Unwritten

Vertigo consistently makes the smartest, deepest and most diverse comics for adult readers in the mainstream market. Whereas some publishers used the “adult” rating to merely amp the violence and sex, Vertigo allows the freedom such a rating gives them to explore thematic depths, philosophical concepts and ambiguous character traits that more approachable fair shies away from. Of course, using “Scalped” or “Preacher” as an example, the violence and sex isn’t shied away from either when necessary to the story. Yet it’s never the main goal or method in a typical Vertigo work. The problem presented by Vertigo is evident in last month’s cancellation of “Young Liars.” These are not books that fit a wide variety of tastes and preferences. Being funded by a subsection of a mainstream company, in this case DC comics, means that only so much money will be allocated in support of an artistic venture. With creator owned and distributed works like Jeff Smith’s “RASL” or Terry Moore’s “Echo,” low sells and limited appeal is overcome if the author has the time, money and passion to devote to a work that may take years to catch on. DC can always pick another up-and-comer to give a 2 year shot to with Vertigo, or they can move some money back to their main stable and release a new Superman ongoing title.

So, even though there is a tremendous history of smart, great works in Vertigo that got to start, run and come to their natural culmination in the beforehand planned “final issue” like “Sandman,” “Preacher” or “100 Bullets,“ the still ongoing “Hellblazer,” the going-past-originally planned “Fables,” or a host of other books that look like they’re in good shape to end their tale correctly, there are also a lot of books that get the axe before their time. Most recently this is the case with “Vinyl Underground” and “Young Liars.” Both of these titles launched about 2 years ago– “Underground” lasted 12 issues, “Liars” made it to their 16th last month. “Young Liars” is a frustrating example. It was the full work of writer/artist David Lapham, who never got around to wrapping up his creator owned “Stray Bullets” but who looked fired-up to tell this mind-bending, fully involved head-trip adventure through Vertigo in an on-going that never shipped late, often was set on the day it shipped to stores, and always delivered the goods. Axed before its time, we’re left with a hastily thrown together ending that tells us pretty much nothing…we have no idea where this would have really ended up and what detours it would have taken along the way.

So, that said… There are a few very promising works kick-starting this year, all a few issues into the story now. These three books all started around the same time, so the odds on all of them making it to the usual 70 some-odd books it takes to fully wrap a Vertigo tale aren’t tremendous…but if the numbers are decent, they will make it. So as a fan of these, I’m doing my part to get the word out. Buy the monthly…buy the trade too, and, if you like at which point you can sell the “floppies,” but you must buy the monthly if these series’ are going to last. It’s a gamble you take, sure, but you’re certain to be entertained along the way even if the ending never comes. We’re talking about an 8 or 9 dollar a month commitment; dig for some change and take the plunge.

First off, “The Unwritten.” This is a literary fans dream; if you’re a classics dork, check out the entire premise and especially the great detour this past months issue, Issue #5, takes. The basic story follows Tom Taylor, son of a famous author who has died. Taylor is the basis for his fathers best selling books about “Tommy,” a teenage wizard with animal cohorts and adventures. The series is written by Mike Carey and billed as a “literary conspiracy mystery.“ Last month’s issue  # 5 tells an alternate history of Rudyard Kipling and features his encounters with Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). There are things that have occurred in the first 5 issues of this book I haven’t seen done since Neil Gaiman ended “The Sandman,” and I don’t mean to imply any overt similarities other than artistic ambition and non-pandering to popular taste.

Next, “The Unknown Solider.” A fully researched and prepared book by a former self-proclaimed pacifist struggling with the concept of war and “just” violence in the pursuit of peace. It’s set in Uganda and is complete with child soldiers, corrupt governments, agencies with misplaced priorities, humanitarian fervor and real, vivid- yet- dark, life.

“Sweet Tooth,” a post-apocalyptic story of a half-human/half-deer teen in the company of a hunter on the way to the promised land. Bizarre and although entrenched in an overly-used archetype of a setting, wholly invigorating and unconventional enough to make that setting new again.

Okay. I’ve pitched them and if you’ve ever been a fan of comics or graphic novels, pick them up. Support them, lets see them through to their natural conclusion.  Don’t forget “Scalped,” either— Vertigo’s best series which seems to be going strong, winning awards and in no danger of cancellation. It’s modern noir at its finest and hopefully one of the above three titles live up to it in time.

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I hear a lot about balance and compromise lately, especially in light of the ever increasing polarized political climate we find ourselves in.

Recently, parents across the country became angry when the President wanted to address the nation’s schoolchildren via television. Right-wing parents screamed that this was an attempt to “indoctrinate” their children in “socialism” and pulled them out of class in droves. That the President only wanted to speak of the value of education and hard work was irrelevant. Then came the infamous “You lie!” shout during Obama’s health care address. Even though the point Obama was making was proven true by independent political watch groups, reform opponents refuse to deny the “liar” claim even if many of them do agree that the way it was voiced during the speech was inappropriate.

So why rehash this now? Everyone else has already mentioned these things. I noticed a few facebook friends had linked an article by Pat Buchanan to their pages, and normally I’d avoid Buchanan’s opinion at any cost but I decided to give it a read. The piece, published on the web on September the 10th is titled “Is America Coming Apart?”  Buchanan makes a few good points, rightly pointing out that when G.H.W. Bush went to a school in 1991 the left freaked out, and went on to mention that those of us on different sides of the “big issues” (like abortion, gay rights, environmental protection and conservation, etc.) tend to label our position much more nobly than our opponents label it and term their position in a much more derogatory term as well. Buchanan goes on to make various observations about cultural and political issues he feels further polarize us today. Oddly enough, he at one point laments that we’ve replaced “heroes” like Robert E. Lee with people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have major problems with the idea that it’s a bad thing to replace Lee with King as a modern hero, and I find it silly that King should be considered “polarizing” when the things he stood and worked for are good for all of us, but that’s another issue altogether.

 Buchanan seems to think that we now have diversity but not unity. Those of us who feel drawn to do work that seeks to help people, to help society, to build things up and those of us with spiritual and/or religious lives, feel a need to be open, tolerant and to seek unity. But some people seem to think this means we must be more “balanced.” I follow that we should speak with respect, debate with care and love those we don’t agree with. Yet I feel it’s worth pointing out that we can’t seek peaceful balance at the cost of mediocrity or apathy. Buchanan asks “where is the unity?” in a way that suggests that we once all got along much more civilly from both sides. I grant him that with the advent of openly biased 24 hour news networks like Fox News and MSNBC, the proliferation of politics on the internet and a slew of amped up anger and judgment, things are more vocally polarized. Yet there have always been universal differences in the right and the left. If in the past those that strove to bring about equality and justice through the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and various peace movements in our country had been too concerned with peaceful balance, progress would never have been made. I stress that peace was necessary– Dr. King used pacifism and nonviolent protest to accomplish his mission. Yet the idea he should have had to “compromise” with the Alabama government without offending their beliefs that African Americans shouldn’t have the same rights as whites seems absurd.

We can have respect for others as people without compromising our beliefs on issues that are very important-take the health care debate. There are hard facts involved. The World Health Organization ranked the US 37th out of 191 on the list of all health care systems in the world in 2008. France was ranked at number 1. Yet despite this FACT, those on the right argue we have nothing to take from the system France uses and that the system they use is really worse than ours because it is “socialism,” the latest hip disparaging word used by a sector of the right that really have no comprehension of what socialism. The struggle to be bi-partisan, to reach across the aisle and to compromise in this health care debate is seemingly fruitless. There is no compromise, because those on the right don’t see a need for reform.

I struggle with knowing how to draw the line. There are people that I love and respect that I don’t see eye to eye on over many issues. Yet when it comes to speaking out on, writing about and working towards positive change and progress on these issues, I feel I can’t be overly concerned with being “balanced” if it means balancing fact, compassion, justice, hope and progress with misinformation, hysteria, prejudice, greed and selfishness. The current health care debate affects the health, wealth, well-being and security of millions of Americans. Any of us making less than $50,000 a year, even with health insurance, aren’t secure under the current system because one serious injury or illness could easily result in bankruptcy for us. Yet to speak these things is considered “polarizing.” What about the environmental issues, as Buchanan mentions? Despite conclusive and repeated studies and warnings from every major scientific mind in the world that state that unless major changes are made we will irreparably harm the planet, must we still “debate” and compromise over that as well, at the cost of all future generations? What about issues concerning women, immigrant, minority and gay rights? Must we compromise that some of these people simply do not deserve all of the rights the rest of us have?

 That ‘s where I see the urging for balance as being misguided. I wholeheartedly agree that we should speak to those on the other side of issues with care, respect and compassion. I agree we should be friends with those that share completely different political and religious ideals than us. We can always learn from them, they can always learn from us. A dialogue and a friendship can provide all of us with a better understanding of the “Other.” Besides, outside of politics and religion, surely we have plenty else to talk about with our fellow human beings in friendship. But, on these issues that affect health, justice, love and equality we must not be afraid to speak, write and work towards a better tomorrow. When facts don’t work to persuade the opposition, non-violent action and devotion might. I remind myself that, according to the Christian scriptures and ideas, even Jesus got angry. When? Anytime an issue of justice came up. Jesus loved and spoke with all, regardless of their personal sins and flaws. He befriended and cared for everyone on a human level. Yet he had no patience for any system , belief or practice that oppressed the “other.” If government, religion or marketplace devalued the rights of the poor, the different, the immigrant, the overlooked, Jesus spoke out. Most other major figures from the enduring world religions and philosophies did this as well. Would they compromise their opinion on justice so as not to trouble or offend anyone?

TBR

The first four innings of the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox September 2nd game contained everything I love about baseball. Oddly enough, it caused me to think about some of the major problems I have with Major League Baseball despite my sincere fandom of it.

Since I’m not really a fan or opponent of either team, I just happened to begin by rooting for the Sox but soon began to root for the Rays upon seeing their entire team exemplify to the audience and the viewers at home how to do everything right on the field and at the plate.

A depressing sight, however, occurred anytime the cameras panned the stands—which were practically empty. The commentators stated that it was unusual for a team playing very successfully and that had just been to the World Series the previous year to draw such dismal numbers. The Rays have been drawing several thousand under the average MLB team attendance this season. The sportscasters suggested that the local Florida fans had already fled for college football. While narrating they reiterated the oddity of local fans not supporting such a winning team but said that (to paraphrase) “however you wish to spend you disposable income in such an economy is up to you, but it’s just odd.”

So despite the excellent baseball I was seeing, I began to wonder how the national pastime would continue if the recession lasted a significantly long period of time. I could go on yet another rant about baseball being better than football in a historic, artistic and cultural manner and digress that it’s simply symbolic of short attention spans and degraded culture that has caused the almost usurpation of baseball by football. I’d do so primarily in jest, even though I can’t help but believe small aspects of those arguments, but that’s not the direction I thought in nor where I am going with this now. No, here I was watching Major League Baseball on a public television set—I don’t even have cable so unless the game’s on a network available by antennae I’m not getting it at home. I also quite clearly wasn’t at the park paying the ticket price to see it. So the organization wasn’t making a dime off of me no matter how much I enjoyed it. If the recession continued a long time, the general public simply wouldn’t have time or money to spend to go out to the big game. By the time a family pays for gas to the park, tickets to the game and a few concessions, they’re looking at over a hundred dollars for an afternoon’s entertainment.

How could we bring down the cost to see the big game? Of course many will still pay their large cable and satellite prices. Many will pay the additional dozens of dollars a month to expand that to get things like “Season Pass” to catch all the games no longer available for the general public on basic cable. Eventually, though, if there aren’t enough people in the seats something has to give.

How would the cost come down? Well, let’s see….these players are making millions of dollars to play this game. When that much money is going to the people playing, the tickets have to be expensive. If this game is truly a national pastime, how about we lower the ticket prices and fill the stands?

Here the argument becomes one very comparable to a complaint many have over health care reform (believe it or not). A common fear expressed by some Health Care Reform opponents is that if we pay doctors less we won’t have doctor’s that work as hard, we won’t have the drive for technological and medical breakthroughs and we’ll fall behind. A recent AP article took on 5 common health care myths and in addressing this one, mentioned many of the products, techniques and breakthroughs we use in the US that emerged from medical communities in France, Germany and Canada under socialized health care plans. Well, when it comes to baseball, the argument is that salary caps and cut pay rates for players accustomed to lavish lifestyles will result in the greats dropping out and the powerhouse years coming to a close. As much as I love many of the players raking in big money and I do recognize that many of them devote decent chunks of their money to needed community programs, I feel that even if they were to leave, there’d still be those that are just hungry to play the game. Look at the minor leagues alone. Ninety percent of those playing in AA and AAA teams will never see the big leagues. Granted, most of them have the hope or even the confidence that someday they will and that in that day they will make millions. Yet many, if not most, players in these leagues probably realize the odds say they won’t and yet continue to play very hard every time. These players make less than most middle class workers. They also spend their time shuttled around on the roads playing in out of the way parks for sometimes uninterested viewers. They wear their bodies out and live pretty hard. Yet many of them play the game with complete heart. So, say the average Major League player goes from making millions a year to making $400-500,000 a year. That’s still quite a bit more than an AA player making $20,000. Add fame, recognition and all the perks and do you really think the average AA or AAA player will struggle less to make the jump to the big leagues?

If we really want to return Baseball to its rightful place as a national Pastime and a populist sport, a drastic cut in salaries and restructuring could do that. I say this begrudgingly I guess, because I love the game and I love the big name players, the World Series, the entire thing and it’s so big scale now that a drastic restructuring would shake it up completely. Will this happen? Almost certainly not. Should it? Yes. Will I continue to watch either way? Yeah.

I love MLB, movies, music and entertainment. Yet hearing the sportscasters lament that the stands weren’t full and that our expendable income was our choice (but “hint-hint” we should probably spend it at the baseball park) made it appear even odder to me that in a recession, we the fans are asked to show our support. We the fans who make between 20,000 and maybe $200,000 a year are to support those that make 2 million and up a year? I hope the amount these players are giving back to the community and the world has gone up tremendously in these hard times, yet I doubt it’s gone up enough. Why do we pay those that entertain us so much better than we pay those that protect us, save our lives, treat us in clinics, educate us and serve us?