Trying out using this as what it was originally meant to be – a blog. I’m not so arrogant to think I’d generate any interest for a newsletter (give me 15 years) but it’s also nice to ramble somewhere that’s not Twitter. Thus, this.
I’m sitting at my desk mired in that good late-afternoon Sunday dread. I’m fortunate to be employed (I do communications work for an environmental NGO) but the “Oh, fuck, school tomorrow!” feeling never fades – even in quarantine. It’s 5:45 PM, the sun’s going down, and I spent the day walking with my dad, lounging in my parents’ backyard and puttering around in my ever-growing garden space outside the house. Containers only, but everything’s still alive and that’s a supreme accomplishment on my part. Except for the arugula. Dead as shit. Oops.
Edit, Edit, Edit
I’m both pleased and a little astonished every time an editing project pops up, which is happening more often of late. The impostor syndrome flares, but I muddle my way through and fall back more frequently on the knowledge that yes, I am a good editor, yes, I have an ear for how people speak and yes, I can ask people good questions and push in the right ways to make stories better. It also helps to have years of workshops under my belt, because the more you get steamrolled by your peers and elders, the more you understand what proper ownership really is and how to inspire others to find out, too. You learn to take the good and leave the bad, and you learn not to take it personally. Within reason.
You also learn how to ask the questions you wish someone would’ve asked you. As in, the ones designed to take you deeper into your own work. To interrogate your decisions in generative ways. To really find those nuggets that are true and that you know you won’t change, because they’re the foundation. Clear away the rubble and begin again. And, frankly, the more you get comfortable with doing that, the easier it is to confront the pile each time. You also learn how not to imprint your own style on someone else’s work, and that requires examining your own biases. Constantly. Never settle for the giddy flare of the superiority complex. It’ll get you in trouble every time.
All of that said, I have a shitload to learn and I’m excited to do so. Every time someone sends me their work I get a little thrill, because it’s a chance to do incrementally better. I appreciate the trust, and I’m excited to keep pushing and growing on this front.
On Comic Shops
I’ve been pretty sour about this subject for awhile, as evidenced by my feed, and it’s worth digging into. Put simply: while many of you have shops that are the backbone of your comics experience and growth, I don’t. Period. It’s never been a remotely welcoming environment for me from when I first ventured into one in my teens to, well, now.
Sure, I have a few I frequent (and having a few, even, is one of the many privileges of living in the California Bay Area.) But they’re each flawed in their own way, and despite both employing multiple women and queer folks, I still feel like an alien every time I walk in. That’s partially down to the extreme disdain I experienced at the hands of the owner of the first shop on a recent visit, and down to an unnamed employee who, every time they saw me, loudly proclaimed what book they were editing currently. I’m pretty sure this was unconscious on their part – most nerdish peccadilloes are. But it’s still annoying as fuck.
The other store? Well, I had to bring my male partner in and start a loud conversation about Jack Kirby to get any employees to give me the time of day, and the last time I was in, I couldn’t get to the back issues because the NCBD books were laid out and an employee didn’t feel like moving them. I was the only person there.
All of this sounds petty and it certainly is, let’s be clear. I’m well aware. I’m also aware of my own nerd fallacies and attendance to the pecking order, such as it is, but the older I get the less I want to engage with that. I’m tired of having to prove myself every time I walk in a door, and I’m tired of dismissive, leering or, occasionally, sneering behavior directed my way. I don’t actually enjoy telling people that I do comics journalism. I’m tired of people going out of their way not to sell me something. I’m tired of being stared at and interrogated in the sly way fans have when they want to get one over on you or catch you out because you don’t look like them.
This fan behavior has long been the norm, and that’s no surprise: we’re taught that what we love isn’t mainstream so we protect our love of it at all costs. That usually means we burn down anyone else who loves it, too, or who might want to love it given half a damn chance. It’s toxic, friends. We have to stop acting like this.
So I guess what I’m saying is, to all of you who love your brick & mortar: good. I’m glad you’ve found a home. But some of us don’t have that or the attachment to the edifice, literal or emotional, and what’s been a home for you has been dismissive or outright hostile to the rest of us. So, assuming stores do stick around – and I’m not saying they shouldn’t – and we do end up going back out into the world on a more regular basis, there’s a lot more you all could do to welcome and retain customers. I encourage you to take a hard look at your staff and clientele, and consider.
Zardoz and the Death of Cinema
We watched Zardoz this past Friday evening, drunk and high off of the end of season 2 of What We Do In The Shadows. It was a delightful experience.
There’s a lot to love and chuckle about in Zardoz, the most obvious being its aesthetic. I miss the 1960s and ’70s conception of the future. It’s also refreshing to be reminded that the endless (white) utopianism was interrogated and sent up even then. Connery gives a pretty good performance as Zed, Charlotte Rampling is eye-searingly beautiful and the knowledge-sharing scene is a thing of film craft beauty. What really sells me, however, is John Alderton’s performance.
Alderton plays Friend, the quippy, sly fly in the ointment to Connery’s beefy babe in the woods (or so he seems) and his performance is spot on. He refers to Zed as “monster” in casual conversation and delivers lines that’ll tear a sensitive viewer to shreds, all with cavalier, cherubic charm. Initially, he’s the one who sees the Vortex and the Tabernacle for what they are (read: elitist horseshit) and he pays a steep price for his vocal skepticism. And yet he’s a catalyst as much as Zed, though somewhat more in the know. Where Arthur’s unable to control his malignancy and must go forth and fuck with the unwashed masses in his giant flying head, Friend’s cruelty and critique eat him alive but remain centered on the perpetrators, not the oppressed. When Zed arrives, it’s the perfect opportunity to shape the chaos-bringer and apply him at the precise moment of most deadly force. In the end he’s redeemable because he’s willing to buck the rapidly spiraling control mechanism and help Zed bring it all down. But before that he’s charming, compelling and very much a herald in his own way in the hermetic Vortex.
Zardoz isn’t always good. There’s plenty to laugh at and a lot of people do, but there’s also a lot here that is very good and apropos. Elitism will always fail us. Religion is a tool of harm as much as faith is our saving grace. Masculinity is complex, and worthy of study and attention. Gnosis takes many strange forms. And archetypal storytelling with essential visual symbolism is always a damn good time, and we don’t do that anymore. I truly grieve for that.
As much as Millennials and Gen Z and all of the accompanying culture want to make fun of the on-the-nose quality of something like The Prisoner or Zardoz, there’s a reason why the picture book, the apple, the rocking horse and the fool still resonate with us decades later. We can sneer at Connery’s loincloth and hooker boots or make fun of McGoohan’s wry journeys through The Village, but that doesn’t diminish their boundary-pushing effect. And there’s nothing wrong with setting up a stage play or making weird bubbles out of cellophane or encasing people in crochet to make a point. Tropes and symbols become tired, true, but they’re also imbued with layers of meaning, and toying with them can lead to entertaining and even occasionally transcendent things.
Irony will be the death of us all, I swear.
Play and imagination and wonder are important, even if they don’t always land. Zardoz wipes the floor with Fury Road and if you want to tell me there’s not a through line there, you should go back and consider where the War Boys came from. Cue the ancient woe: “nobody makes good movies anymore!” It’s why I sat right the hell up and took notice of Mandy, because it makes great use of homage while putting its whole ass into its storytelling. It rocks you with images that you see when you close your eyes months, years, later and it has a fuckin’ chainsaw fight.
We’re so afraid now of being passionate or operatic or melodramatic about anything in art now that it comes out in other places. I much prefer the bellow of the shield-maiden onstage to the empty din of San Francisco brunch, thanks very much.
I find queerness everywhere I go, and that’s a topic for another time, I suppose, but all this rambling is to say: I fucking love Zardoz. Un-ironic, pure love. I’d rather watch something that tries to inspire and misses its goal of ultimate cohesion than a bunch of people in a room quipping their asses off.
Take care, tender ones.