30 September 2012

What Teen Titans, #0, Tells Us About the New Tim Drake

The last weekly Robin offered a rewrite of a scene from this month’s Batman, #0, based on my impression that Tim Drake was never as boastful as that boy’s dialogue portrayed him. This week’s Teen Titans, #0, scripted by Scott Lobdell, revealed that that exercise was based on a faulty premise. The boy in that scene wasn’t Tim Drake.

In Teen Titans, #0, the first thing that boy tells Batman is: “Honestly? It [discovering your secret identity] wasn’t as hard as it would seem.” That’s the same sort of bragging that the character had done in Batman, #0: “You’re not going to throw out the best student in the school”; “I thought it’d be more fun to catch you in the act…a challenge, you know? But you made it ridiculously easy.”

Batman’s response to that boy is, “Hubris is an unattractive quality, Tim.” And indeed the story of Tim in those two magazines is a story of hubris: a teenager so convinced of his intellectual capabilities that he sets out to deduce Batman’s identity and apply for the job of Robin. Furthermore, when Batman doesn’t accept his application, Tim forces the Caped Crusader’s hand, taking a potentially fatal risk that costs him his loving family. The story of Teen Titans, #0, is thus about Tim learning a valuable lesson about life.

Last week I wrote:
Perhaps this is a new characterization of Tim as intellectually snobbish. Stories about him overcoming that flaw could be interesting, though I think they’d undermine some of his appeal for readers. (Shall we see what Teen Titans, #0, brings?)
And now we know. James Tynion IV carried out his Batman, #0, assignment to write dialogue not for the Tim Drake most comics fans are familiar with but for another character named Timothy. I still question how his scene makes the SAT the final revelation instead of the police, and the vagueness of the line, “The way you treat your students and your faculty…you’re a bad man, Mr. Renfield.” But in terms of the boy’s characterization, Tynion was right on target.

Teen Titans, #0, also tells us that the Tim in those episodes didn’t have the surname Drake until he became Batman’s partner as Red Robin (wearing the 2006-2009 costume). That name change was a last-minute decision by DC Comics editors, Lobdell told CBR. So literally the boy in those scenes was not Tim Drake yet.

I’ve habitually referred to the first and second Jason Todds because I see a major distinction between the pre-Crisis character of that name and the post-Crisis character that everyone now remembers. DC Comics’s recent reboot has preserved the basics of the second Jason Todd even as it added a new layer of details. The iconic origin of Dick Grayson remains fundamentally the same, as always. But the comics now have the first and second Tim Drakes. (The TV cartoon already combined Tim’s name with the second Jason’s history, but that’s another story.)

The first Tim Drake was dedicated and convinced that Batman needed a Robin, but never hubristic like the second. The first Tim had a special link to Dick Grayson; the second has no direct connection. The first Tim figured out Batman’s secret identity; the second only thought he had. The first had a deep unconscious desire for a father figure due to absent and inadequate parents; the second had very supportive parents, whom he endangered and then had to give up to save their lives. Obviously the symbolic value and thus the appeal of the two characters will be different.

There’s plenty of story potential in the second Tim Drake: his feelings of love and guilt for his parents, now in witness protection (and having more children?); his intellectual rivalry with Batman; his need to guard against hubris. Even the enmity of disgraced headmaster Renfield might become the seed for a future plot. But this is not the character fans have followed since 1989.

Another notable pattern from this month’s rebooted Robins is how they’ve been assigned details that once distinguished Batman’s female allies. Nightwing, #0, gives Dick Grayson a highly developed ability to read body language, formerly the hallmark of Cassandra Cain. Teen Titans, #0, shows Tim hacking money from criminals, as Barbara Gordon did when she was Oracle. The same magazine shows Tim tweaking the Gotham underworld to gain Batman’s attention and having that blow up in his face, just as Stephanie Brown did in the War Games crossover. That seems to leave less room for Cassandra and Stephanie to reappear as they did before, but then the Tim Drake they knew has disappeared as well.

28 September 2012

Gingrich’s All-Out OIP Derangement Syndrome

Newt Gingrich is no stranger to OIP Derangement Syndrome. He championed the individual mandate in health-insurance reform right up until President Barack Obama agreed to it. In March 2011 he criticized Obama for moving too slowly on Libya and then for moving too swiftly on Libya. Gingrich has played to Teleprompter fixation. He’s lied about the President’s words.

Therefore, it wasn’t news this week when Gingrich produced a new illogical and ill-founded critique of the President. (It also wasn’t news because Gingrich is no longer relevant to the political scene, but that’s another issue he has to deal with.)

In an interview within the friendly confines of FOX News, Gingrich said of President Obama:
He really is like the substitute referees in the sense that he’s not a real president. He doesn’t do anything that presidents do, he doesn’t worry about any of the things the presidents do. But he has the White House. He has enormous power. And he’ll go down in history as the president, and I suspect that he’s pretty contemptuous of the rest of us. . . .

Hillary Clinton is a serious person. Barack Obama is an ambitious person. They’re very different personalities. Hillary Clinton gets up every day thinking about public policy. Barack Obama gets up everyday thinking about Barack Obama.
This criticism is ironic enough to have its own magnetic field. Gingrich’s ambition and self-regard have been a Washington monument for decades now. Back in 1984 he told journalists, “I have enormous political ambition,” and just this year he proudly adopted the label “grandiose.”

As for President Obama’s work habits, Gingrich has no knowledge of that, of course, and no credibility on the topic. His two terms as Speaker of the House were marked by what the Daily Beast called “a management style so disorganized and unpredictable that within three years, his own lieutenants tried to depose him in a chaotic coup.” Gingrich lost his first presidential campaign staff in June 2011 because they didn’t think he was working hard enough.

Gingrich’s criticism of President Obama wasn’t just OIP Derangement Syndrome. It was projecting his own failings onto a more successful person he resents for visceral reasons. And it’s easy to see the root of Gingrich’s resentment in the same interview:
I’m assuming that there’s some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don’t understand. Whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a while or watch ESPN, I mean, I don’t quite know what his rhythm is, but this is a guy that is a brilliant performer as an orator, who may very well get reelected at the present date, and who, frankly, he happens to be a partial, part-time president.
“Some rhythm to Barack Obama,” “go play basketball,” “needs large amounts of rest”—Gingrich descended into the racist stereotypes he flirted with for months, reaching a new level of contemptibility.

27 September 2012

MICE and Bees on Saturday, 29 Sept.

The third annual Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) will take place this Saturday, 29 September, at Lesley College’s University Hall, 1815 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.

This is a free show featuring scores of independent comics creators displaying their art, selling their publications, and sharing sketches and lessons. All day there will be presentations open to all attendees, including author talks, panel discussions, and art demonstrations. In the morning those presentations will focus on comics in education under the rubric of New England Comics Arts in the Classroom.

As a late addition to the schedule, I’ll interview Prof. Jay Hosler, creator of Clan Apis, The Sandwalk Adventures, and (as scripter) Evolution, among other biologically-based comics. That will be at 4:30 in the seminar room. Despite (or because of) never having taken high-school biology, I really enjoy Hosler’s funny and surprisingly emotional explanations of the science. I’m looking forward to hearing more about how he wrote, drew, and published them.

26 September 2012

Birthday for Ducklings

This Saturday, 29 September, the Friends of the Public Garden in Boston will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the installation of Nancy Schön’s Make Way for Ducklings sculpture.

The duck family from Robert McCloskey’s book were already local heroes when these bronze statues were installed, but they’re now truly iconic. Every seven years or so someone on a drunken lark steals one of the ducklings, only to return it sheepishly and anonymously a few mornings later, so the ducklings remain in the news and public hearts.

The celebration is scheduled from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.
The party features a variety of games and activities including music, magic, and juggling. Children may create their own birthday card to wish Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings well on their birthday, and be sure to stay for a reading of Make Way for Ducklings.

Of course, a birthday party isn't complete without singing "Happy Birthday" to the ducks!
Last month Anita Silvey shared some behind-the-scenes stories of how McCloskey created the book on her Book-A-Day Almanac:
He went to the parks and the Museum of Natural History—and hundreds of duck drawings emerged from his pen. Finally, in an act of desperation, he went down to a market in Greenwich Village, bought some ducks, and brought them back to his apartment and put them in his bathtub. Then, every day, he woke up with a tissue to clean up after them in one hand and a sketchbook in the other. But the ducks still moved too quickly for McCloskey to capture them in detail.
The solution was perhaps too typical for mid-20th-century American authors and artists: liquor!

25 September 2012

The Pushback against “Climb Down”

As L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz suggests in the passage I quoted yesterday, there were people in America around the turn of the last century saying that the phrase “climb down” was incorrect. The logical problem was that “climb” implies going up. The real problem, most likely, is that the phrase had been identified as American, rather than proper, English.

Scholars of the language noted the idiom “climb down” as early as 1872, when Maximilian Schele de Vere wrote in Americanisms: The English of the New World:
Climb, to, is occasionally used in the extraordinary sense of climbing down, as in the account of the Rev. H. W. Beecher:— “I partly climbed down, and partly clambered back again, satisfied that it was easier to get myself in than to get the flowers out.” (Star Papers, p. 41.)
John S. Farmer echoed that in Americanisms, Old & New, published in 1889:
Climb-down, To.—A perversion of words to signify downward motion; to descend; comedown. Commonly colloquial.
Farmer’s Slang and Its Analogues from 1891 was a little more accepting, calling the phrase “At first American” and citing some usages.

Henry Frederic Reddall’s Fact, Fancy, and Fable, published in Chicago in 1892, listed:
Climb. In England this word is always used in the sense “to mount, to rise, to ascend.” In America, people climb down. Rev. H. W. Beecher, who may be considered a competent judge of correct English, in describing his visit to Oxford, says, “To climb down the wall was easy enough.”
The 1908 edition of the Fowlers’ The King’s English, published in Oxford in the same year as Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, took note of “climb down” as a slang term, but had nothing more to say about it.

The Google Ngram Viewer suggests that in the late nineteenth century the phrase became increasingly popular. But that also produced a backlash.

Most prominent among American prescriptivists, Ambrose Bierce (shown above) included “Climb down” in Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, published in 1909. He snapped: “In climbing one ascends.” And in The Correct Word, How to Use It, first published in 1915, Josephine Turck Baker wrote:
Climb indicates ascension; in consequence, “climb down” is censured. There seems, however, to be no good substitute for “climb down.”
Which was, really, Jim the cab-horse’s point.

COMING UP: Linking this dispute to Baum.

24 September 2012

“She couldn’t climb down, Jim”

L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz contains this dialogue between Dorothy Gale and the old horse Jim about Dorothy’s pet kitten:
“Why, where’s Eureka?” cried Dorothy, suddenly.

They all looked around, but the kitten was no place to be seen.

“She’s gone out for a walk,” said Jim, gruffly.

“Where? On the roof?” asked the girl.

“No; she just dug her claws into the wood and climbed down the sides of this house to the ground.”

“She couldn’t climb down, Jim,” said Dorothy. “To climb means to go up.”

“Who said so?” demanded the horse.

“My school-teacher said so; and she knows a lot, Jim.”

“To ‘climb down’ is sometimes used as a figure of speech,” remarked the Wizard.

“Well, this was a figure of a cat,” said Jim, “and she went down, anyhow, whether she climbed or crept.”
I used the Google Ngram Viewer to test how often people writing in English used “climb/climbed/climbing down” over time.

The results show uses of “climb down” in various forms were relatively rare when Baum went to school. There was a marked ascent in the 1880s and ’90s, followed by a temporary turndown halfway through the next decade—precisely when Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz was published.

As a control, use of the verb “climb” in the same three forms rose steadily over most of the same period, with a much less pronounced dip (mostly for the “climbed” form) in the first decade of the 1900s.

That pattern seems consistent with “climb down” becoming popular in Baum’s adulthood, and thus coming to people’s attention as a “modern” usage even though there had been examples for decades earlier.

TOMORROW: And then there was a pushback.

23 September 2012

There, I Fixed It: Tim in Batman, #0

This month’s Batman, #0, contains a story scripted by James Tynion IV and drawn by Andy Clarke which shows the new DC Universe’s Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake before they came Bruce Wayne’s sidekicks.

Some readers complained that the story makes young Jason a killer or a legal accessory to murder. His distinct symbolic value remains having been the Robin on the moral edge, so that doesn’t seem like such a big change to me.

I agree with another set of complaints about that story, however: that Tim Drake comes across as arrogant. He boasts that he’s “the best student in the school,” and tells his antagonist, “you made it ridiculously easy,” and, “how stupid does a man have to be…?” Perhaps this is a new characterization of Tim as intellectually snobbish. Stories about him overcoming that flaw could be interesting, though I think they’d undermine some of his appeal for readers. (Shall we see what Teen Titans, #0, brings?) [ADDENDUM: It brings significant new information that undercuts the basis of this posting.]

But I also found the dialogue on Tim’s two pages to be heavy-handed and wordy, with revelations in odd places and occasional vagueness. So I did a rewrite reflecting my understanding of Tim’s character and the scene’s important revelations while sticking to letterer Patrick Brosseau’s balloons.

My lettering is in the Smack Attack font by Nate Peikos of Blambot. Click on the thumbnails below for full-page images.

22 September 2012

Re-Forming a New Form of Reform

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider highlighted a marvelous piece of empty rhetoric from this year’s Presidential race.

It comes from a position paper issued by the Romney-Ryan campaign. One section on page 6 reads, in total:

End “Too-Big-To-Fail” And Reform Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac: The Romney-Ryan plan will completely end “too-big-to-fail” by reforming the GSEs. The four years since taxpayers took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, spending $140 billion in the process, is too long to wait for reform. Rather than just talk about reform, a Romney-Ryan Administration will protect taxpayers from additional risk in the future by reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and provide a long-term, sustainable solution for the future of housing finance reform in our country.
That’s six uses of the word “reform” in three sentences and a headline. But not one specific detail about what that “reform” might be or how the Romney-Ryan program would differ from what President Obama has already done. It’s almost as if the campaign believes that if it repeats a buzzword often enough, their voters will believe they know what it means.

21 September 2012

Talking Out of Both Sides of His Mouth

This week as part of his extended attempt to change the subject, please, Mitt Romney told a Sarasota rally:
We face a Washington that’s broken, that can’t get the job done. The president today threw in the white flag of surrender again. He said he can’t change Washington from inside, he can only change it from outside.
Back in 2007, while he was running for President against Sen. John McCain, Romney said:
I don’t think you change Washington from the inside. I think you change it from the outside.
Not only had Romney repudiated his own words, he had (as so often) quoted Barack Obama selectively. The President’s entire statement was:
I’ve learned some lessons. Most important is you can’t change Washington from inside, only from the outside. That’s how some of our biggest accomplishments like health care got done—mobilizing the American people.
Obviously he was talking about a success, not a surrender.

This could count as simply another example of Romney reversing himself completely over the years in an attempt to please a different audience. But since it also involves a erecting a double standard in order to criticize the President, it meets the definition of OIP Derangement Syndrome.

20 September 2012

Another Relic from the Typewriter Age?

At StackExchange, Paul Stanley wrote about what’s become the American standard for business letters, reports, memos, many magazines, and a lot of the other things we read—but not most books. And that’s the 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper.

Stanley starts with the given that for readers “the optimum line length is broadly somewhere between 60 characters and 75 characters.” That apparently has to do with how much we can take in, how easily our eyes can find the start of the next line, and so on.

As it happens, we have ended up with paper sizes that were never designed or adapted for printing with 10-12 point proportionally spaced type. They were designed for handwriting (which is usually much bigger) or for typewriters. Typewriters produced 10 or 12 characters per inch: so on (say) 8.5 inch wide paper, with 1 inch margins, you had 6.5 inches of type, giving ... around 65 to 78 characters: in other words something pretty close to ideal.

But if you type in a standard proportionally spaced font (worse, in Times -- which is rather condensed because it was designed to be used in narrow columns) at 12 point, you will get about 90 to 100 characters in the line.
Thus, like non-curly quotation marks, the double hyphen in place of an em-dash (as in Stanley's posting), and the double space after a period, our “letter size” page was based on working within the limitations of a typewriter in the early 1900s.

Stanley goes on to discuss various ways text designers can produce more easily read text on that standard sheet.

Note, however, that at the bottom of that page commenter Alfe says that the limit of 60-75 characters is itself a cultural norm, not a scientifically validated fact.

19 September 2012

The Goal

From Judith Matloff”s article “Fighting Words” at the Columbia Journalism Review discusses the problem with common martial euphemisms:
My 11-year-old son was astounded to hear that “friendly fire” was not friendly at all. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he nearly spat when he learned the definition: killing fellow troops by accident. “I thought it meant you shot at but didn’t hurt someone. Why don’t they just say it’s like a home goal?”
Incidentally, “home goal” appears to be a recent, perhaps egg-corned version of “own goal,” the venerable soccer term for putting the ball into one’s own net. Though far less popular on the web than its predecessor, “home goal” has started to appear in newspaper headlines.

18 September 2012

Allegro non Toto

Some puns work better than others.

This is from an ad for the New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation training, celebrating its 40th year. It deserves points for trying.

17 September 2012

Upcoming Events in Boston Teen Lit

On Tuesday, 18 September, Boston GLOW is sponsoring two panel discussions on the theme of “Fight Like a Girl” at Hosteling International, 19 Stuart Street in Boston.

The middle-grade panel (ages 8-12) starting at 5:00 P.M. will feature authors Linda Mullaly Hunt, Padma Venkatraman, Erin Dionne, Jennifer Carson, and Ellen Booraem. The YA panel (ages 12+) follows at 7:00, and will include Terry Farish, Gina Damico, A.J. Paquette, Diana Renn, and Susan Carlton.

Boston GLOW is “a nonprofit aimed at fostering leadership skills among girls and women.” Its poster for the event is here.

The Boston Teen Author Festival is being organized by Emerson College’s publishing-program undergraduates with support from the Boston Book Festival. It is scheduled to take place on Sunday, 28 October, from 1:00 to 6:00 P.M., at the Bill Bordy Theatre of Emerson College, 216 Tremont Street in Boston.

Authors scheduled to attend are A.C. Gaughen, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Caitlin Kittredge, Daniel Waters, Diana Renn, Erin Dionne, Huntley Fitzpatrick, Jack Ferraiolo, Karsten Knight, Laurie Stolarz, Leigh Fallon, Marissa Doyle, Steven Goldman, Susan Carlton, and Wendy Wunder.

Dark Horse Stumbles?

There’s only one reason that Dark House Books reprinted It Rhymes with Lust, script credited to Drake Waller and art to Matt Baker and Ray Osrin: it’s one of the first American attempts to publish a novel-length story in comics form. In other words, it’s a candidate for being the earliest graphic novel.

But you couldn’t tell that from the reprint. Nowhere on or inside the book is the date of its original publication in 1950; instead, the date on the copyright page in 2007, when Arnold Drake wrote the afterword. Nowhere does the book state that its author is a pseudonym for Drake and Leslie Waller. Indeed, Drake’s afterword doesn’t even make clear that what it calls “that first story” is the same volume one is holding.

Nowhere on or inside the book is a statement—even a single sell line—about the book’s significance in comics history. Instead, Dark Horse has carefully recreated the front and back covers of the original, with all the breathless, melodramatic text. In combination with a 2007 copyright date, the result looks like a parody or a nostalgic attempt to recreate comic noir.

Given that the market for stories about family dysfunction and corruption in post-WW2 mining towns is probably small, I think Dark Horse missed a bet in how they packaged this book. They found space on the copyright page for a list of publishing personnel (something one rarely sees from mainstream American publishers), yet nowhere said, “This book is a piece of comics history, and here’s why…”

I guess the company thought its target readers would find the book in comics shops and recognize its significance from Wikipedia. And some people might say those assumptions reflect a larger problem with the American comics industry.

16 September 2012

The All-Too-Successful Career of Cassandra Cain

This chart is based on sales figures that Comics Chronicle back-calculated from reports by the Diamond distributor. It shows the relative performance of Batgirl (in black) and Robin (in red).

The protagonist of Batgirl in this period, as I’ve been discussing, was Cassandra Cain. She was a teen-aged protégée of Batman, dealing with issues of identity, values, and heritage, so her coming-of-age story was parallel to that of Tim Drake as Robin. But she was a new character, especially fresh since she was female and of Asian extraction.

When Batgirl launched in 2000, the magazine outsold the much older Robin by about 50%. Then its sales started to slide—as the industry has come to expect for all its titles. The sales of Robin could slide, too. The January 2002 rise for both magazines came during a crossover. The big jump in Robin sales in 2004 was when DC got a case of the Stephs. But the long-term trend is clear: while Robin bobbed along, Batgirl gradually ran out of its original gas.

And what was that fuel? I submit that it was the main character’s Unresolvable Foundational Conflicts. When Cass Cain’s story started, she was suffering the effects of a horrendous upbringing as a child assassin: she couldn’t read, could barely speak, and was haunted by her past deeds. Those burdens drove her quest for justice and made it much harder. They balanced out and humanized her preternatural martial-arts skills.

But then Cass Cain learned to read speak. She temporarily lost her powerful ability to read body language in fights, forcing her to recognize the trade-offs in her life—but she overcame that problem, too. Cass confronted and defeated her father, the nasty assassin David Cain. She confronted and defeated her mother, the slightly less nasty killer Lady Shiva. She overcame her feelings of guilt. She built friendships with other crime-fighters. In sum, Cass resolved all her main Foundational Conflicts.

And that left little fuel for future stories. To be sure, there were other factors—most importantly, the original creative team of writer Kelley Puckett and artist Damion Scott moved on. But other characters have survived such changes.

The fundamental problem was that Cass Cain won. Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake never resolved their Foundational Conflicts that way in the main storylines. Clark Kent and Dick Grayson did resolve theirs, in Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and the Batman stories of 2010-11, respectively—but those storylines led immediately into reboots that restored the characters’ original Foundational Conflicts. In a series, the problem with a happy ending is that it’s an ending.

DC ended the Batgirl magazine with its Infinite Crisis reboot. I suspect that the company editors set out to restore Cass Cain’s Unresolvable Foundational Conflict by taking her back to her roots as an assassin. By editorial mandate, she reappeared as the villain in a Robin storyline.

Cass’s characterization in the resulting issues is almost unrecognizable—once non-verbal, she now filled panels with expository dialogue. Once almost suicidally committed to justice, she was now a supervillain. Far from restoring Cassandra Cain as an interesting badass, that story and subsequent, more creatively successful appearances alienated her old fans and brought in few new ones.

Bruce Wayne’s death led to a reshuffling of the team he had assembled, with a new Batgirl. Cass Cain simply disappeared for a while. Eventually DC portrayed her fighting crime back in Asia, still linked to the Batman team through Tim Drake but comfortable working on her own. She had traveled farther than any of Batman’s male protégés and come of age. But as a protagonist, as opposed to a supporting character, she had nowhere else to go—not without a new Foundational Conflict.

And in DC’s latest universe, Cass Cain hasn’t yet appeared at all.

15 September 2012

Those Words Don’t Mean What Governor Romney Thinks They Mean

On Tuesday the US Embassy in Egypt issued this statement:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims—as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Mitt Romney personally approved a campaign release condemning that embassy statement as:
  • a “first response” to events that actually occurred later.
  • coming from the White House, which was not involved.
  • an apology, or “akin to an apology,” as he claimed the next day.
As many observers noted, the embassy’s message is in no way an apology. It contains no form of the word “apologize,” nor phrases like “very sorry” and “sincere regret” that we should expect in an apology.

Rather, that statement condemns an obvious attempt to offend all the adherents of a very large religion. It should be no surprise that diplomats, of all people, would condemn deliberate offensiveness.

And so did Romney, speaking two days later on TV:
I think it’s dispiriting sometimes to see some of the awful things people say. And the idea of using something that some people consider sacred and then parading that out a negative way is simply inappropriate and wrong. And I wish people wouldn’t do it. Of course, we have a First Amendment. And under the First Amendment, people are allowed to do what they feel they want to do. They have the right to do that, but it’s not right to do things that are of the nature of what was done by, apparently this film. . . .

I think the whole film is a terrible idea. I think him making it, promoting it showing it is disrespectful to people of other faiths. I don’t think that should happen. I think people should have the common courtesy and judgment—the good judgment—not to be—not to offend other peoples’ faiths. It’s a very bad thing, I think, this guy’s doing.
That was no more and no less of an “apology” than the words Romney had complained about two days before.

I nevertheless see a notable difference between the statements. The State Department referred to “the universal right of free speech.” Romney instead said, “we have a First Amendment.” The First Amendment limits the US government and, under later court decisions, state and local governments in the USA. It offers no guarantees to people in other countries, as Romney’s “we” implies.

In contrast, the US Embassy’s statement expressed belief in a universal right, not limited by national jurisdictions and constitutions. If someone truly believed in natural rights, whether endowed by God or deserved simply by virtue of being human, then the First Amendment should be an afterthought. It’s one nation’s important and early expression of a broader freedom that people deserve everywhere. But does Romney truly think that way?

14 September 2012

Surveying OIP Derangement Syndrome

Earlier this month Public Policy Polling released surveys of voters in Ohio (PDF) and North Carolina (PDF) that included this question:
Who do you think deserves more credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden: Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?
Barack Obama was, of course, the President who gave the order for the attack on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad. The commander-in-chief who chose a commando raid rather than an airstrike to be more sure of the result. The chief executive during the preceding two years of military and intelligence operations that had finally tracked down the terrorism organizer.

All that time Mitt Romney was preparing to run for President again. He’s never worked in the federal government, the military, the intelligence field (to our knowledge), or law enforcement. He has no connection whatsoever to the bin Laden raid.

So the choice of which of those two men has more responsibility for the death of bin Laden should be ludicrously obvious. Public Policy Polling explained the rationale for such a silly question on Twitter: “It was to see if Republicans were willing to give Obama credit for anything”.

And the upshot? By a big margin most people responding to PPP’s automated questionnaires gave Obama more credit. But in Ohio, 62% of the Republicans surveyed wouldn’t answer that President Obama deserves the most credit. In North Carolina, that figure was 71%. Both figures include 15% of Republicans who answered that Romney deserves more credit. The rest of the Republicans took a hard look at the question above and answered “I don’t know.”

There was a similar result in the groups that labeled themselves Somewhat and Very Conservative, with reluctance to give the President credit ranging from 59% to 68%. There were some distinctions by sex and racial category, but only minor differences in age.

Now it should be perfectly possible to oppose President Obama’s policies while acknowledging that he deserves more credit for this one event than a man who wasn’t involved at all. But not when one is suffering from OIP Derangement Syndrome.

13 September 2012

The Carrot and the Stick

Among the equine-related expressions whose original meanings we’re losing is “the carrot and the stick.” This refers to two types of incentives: reward and punishment. (Some people therefore prefer the phrase “carrot or the stick.”) However, for many people that phrase conjures a picture of someone dangling a carrot from a long stick in front of steed, fooling it into moving forward. (Thus, those people would say, “carrot on the stick.”)

The early uses of the phrase clearly refer to the carrot and the stick as separate. At a press conference on 25 May 1943 Winston Churchill stated: “We shall continue to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends, with a carrot and with a stick.” After the war articles in The Economist and Time applied that metaphor of “sticks or carrots” to workplace management.

But the contrast of carrot and stick goes back decades earlier—as we’d expect from a phrase based on managing horses. Or, more often, donkeys. Here are three examples from children’s literature.

Belinda, “Our Pet Donkey,” The Children’s Prize (London), October 1872:
If any little boy or girl has a donkey who is sometimes sulky and obstinate, I should very much like them before using the whip or stick to try what a little persuasion will do in the shape of a bit of bread, or a slice of carrot; and, I will venture to say, that a far greater victory will be won by these means than by any whip that was ever made.
Anonymous, Ups and Downs of a Donkey’s Life (London: 1876):
“The child will do; question is as to the donkey. Some will learn, some won’t—and if they won’t, why they won’t, go that's the end of it,” said the showman.

“Minna can get him to do anything; besides, here’s my stick—he knows that,” said Sam, grimly.

“Oh, bother sticks! I believe in carrots, myself. We’ll give ’em a month and see—it’s slack time now.”
D. B. M., “Contributors to Seaside Pleasures,” Chatterbox (Boston: 1891):
The writer of this once saw two boys deliberately beat a starved-looking donkey with a thick stick, till the weapon broke in their hands, and it is this cruel habit of tormenting donkeys which teaches the animal to retaliate with a kick or a vicious bite. Every boy should aim at winning the love of the humble animal which contributes so much to the amusement of his seaside holiday. Why should he not even be thoughtful enough to put a crust of bread or a morsel of carrot in his pocket, with which to reward it at the close of the hour’s ride? To see the poor donkey’s enjoyment of the offered dainty would be a sufficient reward for his thoughtfulness to any boy with a kindly heart for dumb animals.
Already writers were making an analogy between managing a donkey and managing people, as in this passage from “The Reality of Duty,” Lord Blachford’s analysis of the autobiography of John Stuart Mill for The Contemporary Review (London), August 1876:
…praise and blame were to him mere instruments for the formation of expedient characters, by an arbitrary association of pleasurable ideas with expedient actions. They were to man what carrots or sticks are to a horse or an ass—engines of manufacture, not revelations of truth. It was this carrot and stick discipline to which Mr. John Mill was subjected, and which he accepted dutifully as flowing from that perfect wisdom of which up to this time his father had been the representative.
Michael Quinion also noted that several other European languages have variations on the “carrot and stick” phrase.

To be sure, there are early examples of the “carrot on a stick” image. One of Quinion’s correspondents mentioned that in 1851 a German humorist had described such a scene. Then it came into English, probably first in visual form.

Rev. William Arnot, “This Present World,” The Family Treasury (London: 1872):
I have seen a pair of pictures which, by way of parable, represented the two principal propelling forces in action as applied to an ass. In one of the pictures a brace of boys are belabouring a loaded donkey on the hinder parts with stout sticks, but all in vain; for the poor brute has evidently made up his mind that on the whole it is better to bear the blows, than trudge to market with his burden. He prefers meekly to bear the lesser ills he knows, than fly to others that he knows not off [sic]: he therefore stands stock-still on the road.

In the other picture an old woman is comfortably seated on her donkey’s back above a couple of panniers staffed with vegetables. She is armed with a long, slender pole like a fishing-rod; but in this case it has neither a fly at the one end nor a fool at the other. A fine fresh carrot by way of bait is attached to the point of the pole, which the cunning angler keeps dangling a few inches before the donkey’s nose; and he, in the fond hope of overtaking the savoury mouthful, is carrying mistress and panniers at a rattling pace towards the market-town. The wise woman casts out of the canvas a leer of satisfied superiority at the baffled boys as she gallops past.

Thus, there are two methods of urging forward a donkey or a man; one is both more easy and more successful than the other.
Even when describing a character dangling a carrot from “a long, slender pole,” however, Arnot’s main point was the contrast between enticing a donkey with a carrot and beating it with “stout sticks.”

A generation or two later, other writers referred to the same sort of comical picture or story.

Thomas Stevens, Through Russia on a Mustang (New York: 1891):
But that morning, as I rode along, there flashed into my mind a cartoon I had once seen of a donkey race, in which the victory had been won by an ingenious jockey who held a carrot on the end of a stick a foot or two in front of his ass’s nose. In its eagerness to reach the carrot, the donkey put on such a tremendous burst of speed that it immediately outstripped its competitors and won the race.
Editorial, The Railroad Worker (Chicago), March 1917:
…it might be like the proverbial method that it is said the London costermonger employs to secure speed from his donkey, “the tieing of a carrot on the end of a stick and keeping it a distance from the end of his nose, so that the poor donkey will, as the saying is, chase it, in hopes of catching up with the carrot which cannot be done.”
“The Donkey and the Carrot,” Public: A Journal of Democracy (New York), August 1919:
…the whole situation is admirably typified in the old cartoon which showed Punch riding a donkey which he urged to greater speed by holding a carrot on a stick in front of the animal’s nose. In this combination the donkey represented labor, the carrot prices, while Mr. Punch combined in his person the landlord and the monopolist.
Those passages don’t discuss an actual method of getting a donkey to move. A 1912 volume of Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia did describe a “stick and carrot race” as a fun party game for children “at the seaside, where donkeys can be hired for about ninepence an hour”: “Each competitor tries to incite her steed to its top speed by dangling a fine carrot before its nose.”

However, there were many practical guides to working with equines published in the 1800s, just as there are manuals on automobile maintenance today. And none recommends dangling a carrot from a stick while seated on the back of a donkey.

Probably with good reason: donkeys aren’t stupid. If they see the carrot keeps moving away from them when they walk, they usually stop wasting their energy. If we had to spend more time with donkeys today, we’d know that.

12 September 2012

Our Anachronistic Equine Vocabulary

There’s no Y in “linchpin.” Lots of people have taken to spelling the word with a Y in place of the first I because we hardly ever see linchpins. Those used to be very important because they held wheels onto the axles of wagons. I guess people are more used to seeing variations on the word “lynching.”

There’s no G in “free rein” or “tight rein” or “to rein in someone.” Those are metaphors derived from a horse’s reins, but people now seem to interpret them as related to a monarch’s reign and add the G. That’s what linguists have lately taken to calling eggcorns, attempts to make better sense of a word when folks don’t know its original derivation or context.

Those terms have become unfamiliar because they grew out of a horse-based economy. We no longer have the daily context to remind us of their original usage and meaning.

Similarly, people are now saying they’re “straddled with” problems instead of “saddled with” them because horse saddles are no longer part of our lives. People wonder what “riding roughshot” means because we no longer have to wonder about having a horse “roughshod”; that refers to horses shoed with the nailheads sticking out a little for extra traction, and I had to look it up myself. “Souped up” started as racing-track slang; now some people are using “suped up,” probably inspired by Superman.

Our language has lots of terms derived from the horse-based economy. Some are obvious (looking a gift horse in the mouth), others less so (long in the tooth), and some on their way out through obscurity (kick over the traces).

Those phrases survive like the traces of our physical equine infrastructure. In the center of my home town there’s a flower planter at the ideal height for a horse—because it was originally a fountain where drivers and riders could water their animals. But most of the unneeded parts of that infrastructure—small ponds, hitching-posts, stables, ferriers’ shops—have disappeared, swept away like manure from the streets.

As technological change has sped up, we’re probably making once-familiar phrases into anachronisms faster than ever. Kids today have never touched a telephone or television “dial.” A friend told me about having to explain to a college student what “drop a dime” meant. When I was a lad, an “E ticket” meant you could go on the very best rides at Disneyland; now it’s what I don’t bring to the airport. Soon people may be interpreting “champing at the bit” to refer to data.

TOMORROW: The carrot and the stick.

(Image above from the Boston Public Library’s Flickr stream.)

11 September 2012

Little Ragdoll

This is one of the variant covers for Marvel’s The Road to Oz, #1, by Eric Shanower, Skottie Young, and colorist Jean-François Beaulieu, adapted from the story by L. Frank Baum.

Somebody’s clearly looking ahead two whole books to The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Indeed, in this interview at Comic Book Resources, Young mentioned Marvel’s head of sales, David Gabriel: “He’s dying to see me draw the Patchwork Girl, so I’d like to make it that far so he can see that happen.”

If sales hold up, this won’t be the only scrap of that book we’ll see.

09 September 2012

Batgirl’s Unresolvable Foundational Conflicts

Last week I started quoting from former DC Comics editor Scott Peterson’s recollection of the creation of the second Batgirl in the late 1990s. At first he was reluctant, but his boss insisted.
And then somewhere on the way back to my office I had this crazy vision of a new Batgirl. She was young—late teens, I thought—and Asian, because, well, at the time we had an awful lotta white faces in the DCU, and I thought, if we’re creating a brand new character in the DCU, why on earth would we make her white when other races are under-represented? And in my vision, she was cheerful and chipper and always up and good-natured and she had a complete and total death wish.

This did not seem like a good idea. In fact, it didn’t seem to even make any sense. But it wouldn’t go away.

So I called [writer and former editor] Kelley Puckett. And I said, “Hey, new Batgirl. Young—late teens, I think—and Asian. And cheerful and chipper and always up and good natured and she has a complete and total death wish.”

“But,” he replied reasonably, “that doesn’t even make any sense. . . . That’s completely contradictory.”
But the built-in contradiction was, as Peterson probably realized, the point. In serial fiction the best characters are fueled by contradictions. As I’ve written before, they face an Unresolvable Foundational Conflict that provides distinct characterization and an ongoing overall story arc.

Peterson’s original conception of Batgirl having “a complete and total death wish” but being “cheerful and chipper and always up” had to potential to be an Unresolvable Foundational Conflict. As it turned out, Puckett dropped the “cheerful and chipper” part.

Instead, the character he imagined, Cassandra Cain, was totally serious most of the time. She rivaled Tim Drake for being earnest and Bruce Wayne for being unsmiling. Which made the moments when she did smile or laugh or enjoy life all the more surprising and special.

But Puckett did give Cass Cain an Unresolvable Foundational Conflict—at least one. She was ridden with guilt for having been raised as a child assassin, but indefatigable about making up for that. Her upbringing gave her an extraordinary ability to read body language, useful in fights, but she had trouble with spoken language and couldn’t read at all. Physically she was small and slight and of course a girl, but she could beat Batman in hand-to-hand combat.

Cass Cain debuted in the mighty “No Man’s Land” crossover, Dennis O’Neil’s grand exit from the Batman desk. Having taken the mantle of Batgirl but in a new costume, in 2000 she started to appear in her own magazine, scripted by Puckett and drawn in a strikingly idiosyncratic style by Damion Scott. As protagonist of her own serialized story, she went about fighting criminals, and she went about wrestling with her Unresolvable Foundational Conflicts.

COMING UP: And how did that work out?

07 September 2012

Ryan’s Reputation and Refutations

Before being selected as the Republicans’ Vice Presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had grown a reputation as a truth-teller. A guy who knows numbers in particular. His budget proposals as head of the House Budget Committee have basically defined recent Republican policy outside the social sphere.

But when Ryan delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, observers immediately judged it as deceptive and dishonest in many ways. Middlegirl at the Daily Kos has been rounding up all those refutations. The most interesting, I think, is Ezra Klein’s anguished column in the Washington Post, because he clearly hoped things would be different.

Likewise, David Brooks of the New York Times spoke highly of Ryan on 22 August, but after the speech resorted to blaming speechwriters: “If you’ve got a guy famous for truth-telling, why feed him a bunch of semi-deceptions?”

In the same vein, Roger Ebert opined that the problem with Clint Eastwood’s convention talk was that party operatives had pushed him to hit certain talking-points. That analysis based on past friendship looks like a way to get around the simpler explanation that Eastwood is a cranky opponent of the President who’s happy to project his own hostile feelings onto an empty chair.

Similarly, Brooks’s claim that Ryan was “famous for truth-telling” misses the question of whether Ryan ever deserved that reputation, even by Washington standards. Careful observers had already noted that Ryan’s bold proposals actually contained a lot of fudges and blanks. His budgets were based on unrealistic expectations, and they never specified where he’d cut programs to reach his fiscal goals.

Well before his convention speech Ryan was complaining that President Obama’s stimulus package was too big while also asking for more funds for his own district. He did the same with the Affordable Care Act. And despite lauding the free market, Ryan lobbied to bend the auto bailout his way.

Ryan could have argued against Obama’s policies while telling the whole truth. But he hasn’t done that for a long time. For years he’s criticized the President for not supporting the Bowles-Simpson commission’s recommendations without acknowledging that he himself had already rejected that report and pulled the whole Republican House along with him.

With the increased coverage and scrutiny of a national campaign, Ryan has now had to retract a claim about his marathon time, which in turn forced him to devote time to substantiating a claim about mountain-climbing. Those are private matters, but easily understood, and they’ve helped shred his reputation as a truth-teller—especially about numbers.

To tell the real truth, Ryan never deserved that reputation. He discovered his budget-balancing zeal at almost exactly the moment President George W. Bush was being replaced by President Barack Obama. Was his turnaround truly newfound fiscal honesty or just OIP Derangement Syndrome?

06 September 2012

Picture Book, a Holiday in August

During my trip to California this summer, I saw a new trend in tourism: green-screen tourist photography.

I first noticed this at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Before boarding a bus to go up the mountain to William Randolph Hearst’s very impressive complex, folks had the chance to have their photos taken in front of a bright green plastic sheet.

At the end of your visit, you could pay a large sum for that photograph of yourself digitally manipulated to look like you had visited…exactly the site you were visiting. Usually the only value in photographs of yourself posing front of a tourist site is to demonstrate that you were there—but these photos would be a reminder that you stood in front of a sheet of green plastic pretending you were a short distance away.

The next week I saw the same thing inside the lobby of the Sony Studio building and on the crowded plaza of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

I suppose the benefit is that your vacation photos don’t include all those other tourists who’d otherwise be in the frame. Just as you won’t appear in their pictures. In the case of Grauman’s Chinese, which was very crowded, this would completely fictionalize the experience.

I might have been interested if the services offered more imaginative options: having oneself inserted into a snapshot beside William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and Hollywood celebrities of the 1930s, for example. Or helping Freddie Bartholomew leave his footprints in cement.

In future, sites could team up and let tourists green-screen themselves in front of other places that they don’t actually want to visit. That’s what’s happening in the photo above, from the “Texas on Tour” booth at the California State Fair.

05 September 2012

Make Your First Novel a Murder Mystery?

Physicist turned science-fiction novelist and social commentator David Brin recently shared this advice for new storytellers:
No matter what genre or style they want to create for a living, I recommend that new authors make their first major project a murder mystery.

The reason is simple. All other genres let the author get away with flaws in plotting and suspense, by distracting the reader with genre-specific razzle-dazzle, e.g. romantic tears or dying dragons or scifi tech-speak. But in a murder mystery, just one question is paramount; did the dramatic, whodunit revelation pay off? Was it simultaneously both well foreshadowed and surprising?

Does the reader experience a pleasurable moment of shock and self-loathing? "It was all there and I just missed figuring it out! I'm sooooo stoooopid!" If that's how your reader feels, at the crucial moment of whodunit disclosure, then she or he will buy your next book. That's the wonderful, ironic fact.
You might see why David calls his blog Contrary Brin.

This advice also shows the value of a distinction I invented for an SCBWI presentation a few years back: between genre and mode. Mystery is a genre, defined by readers’ expectations for the plot. Science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, futuristic dystopia, melodrama, farce, and contemporary realism are modes, defined by what readers expect can happen in different worlds—i.e., elements of the setting. A mystery (or a romance, or a dead-dog story, or a heist caper, or almost any other genre) can be told within different modes. That’s how a science-fiction novel can also be a murder mystery.

As another example of this overlap, the new Soho Teen imprint publishes nothing but mysteries and thrillers for young adults. But, as editor David Ehrenhaft said at Cynsations, some of those books have fantastic or dystopic settings. Mystery is the genre; paranormal is the mode.

Now if I keep defining and using those terms for twenty years, maybe they’ll catch on.

04 September 2012

You Can’t Walk on a Rainbow

This weekend, the French cartoonist Boulet shared the English version of his childhood opinion of the MGM Wizard of Oz movie.

It’s part of Boulet’s longer meditation on suspension of disbelief in childhood, and/or the difference between real childhood and the childhood adults may wish children to have. It’s also a follow-up to his commentary on real childhood imagination.

03 September 2012

Hang On a Minute

Among the public artworks commissioned in Britain in conjunction with the Olympics is Richard Wilson’s monumental statue atop the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

Titled “Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea…,” it’s a replica of a tour bus (coach) teetering over the edge of the building. And it really does teeter. With hydraulics attached to the underside of the bus, and firmly to the roof, the bus rocks randomly.

The Guardian explains; there’s also a video interview with the artist at that site. Actor and comedian Eddie Izzard, who helped to sponsor this artwork, explained the motivation behind it:
By the end of 2012 I would hope the word goes out from our country that not only do we run excellent world events, but we also balance coaches on the edges of buildings like no one else ever could.
I was actually disappointed to read that the artwork and its title refer to the 1968 heist movie The Italian Job, which ends with Michael Caine delivering that line in a similar situation. That turned a sculpture I’d imagined as a humorous yet existential comment on life into an homage to pop culture—like a bronze statue of Fonzie. However well made that bronze statue is, it has kitsch mixed into the metal.

So perhaps my loyalties in Britain’s new public art will shift to “Sacrilege,” Jeremy Deller’s full-scale recreation of Stonehenge as an inflatable bouncy castle. It raises such important questions as: Is it possible to imagine large numbers of American parents taking their children to anything called “Sacrilege”?

02 September 2012

Batgirl as an Editorial Mandate

A while back, the DC Women Tumblr offered former DC Comics editor Scott Peterson space to reveal “The Secret Origin of Batgirl”. This was Cassandra Cain, the third crime-fighter to take that name, after Betty Kane (active as “Bat-Girl” in spurts from 1961 to 1986) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl from 1967 to 1988).

Three things struck me about Peterson’s recollection. The first was an aspect of his editorial job at DC in the 1990s:
I was, among other things, the Batoffice’s designed heavy, the guy tasked with saying “no” to people who wanted to use Batman or one of the other Batcharacters. My job title was Editor/Batman Group Liaison, which meant that as the liaison, I was the guy who looked at everything from toothbrushes and lunchboxes to posters and novels and beach towels and, yes, the scripts and pencils when other editors borrowed a Batcharacter. The feeling was that even a character as great as Batman could be overused, so that most requests had to be turned down. Which meant I said “no” a lot. You can guess how popular that made me.
Of course, saying that other departments or licensors couldn’t use Batman and his supporting cast is different from limiting one’s own department. By mid-1999 the Batman desk was carrying Batman, Detective, Robin, Nightwing, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Azrael: Agent of the Bat, Catwoman, and Anarky. In addition, prominent members of the bat-family were appearing in JLA, World’s Finest, and Young Justice. And for the kids, there was Batman: The Gotham Adventures, with scripts by Peterson (by then a freelance writer).

Plus a magazine called Birds of Prey. Launched from the Batman desk in late 1998, it featured Barbara Gordon, that former Batgirl, and Black Canary as a team of female crime-fighters. This was a new approach, and its sales exceeded the company’s (modest) expectations. DC Comics executives became strongly interested in more female superheroes.

The creation of Batgirl was thus an editorial mandate. And not even from within the Batman office—from a higher manager. Peterson begins his article with the news:
“Create a new Batgirl. Or I will.”

So said then DC Universe Executive Editor Mike Carlin in his always cute and cuddly way.
Peterson writes that Carlin had been suggesting a new Batgirl “for years” before he turned that suggestion into a demand. He might have seen value in a recognized name, or a corporate need to keep the Batgirl trademark alive and valuable. Peterson resisted out of nostalgic fondness for the Barbara Gordon version (and Carlin was merely the Superman group editor until 1996). But once the company realized it might be leaving money on the table, Carlin’s idea became a mandate.

COMING UP: The new Batgirl’s Unresolvable Foundational Conlfict.

01 September 2012

Moore’s “concepts that I wanted to reflect in V”

As long as I’m cogitating about comics writer Alan Moore’s inspirations, I’ll quote something striking he wrote about V for Vendetta, his breakthrough series with David Lloyd. In an article published in England in 1983 as that comic was being published, reprinted as an afterword in the 1990 DC Comics collection, Moore wrote:
One night, in desperation, I made a long list of concepts that I wanted to reflect in V, moving from one to another with a rapid free-association that would make any good psychiatrist reach for the emergency cord. The list was something as follows:

Orwell. Huxley. Thomas Disch. Judge Dredd. Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!‘ Said the Ticktockman.” “Catman” and “Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” by the same author. Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. David Bowie. The Shadow. Nightraven. Batman. Fahrenheit 451. The writings of the New Worlds school of science fiction. Max Ernst’s painting “Europe After the Rains.” Thomas Pynchon. The atmosphere of British Second World War films. The Prisoner. Robin Hood. Dick Turpin...
For many writers, “concepts” might be themes or emotions. For others, they might be imagined scenes, or memories. For others, they might be questions about real people and their decisions. And so on.

But for Moore, the “concepts that I wanted to reflect” were the work of previous storytellers and performers. Even in a work of protest about the direction of British politics, he was thinking about science fiction, comics, and old movies.

No wonder Douglas Wolk writes in Reading Comics that “Virtually every comic Moore has written is inspired by some kind of pop-culture source of the past that he can elaborate and improve on.” In fact, Wolk listed V for Vendetta among the few “totally original major creations in [Moore’s] bibliography” (along with “A Small Killing, the never-finished Ballad of Halo Jones, the never-finished Big Numbers”). But that might be because Moore cast a wider net for “concepts that I wanted to reflect.”