Monthly Archives: May 2012

An Ode to Advertisements in Old Comic Books

I’ve been reading some older comic books lately, and I’m struck by how a large part of the aesthetic pleasure which results from this activity comes from the advertisements sprinkled throughout the books and on their back covers. In other words, the activity is more about re-experiencing material culture to create pleasant nostalgia than it is about revisiting my favorite super heroes. Here are some examples:

Defenders advertisement

This is a great page of ads from The Defenders #53!  It’s colorful, the range of fonts make it visually interesting, and it is also a fascinating artifact of the time when comic book dealing was becoming big business. There’s also the obligatory strength-training ad.

Here’s the back cover ad from the same issue:

Dr. J ad

Who doesn’t love a cartoon version of Dr. J? Are you a nerdy, 98-pound weakling type who needs the strength training offered earlier, or an athlete who likes to shoot hoops with his friends after school? Comic books bring both types together, just like a print version of The Breakfast Club.

But Marvel did not have a monopoly on great ads. Here’s a fantastic Bubble Yum ad from Tales of the New Teen Titans #4, complete with instructions for a magic trick:

Bubble Yum

And here’s an excellent Dungeons & Dragons ad from the back cover:

Dungeons & Dragons ad

The ads are light-hearted, meant for children, unlike those in comic books today. For instance, in the X-Men issue I wrote about in my previous post, there was a car ad and an insurance ad inside the book, and a motorcycle ad on the back cover (though I must note that the insurance ad was written in comic form like the Dungeons & Dragons ad above). Obviously the target audience for comic books has shifted in the past twenty years from younger teenagers to adults who grew up with comics and still read them (this shift has almost exactly coincided with my own maturing–I was the target audience in 1992 and I am still [or, perhaps, am once again?] the target audience today), but I think something is lost in the more expensive, high-gloss comics of today. The books themselves feel sterilized and are unpleasant to hold. The artwork is beautiful, but the objects that contain it are not.


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Astonishing X-Men 50–The Gay Proposal Issue

I just finished reading Astonishing X-Men 50, which, along with issue 51 that comes out next month, includes the first same-sex proposal/marriage in comic book history. Of course it is ridiculous that these two issues have caused such controversy in the media in the past few weeks, first, because it is another case of the media being sensationalistic, and second (and most importantly), because people who are still against “gay marriage” are bigots, plain and simple. Unfortunately, the U.S.A. is still a ridiculous, homophobic society, though, so kudos to Marvel for taking a public stand on the correct, humane side of the argument.

The way Northstar’s proposal to his non-superhero boyfriend Kyle is written is a beautiful political statement because it is not flashy, it just happens (and Kyle says no! It will be interesting to see how issue 51 fits both his change-of-heart and the wedding in.). There is nothing to set it apart as “weird” or “special.” It just happens. This is the kind of inclusiveness that it is necessary for society to show to LGBT persons. The pro-gay marriage movement is not calling for special privileges, it is simply calling for equal rights.

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Books Acquired Recently

Baraka, Amiri. Dutchman and The Slave. 1964. New York: Harper, 2001.

I bought this book to use while completing my essay in the forthcoming Modern Language Association volume Approaches to Teaching Baraka’s Dutchman, for which it is the standard edition. However, I’ve never read The Slave before, and I look forward to it. I love Baraka’s work because it is so energetic and straightforward. Most people dislike his work because it is so angry, but I think his anger towards whites is justified, and I appreciate his ability to use literature as a political weapon while still maintaining a high level of aesthetic quality.

Irving, John. In One Person. New York: Simon, 2012.

I have enjoyed the two Irving novels I’ve read, The World According to Garp (which I really need to find time to re-read since I read it eleven years ago) and The 158-Pound Marriage, and In One Person received a glowing review from The New Yorker, so I thought I would read it because its main character is bisexual, which is a major rarity.

Both books bought at

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Anticipating Euro 2012

Euro 2012 (the men’s European soccer championship) begins next Friday, and I can’t wait! I dreamt last night about England’s opening match (although it was their first World Cup match in the dream because they were playing China). Steven Gerrard scored in the first minute on a volley from the left side, which was good, but I was angry that Danny Welbeck wasn’t in the team because I am a huge Manchester United fan. Phil Jones was, though.

I love big soccer tournaments: the huge, jam-packed stadiums with perfect green pitches and fans wearing crazy face-paint and hats; the ritual of the national anthems before each match, where you get to see which players sing because they are confident, which ones don’t sing because they are nervous, and which ones don’t sing because they don’t know the words (n.b.: The U.S.A. has one of the worse-sounding anthems, and Latin America has some of the best-sounding, but both of these points are moot for the Euros. “God Save the Queen” is the only one in this tournament that will stand out, as the rest are pretty average.); the fact that there is only one video feed for the entire world, so each set of announcers has to adjust to what the feed is showing, which is especially funny when the feed refuses to include a timely replay of a crucial event, or when it shows one of the coaches making a bizarre facial expression, or when it shows an important play from much earlier in the match, but it isn’t clear immediately to the announcer which play it is.

Although the knockout rounds, and especially the semi-finals and final, are the matches that people will remember most years from now (though the match I remember most vividly from the 1998 World Cup is the first-round encounter between Holland and Belgium, when Patrick Kluivert got sent off), I find myself enjoying the opening round matches more because that is when the most upsets occur, and when there is a feeling of new excitement that gives the matches a fresh, fun vibe. This is missing in the knockout stages when Everything Is On The Line, and the teams tend to play tense as a result, which results in soccer that is of no higher quality than in the first round even though theoretically better teams are playing (note that this is happily often not the case in women’s tournaments–the knockout stages of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and especially the final, were scintillating). It also normally results in many matches being decided on penalties, which always feels wrong (especially if you’re England!) even though the shootout itself can be exciting.

I’ll have my predictions of which teams will reach the knock-out rounds in the next few days.

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Girls Just Want to Have Fun

For some reason I had Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in my head this afternoon, which is one of my favorite guilty pleasures from the ’80s. I have never seen the video, so I thought I would check it out. Here it is:

It is well worth 4:26 of your time. For the most part, it is a solidly cheesy ’80s video (nothing wrong with that) which acts out what the song is about–a teenage girl being rebellious and driving her parents up a wall. I’m not sure why videos that are literal like this get such a bad rap (or, conversely, why those that try to pretend they have no relationship to the song itself often get praised as “artistic.” For instance, the video for Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” [which is one of the best songs of all time;]: I just don’t get it. Or Duran Duran’s “Come Undone,” which involves mermaid bondage [seriously! check it out:]). But two things stand out:

1. THE FATHER IN THE VIDEO IS PLAYED BY CAPTAIN LOU ALBANO!!! I try to stay away from all-caps, but WOW! Has there ever been a better music video cameo? (If you don’t know who Captain Lou Albano was, here is his wikipedia page:

2. On a more serious note, I was impressed at how ethnically diverse the group of “girls” is in the video considering that it was filmed in 1983. Kudos to Lauper for being inclusive.

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Theodora Keogh’s Gemini

I just finished reading Theodora Keogh’s 1961 novel, Gemini. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is about a brother and sister who are lovers. Their attraction for one another is never fully explained; it is part of their mysterious connection as twins, a magical force unknowable to outsiders. As such, it is difficult to make an argument either for or against their incest (or to tell whether the novel itself does so)–they never make an argument for it, it just is, and there is thus nothing to “agree with” or “disagree with.” I am anti-incest, but the book did not horrify me or get my hackles up. The plot itself elicited an “eh, whatever” response. If Keogh intended it to be shocking, it no longer accomplishes this purpose.

However, I really enjoyed reading this book! Keogh’s use of language is beautiful in a smooth, languid way. Her prose is clear, with enough physical detail that I could easily picture in my mind the small Long Island village where the story takes place. One indicator of when a book is well-written is when its descriptions of food make me hungry, and Gemini had me craving good seafood the entire time (too bad I live in Utah!). I found myself really savoring the novel throughout its entirety. It makes me want to read more of Keogh’s writing, which is one of the best compliments a book can receive.

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Ann Bannon’s The Marriage

I just finished reading Ann Bannon’s 1960 novel The Marriage. It is the only one of her novels that is not a part of the excellent Beebo Brinker series of lesbian pulp fiction. However, two characters from the series, Laura Landon and Jack Mann, play a major role in it, and it takes place just after the events in the series conclude (note that the last book written in the series, Beebo Brinker, was not published until 1962, but portrays the earliest chronological events in the series).

The novel is the story of a heterosexual couple, Page and Sunny, who fall madly in love and get married, only to find out that they are actually brother and sister–Page was given away at birth by their parents and does not find out his true identity until after Sunny is pregnant with their child. The couple are divided about what to do about this incest, as Page believes they should never see each other again and Sunny believes that they should stay together because they love each other and did not intentionally flaunt what she views as an arbitrary taboo. Most of the novel is devoted to their struggle to resolve this conflict, which results in some razor-sharp, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque arguments (Page even cuts part of his left pinky off to prove his bravery when Sunny accuses him of cowardice!).

The couple finally agrees to keep their baby and stay together in a neo-Naturalist scene at the end of the novel, which at first seems absured and overwrought, but upon further consideration is a profound argument in favor of the sexual Other. Sunny has gone from New York to California to be away from the stress that Page is causing her because it is endangering the baby. He tracks her down, and they are driving back east along Route 66 when they decide to do some sight-seeing in the Nevada desert and, of course, get lost (side note: Fictional road trips from the pre-interstate era are so fascinating! It would be impossible for the couple to get lost off-road if they were driving now, but back then, as in John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, the rural landscape is still barely touched by pavement, and thus defeats them easily.) They spend nearly two days in the desert sun without food or water before they are rescued, and it takes this isolation from society for Page to realize that all sexual mores are mere constructions. He finally understands Sunny’s point that it is only their love that matters, and the book ends happily.

The Marriage is certainly not pro-incest (side note two: It is interesting to compare The Marriage‘s attempt to minimize incest’s scandalousness with the fetishization of incest in contemporary “girl-on-girl” pornography directed at heterosexual males, which often portrays mother-daughter or sister-sister relationships, apparently in order to add an extra level of taboo to the already heteronormatively “illicit” nature of [pseudo-]lesbian sex): it is clear that the only reason Sunny and Page are allowed to stay together is because their incest was accidental, and since they have already had sex it is not as though their mistake will be exacerbated by further relations. The point of the novel is really to advocate for more sexual openness in general. When Page tells Jack about what he and Sunny have discovered, Jack tries to comfort Page by revealing his homosexuality in order to show Page that people whom society designates as sexually Other are not the horrific caricatures society paints them as; they are instead “normal” people. This is why The Marriage is valuable, and is still worth reading in the ridiculously sexually-backward travesty that is contemporary America. While it is not as well-written as most of the Beebo Brinker series, and has been marginalized because of its inclusion of incest (it is only available in a badly-produced Olympia Press edition alongside another pulp novel about incest, Theodora Keogh’s Gemini [I haven’t read Gemini yet because I bought the book for The Marriage since I am a big Bannon fan, but judging from the blurb it apparently is pro-incest. If this is the case, The Marriage‘s value is even further obscured due to this pairing.], whereas the Beebo Brinker books are currently in print in a lovely edition from one of the best/most important queer publishers out there, Cleis Press), it still has lessons to teach, and is worth reading as a part of Bannon’s important oeuvre.

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The Great Gatsby Trailer

Here is the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which opens in December:

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. It is one of the most beautifully-written books ever, it has an engaging story, it has memorable characters, and it is packed with timeless American themes (greed, fakery, lust, et cetera). Therefore, when I heard that a new film version was being produced I was terrified–too many of my favorite books have already been destroyed on screen (The Color Purple, Beloved, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close for starters).

However, judging from the trailer the film looks like it might be decent. With the major exception of Tom Buchanan, who would never wear the kind of ridiculous mustache he is wearing in the film, and who appears to be no bigger than Gatsby though he is supposed to be “hulking,” the casting looks strong. Daisy is stunning, Jordan is Daisy’s less beautiful but still quite attractive sidekick (though I picture her with lighter brown hair), Leonardo DiCaprio is exactly as debonaire as Gatsby should be (though again, I don’t see Gatsby as a blond), and Tobey Maguire should fit well into Nick Carraway’s subtle-yet-essential role. I only wish he were a little taller, as Nick should be Gatsby’s physical equal, though of course inferior to him in some ways (e.g., financially) and superior in others (morally, I suppose).

I also love the version of U2’s “Love is Blindness” which serves as the trailer’s soundtrack. It is one of the band’s most underrated songs, and the remix is even more haunting than the original. It fits the lushness of Luhrmann’s scenery. His palette is the perfect one for portraying Gatsby‘s decadence.

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Book Acquired Recently: B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates

Johnson, B.S. The Unfortunates. 1969. New York: New Directions, 2007.

This is one of my favorite books. I already have a copy, but just received a desk copy from the publisher (New Directions is great!) because I’ll be using it in one of my classes this fall. It is more of an art object than a book: it comes unbound in twenty-seven separate sections in a box that also has writing (more of the “book”) on it. Aside from the first and last sections, each chapter is unnumbered, thus one may read it in whatever order one wishes. The structure of the book fits with its theme, the randomness of memory, which is not chronological, but is set off via random reminders instead. It is like a print version of a hypertext story. Well worth reading.

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Gabriel García Márquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera

I just finished reading Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. What a fascinating, intense, perplexing book! It is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read in that much of what it says about love is spot-on, and for that reason it is a treasure, but at the same time, I think I appreciated the vibe, the spirit of the novel more than I appreciated the story itself. I’m not sure that I loved any of the characters, though I didn’t hate any of them. At times I identified with Florentino, especially in his enjoyment of letter writing.

The plot is simple–a man lives with his unrequited love for years and is finally rewarded–but the way Márquez structures the book in layers (circling back around to different events from different viewpoints, jumping back and forth in time) takes away any hint of sentimentality and causes readers to feel the same uncertainty as Florentino does while he waits for Fermina. Similarly, at times it feels like the novel is too wordy, too meandering, but this frustrating effect helps us to further understand the winding path of Florentino’s love.

It is rare that I feel so conflicted about a book, but like it (and in this case, also deeply respect it) anyway. I got so engrossed in it that at one point the reading experience became so intense, so feverish that I simply had to put it down for the evening because I couldn’t take it any more. I can only recall one or two other instances of that ever happening to me.

Here are some passages that I found especially incisive along with brief commentary (page numbers refer to the 2003 Vintage edition, translated by Edith Grossman):

“Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. He did not have to keep a running tally, drawing a line for each day on the walls of a cell, because not a day had passed that something did not happen to remind him of her” (53).

“That was always the case: any event, good or bad, had some relationship to her” (142). This quote is closely related to the first one. If you are lucky, you meet someone who is so influential that their lens colors everything you see. Similarly, “he had never learned to write without thinking about her” (171).

“Reading had become his insatiable vice” (74). A lovely phrase.

“nothing in this world was more difficult than love” (223). Or more rewarding. But even in the best of times it is hard work.

“Now he read it again, this time syllable by syllable, scrutinizing each so that none of the letter’s secret intentions would be hidden from him, and then he read it four more times, until he was so full of the written words that they began to lose all meaning” (290). I love this passage both as a literary critic who appreciates attention to detail in one’s reading and as someone who is also prone to poring over love letters (or emails, as the case may be these days) with a fine-toothed comb.

There is also a passage where Florentino buys a mirror because Fermina’s reflection appeared in it once (228). Sometimes we resort to surrounding ourselves with objects that remind us of the one we miss, which can help ease the loneliness, but is of course never as good as the real thing.

Overall, an important, worthwhile book. 5/5

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