Apr 29, 2015

Wed Review (William James - Pragamatism)

This became a pretty tedious read after the first couple chapters. He seems to keep repeating the same basic ideas and applying them to a variety of subjects.

He states at one point how a theory goes through a few different stages in it's introduction and adoption. Eventually a theory becomes so commonplace that it's taken as obvious and trivial. I think that's what's happened to Pragmatism over the last 100+ years, since it was first formally stated.

It's still a powerful idea and one that's useful. I'm not entirely sure I understand the full force of it's implications, and I want to now read James's essay on truth for a more thorough discussion on that.

I would have preferred a more concise presentation of his ideas than this book. I prefer the secondary literature I've read on the topic.

The book is actually a text taken from a series of lectures James did. I read it on Gutenberg - so I'm not sure this applies to the print versions - but a lot of the important points are presented in all capitals, and I imagine James screaming at the audience to emphasis these. I started to hate James by the end of the book, his constant repetitions and dull prose, so this helped me picture him as an asshole.

Apr 22, 2015

Wed Review (Larry Gonick - Cartoon History of the Universe book one From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great

A fascinating journey from the big bang, to the dinosaurs and evolution, to the beginnings of man and civilization; culminating in discussions of Greece.

This makes for a nice introduction to some of the subjects, and a nice reminder of others (depending on how much you already know, of course). I was thinking, "this would have been nice to read when I was 12" many times throughout the book because it covers a lot of the material I drudged through in public school middle school (age 12-15).

Much of history is conjecture, so its good to have multiple opinions on the subject matter. I think one criticism of this book is that Gonick seems confident in his opinion and either writes off other opinions who doesn't discuss them at all.

He's highly critical of religion (which I think is a good thing because it allows him to provide conjecture of the real-world basis of religion and religious/mythical [is there a difference?] stories). The old testament volume was interesting, as I contrasted it to my reading of Genesis, many of the historical conjecture as filtered through Gonick seems much more reasonable than the Bible's account.

I was bored by the Greek stories, which makes up that latter part of the book, if only because I am familiar with Greek history through my studies of its philosophy. I would have preferred more in depth discussion on early civilizations like Sumer.

Overall, a fun and enlightening read. I'm definitely going to continue the series as well as seek out the books Gonick recommends in his bibliography.

Apr 15, 2015

Wed Review (Alfie Kohn - Beyond Discipline)

An interesting subject and premise, but I don't think the content justified the length. It's not a long book; it just doesn't have much content. It's a very negative book in that it criticizes at length forms of discipline in the classroom but it doesn't offer much to replace those forms.

Punishment (and reward, which has the same outcome as punishment) allows teachers to gain temporary compliance. It has bad psychological effects on the children. Children grown up can feel these effects, like me who, for the most part, went through the whole punishment/reward system, when they are adults. The book doesn't dwell on the future effects, however. The punishment system also doesn't teach the students anything about why they should behave. It simply gives them an incentive to.

The punishment system also presupposes that what the teachers are having the students do is correct. For example, punishing a kid for not being able to sit still suggests that the kid should sit still. It is likely that this is a ridiculous request - kids are meant to move around. To extent this principle; perhaps it is the curriculum itself that is causing the 'ill' behaviour - kids tend to lose interest if a subject is too easy, too hard, or too repetitive.

Kohn wants teachers to consider what the goal of education is. It is not to 'get students to memorize the names of the founding fathers'. But it is more likely to get students to be independent thinkers, lovers of knowledge and thought, etc.

I already agreed with Kohn going into this book, so perhaps that is why I found it a bit boring - it was trying to convince me of things I am already into. It's almost foreign to me that people would endorse the disciplinary systems Kohn criticizes (can't educators recall their own childhoods?).

The book reads like a dumbed-down version of some of John Dewey's educational works. It's shocking to me that this book is considered a "modern classic" (that label may just be the book publisher being a bit too emphatic) as it really has no new information, it rehashes, simplifies, and puts into digestible form, information that has been in print for at least a hundred years (probably more, as I may discover if I read more on education and children; I mention Dewey because he's what I've read, and he's quite popular).

Apr 8, 2015

Wed Review (Daniel Clowes - Ghost World)

I started reading this book a couple years ago. That same night I was chatting with a cute girl online, and she told me she hated the book and recommended another one. I dropped this book and read the other.

I've read a bunch of Clowes's books in the meantime but I've always shied away from this one due to that false-start. I finally read it the other day, and I realize the woman who didn't like it didn't like it because the characters in this novel are so similar to her - and that's not a compliment. The characters are so full of themselves. They have a strong outward hatred of everything, but the hatred is caused by a lack of self-love. They hate themselves, and they hate their situation (post-high school, shitty jobs, no college plans - no plans at all).

Clowes does an excellent job of letting us into their petty, emotional worlds. There's a few sub-plots that seem really strange, like the protagonists meets a child-molester who really has nothing to do with anything - I suppose Clowes wanted to show that these girls may be awful people but at least they don't hurt anyone(?).

I guess, in the end, I have to agree with all the praise for this book (which is another reason I never read this, I figured it was for sure overrated). It's odd to recommend a book that I didn't enjoy reading, but I think the end of the journey and my reflections on the characters made this book worthwhile.

Apr 5, 2015

Best Comicbook Artists - Richard Corben

In this column I will be going through some of my favourite comic book artists. I'm unsure how many I will end up doing but I will going through all of my favourites. Each article will give a brief overview of the artist and his career as well as displaying lots of the artwork that I think demonstrates his or her greatness. The only criteria I've used is my own love of the artist. All of these artists have inspired me in one way or another and have motivated me to seek out most of their work. I love great artwork but I read comics to read comics. Each of these artists have been involved in great projects and have demonstrated a knack for the sequential medium and infuse movement and character into all of their drawings.

Richard Corben

Richard Corben was one of the figureheads of the 70s underground comicbook movement. He focused primarily in the scifi and horror genres going so far as creating adaptions of Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. His Poe work actually spans four decades. He was inducted into the Eisner hall of fame in 2012 and at 74 years of age is still actively creating comics. At the time of writing the third issue of his creator-owned series Rat God just hit the stands earlier in the day.

His first published comicbook was 1969's Tales From the Plague. Corben provides art to Dennis Cunningham's wordy script. There are some pretty nice glimpses into Corben;s brilliance, but it leaves much to be desired. It has the feeling of old woodcut prints with its scratchy inks or an illumined book ala William Blake.

After this start Corben dove into the world of underground self-publishing with titles such as Grim Wit, Slow Death, Skull, Rowlf, and Fever Dreams. During this time he also published with Warren in its anthology title Creepy and a little in Eerie and Vampirella.
1970 - Horrible Harvey's House (Last Gasp)

1970 - Fantagor #1 back cover


1970 - Razar, The Unhero (Fantagor 1)


His art continued to improve throughout this period. I think his first true graphic masterpiece was 1974's adaption of Poe's The Raven.

The following year saw the release of the graphic novel Bloodstar, an adaption of a Robert E. Howard story.
This piece highlighted his airbrush technique and his ability to sustain a lengthy narrative - a rare feat in America in the mid 70s.

In 1975 he began submitting stories to Metal Hurlant (published as Heavy Metal in the US). He serialized his first lengthy solo narrative Den in these pages. Corben managed to have a unique and powerful visual style among heavyweights such as the magazine co-founders Moebius and Druillet.

He also published the serialized The Last Voyage of Sinbad in Heavy Metal.

During the Heavy Metal period Corben produced a series of graphic novels with various collaborators. Mutant World (1982), Werewolf (1984), The Bodyssey (1986), Vic and Blood (1987), as well as  continuing Den. Corben never stopped innovating his style and used state of the art color reproduction in his comics. 1992's Den Saga (the fourth book of Den) has some incredible coloring techniques. 

The next volume of Den was published by Penthouse and saw Corben satirizing his own work.

1997 found Corben finally breaking into (what could be called) mainstream comics and beginning his lengthy association with Darkhorse Comics with Aliens Alchemy.

In 2000 Corben drew a story arc for Hellblazer written by Azzarello. Two years later he drew another Azzarello story Cage this time for Marvel's Max imprint.

2000 also saw Corben drawing an adaption of The House on the Borderland. This is perhaps Corben's most popular work to have found a more general audience outside of the comicbook reading viewership.

In 2002 Corben was invited to do an issue of Marvel's Solo - an innovative series where each issue focused on one artist.

Not slowing down at all Corben worked on Swamp Thing, Punisher, Ghost Rider, a few solo works, a series of Poe adaptions, Hellboy and Conan from 2004 to 2007. 2008 saw Corben produce a series of Lovecraft adaptions and a brilliant Hellboy run "The Crooked Man".

Corben published Ragemoor in 2012 and completed a lengthy series of Poe adaptions published as a book collection in 2014. 

Corben is currently publishing Rat God.


In addition to his impressive body of comic work Corben has illustrated many magazine, comicbook covers, and interior artwork. 

Recommended Reading:

Ideally we would all be able to pick up copies of Corben's originally comics. These selections should still be readily available.

Creepy Presents Richard Corben (2012) - collects Corben's 70s work on Creepy.

Ragemoor (2012)

Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft (2008)

The House on The Borderland (2000)

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe (2006)

Edgar Allan Poe's Spirits of the Dead (2014)

Den: Neverwhere, Den 2: Muvovum, Den 3: Children of Fire, Den 4, Den 5: Elements

Hellboy in Mexico, Hellboy: The Bride of Hell, Hellboy: Being Human, Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, Hellboy: Houe of the Living Dead, Hellboy: The Crooked Man, Hellboy: Makoma.