Monday, 24 January 2005
When I was growing up, we didn't have a World Wide Web like you kids today: We had the Marion Daily Republican for news about our friends and neighbors, and the Southern Illinoisan for reports from the outside world. Sometimes Dad would even splurge and invest a nickel in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but mostly we read the hometown papers.
I don't remember which paper had the better comics page, but I do remember thinking they had a lot of dead weight in there. Strips like Hi and Lois or Blondie just recycled the same six jokes every week; maybe once in a while they'd hit the funny bone, but after the 83rd time Sarge punches Beetle the novelty starts to wears off. Gary Larson was a breath of — well, I wouldn't call it fresh air, but The Far Side was certainly unique — and Calvin and Hobbes's Bill Watterson was the best cartoonist of his time.
I read Watterson's tenth anniversary book, and what I remember most was his lament that commercial pressures were literally squeezing the comics. The publishers wanted to fit more comics on the printed page, and unless you had the clout of a Garry Trudeau (whose mostly-for-grownups Doonesbury strip often found its way to the editorial page), you had no choice but to try to draw into a smaller box. The size of the strip left only enough room for simplified drawings and limited dialogue; it was really only on Sunday that someone like Watterson could stretch his artistic wings.
The impression I received was that the comics pages were contracting, and that the only way a new artist can "break in" these days is if some other cartoonist retires. Watterson's retirement was a bonanza for Scott Adams, freeing up space in hundreds of papers for the up-and-coming Dilbert — but I really can't think of a cartoonist since Adams who's been nearly as successful, and I think part of the reason may be that there simply aren't any openings.
…all of which brings me to Michael Jantze's The Norm
. One reviewer described it as "the best comic strip you might not be reading," and I'd have to agree: Jantze's artistic skills are in Watterson's league, and his Sunday strips are a joy. The story centers on title character Theodore Norman Miller and his relationships with girlfriend / wife Reine (pronounced Re-NAY), best friend Ford, and other supporting characters — and with his own inner selves, who occasionally step out and take part in the action.
The Norm is the only comic strip I've seen that does regular fourth-wall jokes: Norm occasionally stops the action and talks directly to the audience, and sometimes has to adjust the "camera" so it's pointing in the right direction. (One week Norm was nowhere to be found, so the camera followed Reine around — who, of course, spent the week politely trying to shoo it away.) It's a strip that tells a story about the lives of its characters, and loyal readers have seen Norm go through relationships and breakups, jobs and layoffs, friends moving away and coming back home, and other milestones.
Until last September, The Norm was syndicated by King Features and appeared in about 70 papers nationwide — but Jantze decided to end his contract and strike out on his own, so he and wife Nicole are now distributing The Norm from their web site. They've gotten about 4,000 people to subscribe for $25/year, which is enough to keep them in pencils and web servers for the time being… but they're not going to get any new readers except by word of mouth.
About a year ago my other favorite new comic strip, Stephen Hersh and Nina Paley's The Hots, died an inglorious death from much the same causes: You can't earn a living drawing a syndicated comic strip these days. If you're an established cartoonist you can get by, but there's not enough room on the comics page — and not enough readers buying an old-fashioned newspaper — to let talented new artists establish a following.
So check out The Norm — and if you like what you see, tip the artist. Michael and Nicole Jantze are still working the kinks out of the non-members part of their web site, but hopefully soon you'll be able to preview the strip and find out what you're missing.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:13 pm. comments.
Saturday, 22 January 2005
And now a word?
The management of A Yank in Oz is flabbergasted to introduce our first commercial sponsor, an advertiser who apparently believes this blog is about a New York Yankees fan swept away by a tornado. (Well, that's one possible interpretation of the blog's name.) I had given up on the idea that blogads were going to be a lucrative source of revenue — or even a source of revenue — given the utter lack of response thus far… but apparently someone looked at the sophisticated, talented audience of this blog and decided it was an opportunity they couldn't pass up.
And so a warm welcome to the fine folks from ticketsinaflash.com, who are here to provide for your American baseball ticket needs. I'll try not to spend in one place the glorious eight dollars I'm about to receive for this ad. (Let's see, two and a half years of blogging, maybe five or six hours per week, means I'm getting paid about… five cents an hour. That's more than double what my opinion is usually worth.)
While we're on the subject, why don't you all wander over to this site, sign yourselves up for some junk-mail offers, and then get yourselves (and me) a free Mac Mini? It's not like the junk-mail people don't already know where you live.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:03 pm. comments.
Monday, 17 January 2005
Two worth reading:
- A commenter at The Peking Duck declares that what we now have in Iraq is "the equivalent of a kind of Vichy Government being set up," and that morally the insurgents are right to resist and the quislings are wrong to cooperate. Richard presents the opposing view with a powerful summary of why — in spite of all Bush's failures and screw-ups — we can't abandon the Iraqi people to the hands of the murderous few.
- Andrew Sullivan and Greg Djerejian take John Kerry to task for not denouncing Abu Ghraib loudly enough to satisfy them — and The Poor Man gives them exactly what they deserve. If you didn't hold Bush accountable for torture, then you can't avoid your share of the shame.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:55 am. comments.
Sunday, 16 January 2005
Often in error, never in doubt:
Glenn Reynolds marks the occasion of the Iraq Survey Group giving up the search for Saddam's nonexistent WMD stockpiles (link via One Hand Clapping) by tartly noting there were other reasons to go to war too, y'know, and that Bush's only mistakes were (a) listening to the CIA and (b) going to the United Nations in the first place.
I've noted elsewhere the problem with Glenn's assertion that the UN road was a mistake: At the time, he praised the Bush Administration's strategy and lauded their diplomacy skills. As for the claim that the Bush Administration was following the CIA's lead, as opposed to grabbing the CIA by the nose and frog-marching them to a pre-ordained conclusion, well… let's just say the reality-based community would take exception to that premise. There's also the issue that bypassing the UN would have made it difficult for Tony Blair to build his case for war, leaving Bush with a "coalition" of America and Poland.
Meanwhile, what I wrote at the time was disappointingly prescient. The Iraq war has been a success only in that it removed Saddam Hussein from the list of world leaders; in all other aspects, our efforts in Iraq have failed to deliver what Bush and Perle and Rumsfeld promised. We've turned Iraq into a latter-day Lebanon, a breeding ground for terror and torture, and it's grinding down our armed forces, increasing the threat to our homeland security, distancing us from our allies, and disgracing our reputation abroad. Iraq's upcoming "elections" will have the same effect as the "transfer of sovereignty" we had last June, and the same effect as the capture of Saddam: Things will continue to get worse, and we'll shift our focus to the next milestone.
I supported the decision to use force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I supported it because I believe Saddam committed crimes against humanity — and I believe the world would be better served if we enforced our calls to end genocide, and held world leaders to some minimal standard of respecting human rights. I would love to further establish that precedent; it's the direction America was heading in when we put Milosevic on trial.
But the Bush Administration's case for war barely touched that argument — in spite of recent claims to the contrary. Bush's case was "all about" smoking guns, mushroom clouds, and falsely connecting Saddam to the 9/11 attacks; the case for invading Iraq on humanitarian grounds just didn't have enough sizzle for an administration that was busy linking Saddam to 9/11 at every opportunity. Dubya's case for war was noteworthy not only for the falsehoods it loudly proclaimed to be true, but also for the truths it shoved aside to make room for them: It's disingenuous to pretend that beating the drum for war, with repeated wolf cries about they'll-have-nukes-in-a-year and we-think-Saddam-met-with-Osama, will not drown out the remainder of both sides of the discussion.
I'm still willing to make the argument that deposing Saddam was the morally right thing to do, and that military force was the only means to that end. But, unlike my neocon "friends," I accept that my opinion may be in the minority. I'm not prepared to pad my argument with false premises and scare tactics, to build up a temporary majority just long enough for me to get the tanks rolling in, because that would be wrong. If I can't win over at least half the voting public, then either I'm a poor advocate or my argument is flawed — but in neither case do I gain the right to mislead people in pursuit of my goal.
There are people who believed that the risks of war, the downside risks and consequences of sending our troops into hostile lands, outweighed the advantages of removing Saddam. To date, these people have not been proven wrong… and the Bush Administration's disastrous mishandling of the post-war has strengthened their arguments. On bad days I'm reduced to arguing that Bush's incompetence at post-war strategy was not foreseeable in advance — and I'm arguing with people who predicted the Bush Administration would be incompetent at post-war strategy, so you can imagine how well that goes.
Right-wing bloggers can claim, in some cases justifiably, that their argument for war included the case against Saddam on humanitarian grounds; if so, good for them. But they can't argue retroactively that Bush made the case for war on humanitarian grounds, or that he argued the case for enforcing international law. Aside from one excellent speech that Bush gave on September 12, 2002, Bush's case for war relied on 9/11 ties that didn't exist… and on weapons that weren't there.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:40 am. comments.
Wednesday, 12 January 2005
Inter Arma Silent Leges:
…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
—Fourteenth Amendment, United States Constitution
Australian Mamdouh Habib will be released from the United States's prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge.
The US has told the Australian Government it does not intend to bring charges against Mr Habib, who has been at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.
—ABC News Australia (link via Southerly Buster)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:30 am. comments.
Saturday, 08 January 2005
A rose by any other name:
I'm not entirely sure, because I was overseas at the time — but I think that while I was away, Gadgetgirl's husband Rob started his own blog, and (at first) gave it the descriptive and catchy name "A Yank in Oz." Greg was then the first to point out that the name, although highly descriptive and catchy, wasn't quite as original as one might have hoped… and then I assume that some days later Rob quietly changed his blog's name to "yankinoz," which is distinctive, catchy and unique.
Either that or I was hallucinating sometime around the 24th, when I briefly logged in from my parents' house, because I could have sworn Rob's blog had exactly the same name as mine, but now it doesn't.
In any case, if my lady-love ever starts her own blog, I'll try to make sure she doesn't choose "gadgetgirl" as her blog's name. This wasn't a likely scenario in either case — that my lady-love would start a blog, or that she'd become the gadget-hound of the relationship (see picture of Scott's Christmas present, below) — but you never know.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:29 pm. comments.
Friday, 07 January 2005
Around the world in 30 days:
I'm back from the biannual trip home for the holidays. Every other year we go back to scenic Marion, Illinois (pop. 18,000) to visit my folks… and every other year Mother Nature sends Marion a snowstorm on the day we're trying to drive down from Chicago. This year wasn't as bad as 2002, but we did drive past ten cars that had skidded off I-57 and into the ditch.
This year's fun Christmas toy was an actual, working light saber
. ("Working" in the sense that it glows and makes "vvrrrrrrmmm" noises when you swing it around, not in the sense that you can deflect lightning bolts or cut off people's hands with it.) You really haven't tested the limits of airport security until you've flown from Chicago to Sydney — the long way around — with a light saber as carry-on baggage. (Surprisingly, except for one brief delay in Kuala Lumpur while the security people called a supervisor, this did not create the problems I was expecting. My all-time record for "testing the limits of airport security" is still the Miami Incident, which I've never blogged about; I should put on my Joey deVilla
hat and tell that story someday, but for now let's just say that I know what happens to people who put guns on the conveyor belt.)
It had also been a while since I twiddled with the site's appearance, so there's a new style sheet ("Coral") for your viewing pleasure. The background picture is one I took of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, near Heron Island, and I'm doing some cutting-edge CSS tricks that will probably crush Internet Explorer into tiny little whimpering fragments — but if you're using Mozilla, Opera or Safari, check out the menu to the left. (The inspiration, as usual, came from Eric Meyer's css/edge site.) If you don't like it you can switch back to the old appearance by choosing "Frost" from the "Choose a Style" menu, or you can fiddle around and find your own favorite. Enjoy!
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:49 pm. comments.