Initial Thoughts on Hitler’s Furies

Hitler's FuriesMonday, October 20, 2014

Today I started reading Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower. The book seeks to understand German women’s roles in World War II, especially in their work perpetuating the Holocaust and moving east following Operation Barbarossa. According to Ms. Lower, research on women’s roles during World War II is lacking, and it is has been the historical habit to downplay their roles in search of prosecuting men for their war crimes. Nazi women have even become martyrs, considered apolitical and long-suffering and known for cleaning and restoring Berlin after the Allied victory.

However, according to her research, about 1/3 of all German women (which was 40 million during the war) actively participating in Nazi activities, including as concentration camp guards, doctors and nurses who participating in medical experiments, secretaries, censors, and teachers, among other jobs. As can be guessed, many were not on the periphery of the great Nazi Aryanization scheme but were instead right in the thick of things – such as the approximately 200 women who worked with a Nazi doctor to choose and liquidate Jewish children who might become future criminals. Continue reading

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Allow Me to Educate You, Mr. Jones: A Brief Defense of Modern Comics

Climate ChangedRecently, Jonathan Jones of The Guardian called out modern-day comic book artists for being “banal”, “unenthusiastic”, “dull”, and, at best, “merely serviceable” in their art and expression. According to him, comic book artists have forgotten that they are in fact artists meant to test the limits of the medium and have strayed too far from such celebrated artists as Alan Moore, Joe Sacco, Robert Crumb, and, most bizarrely, William Hogarth, an 18th-century English satirist most known for his engravings. Evidently, modern comics have entered a dark period.

Such an opinion is, quite frankly, bullshit, especially if you’ve been reading any of the nonfiction comics that have come out in the past twenty or so years. In Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science, French cartoonist Philippe Squarzoni uses his considerable skill in portraiture and layout to turn a 400-plus page tome about climate change into an intellectually terrifying visual delight.

Canaan White, the illustrator of Max Brooks’ historical fiction Harlem Hellfighters, chose to create in black and white, rendering emotion more stark and profound while increasing the impact of certain scenes through his keen sense of direction.

Guy Delisle, the creator of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Jerusalem, uses simple lines, minimalistic backgrounds, and caricature to make more accessible the horror of totalitarian and martial regimes that reduce their citizens to pawns.

AgeofLicenseLucy Knisley, a rising cartoonist who has recently published a two-part travelogue, Age of License and Displacement, experiments with layout to allow the reader to experience the anxiety and uncertainty of a questioning young adult.

Craig Thompson also uses layout to express uncertainty, displacement, and spiritual awakening while simultaneously varying his line work to draw the reader to emotional heights.

Nate Powell is currently illustrating Representative John Lewis’ trilogy March, and it is his use of light, space, and perspective that are making Representative Lewis’ words so powerful, so insightful, and so inspiring.

Need I go on, or do you finally have to good pull list, Mr. Jones?

The fact of the matter is that comic book art is changing and undergoing experimentation of a type almost unseen in the past 100 years. On one end, you do have more minimalistic artists like Scott McCloud, Liz Prince, and Raina Telgemeier. On the opposite spectrum, you have the wild, almost uncontainable art of Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre’s Amanda Conner, the inestimable Craig Thompson, and Deadly Class’ Wes Craig. Boom!, Image, The New 52’s Harley Quinn series, and Batman: Li’l Gotham are all experimenting with style mixtures, character designs, coloring, layout, and subject matter in a welcome change from DC and Marvel’s rigid, formulaic house style.

lilgotham_cover_rvsdThen we have the new focus on story as opposed to art – which is where you find the minimalistic artists and nonfiction comics. No longer is the purpose of comics to entertain, to reel in the same decades-old fans, or to give people what you’ve already seen that they like. No, now artists and publishers are taking a chance to educate their readers, to make them more informed citizens, and to help them form an emotional connection with the artist and writer. And sometimes, just sometimes, telling a really good story and passing along information means not letting the art interfere with the message. I mean, have you seen Frank Miller’s newest work, Holy Terror? Miller’s obsessive, anal focus on the art and disinterest in the story make it almost unreadable.

It is ironic that Mr. Jones ends his article, “When Did the Comic-book Universe Become So Banal?” by calling modern comics “both pretentious and simplistic” because the only way you could think modern comics banal is by suffering from an overabundance of pretentiousness and simplicity. Maybe instead of telling talented, hardworking artists, writers, publishers, and editors that it’s “Time to go back to the sketchpad,” you should go to your local library and educate yourself. Hogarth is dead, Mr. Jones, but comics still live on.

Friday Fun May 29, 2015

SFPThis past week I’ve discovered two sites that I just really wanted to share.

The first is the web comic Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag. The comic centers around Alison Green, a former teenage superhero turned cynical, feminist, wanna-be social activist college student. Unfortunately, as she navigates her way towards figuring out how to save the world (realistically, that is), people from her past emerge to cause trouble such as Cleaver, the knife-handed sociopath; Feral, the girl willing to literally rip herself to pieces to save others; and Menace, the telepath that convinced her to give up superheroing. It’s an incredibly well-written story with interesting characters, important insights into modern life, and some truly heart-rending moments. I devoured it within a few hours and am eagerly checking back on Tuesdays and Fridays for the updates. I can’t believe I hadn’t read it until now!

The second is today-ifuckedup.tumblr.com which is nowhere near as awesome as Strong Female Protagonist but succeeded in improving my mood when I was having a rough morning. The gist of this Tumblr is that people submit stories of how they fucked up. These stories include things like accidentally having diarrhea all over a group of people, washing yourself with baby spiders, and trying to help a lost little boy but getting accused of being a pedophile instead. Evidently, you can also go to todayifuckedup.tumblr.com for more stories or check out the original Reddit thread here. You may not feel like a decent person after laughing at these people’s misfortunes, but you will feel better about your life.

Enjoy!

Daily WTF: Old People Need to Learn How to Drive

Cadillac_Sedan_DeVille_(Orange_Julep_'10)A few minutes ago, I and three other people almost got sideswiped by a very elderly woman behind the wheel of a gray Cadillac. And it wasn’t because we were all in the same car or even in the same lane. No, this woman weaved into my lane, forcing me to slam on my brakes, then weaved into the right lane then back into mine, forcing four separate vehicles to slam on their brakes and employ evasive maneuvers. And she never even acknowledged us or that she had done something wrong.

I am extremely critical of elderly people driving and firmly believe in five-year driving tests for people over the age of 60 (Hell, I’m in favor of five-year driving tests for everybody. Over 32,000 vehicle-related deaths a year are way, way too many.). I’m even more critical of elderly people than I am of new drivers because new drivers don’t know better but are in fact capable of recognizing their mistakes and correcting them (They have to if they want to keep their license.). Elderly people don’t even notice they’re swerving all over the place. They don’t reason that they shouldn’t be driving with cataracts or palsy. They are insulted that you would ask them to think of other drivers first. They are a terrible, terrible hazard.

What makes it worse is that so many elderly people are proud of their terrible, dangerous driving. My girlfriend works with elderly patients and tells me horrifying stories such as the one woman who realized she was going the wrong way on an interstate and so promptly pulled a U-turn, roared over the grassy medium, and screeched into the other side of traffic. She didn’t look to see if she’d caused any injuries and didn’t see anything wrong with her actions. On the contrary, she thought it was a funny story that she told several people. Or what about my sister’s friend who had half of her house demolished when an elderly woman plowed right into their living room, forcing it into the kitchen, killing her iguana, and injuring her cats and boyfriends? That woman had no idea what had happened and remained sitting in her car trying to maneuver it until the paramedics forcibly removed her.

I want to be understanding because I also work with elderly people and I see how limited their lives get when they no longer have a vehicle. They feel powerless and retreat in on themselves, often refusing to use other services. I know that if I ever had my car involuntarily taken from me, I’d be upset. But I also hope that if I ever became legally blind or mentally incompetent, I’d take a taxi over potentially killing someone. Sometimes, you have to give up privileges when you can’t be responsible.

Until then, keep a look out for older but well-maintained luxury cars, guys – that’s usually the vehicle of choice for elderly people. And keep your eyes on your mirrors and your foot over the brakes. Evidently, it’s everyone else’s responsibility to look out for poor drivers.

Daily WTF: Criticizing a College Grad for Buying a Car

My carHere’s the whole reason I don’t listen to talk radio: dumb, entitled white men. And every time I have the misfortune to turn on my radio and hear them talk, I am always instantly regretful and angry that I did.

This morning I got to hear some 50-something good ole boy try to tell recent college graduates what they shouldn’t do. His suggestion? Don’t spur-of-the-moment buy a new car and always pay for your car in cash.

What the fuck is this man on about? First off, he said, “I see so many college graduates go off and immediately buy a new car to celebrate, you know, their student loans.” How insulting. If you get a car after college, it’s not to “celebrate your student loans” – it’s to get a job because suddenly you can’t use college transport anymore and your job is outside of the bus system or, most commonly, you’re moving back home or to a new city to get a job. The American public transportation system is shit. We have very few buses in our cities and even less trains and metros, and when they do run, they are chronically late, which is not conducive to making job interviews or keeping your new job.

Secondly, I know one person out of the three hundred or so recent graduates I’m friends with who spur-of-the-moment bought a car – and that was because hers suddenly and dramatically died and she travels for work. Even then, she shopped around, priced vehicles, and created a budget so that she could afford the vehicle – while paying her student loans and living expenses. That doesn’t sound irresponsible to me.

Third, how the hell am I or any recent graduate going to pay for a car in cash? The other radio hosts had no idea what that man was talking about. Even my own father, who insists on paying down payments in cash, couldn’t afford to pay for a car in cash. The host’s suggestion? Budget a $400 — $500 car payment (which is not accurate, by the way), save up the money, and after about 10 months take that saved up money and buy yourself a little $3000 car – or, if possible, save up for a few years and get an even better one.

Okay, in theory, that sounds like a perfectly good idea and was, in fact, what I was raised to believe you should do – in high school. But as an adult trying to get a job, it’s not feasible. If I don’t have a job, how can I save money? If I just got a job or, more likely, am working minimum wage, how can I wait to get a car when I need it now? How can I possibly put away $400 or $500 a month when a full-time minimum wage job only makes $1160 – before taxes? Should I also just resign myself to waiting to get a new car when I’m an entitled 50-something? Should I feel bad about wanting a quality vehicle that I don’t have to worry about breaking down when I’m running everywhere trying to get a job or working several jobs or moving to follow around my career field? Or should well-established men who have had a steady job telling people what’s wrong with them for 30 years just realize they have no dog in this fight and shut the hell up?

That’s my vote. Now excuse me while I drive off in the car my dad’s paying for because dealerships won’t give me a loan because of my student loans. Oh, did you not know about that either, Mr. Good Ole Boy? Just another reason for you to shut your mouth, I guess.

Daily WTF: People That Talk Shit and Then Act Like the Victim

FacebookWe’ve all had this happen to us before: we’ll be minding our own business checking social media when suddenly we’ll find someone talking shit about us. They never name us directly, but they reference this friend who did the exact thing that we did yesterday. And it’s not vague like, “went to the restaurant,” it’s, “Went to Dave and Busters to play Plinko with two other friends just because we didn’t have time to do it on Thursday.” So you know it’s you. And then you contact them directly and they get mad at you. “Excuse me, am I not allowed to vent on my own social media?” they demand, all full of righteous indignation. “And it’s not like I even said your name. Why are you getting mad at me?”

What people don’t seem to realize is that the problem isn’t that they’re venting on social media – it’s that they’re talking shit, which is always a problem. There is no difference between talking shit online or in person. You’re still saying horrible things about the person and getting people to dislike them. That’s what you need to own up to.

Now I understand this tendency. I’m 120% sure that I’ve utilized it myself. It’s very convenient to passive-aggressively talk shit about someone who’s irritated you. It allows you to start an argument without actually starting it. It’s placing the responsibility of conflict on the other person. It’s giving you the high ground to stand on if they confront you. But it’s also ridiculous and immature, and it makes you a whiny little gossip. It, in fact, takes away your high ground because instead of being the rightfully wronged one, you’re the jerk who got on social media and aired someone else’s dirty laundry. You’re the friend who will tell everyone someone else’s business. How can you be trusted?

That’s not to say don’t do it. Feel free – what do I care? Just don’t act surprised when you get called out for it. Take responsibility for your actions. It’ll make you less of an asshole.

Daily WTF: Why Do People Like Poorly-Made Movies?

Pitch Perfect Awkward GirlsFriday I had the severe misfortune to see Pitch Perfect 2, the most horrible movie I’ve seen since Stepbrothers. And while I’m not going to go into all the many, many ways Pitch Perfect 2 was horrible and a complete letdown for fans of the original (I’ve spent all morning on Facebook doing just that.), I want to talk about something similar: why the hell do people like shitty movies?

First off, I want to differentiate between shitty movies that everyone knows are shitty and likes because of that shittiness (so think Sharknado and any number of D horror flicks) and movies that tried to be good but ended up sucking huge balls (so think Pitch Perfect 2 and Age of Ultron). I have no problem with D movies doing the best they can but not taking themselves seriously. They’re often very funny. I voluntarily watch them, make fun of them, and then go see the sequel. Because they’re supposed to be bad. That’s part of the fun.

But I honestly do not understand when a movie is supposed to be good, turns out horribly, and everyone still likes it. Why? Did you not see how awkward it was? Did you not hate how they destroyed the characters? Did you not think the ending was a cop-out? Why do you like it?

I actually get really agitated over this and have a hard time respecting people’s opinions. I feel strongly that they are making the wrong choice and that their judgment is fundamentally flawed. I feel compelled to argue with them and continue arguing with them until they change their mind. I’ve lost friendships over this.

So tell me, if you can, why you liked Pitch Perfect, Age of Ultron, Judd Apatow movies, Will Ferrell movies, Adam Sandler movies, and anything along that vein. Am I missing the humor? Am I taking them too seriously? Am I mad about something personal? Seriously, let me know because I just can’t fucking understand people’s shitty taste.

My Long, Twisted, BS-Filled Road to Falling in Love (With Comics)

Blending in to comicsWritten February 16, 2015

Life-long comics-lovers may not know this, but it’s pretty hard to get into comics – and not because of the comics themselves.  No, it’s because you stand there like over-informed, Stalin-era, suspicious gatekeepers, minutely inspecting all who dare approach you.  Are you aware of the Infinite Earths/Multiverse construct in DC and how it differs from Marvel’s Multiverse (Megaverse, Omniverse)?  Can you knowledgeably discuss the changes between Batman’s 35 different costumes?  Have you gone through an intense six-month cleansing and mind-expanding period where you listened exclusively to all the music Grant Morrison mentioned in his book Supergods and took just enough mushrooms to finally understand the Brotherhood of Dada?  No?  Then come back when you’re really ready, buddy. Continue reading