Who rides the wrecking ball into our rock guitars… Grab @Beginnings_A while you can… #reviews #comics

It seems like only yesterday that Gutenberg invented/stole the idea for the printing press.  On that day, the printed word was set free (for a price) to reduce the barriers between writers and readers.

It would be nice to think that Gutenberg thought to himself: ‘One day, my printing press will break down the traditional barriers between professional writers and amateurs; between professional artists and amateurs; and between professional publishers and amateurs.’  Gutenberg, of course, would be aware that the word ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin for ‘lover’, and his musings which I have falsely ascribed to him would use that understanding: what if people could create things indistinguishable from the professionals, motivated only by their love of writing, art, and publishing?

The Beginnings Anthology, published by the ACT Comics Meet, shows we’re nearing the singularity where non-professionals match the skill of pros.  My faux-Gutenberg would be impressed.  Hell, even the real Gutenberg would be impressed.

Anthologies are difficult to review.  They’re like smorgasbords: a wide collection of tiny samples, each part appealing to a different taste.  Nobody goes to a smorgasbord and says: ‘I enjoyed every dish.’  Similarly, an anthology will vary wildly in its content, each part appealing to a different kind of reader.

This is no less true for Beginnings Anthology.  Some parts of it are breathtakingly good.  High concepts are matched with near flawless execution.  Risks pay off.  Quirks find niches.  Conventions are thoroughly messed with.  There are parts which make me wonder whether something this beautiful could only be created by somebody who lost a few too many sanity points on double demerit weekends.

On the other hand, there are bits which don’t work or aren’t as ambitious or don’t inspire the same feeling of awe.  Which — as part of an anthology — is fine.  I’m sure the Mark in the Universe Next Door is writing a review where he comments on how much he liked the staple, conventional, meat-and-potatoes comics but couldn’t really get into the pretentious high art stuff.  Smorgasbord.

Further, there are parts which seem uncomfortably confessional.  More than once I was overcome with the feeling: ‘Should I be reading this?  Who would want me to know this?  Did they accidentally publish somebody’s diary?’  Part of that is no doubt the personal and private nature of good art: you reveal a part of yourself to others.  Do some parts of Beginnings Anthology start to slip into the swamp of indulgence?  I’m not sure.

But regardless of the relatively minor criticisms I might charge against individual pieces, the overall curation of Beginnings Anthology is superb.  There are two ways to read it.  You can either jump to individual pieces which seem interesting (as I did on my first read), or you can read it from cover to cover.  I nearly skipped doing the latter and I am very glad that I didn’t.  Individual pieces are enhanced by the context of their fellows, even though they were created in isolation.

The first piece, ‘In the Beginnings’, is made up of four pages, each on a different idea of ‘Beginning’.  The result is a very effective microcosm of the entire anthology: how you begin the next page is directly influenced by the way you ended the one before.

If you removed the preface, you would find it a challenge to identify it as a labour of love.  I have collected works and anthologies on my bookshelf which are significantly less sleek and stylish than Beginnings Anthology.  With production costs reducing every day, it is my very great hope that we will see more productions like it.

(Disclosure: I sometimes hang out with some of the creators)

Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.

They need to teach aesthetics.  It ought to be a mandatory class.

It seems that even Ebsen Storm thought that Subterano (the film I rubbished in my last post) was terrible: he was credited as ‘ Mort S. Seben’ .

We can appreciate art in two ways.  The first is to appreciate its form.  The second is to appreciate its substance.

My classic example illustrates the first: The Old Man and the Sea.  It’s amazing but it has absolutely no substance.  Wagner is another good example: the substance is ugly (Germanic people are the shiznit, yo), but the form is magnificent.

It’s more difficult to find good art which can be appreciated for its substance alone.  The works of the Beatles, I think, satisfies this.  Musically, it’s rubbish.  Its message was an important reflection on its era (at least, the later stuff was).  Godzilla films were about the fear of science post WWII in Japan.

SPOILER WARNING… not that you’ll go watch the film, but it’s always best to be polite.

Subterano is about a dystopian future (shock!) where computer games (shock!) are a big deal and there’s a rebel who’s trying to escape from the authorities (shock!).  A group of polar opposite personalities (shock!) have to bond together in order to escape a death game (shock!).

The resolution to the film is that the protagonist and a few of his women escape the death game.  The death game was being conducted by a sociopathic adolescent who is upset that he failed to kill the protagonist and his women, so he starts up another game with a new set of victims… Continue reading

And someday you’ll see I only wanted to please… and I’ll play you this CD

There are some things in life when you think that something is going to be really, really good, and it turns out to be really craptacular.  The Phantom Menace, A Confederacy of Dunces, most films starring John Malkovich, the entire life of Neil Gaiman (including his ‘Hey, I’m sorry for upsetting people with my crappy behaviour, but you guys are a bunch of disabled feminists’ girlfriend, Amanda Palmer).

These things serve to remind us that we cannot take enjoyment for granted — the material world is a place of misery and disappointment created by a malicious deity who didn’t want humans to understand Gnosis.  Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

On the other hand, there are things which do the opposite of this.  We come across them not expecting much and discover that they’re beautiful, wonderful, mysterious, and completely lovely.  There’s a richness to them which you’d never have suspected, and you feel slightly silly for having doubted how magnificent it is.

Of course, I’m talking about Monkey: Journey to the West. Continue reading

Sleep for days. Don’t ever change. You’ll be here in the morning just to hear me say… read the Canon

In order to maintain the pretence that I’m in any way a social creature, I joined a bookclub (see WriteronWriter for the blog of one of the co-clubbers).  In response to a recent article in The Australian (and see the replies), a short disagreement arose about the merits of Dead White Guy Lit.

There is obviously a difference between ‘popular culture’ and ‘culture’ simpliciter.  If there weren’t, those two words would mean the same thing.  We understand intuitively that there is a difference between ‘That which I find enjoyable’ and ‘That which I recognise as good’.  Note, this distinction has not always been appreciated.  Even somebody as elite as Immanuel Kant argued that, if there were a disagreement between the conventions of style and taste and that which he found pleasing, he would tell the advocate of the conventions to utter not a word more.  Cultural excellence was, somehow, immediate: it did not require further reasoning.  That Kant dedicates a book to the subject suggests that, perhaps, further reasoning was needed…

‘It’s very good but I did not enjoy it’ would be incoherent if there were not a divide between pleasurable and excellent.  As it is not incoherent, there is a divide.

So how can we distinguish between the excellent and the pleasurable?  The obvious answer is cultivation. Continue reading