Joe Alterio's blog on illustration, comix, design, animation, and other bouts of total awesomeness.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don't Get Too Comfortable

Via Digg:

The site for Alan Weisman's new book The World Without Us is a trip, and knows exactly what it needs to do to get hits, science be damned: give us pretty computer generated images and little Quicktime clips of what that subprime hunk of real estate that we're sweating over so much will look like in a billion years or so. Like all the best forms of pop-sci, if the site is any indication, Weisman's book uses the guise of 'science' to give us the vicarious thrill of reading about our probable end game. Futurism seems to come in waves, and the combined forces of the millenium change, 9/11, and the Global Warming® Brand Social Concern place us firmly in the Apocalyptic cycle, not that I'm complaining, mind you. The last time we saw this merging of science and culture to scare the bejeezus out of us was the 1970s, was of the best decades, in my humble opinion, for art, film, and music. With great fear comes great imagination, I guess. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Oh My Freakin' God

This one is for Rebholz: after the unbelievable let down of Reign of Fire and the false promises made on it's movie poster, finally, finally, there is a movie that gives us exactly what we need: army guys vs. dragons. Only slightly less fantastic than this trailer is the comments on the YouTube page debating whether these are dragons or wyverns.

I heart The Internets.

(via Techsploitation)

Obey the Orb

From Wired, a piece about The Orb , a "glanceable" (chuckle) ambient information object that, instead of shouting data at you, is more passive in it's presentation.

"That's the power of "ambient information," which tries to combat data overload by moving information off computer screens and into the world around us. The Orb was originally sold as a tool for monitoring financial portfolios. You could set it to shine a serene sky blue when your stocks were going up or pulse an alarming red when they were tanking. Studies showed that people were two to three times more likely to actively manage their investments, selling off deadbeat stocks and buying better-performing ones, when they used the Orb. This is the psychological paradox of ambient information: We're more likely to act on a subtle but continuously present message than an intermittent one we're forced to stare at."

Great idea, cool object, and what a way to see the power of numbers when it comes to energy saving. But what I really love is that diagram above, from The Orb's site.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Worst. Movie. Ever.

Back sometime in 1987 or 1988, a tattered manila folder with KFC stains on it made it's way from DC out to glamourous Burbank, CA, onto the desk of some producer at Warner Brothers. On it was scrawled in child-like script 'Batman: The Movie". A worse thing has never happened to the film or comic world since. Well. Maybe this or this. But that's it.

As someone who is himself in the midst of collaborating on a pitch book based around a comic, I recognize immediately my position is untenable, but a man's gotta eat, and the reality is that comic book movies are big bucks these days. And I mean big bucks. And if you lump fantasy and sci-fi movies in there, you've just about got the big money market cornered.

The rise of the comic movie dovetailed nicely with the rise of CGI: if you ever seen the old Spider-man TV show and it's subsequent effects, you see why previously super hero media felt a little limp. There's only so many times you can run the film backwards before the kids catch on. Suddenly, fireballs and monsters looked really really cool. And everyone knows cool = moola.

The problem is that comics and movies operate in two completely different visual languages.

I won't bore you with some real pencil neck talk, but to be brief: no matter how fresh the effects are, comics always worked on the imagination in ways that made the reader complicit in the action of the comic book. Comics books are an active medium. Movies are passive: you just sit there and receive the cues. So whenever I see a movie translated from a comic book of fantasy novel, no matter how great it looks, a little piece of me dies because it's like watching everyone's imaginations stuffed into the same little box. Anyone that thought juggernaut's charges looked like anything but this, tough luck. That's the way it is now.

Without further ado, this amazing list of the Pulp Secret's Top Ten Worst Comic Book Movies. They're all incredibly crappy, and there's few I have to rush out and rent. It takes a lot to make an even crappier looking Fantastic Four movie. Prost!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We're all so damn smart

I was sitting in Dolores Park yesterday, on an absolutely perfect day, eating crackers and talking about The Simpsons with Molly. A more perfect way to spend my Saturday, I can't imagine.

We were discussing The Simpsons, abstractly because of the movie (a lukewarm affair), but more specifically because of my friend Annalee Newitz's post about why she hates The Simpsons. Annalee, if you ever picked up a copy of Wired, or happen to have ever been on the internet, is everywhere, and an especially deft commentator on our times and technology. Having said that, I realize my little rebuttle won't get much traction, but I'd feel deficit if I didn't at least give it shot.

Firstly, don't get me wrong: I don't think NewsCorp needs my help, nor is one of Murdoch's most profitable babies above reproach. I'm under no illusion about The Simpsons® brand laughter generating product. Long ago it forfeited any claim to cultural cool, or to subversive appeal. It is now as formulaic as Spacely Sprockets, ring the bell, watch Homer's pants fall down, laugh. Repeat. Rake in money.

But it wasn't always that way, and I think it has to a lot to do with the environment it was forged in.

Remember Pulp Fiction, and that how at the time it seemed so fresh, and it now seems so...Nineties? There's a particular element to The Nineties Cache that demands nothing more than the aggregation and coopting of different cultures and obscure references: whether Tarantino films or Beavis and Butthead, our post-glasnost sense of worldliness manifested itself in the urbane set as a knowingness of all cultures everywhere. The real Cold War was replaced with the cultural Cold War: you just got some Japanese food specific to Hokkaido? Well, we're going to see some Icelandic opera. Pulp Fiction was so groundbreaking because it was, when inspected, nothing more than just an aggregation: Hong Kong action cinema, 1940's noir, Eastern Europe pulp films. The media of the time embraced all that, and I hold that no institution did it, and enshrined it, better than The Simpsons. At it's best, The Simpsons references come so fast and furious that it takes a cultural swami to keep up.

The thing is, that stuff is not just Ninties: I hold that it's just about we have these days. For all it's shiny new hip and coolness, BoingBoing is endgame of that: it's nothing but links to other cool things. There is no creation on Boing Boing. Many posts are even just repeating the text of email tip sent by the tipper directly on the page. To that end, Boing Boing and The Simpsons share a very real commonality: the collection of cool, the currency of hipness, with the more obscure making the higher value denomination.

My thesis stands thusly: Post WW2, the cultural cache belonged to belonging; the status quo was the only route into society. Then, the maturation of the baby-boomers brought about a similar cache for status quo, but one in direct opposite
We are in the Age of Recognition: humor, insight, intelligence, artistic creation, all of it has the highest value when it makes an oblique reference to something else.

In this light, I can't see The Simpsons as anything less than one of the ancesteors of everything we hold up to cool throne these days. So I gotta give it it's props. The humor is old, the drawings are stale, and backgrounds have always been awful: but every time I laugh at Colbert or visit Digg, I'm paying respect. You gotta pay respect. D'oh on, brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Big Mutation

This discussion is a bit long in the tooth, but there's plenty of great sites that give you commentary on things as they happen. This is not one of those sites. You come here for my sublime wit and charm. Sit. Have another mohito.

All glib comments aside, the untimely recent deaths of artists Teresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake have been rolling around in my head like a marble in a tin can. I knew neither of them personally, and I only knew Blake's work professionally; Duncan's was either too high brow for me, or I don't keep up with the art scene (prolly both). I'm not a big fan of notching one person's life above another, even for art's sake. On the day Duncan was found dead, 35 Iraqis were found hogtied, tortured and killed. This doesn't make the loss of Duncan and Blake any less unfortunate, but it also doesn't make it more so. Nevertheless, the story bugged me in ways I couldn't put my finger on, like a popcorn kernel in the back of my throat.

The puzzle piece fell into place a few days ago, on a flight back from Boston, when I was reading the August 13th issue of the New Yorker. Within is a very disturbing article by Richard Preston titled 'An Error in the Code' The article concerns a rare disease called Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which, besides having horrific symptoms, is the result of a very tiny alteration of the genetic code. Literally a one-letter switch dooms the victims to a life time of self-destructive behavior of Herculean proportions.

What is depression, and more specifically, what is depression when it comes to artistic vision? There's a insistent and hotly debated claim about the link between depression and artistic aptitude, and, truth be told, it's pisses off a lot of serious depression sufferers. The romantic vision of depression is that which Poe called "the insistent demons": the storm that rages inside and forces out the needles that pierce our banal reality. To be linked so closely to ones emotions, it could be argued, is to be closest to that which makes despair as well as joy.

How far away is a meaningful painting away from a suicide note? How much of a glimpse of the dark side do you have to see to write a great novel? And where is that line
between being a great artist and going over the edge? Is killing yourself when the demons go a step too far?

Harper's this month related the story about Hemingway, and a theory, and just a theory, as to why Hemingway shot himself. Norman Mailer, a close friend of Papa, proposed that Hemingway thrived on being close to death to to stimulate his synapses into creativity: thats where all that big game hunting and bull-running bullshit came from. Every night, Mailer theorizes, Hemingway would sit at his writing desk with a glass of booze, put the shotgun in his mouth, and see how far he could pull the trigger: July 2nd, 1961, he went a click too far.

This pleasant little anecdote suffers the same problem as most of the starry-eyed tales spun late at night by Ginsberg wannabes who drink their blackberry wine by the jug: it creates a mythos of romantic desirability around a real disease that tears apart lives and families. Having the additional information now at my fingertips in a battered copy of a New Yorker that a disease with symptoms that, 100 years ago would classified as "straight-up crazy", and is now known to be caused by a few genetic typos: it makes my head spin.

Follow me here - Depression can be classified as a disease, and evidence points to a genetic prediposition. And as depression and art are linked, as apocryphal evidence so strongly suggests, is the creative impulse just a genetic typo, too? Are we wired to blissfully ignorant of some of the more sublime ironies and observations about life? Are we forged to ignore creativity, and it's only by random mutation that we get Chekov, Strummer, and Tezuka?

Man. I need a drink.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Potpourri Wednesday

So I've been a little latent with the blogging these days, and for that I apologize. One of my mid-years resolutions has been to blog more. But my brain isn't really functioning today, so in place of actually saying anything interesting, I'll pass along some cool stuff which as reached me via The Internets over the past few days.

*GammaRayBots, an art project/online store by Tom Torry, who collects found objects and creates completely kickass robots for sale. He also has a pretty gnarly Flickrstream with some cool altered postcards.

* Williams Gibson: 'The word 'cyber' is going away.' No cybershit, Willie. A few years ago, I worked for someone who's business was based around the word 'cyber': I didn't have the heart to tell them it made the business sound like about 10 years too late. Besides, Nano is totally the new Cyber.

* Oh my flippin' god. How cool is this? Collect 'em all! (Thanks, Rebholz.)

*Continuity Concern: Run by impressario Tim Lillis, CC is your one-stop shop for the systematic destruction of the greatest cultural virus in our modern world: Contin-
uity. Dig it.

*More damn Robots and Monsters are up. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Across The Finish Line

This Sunday, Molly and I completed the SF marathon, all 26.2 miles of it, and for the next 2 days, I had to go down the stairs backwards.


Except that's not a joke. I really did.

Regardless, I want to thank everyone who came out and showed us support, who wrote us emails and text messages the night before, and especially everyone who donated to our fund raising drive for the SF AIDS Foundation. Thanks to all of your donations, between the personal stuff and the Robots and Monsters efforts, we managed to raise a jaw-dropping $11,890.00 in the fight against AIDS. Thanks again to everyone out there that put in their time, money and love to help us with the project. You guys all totally effing rule.

Speaking of which, as always, there's more robots and monsters. Slowly but surely, I'm plugging away at that list. If you've ordered one, and you want to know where you are on the list and when can expect yours, just drop me an email and I'll see what I can figure out.

Thanks, again folks. I'm off for a soak.