Keep all type 1/4" away from the edge to ensure that no text is cut off.
Please deliver files as .pdf files at 300 dpi, grayscale, at the final size. Please flatten your files before sending them.
These long wintry nights are a fine time to start working on stories for next year.

09 November 2014

“No other comic-book character has lasted as long”

In articles derived from her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore has been talking up that comic-book heroine’s place in superhero history.

In Smithsonian:
Wonder Woman is the most popular female comic-book superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no other comic-book character has lasted as long.
In The New Yorker:
Superman débuted in 1938, Batman in 1939, Wonder Woman in 1941.
Who’s missing from this discussion? “The Sensational Character Find of 1940,” of course.

Dick Grayson has appeared in stories for nearly three-quarters of a century, about a year and a half longer than Wonder Woman. He’s been a major character in two movie serials, a television series, and two feature films. Plus, half a dozen television cartoons have featured some version of Robin.

I suspect Robin is a pop-culture reference as recognizable as Wonder Woman. In fact, the name “Dick Grayson” might be better known than Wonder Woman’s occasional alias, “Diana Prince.”

Of course, Robin has always been a sidekick to Batman, and thus a supporting character or one in an ensemble instead of a lead. Though he appeared on more comic-book covers in the 1940s than Batman, not until the 1990s was there a comic book with the Robin name in its official title. In contrast, there’s been a Wonder Woman magazine since 1942 (with a yearlong break in 1986-87), and she’s usually worked on her own as well as with the Justice Society and Justice League.

So I’m not arguing that Wonder Woman is less prominent than Robin, just that he qualifies as a famous, long-lasting comic-book crime-fighter on the same level.

(And I won’t even mention that Archie Andrews made his debut in comic books in the same month as Wonder Woman, so those two comic-book characters have lasted the same time.)

08 November 2014

Where Serials End Up

Someone else considering the workings of serial fiction this week was Linda Holmes, writing for NPR on the public-radio-related podcast Serial, reinvestigating a murder.

Holmes notes how many listeners are trying to view the podcast through the lens of the recent limited television series True Detective, Fargo, and Lost. In other words, they’re asking for a clear conclusion even if (as in two of those examples) it ends up disappointing a lot of the audience.

Holmes writes:

What’s good about this wrinkle, and what seems healthy about it, is that it raises the question of what stories are for. Must there be a lesson or a moral? Must we sense a particular idea about life at the end, and can it be futility? If you raise a question, do you have to answer it? In real life, of course, Chekhov’s gun need not come to anything in the third act just because it was shown in the first. If this makes a good true story but would not make a good piece of dramatic fiction, why is that?

Assuming people do find the [Serial] ending satisfying despite what almost must be its messiness, is it possible that a piece of serial crime reporting with no conclusion will point to the idea that we've perhaps become overly obsessed in judging an entire piece of storytelling on whether we get the perfectly symmetrical, flawless, balanced, wry, doubt-drowning ending we deserve?
I find it telling that Holmes’s essay doesn’t mention what until recently was the necessary name-drop in any article on quality television: The Sopranos. That show famously ended without resolution, just a sudden black screen. And people were pissed. So it fits right into Holmes’s thesis.

07 November 2014


This is a snapshot from Talking Points Memo, my favorite site for political news. It shows the aggregation of several polls over recent weeks about Americans’ attitudes toward our two main political parties.

As you can see, Americans thought much worse of the Republican Party, and yet favored its congressional candidates by a slight edge. Which is what we saw in the mid-term election this week. And enough slight edges across the country’s competitive districts turn into a strong run of victories for those unfavored Republicans.

But as to how voters can reconcile those attitudes in their minds, that’s a mystery. Part of the answer is turnout. Part is that we the electorate are almost evenly divided, making slight edges more crucial—this is the fourth of the last five election cycles that swung sharply against the previous vote for Congress.

And part might be underlying OIP Derangement Syndrome, in which some voters, sensing a problem in the national government, blame President Barack Obama despite agreeing in the abstract with his policies and methods.

06 November 2014

A New Chapter in Chapters

At The New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Nicholas Dames has probed the history of the chapter, starting with ancient naturalists and early Christian theologians and moving to the development of the novel:
Henry Fielding,…in “Joseph Andrews” (1742), explained “those little Spaces between our Chapters” as “an Inn or Resting-Place, where he may stop and take a Glass, or any other Refreshment, as it pleases him.” Chapter titles, Fielding proceeded to explain, were like the inscriptions over the doors of those inns, advertising the accommodations within.

Novels have always been good at absorbing and recycling, taking plots and devices from other genres and finding new uses for them. With the chapter, novelists began, in the eighteenth century, to naturalize an informational technology from antiquity by giving it a new cultural role. What the chapter did for the novel was to aerate it: by encouraging us to pause, stop, and put the book down—a chapter before bed, say—the chapter-break helps to root novels in the routines of everyday life. The chapter openly permitted a reading oriented around pauses—for reflection or rumination, perhaps, but also for refreshment or diversion.

Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” insisted that “chapters relieve the mind,” encouraging our immersion by letting us know that we will soon be allowed to exit and return to other tasks or demands. Coming and going—an attention paid out rhythmically—would become part of how novelists imagined their books would be read. . . .

Thus the novelistic chapter: that modest, provisional kind of closure, a pause that promises more of the same later, like the fall of night. As the modern novel developed, explanations like those of the Fieldings became less necessary. Chapter titles themselves lost their overt connection to the “in which” or “concerning” syntax, virtually a plot summary, which derived from Biblical capitula.

Charles Dickens’s “The Pickwick Papers” could still pull off the old sort, as in “Chapter 38: Mr. Samuel Weller, Being Entrusted With a Mission of Love, Proceeds to Execute it; With What Success Will Hereinafter Appear”; by the eighteen-seventies, Anthony Trollope could title a chapter simply “Vulgarity.” As the chapter ceased seeming peculiar, it also grew in length; the average Victorian chapter was around thirty-five hundred words, roughly twice the eighteenth-century norm.
This article reminded me that chapters predated serialization in magazines, meaning that the breakup of novels wasn’t driven by the format and technology in which they first appeared. Rather, the established use of chapters made it easier to create divisions for each magazine issue.

05 November 2014

Before Frank Quitely Was Quite Quitely

Frank Quitely is one of the most respected artists working in superhero comics today, known for his distinctive drawing style, dynamic compositions, and willingness to experiment with form.

Which makes his statements in this interview at Comics Beat more interesting:
When I started out, I didn’t know a lot about storytelling because I never got a formal training in comics. It ended up being kind of intuitive and my main thing was about trying to make it clear and interesting. You know, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of narrative flow, it was more just about clarity and trying to make it as good as possible. Gradually, over the years, I just became more interested in storytelling.

There was a DC editor I worked with named Dan Raspler – the Lobo editor amongst other things. He was my editor on JLA: Earth 2 and before I did JLA, I did a short Lobo story for them and it was the first mainstream DC thing I’d done; I’d been working for [the imprints] Vertigo and Paradox for a couple years.

I sent him the pencils and it was the best thing I’d done up to that point and I thought “he’s going to phone me back and tell me how good this is” and he didn’t phone for a week. I was really panicking by the time he phoned; he started the conversation with “dude, I don’t know how to tell you this…”

Basically what he said was my drawings were really lovely, but my storytelling was really boring. He went through and told me what I should be thinking about and that was kind of a real milestone. As it was, that book never came out for different reasons. For JLA: Earth 2, he made me fax a rough for every page because he wanted to see that I could do art that makes sense in rough with a sharpie, then I could do it properly. . . . That was a big leap for me.
DC Comics published JLA: Earth 2 back in 2000. That was one of many collaborations between Quitely and scripter and fellow Glaswegian Grant Morrison.

As for the “short Lobo story” that Quitely mentioned, that was Lobo: The Hand-to-Hand Job, also subtitled It’s a Man’s World, scripted by another Scotsman, Alan Grant. It was never printed. This webpage on unpublished comics says, “Although the publisher has never commented publicly on the comic, the disappearance of the project could be chalked up to the reported nakedness of Lobo for at least half the issue, as well as a scene involving sexual self-gratification by a league of asteroid miners.” Yes, that would do it.

04 November 2014

The Return of the Cowardly Lion

On 24 November, the Bonham’s auction house will offer a collection of Hollywood memorabilia that includes Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume from the 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz.

The auction house says:
For famed MGM costume designer Gilbert Adrian, the only option for creating a realistic lion costume in 1938 was to fashion it out of actual lion hides. He was challenged with locating several that visually matched each other so a few costumes could be made and used interchangeably throughout filming. Adrian soon discovered, however, that every available lion hide had very distinctive colors, hair patterns and scars, so he had no choice but to dress Lahr in a single costume for much of the filming.
An auction house expert told the Los Angeles Daily News states:
“According to various histories of the film, Lahr’s costume was drenched with sweat at the end of every day, and so (it) was removed and placed in drying bins overnight so it could be used again the next (day),” Williamson says.
She added that another lion costume survives which Lahr probably wore for publicity stills, and there was at least one for Lahr’s double or stand-in as well. But only this one matches the details in scenes throughout the movie.

Back in 2006, the Profiles in History company sold that other Cowardly Lion costume for over $800,000. In 2011 the owner of this costume also offered it through Profiles in History with an estimated price of $2 to $3 million. Evidently bids didn’t meet the reserve because it’s available once again, in the movie’s 75th-anniversary year.

03 November 2014

Quote Unquote

In an article for Slate, Andrew Heisel probed the growth of an unorthodox use of single-quote marks:

For several years now in teaching writing classes to college freshmen, I’ve noticed some students adopt another rule: double quotes for long quotations, single quotes for single words or short phrases. They’ll quote a long passage from Measure for Measure accurately, but when they want to quote one of Shakespeare’s words, a cliché, or some dubious concept like “virtue,” they’ll go with single quotes.

It took me a while to understand what was going on, but after thoroughly studying it I developed a rigorous explanation for this staggering decline in standards: kids today.
But then Heisel began to see that same pattern in colleagues’ writing. In news stories. Online. In 2008 I reported the single-quote style’s appearance in novels by Madeleine L’Engle and Scott Turow going back to 1973.

And yet it remained unsanctioned by any modern authorities. For a while Wikipedia said, “some style guides specify single quotation marks for this usage, and double quotation marks for verbatim speech.” Heisel looked at “38 different style and usage manuals” and didn’t find one that stated that as a rule. A handful acknowledged it as an occasional practice, especially in abstruse disciplines that deal with language. Most experts still looked askance at the style.

But Heisel also found—online, not in a library—The King’s English, published in multiple editions a century ago by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler. After establishing the use of double-quote marks for quotations, that book states: “Some of those who follow this system also use the single marks for isolated words, short phrases, and anything that can hardly be called a formal quotation; this avoids giving much emphasis to such expressions, which is an advantage.”

Heisel quotes Harvard English professor Marjorie Garber as noting that quote marks can signal opposing meanings: “both absolute authenticity and veracity…and suspected inauthenticity, irony or doubt.” In the second group I also see writers including things characters generally feel or say or have said, but not necessarily in those exact words at a specified time, and thus not as a verifiable direct quotation.

The pattern raises some questions:
  • Is the usage different in modern Britain, where since the postwar punctuation shortage most books use single-quotes for direct quotations?
  • Is there enough value in distinguishing between those two types of quotations—direct and sort-of—for this usage to become useful and eventually standard?
  • Since the practice seems fairly widespread despite the apparent lack of any authority requiring or even suggesting it since the Fowlers a century ago, do writers gravitate toward this use of single-quotes because it seems logical or natural?

02 November 2014

“That history will always be in the background”?

In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Grayson co-scripter Tom King spoke of his particular fondness for the character of Dick Grayson:
You’ve said a few places that Dick was always your favorite DC character thanks to his accessibility. With that in mind, what were the big stories that first brought you into his world? Are any of them the kind of thing you’ll look to fold into the background of this book?

I came into DC comics with Tim being Robin and Dick being the ex-Robin, the man who had gone through that uniquely frightening experience and emerged as someone uniquely brave. I remember buying my first trade, A Lonely Place of Dying, and obsessing over the Tim/Dick/Batman interaction. There was this essential question there about how do you leave childhood without losing who you were as a child. I read that thing to pulp. The first time I got to write my own complete script for the series, I titled it “Only a Place for Dying,” as a tribute to that experience.

Some of my other favorite Grayson stories are:

Birds of Prey #8 (the Barbara/Dick date issue), which is where Agent 8 from Grayson #3 gets her name; Batman #156 (“Robin Dies at Dawn”), which will play a role in an upcoming issue; and, probably my favorite Dick Grayson story of all time, Secret Origins Annual #3, which I haven’t yet figured out how to squeeze story out of — but I will! Dick Grayson has a 74-year history, and though Grayson is a book solidly set in the New 52 featuring a very modern take on the hero, that history will always be in the background and will always haunt and elevate our hero.
That’s almost sad. Secret Origins Annual, #3, was a story scripted by George Pérez in 1989 which synthesized the whole history of the Titans up to that point, both pre- and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths. It sought to build coherence and depth from the illogical late-1960s storylines of Bob Haney, revealing a series of villains to be one foe in different guises trying to undermine Dick Grayson.

That story also restored a version of Betty Kane, the first Bat-Girl, who had been abandoned with the “New Look” back in 1964. It reestablished the basics of Titans history as written in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s within DC’s new continuity. And in doing all that, it reflected the importance of Nightwing and his team to the company at that time.

In contrast, the “New 52” reboot of the DC Universe that King and his co-writer Tim Seeley are working within wrote off Dick Grayson’s version of the Titans, and most of the characters and relationships that Pérez’s story stitched together. Grayson has left the character even more alone within the DC Universe. The scripts might contain slight allusions to beloved older stories for long-time fans, but I don’t see how this Dick Grayson can be haunted by a history that he never had.