Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
My full coverage of the VES
A Taste of Cleveland
Seal Hunt Hopefully Doubtful?
Your free issue of Danger Boy "Ancient Fire" for Kindle
Your free "Ancient Fire" on all other platforms, via Smashwords
Recent Books of Interest
Cleveland by Harvey Pekar (reflections) and Joseph Remnant (art) (Zip Comics/Top Shelf)
One of Pekar's last works -- though I'm given to understand there are still a couple more in the works, yet to come
out -- this was Pekar in familiar autobiographical territory, in traditional "documentary format," walking around,
followed by a camera -- as it were -- expounding on life and his hometown of Cleveland, and its various miseries
and all-too-infrequent epiphanies. That "camera," by the way, comes in the form of artwork by Remnant, which is
absolutely terrific -- Crumb-esque, without quite being Crumb -- in how well it's suited for Pekar's
storytelling. There's nothing adventurous here, structurally; Harvey's looking out from the frame talking
to you directly. But the whole enterprise is made absolutely poignant by Pekar's discussions about what
he's going to do now that he's retired, what work he hopes to tend to in the years ahead, etc. If nothing
else, it's a salient reminder that we only have the moment in front of us; nothing else is guaranteed. A
lesson which Cleveland has learned the hard way, over and over, in its own long history. More, meanwhile,
in the column to your left.
Afrika by Herrmann (Dark Horse)
This is a translation by Belgian comics auteur Hermann (like Charo, Liberace, or, really, Moebius, there
is just one name), working in that realistic/dramatic vein that Euro-comics are often noted for. Here, a
European ex-pat, Dario, is trying to safeguard a wildlife preserve he oversees in Tazania. We open with
an ugly poaching incident, and after Charlotte, a European journalist shows up, things move quickly,
including a foray into geo-politics, the exploitation of African countries for resource
extraction, etc. The plot moves quickly, soon we're in the rain forest with a sniper on our heels -- and
the translations from the French (presumably, the Flemish?) -- often seem too literal and awkward, as
opposed to being in colloquial English. But the setting remains intriguing throughout, and this
graphic novel takes on themes -- particularly eco-themes -- that comics too often ignore, even in this
age of climate shift and ramped-up extinction. The ending happens off-stage, and is haunting and
enigmatic, in the manner of European movies vs. American studio ones. A worthwhile read, if not a
perfect one. I hadn't ready any Hermann before this, and it's made me want to keep eyes open for whatever
else comes down the translation pike (hopefully with more of an ear toward actually spoken English!)
Stan and Harvey in Winter
So I've been going to award shows lately, and watching news of peoples' deaths. As some of you know, one of my
other lives is that of a showbiz journalist, and as such, I tend to don my thrift store tuxedo about three times
a year here in L.A, to cover various award shows, including, almost always, the VES Awards -- the accolades
for the Visual Effects Society. And lately, I've been going to the Oscars as well.
Copyright © 2012 Mark London Williams
The VES show is always fun -- usually I get to geek out at whoever shows up, and the kind of work being
honored (this year, on the movie side, Hugo and Rise of the Planet of the Apes were the big winners).
There's also a lifetime achievement winner. One year, it was "Star Wars" FX guru Dennis Muren -- I think George
Lucas came down for that one -- and last year it was Ray Harryhausen (though, alas, he was too frail to make
the trip over from London).
This year, the honoree was none other than Stan Lee -- for all his work, of course, creating characters that
had given everyone else in the room so much employment.
It was about the third time I'd crossed Lee's path, having met him when I edited a now-defunct magazine on the
intersection of old and new media (at the time, Lee was involved with a web site that ultimately would collapse
when the money guy running it... took off with the money!), and we'd had him over for a photo shoot. I also
interviewed him on the phone when at the same magazine, and now here we were, both entuxed, a few cocktails
distance between us in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton.
Nah, I didn't talk to him this time -- he was, after all, the honoree, and there was a swirl of activity around him.
About the show itself, I wrote that Lee was "touchingly introduced by Lou Ferrigno ("there's a little Hulk in
all of us," he declared, when speaking of tapping one's own inner strength) -- received the lifetime achievement
award, for creating so many characters that provided so much work for the people in the room -- the very work
they spend overtime hours on, and in whose profits they don't share.
"Lee was very gracious and talked in a meta way about his own speech. ('Now here's a funny partů I don't expect a
dry eye in the house after this next paragraph,') telling of how he was ready to quit the comics biz when his
wife suggested he might as well write comics the way he wanted to, since they would then fire him anyway.
"The result was the Fantastic Four, followed by Spiderman
and then Iron Man and The Hulk. And now, as the
titular head of the newish Pow! Entertainment, he declared his goal was to keep everyone in the room working a lot longer."
That last met with appreciative laughter from all the various representatives of the 29 countries -- post-production
work, especially, is outsourced from Hollywood -- in the room.
When I mentioned the evening to my NG co-conspirator Rick Klaw, he opined that it was a shame that Jack Kirby
didn't live to see this. Kirby died at age 76, and while Lee was generous in praising his artists as collaborators,
the evening wound up being wistful, as well as a celebration of Lee's good spirits and longevity. But
the "wist" came with the realization that so much is out of our hands, in terms of when "our moment" comes. Both
the one that marks the end of our life -- which is guaranteed to come -- and the other one when all creative
work we've done (if that's what we choose to do -- there is, of course, much honor in many other kinds of
work) -- finally has an effect, a hundredth monkey critical mass where the work is taken into the hearts and
minds of an audience finally found, and those stories created originally in semi-obscurity become theirs,
the audience's, as well. This latter moment, of course, isn't guaranteed at all.
And hence the vaguely morbid second half of my opening sentence. As I write this, Davy Jones of The Monkees' has
passed away the day before. For those of us who grew up in a time of vinyl records and free over-the-air TV, it
was a shock, since that moment seemed to come about twenty years earlier than you might have expected it, serving
to remind us of the "no guarantees" thing.
And today, fans of corrosive and toxic right wing political discourse are mourning the passing of Andrew
Breitbart, felled in his 40s while walking the midnight streets of L.A. (Do I even mention I was leaving
another awards show, driving past that same Beverly Hilton on the night of Whitney Houston's passing, wondering
why so much press was there to cover a pre-Grammy party, and not finding out why until I got home...?)
This brings me to the new Harvey Pekar book, Cleveland (reviewed at right), another of his familiar and
bleakly/darkly humorous recitations -- monologues, perhaps -- on the city of his birth as well as on his own life.
A life which, of course, came to an untimely end in his 70th year, from an accidental overdose/mixture of the
antidepressants he was on. He talks about his depression(s) in Cleveland, but he also talks about all the
plans he has now that he was retired.
Somewhat shockingly, in spite of having "made it" in a certain sense -- his work becoming known to that growing,
self-sustaining audience -- Pekar needed to keep his file clerk job at the Cleveland VA, until he could retire
and collect a pension. That, along with social security, finally gave him freedom to pursue more writing projects.
He was never going to be honored by the VES, because he wasn't going to be a source of constant work for
digital effects artists.
But he did imagine -- I imagine -- that he had more time. We all do, I suppose, and we can't count on being as
lucky as Stan Lee
So what do we do, true believers, with the moment at hand now? The only moment we have?
After the glitter of award season wears off, that is, once again, the fundamental question lurking in, around,
and behind everything else we do.
And that question waits for us after we've escaped into comics, and come back. Or, if it's something like Pekar's
work, that question is part of the comic itself.
So: May you be honored in your time, for the work that you do. Or as William Saroyan -- the California-born
playwright -- once said: "In the time of your life -- live!"
Until next time.
Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series.
Info on what he, or the books, are up to can be found at marklondonwilliams.com.
He's thinking of traveling back in time to when he was
employed. Meanwhile, did we mention the first installment in the series, "Ancient Fire," is back out on eBook, and is
currently free at Amazon and Smashwords?
Meanwhile, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.