November 2005 Archives

Via the consistently useful Daddy Types: Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever gets a few nudges toward progressiveness between 1963 and 1991. I especially like how the gender balance gets evened up by drawing in some yellow ribbons.

the mango behind the mask

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Carl has a very interesting post here about expressiveness vs. post-expressiveness in mass culture, and specifically about how "[t]he excitement about finding a perspective on life or a point of identification - the personalized gnosis that seems key to the teenage music-listening experience - doesn't transfer to gaming." A few people in the comments have brought up comics, and I'm wondering to what extent they've offered "personalized gnosis" in the past vs. now. The shortest route to that when I was a young reader was probably the X-Men comics--mutant powers manifest at puberty, right? and the X-Men etc. were very often a way of talking about difference--but I never found myself thinking "this is speaking for me" when I read the X-books (although obviously lots of people did). I think I found something like what Carl's talking about in Larry Marder's Beanworld comics, and probably in what little there is of Big Numbers. I don't know that I ever found that in straight-up superhero series, except maybe Jim Starlin's Warlock.

More recently, I've gotten something like that from Morrison's Doom Patrol and the later Invisibles (if you're looking for gnosis, you might as well start with a Gnostic), but as I get older it's harder for me to find that sort of "point of identification." The feeling I get now from certain kinds of really great work (Epileptic, some of Hope Larson's stuff, prime Jim Woodring) is more like: "this person gets it."

It used to be, though, that mainstream/superhero comics almost always dangled the possibility of identification/gnosis via their characters: the idea was that the Batman way of seeing the world or the Dr. Strange way of seeing the world was at least a viable fantasy. (This is why, say, Daredevil is a much more fertile character to tell stories with than Thor: Thor doesn't permit that sort of projected perspective. It may also be why Chris Claremont is so intensely drawn to stories about mind control that it's become a cliché for him.) I can't think of any major mainstream character right now whose head would not be a horrible place to be, or whose current stories invite any sort of this-speaks-for-me projection. A few writers still know how to toy with that dynamic: Mark Waid & the way he writes Brainiac 5, for instance. But just imagine the kid who projects himself onto the Punisher--I mean, that's totally a first-person shooter of a comic.

oh my (npr div.)

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NaSoAlMo on All Things Considered! I'd have posted in advance if I'd known when it was going to air... plus: Jodi Shapiro and John Shaw's music linked on that site!


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This afternoon, I made a vegetarian b'steeya (or b'stilla or basteeya or however you want to spell it) for our Thanksgiving guests that came out so well I've been persuaded to post the recipe. B'steeya is a savory-and-a-little-sweet Moroccan pie that's usually made for weddings and other special events, and usually involves squab. My veggie version was cobbled together from a bunch of recipe sources, so here's what I did.

The night before, start thawing
1 package of phyllo sheets (you only really need about six sheets, but you'll probably lose some of 'em in practice)

When you're ready to cook, first make the ras el hanout. It's a spice mixture that literally means something like "top shelf"--there are a bunch of different formulations of it. For this one, toast very lightly
eight saffron threads
then mix them with
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp.salt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/3 tsp. ground black pepper
1/3 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1 lb. firm tofu
1 (6-oz.) package veggie chicken strips

Chop finely:
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic

In a large skillet, heat over medium-high heat until hot:
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Saute the tofu and veggie chicken strips in it, stirring almost all the time, until lightly browned on most sides. Add the ras el hanout and stir a couple of times. Add the onion, garlic and
1/3 cup raisins
Saute and stir for another minute or two.
1/4 cup red wine
and stir until it's mostly absorbed (it shouldn't take long at all--maybe 30 seconds). Then add:
2 cups vegetable stock or broth
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let it cook for a bit.

While the tofu mixture's cooking, chop finely:
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup flatleaf parsley
A decent-sized handful of mint leaves

and set aside in a medium-sized bowl.

With a slotted spoon, take the solid stuff out of the tofu mixture and set it aside. Turn up the heat and let the remaining liquid boil down to something like half a cup. Then pour it into a small (2-quart or a little smaller) heavy pot.

In a bowl, whisk together:
3 large eggs
1/4 cup of the liquid from the small pot

until they're combined, then whisk that mixture into the rest of the liquid in the pot. Cook it over relatively low heat, stirring constantly, until it's just setting and has the consistency of very soft oatmeal. Immediately pour the mixture into the bowl with the cilantro/parsley/mint mixture, stir to mix, and set aside until it cools to room temperature, stirring a couple of times.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat in a small frying pan:
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 cup sliced almonds
When they're golden brown, let them drain and cool on a paper towel on a plate.

5 Tbsp. butter
Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with some of it.

Now comes the part where you have to work quickly. Prepare a big, clean work space. Unroll the stack of phyllo, and immediately cover it with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel; as you take each sheet of phyllo to work with, cover the stack again. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on your work space and brush it with butter. Fold it in half, brush it again, and set it on the bottom of the cake pan (the edges will hang over; that's okay). Repeat with a second sheet of phyllo, positioned at right angles to the first one, then with a third and a fourth sheet to form a star pattern and cover the whole bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle the almonds over the phyllo. Spread the egg mixture over that. Spread the tofu mixture on top of that.

Do the phyllo/fold/brush thing again, this time folding a third time and brushing with butter again, then position that on top of the b'stilla. Do the same with yet another sheet of phyllo at a 90-degree angle to the first. Fold the edges from the bottom phyllos over the top one--the idea is to cover the whole pie.

Bake it 20-30 min., until it's golden brown. Cool in its pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then put a plate over the top, flip it over, remove the pan and let it stand on the plate for 5 minutes. Then use:
1/3 tsp. confectioner's sugar
1/3 tsp. cinnamon

to form a crisscrossing pattern on top (cinnamon lines one way, confectioner's sugar lines the other way). Let people admire it before you cut into wedges to serve.

three trout jumping (reflected)

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A few new pieces up:

A feature on the Sublime Frequencies label. (New York Times, registration required)

A look at how college radio has changed, and hasn't, in the last 15 years or so. (Slate)

A Smallmouth column on the glories of sludge. (Seattle Weekly)

Good news recently came my way. Waiting to get the eyes crossed and the tea bubbled, and then I'll let y'all know the story.

pneuman generator

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All-Star Superman #1, then. I've been waiting for this one eagerly ever since it was announced--Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are the only team that's pulled off this many mainstream comics projects successfully since Claremont/Byrne, and part of what I love about them is that (unlike Claremont/Byrne) they don't just do their thing on every comic they work on. They think really hard about look-and-feel. The Invisibles wasn't like Flex Mentallo, which wasn't like Earth 2, which wasn't like New X-Men, and none of that was like We3. And their Superman is, once again, a new tack for them.

The All-Star concept (famous characters, big-name creators, The Way You Like It) seemed a little dubious to me--especially since DC hasn't been trying to do mainstream outreach with it the way Marvel handled the Ultimate titles--and All-Star Batman & Justice have both been the kinds of pretentiously serious claptrap that makes me roll my eyes so hard I can see my ears. Morrison's concept for Superman, though, is audacious enough that it works: The Best Comic about The Best Hero. The point isn't dramatic impact or conceptual complexity the way it is in some of his other comics, it's page-for-page wheeeeee! value. And this isn't a gently winking homage to the Mort Weisinger-era stuff the way, say, Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" was: it's Morrison (and Quitely) figuring out what made those comics work, and how to do the same thing ramped up for 2005.

Specific things I love: the compressed narrative playing out in what looks like contemporary decompressed style (which really just means space for Quitely's drawings to breathe--it reads very quickly, but there's actually a whole lot of stuff happening); the four-panel, eight-word origin recap that opens the first issue (and doesn't it contrast nicely with All-Star Batman's tooth-gritting multi-issue expansion of Robin's origin?); Jimmy Olsen's helmet, jet-pack and "super-watch"; the way we jump smack into Luthor's "reformation" and fall by way of Perry White's blatantly expository dialogue, and Luthor's motivation; Dr. Quintum's rainbow jacket and I'm-going-to-be-a-villain-later-on foreshadowing; "The DNA P.R.O.J.E.C.T."; "the infinitesimal yoctosphere"; Clark disguising his three-steps-ahead reflexes as clumsiness; and that wonderful cliffhanger at the end.

Baffling thing: given Morrison's insistence that Superman "always finds a way to solve every single problem without anyone being hurt," what's he doing throwing the "self-actualizing" suicide bomber into the sun in Morrison's very first story?

be be be be be

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So apparently Belgium is currently running an Internet special: you can register any .be domain name for free. (Up to five, or is it ten?, per customer.) All of the common English words ending in -be are taken already, but I went through and snagged myself,,, and Those plucky little Belgians!

Broken Social Scene at the Roseland on Friday night, all dozen or so of them: I love the gigantic mass of sound (and the horn players who wander on stage when they're called for), but if you're going to have that much texture and volume happening unremittingly you need two things: 1) to not play for well over an hour and a half (we left during the first encore), and 2) a frontperson who can hold the whole thing together. Which they had for a few songs: not the guy who sounds a lot like J Mascis, not the guy who (as my friend Wendy noted) looks exactly like Trey Anastasio, but FEIST! Only saw about half of her opening set, but was very impressed, and when she bounded onto the stage with B.S.S. (or should that be "the rest of B.S.S."?) to sing "7/4 (Shoreline)," the whole band started incandescing. More please.

For those who haven't been reading it up until now: Carla Speed McNeil's fabulous "aboriginal SF" comic Finder is now being serialized on the web, starting with the new storyline, "Five Crazy Women." Two pages a week. Starts here. There's even RSS.

june cannery

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Holy cow, NaSoAlMo is getting written up!

I'm midway through reading Ed Brubaker's run on Catwoman right now, and mostly enjoying it immensely. Disliked the first half of Relentless: Cameron Stewart trying and failing to imitate Darwyn Cooke, plus one of those gruesome torture-and-murder/everyone-goes-through-the-wringer plots that trigger my Why Can't Comics Be Fun Dammit? reflexes. But I loved the second half, drawn by the previously-unknown-to-me Javier Pulido in a style that takes Cooke's abstractions as a starting point and then goes even further with them, almost into Alex Toth territory. The story's actually about the psychological fallout of the first half: everybody who got put through the wringer is still terribly messed up by it, and making things worse for each other. Also love the way Brubaker writes Holly, an ex-junkie who still sees the world in "junkie-vision" and wonders if it'll ever go away--one of the few things in Brubaker's superhero comics that reminds me of his old Lowlife comics. And the explanation (at the end of Crooked Little Town) of why Holly, having been killed off in some other comic years ago, is now alive and well in Catwoman is beautiful: a little Jaime Hernandez homage (by Eric Shanower) to the effect of "we didn't know; oh well."

Also on the Why Can't Comics Be Fun Dammit? front: it looks like Infinite Crisis is meant to be a metacomic after all--the last few pages of #2 are an all-but-explicit lecture on The Last 20 Years of Mainstream Comics: What Went Wrong? If the DCU is indeed going to return to Silver Age values, I will not complain, but I'm not sure that Johnny Thunder's gonna fit back in that pen, if you know what I mean.

Karaoke tips: "Go Wild in the Country" is not a song that anybody but Annabella Lwin should ever attempt. "Ashes To Ashes" is also problematic (starts in high falsetto, meanders all over the registers, sputters out). "Forgot About Dre," though: now, that's a crowdpleaser. If only I'd been the one to try it.

I'd stay out here forever if I could

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A review of Charles Burns' Black Hole up now at Salon. I liked it very, very much. (You have to sit through an ad, sorry.)

Occasionally, there is a frustrating disconnect between What I Gotta Listen To and What I Wanna Listen To. Tonight is one of those nights. The "wanna" belongs to One Kiss Can Lead to Another, the dumbfoundingly good "lost girl group sounds" boxed set that just came out. In a hat box, people. Did you know that Dolly Parton had made a really good girl-group record in the mid-'60s? Me neither. Of course, trying to find an image of the hat box just now, I discovered that Pitchfork 9.8'ed it a couple of days ago--yes, my enthusiasm is so Friday!

strained glass

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Hey, NaSoAlMo participants who are looking at this page: the folks from NaNoWriMo have let it be known that they could really use a theme song. If you've got one, drop a line to sam [at-sign], why dontcha?

I neglected to mention that there are new incarnations of two of my very favorite music-related time-wasters. The new edition of George Gimarc's Punk Diary is actually a significantly expanded combination of his old Punk Diary and Post-Punk Diary--a day-by-day guide to everything significant that happened in punk and its fallout from 1970 to 1982 (although it really only kicks into high gear with 1977). On May 12, 1981, for instance, Huang Chung signed with Arista Records, Positive Noise released Heart of Darkness, A Flock of Seagulls' first Peel session aired, Orange Juice released their Postcard 'zine/flexi, and Virna Lindt released the "Attention Stockholm" single. The nine gigs listed for that night include an all-ages show by the Beat, Musical Youth and Nervous Kind at Locarno in Birmingham, Japan/Modern English at the Odeon in Edinburgh, Five Or Six/Ben Watt/Happy Few at The Pits in London, and--I love this--Depeche Mode and Furious Pig sharing a bill at the Venue in London. (And if you don't know Furious Pig, please go straight to that link and treat yourself to "I Don't Like Your Face.") I am sometimes hesitant to pick up this book, because I know I'm going to spend way too long with it.

The other one is straight-up geekery too: the Dylan Pool is back. This is a (cashless) betting pool whose participants try to guess what songs Bob Dylan is going to play on his current tour--he has a working repertoire of about 120 songs, and some are worth more than others in the pool. ("All Along the Watchtower," with which he ends almost every show, is worth one point; "Simple Twist of Fate," which he hadn't played in two years until last week, is worth 18 points.) I am doing very poorly indeed in the current pool (he played my 15-point bingo "Cat's in the Well" at the first show of the tour, then abandoned it...), but I still check the site every few days--there's something that perversely appeals to me about trying to make a prediction whose results are entirely based on one person's whims.

fold, patch, smudge

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So House of M is finally over, and I'm wondering what to make of it. It looks like it actually will have some significant effects in the long term--the "cosmic reset button," as Paul O'Brien puts it, didn't get hit, or at least not entirely. But it felt like pumping it up into a multi-title event was way too much for the slim amount of plot it actually contained--I gave up reading all the tie-ins after the first week or two, when I realized that not only were they not going to affect the outcome of the main story, but they weren't going to affect anything in the main story. I was also hoping for some sign that the McGuffin Girl Who Magically Remembers Everything And Can Magically Make Everybody Else Remember Everything Too was something more interesting than that, but no. I do like the Bendisisms in the final chapter, though, especially Spider-Man losing his temper. But I think my chief complaint is that it's not really a complete story--despite the when-all-else-fails technique of ending the last issue with the giant pan-out sequence that ends up looking at the Earth from outer space, this doesn't have any kind of satisfactory dramatic resolution, it's just the setup for the next story arc. And would it have hurt to give some sense of what kind of numbers Cerebra was displaying? Or a reason for why those numbers are what they are, other than "uh, magic"?

On a completely different sort of comics front: Killoffer's Six Hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer is now out in the U.S., and is a fantastically good and creepy book about fearing one's own id. Sample pages at the link.

Thing that made me very happy to see in the mailbox today: The Complete Motown Singles, vol. 3. I think I only knew about seven of the songs on it, but I'm pretty close to pathologically over-interested in context, and this thing is a context-lover's dream. Runner-up would've been Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian's Buddha Machine, but mine has some kind of fabrication defect--one of the screws half-severed a wire inside it--which means that it makes a shortwave-not-picking-up-anything screech that's louder than the intentional content.

I've actually been fielding a couple of media inquiries about NaSoAlMo. Good Lord. Update with a few after-the-last-minute entrants on the page.

seals and vigorish

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After a brief flirtation last year, I have fallen back in love with my RSS reader. Anybody want to recommend some good (non-blog, non-music-related) feeds? That's what the comments section's for.

NaSoAlMo 2005 is go! A bunch of last-minute signups, now at the site. Have fun, everyone.