Monday, July 5, 2010

Sunday thoughts and Monday observations

I was genuinely chuffed to work out that Cable was actually Cyclop’s son and when it finally hit me, I actually rang somebody up to tell them how brilliant I was. It took me two years to figure that one out, but considering my main source of comic news at the time were the Marvel Bullpen pages and the Johnny DC column, that’s not that bad.

* * *

I still have an inexplicable fondness for video tapes. I love the way they would grind and groan, but if something was wrong with them you’d take it out of the player, give it a good bash and it would be all right.

I like that video tapes can last decades years, when that Great Escape DVD I bought last year ago is already fucked. I liked the chunkyness of it, I liked the extraordinary cover art you would sometimes see on terrible horror films (an art that has been photoshopped out of existence) and I always liked the freedom it gave to watch anything I wanted.

No video ever skipped on me, taking me past entire climaxes of movies with a skip and a shrug. For something so slow, they were perfect for my short attention span – you could watch five minutes of one film before switching over to something else, and it was ready to go again at exactly the same point it was left at. No chapter skipping, no long-arse opening menu thing to navigate, no boring old piracy warning that you can’t fast-forward through.

It’s all a bit of bullshit nostalgia, but I’ve been left behind a bit on the digital revolution and the desire for ultra-mega-uber HD. I still watch almost every movie these days on DVD, but without any kind of Tivo-like product, I still use video tapes for any shows on TV I want to record. It does the job.

It’s not the prettiest format, or the easiest, but it’s still good enough. The content is more important than the presentation.

* * *

Nearly 20 years after I first saw Army of Darkness, I still truly believe every film ever made would be two to seven percent better if they all ended with the line “Hail to the king, baby.”
It was shattering to discover the S-Mart epilogue wasn’t the original intended ending to the series – it beats the pants of any time-travel sling-shotting.

* * *

Warren Ellis yelled at me once over the internet and he was right to do so. This is hardly unique, but I have tried to be more careful about what I say online ever since.

It was during the briefest of visits to the old Warren Ellis forum, where an awful attempt at humour saw the big man smack me around the head with his virtual cane and send me on my way with tear-filled eyes and shit in my pants. I didn't mean any offence, but he rightly showed me that a lack of intention doesn't always translate over the digital medium.

I still feel embarrassed by another poor performance in the CBR chat room, where another bad joke saw Gail Simone slap me down and leave me feeling shamed and sore. This took place more than ten years ago, and I still feel awful about it and wish I had a time machine so I could wipe the incident from history.

A certain amount of these misunderstandings is only to be expected, especially when one first starts posting and chatting on the web. We've all written something that doesn't quite make as much sense as we really thought it did and have been unable to take the stupidity back.

Still, a lesson was learned and learning about ways to behave is part of living in a modern society. Just because you're not talking to somebody on a face to face basis doesn't mean there is any need to be rude.

Ever since then, I've done my very best to avoid offence and keep discourse as polite as possible, which isn’t always easy when the default setting for a lot of online discussion seems to be stuck in a pattern of over-heated rhetoric. There has still been the odd occasion when something has been taken the wrong way, but the vast majority of my online encounters have been pleasant and rewarding.

And yet, there will always be those who use the anonymity of the internet to throw baseless accusations around and deliberately rub people up the wrong way. It can be a little difficult working out exactly what these folk are getting out of the interaction, other than some pathetically smug sense of superiority.

Most of the time I am completely bewildered about the way the internet turns some people into complete jerks. Is it the lack of face to face contact? This has stopped anybody from acting like douchebags in real life, but hidden behind a pseudonym or the safety of distance, the bravery to put on an act of complete unlikeability is certainly bolstered.

Occasionally, two people looking for a fight will run head first into each other, with all the usual resulting fireworks. Sometimes it's entertaining to watch from the sidelines as two people rip into each other. Mostly it's just tiresome, as self-importance is raised to an artform, while trash-talking is reduced to the lowest common denominator.

This kind of behaviour is never limited to one simple area of the internet, and you're bound to find unspeakably rude behaviour on boards devoted to the art of knitting as you are likely to see them in the comments sections of comics blogs. But if there is one place where it's particular distasteful, it's in the political arena, where everything conforms to an ideology and facts can mean anything.

One of the things I hate about political discourse is the absence of basic courtesies. Anybody who dares disagree with the point of view of somebody else runs the risk of name-calling which can sometimes become outstandingly vile. With lines of support clearly delineated on left and right lines, it’s all just noise.

Sometimes comic creators and readers get sucked into stupid online arguments. Some, seem to thrive on it, but they inevitably degenerate into personal insults, and any constructive debate is smothered.

I was bought up to believe that there really is no excuse for rudeness. Was that normal?

* * *

There are a couple of comic books and magazines that I have loved to death. I’ve had them for more than two decades and I used to read them over and over and over again, until they have been pretty much destroyed.

The cover goes first, a slight tear turning into a major gash, and the staples giving up their grip after years of being carted around and stepped on and thrown about. The damage didn’t stop there, and eventually half the damn thing is gone, accidentally torn off, ripped up and vanishing into the ether.

All I’m left with are a couple of dozen pages or so in the centre, still hanging on to those staples, almost unreadable without the rest of the pages. They sit, seemingly unloved, in the bottom of boxes of other paper entertainments, and I will never, ever throw them out.

One of them is X-Men #151, a stunningly average issue focusing on Kitty Prude’s move to a new school. It also featured the entire team getting taken out by sentinels in an oddly spooky attack, with the White Queen, back when she was really bad, swapping bodies with Storm.

It was two and a half decades before I finally got around to reading the concluding part of that story, and I didn’t really care about the X-Men any more. But I’ve had that one issue since I was seven years old, and it might be the oldest comic I still own.

I’m also still holding on to my copy of the Doctor Who Radio Times 20th anniversary magazine, bought at a Dunedin bookshop in 1983. (Thirteen years later, I would buy my first Doctor Who New Adventures book from that same store, and it closed a week after that.) That thing was my bible for the next five years. Everything I needed to know up to the end of Peter Davison’s reign in the role. Companions, missing episodes, a full and clear episode list with a sharp paragraph for a synopsis. It also had a weird story by Eric Saward about where the Doctor came from, including a guest appearance from Susan, at a time when one just did not talk about such things.

I spent hours and hours going through that magazine. Cross referencing companions with episodes, burning this information into the young brain. When I try to think of the order in which Doctor Who episodes were created, I think of this magazine’s page layouts. It’s now missing almost 20 pages at the start and end, but I’d never throw it out.

All paper eventually goes down this path of oblivion. Even those that I have taken a small amount of care with crinkle and go weird. The huge varieties of new paper stock used in the 90s have already started to go a bit odd with age. Comics I've owned for 10 years are already faded and tattered, with the odd rip or loose staple. Last night I had some Invisibles and wine, and that last volume still reads sexy and new, but the paper is going off.

But I still love them. Given the chance to upgrade a bunch of Excalibur issues that are literally falling apart (mainly due to an extremely foolhardy attempt at fixing them up with sellotape), I decided to hold on to the originals. It’s all sentimental value – comics are the unfortunate souvenirs of my own personal history. Who cares if they’re falling apart? I’ll hold onto them, just like I have, through all these years.

* * *

Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary was an excellent series, putting a coda on 20th century pulp traditions by celebrating them and moving forward into something new, where genuine human feeling and emotions could actually be part of the narrative. But that one episode where it examines the influence of British creators on American mainstream comics in the 80s and the rise of Vertigo? That was fucking rubbish.

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