Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Seventeen Years in the Blogging Mines

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of this blog. For most of those years, I had a long post to mark the anniversary, with statistics and links to notable posts of the past year and other foofaraw.

Now, I'm not saying I'm not going to do that this year. I'm writing my way into this post, starting more than a week ahead of the actual anniversary, and I may work my way up to something like the heights I used to hit. But these are lesser, latter days, and all has fallen into rack and ruin, so don't count on it.

What Has Gone Before: The Links

One thing I try to do each year is link back to the previous anniversary posts, so here you go: first, second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth. You may notice two are missing: I forgot to do this entirely a couple of times, and once of those was last year. (Several others are quick and desultory.)

So last year I whiffed entirely, for the first time since the fifth year of the blog. I'm not sure if that was on purpose - I'm sure I remembered the anniversary at some point in the six months surrounding it; I'm quirky but not brain-damaged - but it happened, whatever the reasons Then-Me had. But I'm back, to at least some extent, this year.

I also tell the Legend of the Blog every year, but it's not that interesting. I started Antick Musings because my then-employer was planning to start a big batch of blogs for most of the clubs, and running the SFBC blog was going to become part of my duties. I was relatively diligent in those days, and wanted to get some experience under my belt ahead of that launch. As it happened, Antick Musings vastly outlasted a lot of things associated with me and the SFBC, including that blog. So it goes.

What Has Gone Before: The Numbers

Anyway, I'm here now. Next up is typically the dick-measuring contest {ahem!} the listing of numbers of posts by year:

2021-2022 -- 279 posts

2020-2021 -- 265 posts

2019-2020 -- 55 posts

2018-2019 -- 178 posts

2017-2018 -- 368 posts

2016-2017 -- 263 posts

2015-2016 -- 144 posts

2014-2015 -- 258 posts

2013-2014 -- 434 posts

2012-2013 -- 285 posts

2011-2012 -- 332 posts

2010-2011 -- 445 posts

2009-2010 -- 711 posts

2008-2009 -- 880 posts

2007-2008 -- 834 posts

2006-2007 -- 841 posts

2005-2006 -- 809 posts

I had another blog - Editorial Explanations, in which I would explicate the Great American Editorial Cartoon in all its tendentious and bad-faith splendor - for a few years in the middle there, and used to include those numbers for an "everything I did" total. But who cares now? Not even me, that's for sure.

Posts About Books: The Self-Indulgent Bit

The bulk of this post, most years, is the self-indulgent bit. "But Andy!" you say. "All of this is hugely self-indulgent, isn't it?" Well, yes. But this next part even more so.

So I link to posts from the past year - book-review posts, since that's basically everything I do now - by quoting sentences I wrote that I am still inordinately fond of. I hope I don't have to tell you how sad that is, but I only do it once a year. And so here are some words I wrote that I still like:

But all of life is a sequence of things you get into and can't easily get out of: relationships, jobs, places to live, family.

I have a cynical opinion: for most of us, no matter how good we are, careers last about ten years. It applies to the artists we love and the lives we live equally. That band will probably break up after a decade; that writer will put out novels dependably until the second digit of the year changes. And your job will be happy with you right up to the point where they aren't, and at that point the industry will have changed enough that you have to leap into something else.

There's nothing like a breezy book by a young person to make you feel really old.

I always want more context and cultural criticism; I always want more why and less "remember this thing?"

If there's a sequel, there has to be a trilogy. I don't know if that's actually a law, but we said it a lot in my SFBC days, and it turned out to be true almost all the time.

Frankly, the lesson I take from Wendy, Master of Art is that my vague stereotype of art students and the art world in general - formed at Vassar over thirty years ago, out of minimal materials and a dislike for the kind of people who smoke above eye level - is basically correct, and I have been right to avoid both since then. So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

It took a while for me to realize, and this may be a spoiler: they are not running against each other. They are running together. I think this is important.

To my mind, if you're going to do a superhero story, or even a story set in a superhero world (this is more of the latter; Jimmy is always central, and most of the important characters don't have powers), you need to be at least halfway lighthearted. We all know every ending will be happy, all deaths are temporary, and all drama is momentary.

Corporate comics, man! They're stupid even when they don't have to be. It's like they go out of they way for it.

I don't want to be reductive here. (Well, maybe I do.) But it certainly seems to be that the central theme of European comics for younger readers is "what it the point of life, and how can you find the right path?" while the central theme of US comics for young readers is either (Big Two) "hitting people is how you solve problems" or (the YA world) "you are a unique special snowflake, and will have to overcome whatever horrible thing happened to you that you had no control over."

Don't get the idea I'm against creators taking control of the means of production! But if the only way I can get a book is to go to the guy's table at Comic Arts West Bumfuck and pay cash, I am much less likely to ever see it.

Over that scene is the tonally distinct gigantic caption "This is the story of a nameless girl...and the fearless, graceful life she led...from the postwar years...to the present day." (Which sounds like a weird Jackie O biopic, or maybe an arch Givenchy ad.) 

OK, you know how in big superhero comics, everything needs to be back at status quo ante eventually? Worlds will live, worlds will die, Ultrafellow will be replaced by a disabled teen Latina, and the entire Evil-Fighting Gang will disband for good...but only until it all goes back to the way it was before.

Memory is flawed, history is misunderstood, the past is a mystery. And demon-creatures shouldn't be completely knowable, able to be nailed down to a specific timeline.

And, most of all, it's about the questions of childhood: the things you asked at the time, the things you wish you'd asked at the time, the things you know you never would have gotten a straight answer about, and the things you didn't even think could be questions until much much later.

So the story I thought was bullshit for one reason is now retroactively bullshit for an entirely separate reason. Does that make me happy? Well, happy is a sliding scale.

Tintin is traveling, first to get into Russia and then to get out of it, while various dirty commies try, sometimes with massive military force and sometimes with sneaky sabotage, to murder him. Several times, for variety, they capture him, tie him up, and threaten to murder him slightly later.

I appreciate creators who get bored easily. I may not always love every last random avenue they go down - who likes everything? - but I love that impulse, and I strongly believe creators who go really different from project to project are the best, most exciting ones.

Most of us had "just jobs," usually when young. A job that's not a career, not on the way to anything you actually want, not a step forward on any road you care about. Something that pays money, is available to you because of circumstance or lifestage or location: something that works for now even if it won't work forever.

All in all, this has pretty much exactly the strengths and weaknesses of a book that a respected but idiosyncratic creator worked on quietly and alone for decades: it looks great, it has a lot of good ideas and moments, the characterization is excellent. But it's also lumpy, with a structure that feels like a sequence of pages in the order that the creator thought of them rather than the order that would best serve the story, and later revelations that are not adequately set up.

It's a gangster story: that's required. Blood must flow, betrayals must be swift and shocking, and most of the cast must not make it to the end.

I've had Thuds in my life: moments where everything changes. If you're old enough, you have, too. The point of a Thud is that it's unexpected, and that it's usually not happy. Something breaks, something shatters, something is gone forever.

The world demands movies from their comic books, TV shows from their novels, opera from their stories about historical figures, stage musicals assembled from random songs. And vice versa: look at the deeply incestuous "casting thread," in which random observers squee over which actors in TV-shows-based-on-books should be their favorite characters in a potential movie-based-on-a-comic-book.

This is a book about the curdled end of a particular kind of American Dream, about all the things Americans did and thought and cared about and worried about while, in the background, the Vietnam War lurched to its inevitable end and Nixon did the same.

If ever a man was born to draw tasteful living rooms and functional office suites with flat-color backgrounds, it was Whitney.

So: you know the rough plot, and you have a sense of the style: long, clause-clotted sentences that circle a thought as if they are a cavalry detachment trying to defeat and capture it.

The prospect of actual money does wonderful things to the artistic impulse; I greatly recommend it to anyone attempting to motivate an artist.

Thinking far too deeply about it, I would love to see a series with the opposite premise: dogs and cats are the villains, because they have been tainted by human evil, and badgers or foxes or opossums or maybe raccoons are the heroes. Actually, yes, raccoons, maybe with corvids as advisors: that's the one I want.

Int. Day. Berlin. Bunker.

HITLER: Achtung! Give me a report on the secret compound!

HIMMLER: Yes, Fuhrer! Early tests on the Odinspear are promising...

HITLER: Nein! Not that secret compound! The one outside Vienna!

HIMMER: West of Vienna or South of Vienna?

HITLER:  West, you schweinhund!

HIMMER: Oh, right, the Greenbaums.

What do they do? They fuck. They shit. They kill each other. Occasionally even in that order.

I like parallels; I like books to set things up and then knock them down; I like guns on mantlepieces to be taken down at just the right moment and fired. 

The title gives away the end. You may not realize how, as you dive into the surreal, dreamlike early pages, but it will all be clearer by the end. And the title gives away the end.

Reporters write about moments, about places, about the intersection of the two: what it's like to be here when it is now. Some pieces are more obvious about it than others.

She was an addict and a stormy personality, I think - the book and the introduction are more poetic about it - which didn't help, but who ever min-maxes their own life to be the most successful version of themselves? She achieved a lot. She fought hard. She died young.

This is the story of a young man with fabulous powers and a bizarrely impossible upbringing, whose interactions with the outside world are about 95% murder, but, on the other hand, he's a tall attractive man with cool clothes. And apparently that is enough to make a mass-murderer into a hero.

This is a book by a young man. We sometimes forget things like that: we think that Albert Einstein was born the old guy with the bushy hair, or that Lawrence Welk's '60s style was what big-band music sounded like when the WW II generation was young and on the make. Everyone was young once; everyone thought the world was ahead of them and they could do anything they wanted. Some of them were right.

I still think the less-used pronouns can set their users up for a lot of additional microaggression and worse in their lives, especially as them/they is actually getting traction as a singular pronoun in wide culture, but I don't get to decide those things for other people.

All the most interesting people have the least-likely careers. (Says the man who started out as a SF editor and somehow ended up doing content marketing for corporate lawyers.)

Look, Gardner is a fun, energetic writer, and he's particularly good at writing women with strong, distinctive voices. All of his strengths are shown to good effect in Gun. But the more I think about it, the more I can't fucking stand the default superhero universe. Sorry.

A collection, on the other hand, is already multitudes. It flows through your hands when you try to define it: a little more over here than you first thought, oh wait maybe it's more like this, no no I've got it now it's totally thus.

This book may make you want to sharpen your guillotine and start gathering cobblestones for barricades, which is no bad thing.

Most of us have trouble being happy, I think. Most of us want to be happier than we are, want to enjoy moments more than we feel we actually can.

Everything Else

Antick Musings is, I have to admit it, a book blog. I used to write about movies, I used to write about random things that struck my fancy. I don't anymore, in either case. So, in years long past, I would have other links in this section of the anniversary post to those other kinds of posts - but not this time.

On Monday mornings, assuming I don't forget, there is either a Reviewing the Mail post (listing new books) or a Reading Into the Past post (listing old books). I also post a Quote of the Week, originally on Fridays and more recently on Saturdays as part of an expanded content regime for 2022H2. That's pretty much everything else posted here over the past year.

I was intermittently active on the question-answering site Quora a few years back, before a flood of political content co-emergent with Our Previous President overwhelmed that site. I still read stuff there, but haven't posted in I can't tell you how long. I'm also on the usual social networks for someone my age (see standard links in the right-hand rail) and not on the ones you wouldn't expect, since I am typical and boring, I suppose.

And that was the past year. I guess I am back on the big-pointless-self-congratulatory-post bandwagon. We'll see what happens next year, I suppose.

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