Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality is a metatextual comic by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, about superhero universe retcons and the lives that get snuffed out when they happen. All of the main characters in the story are long-forgotten 8th-string DC characters fighting The Architects, who are comics creators. There are lots of puns and things that must have been awesomely fun to draw because they’re pretty excellent to look at (in the same way Dr. McNinja does this kind of madness). By the end the Nazi Gorilla Vampire is saying “I guess I’m an anti-hero” and the fourth wall is smashed quite nicely. But there’s also a good little meditation on how the past is all the universe there really is.
I was actually surprised this was done back in 2007. It felt very much like a pre-New 52 kind of story, but I guess that just shows how regurgitative the business of superhero comics really is.
I’ve slowly been reading Grant Morrison’s Invisibles series, and I feel like Entropy in the U.K. is where the plot is starting to pick up. King Mob is being held by the terrible people (who are barely people) and the rest of the Invisibles have to rescue him. Jack Frost starts to come into his own after being a reluctant participant in the previous books and the dream battles and real battles are less random and weird for their own sake. You really start to get a sense of Morrison’s madness going somewhere here, which I can’t say I got as much from the character-introducing stories.
Logicomix is an exploration of Bertrand Russell’s lifelong quest for rigorous truth through logic in graphic novel form. There are multiple framing devices to the book: the outermost layer is of the authors in their efforts to write and draw the story accurately, below which is an American lecture by Russell ostensibly about whether the US should enter World War 2, but that lecture is an excuse to have Russell narrating his own interactions with logic and truth, which encompass his life. Oh and then there’s a Greek play at the end.
The multiple layers work quite well, with the authors breaking in to argue about how much of set theory and basic logic needs to be explained, and whether the themes of “logic through madness” actually make any sense. Because Russell is narrating his life himself the realization that he’s kind of a dick to his wives is done half-apologetically and gently.
The theory of things and the importance of taking 320-some pages to prove, to actually prove that 1+1=2 is kind of intriguing. I tend to think of that sort of academic theoretical stuff as nonsense (and there isn’t much sense of how Russell did the practical things like pay his rent through his life) but with the biographical aspects it made it much more understandable. Which is the aim of this kind of book: to make these sorts of things accessible to laypeople like me.
Not necessarily for everyone, and I’m not sure I’d want to use it for a YA book club or anything, but a really interesting read.
A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin is about two of the 20th century’s geniuses, Kurt Godel and Alan Turing. It was an okay book, but unsatisfying. I felt like the book was too focused on a few scenes (one in the Vienna coffee house and the other being under the floorboards at school, both of which happen early) leaving the rest to be word-count padding. The self-consciously literary tone put so much distance between the reader and the subjects that nothing felt consequential. I mean, yes, we see Godel unveil his theorem in Vienna. We spend section after section there in that coffee house, coming at it from different angles, but the writer is so concerned with her descriptions and her own ghostly presence that we’re disconnected from everything. And Turing gets even less, apart from showing how odd and gay he was. Everything felt like specimens under glass, which is fine as far as it goes, but left me kind of cold.
Work goes along. On Saturday I managed to save a woman’s horrible weekend. There was more to the weekend and the series of events that got her to this point, but when I came in her time was almost up on the computer and she was applying for a job and it wasn’t letting her paste her resume and the job closed tomorrow and and and… Through careful application of two keys on the keyboard (“Ctrl” + “V”) I saved her day. She was almost crying in thanks. It was kind of weird.
Last week I managed to piss off beard lady a couple of times by disagreeing with her. She was angry about how the university paper won’t run her ads anymore and to prove her point she pulled out this issue: “What word do you think of when you look at this?”
“Upside-down” I said.
“No. Gynecology is not the first word anyone other than you would think of.”
“Gynecology. And they put this on the cover….”
At this point she’s about to go off on one of her pornography rants and I try to intercept. “No. There is nothing to do with gynecology on the cover of that newspaper.”
So she folds the paper until the tiny strip showing the hem of the girl’s shirt is the only thing visible on the page. “Look. Gynecology.”
“Beard Lady,” I said (using her real name instead of Beard Lady), “That’s all you. You just folded everything to make your point. No one else is doing that. You are wrong. Gynecology is not the word for that cover.”
And then she got all in a huff and left after telling me that my cowrkers said she shouldn’t ever listen to anything I had to say. A couple of days later she was back and I printed off copies of the DVD cover for National Treasure 1 and 2 because she didn’t know which one she’d seen in the theatre. She was kind of testy with me then but we made it through all right.
Goats is one of the first webcomics I followed way back in the day when it had very little continuity. One of the first bookmarks I made sure any new browser had, one of the sites I’d check on the road in Tibet or wherever I had a few extra minutes after the important emails were out of the way. I’ve bought Goats Tshirts as Xmas presents and have seriously considered buying original art of some of the strips.
So yes, I’m a fan. But it took reading these strips in collected deadtree form (the first volume is entitled Infinite Typewriters to realize how batshit insane a tale it is. It’s more Zing! Pow! than something like Achewood and because of that I don’t think I’d ever really thought of it as being in the same league. I think of myself as someone who appreciates subtlety, fine things usw. Goats was an elder statesman in my comics trawl, something I read because I’d always read it. I had a suspicion it was just a rut I was in. But man, if this is a rut my life needs some serious reexamination.
The book refers to things that happened before Jon Rosenberg kicked it up a notch and decided to turn his joke a day tale into something multiverse spanning and epic, but knowing those little tidbits never make anything on screen fall into place. I mean, maybe the previous appearances of Gregor Mendel would. If you were insane. When it’s a part of your life for years the incremental madness seeps in and you don’t question it. It’s only when you can actually see how we got from Doodletown to Xibalba with a stop at comic conventions along the way that the comic’s glory can be fully realized. And all of this is a very good thing.
When reading it daily I have to confess, I wasn’t a big fan of the Good Hitler vs. Space Hitler storyline. In collected form where it’s not a two month digression from the fish who can kill a man with a taco sauce packet coming to terms with the idiot society surrounding him? Golden.
Did I mention it’s beautiful? The colour work and the character designs are great. The photo faces of Scott Baio and Robert Goulet do take a bit of a hit when they’re on a page instead of the copy-and-pasternet but they aren’t overwhelming.
So yes. Thanks for putting this in book form so I could re-appreciate the awesomeness of insanity.
Remember in my recent post where I talked about liking “cyberspace” even though dude, that’s not at all how the internet works? Well Philip K Dick’s Martian Timeslip is about a bunch of people living on Mars in 1994. You can get acclimatized to the atmosphere and there’s (a bit of) water and giant bugs as pets and oh yes, Mars is inhabited by Bleekmen. The Bleekmen are smaller and blacker than Earth humans and are used basically like 19th century slaves. All of that though? Background.
The story is about people wanting to buy land and dealing with schizophrenia. There’s one scene that’s repeated four times from four different characters’ POVs as the autistic kid is jittering time back and forth. The union boss is trying to use the kid to go three weeks into the past to buy some worthless land and his repairman is trying not to be overwhelmed by his mental condition as he tries to make a device for the union boss to communicate with the autistic kid.
Through the whole story I was wondering if what schizophrenia and autism meant in the 1960s is as completely different from what I think of it being today, or if PKD was slipshod in his terminology, or if I just have no idea of what mental disorders mean.
The story has a weird logic of madness to it. It seems sort of understandable that Kott tries to harness this kid’s time perception power, but it’s casually suggested as a theory that just happens to be somewhat correct. It’s Kott’s madness that really drives the whole thing. And the fact that they’re on Mars doing all this just adds to the weirdness.
It’s hard to know if PKD thought of this as a possible future or if he just didn’t give a shit. It’s ballsy how he puts a date on it though. So few people do that in SF anymore. Especially if they’re writing near-future stuff. (I suppose this was thirty years away when it was written, but in my books that counts as near future.)