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The Week

The week in review

Once again, I find myself moving house. This is the fifth time in two years. It’s a drag, but promises to be good once it’s done. This just to say that for the next while there’s a better than normal reason for spotty updates here, or at the very least incomplete ones. Such as this one.

Damn, sometimes I wish I didn’t own so much junk.

At least, here are some links:

  • James Meek on Breaking Bad. Fine piece arguing for the political edge to the excellent, if perhaps somewhat overlong, AMC show. Having enjoyed a large chunk of the series over the holidays, I must say that I share Meek’s enthusiasm, even if I have my reservations when subjecting it to closer analysis. Intelligent entertainment building a grand, if flawed conceit of chemistry as a metaphor for life.
  • Tom Spurgeon’s series of holiday interviews with comics folks are always a treat. I’ve missed most of them and his site doesn’t make them easy to find, but I’m sure he’ll post an overview with links once he’s done. Today’s interview with the fine cartoonist and groundbreaking editor Sammy Harkham is a good place to park yourself while waiting.
  • Huijbert van Opstal on Victorian Age wood engraving and its cartoon offshoots. The piece, which was inspired by a revelatory meeting of the Platinum Age nerd mind (guilty as charged) at Angoulême last year, this should be unknown territory to most people, including comics afficionados.
  • This article on Shigeru Mizuki’s autobiographically comics about the second world war is informative, but the real treat is a scanlated version of his key story on the subject “War and Japan” (1991). I’ve referred you all to it before, but that link is now dead, so here’s your re-up.
  • 2012: The Year in Hip Hop at Rapspot


    As always, we the people of Rapspot have selected our favorites (as well as the wackest) of the year 2012. The text is in Danish, but check out the list anyway, there’s some good stuff on it and for once I agree with the to highest-scoring records. I hope to write up my own shortlist soon, so stay tuned.

    Above: watch Kendrick Lamar break down the truth behind the most personal track on his brilliant major label debut album good kid m.A.A.d city.

    The Week

    The week in review

    On Christmas eve, 18-year old Joshua Davis was shot dead in the West Englewood section of Chicago. He was an aspiring rapper, going under the name Jayloud. He was killed in an altercation, allegedly because he was wearing a hoodie bearing the name of his close friend, the rapper Lil Jojo, himself shot to death in October. Another couple of statistics, I suppose, in a country suffering thousands of murders, the majority by guns, every year. Another couple of footnotes, I suppose, in the ongoing self-destruction wrought by poor inner city youth on themselves. But tragedy, first and last.

    The only reason I know about these deaths is because of the hip hop connection. The power of hip hop, in large part, has always been the voice it gives to subaltern parts of the world, primarily the United States. This is its lifeblood and its discontent. In the present case, hip hop music played an integral part in the gang feud leading to the killings, and secured for it much broader exposure than other such — from a news perspective — sadly routine events tend to get. Hip hop can be a beautiful thing, it carries a promise of emancipation, but gnawing at its core is a despairing nihilism reflective of its brain trust. It’s enough to make you wanna holler.

    RIP

  • The New York Times has a section up remembering notable people who died in the course of the year. I found this one on legendary graffiti writer Stay High 149 poignant, this one on Adam “MCA” Yauch incisive, and this radio clip with the great Maurice Sendak is very moving.
  • Keiji Nakazawa, creator of the blunt, shocking memoir of surviving Hiroshima, Hadashi no Gen (1973-1985, Barefoot Gen) also passed away this week. For those who read Danish, I wrote an obituary at Nummer9. Read a scanlation of his first work to engage the aftermath of the atom bomb, Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (‘Struck by Black Rain, 1972) here.
  • Last but not least, Marva Whitney, arguably the rawest vocalist to have worked with James Brown, died just before Christmas. He gruff, rousing voice lives on in legendary recording such as “Unwind Yourself” and “It’s My Thing.”
  • The Week

    The week in review

    This holiday week, I thought I’d share a couple of insightful nuggets pertaining to particular corners of the hip hop and comics worlds that are dear to me. Little gifts of extemporal criticism, if you will. First up is cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert on the genius of André Franquin, creator of Gaston Lagaffe, from this interview on the former’s latest — great! — book L’Enfance d’Alan:

    I recently gave a talk on Franquin at a library seminar. I kind of went on a tirade to express my great appreciation I have for certain people, and especially him. This was a guy who, to me, lived his entire life, without filter. He endured perpetual and tremendous nervous stress because of his great sensitivity. Everything resonated with him: people, plants, animals, architecture… everything that surrounded him clearly affected him, haunted him, obsessed him… Naturally, this resulted in episodes of great melancholy, but this is how it had to be. When you have this human quality, which to me borders on the martyrological, there is inevitably an aspect of sacrifice. To capture the world, making the effort to do so when you’re possessed of a nervous temperament such as his, is restorative.

    Franquin’s nervousness is something singular. When you read Gaston Lagaffe or Spirou with an understanding of its aspect of frustration, of repetition, of the wear and tear of daily life (that one never succeeds in signing a contract, for example [a reference to a running gag in Gaston])… all this explains the grinding of teeth, the difficulties his characters have with fitting in… and at the centre of all this, it felt natural for Franquin to place the character Gaston, who — in contrast to himself — remained entirely unaffected. I think it would be worthwhile to write about all this. Perhaps I’ll do so one day, but it’s amazing how far it goes. And I think this explains the intensity of the passion some people have for comics.

    (The imperfect translation is mine). Next up is drummer and anchorman of the hip hop band The Roots, Questlove, ostensibly on Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s classic “It Takes Two”, from his enjoyable list of fifty favourite hip hop cuts from the beginnings to his own professional debut in 1995. What an occasion to talk about James Brown’s drummers?

    For all of the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield “Funky Drummer” sample folklore talk out there, I rarely hear conversation about the James Brown drummer who actually got sampled more than my idol Clyde did. John “Jabo” Starks was the Beatles to Clyde’s Stones. A clean shuffle drummer to Clyde’s free-jazz left hand. Clyde fit more with Public Enemy’s pop-art-rock sporadic vision. Emphasis on everything surrounding the one beat, thus making other parts of your body shake in order to keep up with his rhythm – see “Mother Popcorn,” “It’s A New Day” and “Give It Up or Turn It Loose.” Jabo’s sparse, all-on-the-one funk was more at home with conservative soul lovers – see “Hot Pants,” “Escapism” and “The Payback” – which is why it makes total sense that Clyde’s panic style was the anchor to drum and bass music and other experimental styles, while Jabo was the anchor of the New Jack Swing movement. He was always reliably on the one and never, ever in the way. Jabo’s go-to magnum opus was on the five-break-filled JB-produced “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins. James’ holy ghost yelp almost threatens to upstage Starks’ show, but it’s Starks’ steady glide that gave R&B music its blueprint some 15 years after its release.

    Apocalypse Now

    Not that I want to jump on the silly media bandwagon or anything, but this End of Days affords me the opportunity to post the video above, for seminal Danish hip hop group Malk de Koijn’s “Braget” (‘The Boom’), written and directed atmospherically by Tobias Gundorff Boesen, alumnus of The Animation Workshop in Viborg — the school which has just announced a new educational track for comics makers. From the Gilliamesque vistas of a Copenhagen apocalypse to the Tarkoskyesque finish, it shows a keen visual talent and a sure directorial hand.

    Happy Apocalypse. Next.

    The Week

    The week in review

    So, the Raphael drawing I mentioned back in September was sold at Sotheby’s London this week for a whopping £29.7 million, breaking even the astonishing record set by the previous Raphael drawing sold at auction, back in 2009. This is the highest sum ever paid at auction for a work on paper and the second-highest ever paid for an old master.

    The prices of art are a nebulous issue, and this is clearly an incredible sum, but we are dealing with a masterwork of the highest order by one of the greatest artists of the Western tradition. In other words: if a drawing had to fetch this price, it could be a worse one. As I wrote in September, this drawing, preparatory for one of his greatest and most iconic works, the late Transfiguration (finished 1520), shows the master at his peak for this type of highly rendered study. To me is clearly of higher quality than the Head of a Muse sold in 2009.

    There’s plenty of speculation online as to who bought it, with the famous Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich apparently being the main candidate. That Raphael should join Fernando Torres in Abramovich’s trophy room I find a little sad, especially considering that the drawing was previously available to the public at Chatsworth where it was part of the Devonshire collection. This is to great a treasure to have disappear from public view, but one can at least hope that whoever acquired it will be generous toward loan requests.

    I can only kick myself for not having been able to get down and see it when it was on display in the Late Raphael show in the Prado this summer. I saw the exhibition in its current incarnation at the Louvre the week before last, and there they had unfortunately not been able to retain the section devoted to the Transfiguration. It is still a fantastic show however, that I urge you to go and see.

  • Andrew Nosnitsky on Nas’ classic album Illmatic (which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year) and the forming of an hip hop album canon. Teaser: he regards Nas’ effort as a limited if brilliant one.
  • Very cool interview with visual futurist Syd Mead on his seminal work on Blade Runner.
  • Kailyn Kent on Bart Beaty’s new, exciting book Comics vs. Art, on the comics world and its uneasy relationship with that of fine arts, and on the great cartoonist Saul Steinberg’s equally uneasy positioning within same.
  • Oh, and Dave Brubeck RIP

    The Week

    Julie Christie and Oskar Werner in François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

    The week in review

    This week I have a Danish-context comics-related grievance I want to address, so please excuse the shift in language here. International links below!

    Bogtillægget til denne uges Weekendavis skæmmes af et fejlinformeret og tendentiøst opslag. En ærgerlig plet på en ellers som regel velredigeret og seriøs publikation. Kan det overraske, at emnet for begge artikler på opslaget er tegneserierelateret?

    På venstresiden får vi en kommentar til sidste uges tildeling af Kronsprinsparrets Kulturpris til tegneren Jakob Martin Strid, skrevet af Bo Bjørnvig, der tydeligvis stadig ikke er kommet sig over halvfemsernes skingre presseopgør med tressernes venstrefløj (kan læses online her). Bjørnvig pointerer det pudsige i, at folk — herunder kunstnere — bliver mere konservative med årene, mere specifikt at Strid (og Bjørn Nørgaard, og givetvis også, ad åre, dilletanterne i kunstnergruppen Surrend) fralægger sig tidligere tiders ekstreme holdninger for mere samfundsbevarende af slagsen. Der bliver minsandten også plads til en stikpille til Carsten Jensen.

    Alt er, med andre ord, ved det gamle. Continue reading ‘The Week’

    The Week

    The week in review

    Hip hop’s making bullshit headlines again. This time over the reaction to the murder, last month, of Chicago MC Lil Jojo. After news hit that the 18-year old had been shot in a drive-by, his rival Chief Keef — with whom he had been beefing, seemingly in a grab for quick fame — went on twitter to gloat. When the shit hit the fan, Keef — perhaps advised by his record company Interscope — started claiming his twitter account had been hacked and started posting “uplifting” PC boilerplate. He also claimed not to be responsible for threats of violence against his older colleague Lupe Fiasco, who had spoken out against his behavior on the radio.

    Whether Lil Jojo’s death has anything to do with Keef or not, that’s just pathetic. Now, I know that violent rhetoric in rap has a lot to do with a violent culture, and is more a symptom than a cause — a symptom that occasionally proves to be a way out for people, and one that tells us volumes about the social breakdown of parts of American society. Attacking rap music for very real problems in society that are far bigger than hip hop is not necessarily productive, but on the other hand you sometimes miss the days when more people in the community did what Lupe, and fellow Chicago MC Rhymefest, just did and spoke out against the bullshit being perpetuated by a lot of hip hop artists, the vast majority possessed of no talent and lacking the intelligence to convert their rhetoric into hard truth. Player hating is now a bad word in hip hop, which has increasingly become a laissez-faire subculture impressed first and last by money. It used to make hip hop proud.

    If you don’t believe me, check out Keef’s biggest hit “I Don’t Like” here. It’s basically a series of inarticulate grunts over a generic beat with a sort-of effective, repetitive hook. The most interesting part is the curiously homosocial video and what it tells us about how these guys want us to see them. This cut from Lil Jojo, which was part of his PR dis campaign against Keef, is just as telling. All the same: RIP.

    Links:

  • In a week where I’ve dissed The New Yorker, I feel good being able to recommend the magazine too, this time for a lengthy article on presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
  • Comics: Xavier Guilbert interviews Anton Kannemeyer of Bitterkomix, Ryan Holmberg on Osamu Tezuka’s debut “New Treasure Island” and its American antecedents, and — from the Hooded Utilitarian’s now-finished five-year anniversary series: Noah Berlatsky on Ai Yazawa’s Nana and Joe McCulloch on Milo Manara.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    Not much to report from this angle this week, apart from the fact that the Jewish new year reminds me that I’ve been back in the ole home country for over a year now. Last year’s Rosh Hashannah kind of marked a fresh return to new beginnings here and it’s been a great ride since then, one of the best years I’ve had. Thanks to everybody taking part.

    Links!

  • I would like to supplement this week’s welcome announcement that Fantagraphics is going to publish Ed Piskor’s online comic The Hip Hop Family Tree with this interview with Piskor, conducted by my man PTA on said piece of edutainment.
  • Also in comics, the Hooded Utilitarian’s five-year Anniversary of Hate! has brought some good criticism to the table. I liked in particular Steven Grant’s essay on bad comics and why the field still makes sense as a vocation. Plus! HU has reprinted Ng Suat Tong’s notorious Comics Journal essay from 2003 on why the EC New Trend comics are among the most overrated in the canon, supplemented by a back-and-forth on the issue with R. Fiore.
  • Other (more!) comics-related links: Slavoj Žižek on The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Spurgeon on Dave Sim’s recent, depressing letter of resignation, Chris Ware on display in New York.
  • Meanwhile in hip hop, I really enjoyed what El-P had to say about Nas’ classic debut album Illmatic (1993) in this otherwise rather dumb list of best albums of the nineties, and I totally dug this video of a young Kanye West rapping with his mom.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    I’ve always had a feeling I witnessed the Lunar landing and the now sadly passed Neil Armstrong’s Moon walk live as it happened. So vivid are my memories of my dad opening his box of clippings and laying them out on our large dinner table when I was a kid. His narration of the landing, along with LIFE Magazine photos and news clippings from the summer of 69, was like being there. It probably merged with a contemporaneous rerun of clips on our black and white television to convince me that I was there as it happened. Only some years later did the fact that it had happened six years before I was born dawn on me.

    I guess the point here is that the Moon walk is such an extraordinary event, not just for science, but also for our collective imagination, that it continues to reverberate as if it just happened. At the same time, of course, it seems to belong to a different era. The optimism it expressed on our collective behalf seems naive and anachronistic, especially after the Obama administration’s mothballing of the NASA programme two years ago — something Armstrong strongly criticised. The recent launch of the Mars probe Curiosity is exciting, but manned space exploration seems like a chapter past. Sadly, because it seems to me an aspiration with the potential to unite us globally (however fleetingly) in a way few other things have ever done.

    See pictures and footage of the Apollo 11 mission at NASA’s website. Read fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin’s statement on his friend’s death here. And check out this nice appreciation by Ian Crouch of Armstrong’s way with words. Oh, and he also took one of the most mesmerising, beautiful photographs ever. Rest in Peace.

    Links:

  • Reportage from what is surely one of the most insane film projects ever attempted. A revival of Soviet Era reality by Ukrainian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Is it for real? (Thanks @Madinkbeard!)
  • Take a trip down memory lane with Complex Magazine’s list of 50 tracks released by Rawkus Records, James Murdoch’s vanity project before he started working full time for his dad. Rawkus was an incredible force for creative, innovative hip hop in the late nineties through the early naughts, until it all went sour.
  • Also, Hip hop legend Afrika Bambaata is working to create a hip hop museum in the Bronx Armory.
  • Noted film critic Christian Braad Thomsen on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, again. (Danish alert!)
  • The Week

    The week in review

    The outrageous sentence of two years in labour camp for the members of the punk/art collective Pussy Riot in Moscow the day before yesterday is the most high-profile recent example of the fragility and corruption of the Russian judicial system. Without knowing much of anything about the subject, I think that suggestions that the Church, rather than the government, may have played the greatest role in the conviction rings true, despite Putin getting most of the bad press. In any case, it reflects terribly on both.

    It is also a reminder of the power of art and activism based on creative work to call attention to injustice. Not only is their really very innocuous manifestation (see above) is just plain fun — a perfect youtube phenomenon — the support of a Madonna or a Paul McCartney seems also to have come more naturally because of the nature of their dissent. It certainly carries a different and potentially broader kind of visibility than the usual statements of support for activists of more straightforward political stripe. Fair or not.

    Beyond the news stories, a good introduction to the group and their thinking is Nadia Tolokonnikova’s closing statement from the trial. Smart, informed, and naive, it carries the blazing righteousness of youth.

    More links:

  • Richard Thompson. It is sad news that Richard Thompson is ending his brilliant daily strip Cul de Sac, and his reasons for doing so infinitely sadder. But at least he pretty much goes out on top. Tom Spurgeon has just published two extensive, older interviews with the cartoonist.
  • Jay-Z and the New Jersey Nets. I liked this article on Shawn Carter’s investment and stake in the New Jersey Nets and their imminent move to Brooklyn. Another example of Hova’s contribution as an hip hop entrepreneur.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    Look! Stengade 30, the by now legendary Copenhagen club, locus of Rubadub Sundays for the past decade, has new facade decoration. Executed by SOFLES, it’s perhaps somewhat tacky, but certainly spectacular, fitting the club well. Imagine it nightlit in a haze. Flix courtesy of Frederik Høyer-Christensen, full set here.

  • Robert Fisk on the destruction of Syrian treasures. Unsurprisingly, but also predictably, the cultural heritage of Syria is being destroyed in the current civil war. Fisk has been reporting on such events since the war in Bosnia, and he does it better than anyone.
  • Alyssa Rosenberg on the recent, symbolic passing of the torch in Doonesbury, otherwise known as still-the-greatest-current comic strip. Rosenberg gets it, Tim O’Neil at The Comics Journal doesn’t (scroll down a bit), although his critique is worth reading, if nothing else because it presents a dissenting, younger-generation view.
  • Perry Anderson on India. Another magisterial historical review from Anderson, this time on India’s constitution and policies of containment and conflict for the past sixty years, particularly as pertains to the North. A great primer.
  • Big K.R.I.T. Interviewed


    At the Roskilde Festival I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the up-and-coming stars of Southern hip hop, Big K.R.I.T., who blessed the festival with an awesome concert on Sunday afternoon, closing the show after his country cuzzin Yelawolf had torn up his part of the program. A great afternoon. Check out the interview, filmed and edited by Kenneth Nguyen for Rapspot, above and visit K.R.I.T.’s website where you can download several of his mixtapes for free.

    And keep checking for him. It’s great hip hop music, going places.

    The Week


    The week in review

    The drive for new Caravaggios continues unabated, it seems, with the hard to believe recent attribution of about a 100 drawings and ten oil paintings from the Castello Sforza in Milan that once belonged to Caravaggio’s master Simone Peterzano. They were just published on the web by Art historians Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli as having been executed by the baroque master. Needless to say, this would be sensational of true — no drawings by Caravaggio are known.

    However, Caravaggio is rivaled perhaps only by Leonardo among artists who attract frivolous claims of sensational discovery, which come at a clip of about one a year or so. This, however, is unusually aspirational. Although Caravaggio is described in the sources as an artist who didn’t draw, working exclusively “after nature,” he is likely to have drawn at least a little, but it is still hard to believe that so many of his youthful drawings should have been in the possession of his master and have been hiding in plain sight for the better part of a century.

    As Stefano Boeri from the Milan Culture Center says in this clip, the collection has been known to scholars since the collection was acquired by the municipality in 1924. Although there have been speculation about certain individual pieces, no one before has given this large a section to the master.

    I haven’t studied this collection, but merely from looking at the few drawings filmed in the clip and in the promotional video at the site launched in support of the claim, it strikes me as highly unlikely that even those are by the same hand and none of the eclectic selection shown looks remotely to be of the quality of the early paintings used for comparison.

    I suppose every proposal deserves a hearing, but this looks aspirational to say the least.

    Links!

  • Remembering KMG. Excellent short appreciation by Brandon Soderbergh of the recently deceased Above The Law MCs writing, delivery and role in the group.
  • “Le manga en France.” Xavier Guilbert delivers another of his exemplary comics market analyses. Must-read for anything with this particular interest.
  • “I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Flee Her: On Leaving New York.” A little too clever in its writing for its own good perhaps, but this essay by Cord Jefferson on living in New York is still pretty spot on about certain aspects of the experience.
  • Dream Hampton on Frank Ocean coming out. This has been linked everywhere, but on the off-chance that you haven’t seen it, it’s a good if somewhat overblown piece of writing on this potential landmark event in hip hop culture.
  • Wrapping Roskilde 2012


    Right, it was a great festival, as usual. A little unusual for me though, in that I was commuting from Copenhagen every day and didn’t spend nearly as much time in Roskilde as I normally do on account of my family. This means I’ll forego my usual analysis of the festival as a whole this year (here’s the last one I did) and be content to direct you to the coverage I contributed at Rapspot.

    I reviewed Blitz the Ambassador, The Abyssinians, Sage Francis, Dominique Young Unique, Yelawolf, and Big K.R.I.T.

    Soon enough a video interview with K.R.I.T., conducted by yours truly, will also be available. I’ll let you know here and via Twitter.

    And the rest of the crew delivered the goods more promptly than ever, so hop over to Rapspot and check it out. It’s all in Danish, but foreven for those who don’t read our guttural there are plenty of images, as well as a few select videos — including one of the stagediving incident during Yelawolf’s unhinged concert.

    Photo of Yelawolf by KenYen.