Scientific Progress goes “Moo”*

12 May, 2014 at 8:30 pm (comics, webjunk)

Sometimes the internet astonishes me: you put money into it, and you get stuff out of it.

Obviously, this is both most people’s common experience and a completely foreign experience to many. Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Etsy, etc. wouldn’t all exist and thrive if people weren’t putting money into the internet and then receiving something in return. And also a great number of people turn to the internet in order to acquire things without having to spend any money on them. This ranges from the relatively innocuous — MP3s and digitized images — to a significant trade in films, software, books, credit card numbers, and the like. And as much as we use the internet to reinforce our pre-existing worldviews, creating streams of personalized content that provide us with feeds and pings and alerts about the things and people we already like, it is the surprises that drift across that are the most wonderful, the unexpected pleasures.

Chainsaw Vigilante commissions: Erica Henderson, Lars Brown, Katie CookLast summer at the Boston Comic Con, I commissioned sketches from attending artists for the first time. Travis Ellisor had been trumpeting his expanding Karate Kid vs. commission gallery for a little while, and I liked the concept: a single factor of commonality, but the opportunity to allow the artist to also feature his or her chosen creation. (I also have a bit of a soft spot for the classic LoSH Karate Kid, whose solo title was the first comic I actively tried to collect as a kid, saving up for back issues from the archive bins of local stores.) And the final grace note is that the character is a bit odd. Many people have con sketchbooks of obvious corporate populist characters, but finding that odd tertiary character that people fondly recall but haven’t thought about in ages is the real cherry on the sundae. I’d finally decided, after much musing, that my own original sketch collection was going to be different interpretations of The Tick‘s Chainsaw Vigilante engaged in combat with DC Comics’ Ambush Bug. Then I did some research on how much two-figure commissions tended to run, and I decided to start by just getting some drawings of the Chainsaw Vigilante to start with and to work my way up.

So I went to the Con, and I experienced a strange anxiety: I was going to be handed a drawing by the artist, and I was going to have a reaction, right there in real time, of exhilaration or disappointment in the result. In front of the creative person who was asked to interpret a paid command for which he or she may have had no particular artistic inclination. This is a character I like, but it doesn’t necessarily inspire or movie the person drawing it. Would I be able to tell by the composition? Would my face visibly blanch as I took the commissions from their hands?

My Advanced Art teacher in high school often said that she thought the worst thing a person could say was, “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.” As willfully ignorant of a statement as that may be, I believe people have strong, instinctive opinions about aesthetics, regardless of their ability to articulate or contextualize them. I think that comics will forever be a minority art form simply because the presentation of the visual narrative either will or will not appeal, aesthetically, to the reader, and one can’t read the story without looking at artwork that either pleases or assaults the eye. Obviously, if one is commissioning a drawing, one would surely only pay out money to an artist whose work one finds appealing, but that still doesn’t mean that the selection of infinite artistic choices made will end up being those one would prefer. Will the drawings be the sort of thing one would automatically reblog in one’s curated stream of aesthetic content, or not?

Luckily, all of my commissions have hit the sweet spot of surprise (which I believe is also a channel on RedTube). They have combined the familiar visual voice of the artist, the comforting content of the form of the character, and the simple act of not being what I would have done. Surely it’s this last misdirect, this last moment of dissonance that is what makes getting something from the hands and minds of other people the most worthwhile, the sudden veering into unpredictability. And while there may be some anxiety about cost and result, the most important bit is that whatever the result it sprang from someone else and is therefore something that would have been impossible for you to acquire or create or establish on your own.

Which is why the internet is wonderful. You put money in, and you get something unexpected out of it. This week I received two commissions: one virtual and one physical. Read the rest of this entry »


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April 18: “THE” Batman

18 April, 2014 at 10:34 pm (batman)

It’s the 75th anniversary of Batman. DC Comics has released a commemorative logo and Warner Brothers has teased a animated homage. There are some variations as to when this should be recognized: Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of “The ‘Bat-Man'”, has a cover date of May 1939, but Bleeding Cool has traced it to a copyright date of March 30 of that same year. However, ComicVine declares that the street date, the day which the March-copyrighted, May-labeled issue of Detective Comics was actually on newsstands was April 18, 1939, and today is that anniversary.

The problem is that, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, while a rose is a rose is a rose, Batman is not Batman is not Batman. The “Bat-Man” is not Batman is not BATMAN™. While criminals were already recognizing the striking profile and showy costume of the “mysterious and adventurous figure” in his first appearance, his appearance, identity, tone, name, age, mission, code, et al. have all changed over the last 75 years.

Detective Comics #27: The 'Bat-Man'

[Bleeding Cool]

People will talk about a character’s staying power, how he is able to maintain relevance over successive generations by being able to be reinterpreted during each age. My contention is that this means the character really isn’t so much a character as a small set of characteristics.
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I’m Comin’ Up, So You Better Get This Party Kickstarted…

15 March, 2014 at 10:26 am (benjamin, film, imdblr)

Comedian Doug Benson has a weekly gig called Doug Loves Movies, a trivia show about films that he runs at least partially because of his impressive recall of films he has idly consumed over his personal and professional life — both as a casual audience member and as someone who travels with some frequency and therefore watches a number of films on planes. He occasionally refers to himself as “IMDB”, because he an impressive depository of films and film credits that only the Internet Movie Database could rival, Deep Blue/Watson stylee, and because it allows him to say, “I am DB” — he is Doug Benson. (Not unlike Irwin Maurice Fletcher.)

This is a personal blog, and has been since November 2000, so ego-posting is hardly surprising. And while I (still) don’t (yet) have an entry on IMDB, I have been keeping track of my appearances in various DVD credits, a feat that is much easier to accomplish now that Kickstarter seems to be regularly offering it as a low-impact, high-cost perk for various film projects.

Unlike posts in the past, I haven’t actually made it to the credits of anything new, but I have created my own Doug Benson-inspired tag for this post and for the future: imdblr, or “in movies desperately: benjamin lawrence russell”. And while I haven’t been specifically named in any recent Kickfunded projects, I am thanked as part of a mass in two, appear unbilled in a third, and am thanked in the website credits for a fourth.


THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH: BEYOND EXPECTATIONS (Filmed in 2012, funded for distribution in 2013)

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Break out the Seegers (This life is for Squirrels)

29 January, 2014 at 4:21 pm (music, new hampshire)

Pete Seeger has died, and the New York Times article about his legacy is really quite amazing. I don’t have any particular relationship with the man or his music, but as an avid follower of the late-90s folk/pop revival, I’m a conceptual fan of the ’60s folk revival and therefore a transitive fan of the Guthrie/Seeger revival axis that made that possible twenty to thirty years beforehand.

blog_1401_pogo_seegerWhile I was duly impressed with the accounting of the songs he tweaked and rewrote and influenced that have become so much the foundation of the current American songbook, I was even more interested in how much the obituary leaned on the affect that his Communism (or communism, as he is oft-quoted as saying he was a “communist with a small ‘c.'”) affected his career. The Times spoke of it, to my ear, matter-of-factly and without judgement, which is what I’d hope for in what I consider to be a post-ideologue age. However, I’m aware that while my perspective on the perceived threat of Communism is a young man’s viewpoint — I take the view of Bob Hillman and Dan Bern — people who were alive and feel that labored under the scarlet shadow of the Red Menace feel very differently about it.

In fact, in 2001 when a plaque to memorialize the New Hampshire members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was to be installed in the State House, a wave of anti-Communist protesters spun and chittered their way out of the woodwork to prevent anything that might impugn the name of proper soldiers by dint of association or proximity. I was shocked that people cared so much, that they still needed to make sure anyone with Communist leanings would receive no proper American recognition.

With this startling impression lingering in my mind, I was therefore further surprised to just read so many mentions of Communism — or even communism — in Seeger’s obit without any accompanying outcry about his having performed in the “We Are One” inaugural celebration for President Obama. It seems like such obvious fodder for the NObama crowd: that the Socialist president had a card-carrying member of the Communist party — a man who was called before HUAC and held in contempt of Congress — play at his inauguration. I’m surprised some of the usual suspects over at You Are Dumb or The Colbert Report didn’t mouth off about how indicative of a booking that really was. (When Colbert had Seeger on as a guest I thought there would be some more talk about his Communist past, but the interview rambled on a different way. And Colbert is enough of a gentleman in real life that despite having tried to amp up the competition when he and Seeger were both nominated for the same Grammy, the post-mortem gloating or character assassination will likely be minimal.)

So did it not happen? Did I not notice? Or, being that it’s not the sort of content with which I populate my newsfeed, I simply wouldn’t have encountered it myself, I’d only have read about it via third-party commentary, and there wasn’t any of sufficient prominence. A brief search later, I found a small number of examples, and they seem both harmless and petulant. Which is, in it’s way, pleasing.

Related Links:
+ The post title is a reference to Lines Upon A Tranquil Brow from Songs of the Pogo
+ Download “Children of the Cold War” by Dan Bern at

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GALLERY: Business Cards in Cinema

24 December, 2013 at 11:09 pm (film)

Still don’t have enough of these to warrant their own website yet, so just the occasional post, then. Like the last one, these are screencaps of business cards I’ve encountered in films, which interest me as a narrative device, as examples of real and fake phone numbers, and whether they are bog-standard insert shots or primary character shots. Also, like the last post, I’ve included one television card in the mix, because I’m fond of the show.

The In-Laws - Dr. Sheldon Kornpett
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BRIEFLY: Peter O’Toole

15 December, 2013 at 3:02 pm (film, webjunk)

The Guardian is reporting that Peter O’Toole has died. My grandfather loved How To Steal A Million, preferring it to Charade, and my aunt and I regularly bond over the majesty of his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence.

There’s a tradition over at The V that when someone famous or important dies, we memorialize him or her with silent, pictorial tributes. There are to be no personal remarks or sentimental platitudes. So while searching for the right image from Lawrence of Arabia with which to do this (something from the attack on the train, I thought), I found the following dynamic image:

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia

Goodness, I thought. That looks like it could be out of Star Wars or something. Luckily, someone else thought the very same thing. Good job, internet.

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50th Anniversary: Charade

5 December, 2013 at 10:04 pm (charade, film)

Audrey Hepburn in CHARADEToday is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Charade by Stanley Donen, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. (If you’re unfamiliar with the film, you can quickly watch a five-minute version of it here.) I own many, many, manymany copies of the film, having perversely tried to collect all of the cheapo, pharmacy-bargain-bin versions of the movie that sprang into being due to the film’s accidental lack of copyright. Each of them suffers from a variety of flaws based on how the individual company was able to acquire a battered 35mm print and digitize it. Most of these companies would list amongst the “special features” of their version of Charade that it had been “DIGITALLY REMASTERED!” Which was true, as there was no other way to get it onto a DVD, but the fact that it was a “special” feature was accurate only in the cruel, schoolyard way in which travelers on the short bus were taunted. The sound was tinny, the picture was scratchy, and sometimes the discs had as few as four chapter stops (one per film reel, perhaps?), but they were all between four and seven dollars, and they enabled me to watch one of my favorite films on my shiny new DVD player back in 1999, as well as to marvel at the fact that a film that felt like it should be a stone-cold classic could receive such shoddy treatment.

And then the Criterion edition came out, and all was right with the universe. I’ve purchased three versions of the Criterion Charade (letterbox, anamorphic widescreen, and Blu-Ray), and I eagerly expect to purchase one more when they eventually re-re-release it in their new standard combo pack edition. The lush, crisp visuals have enabled me to luxuriate in the film many times, so here are my thoughts for its silver anniversary:

The film is almost — almost! — able to have its cake and it, too. What do I mean by that? Charade wants to be both a romp and a thriller. It wants you to root for the romance between Grant and Hepburn, but it wants you to be genuinely worried that Grant might be the bad guy. It wants you to have a cheerful good time, but it wants to kill people off. It wants the people it kills to be menacing, but also to be sweet and a little daft. This is essentially an impossible goal, and even Charade is unfortunately unable to fully fulfill such demanding, lofty aspirations, but it gets close enough for the audience (read: me; please understand that I will brazenly assume hoi poloi surrogacy throughout this missive) to sweep past any misgivings in a flourish of batted eyelashes and warm Mancini brass.

Almost, but not quite. Let us begin with the three hapless war profiteers that are trying so hard throughout the film to recover the paltry quarter of a million dollars they secreted away during World War II (in his commentary for the UK DVD of the film, Ken Barnes claims the first place where the film seems dated is in the use of a record player at the funeral home, but the second is most certainly the film’s Dr. Evil-esque insistence that $250,000 is a lot of money*). They are the film’s three threatening bears: Scobie is too hot, Gideon is too cold, and Tex Panthollow is jussssst right, which is why he survives the longest (“My momma di’nt raise no stupid children”).

Leopold W. Gideon and Tex Panthollow

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BRIEFLY: Cage Match

20 December, 2012 at 3:42 pm (music)

Two years ago there was the surreal and wonderful attempt to make John Cage’s nigh-silent classic “4’33″” the chart-topping, most-played song on the radio of Christmas 2010. This did not come about, unfortunately. Despite this sad event, I shan’t ask for a moment of silence. Instead, here’s a quick collection of John Cage moments in popular culture:

iTunes: Discovery Download: John Cage
“4’33″” was released as weekly free download on iTunes… except it wasn’t. The piece has sections, and only the first movement, “Tacet” was available. So I have only one minute, forty-six seconds of “4’33″” on my computer. Amusingly enough, Stephen Fry has more. He once posted on Twitter that iTunes runtime on the “4’33″” was four minutes and forty-five seconds: “12 extra unauthorized seconds of silence.” One can only hope that iTunes doesn’t get in any legal trouble for this, having substantially changed the nature of the copyrighted work.

Twitter: Stephen Fry: 14 July 2011
And we know it’s copyrighted. Not only was the iTunes track downloaded with full DRM attached, in 2002 a composer cheekily credited Cage as a co-author of a track that was a minute of silence, and was sued by Cage’s estate for his homage.

YouTube: John Cage's 4m33s: Uploaded by AdamLore

Not only that, but YouTube video of the performance was challenged by the Warner Media Group (WMG), and therefore had it’s audio track disabled by Google. Which meant that when you watched the video, you heard four minutes and thirty-three seconds of a completely different silence than the one originally intended. Shocking. Or, as Fry put it in his tweet: “Scandal.”

Related Links:
     EDIT: Twitter: Matt Fraction and Dara O’Briain come up with the same punchline
     The Vulture: A lovely profile of and context for Cage on his 100th birthday
     GoComics: Frazz by Jef Mallett, 31 March 2004
     Comics Grand Database: “Indeterminacy” by R.Sikoryak
     The Millions: John Cage, Silence
     The Guardian: John Cage Christmas Single campaign
     Cage Against The Machine: Official website

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Supercut: The Bat-Turn

19 July, 2012 at 11:11 pm (batman)

In 2007, when Christopher Nolan was filming his future blockbuster The Dark Knight, they didn’t yet know how successful it was going to be, and so people actually bothered to do all sorts of publicity press about it. On June 14, 2007, a number of nerd blogs were granted press access to a promotional photo of the Batman suit, which had been revamped since Begins. Now, the suit is revamped for every movie, usually for simple reasons like: it’s hot, it’s heavy, it’s difficult to get in and out of. And when there’s continuity of creative personnel, the returning actors and directors like to try and streamline the process of not having to wait on the mechanics of the giant bat-suit in the room. Later that same week, Entertainment Weekly published this same promotional image (with a bizarre claim of exclusivity) and the all-important caption:

[T]he cowls of past suits were firmly attached to the neck and shoulders of the costume — necessary to maintain that iconic silhouette and to prevent the actor from moving around inside the mask. The new headpiece — modeled after a motorcycle helmet — is separate from the neck, so star Christian Bale can now swivel his noggin side to side, or nod up and down.

“The first time an actor playing Batman can turn his head!” trumpeted the blogs, forgetting that Bat-actors prior to 1989 wore costumes made of cloth, which wasn’t quite so restrictive.
Small changes in the Batsuit between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight
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3 July, 2012 at 4:45 pm (clerical, film)

This blog doesn’t get many comments. In part because, well, who reads it? I get my fair share of hits from people searching for images of the lady who was fired for being too hot and for Patrick Bateman’s business card, but few people actually stop here and smell the proverbial roses. I am not controversial, trendy, clever, or charismatic enough in person or in print to have “followers”. My twitter feed and my defunct Beehive forum testify to this. I have achieved relative peace with this fact.

So it was a mild shock to receive an email from WordPress saying that some rando had been incensed enough with my eight-year old post about Star Wars vs. Annie Hall that he needed to set me straight! All comments are moderated, so it sits sadly in limbo until I’m done with this post, and then I will send it to its stygian destiny. Because, well, it’s idiotic. He wiffles on for 200 words about how Star Wars, because it’s imaginary, took more creativity in its writing and production, because making up names like “Dirk Starkiller” is haaarrrrrd. Despite his lack of capitalization and despite a superfluity of appalling clauses, someone had successfully taught this young padawan that one should concede a point to the opposing view to show that one is not a complete rhetorical monster. He does this with the following:

Annie Hall made ​​me such a good time but did not reach me emotionally like star wars.

But his ultimate conclusion is that, “Annie Hall will be quickly forgotten.”

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