8 February, 2004

Well, I thought I was done with chapter six of The Etymology of Fire, but the first problem was that I was hoping chapter six would be the last full chapter of the book. Chapter seven would be something of a short epilogue along the lines of the last chapter of The Magic Flute with people wandering and gathering and talking a little. Chapter seven was in fact causing me great problems for chapter six because I had thought all the big finish would happen there. Chapter six even has the coolest resolution chapter title – The Passing of Strangers. Great title, if I may say so my old arrogant and conceited self. So, I was getting kind of annoyed with chapter seven because chapter six was taking its own sweet time about things. I had even thought that things were going to fly like crazy in chapter six, but this just didn't happen. The characters kept talking, and I also found myself needing to write these long descriptive passages of them getting ready for stuff and then going places. I absolutely hate long descriptive passages. I just can't deal with them. So, there I was. Chapter six kept getting longer and longer, and I couldn't figure out how I was going to cram everything into it. I mean the damn thing was well on its way to being the longest chapter in the book, and it was starting to feel sort-of split. But, I wanted to keep things moving. Of course, none of this was helped by the facts that I was also trying to finish up episode three of String Finger Theatre and the only time I typically had to work on The Etymology of Fire was after midnight. So, you try to hold everything together sometime when you've worked all day at a mindless, stressful, hateful job, and then finally have time to think but can't because it is way past midnight. The characters even start to notice, and they start having conversations. My feelings of hopeless frustration have crept into this story more than any other I have done, I think. Tahrl and Alexander started talking about hope or the lack of it, and I know they were really talking about me. There they are prattling on about why bother to do anything when everything seems hopeless, and all I can think about is chopping it off. The conversation strikes me as hopelessly hokey. I hate it when movies and books and whatnot prattle on about what to do in the face of adversity. It's all so unreal and staged, and it's the kind of crap we tell ourselves; even though, it is all so full of shit. But, I let them prattle on anyway because what the hell else am I going to do. But, I've wandered way off my point. Because of the hour and my limited energy, I was determined to make everything fit into this tiny hole that was chapter six.

Well, I did finally get sick of that and realized that there was still so much left to go that the story really needed a full chapter seven. As soon as I realized this, relief just flooded through me. In fact, I thought I was going to write a journal entry about a week or so back talking about this revelation. I was jazzed. All this other stuff was bubbling forward. And, for a wild moment, I thought I had found the reserve of energy I needed. Wrong. I forget if finishing episode three of String Finger Theatre got in the way or what happened, but I haven't quite gotten up to speed as I was hoping. But, giving chapter six a little more room to breathe because of the re-envisioning of chapter seven, I realized I had completely left something out of chapter six.

So, there I was, figuring I had chapter six beat, and it was time to start thinking about a whole big chapter seven, when it struck me that I had to go back. I had to revise and figure out how to make room for some more shit that was going to make chapter six even longer than I had thought possible. So, that took about two days just reading through chapter six and figuring where I could drop the new scene. Now, I hate revising. Hate it with a passion. And, the last thing I wanted to do was rewrite to make room for missing material. I absolutely didn't want to have to replace whole scenes or just paragraphs in order to accommodate the missing. Well, it took a lot of grumpily staring at the page, but I think I got it. I think I figured where I could split this one bit of dialog in two. No, really, one sentence is going to be said. Then a whole new section is going to be dropped right in. And, then the second sentence is going to be right there, and everything is going to carry on from there as if nothing happened.

But, leaving an entire important character out of chapter six, which is what I had done, doesn't even win the kick myself in the butt prize this week. I completely forgot that I wanted to work on a String Finger Theatre reprint book. See, this just goes to show how tired and out of it I have been. I completely and utterly forgot that as soon as episode two ended that I wanted to start working on a mini-comic version. I have no idea how that is going to go, how much it is going to cost me, or if anybody would be interested in a copy, but I'm going to do it anyway. Actually, money is the biggest problem and the real reason why The Faire Folk of Gideon is languishing in electric hell. It's disgusting. Nobody believes me when I tell them I have completed two novels because only one of them has been published on the pulped flesh of murdered trees. It's because I don't have the money. Hey, guys, money sucks!

So, in spite of the fact that I cannot afford to publish String Finger Theatre in mini-comic form, I'm going to do it anyway. This is probably another reason why I haven't gotten more done on The Etymology of Fire because I've been spending time with Illustrator and Pagemaker figuring out how to turn a web comic into a mini-comic. So far Pagemaker is working best with TIFF versions of the comics. I'm sure there is a better way but fuck if I know what it is. Anyway, episode one is all but ready, and I just have to decide if I want to start snooping around for publishing it before or after I get episode two ready.

Oh, yeah, I saw American Splendor this morning and loved it.

12 February, 2004

So, I had a really amusing thought the other day. See, every so often I will write about same damn movie or other that I have seen and post it in this journal. On some very rare occasions, I have even talked about books. So, I've gotten ragged on and off by people I know that I should start a movie review section of my website. Well, that is just not going to happen. No, seriously, I'm not going to start an official review thing going. The idea just gives me the creeps. See, if I created a review section, then I would feel compelled to add to it. I would think that I needed to add my ten cents about this flick or that which I may have seen, and I really worry about the consequences. I mean I know that eventually it would just turn into a bitch fest. I would never have anything good to say about anything. I would try to be witty and fail miserably. I really truly am afraid that I would turn into the comic book guy from The Simpsons describing the worst episode ever.

I don't want to do that. I really don't want to do that. This is, in fact, the main reason I have not waxed philosophic about more movies on this website. I've caught myself writing things along the lines of I saw this movie, and it sucked. Now, I just don't want to go there.

I will talk about a movie in this here space when I am inspired. If I've got something to say, you'll find it here. If I love a movie – like Identity – or really truly despise one – like Signs – then I'll probably have a few words to say about it here. As a matter of fact, I had quite a bit to say about Signs, and I hold it up as the best movie review I have posted on this here website.

Then there are times when I'm inspired to write something because of a movie – like The Matrix Reloaded or Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. I didn't really have anything to say about those movies, but I was intrigued by the conditions under which it might be okay to plug somebody into a system like that. And, I've always just been dying to find out if anybody agrees with my Evil Yoda Theory. No, I'm serious, go watch The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, and let me know if you notice that Yoda doesn't necessarily seem to be the nicest boy you have ever met.

So, I write about books and movies and whatnot on my website when the occasion inspired me, but I have absolutely no intention of actually creating a review section. So, I had the wildest idea the other day. No, really, I was so amused that I almost laughed. Well, it occurred to me that I could go one step shy of starting a movie review section. I could create an index of every book and movie that I have talked about in the journal with links to the appropriate section. This actually makes a kind of sense. I mean after all, people get annoyed when I tell them that they have got to read my review of the movie Signs or read my Evil Yoda Theory, and then they can't find it because I can't keep track of where these things are hidden.

So, here we go. I have created an index of just about every book and movie I have talked about on my website. Now, I didn't list absolutely everything. I figured there should be some requirements involved. I mean if all I did was mention the title and maybe if I liked or disliked the flick then that certainly wasn't good enough. I had to have actually said something, or at least taken two sentences. Now, I have absolutely no idea of when or how often the index is going to be updated. I have absolutely no intention of starting to talk about movies and such non-sense just to have something to update in the index. That would be right back up there with the worst episode ever fear I have got going.

For an example of what is not included, I mentioned last week that I loved the movie American Splendor. Well, that is not good enough to merit placing on the index. Now, there are some things about that movie, which have got me thinking, and as soon as I get my thoughts in a semblance of order, I'm going to wax philosophic about the movie. Now, as soon as I do that, American Splendor will be added to the movie review index.

Oh, yeah, the index is on the main journal page.

21 February, 2004

I think I've figured out what was bothering me about the movie American Splendor. It happened because I got my hands on an anthology of the original American Splendor comic books, and I discovered two things. The movie was not in fact an adaptation of the comic book as the movie claimed. Sure, I've noticed occasional snatches of dialog that were lifted out of the comic and placed whole into the movie, but these were few and far between. The lifted dialog also tended to be transferred pretty far from its origin in the comic. Okay, I've had a moment to reflect on this, and maybe the movie only said it was based on the comics. It may not have said it was an actual adaptation. Also, I have not read Our Cancer Year so maybe the movie is lifting more stuff from that.

The other thing I noticed is that the Harvey Pekar portrayed in the comic is a much more accomplished guy than the version in the movie. Okay, sure, maybe you see Harvey Pekar in a much better light in the comic because he wrote the comic, but I mean that there is a lot of stuff that the movie simply left out. Sure, Harvey Pekar comes across as a really crusty, self-centered, never do well guy, but the movie portrayal just has him as totally pathetic and terrified that he is wasting his life. The movie doesn't mention that before he even started the comic he had been an accomplished writer on jazz music and also current political events. I think the comic said modern history and political events and commentary, but I'm a little fuzzy on that detail at the moment.

The movie portrayed Harvey Pekar as totally pathetic and directionless before he started the comic. Even after he finds purpose by writing American Splendor, he is still portrayed as nothing more than a crusty and pathetic old fart. Now, after reading Robert Crumbs' intro to the comic anthology and listening to some of the commentary track of the movie, the movie's portrayal is still pretty dead-on target, but they still skipped right over all the other stuff he was doing.

So, this is how I figured out what had been nagging at me about the movie. Okay, I'll pause right here to point out that I loved the movie. I really loved the movie. It's great. It's sweet. It's funny. It's tender. It's sad. It's got a great ending. It's also got these great uncommon movie moments like when the action just sort of stops. Suddenly, we're looking at the real Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner, and they are being interviewed documentary style. It doesn't look like some old documentary footage that was trotted out for the movie. It really looks like the moviemakers sat down with them, pointed a camera and did an interview.

I think I described the movie to somebody I know as great because it's a well-done portrayal of freaks and geeks just trying to lead normal lives.

And, that is it. That is what also bothers me about the movie, and I couldn't really put my finger on it until I read the comic book. The movie is making fun of them, and strangely enough, it even sort of points this out.

In the movie, Harvey Pekar becomes very frustrated with his appearances on Late Night with David Letterman because he knows that they just keep having him on the show so that the audience can point and laugh. Look at the freak! Look at the freak! Isn't it great that we're better than him?

And, that is it. Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner are held up for public ridicule. Now, I'm not really sure that this was the point of the movie. I bet if I ever talked to the filmmakers that they would swear up and down that they were really trying to give a fair portrayal, but I don't think they managed it. The movie makes fun of them. I've seen articles about the movie, and they just scream geek love! Geek love! Come laugh at the geek love! No, really, I think the title of the article in Newsweek was "Geek Love" or maybe "Geeks in Love."

And, this bothers me. It bothers me in a damn, I don't know what to do about it kind of way. Because I feel that it is half-intentional and half an accident. It may simply be one of those facts of life. Nerds, freaks and geeks get laughed at. People point and laugh and feel good about themselves for knowing they've got it better than those freaks.

It reminds me of that book The Orchid Thief. I tried to read that book. I tried and failed. I mean I loved the movie Adaptation. It's much better than Being John Malkovich, which just sucked by-the-way. This surprised a whole heaping lot of people who know me. They all told me that I would love Being John Malkovich. The movie was right up my ally, they said. So, I saw it, and well, no, it's not. Being John Malkovich is pretty pedestrian, boring, stuff.

No, I am serious. Being John Malkovich is a thoroughly unoriginal movie. It's an interesting idea. It's an amusing idea, but they didn't do shit with it. Oh, let us have the guy who discovers the way to be in John Malkovich's head be a puppeteer. If we do that, then the guy will be able to take over Malkovich because he is used to being in control of puppets. Then, we'll have a woman come to realize that she is a lesbian because of the experience of being a man. Oh, yeah, how original. The movie really made me feel that they had set down with the idea of slipping into somebody's head and then worked out a sort of idealized and vaguely intellectual series of things that would compliment the concept of being able to slip into somebody's head. In other words, the movie just felt boxy and staged.

Okay, sure, there is nothing wrong with this approach to filmmaking. Lots of things are this sort of highbrow, let's think about the possibilities that would compliment our little idea, here. I've got no problem with this. I like lots of things that are like this. It just didn't work for me in this movie. I mentioned once that thing I heard the movie critic Roger Ebert say. It doesn't matter what you think or what you may have already decided about a movie. You still have to see it, and you are still going to like or dislike that movie based on that specific experience of watching it. So, Being John Malkovich is just stupid and sucks.

In fact, Being John Malkovich is one of those very rare instances in which I have actually sat down and thought about what I would do differently. I'm not counting daydreams in which I may have inserted myself as a character into the plot or like that. I mean seriously sat down and thought about what could be done to make this bastard into a better movie. Remember that it is easy to bitch and moan and say something sucks. It's quite a different thing altogether to be able to work out what you might do different. So, even keeping the same basic premise of somebody who is feeling frustrated and unappreciated in his own art, I would do more of an obsessive addiction to living vicariously through the movie star's life, which is no more original or interesting than what the filmmakers actually did in the movie, but, damn, if I wouldn't try to make it less staged than the movie. I would ditch the stupid and obvious hang-ups of the rest of the cast. Damn, if the movie wasn't obvious and predictable.

Now, I loved Adaptation. Great movie. It's just a great movie. He rants and raves about how he doesn't want the movie to turn into some cliched thriller and that is exactly what happens. As wonderfully cliched of a thriller that it became, I was actually concerned about whether Donald and Charlie were going to make it out of that swap alive. Oh, yeah, and I just loved that it wasn't a movie in a movie that turned into the cliched thriller while Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter, just ripped at his hair over what the studio had done. The movie twisted in on itself and became the script he was writing. Oh, yeah, it was great.

Which is why I was curious to read the book The Orchid Thief. So, I was helping Samantha apartment sit for a friend of ours who had a copy of the book, and I decided to see how much of it I could get through before we had to give back the apartment. Well, I didn't get very far at all. The first thing I noticed — the very first thing — was that the book isn't about the Orchid Thief, Laroche. It's about the author Susan Orlean or whatever her name is. I'll look it up when I make sure that I've spelled Malkovich correctly.

(I hadn't, by-the-way. You're reading the spelling-corrected version of this journal entry.)

So, this really bothered me. It bothered me so much that I had to put the book down. Why? Because The Orchid Thief is about our plucky and intrepid author who has traveled into the hinterland and look at all the quaint and amusing life forms she has discovered. No, seriously, I felt like I was reading a travelogue or nature documentary. Look at the amusing hick! Look at him jab! Look at him jape! Laugh at the amusing and eccentric antics of this uncivilized and uncouth fool. Isn't he funny? And, isn't it so grand that your witty and intelligent author was able to bring this pathetic redneck to your attention? Yes, everybody heap praise on the author for bringing you this amusement.

So, it's this kind of look down your nose and laugh at the poor freak because you know that you are just so much better than him that really bothers me. It's so superior. It's so rude. It's so aristocratic.

Which is the only thing that bothered me about the movie American Splendor. The filmmakers couldn't escape from the fact that they were making fun of their subject. Aside from that, it's a great movie. I loved it. Everybody go rent the movie. Oh, and then go buy the anthology. It's even better than the movie.

(P.S. In double-checking the spellings of names, I have discovered that there is more than one American Splendor anthology. Go, get any one of them. Maybe, one of the others includes the stuff they put in the movie.)

28 February, 2004

Don't talk to me about the Alternative Press Expo. Once upon a time, they were good. Once upon a time, they were cool. Back in the days when the Alternative Press Expo was held in San Jose, California, it actually was alternative press. There were books and zines and comic books. There were big tables for small press, alternative press, and self-published works. Sure, there were also lots and lots of comic books – mostly of the mini-comic variety – but books and zines once took up huge sections of the hall.

Well, one day, the Alternative Press Expo was bought or taken-over or whatever by the same people who do Comic-Con International, and everything changed.

The books vanished. The zines dwindled and vanished. The comic books started to look more and more like comic books and not little mini-comic booklets that people had stabled together in their living rooms.

Sure, the Alternative Press Expo loves to talk about how much they support comics, self-publishing and zines, but they mostly support comics.

If you had a book or a zine or something with more words than pictures on the page, then you were going to be marginalized. You were going to be treated like so much crap. You were going to be shoved into a corner in the back of the room where the fewest number of attendees were going to notice your table. Oh, yeah, and the Alternative Press Expo organizers were going to treat you with extreme contempt and disdain.

You think I'm making this up? I could trot out a story for you, but I'm not in the mood. And, don't just take my word for it. I've talked to other people who do zines and such like about this.

Oh, sure, the Alternative Press Expo talks big about everything they support, but if you're not a comic book watch out. They'll give you a nice location on paper, but then they'll make sure you don't actually get it and wind up in the corner.

I'm still looking into getting Episodes One and Two of String Finger Theatre done-up as mini-comics, but I don't know when anything is going to happen. I need time to find a printer. The only quote I've gotten so far was $7.38 per book. Yeah, that's right. They want to charge me $7.38 just to print and stable each copy. So, I don't know what I'm going to do. I need time to keep looking.

Then, of course, is the idea of going back to the Alternative Press Expo with my mini-comic. I'm really impressively of two minds on the subject. On the one hand, the Alternative Press Expo really just sucks, and they all deserve to go live in their happy little world where they can never bother anyone. On the other hand, the potential for exposure for String Finger Theatre would be really cool.

So, I don't know. Am I just the nerdy little kid still trying to find a way to be accepted by the cool crowd? Am I the kid being bullied by all the cool and hip kids who keeps going back for more humiliation because it is at least a strange, sick, and twisted way of being part of the group?

Yeah, I've been there. I remember entire years where I was the one who was laughed at and humiliated by all the other kids. There's no escape.

So, do I want to go back? The thought makes me sick. But, I probably will the next year that I have the mini-comic together. But, damn, if the thought of going back just doesn't make me want to throw-up.

Wow, sour grapes, anyone?

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