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The Week

The week in review

James Holmes who killed 12 people and wounded 58 last Friday at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado was quickly christened the ‘Batman Killer’ in Danish media. Just one of those shortcuts the tabloids trade in, I suppose — it’s far from clear whether the gunman chose what movie to shoot up because of its content and it is, of course, a moot question to ask of such a tragedy.

If anything, one might ask the whether it makes any sense at all that 100-round drums for full automatics can still be ordered on the internet, no questions asked. Or why this statistic, which speaks volumes as to the causality between gun ownership and gun fatality, remains acceptable for Americans.

For somebody familiar with Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s comics sources, it seemed at least a little bit poignant that Frank Miller anticipated the Aurora massacre in the seminal Dark Knight Returns (1986). Appearing in a sequence detailing Batman-inspired vigilantism, it is to Miller’s credit that he here mocks the media’s tendency to jump to conclusions about the causality between fictional and actual crime, while clearly acknowledging that it exists.

Links:

  • Petition to prevent the substitution of old master paintings with modern ones at the Berlin Gemäldegalerie. These plans for a radical reorganisation of the Berlin galleries would spoil one of the world’s best galleries and be a sad concession to the popular preference for modern art. Surely some other solution can be found? Please consider signing.
  • William Noel of the Walters Art Gallery on why sharing digital images of their collections online is good business and just the right thing to do for museums. It remains an uphill battle, but it seems things are changing re: museums hoarding the IP they’ve been given to share with the public.
  • New issues of academic journals on comics. Recently published, the first issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art is worth a look. As is the newest issue of ImageText.
  • 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.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    Vacation and work have kept me away for a while, a will probably continue to do so for a little while yet. While in Boston, I checked back on one of the city’s premier cultural institutions.

    The new wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is emblematic of museum branding today, all the more so because of the particular intractability of its foundational stipulations. In a cultural climate where having a great collection simply isn’t enough, institutional visibility has become closely tied to event culture. for a museum that can’t even rehang its collection, this is of course a problem, so what do you do? Raise $180 million and hire go-to starchitect Renzo Piano to facilitate all the things museums seem convinced they have to do to stay afloat these days: an new wing housing a concert hall, a gift shop, a restaurant, a children’s art room, an exhibition space for artists-in-residence, a greenery. All sustainable, geothermal and daylight-harvesting, of course.

    You do what you gotta do to survive, I suppose, but the absurdity of this trend for museums to go extra-curricular is particularly clear at the Gardner, whose intermittently great collection is forever trapped in a mediocre hang by the vanity of its founder, who insisted that everything be presented exactly as she left it at her death. This results in many important works being hung at low visibility and in often idiosyncratic and unenlightening juxtaposition, with the preciously empty frames of masterworks stolen in 1990 remaining on the walls as if to consecrate this “vision.” A new wing could have worked wonders for the presentation of the museum’s masterpieces, if only.

    Still, Boston has a new, reportedly great concert hall and I’m sure Piano’s elegant building will attract customers. It has the potential to become a strong cultural center, if it does not blow too many leaks and if the museum’s direction finds ways of breaking its somewhat stale reputation. A good thing, even if the overall tendency is troubling.

    A bunch of recent comics links:

  • The new Du9. One of the best critical sites about comics on the web, du9.org has just undergone a thorough, attractive redesign, led by editor-in-chief Xavier Guilbert’s extensive analysis of developments in the French-language comics market in the last year or so.
  • Neal Kirby on his Father Jack Kirby. Touching and informative reminiscence of growing up Kirby.
  • Shaenon Garrity on the fifty greatest pop songs about comics. Inventive, fun, insightful. And it mentions the Last Emperor’s amazing “Secret Wars.” I should add that the Philly MC does dead-ringing impressions of the rappers he casts in his epic comic book battle. Here’s hoping she will post part two soon.
  • The Week

    Detail of the Prado Mona Lisa copy


    The week in review

    Running late as usual, it’s a new week, but what? This weekend the great Leonardo show at the National Gallery in London closed and I regret not having had time to post something more detailed than my Weekendavisen review from back in November while it was still open, but that’s how it goes. Suffice it to say that it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about Leonardo and his workshop, as well as the bizarrely skewed presentation the artist’s mega stardom tends to result in.

    The curators’ position seemed to be that there was a strong separation between Leonardo himself and his assistants, and as noted in my review that he executed the London Virgin of the Rocks himself, while comparison with its Paris counterpart quite clearly suggested otherwise. The same goes for the recently resurfaced Salvator Mundi. If the show’s attributions were to be believed, Leonardo must have painted in about five different styles in his later Milanese years, with results of quite remarkably varying quality, much of it lesser than his earlier works such as the Cecilia Gallerani (again, see my review). What the show did, however, was to exhibit a lot of works by his assistants and associates — Giovanni Boltraffio, Francesco Napoletano, Marco d’Oggiono, and others — and thus to offer the attentive viewer the opportunity to make up his or her own mind as to whom did what and in what constellations. I’m sure insights gleaned from this rare gathering of masterworks will reverberate strongly in the literature for years to come, even if strong interests will continue to work against the deattribution — or assignment in part to the workshop — of revered works.

    Preeminent Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp suggests as much in his pointed critique of the exhibition. Although the piece seems more than a little grouchy and continues to champion the pretty but bizarre “Bella principessadrawing, the autograph nature of which — though he claims to have unearthed incontrovertible evidence — still seems hard fully to accept, it makes a strong point on how much extraneous context matters in the contemporary evaluation of Leonardo.

    Also interesting is the discovery at the Prado of what after cleaning has turned out apparently to be a contemporary copy of the Mona Lisa, which in its clarity reveals details that the dirty and much darkened original hide from us today. This announcement comes only a couple months after the publication in the Burlington Magazine of what has turned out to be a major painting, previously thought lost, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the same museum.

    Other links:

  • “Facebook is using you.” Op-ed written by Lori Andrews for the New York Times on the occasion of Facebook going public. Describes with chilling concision the possible implications for individual privacy of social media and their aggregation of personal data.
  • Andrei Molotiu on Frank Miller’s Holy Terror! Molotiu perceptively locates elements of interest in this highly mannered, mean-spirited comics screed by one of the medium’s ailing masters. I don’t really agree with Molotiu — almost everything he describes, Miller has done better and more compellingly before, but it remains a perceptive piece.
  • The Week

    The Week in Review (a.k.a. the feature formerly known as Picks of the Week).

    Over at Hooded Utilitarian this week, there’s been an interesting discussion of Orientalism in comics, prompted by the publication of Craig Thompson’s mammoth graphic novel Habibi. It’s an interesting issue and one that warrants attention like Nadim Damluji gave it here, but several HU writers’ sensitivity to offensive material — mostly racist or xenophobic in nature, but to an extent also sexism — is turning a bit predictable. There’s a tendency there to conflate ethics and aesthetics, which is threatening to make a contentious and thought-provoking site something it never was: boring.

    One of the sad consequences of this is that the good tends to get more attention than the better. Ng Suat Tong wrote an intelligent, but rather strongly-worded piece on Habibi, which irked cartoonist Eddie Campbell so that he raised the issue of decency in criticism on his blog. I understand and sympathize with this reaction, but don’t really agree with it — sometimes harsh language is the right way to go for a critic, although I’m not sure it was in this case. Anyway, this is my very long-winded way of calling attention to Suat’s other, and far superior recent piece at HU, an essay on Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions — one of the most interesting comics releases this year. So far it has netted all of four comments, and presumably far fewer readers, than the one on Habibi. I wish people would pay more attention to this kind of writing, even if it doesn’t push the hot buttons in the same way.

    All right, with that out of the way, here’s some other interesting stuff I came across this week:

  • Alex Pappademas on DC’s New 52. The best piece I seen so far on DC’s succesful new bottling of their old, stale wine. Hilarious and informative, even — I think — to readers unfamiliar with the minutiae of mainstream American comics publishing.
  • Jeffrey Kurtzman on the crisis of the humanities. A professor of musicology and recent visiting professor at Aarhus University, Kurtzman writes passionately and cogently the rise of theory and the devaluation of high culture in contemporary Western society. Highly recommended. (Via).
  • Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • The Daily Show on the “Common Controversy,” parts one and two. Wednesday, Jon Stewart performed an epic takedown of the ridiculous hype machine that is Fox News. Extra hilarity ensured by the fact that the source of it all is one of the most anodyne rappers working today. First segment above, click through to the second once you’ve seen it! Also, Stewart’s crew pulled out the funniest scene from the underrated hip hop Spinal Tap spoof CB4 for their opening segment on Thursday.
  • Speaking of takedowns, this skewering of 90s po-mo and the ‘cultural turn’ by Kevin Mattson writing for Dissent Magazine is an instructive, if surely tendentious history lesson, that may seem to have it in for Andrew Ross, but actually proves redemptive too (thanks Andreas!).
  • Tezuka shorts. The ever trusty MetaFilter provides links to a handful of the great Tezuka Osamu’s short animation films.
  • Finally, I enjoyed Matt Seneca’s examination of a bunch of comics as criticism. Some good ideas and observations in there.
  • Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Eagleton on Hobsbawn on Marxism. Three-in-one. What’s not to like?
  • Kirb Your Enthusiasm. HiLowbrow is currently running a relay series on Jack Kirby, with 24 writers, artists and critics each writing about one panel of choice from The King. Good contributions from Gary Panter, Ann Nocenti, and Greg Rowland. Bonus: 4cp is running a suitably fetishistic series of 70s panels concurrently.
  • James Romberger on Jules et Jim. Excellent analysis of Truffaut’s masterpiece as a political film.
  • Hip Hop is Sick


    Sadly, this is a familiar story. Another American cultural legend finds himself in ill health with no health coverage. Kool DJ Herc, the creator of the breakbeat and one of the godfathers of hip hop culture has come down with a bad case of gallstone and urgently needs help paying for treatment. His sister Cindy Campbell is seeking donations through his website, so I encourage you to consider contributing.

    The questions are many, including why somebody who has contributed so much to American and world culture has to find himself essentially reduced to soliciting alms, why there isn’t a foundation of some sort to help out hip hop artists fallen on hard times, why some of the multi-millionaires of the industry who indirectly owe him their careers don’t seem to have stepped in to help, but the primary one is this: why doesn’t a country that rich have a decent health care system to take care of its citizens?

    I know, this seems finally to be changing with the Obama administrations landmark, if still rather limited, health care bill, but with the Republican party and their House majority outrageously working to overturn it, its future still seems a little precarious. It boggles the mind that such a bill hasn’t been passed long ago and that anyone who considers the state of health care for most people in the US would still in all seriousness want to entrust the private sector exclusively with running such a vital component of any civilized society.

    Hip hop activist Kevin Powell has more on Kool Herc’s situation.

    Picks of the Week

    “The tragedy of the Euromess is that the creation of the euro was supposed to be the finest moment in a grand and noble undertaking: the generations-long effort to bring peace, democracy and shared prosperity to a once and frequently war-torn continent. But the architects of the euro, caught up in their project’s sweep and romance, chose to ignore the mundane difficulties a shared currency would predictably encounter — to ignore warnings, which were issued right from the beginning, that Europe lacked the institutions needed to make a common currency workable. Instead, they engaged in magical thinking, acting as if the nobility of their mission transcended such concerns.

    The result is a tragedy not only for Europe but also for the world, for which Europe is a crucial role model. The Europeans have shown us that peace and unity can be brought to a region with a history of violence, and in the process they have created perhaps the most decent societies in human history, combining democracy and human rights with a level of individual economic security that America comes nowhere close to matching. These achievements are now in the process of being tarnished, as the European dream turns into a nightmare for all too many people. How did that happen?”

    – Paul Krugman

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Paul Krugman: “Can Europe Be Saved? Great, provocative and lucid analysis of the recession in Europe and the problem of single currency. A must read.
  • Slavoj Žižek on WikiLeaks and the discrete charm of global hegemony. Need we say more? Go read.
  • Two from Hooded Utilitarian. James Romberger has recently been writing on the great cartoonists Alex Toth and his latest piece, a personal reminiscence of growing up reading his comics, is the best so far. Wonderful. Also, Sean Michael Robinson has just interviewed the great manga ambassador to the West, Frederick L. Schodt, who is always worth listening to.
  • Picks of the Week

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    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Rowan Williams and Terry Eagleton on “The New Atheism”. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the distinguished cultural critic met on Friday night here in Cambridge to discuss the resurgent, anti-religious strand of atheism (Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, Dennet, etc.) so prevalent these days. Unsurprisingly it was an erudite, but also a lucid discussion, which can be listened to in its entirety here.
  • ‘Mindless Ones’ on Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’ Big Numbers and Eddie Campbell’s How to Be an Artist. Excellent essay on how Moore’s great fractal torso of a work became the underpinning of Campbell’s disillusioned, fractured dissertation on the emergence and fall of the graphic novel.
  • Blaise Larmée on abstraction in comics. Interesting essay on how we look at and read comics. Good discussion in comments too.
  • Charlest Hatfield on Alternative Comics. The week before last, I mentioned that we had a roundtable on Hooded Utilitarian devoted to said book. Hatfield provided a number of thoughtful responses, both at HU and at his own site.
  • Images from the Copenhagen debate on transgressive cartooning

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    As mentioned earlier on this blog, the Danish Comics Council organised a panel discussion on transgressive cartooning at the University of Copenhagen this past Tuesday, focusing in equal measures on the recent debate about legislation against drawn and animated child pornography and the Mohammad cartoons.

    It was a lively and well-attended event, despite the regrettable last-minute cancellation by the Social Democrat member of parliament Karen Hækkerup, who is the instigator of the proposal to ban drawn child pornography. The Council invited a number of other politicians who have supported the proposal, but without luck. The debate was streamed live on the internet and is archived in its entirety here.

    Several photographers were there, including my buddy Frederik Høyer-Christensen, who took the above photo of literary critic Klaus Rothstein and commentator/lawyer Jacob Mchangama and has more in his Flickr- and Facebook sets. More images, from photographer Niels Larsen and cartoonists Erik Petri and Annette Carlsen can be seen at the Danish Comics Council website.

    Picks of the Week

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    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • BBC’s “A History of the World in a Hundred Objects”. For those residing outside Britain, you might be unaware of this brilliant radio programme, in which British Museum director Neil McGregor pieces together a history of human civilisation from individual pieces in the museum’s collection, presented in 15-minute installments, each featuring almost invariably well-informed guests. Beyond the impressive feat of routinely evoking an object the audience cannot see (well, you can see them online), this is simply great radio.
  • James Campbell on Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I suspect Campbell senses a lot of what’s wrong with contemporary literature right here. Incisive and entertaining.
  • An interview with Bill Gaines. This 1983 Comics Journal interview with the EC comics publisher, conducted by Dwight R. Decker, Gary Groth and Peppy White, is not only a great historical document, but a fantastic read.
  • The Hooded Utilitarian goes archival. The comics blog to which I occasionally contribute has added a new feature: the representation of academic and critical texts of note for the internet audience. Fabrice Neaud’s late 90s review of Aristophane’s Conte Démoniaque is a great example of what comics criticism can be, while Andrei Molotiu’s 2006/2007 essay on the aesthetics of original comic art is a fine scholarly analysis.
  • Image: Ain Sakri Lovers figurine, found near Bethlehem. More here.

    Public roundtable debate on transgressive cartooning and freedom of speech in Copenhagen

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    We on the Danish Comics Council board are very proud to present a big roundtable debate on the number one hot button topic, and arguably the most significant one, when it comes to cartooning these days: issues of transgression and freedom of speech.

    As mentioned here recently, there’s currently a fairly heated debate on drawn child pornography going in Denmark, with a number of political parties proposing restricting legislation. And at the same time, the ghost of the Mohammad cartoons is still very much alive.

    The debate will focus on both these particular cases and related issues. It features a number of the highest profile public commentators on the issues in question, as well as a couple of politicians actively engaged in jurisdiction around these issues, plus of course a couple of cartoonists.

    It will take place on 2 November at the Faculty of the Humanities, the University of Copenhagen 7-9 pm. Free entry.

    Above is the flyer, in Danish obviously.

    DWYCK: Critiquing a Lively Art

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    At HU I have a post up about the classics — specifically Popeye (with Buster Keaton thrown into the mix) — and notions of high and low culture, including ample quotation from pioneering pop culture critic Gilbert Seldes. Check it out.

    Picks of the Week

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    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Ray Davis: “High, Low and Lethem”. Great essay about the continuing confluence of high and low culture and the transformation of that modernist dichotomy, which touches upon auteur theory, copyright issues and much more. (Thanks Tim!)
  • Comics! Ron Regé’s great “We Must Know, We Will Know” now available for free at What Things Do. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark or feed this site now. Oh, and there’s one of Shigeru Mizuki’s fun GeGeGe no Kitaro stories up here — check it out. It’s in a different tenor than the more realistic, later Shigeru books currently in the works for the English readership at D&Q (I wrote about one of them here). (Thanks, Dirk!)