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I started this blog mostly out of wanting to get a handle on, and engage with other thoughtful people out there about, my sense of purpose (not to say vocation — but we’ll put that off, again, for another time) as a creative person — a sometime student of art & design, occasionally a working designer/illustrator, a (still, at that time) would-be architect. The blog’s name reflects that.

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The last two posts here cracked open the door, just a bit, to some discussion of visual stereotyping and race. I didn’t have any definite plan to open that door further, but it’s interesting stuff, to say the least, and a good way to go for a wider historical field on the subject of graphics and human figure. So let’s just push it open and encounter the dangers within as we may.

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Over a few recent days I’ve been listening to an interview with Jack Kirby, done in L.A. in 1990, posted on YouTube by the Jack Kirby Museum. He’s 72, and he rambles and loses track of the questions, and you get the feeling the show hosts don’t quite know what to do with him. But he’s fun to listen to, on the whole. A theme he seems to like returning to is the idea that storytelling runs in his family. I can’t help thinking that he was probably always the rambly, discursive, storytelling type of conversationalist. Maybe the guy we’re hearing on tape is someone really not far removed from the guy who started out in Superman and Batman knockoffs during the Depression, fifty-odd years earlier.

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PBS has a three-part series on the American comic-book superhero running now — from Siegel & Shuster to the recent summer blockbusters. I watched (minus dozing) tonight while doing some bookkeeping. If you get your comics history largely from Wikipedia and YouTube, like me, you’d say it feels sketchy. At times, seems not much more than a long commercial for the Marvel and DC media shops. It may be the work of a Ken Burns alumnus, but it’s some way from doing what Ken Burns does for Americana.

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What’s kept the American comic-book superhero stories going since the creation of Superman, anyway? Why doesn’t it die? Why didn’t it already die but good, like the unlikely faddish twist on pulp it surely was in inception, like so many other lifestyle and entertainment fashions of its day did, a long time ago? There are bound to be some good answers to this, proposed by learned & unlearned persons in books and magazine articles. Someday I might find time to look into it.

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I said it’s occurred to me that H.B. is an answer to Superman. Well, but aren’t all the comic-book hero figures who come after Superman answers to Superman, one way or another? Heck, Superman’s been cast as answer to himself often enough by now, maybe.

Then again, these answers to Superman come in different kinds, and there might be something to be said for comparing them. So, where does Mignola’s turn at it belong in the whole range of such ‘answers,’ and so on — we can always talk about that. Or rather, somebody can. That’s a project better left to the real comics geeks.

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One of the notable curiosities about the ‘Mignolaverse’ is that it kicks off in 1994, seemingly, as a team hero series of the by then thoroughly worked-over X-Men gifted-children type but, without ever taking that convention very seriously, soon abandons it, splitting Hellboy’s story off from the Bureau’s, or its from his, whereafter they’re maintained as essentially separate series. The B.P.R.D. carries on, of course, in something like the original team vein, with the hero angle considerably diminished and a heavy dose of X-Files to round out what it lacks in the way of X-Men substance. And Hellboy, title and character together, is plunged in what ends up being clearly another direction altogether, borrowing apparently from Gaiman and who knows what other long list of sources.

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A theory of man must account for the alienation of man. A theory of organisms in environments cannot account for it, for in fact organisms in environments are not alienated.

Judeo-Christianity did of course give an account of alienation, not as a peculiar evil of the twentieth century, but as the enduring symptom of man’s estrangement from God. Any cogent anthropology must address itself to both, to the possibility of the perennial estrangement of man as part of the human condition and to the undeniable fact of the cultural estrangement of Western man in the twentieth century.

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Stewardship of words is a high calling, though not one that can be relegated to professionals. We are all called to be responsible hearers, speakers, and doers of the word. Still, telling the truth is something like an extreme sport for the very committed. . . . We learn, gradually, from those who do it well, how to tolerate the “intolerable wrestle with words and meanings,” as Eliot put it, and even to delight in it. We calibrate the differences between what we want words to mean and how they may be heard; we pick them up from the dusty corners where most of the good ones have been consigned to disuse and re-introduce them, hoping to ambush the listener who is contented with cliché. Like Adrienne Rich, who called herself “a woman sworn to lucidity,” we pledge our energies to the work of smithing words for purposes they have never before had to serve. We temper our urgencies (if we are inclined to prophesy) with play because no responsible word work can happen with out it . . . .

 
From Marilyn McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.

On their way East they stopped two days in Washington, strolling about with some hostility in its atmosphere of harsh repellent light, of distance without freedom, of pomp without splendor — it seemed a pasty-pale and self-conscious city. The second day they made an ill-advised trip to General Lee’s old home at Arlington.
    The bus which bore them was crowded with hot, unprosperous people, and Anthony, intimate to Gloria, felt a storm brewing. It broke at the Zoo, where the party stopped for ten minutes. The Zoo, it seemed, smelt of monkeys. Anthony laughed; Gloria called down the curse of Heaven upon monkeys, including in her malevolence all the passengers of the bus and their perspiring offspring who had hied themselves monkey-ward.
    Eventually the bus moved on to Arlington. There it met other busses and immediately a swarm of women and children were leaving a trail of peanut-shells through the halls of General Lee and crowding at length into the room where he was married. On the wall of this room a pleasing sign announced in large red letters “Ladies’ Toilet.” At this final blow Gloria broke down.
    “I think it’s perfectly terrible!” she said furiously, “the idea of letting these people come here! And of encouraging them by making these houses show-places.”
    “Well,” objected Anthony, “if they weren’t kept up they’d go to pieces.”
    “What if they did!” she exclaimed as they sought the wide pillared porch. “Do you think they’ve left a breath of 1860 here? This has become a thing of 1914.”
    “Don’t you want to preserve old things?”
    “But you can’t, Anthony. Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay. And just as any period decays in our minds, the things of that period should decay too, and in that way they’re preserved for a while in the few hearts like mine that react to them. That graveyard at Tarrytown, for instance. The asses who give money to preserve things have spoiled that too. Sleepy Hollow’s gone; Washington Irving’s dead and his books are rotting in our estimation year by year — then let the graveyard rot too, as it should, as all things should. Trying to preserve a century by keeping its relics up to date is like keeping a dying man alive by stimulants.”
    “So you think that just as a time goes to pieces its houses ought to go too?”
    “Of course! Would you value your Keats letter if the signature was traced over to make it last longer? It’s just because I love the past that I want this house to look back on its glamourous moment of youth and beauty, and I want its stairs to creak as if to the footsteps of women with hoop skirts and men in boots and spurs. But they’ve made it into a blondined, rouged-up old woman of sixty. It hasn’t any right to look so prosperous. It might care enough for Lee to drop a brick now and then. How many of these — these animals” — she waved her hand around — “get anything from this, for all the histories and guide-books and restorations in existence? How many of them who think that, at best, appreciation is talking in undertones and walking on tiptoes would even come here if it was any trouble? I want it to smell of magnolias instead of peanuts and I want my shoes to crunch on the same gravel that Lee’s boots crunched on. There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going, men, names, books, houses — bound for dust — mortal —”
    A small boy appeared beside them and, swinging a handful of banana-peels, flung them valiantly in the direction of the Potomac.

 
From The Beautiful and the Damned, by Fitzgerald, one of the things (& the only fiction) I’m picking at lately. (I have something like a literary life these days mostly thanks to the iPhone — & trips to the bathroom.)

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