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August 08 2013

Why doesn't Superman focus on heroics that actually save lives ? Biased super-hero mythos reflect…

Why doesn’t #Superman focus on heroics that actually save lives ? Biased super-hero #mythos reflect our society’s idiotic #security obsession about the ’terrorist’ threat that has come to dominate the political discourse.
http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2305#comic #terrorism #comics

July 27 2013

June 13 2012

May 11 2012

Visualization of the Week: Avengers Assemble

Marvel's "The Avengers" opened in U.S. theaters last weekend, claiming the largest weekend opening so far this year and setting a new three-day domestic box office record. The film features a superhero team comprised of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. But as fans of the comics know, this isn't the original or the only composition of "The Avengers." When the team first appeared in 1963, it was made up of Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Thor, and the Hulk. Captain America was discovered frozen in ice in Issue #4. The only real constant of "The Avengers" over the years is its rotating roster of superheroes.

That changing makeup of "The Avengers" is the theme of this week's visualization, created by The New York Times' data artist in residence Jer Thorp. On his blog, Thorp has posted a series of visualizations about these superheroes that uses comicvine.com's API.

Thorp writes:

"My first thought was to use images of the characters in my visualizations, but while the Comic Vine API provides images in all kinds of sizes, the styles of drawing are so varied that it ended up not holding together. Instead, then, I built a small tool that let me go through those characters and pick three colours that I thought represented them the best (everybody gets a shield!)."

Below is a depiction of all "The Avengers" characters, ordered by the frequency in which they appear in the series.

Avengers appearance frequence

And sorting by issue (characters appearing in an issue together form a radial line), here is every appearance of every Avenger team member in every issue.

Avengers 1963-2011

Read the full post to see many more visualizations based on "The Avengers," including the gender ratio of the superhero team and the types of villains they often had to assemble to battle.

Found a great visualization? Tell us about it

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring visualizations. We're always looking for leads, so please drop a line if there's a visualization you think we should know about.

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference (May 29 - 31 in San Francisco, Calif.).

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More Visualizations:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

October 12 2010

Ne-Yo unveils team up with Stan Lee

R&B star collaborating with comics guru on Libra Scale, a multimedia project that tells a superhero story through music videos

He's no stranger to collaboration but US R&B star Ne-Yo unveiled his strangest team-up to date over the weekend. The R&B singer shared a stage with 87-year-old comics legend Stan Lee at the New York Comic Con on Saturday to unveil his first foray into the medium.

Ne-Yo has collaborated with the former Marvel president on Libra Scale, a comic strip written to complement his forthcoming album of the same name.

As part of an ambitious multimedia project, the videos to the album's first three singles – Beautiful Monster, Champagne Life and One in a Million – represent a continuous live-action comic-book narrative, with two more videos promised.

The story concerns a hero called Jerome who is granted superpowers with the proviso that he must never fall in love. When he breaks the pact by falling for a girl called Pretti Sinclair, she is transformed into supervillain Diamond Eyes and an epic battle ensues.

On the convention stage, Lee said: "Basically a really good rapper or really good music is super because people love it – and it inspires a man, it makes him feel great Reading a really good comic book with super characters does the same thing. And I promised Ne-Yo that I'm gonna make him feel at home and make sure that he feels comfortable with what we're doing, because he's a very shy guy!

"But seriously ... nothing appeals to young people or even older people as much as a good story and good music, so we're gonna put them both together."

An increasing number of musicians have been dabbling in the comic-book world. Gerard Way, the My Chemical Romance frontman, won an Eisner award for his series The Umbrella Academy, while Melissa Auf der Maur adapted her recent album Out of Our Minds into both a graphic novel and a short film.


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July 20 2010

Jonathan Ross meets Jim Steranko, his comic-book hero

The TV presenter and comic-book obsessive on the extraordinary work of graphic storyteller Jim Steranko. Ross will be blogging for the Guardian from Comic-Con this weekend

In pictures: Steranko's best work

Jim Steranko. Many of you will not have heard his name before, a dreadful truth that troubles me every day. If he were French they'd have his statue in parks, Italian he'd be on their stamps, Japanese and he'd be doing commercials for videogames and fermented soya bean soda. But in the English-speaking world, we still woefully undervalue these master storytellers who choose panels and word balloons to work with.

To my fellow enthusiasts he is a Genius, a Wizard, a Master, a God. A one-of-a-kind, self-promoting hipster/huckster with the finest hair I've ever seen on a man of his age. He is also one of the handful of pioneers who can be said to have genuinely revolutionised the art of graphic storytelling. Glimpse his work and, before you even know exactly how he's doing it, you instinctively know it is different – better – than the norm. You'll also be hopelessly hooked. For life. Non-comic addicts might think I exaggerate – but step away from my hyperbole, and allow yourself a little time with the examples we have printed here. The work should speak for itself.

The story of Steranko's early years – the son of first-generation immigrants who came to America and worked, worked, worked for their family and future, while young Jim studied the funny pages in the Sunday newspapers for escape – is not unusual in the world of first-generation comic-book professionals. But unlike his contemporaries, who headed straight into an art course or an apprenticeship with the older guys in the industry, Steranko went off and learned stage magic, fire eating, the jazzmaster guitar, escapology. He briefly plied a trade in all those fields, before his exceptional eye for design and a desire to tell stories and create whole worlds took over. He gravitated towards comics, and found himself at the self-styled "House of Ideas": Stan Lee's Marvel Comics in its pop-art, counter-cultural heyday.

Initially, Steranko's drawing, like that of so many who kickstarted their career at Marvel during the late 60s, was heavily derivative of the "king of comics", Jack Kirby – a one-man powerhouse who contributed more then anyone to Marvel in its glory years, with his prodigious output, remarkable imagination and aggressive, muscular style. But Steranko soon outgrew his teacher, at least in terms of innovation and sheer in-your-face pizzazz, adding modern design ideas, pop-culture references to Dalí and the like, and brilliant cinematic pacing to his pages. Once seen, Jim's work from this period is hard to forget. The art bursts from the page and burns itself into your memory.

His work on his first hit book, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, took the wildly popular Bond secret-agent schtick and gave it a jazzy makeover, with outlandish plots, eye-popping visuals and even "adult themes" that had the Comics Code Authority demanding several panels in one landmark issue be redrawn. His brief stint on Captain America (just three issues) gave one of the oldest of superheroes a pop-art makeover and a bristling energy that, I would argue, has never been recaptured. And while his iconic cover of Giant Size Hulk (issue 1) has been parodied and paid homage to dozens of times, it remains, in my humble opinion, the greatest single comic book cover of all time.

As a publisher with his own company, SuperGraphics, Steranko was able to revisit and appraise the history of the industry in his remarkable two-volume History of Comics, with their wraparound covers bringing together the greatest characters from the dawn of the comic book. Taking the form into new areas, he also created the anti-drugs comic book The Block, which was distributed to elementary schools all over the US. The difficult subject matter and innovative layouts gave hints as to where Steranko might be heading next – sequential art for an adult audience. Then, in 1976, he created, wrote and drew the extraordinary Chandler: Red Tide.

Back then, of course, no one over the age of about 17 had much time for comics, while the concept of the graphic novel, outside of France and Italy and weird places like that, was virtually non-existent. But Red Tide is a graphic novel in its purest form. A hard-boiled detective thriller in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett and, yes, Raymond Chandler, it is character-rich, novel-length fiction brought to life on the page by words and illustrations in perfect synergy. You almost definitely won't have heard of it or seen any of it before, but now is your chance: it has been restored by Dark Horse, and is being republished in comic and book stores. To whet your appetite, I spent a little time with the man himself:

JR: Jim, I hope you know how much your work has meant to me. I'm very excited that Red Tide is finally being republished so it can get the recognition it deserves. Tell me how it came about.

JS: It's a homage to the great noir films. It's not comic book storytelling, it's cinematic storytelling. I only had a few months, so I lived in my studio. I covered the windows over with cloth, so I could never tell when it was day or night. I ate at the board. I slept at the board. I played only jazz from that period, the 1940s, and that kept my creative blood up.

JR: That comes across. It came out in 1976; I was 15 when I got it. It blew me away. Someone has called you the Kubrick of comics, in that you haven't produced the largest body of work, but almost everything you've done has been revolutionary.

JS: I did 29 comic books. A number of experts have gone through those books: one said he found 150 narrative devices that had never been done in comic books before. I remember in one of the stories, there was a man and a woman talking. The woman was suddenly very cold, and her answer was an empty balloon. To give it an extra punch, I had icicles hanging from the balloon. That may seem like a small point, but it had never been done before.

JR: And how did Federico Fellini come to seek you out? That puts you in perspective, for people who don't understand the impact your comics were having.

JS: I thought it would be good to have the foreword by a celebrity who appreciated that kind of material. I went over a list of names that included Orson Welles, who I knew from this magic club I was involved in, in New York City: the Witchdoctor's Club. But that would have been a bit too easy, so I thought, who would be the toughest person in the world to get? Fellini. I think it was around 1968-69.

JR: His masterpiece 8½ had already been filmed. His movies had been a hit all over the world . . .

JS: Well, nothing ventured – I think I sent him a telegram. And he wrote this beautiful foreword. Fellini as a kid had translated American comics, particularly Flash Gordon, into Italian. In return I sent him the cover that had 50 characters on it. He sent me this beautiful note back that said, "I am hanging this above my desk in my office, because I think the magic and mystery of the characters will rub off on all of my projects."

JR: You were also working in advertising, which would have paid more and probably given you more respect. It's one of the things I find romantic about the comic book industry . . .

JS: There is no money in comics. I did it to make a statement.

JR: We haven't mentioned your escapology. It's reported that Jack Kirby based Mr Miracle (Scott Free) on you and your tales. When I first read about you, I thought this guy is a liar, a fantasist. Now I can see it's probably true . . .

JS: I come from Pennsylvania; my family background is very poor. My father and his brothers would bootleg coal – they would go up into a mountain and open up a shaft. Sometimes, when the ground was wet, my dad would be down in the shaft and it would collapse. He would be buried alive. I used to do it sometimes between doubleheader baseball games as one of my stunts. They would dig a grave in the middle of the field. I would pull a black silk hood over my head – I looked like a superhero. The darkness was as bleak as you could imagine, and I couldn't move a finger. The idea was that I would stay alive for 15 minutes in that grave, then they would dig it up and I would pop out. No gimmicks, no devices. I would form a little triangle with my arms, put my face in it to seal off that little pocket of air, and go into suspended animation. While I was doing it, I used to think of my father, buried alive while bootlegging coal.

JR: So what did your dad make of you when you started showing tendencies towards illustrating? I can't believe he was the sort of dad who had much time for that sort of thing.

JS: I remember asking what he envisioned for me. He said, I thought you'd work in a factory like the rest of us. He had no dream, no goal, no quest. But when I was four years old, I had an uncle who would bring me bags of comic books. I would make my mother show me the words in the balloons, and I would memorise them – that's how I learned to read.

JR: I know you are health-conscious, which comes from your work in escapology and so on. What's an average day for you now?

JS: I eat one meal a day. I believe everything you put in your body is toxic – I eat raw fruits and vegetables. A very small portion. I live on the side of a mountain and run up it with my dogs every night. I begin working after I have dinner at eight o'clock, and work till about nine in the morning. Then I turn in until about 11 o'clock.

JR: Two hours sleep? Conventional wisdom has it that you need sleep . . .

JS: I am proof the body can get by on two hours' sleep.

JR: You know how mad that makes you sound?

JS: Yeah, I don't give a damn.

JR: Do you ever contemplate retiring?

JS: I could never stop working. You know how a shark can never stop swimming? I have too many ideas. I can't just sit on a beach and enjoy the surf and the sun; I'm always creating. I'm an idea factory.

Spend an hour with Jim Steranko and, if he's in the mood, he'll regale you with the most extraordinary tales. Are they true, I have asked myself more than once, or is he a fantasist? Has his love of storytelling and the creation of modern myths bled into his own life story until he can no longer tell the two apart? Well, now that I've met him, I believe them all to be true, just as I believe it when he tells me he still runs miles every day, pumps iron, and fornicates blissfully like a man a third his age. He is unique. He is Steranko. He is the greatest.

Jonathan Ross will be blogging from Comic-Con this weekend. Read his posts at: guardian.co.uk/culture/comic-con


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June 30 2010

The all-new Wonder Woman costume

DC Comics is giving superhero Wonder Woman a new outfit



June 10 2010

Rude Britannia: British Comic Art | Visual art review

Tate Britain, London

Comedy does date. That's why we always need new jokes. I can be fascinated by how James Gillray, 200 years ago, portrayed Pitt as a bony colossus or Fox as unshaven and fat, but can it induce the belly laughs it did when these men dominated British politics?

The tradition of British comic art began with a cultural obsession with raillery that bonded 18th-century Britons. Regency etchings portray crowds on the street outside Humphrey's print shop, rolling with laughter; how can we, a couple of centuries on, revive their hysteria? Step up Viz magazine. Today's filthily funny comic for grownups is the star of this exhibition, because it alone induces an involuntary motion of the muscles, a spasm of the lungs – good heavens, I'm laughing.

Nothing else seems to break through the reverent museum hush. But you can't not laugh at Viz star Roger Mellie's TV tour of Hanoverian satire. On a giant Viz page in the same room, Rowlandson and Gillray compete for the favours of Miss Humphrey in a Beano-style story that has Rowlandson undermine his rival's reputation for the grotesque by pumping up the Prince Regent's weight, then cramming a heroin-and-prostitute stuffed pie into his mouth. Behold, the extreme satires of Mr Gillray are in reality sycophantic and flattering portraits.

Is British art funnier than, say, French art, or are we just more preoccupied with our national self-image as wits? Roger Mellie has his own questions. Is it just me, he asks, or does Hogarth look like Ross Kemp? I'd always thought that myself, but never dared say it.

Until 5 September. Details: 020-7887 8888.

Rating: 4/5


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April 17 2010

Philippa Perry: Couch Fiction | Interview

Her new book, Couch Fiction, is an attempt to demystify therapy - and tell some jokes too. Philippa Perry talks about 'excavations of the mind', domestic class war, and why she chose a transvestite club for her first date with Grayson

Philippa Perry lives in a beautiful house in a beautiful Georgian square deep in smartest north London. She has owned it for 25 years and knows many of her neighbours. "There's a bit of a row going on at the moment!" she says, in a hammy whisper soon after my arrival. "There's a split between the north of the square and the south." The schism is, I gather, the result of a planting arrangement – it has something to do with bulbs or possibly shrubs – and, according to Perry, it is "straight out of Mapp and Lucia". She looks delighted at the thought. Perry is mad for Mapp and Lucia, EF Benson's bitchy village ladies, and now I'm sitting opposite her, this passion makes perfect sense: somehow, I can just hear her shouting: "O reservoir!" at her clients as they exit the building.

Well, perhaps not her clients. But the window cleaner, certainly, and the boiler repair man. With her clients, I expect she has to damp herself down, throw a tea towel over the cheery, combative and slightly camp sparks that usually fly from her person. Perry is, you see, a psychotherapist and she sees her clients here in the beautiful square. She sits in one velvet chair, the client sits in another, and for 50 minutes, they get the best part of her: the warm, wise and questing part whose definition of sanity is: "How am I feeling? How do I express that? What are my needs? How can I get them met?" Jokes and catchphrases have no place in her consulting room: they are a distraction, a stinky red herring. "When I first had therapy myself, I always used to keep making jokes," she says. "My therapist would go [adopts universal eastern European shrink accent], 'I do not zink zat eez funny!'" She hoots with laughter at the memory.

In her new book, however, there are plenty of jokes. Couch Fiction, illustrated by her friend Junko Graat, is a comic strip. It tells the story of a case history in the professional life of Patricia Philips, a psychotherapist who lives in a house that looks remarkably like that of the woman who created her, though the Couch Fiction home, placidly rendered in black and white, does not perhaps have quite the same weird energy as Perry's. (Its narrow hall is painted such an intense shade of red, it's like standing in an artery; you want to press a cheek against its wall, the better to feel its pulse.) She wrote the book because she wanted to demystify therapy and so – for once – jokes were wholly appropriate.

"I wrote the book I would have liked to read myself 30 years ago, when I was still floundering around reading Scott Peck," she says. "I've always loved case studies, from Susie Orbach on, but I'm dyslexic and I got into reading myself through Asterix. So I love comics, too. And then I discovered Harvey Pekar!" She sighs happily. Pekar is the angst-ridden author of the comic book series, American Splendor. "It hit me like a punch: marry Harvey Pekar with psychotherapy!"

She drew the first draft herself, all ghostly outlines and wobbly furniture. These sketches she then passed to Graat who, when she used to work as Perry's gardener, would leave delightful sequential drawings for her to come home to, detailing how the cat had been sick or whatever. Graat put everything in order. Even so, it wasn't easy to sell the book. Perry is married to the Turner prize-winner Grayson Perry, with whom she has a teenage daughter, Flo, but all the name-dropping in the world couldn't get her a publishing deal. "I did try. I'm not stupid!" In the end, though, this turned out to be a good thing. Couch Fiction's appearance between hard covers is testament to its wit and good sense rather than the fame of her transvestite potter husband – though finding the right title helped, too. "I wanted to call this book 'Interruptions of Contact'," Perry writes in her introduction. "But the publisher quite rightly pointed out that it sounded obscure, negative and could be mistaken for coitus interruptus."

The case in question concerns a young, well-to-do barrister, James, who comes to Pat seeking help for his kleptomania (Perry chose kleptomania for the simple reason that this is a condition yet to present itself in her real-life consulting room). Naturally, his thievery is a symptom of a deeper malaise and it is one that Pat eventually traces back to his childhood, which was cold and dysfunctional. Thanks to the conventions of the strip form, however, not only do we hear their conversations, we also see (oh, the beauty of the think bubble!) what therapist and client choose to keep to themselves. At one point, for instance, James confesses that, unused to having such an intimate, non-physical relationship with a woman, he has started having sexual fantasies about his therapist. "Oh?" says Pat. He tells her that he pictures himself coming into her room: she is crying, he comforts her, they end up "on the sofa together". But this is not quite the truth. The next frame – a giant think bubble – shows a naked Patricia biting down on a volume of Freud while James gives her "a right old seeing to".

Beneath many of the pages are brief notes explaining some of therapy's terms and processes (transference, counter-transference, intervention). In these, Perry's tone is sometimes wry and ironic, sometimes sombre and straight. Below a picture of James arriving at Pat's house for his first appointment, she writes: "I wonder how much research has been done on the impact of recycling bins and their contents on the doorsteps of therapists' premises?" Below the picture of Patricia sprawling naked on her consulting room sofa, she writes: "It isn't easy to find a universally causal explanation for erotic transference."

Perry was determined not to make her therapist an all-seeing, God-like figure. Sometimes, Pat finds her client difficult, even dislikable and sometimes, in their conversations, she seems merely to be feeling her way. "Therapy isn't about the therapist knowing more," she says. "It's more about the therapist being used to evacuations – no! that's the wrong word! – I mean excavations of the mind."

Nor does she want, as an author, to come over as some proselytiser for therapy; she would never claim superior intellectual or emotional status simply by dint of the fact that she has been – is this a word? – therapised. "There is a form of belief that says the world is divided in two: into those who are in psychotherapy and those who need to be. I don't subscribe to that view. Some people can manage very well without it. Some people might be able to manage without self-awareness as well. Maybe they're not in the slightest bit fucked up. But it works for me."

She came to therapy relatively late: at 53, she has been in private practice for only 10 years. "I used to read Freud a lot. But it was just a hobby. I was really resisting it. Then I volunteered for the Samaritans and when I'd been there a while, I realised: I'm not being altruistic; I came here to see whether it was safe to explore feelings. I had a fairly stiff-upper-lip upbringing in which, if you didn't talk about it, it would get better. Through the Samaritans, I learned not only that it was safe; it really seemed to be useful. It didn't harm people; it turned them around. I was very taken with the power of it. I set up an agony page on the internet. It doesn't exist any more, I'm pleased to say. When the problems got too complex, I decided to train – and that meant having therapy myself."

In Couch Fiction, James is a bit obnoxious at first. Are there some clients whom Perry likes more than others? "What a question! No one is born annoying. You're trained to be annoying. Someone who might not be engaging socially might be a more interesting client because they have more faulty training to unpick. If you're a baby who was left to cry, you may never have learned to soothe yourself. You learn to soothe yourself because your mum picks you up and says, 'There, there!' That sort of person will need to find someone to help them self-soothe. That sort of person as a friend... well, you don't want too many of them on the phone. But as clients, they're interesting."

Can everything be traced back to one's parents? I sometimes think this is dubious and for this reason I liked the bit in Ian McEwan's new novel, Solar, when his central character, Michael Beard, who is a scientist, rants about the trite ways in which psychotherapeutic narratives bend to fit the facts (the orphan, fearing loss, grows up to be a commitment-phobe; but he could just as easily, and for the same reason, grow up to be a commitment-phile). "Perhaps it's clearer to say that things are down to one's relationship with one's environment," says Perry. "I think I was soothed by my mum. But I was an undiagnosed dyslexic and I was always being told I was stupid. That had a huge effect. Most people have got a script from their parents, or from their childhood, and it takes a lot of work to rewrite it."

Isn't focusing so closely on one's own feelings selfish? "It sounds selfish. But your feelings are always there and they will always come out. We're all familiar with the posh aunt at tea who says [she does another posh Mapp and Lucia voice], 'Now, does anybody want jam?' She's sitting there with a scone and no jam and she'd save everyone a lot of trouble if she just said, 'Pass the jam, please.'"

I've always wondered if being a therapist ruins one's social life. I don't mean that when people find out what you do for a living they immediately start dribbling their woes all over the asparagus, though I expect that does happen. But you must see symptoms – insanity, even – everywhere. Perry laughs. "Yes. Sometimes, I go too far in a social situation." She puts her hands in front of her eyes, sticks out her index fingers and moves her head from side to side, slowly, like a Dalek. "Grayson says, 'You've got the guns out!' If someone splits off into another character, other people might think he's arsing around. I think: that's interesting. He keeps turning into a five-year-old. So I'll ask: what happened to you when you were four? They usually tell me their mother died or something." Has her work made her unshockable? Not remotely. "I'm shocked by the way people treat other people. I'm shocked and I'm sad."

With her outsize lemon-lime spectacles and her groovy, asymmetric bob, Philippa Perry could not be anything other than a born-and-bred member of the arty/liberal north London intelligentsia. Or so I imagined before I met her. But, like a cat, she has had several lives. She is from Warrington originally. "My mother was from a cotton mill family. When I say 'cotton mill', they owned one. My father inherited an engineering company and a farm. I grew up in the country and I'm not scared of cows." Was it a nice childhood? "It was all right... when the sun was out. But I was sent to boarding school at 10 and I hated that. The school motto was 'That our daughters might be as the polished corners of the temple' and I just never understood it."

She left at 15 and was promptly dispatched to finishing school in Switzerland. "Everybody there was posher than me. They were from Scotland or the south, not from the [she enunciates her next two words crisply] manufacturing classes." Afterwards, she went to secretarial college – an even worse idea, given her dyslexia. Then she got lucky. Having already been sacked from several typing jobs, she pitched up at a solicitor's office where someone grasped that, in spite of her awful typing, she was bright and "good fun" and she became a litigation clerk. By now, she was living in Oxford. "All those lovely boys! So I got a husband." A rather more conventional husband than now? "I don't know whether anyone's conventional when you get to know them." The marriage lasted a long time – she married in 1978, aged 21, and divorced in 1987– but, deep down, she knew it was wrong. "Yes, I did. But I had quite an Edwardian upbringing. My parents would have been unhappy if we'd just lived together." Together, she and her husband the Oxford graduate ran the business she had by then set up, a company that serviced legal clerks.

The firm did well, but the work was boring. So she sold it. What next? "Out of the frying pan and into the fire. I went to work for McDonald's. The Oxford Circus branch. I was manager within two months." Crikey. Why McDonald's? She lowers her voice conspiratorially. "It was class tourism. I suppose it was my gap year. I learned a lot. I used to catch myself thinking: oh, that chap's quite clever. Then I'd have to say to myself: well, why on earth wouldn't he be? But the hours were terrible and after a year I was fed up with the smell of fat. I was responsible for a turnover of £2m, but still, working there was me not taking myself seriously, I think."

She went back to secretarial work. "I was at Linklaters, as a paralegal, and it was brilliant. It was the 1980s, there was a lot of money about. I had a lovely Amex card and a suit from Jaeger with matching navy accessories. The overtime was so good, Chris and I were able to buy this house. We divorced soon after, and I had to pay him off, but by then I'd inherited a bit of money from my family. So then I thought: I know, I'll go to art school! I was coming up to 30 and I realised I had to find a baby father. Did I want to be married to a solicitor? Not really. So I went to Middlesex Poly, where I did fine art."

She loved the course, but the other students drove her mad. They never turned up to 9 o'clock life classes, which made her furious, because she was always there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Worse, there was not a suitable "baby father" anywhere in sight. Determined to throw her net even wider, she enrolled at creative writing evening classes at City University and it was there that – phew – she met Grayson.

What was he like? "He was a show-off. I thought: you're the last person I'm going out with. But he was very good-looking. He had this shock of blond hair, and a red leather jacket, because he used to arrive by motorbike. He was very funny, too. We had to read our diaries out. Mine was all about failed romances at art school. His was about the neo-naturists or something." They have now been together for 22 years. "We got on and we've never stopped getting on. My experience of meeting Grayson was: there is something in you that I need and I need to hold on to it." What was it? "It's his ability to be himself. I like that and I've learnt from it."

You might be wondering what on earth she means by this: people sometimes speculate that Perry's transvestism – his tranny alter ego is a little girl, Claire – is just an act, or an aspect of his art. But read his memoir, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, or talk to the artist himself (I've done both), and you realise this is quite wrong: the cross-dressing began when he was still a troubled teenager and when he describes how it made him feel – sexy, elated, more free – his words crackle with electricity, just like the cheap polyester dresses he used to pick up at jumble sales. On the page, and in person, there is something so authentic about him you can almost smell it. He's a working-class heterosexual who just happens to like wearing pretty frocks. The only problem is that this particular aspect of "being oneself" is not necessarily attractive in a husband – or it wouldn't be for most women.

I want to discuss this but, at first – stinky red herring alert! – Perry ignores the dresses and talks instead about class. "It's a mixed-race marriage," she says. "Grayson finds my middle-class rules a little difficult at times. He's allowed to run around the house naked, but he's not allowed to run around the house in trousers with no top on. I won't have it! This is not a miner's cottage!" Did he confess his dress-wearing straight off? "Our first date was: do you want to come to a private view or do you want to come to a transvestite club? Ooh, a transvestite club! It sounded much more fun than a private view." Didn't she find his transvestism... difficult? "Not at all. We were friends for six months before there were any shenanigans, so I was well aware of it before we became an item. It might be tricky for some women. If they've been deceived, or find out a year in, that must be really difficult." Did she make rules about when he could and could not wear dresses? "NO!" She sounds like she thinks this is a really daft question. "That's never bothered me. That's not part of my class thing, my Hyacinth Bucket thing, is it?"

Not to play the therapist myself, but I'm not sure that I entirely buy this and, a few weeks after our interview, I email her, telling her how, on my tape, her voice tightens when I bring up Grayson. Should I take what she says at face value? Apparently, I should. "I think it is fantastic that Grayson is fully himself, even when that self might be considered unconventional. I fully support him dressing however he wants. It's fabulous, and it develops, and it's interesting to witness that. And I'm proud of him and proud to be at his side." In photographs taken with him dressed as Claire, she always looks so jolly. "Jollity," she writes back. "The result of many years on the therapist's couch. When you learn to access more of your feelings, you have more awareness of all of them and that includes laughing. Plus, Grayson is very good company and going out and staying in with him is fun. I think that could account for some of it."

One last thing. In his book, Grayson writes that he finally broke with his mother in 1990, when he took Philippa to meet her: "My mother attacked Phil and said, 'You must be desperate to marry a transvestite.'" How did that make her feel? "I can't remember. It was such a long time ago. A bit shocked, probably. But then why would she be happy that her son is a tranny? People on the whole don't want their kids to be too different from the norm. It's understandable that she's angry that his girlfriend supports her son's trannyism. I hope I have answered all your questions now."

After she and Grayson had been together for 10 years, he, too, started having therapy, an experience he refers to enthusiastically in his book. Was it her idea? "Yes. I was in therapy and I didn't want to be his therapist. 'You need it,' I told him. 'I'm fine,' he said. So I thought: right! And I withdrew my therapy services." Oh, that old trick, I say, not meaning anything in particular. Perry's marvellous eyes widen. "No, not THAT old trick! I didn't withdraw THAT! I just stopped asking him how things made him feel, and it worked, he got a therapist, though then I felt terribly jealous." In his book, he comes over as very sane. "He is reasonably sane. Wearing a dress is a sign of sanity. He feels like he really wants to wear one, so he does; it doesn't hurt anybody. It's a super-sane thing to do." She has never worried about him, least of all about his abilities as an artist: "He is a genius."

In 2003, others noticed this genius and Grayson won the Turner prize. Suddenly, he and his pots were everywhere. Did this change things? "Yes. Obviously, our life got very exciting. We'd get invited to lots of dos. And I took it as a personal compliment. I like to twist things round. I discovered him! I'm a good picker! But the downside was that suddenly everyone wanted to talk to Grayson. They weren't interested in me. That did knock me over. I'd be at a party and someone would say, 'I've always wanted to meet your husband.' This wasn't an insult, it was a compliment – so why did I feel so weird? The other thing is that when it all happened, being a slightly insecure person, I thought: oh, he won't want me any more. But he does, so that's nice."

Though outwardly unusual, the two of them live an ordinary, rather cosy kind of a life. She describes it to me. Philippa spends her day with her patients and then flops down in front of Countdown; Grayson spends his day in his studio listening to Radio 4 and then comes hoping to chat, only to find she is all talked out. At weekends, they go to their cottage, where they grow vegetables. Their daughter, Flo, is 17 and is hoping to read chemistry at Durham University and they are preparing themselves for empty nest syndrome. Together, they are growing older. A few weeks ago, Grayson celebrated his 50th birthday with a big party, at which he treated guests to some advice he received from an elderly gentleman whom he met when he gave the annual William Morris lecture. After 50, he told the assembled company, "a man should never pass a lavatory, never trust a fart and never waste an erection".

Philippa relayed this cherishable maxim to me in another email, which was a shame, really: I would have loved to hear her tell it in person, her throaty laughter bouncing off her consulting room walls like sunshine. I still don't know exactly what I think about therapy. But she is a tonic even if you're not her patient.


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March 22 2010

02mydafsoup-01

» revolutionär im nachthemd


Die Erfindung des zerstreuten Blicks: Jens Balzer und Lambert Wiesing ergründen in einem akademischen Essayband die Ursprünge des Comics und erklären den besonderen Zauber der Kunstform.
Reposted frommidnightradio midnightradio

February 14 2010

Articulating atrocities

Glenn Fitzpatrick was a soldier in the Gulf war. Two decades on, he has condensed its horrors into a gripping graphic book

It was not the dead bodies that got to trooper Glenn Fitzpatrick. He found it harder to deal with the people who were still alive, the ones covered in blood and crying out for help. He can still vividly recall the detritus of battle; the human misery he witnessed at first hand while on a six-month tour with the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars during the Gulf war in 1991.

One of his most powerful memories is of two captured Iraqi soldiers who had been caught in the crossfire and were bleeding profusely at an allied field hospital. "They were literally holding on to each other, crying their eyes out," he says. "I looked at them and I thought, 'I'm not into this war at all.'"

It took Fitzpatrick, 38, almost 20 years to come to terms with the post-traumatic stress he suffered and to rebuild his shattered life. Unable to find the right words to convey all that he had seen, he turned to drawing as a means of expressing himself and retrained as an artist. Now, he has produced a graphic novel about his experiences as a tank driver during operation Desert Storm and his difficult return to civilian life.

Arts and Mines is believed to be the first graphic novel about Iraq written by a soldier who served there and offers an alternately harrowing and humorous account of Fitzpatrick's experiences. "It's a journey of mixed emotions," he says. "On one page, you'll be going 'Oh my God, this is depressing,' and then you'll be laughing on the next, which is pretty much squaddie humour."

The book has been seven years in the making – he admits that one of the reasons it took so long is because the emotions still felt so raw. As a tank driver for a team of medics, Fitzpatrick's job was to get casualties to safety in the heat of battle. He saw colleagues machine-gunned to death. One of his friends had his leg blown off. "Some of the images, I was crawling up the wall to deal with," he admits. "I had mental blocks for months on some of them: I knew what the gut feeling was but to articulate all that into one condensed picture..." He drifts off. "How can you explain those atrocities in one page?"

He found the most difficult scene to draw was one that depicted the capture of a lone Iraqi soldier in the aftermath of the war. The Iraqi man had been picked up in the middle of the desert and had not eaten for six days. He was so terrified that he would be shot, he tried to barter for his life by offering Fitzpatrick his watch. "I could see such fear in him, it was breaking my heart," Fitzpatrick says now. The prisoner asked the British soldiers if they had managed to kill Saddam Hussein. They said no and the Iraqi man started weeping at the thought that the dictator had not been toppled.

"I realised these people were not my enemy," says Fitzpatrick, his voice cracking, his eyes suddenly wet. "My fight was not against them. I just felt disgraced after that. In that moment, I woke up and thought, 'I'm not the machine I was trained to be.'" He emits a bark of laughter. "I thought, 'I'm not a soldier, I'm a frigging hippy!' As much as I've seen certain things, actually it's the [human] interaction that brings it back home more than anything."

The failure to kill Saddam Hussein when they had the chance still rankles. Fitzpatrick did not support the 2003 invasion of Iraq and attended the London anti-war rally of more than a million people in the run-up to the attack on Baghdad. "We could have avoided all this if we'd got rid of Saddam... I really felt there were no weapons of mass destruction, it was all too easy to point the finger and now we're dealing with the backlash."

Fitzpatrick was 18 when he left the family home in Gravesend, Kent, and joined up – his father and his grandfather had been in the army before him and he craved the same sense of companionship that both men had experienced. Seven months later, he found himself on the way to Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. "When I arrived the first thing that got to me was the taste," he recalls. "The air just tasted of fuel. It was rancid."

The troops spent five months training in the desert. "They deconstruct you in every way possible and build you back up. The indoctrination works so well you lose what you were in the past... you lose a sense of self, you become disassociated from your own compassion." In retrospect, he thinks that he was "too wet behind the ears" to face the brutal realities of war.

When he left the army after his return from Iraq, he found it almost impossible to readjust to civilian life. He remembers one occasion when he met up with a friend and found him playing the computer game Street Fighter in an amusement arcade in Gravesend. "I'm like, 'I've just come back from something so real and you're on this thing where it's not real.' I was waiting for him to finish this game and I'm thinking, 'We're really two worlds apart.' I did become really quite resentful... I came back with the attitude that I'd been woken up and everyone around me was still asleep."

He suffered from nightmares and found it difficult to form lasting relationships. He did not confide in his family for fear of upsetting them and his military friends never talked about what had happened. "I don't know what stops it," Fitzpatrick says. "I used to wonder why my father and grandfather never talked about war but how do you tell people?"

Instead, Fitzpatrick sought refuge in art – previously he had only ever painted Viz cartoon characters on the side of tanks at the request of his fellow squaddies. He enrolled at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury, where he studied for a degree in fine art and then a master's. Later, he was offered professional counselling through Combat Stress, a mental health charity for ex-servicemen. "I used to break down in front of those people that analysed me but all the time, it was bottled up inside. I got so, so tired of talking about it."

He says that working on the graphic novel enabled him "to get my demons out, that flash that kept popping in my head...That's why I've got closure. I can leave this book in my past. I can run as far away from it as I choose." It worries him that the same sort of closure might not be available to the soldiers returning from present-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. "My heart really goes out to them. I hope they see I'm a positive outcome and I was as broken as ­anyone else."

After a series of menial part-time jobs, including a spell as a tarmac spreader, Fitzpatrick now hopes to make a living as a professional artist. As well as his graphic novel, he has produced a series of larger-scale ink drawings and sculptures recently exhibited in the Brick Lane Gallery in London. Many of his works reflect his belief that wars are motivated by oil: in one of the most striking examples, a knife is affixed to the end of a petrol pump handle, the top of which is emblazoned with Fitzpatrick's Gulf war medal.

Looking back at what he went through, does he blame anyone for the horrors he experienced as an 18-year-old? "I had a lot of bitterness at one point," he says, "but I've only got myself to blame. I put myself down for the army and there is good that comes out of it; it offers you a new start in life, almost a regeneration." He looks at a copy of his book, lying on the table in front of us. "All this," he says, gesturing towards it, "this is just a retrospect of organised chaos. It's a journey of mixed emotions." He glances up and smiles, although it is difficult not to notice that his eyes are still slicked with tears.

Arts and Mines is published by ­Aerocomm, priced £12.99


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February 03 2010

Is it time for Climate Change: the Comic? | Jonathan Jones

Could graphic novels could be the perfect way to make sense of the recent IPCC controversy?

Is there anything comic books can't do? Any subject too big, mature or complex to be encompassed by a graphic novel? This is the question that presents itself after reading Logicomix, a gripping account of the lives and ideas of logicians at the beginning of the 20th century.

The creators of Logicomix – writers Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H Papadimitriou, artists Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna – present themselves as characters in their story, showing a comics design studio at work in modern Athens while its team debate their differing views about their historical graphic novel. Is it about character and emotion, or the history of philosophy and mathematics? Is it a tragedy about the failure of logicians to find a fundamental basis for mathematics, or does it have a happy ending in the discoveries of Alan Turing and the birth of the digital era? The comic's creators disagree. So do readers.

Logicomix has a formidable and charming character at its heart: Bertrand Russell, who tells his own story in a speech in the US at the start of the second world war. Looking back to his bizarre Victorian childhood, Russell explains how he fell in love with the idea of truth, a truth that must be established by reason alone – and how this led him to undermine the theory of sets, to attempt to remake mathematics in collaboration with AN Whitehead in their Principia Mathematica (1910), and how this in turn was demolished by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Gödel.

The Berkeley mathematician on the Logicomix team complains in the book that there's hardly any maths in it – but there is more than you would be likely to find in a "literary" novel about these characters. It's as if, having made the great populist gesture of working in the medium of comics, graphic novelists feel free to bring in ideas without the timidity you see elsewhere today.

Comics as the last bastion of intellectual life? Why not? After all, Logicomix is in a tradition of seriousness in this genre that goes back to Art Spiegelman's Maus.

So I wonder: could a graphic novel do justice to the current controversy in climate science? As leaked emails and errors embarrass the science on which an entire politics is based, could a comic depict both the pathos of scientists driven by conviction to possibly suppress or distort data, and the larger picture that overwhelmingly demands urgent action to save the climate? Could it dramatise the motivations of sceptics and eco-warriors?

Perhaps it might end with Pascal's wager, which in this instance means the certainty that if we do nothing and are wrong, we will suffer more than if we do more than is necessary. This epic and frightening situation is surely worthy of being turned into Climatecomix.


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November 15 2009

Astro Boy is a Japanese superhero whose backside fires bullets. How cool is that? | Sam Leith

Are we ready for Astro Boy? He's a cute little robot with rocket boots, spiky black hair and – winningly – the ability to shoot bullets out of his backside. January sees the UK release of the animated Hollywood film Astro Boy, an all-star production, with voices coming from Donald Sutherland, Nicolas Cage, Charlize Theron and Bill Nighy. Their names are all over the movie's website. But where's the name of Astro Boy's creator, Osamu Tezuka? You'd need a magnifying glass to find any mention.

In her lavish new book The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, Helen McCarthy acknowledges that her subject is not exactly well known in the west. The first chapter is titled: "Osamu Who?" The fact that the question needs to be asked is indicative of the enduring bafflement with which we regard Japanese pop culture. And the Japanese are not nearly as insular as us: were you to launch a book about Walt Disney over there, its opening chapter would not have to be titled: "Walt Who?"

Tezuka, who died 20 years ago this year, is a titanic figure in Japanese pop culture. Born into a wealthy family in 1928, he studied to be a doctor, but chose instead the infinitely more rackety and less respectable life of a manga cartoonist. It paid off. By his early 30s, he was Japan's highest earning artist; after his death, a Tezuka museum opened in his hometown of Takarazuka. Tezuka was the top creator of comics in a country where, according to one historian, more paper goes into the production of comics than goes into the creation of toilet roll. Comics remain a relatively niche interest in the west, but manga are thought to account for around a third of Japan's publishing industry.

Created, and then rejected, by a scientist who was seeking to fill the hole left by his dead son, Astro Boy is sometimes ill-used by humans. Nevertheless, he puts his powers, including the machine guns mounted on his buttocks, at the service of "humanity", even if the people around him often don't. And Astro Boy is just the beginning. Tezuka produced more than 150,000 pages of comic strip art: everything from mythic history and literary adaptations, to westerns and science fantasy. There's even a strip, called Black Jack, about the alarming adventures of a struck-off surgeon who does maverick medical work for exorbitant fees.

Manga is not read in the same way as, say, the Beano. The comics are lighter on dialogue, much more visually stylised and far faster paced. You don't linger over the panels – you whip through them. Tezuka's visual style is full of kinetic effects: if the foreground isn't whizzing past, the background will be. And his human figures have that doe-eyed look typical of Japanese cartooning, but with elements of EC Segar, creator of Popeye, in there.

One of the things that might surprise western eyes is the range of registers a single work can contain. Tezuka's eight-volume life of Buddha, for instance, is serious and thoughtful, yet is also interlarded with buffoonish comic business. His 1953 manga version of Crime and Punishment has pages of distinctly non-Dostoyevskian slapstick, and a cameo by a regular Tezuka character who pops up to shout his catchphrase: "Here t'meet ya!"

Tezuka's comics look outward to the world, too: his influences are decisively international. Individual frames, as McCarthy points out, reference Captain Nemo, Frankenstein – and isn't that Mickey Mouse's hat from Fantasia? The backgrounds are pure Fritz Lang, full of hovercars reminiscent of chrome-crusted American cars from the 1950s. Astro Boy himself is a reimagining of Pinocchio (who is, perhaps, a semi-cutesy descendent of the Golem, the creature from Jewish myth made of inanimate matter).

Bizarrely, Tezuka treated his comic creations more as actors than characters. They'd make guest appearances in different comics, playing new roles. Some were even aware they were in comics; Tezuka, already postmodern way back then, would frequently appear as a character, too. That disconcerting blend of seriousness and farce is, perhaps, one reason why manga's penetration into western culture is still somewhat limited. But thematic seriousness and low comedy coexist in Chaucer and Shakespeare, while emotional truth and physical caricature get along just fine in Dickens. So Tezuka might yet take off in Britain, especially if Astro Boy is a hit.

Some of the themes of Astro Boy – what it is to be a robot, what it is to be human – are already there in the likes of I, Robot, AI and Blade Runner. But in none of those does the hero shoot bullets out of his bum. And that, if you ask me, is their loss.


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July 09 2009

Four short links: 10 July 2009

  1. Ceph -- open source distributed filesystem from UCSC. Ceph is built from the ground up to seamlessly and gracefully scale from gigabytes to petabytes and beyond. Scalability is considered in terms of workload as well as total storage. Ceph is designed to handle workloads in which tens thousands of clients or more simultaneously access the same file, or write to the same directory-usage scenarios that bring typical enterprise storage systems to their knees. (via joshua on delicious)
  2. Daily Internet Activities, 2000-2009 -- Pew Charitable Trust's Internet usage survey. We've finally broken 50% of Americans using the Internet daily. Twitter is almost a rounding error. (via dhowell on Twitter)
  3. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage -- fantastic comic, with end-notes that explain how Babbage and Lovelace's lives and works are reflected in the action of the comic. (via suw on Twitter)
  4. Search User Interfaces -- full text of this book about the different (successful and un-) interfaces to search. (via sebchan on Twitter)
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