30 November 2012

Elections Have Consequences—Except Under OIP Derangement Syndrome

President Barack Obama’s opponents continues to try to apply double standards to him, though it’s not always clear when that’s the result of OIP Derangement Syndrome and when it’s simply hypocritical audacity.

Hedrick Hertzberg noted one example in the New Yorker this month:
In 2004, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, conservatism’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, congratulated President [George W.] Bush for “what by any measure is a decisive mandate for a second term” and exulted, “Mr. Bush has been given the kind of mandate that few politicians are ever fortunate enough to receive.”

This year, examining similar numbers with different labels, the Journal came up with a sterner interpretation. “President Obama won one of the narrower re-elections in modern times,” its editorial announced. Also:
Mr. Obama will now have to govern the America he so relentlessly sought to divide—and without a mandate beyond the powers of the Presidency. Democrats will hold the Senate, perhaps with an additional seat or two. But Republicans held the House comfortably, so their agenda was hardly repudiated. . . . Speaker John Boehner can negotiate knowing he has as much of a mandate as the President.
In fact, about a million more Americans voted for Democratic House candidates than for Republican ones. There will be more Democrats in the House in the next term. Boehner can count those votes and knows what a thin “mandate” he supposedly has.

Back in 2004, George W. Bush boasted at his first post-election press conference, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” Bush put much of that “political capital” into partially privatizing Social Security, though his proposals before the election had been vague and his election narrow. Bush’s initiative was immediately unpopular and dead by spring.

In contrast, President Obama ran on a clear platform of higher taxes on income over $250,000 in order to preserve government services for the whole population. Mitt Romney offered a very different tax policy, though he later reversed himself to something more vague. Despite Romney’s feeble complaints that the Obama campaign was about little things, that difference over taxes was a big thing all along. It was part of the nation’s choice.

Now Republicans in Washington are acting shocked, shocked that President Obama is negotiating over the budget from the basis of the platform that he campaigned on and that Americans strongly voted for. Ezra Klein summarized the White House position for the Washington Post:
Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they’re facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore.
Republicans in Congress have given us very little reason to expect that they’ll be reasonable negotiators. This pretended surprise is just another sign that they don’t want to acknowledge the election results. They don’t want to respect this President or American voters.

Explore the graph above, showing U.S. top tax rates over time, at Visualizing Economics.

29 November 2012

Two Parallel Channels for Kids’ Comics

From Graphic Novel Reporter’s interview with Scott Robins, coeditor with Snow Wildsmith of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics, on the question of judging what’s appropriate reading for different ages:

Any kind of art that has a visual component will be scrutinized because of its immediacy. Looking at a page of comics is more in-your-face than reading a page of prose. This immediacy often causes people to make grand generalizations about comics, usually about the levels of sex and violence. Also, comics have struggled with being perceived as less literary and of lower educational value, which is a huge factor when discussing reading and books for children. . . .

Traditional children’s book publishers are putting out the bulk of comics and graphic novels for kids now. Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Candlewick, and others have decades of experience publishing books FOR kids and know what’s appropriate and what’s not. . . .

we came to the realization of how little superhero material is appropriate for kids and readily available for people to buy. DC and Marvel don’t really have a strong commitment to creating comics for kids and what they do publish doesn’t stay in print.
Children’s comics remains an area of obvious disjuncture between the comics publishing industry (meaning the specialized creators, publishers, wholesalers, retailers, and journalists) and mainstream book publishing (which has its own publishers, wholesalers, retailers, and journalists). The two businesses are parallel, which by analogy means they’ll never meet.

It’s not that bad, but last year I moderated a panel on which Gareth Hinds, adapter of Beowulf, King Lear, and other classics, talked about choosing the children’s publisher Candlewick to republish his work because he saw a choice between getting those books into schools and libraries getting them into comics shops. He knew he couldn’t have both.

I’ve heard the current proprietor of my favorite comics shop as a teen talk about buying the color Bone volumes from a discount bookstore because he didn’t have a Scholastic sales rep to order from. They were so hot he needed them right away and couldn’t afford the time to set up a new business relationship.

The distribution issues have gotten better as businesses realize there’s money to be made in the other channel. I’m guessing most of the flexibility comes from middle men (distributors) rather than the publishers or stores. But that’s what those distributors are for.

27 November 2012

Oz, the Small and Meek

At Slate, Aisha Harris raised some serious questions about Sam Raimi’s upcoming movie Oz, the Great and Powerful, based on the most recent online trailer:
“You are here at last, and the prophecy shall be fulfilled,” says one witch. “I’ve waited for you to come and set things right,” says another. Is Oz slipping into an old-fashioned story about women needing a great male savior? Why are all these women with their own supernatural powers waiting around for an ordinary guy to come along and save them all?

L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books were published during the peak of the suffragette movement, and they were quite progressive in their depictions of a young female hero. Dorothy Gale, who ultimately reveals the man behind the curtain as the fraud that he is, was inspired by pioneer women and has been championed by some as the “first feminist role model.”
All that’s true. Not only was Dorothy the main protagonist of the Oz series, but the most powerful rulers in Oz were Ozma and Glinda.

I think Harris overstated her case, however, when she went on to say: “The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz stayed impressively true to this vision, giving us Judy Garland as an independent, curious young woman who aids a group of hapless men on their quest to see the wizard.” No, Judy Garland plays a breathy, largely reactive adolescent who decides she should never leave her own backyard to find her heart’s desire. The movie turned Dorothy’s happenstance visit to Oz from an adventure to a lesson about the dangers of running away, and thus into a punishment. In contrast, we next see Baum’s Dorothy on a voyage to Australia. Now that’s independent and curious.

But back to the Wizard. The whole point of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is that “Oz, the great and terrible” (the book’s words) is a humbug. And that’s clearly part of Raimi’s story as well. When a movie sets up a character as “Great and Powerful” in the title, we know that has to be ironic or a challenge. Otherwise, there’d be no place for the story to go, nothing to reveal.

Back in July, the director laid out the main character arc:
As for the plot itself, everything is centered around [James] Franco’s Wizard, who is kind of a dick. “It’s the story of a selfish man, who’s a little bit of a lothario, a little bit of a cad.” Oz is “a land of second chances” for the Wizard, who’s also redeemed by the love of Glinda, the Good Witch. “It’s how he became ensconced in the Emerald City,” said Raimi. “By the time this picture ends, the audience has one interpretation of how it all came to be [...] how he became the protector of that great city.”
The phrase “love of Glinda” gives me pause because the Good Sorceress has no—needs no—love interest in the books. But will this movie’s Glinda offer Oz romantic love, or does he merely assume so? Does he set out to show himself protecting Oz just to impress Glinda and become a bigger, better man along the way? We’ll see next year.

26 November 2012

The Life Behind A Wrinkle in Time

Yesterday’s New York Times Book Review asked Anne Lamott, “What book changed your life?” And she answered:
“A Wrinkle in Time” saved me because it so captured the grief and sense of isolation I felt as a child. I was 8 years old when it came out, in third grade, and I believed in it — in the plot, the people and the emotional truth of their experience. This place was never a good match for me, but the book greatly diminished my sense of isolation as great books have done ever since. I must have read it a dozen times.
The book never grabbed me that way, but it spoke deeply to many readers. Cynthia Zarin’s 2004 profile of Madeleine L’Engle included the author’s response to their passion:
One evening, while we were having supper together, I asked L’Engle about her relationship with her readers. “It scares me shitless!” she said. “Because it’s a responsibility. Over time, someone reads your book, and something happens. People want intimacy, and I have a terrible time saying no.” When people tell her, “You’ve helped me grow up, you’re my mother,” she tends to brush it off: her job, as she sees it, is to write stories, not to be known.
That warts-and-all profile appears to be a touchstone for many of the interviews in Listening for Madeleine, Leonard Marcus’s new oral history of L’Engle. The Book Reporter says of the book:
Most interesting are the voices from L’Engle’s childhood, through whom we learn about her distant relationship with her parents, particularly her father, and about her tendency to live her life through her imagination rather than through social relationships—more than one interviewee describes L’Engle as aloof or standoffish compared to her peers. Marcus seems to suggest that her lonely childhood and longing for her dad contributed to the number of absent fathers in her work, most notably Meg’s quest to rescue her father in A Wrinkle in Time.
One of those interviews, with a L’Engle cousin, is available from Macmillan. Publishers Weekly published three from colleaguesKirkus noted in its review:
An actor by training, L’Engle consciously constructed her own public persona, transforming her biography and history into “mythic material,” as with the ever-expanding number of rejections she received for A Wrinkle in Time.
The Oz and Ends take on that legend back here.

25 November 2012

Never Work with Children or Animals

The second installment of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolf’s Li’l Gotham digital comics appeared this month, pegged to Thanksgiving. It established that Bruce Wayne is the Batman in this version of the mythos. (I thought the first installment was ambiguous on that question.)

This story also shows Nightwing’s chest stripe as blue, Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair, and Cassandra Cain in existence. In other words, Li’l Gotham definitely takes off of the DC Universe that was the publisher’s main “continuity” until last year.

But this is also a universe in which the entire “Bat family” (except, of course, for Stephanie Brown) gathers for an uninterrupted Thanksgiving dinner. Damian has his little friend Colin over, though in the comics Damian was keeping that comradeship a secret. Even Wayne family black sheep Jason Todd is there, though no one has saved him a seat.

Li’l Gotham thus takes place in a world akin to a lot of Bat-family fanfiction, in which reconciliation, togetherness, and cuteness are more important than that usual staple of superhero comics, kicking other people in the face. In both this episode and last month’s Halloween tale, all the action happens early, followed by many more pages of what we’d normally consider comic relief and a festive dinner at the climax.

Both stories also revolve around Damian Wayne, but not the troubled Damian of the main comics. In the current DC Universe, he deliberately killed one of the bat-cave’s bats and had trouble warming up to the Great Dane that his father bought him. In contrast, many fans had decided, based on one Grant Morrison story showing a possible future Damian with a cat he’d named Alfred, that Damian loves kittens. He really, really loves kittens. And the Li’l Gotham Damian gets to lead a parade of turkeys and bring one home with him and name it Jerry and keep it for his very own.

Those fan-created stories and illustrations aren’t necessarily any worse than the traditional type, including some officially published. But resolving foundational conflicts doesn’t leave much space for the next story, as serial publishers desire. And making everyone happy can wash out the distinctiveness of characters. Once Jason is back at Wayne Manor, what’s distinct about him? Once Damian actually has a pal his own age to invite over and trade baseball cards with, is he Damian anymore?

23 November 2012

The Post-Election Numbers of OIP Derangement Syndrome

President Barack Obama won reelection with 332 Electoral College votes, more than 64 million actual votes, and 50.7% of the popular vote to his main opponent’s 47.5%. Those numbers and margins are higher than the last time a President was reelected, in 2004. In fact, more Americans voted for President Obama than for any other Presidential candidate except himself in 2008, and his popular-vote total might actually go up as large coastal states finish their counts.

But some people with OIP Derangement Syndrome can’t accept that reality.

In Maine, the Portland Press Herald reported, Republican party chair Charlie Webster alleged a particular sort of voter fraud:
“In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day,” he said. “Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in (these) towns knows anyone who’s black. . . .”

When [TV host] Carrigan pressed Webster on where it happened, Webster provided no specifics or proof of his claims, but said the party would investigate further.

When asked about the issue in an interview Wednesday with the Portland Press Herald, Webster again refused to provide specifics.
But Webster did inflate his figure to “hundreds” before apologizing under criticism:
“my comments were made without proof of wrongdoing and they had the unintended consequence of casting aspersions on an entire group of Americans.”
We must note that the Obama-Biden ticket won the state of Maine in both 2008 and 2012 by over 100,000 votes.

In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia newspapers reported, Republican House Speaker Sam Smith complained, “I was told that 90 percent of the precincts in Philadelphia County turned out over 90 percent of voters. . . . It’s questionable.” The newspapers pointed out that Smith’s complaint was more than questionable; with Philadelphia showing a 60% turnout overall, Smith’s numbers were mathematically impossible. The Obama-Biden ticket won the state of Pennsylvania by over a quarter-million votes.

Before the election, Dean Chambers made a small name for himself by “unskewing” standard polls with a higher proportion of Republican voters. The polls in aggregate turned out to be right, and his website wrong. So after the election Chambers returned with a new website alleging voter fraud in four swing states, as Slate reported. All four of those states have Republican governors and legislative chambers that made a priority of voter fraud in this election year. Yet he suggests that nearly half a million fraudulent votes in those states swayed the election.

And his evidence? “Things like the 59 voting divisions of Philadelphia where Romney received zero votes.” As Slate noted, such local results are no surprise: 57 Philadelphia precincts (out of more than 1,600 in the city) gave McCain no votes in 2008. Furthermore, a zero vote count is the easiest type of fraud to expose: Chambers and his fellow sufferers simply have to find one person claiming to have voted for the Republican ticket in those precincts. The Philadelphia Inquirer went looking for such a person by starting with the very few people registered as Republican in those wards. And what did they find?
James Norris, 19, who lives down the street, is listed as a Republican in city data. But he said he’s a Democrat and voted for Obama because he thinks the president will help the middle class.

A few blocks away, Eric Sapp, a 42-year-old chef, looked skeptical when told that city data had him listed as a registered Republican. “I got to check on that,” said Sapp, who voted for Obama. . . .

Three of the 15th’s registered Republicans were listed as living in the same apartment, but the tenant there said he had never heard of them. The addresses of several others could not be found.
Will Chambers investigate the possibility of Republican Party registration fraud? I doubt it. OIP Derangement Syndrome doesn’t allow for that sort of rational thinking.

21 November 2012

Pullman on “your appalling self-consciousness”

More from the Mother Jones interview with Philip Pullman:
The central moment in the account of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis is when they sort of come to after they've eaten the fruit and they realize they’re naked and try and cover themselves with fig leaves. That seemed to me a perfect allegory of what had happened in the 20th century with regard to literary modernism.

Literary modernism kind of grew out of a sense that, “Oh my god! I’m telling a story! Oh, that can’t be the case, because I’m a clever person. I’m a literary person! What am I going to do to distinguish myself? I know! I’ll write Ulysses.” [Laughs.] Actually, I don’t think that was Joyce’s motive—but a lot of modernism does seem to come out of a fear of being thought an ordinary storyteller. So they tell it backwards and they tell it in the present tense and they cut loose the pages and shuffle them around—all that kind of stuff.

When I first started writing, I tried to do that sort of thing, but I realized that there was a limited value in that. And it also made it difficult to read, and I didn’t really want my books difficult to read. This is the value for me of writing books that children read. Children aren’t interested in the least about your appalling self-consciousness. They want to know what happens next. They force you to tell a story.
This isn’t the only Christian allusion that Pullman drops in this interview—though he also describes himself in this interview as an agnostic and is notorious in some self-conscious circles for portraying organized religion in a harsh light. Which shows you can take the vicar’s grandson out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of him.

Of course, Pullman has other levels of belief:
The state of mind which I put myself when I tell a story is one in which superstition flourishes very easily. And I welcome that because it helps me. A story, to me, has a particular sprite, like the angel of the spirit of that story—and it’s my job to attend to what it wants to do. When I tell the story of “Cinderella,” the sprite does not want me to make it into an allegory of the fall of communism. The sprite would be unhappy if I did that. I can’t put it any more clearly than that because it’s a strange area and I’m not very sure about it myself. But I’m perfectly happy about being superstitious and atheistic.
An almost supernatural way of divorcing his authorial consciousness from the act of storytelling.

20 November 2012

Baum Quotations, Real and Imagined

Jared Davis of the Royal Blog of Oz recently asked about a quotation that many websites and a few books attribute to L. Frank Baum:
Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.
None of those sites and books identifies any specific book or article as a source. The idiom “feel blue” was current in the late 1800s, so Baum could have said this. But that’s not good enough. People making a historical claim have the responsibility to provide evidence for it, not shift the burden of proof to skeptics to disprove the claim.

In this case, the quotation doesn’t ring bells with any of us older Oz fans who imbibed our knowledge in past decades, and since close to 99% of Baum’s surviving writing was published before 1920, it would be unusual for a quotable line to be so unfamiliar. I checked Google Books and saw that the “feel blue” saying appeared in books through about 2005 without attribution, and with Baum’s name attached only since 2009.

The internet is a marvelous hothouse for false quotations. As soon as a quote appears on one website, it gets picked up and spread around on others. And soon someone doing a search for a quotation’s source will see what looks like a critical mass of confirmation. Even this page could look like further evidence.

I checked out Goodreads’ page of Baum quotations, and it’s a big mix. There are many quotations from Baum’s books. But there are also many quotations from the 1939 MGM movie misattributed to Baum:
  • Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
  • “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t you think?”
  • “Nobody gets in to see the Wizard. Not nobody.”
  • “It’s so kind of you to want to visit me in my loneliness.”
  • “Going so soon? I wouldn’t hear of it. Why my little party’s just beginning.”
  • “My world, my world... How can such a good little girl like you destroy all of my beautiful wickedness?” [Actually, that’s even a misquote of the movie line: “Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?”]
  • “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
  • “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” [Which makes no sense at all.]
  • “I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow.”
  • “Now I know I’ve got a heart because it’s breaking.”
Lines original to the screenplay should probably be credited to Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf, the screenwriters. Even that attribution might be questionable, however, since several other writers also worked on the movie, the last being John Lee Mahin.

In fact, the one person losing the most credit to Baum at Goodreads is probably E. Y. “Yip” Harburg, who wrote the movie’s lyrics and the Wizard’s speech as he presents the gifts to Dorothy’s companions. Harburg deserves credit for:
  • “If I [only] had a heart…”
  • “Lions and tigers, and bears, oh my!”
  • “Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ‘ape’ in apricot?”
  • “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”
  • “And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”
The screenwriters adapted some of Baum’s dialogue closely. But even on Goodreads people remember the movie version:
“Oh – You’re a very bad man!"

“Oh, no, my dear. I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad Wizard.”
Baum’s original exchange was:
“I think you are a very bad man,” said Dorothy.

“Oh, no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard, I must admit.”
Then there are oddities in the list like this one, which has a grammatical error of agreement in the first sentence:
“People would rather live in homes regardless of its grayness. There is no place like home.”
Baum actually had Dorothy say:
“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”
Of course, the final line predates The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by decades. It comes from John Howard Payne’s song “Home, Sweet Home!” (1823).

Here’s another commonly seen quotation:
“Never give up. No one knows what’s going to happen next.”
In The Patchwork Girl of Oz Dorothy really bucks up the moody young protagonist this way:
“Never give up, Ojo,” advised Dorothy. “No one ever knows what’s going to happen next.”
Finally, there’s a platitude that I can easily imagine someone today writing and then attaching to Baum to make the sentiment seem more authoritative:
“Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child, and you have taken away its chances of success in life. Imagination transforms the commonplace into the great and creates the new out of the old.”
But Baum actually said that in a 1909 interview with a magazine called The Advance.

19 November 2012

The Takedown

At Publishers Weekly’s PWxyz blog, Peter Brantley highlighted some new Republican thinking about copyright law that was quickly squelched by old Republican thinking:

On Friday, 16 November, the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) released an amazingly liberal document proposing deep and substantive reforms in U.S. copyright law. Within 24 hours, on Saturday, 17 November, the report had been pulled from the House website and an email apology for its “inadequate” vetting had been flung out on the net. . . .

The report details four areas of potential reform: 1). Statutory Damages. “Copyright awards were meant to make the copyright holder whole – they were not supposed to be punitive. Reforming this process is an important element of federal tort reform, which unlike other forms of tort reform is clearly within the federal prerogative.”

2). Expansion of Fair Use. “Right now, it’s somewhat arbitrary as to what is legally fair use based upon judicially created categories.”

3). Punish false copyright claims. “Because there is minimal or nearly non-existent punishment for bogus copyright claims today, false takedown requests are common and have a chilling effect upon legitimate speech.”

And, 4). Limit copyright terms and create disincentives for renewal. The report elucidates one possible path, with an initial 12 year copyright award period and renewable elective terms that are fee-based, with a maximum cliff of 46 years protection. This last proposal is actually currently infeasible in an international context, which is based on life of the author plus 50 years (life+50) for most non-corporate works.
I suspect the report was more “libertarian” than “liberal,” though there’s significant overlap between those terms. It proposed to dial back government-backed legal advantages for copyright owners. (For some radical libertarians, governments shouldn’t be granting patents and copyrights at all.)

The American right is energized by four strains of conservatism: libertarian, social/theocratic, pro-business, and general pro-establishment crankiness. (To put faces on those impulses, consider Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich, respectively, at the end of the 2012 Republican primaries.) Sometimes those strains are at odds with each other. This report reflected libertarian thinking. After business lobbies contacted party leaders, the stronger pro-business wing pulled it back.

As for the proposals, I think we’d all benefit from clearer definitions of fair use. I’m not sure point 1 is valid—sometimes damages are supposed to be punitive—but agree with point 3 that false claims should also produce punishments. Point 4 would reduce copyright terms to below what American creators have enjoyed for a century and, as Brantley points out, would go against international agreements. Copyright terms have become irrationally long, but the US can’t decide that point alone.

18 November 2012

A Sidekick in the Pants

Sidekicks has a mighty “tween”-looking cover for a book that starts out with a boner.

In fact, teen-sidekick-getting-an-erection was the starting-point for novelist Jack D. Ferraiolo, as he explained on his blog:
I was a full-fledged Batman freak... and being that this was the early eighties (and the Batman comics from the 70s were still pretty available), the DC writers/artists were continuing the process of aging Robin up. I remember…looking at a comic of a late teen/early 20’s Robin and thinking, “Man, he should really cover up.” Here he is fighting hardened criminals – thugs, thieves, murderers – and he's wearing the tiniest pair of green jockey shorts imaginable. And no one mentions it?  I mean, not one street tough has something to say about Robin’s itty-bitty bikini bottoms? Especially with all those high kicks he was throwing around?
Actually, Robin’s friends had been calling him “Shortpants” for years by then. Marv Wolfman and George Pérez acknowledged the oddity of an eighteen-year-old in trunks as they discussed the early New Teen Titans. Mention of Dick Grayson’s bare legs was forbidden only for villains and, of course, Bruce Wayne.

Then came Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and more emphasis on realism/grittiness in superhero comics. In 2007, even DC addressed the erection question in Nightwing Annual, #2, which shows a late-teens Robin wishing for a longer cape and a minute to compose himself after getting too close to Batgirl.

Ferraiolo’s prose novel examines the plight of the adolescent sidekick through the voice of Bright Boy, ward of Phantom Justice. Their relationship is obviously modeled on that of Batman and Robin. As a dark-caped crimefighter, Phantom Justice says, “Good soldier”; he talks about “embracing the night” but can’t connect with anyone emotionally. There’s even an Alfred figure, a butler and voice of common sense.

However, in this world some people have been born with extra strength, speed, and/or intelligence. Phantom Justice and Bright Boy aren’t “badass normal” like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. They’re “plus-plus.” And while their world has mad scientists with amazing inventions, there’s no Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, or Spectre to keep them from the top of the pecking order.

Reviewers obviously new to the superhero genre seem struck by the drastic reversals built into the plot, but those are common in adventure comics. What seems fresh to me is the realistic dialogue between the two adolescents feeling their way into a complicated love affair. On the downside, there are pages and pages of exposition.

I thought the biggest flaw in Sidekicks is that it ends with no “price of fantasy,” as Ellen Howard has termed it. At the start of the book, protagonist Scott feels like a nobody in high school and an embarrassment in the media—those are the costs of being a superpowered hero. (In addition, Scott’s parents died in an accident when he was little, but—unlike the ache that drives the Harry Potter books, even though Harry never knew his parents—we don’t feel that loss.)

At the end of Sidekicks [and that means SPOILERS AHEAD], Scott has solved the problems that bothered him at the start. He’s got a girlfriend, and pals, and cooler clothes, and public adultation, and freakin’ superpowers. For a while it looks like he has to pay a big price—he thinks two of the people he loves have died. But everyone turns out okay in various futuristic ways. The only person he really loses is someone whom he could never warm up to. Scott even manages to come out on top of the Oedipal conflict. It’s total wish-fulfillment with very little cost. [End of SPOILERS] But, as with the plot reversals, that probably won’t look like a flaw to teen readers not yet jaded about this genre.

Which brings me back to that cover. Amulet designer Chad Beckerman has shown how it went through a lot of changes, starting with a more realistic close-up of the main character (wearing braces, though I don’t think they’re mentioned in the book) before ultimately ending up with the art above. One intermediate version appears to the left. Twice, Beckerman writes, the design sketches had “too much crotch.” Yet “too much crotch” is exactly where the story starts.

Ferraiolo writes that he’s heard some criticism (from adults) and lost some library speaking gigs because people thought the novel was inappropriate for younger readers. I think the story’s quite appropriate for young adolescents. But the final cover’s cartoony art, and our culture’s assumption that all superhero stories are appropriate for kids, may suggest to some adults that this is a book for the middle grades.

16 November 2012

When OIP Derangement Syndrome Turns Deadly

When Talking Points Memo rounded up “The 6 Most Bizarre Freakouts Over Obama’s Re-Election,” the site excluded “incidents where mental illness may have been a factor.” But there is an unfortunate overlap between OIP Derangement Syndrome and violent crime.

Back in 2009, a 22-year-old named Richard Poplawski shot three police officers in Pittsburgh. Poplawski had told at least two friends that he believed President Barack Obama was going to take away his rights. His paranoia also focused on Jews. He has been sentenced to death in Pennsylvania.

Shortly afterward, a 28-year-old named Joshua Cartwright killed two sheriffs’ deputies in Florida before being shot to death. His wife said he as “severely disturbed” by President Obama’s election and believed the federal government was oppressing him.

In November 2011, a 21-year-old man named Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez traveled from Idaho Falls to Washington and fired nine rifle shots at the White House. One round hit a window of the first family’s living quarters, though that was probably a lucky shot and they weren’t home. Hernandez had told people that Obama was the “antichrist” and the “devil.”

In August 2012, Georgia authorities indicted four U.S. Army soldiers who had talked about assassinating President Obama, as well as taking over a local fort, bombing sites, and poisoning apple crops. Such planning might sound ludicrous, but the four had murdered a former comrade and his girlfriend who knew about their discussions.

In September, the Daily Mail reported that 57-year-old Albert Peterson killed his wife, two young sons, and himself in a severe depression that became focused onto Obama. American newspapers haven’t run that aspect of the murder-suicide, which is based on statements of an anonymous friend of the family. The Mail quoted a police department spokesperson saying, “We are aware that the father had strong political opinions.”

This month, a 28-year-old woman named Holly Solomon was so upset about President Obama’s reelection that she chased down her husband, who hadn’t voted, with her Jeep. He was severely injured. She was arrested.

And a 64-year-old Florida man named Henry Hamilton committed suicide after the election, writing an obscenity about Obama on the wall as he did. Hamilton was taking medication for “anxiety and schizophrenia,” according to the Miami Herald.

Some of those people had already been under psychiatric care, and others were at the age when serious mental illnesses can emerge. Still, it’s striking how their delusions came to echo the messages and implications of America’s right-wing media, quick to blame President Obama for all problems or believe the worst about him.

15 November 2012

Sendak “born to Holocaust survivors”?

Gail Gauthier clued me in to this interview with Maurice Sendak at The Believer. It was no surprise that the conversation touched on the Nazi Holocaust. Sendak stated:
Nearly all my relatives died in the concentration camps, except my parents.
“Nearly all”! Well, a few seconds later he said:
The only one who talked about it was my grandmother, who was a very fierce woman. The only grandparent I had.
Okay, nearly all his relatives except his parents and one grandparent.
She was the only one who came over. Who was brought over by her idiot daughters, my aunts. And idiot uncles, her sons.
Okay, except his parents, one grandparent, and an unknown but plural number of aunts and uncles.

And at least one of the uncles or aunts had at least one child:
We [Sendak and his older brother and sister] had a cousin. We were not supposed to like her, because she was a communist. She was very plain. I adored her, and me and my sister would steal off and go to her house. She sat and talked to me and told me that I knew how to draw and that I could be an artist, or anything, and I thought if she was in the world, then good was in the world.
And about that grandmother:
Her husband died when he was forty, which drove my mother crazy. She blamed his death on my grandmother, which is why my grandmother sent her to America—shut up, get outta here. So she came to America. A sixteen-year-old girl, alone.
Sendak’s mother, Sadie Schindler, was born in 1895, and if she came to America at sixteen that was even before World War I. Which means her father had died decades before the Nazi concentration camps. So Nana Schindler was indeed “The only grandparent” Sendak knew, but the Holocaust wasn’t the reason Sendak didn’t know his maternal grandfather.

Sendak did tell a story about his father learning that all his family had been killed in Europe, the news arriving on on the day of his bar mitzvah. That was in 1941, and Philip Sendak’s home town of Zambrow, Poland, was wiped out by the Nazis starting in July 1941, according to different sources.

So Sendak did lose relatives he never had the chance to meet in the Holocaust—but not “Nearly all” his family except his parents. The Holocaust was undoubtedly part of his psyche and his artistic inspiration, but its actual effect on his relatives became exaggerated.

In its obituary for Sendak, The Jewish Press described him as “born to Holocaust survivors” even as it reported his age. He was born in 1928 in Brooklyn to a couple who hadn’t survived the Holocaust because it hadn’t happened yet and they were thousands of miles away when it did. But that’s apparently not how Sendak saw himself.

14 November 2012

Is This the Real Romney Returning?

As we all know now, Mitt Romney was caught on tape back in May making false and snobbish comments about “47%” of the country. At first Romney endorsed those comments. Then he repudiated them, as he’s repudiated so many other positions he’s taken. So had he really believed them, or was he just telling his audience of rich donors what he thought they wanted to hear?

Today he echoed those comments in another conversation with rich right-wing donors that he apparently thought would never become public, as the New York Times reported. The Los Angeles Times also had access.

Romney claimed that President Barack Obama won because his policies amounted to “gifts” to “the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.” Apparently, Romney’s promises of lower taxes for the wealthy, increased defense spending, regulatory rollbacks, and the like wouldn’t have been “gifts” to any of his supporters.

Here’s a taste of the conversation:

“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”
What a heartless and mendacious remark. As you see, Romney went back to showing disdain for the working poor. He once again zigzagged on his own health-insurance policy in Massachusetts and lied about the federal law.

I’m particularly irked by the comment about “the children of illegals.” Some of those children are American citizens. There’s no “amnesty” involved there; they haven’t done anything they need amnesty for.

People to whom the Dream Act would apply are, in Romney’s own word, “illegals” themselves. But they came into the US as children, like Romney’s father. In June he referred to them as “young people who come here through no fault of their own.” Yet for the rich conservatives listening in on his phone call, Romney pulled out the term “amnesty.”

What a vile man Romney is. We’re very fortunate to have avoided granting him any form of national authority.

13 November 2012

Sky Island Gets Real

From artist Willie Real, here’s another interpretation of the protagonists of L. Frank Baum’s Sky Island.

That’s Trot, Button-Bright, and Cap’n Bill.

Real also shared a picture of this Button-Bright inside the Boolooroo’s treasure chamber, with the blue wolf behind him. Thank goodness he’s carrying a pillow. You can read that chapter of Sky Island here.

12 November 2012

Philip Pullman’s School Story

From the Mother Jones interview:

The range of individuality [in] children is infinite, but every class of children seemed to have the same groups. And there was a chief girl and a chief boy—a girl that all the other girls of that age looked up to and imitated and a boy that all the boys looked up to and imitated. I realized that if I got them on my side and exclusively taught them for a couple of weeks, maybe for the first full term, then I wouldn't have any trouble. Teachers often make the mistake of thinking they’re the boss of the class; they’re not. The boss of the class is sitting down there somewhere.
Pullman taught school at the beginning of his career. He seems to have taken a practical approach.

11 November 2012

The Exaggerations of Dick Grayson’s Love Life

A couple of weeks ago, the weekly Robin discussed how in 1984 Dick Grayson was the first hero DC Comics clearly showed having a sex life—and outside of marriage yet! However, his relationship with fellow Titan Koriand’r was always presented as a long-term commitment.

Indeed, for the rest of the 1980s that relationship was one of the tent poles of the Titans franchise—which meant Marv Wolfman and his artists were constantly shaking it to make readers worry. Kory contracted a political marriage for the sake of her home planet, and Dick couldn’t handle it. Teammate Raven had sexual fantasies about Dick, and Kory could handle it. A freedom fighter from an alternate future disguised herself as Kory to have sex with Dick.

The relationship endured until New Titans, #100, when Dick and Kory tried to get married and everything went horribly, horribly wrong. Dick and Kory broke up, and that Titans team itself went separate ways—which just shows how much of a tent pole it was.

That left Dick Grayson unattached for the first time in years. He kept busy being Batman for a while, but then DC’s writers happily seized the chance to use “Dick has a new girlfriend” as the starting-point for stories.

Meanwhile, the internet enabled fanfiction to spread, and that area of writing has never been bound by what official continuities say about heroes’ love lives. As a result, Dick Grayson became a “fandom bicycle” on which everyone got a ride. TV Tropes lists him as DC’s top “Launcher of a Thousand ’Ships,” saying: “It's a running gag in the DC Universe that virtually every female that comes in contact with Nightwing falls in love with him.” In fanfiction, that group expands to include every male.

Despite Dick being a symbol of sexual appeal, however, his romantic/sexual activity within the comics was exaggerated. Here’s a conversation on the topic between Dick and Tim Drake, his successor as Robin, in Nightwing, #25 (dated October 1998, script by Chuck Dixon, art by Scott McDaniel). The boys are, naturally, standing on the back of a freight train while blindfolded—Dick’s told Tim this is good training. Tim manages to say the only thing that can throw Dick off balance.
Dick asks Tim if perhaps he could choose a girlfriend who’s not an “Afterschool Special,” knowing that won’t happen. Tim responds by showing off how much of a Dick Grayson fan he is.
Tim lists six women whom Dick has had a relationship with since Crisis on Infinite Earths. But in fact that list is exaggerated, even more than Dick’s response in the following panel lets on.

His relationship with Koriand’r was more than “a need…for affection”—it was a multi-year, live-in relationship that came close to marriage. It was precisely the opposite of casual.

As Dick reminds Tim, he and Donna Troy never “really dated.” They never dated at all. Wolfman did propose to “have very slowly had Dick and Donna get together,” “if only for them to see that they were too similar to be together.” But that never happened.

Miggie Webster appeared in the Nightwing miniseries by Dennis O’Neil and Greg Land. Dick was apparently depressed at the time—or maybe just weighed down by his hair. In any event, he became briefly infatuated with Miggie because he thought she represented a normal, happy family life—only to see her kill her abusive father. And as far as I can tell, they never even went on a date.

Emily Washburn married Dick in Nightwing Annual, #1 (cover shown above). That was part of a 1997 DC tribute to pulp fiction, and the story was a James M. Cain-style take on a murderous marriage. Dick married Emily as part of his investigation. After he identified the killer, he offered to remain her husband and help raise her son—again with the monogamous values!—but she declined. It’s unclear whether the marriage was consummated, but given scripter Devin Grayson’s take on Dick as a very physical and open person, it probably was.

Meanwhile, in 1996 DC launched the Nightwing series written by Dixon. Among its subplots was Dick’s friendship—or would it be something more?—with the superintendent of his apartment building in Blüdhaven, Bridget Clancy. Dixon was a master at playing out conflicts over many issues, but this relationship never reached the level of dating.

Instead, at the time of this train-top conversation, Dixon was gradually moving Dick toward a second serious, multi-year relationship: with Barbara Gordon, daughter of the Gotham police commissioner, former Batgirl, and at that time Oracle. Dick had shown interest in her in the 1970s, but fans then pointed out that she was several years older than he. At the time of this issue, Nightwing, #25, it was still unclear whether they would become an item.

Thus, of the six women Tim reeled off, Dick had actually had serious and/or sexual relationships with only two, and in one of those (Emily Washburn) he was working on a case. That exchange thus leaves a misleading impression.
Of course, I have to acknowledge a seventh relationship that Tim, despite his snooping, doesn’t know about until Dick reveals it. Dick is just coming off the 1998 Nightwing/Huntress miniseries, once again scripted by Devin Grayson and drawn by Land. That shows his brief affair with Helena Bertinelli, the Huntress. It’s clearly sexual. (“Tunnel”!)

But in that miniseries Dick is looking for something long-lasting. (He’s evidently drawn to strong women who need rescuing.) The story ends with Helena seeing the chemistry between him and Barbara and chuckling that they don’t notice it themselves. In other words, even this example of Dick having a sexual fling points to him as a man seeking a committed love.

From the No Man’s Land crossover (1999) through Infinite Crisis (2006), Dick and Barbara were usually a couple. Since then, each new regular Nightwing scripter came up with a new love interest: a fashion designer, a criminal who lured a teen-aged Dick away from Wayne Manor, a librarian. Judd Winick has put him back in bed with Kory a couple of times. But only the unfortunate Nightwing Annual, #2, portrayed him as anything other than a one-woman man.

10 November 2012

Ahoy! A Little More Teen Boat!

This week I ran up against a short Teen Boat! story that didn’t make it into the collection.

Okay, it’s a promotion for the last Toronto Comic Arts Festival. But it’s got some nice gags and cameos.

09 November 2012

Facing the Truth of OIP Derangement Syndrome

On Tuesday evening, many Republicans discovered that they had been suffering from a form of OIP Derangement Syndrome—or at least discovered the consequences of it.

People close to the Romney-Ryan campaign, journalists carrying water for it, and many supporters had convinced themselves that there was something seriously wrong with American political polling. It simply couldn’t be true that more Americans supported President Obama, especially in swing states that offered the balance of victory in the Electoral College. No, something must be skewed with those surveys, many Republicans insisted.

The surveys were, in aggregate, correct. President Obama won reelection solidly, by a margin bigger than his predecessor’s. Furthermore, Democrats picked up seats in the Senate and outpolled Republicans in the House, though still not gaining control in the that chamber. The world got to see a full-blown case of OIP Derangement Syndrome as right-wing money manager and FOX commentator Karl Rove denigrated his colleagues on live television while real numbers continued to pile up against him.

Another symptom of the derangement was fixation on voter fraud, a concern that was really a thinly disguised way to suppress votes for President Obama. But people with OIP Derangement Syndrom convinced themselves this was a widespread problem, and, unable to find any actual examples, manufactured their own. A voting official in Oregon filled in blank lines on absentee ballots with Republican candidates. A New Mexico poll watcher was arrested for trying to obtain a second ballot.

Unfortunately, the election doesn’t appear to be have cured OIP Derangement Syndrome. Sufferers continued to:
Will the fever break soon? Will we be able to discuss political differences from a basis of shared facts and logic? Or are we doomed to another four years of right-wing lies, hypocrisy, and contempt?

08 November 2012

Books for Middle-Grade Boys Who Might Be Gay

Dee Michel, a friend and colleague in Oz scholarship, is giving a talk at the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts, next 14 November:
My son is 9 (or 5 or 7 or 11) years old, and I think he’s gay. Can you recommend any children’s books for him?

If you thought you had a gay son, what kinds of stories would you want to read to him or have him read for himself? For a few decades now GLBT young adults have been able to see images of themselves in young adult novels from Annie on My Mind (1982) to Parrotfish (2007). But are there any books for kids younger than adolescents that have representations of gay adults or gay kids in them? Let’s talk about the barriers to getting books with gay children as characters published, and imagine what a book with gay kids as characters would look like!

Equally important are stories that don’t have explicit gay images, but have themes that would resonate with a gay child who feels different, or doesn’t fit the typical gender mold. These might be less threatening and more accessible for kids, parents, librarians, and teachers. After corresponding with dozens of experts in children’s literature, and interviewing over 100 gay male adults, I’ve come up with a list of children’s stories with “subterranean gay content,” as well as those that have gay adults in them.
Dee has a Ph.D. in library and information science and has been researching the varied appeal of The Wizard of Oz for gay men and boys. His talk starts at 7:00 P.M.

06 November 2012

Shanower on the State of Kids’ Comics, In and Out of Oz

Back in September, Newsarama interviewed comics creator Eric Shanower about the embarkation of the Marvel comics adaptation of The Road to Oz, which he scripted and Skottie Young drew.

Eric had this to say about the field of comics for younger readers:
There are great children’s comics out there. But there are a ton more that just aren’t in print and I’m sure there would be more reprints and more new stuff if the market were different. But there aren’t many places that children generally see comic books and graphic novels, so those things aren’t on most children’s radar. Children don’t have the spending power of adults, so why should any publisher market to children, why should any distributor figure out how to get product to children? This situation is exemplified by the fact that Disney comics haven’t sold in any major numbers since the 1970s. How crazy is that? Disney comics, simply through name recognition, ought to be top sellers. . . . But I don’t think most kids go into comics stores or even care about comics.

It’s merely anecdotal evidence, but time and time again adult readers of the Marvel Oz comics tell me that their kids love them. But the kids know about them because a parent discovered them first. I can only remember meeting one child who found the Marvel Oz comics on his own — and that was because he was an Oz fan first. As I said, anecdotal evidence, and centered on one project, but I think it’s a valid representation of the broader comics culture.
In this conversation Eric seems to be speaking of magazines and books from comics publishers, as opposed to extremely similar books in graphic form sold by mainstream book publishers. The latter seem to be reaching kids better than ever through bookstores and libraries.

Around the time I read this interview, Prof. Jay Hosler told me that he and his sons are enjoying the Oz comics a lot. But of course he’s the creator of the wonderful Clan Apis graphic novel about honeybees, so he was already visiting the comics stores.

Elsewhere in the interview Eric mentioned that the Road to Oz adaptation will be shorter than its predecessors: “Marvel has started cutting our page count and issue count, so it’s becoming a challenge to fit everything in.” That book doesn’t have much of a plot, but it has a lot of incident. The next volume in the series, The Emerald City of Oz, is quite episodic and therefore possibly flexible.

But I really hope sales for those volumes stay high because L. Frank Baum’s next Oz book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, was his longest, one of his most full, and one of his best. It would be much harder to boil that one down, and the results would be disappointing.

05 November 2012

With YA Power Comes YA Responsibility?

At the CBC Diversity blog, author and digi-editor Daniel Nayeri shared an essay on an apparent double standard in discussions of Young Adult books:

These days every book festival has a YA panel, and every panel has a moment when a well-meaning attendee will stand up and ask: Are YA novels becoming more perverse? . . .

several times I’ve heard authors say, “Well, we can’t take responsibility for what a reader will take from a book. It could be anything.”

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris could have been reading Judy Moody just as easily as The Catcher in the Rye.

It’s a tempting idea for anyone who has ever written anything. You write what you write. Readers take whatever they want from it. . . .

ten minutes later—still at this hypothetical YA panel—a different panelist will mention all the good that their book might have done. A young fan wrote in with news of recovery, and the author glows with pride. . . .

We believe in the power of writing, and we accept the good it can cause in the lives of young readers, but we reject even the notion that it can also do harm.
In fact, the CBC Diversity blog itself is based in part on the idea that books can harm young readers by not portraying a diverse set of people or by portraying certain people in insulting or stereotypical ways. That acknowledges the power of writing. 

04 November 2012

Remaking Batgirl in Li’l Gotham

This week DC published a digital comic called Batman: Li’l Gotham, by Dustin Nguyen and co-writer Derek Fridolfs. It’s a Halloween tale about Batman introducing Damian Wayne as Robin to the custom of trick-or-treating.

This Dynamic Duo is never out of costume, so the pages don’t clarify whether Batman is Bruce Wayne in DC Comics’s current continuity or Dick Grayson during the last year of the last one. I felt the story really belonged in that earlier universe. Damian seems like a very new arrival to America. This Batman’s appreciation of holidays seems more like Dick. Of course, the Li’l Gotham universe doesn’t have to exactly match the standard continuity. (Would any other version of Damian be so excited about candy?)

I suspect that Nguyen created this story in early 2011 or before. He’d been experimenting with this watercolor chibi style for a few years, and DC published a couple of stories written with Fridolfs in 2009. Some of the art promoting the series still shows Nightwing in blue, Cassandra Cain, and other sights not included in DC’s new continuity.

As more evidence of the story’s age, look at the three figures in the left of the detail above. Batman fans would quickly recognize trick-or-treaters dressed as Cass Cain after she stopped being Batgirl, a Batgirl, and Klarion the Witch Boy in blue. Which Batgirl? The big smile and purple stripe down her leg suggest Stephanie Brown, and indeed Nguyen painted Stephanie meeting Klarion in Batgirl, #18, published for Halloween 2010. Contrarily, the red hair suggests Barbara Gordon, once and present Batgirl, who had appeared in Nguyen’s original Li’l Gotham poster. But it’s easy to change a spot of yellow into a spot of orange with Photoshop.

In fact, the Bleeding Cool comics gossip website showed just how easy. The image above comes from DC’s preview of the story, issued early on 31 October. Later that day Bleeding Cool labeled that Batgirl as Stephanie.

The image at left comes from the version I downloaded late on the afternoon of 31 October from ComiXology. Note how its Batgirl has dark hair and a purple stripe.

On 1 November Bleeding Cool shared another image, on the right, showing a further change: even the purple stripe is gone. Someone at DC had digitally recolored Nguyen’s watercolors to remove all visual allusions to Stephanie Brown.

Some observers interpreted these late changes as an attempt to catch up on an editorial mandate to wipe out all traces of that character. I suspect the motivation was to make that Batgirl look more like Barbara Gordon and thus match the current continuity.

But was that at all necessary? Once superhero fans might have been bothered by discrepancies, but today’s fandom seems to accept different versions of the same mythos. Just this week, for instance, DC Collectors highlighted paper dolls from Funko that include a definitely un-round Robin with a look not seen in DC’s main comics since Ronald Reagan’s first term and wiped out of existence in the current continuity. McDonald’s is offering Young Justice toys based on a TV cartoon set in a world all to itself. DC’s parent company is preparing to release a movie based on Lego Batman. It just made a bundle on Christopher Nolan’s “realistic” take on the mythos. Why put so much effort into making the Li’l Gotham world reflect the late-2011 continuity instead of the early-2011 one?

02 November 2012

The End of OIP Derangement Syndrome?

If your arguments and positions are solid, it shouldn’t be necessary to develop or fake the symptoms of OIP Derangement Syndrome to run against President Barack Obama.

It should be possible, for example, for a candidate who favors lower taxes to argue for them without claiming, as Mitt Romney has, “Instead of raising taxes, I will cut them.” In fact, federal taxes have gone down for the great majority of Americans under President Obama.

It should be possible for a candidate who thinks the federal government should be smaller and less active to make that argument based on facts. It’s not necessary to claim, as Romney did, “Instead of expanding the government, I will shrink it. . . . Instead of adding more regulations, I will reduce them…”

Again, those statements are false. The Federal Reserve of St. Louis shows federal employment shrinking. Overall government employment has shrunk severely because of the Bush-Cheney recession. Bloomberg News reported in October 2011 that “Obama’s White House has approved fewer regulations than his predecessor George W. Bush at this same point in their tenures, and the estimated costs of those rules haven’t reached the annual peak set in fiscal 1992 under Bush’s father.”

It’s possible for a candidate to argue that the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus bill was unaffordably large or that it took the wrong approach to fighting unemployment. But it’s simply false to say, as Romney has, that the President ignored unemployment. That stimulus bill was aimed at unemployment. (And most American economists say it worked. Once again, it’s possible to argue we won’t be able to afford it in the long run, but Romney wasn’t satisfied with that.)

Of course, Romney isn’t the only example of OIP Derangement Syndrome in his party. Republicans have spread false information about Obama’s policies since 2008. The Bush-Cheney administration became notorious for disdaining “the reality-based community.” Romney simply proved himself most comfortable fitting around the false beliefs of his electoral base. He’s been seeking my vote for various offices since 1994, and after his one term as governor I’m not at all surprised by his political shape-shifting.

Romney’s latest examples of shifty mendacity—his new debate positions, his pilloried ad about Chrysler, and his Potemkin food drive after Hurricane Sandy (shown above)—damaged his standing with potential endorsers and perhaps in the polls. If he loses the vote on Tuesday, it would be nice to think that we the people realized that willingness to lie on important matters is a Bad Thing in an elected official.

Already the Romney campaign’s brazen lies have led journalists such as Kevin Drum, Jonathan Chait, James Fallows, and James Bennett to question what they say about our political system. Can we address problems, much less solve them, if a candidate is happy to ignore facts? Even Newt Gingrich, back when he was losing to Romney, complained, “You cannot debate somebody who is dishonest. You just can’t.” Not just for their own mental health but for the sake of the country, people with OIP Derangement Syndrome should try to recover their sense of truth and base their political arguments on facts.

Unfortunately, if we reelect Obama as President, those people are more likely to clutch onto even more outlandish explanations and false beliefs. And some of those people are already in elected office.

01 November 2012

When Authors Set Their Own Prices

For decades now, books have been one of the few American products that come with their price tags not just attached but integrally incorporated into them. That’s limited the flexibility of retailers. One of the changes wrought by digital publishing is that retailers can change the price of a product (or, to be precise about the big companies’ legalities, license) instantly.

The big bookselling sites offer that flexibility to self-publishers, and a couple of colleagues are taking advantage of it today.

Jason Rodriguez writes:

I just published my new sci-fi short, “The End of Stars,” to Amazon. It will be free on Monday but right now it is priced at 99-cents.

“The End of Stars” is a climate change fairy tale about a young girl who discovers that the sky is falling and tries to warn her neighbors before the village is destroyed. Due to the message in the story, I decided to donate all residuals made off of the book (I get 35-cents per download) through Sunday (and then it becomes free) to the Red Cross relief efforts centered on rescue and recovery following the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.

And, to sweeten the pot, I will also donate all of the residuals made off of my other sci-fi shorts over the next four days to the Red Cross, as well. For more info, please feel free to go to this link.
In addition, Chris Eboch has extended her Halloween special for the ebook edition of her novel The Ghost Miner’s Treasure through today. She writes:
This is book 4 of my Haunted series originally published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. My editor got fired and the publisher dropped the series, so I finally decided to self-publish the fourth book, which was already written. Book 4 can be read on its own. It’s spooky but not gory, much more a comedy/mystery than a horror novel, suitable for ages 8+.
The Haunted series features two siblings working with a “ghost hunter TV show” that (unlike most of them) finds actual ghosts.

The Color of Drama

Color is an element of comics I have very little handle on. I can spot broad patterns, like the contrasting worlds of brownish-red and blue-green in the Artemis Fowle adaptations. But more subtle color schemes need to be spelled out for me. (Spider-Man’s early villains were often green and purple because those contrast with his own red and blue—ohhh!)

I therefore latched onto this passage from Graphic Novel Reporter’s interview with Raina Telgemeier about Drama:
You worked with design studio Gurihiru to create a color scheme for this book that perfectly complements the tone of the story. Tell us a little bit about how you went about that.

Gurihiru (a two-women team, Kawano and Sasaki) is responsible for some of my favorite art and comics of the past half-decade or so. They illustrated the rebooted Marvel Power Pack series, and they’re working on the Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures with Gene Yang right now. They have a really soft, pleasing color palette, so I looked to them to help create the jewel-toned world of Callie’s universe, which I love.

In some cases, I had really clear ideas—the story is set in a specific part of California, where the weather and atmosphere are very distinctive. And because Gurihiru are Japanese and work through a translator, there were a few instances where they needed solid American references. Soda cans, the bookstore scene, things like that.
In the New York Times Book Review, Ada Calhoun praised that element of the art: “Telgemeier’s use of color, created with the design team Gurihiru, is eloquent; Callie’s amethyst-colored hair complements her suburb’s sky-blue skies and pistachio-green grass.”

Frankly I don’t see coloring the skies “sky-blue” to be that much of a stretch. But once the interview called it to my attention I could see how Telgemeier and Gurihiru had found a rich, luminous palette even as they stayed away from the stark primaries.