Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Holy Flash Animation!"

I usually detest websites relying too heavily on Flash animations - they can be a pain for dial-up users to load, and too often the animation seems to exist merely "because it's cool." One of the most important ideas that a designer - heck, anyone - needs to learn:

"Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should."
But today I learned about perhaps the finest use of Flash ever: The Bat Pages, devoted to the 1960s Batman TV show. Yes, the show was hokey (and Caesar Romero wouldn't even shave his moustache), but it was hokey-fun, from the cartoon titles to the whirling Bat-logo scene-changer to the catchy-yet-philosophical theme song.

The Bat Pages strive to recreate the entire Bat-Video Experience, and they do a mighty-fine job, with opening titles, sound effects, interactive bits, and more. So-- atomic engines to power, turbines to speed, speakers on, and go! (Note the special bonus included for those visitors lucky enough to find the Bat Shark Repellent.)

Thanks to my brother John Kannenberg (founder, designer, and all-around guru of the net.music label Stasisfield) for the tip!

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Black Ink Monday

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists has declared today "Black Ink Monday":
Over the last 20 years, the number of cartoonists on the staff of daily newspapers nationwide has been cut in half. In the last month alone, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and a half-dozen other prominent papers), has forced out well-known and award-winning cartoonists at the LA Times and Baltimore Sun, eliminating their positions entirely. [...]
In an open letter to Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, AAEC President Clay Bennett recently wrote: "There are few journalists in a newsroom who can define the tone and identity of a publication like an editorial cartoonist does. By discarding those who make a newspaper unique, you rob it of its character. By robbing a newspaper of its character, you steal its spirit."

You can view 100 editorial cartoon protests at this page of the AAEC website.

Why should you care about this? Some might put it this way: "It's the First Ammendment, Stupid." Others might note that this "downsizing" trend is happening throughout America; as corporations continue their absorptions, mergers and monoplies, lining their CEOs' pockets by demandinge more work from fewer workers for less cash, the next position to be eliminated could be your own. Still others might take an historical approach, noting that editorial cartooning played an important role in the founding of this very country:

That, of course, is Benjamin Franklin's famous "Join, or Die" cartoon from the May 9, 1754 edition of Franklin's newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. It's considered the first editorial cartoon in what would eventually become the United States. By trampling on the editorial cartoon tradition, the Tribune Comany tramples on a fundamental piece of what makes America, America.

Here's a story about the recent acquisition of an original print of this cartoon by none other than Steve Geppi, President and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Comic Distributors. Insert your own joke about monopolization here...

Update: Curiously, there's nary a mention of Black Ink Monday in today's Houston Chronicle; after all the complaints I've heard in Houston about how "liberal" the Chronicle is, I was hoping to see some coverage. They didn't forget to include the Editorial Page's daily "Bible Verse," though. (Curiously, the Bible Verse seems to be just about the only portion of the paper not reproduced on its website. Hmmmm...)

Update Nummer Zwei: For more background on the reasons for Black Ink Monday - and to learn that editorial cartoonist Paul Revere understood the power of revision - check out this animated editorial cartoon by past AAEC President Milt Priggee. It takes a few minutes to watch/read, but it's worth it to get a sort of panoramic view of the current situation. And be sure also to read the enlightening essay "In Defense of Editorial Cartooning" by Chris Lamb (entry for December 9 at Daryl Cagle's blog). Thanks to the Ever-Amazing Elena Steier for telling Milt Priggee about the Blog Machine!

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Holiday Gift Suggestion...

Given that...

I have had a long interest in Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland," and

I grew up in Milwaukee, WI and read the Milwaukee Journal daily newspaper (nowadays the Journal Sentinel), and

The item pictured below is currently on offer at eBay

... I believe that my family and friends now know what to get me for Xmas.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ditko = Ditko

I first discovered cartoonist Steve Ditko's work in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man - or, more accurately, in Pocket Books' three-volume Spider-Man Classics series, published in the late 1970s. Technically, the first Ditko art I saw must have been in Origins of Marvel Comics- but the Pocket Spider-Mans gave me hundreds of pages of Ditko artwork, and I devoured them all, over and over again. Ross Andru was the current Spider-Man artist at the time, and I liked that work a lot; but the old books drawn (and often plotted) by Ditko were quirky, instantly recognizable, intensely felt: They were magic, and I couldn't get enough of them (or reprints of his early work on Doctor Strange). Fans of Ditko's Marvel-era work will be interested in the recent Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko volume, at right.

It wasn't until years later that I discovered Ditko's own, more personal work, on characters like Static, The Mocker, and - of course - Mr. A (you might still find copies of The Ditko Collection, with lots of Mr A., if you're lucky.) Ditko had become a student of Ayn Rand, and Mr. A. was the living embodiment of Rand's philosophy of "Objectivism": A is A. In Mr. A's world (and in Ditko's) there can be no moral grey areas; there is good, and there is evil, and there is nothing else. I think the icongraphy in the following image (from the Heritage Comics website) makes the stark argument quite clearly, itself:

While I find Ditko's personal work fascinating, I can't say that I could ever agree with it philosophically; I guess I'm too much of a grey-area kind of person. But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy Mr. A; it's clearly passionate, heart-felt work. How many commercial artists of any stripe are that willing to put their innermost beliefs down on the page, this starkly, with no apologies or hedging?

Thanks to a post by Dr. Chris R. Tame on the Ditko-Kirby email list, I was happy to learn about the following article:
"The Illustrated Rand", by Chris Matthew Sciabarra. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 6.1 (2004): 1-20. (Download a PDF version of the entire article here.)
The article, part one of two, catalogues Rand's cultural influence by listing some of the scores of academic journals, magazines, televsion shows, and more media which have quoted or mentioned Rand's work. Unfortunately, the bulk of the article is little more than a list. There's precious litle analysis here, although there may be more extended discussions in part two, which I haven't yet read. We don't even learn if most of these mentions are positive or negative, informed or throw-away.

The largest section of the article by far, however, is devoted to Steve Ditko and Frank (Sin City) Miller (pages 8-12). While the section includes several meaty Mr. A quotes, we still don't find much in the way of analysis. I'd love to learn more about how Objectivism plays out in Ditko's work: How accurately does his work embody the philosophy? Does Ditko's thought expand on, embellish, or even contradict Rand's? Again, perhaps I'm asking too much of an admitted "overview" article; but if anyone out there knows of more critical looks at Ditko's pesonal work, I'd love to hear about them.

And since I haven't mentioned it yet, the premiere website for Ditko is Blake Bell's Ditko Looked Up. Watch for Blake's Steve Ditko: Mysterious Traveller, a biography forthcoming from Fantagraphics. I'm sure that Blake's book will get into the questions I've asked above - and more - with relish.

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