Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Speech for Sore Eyes

A few important tips for conference presenters.

It all begins with the feet.

Be sure to get a brand new chin!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I'm just finishing my comics chapter, and thought I'd post a few useful links for anyone interested in the history of comics:

1. The Museum of Black Superheroes

There is a whole bunch of good stuff here, including articles (some academic) and an historical gallery.

2. Full text of Fredric Wertham's (1954) Seduction of the Innocent.

The publication of this text was a turning point in comics history. Reacting to a surge in explicit subject matter (mostly in horror and crime comics), Wertham attacked the comics medium for what he perceived to be its corrupting influence on young people. A central premise of Wertham's argument was that comics "expos[ed] children's minds to an endless stream of prejudice-producing images." His subsequent critique of racist and sexist imagery is an important precursor to contemporary work on comics. He highlighted the way racial 'Others' were presented as antisocial and subhuman characters: "as criminals, gangsters, rapers, suitable victims for slaughter by either the lawless or the law." Superhero comics were singled out in this regard:

"on the one hand is the tall, blond, regular-featured man sometimes disguised as a superman (or superman disguised as a man) and the pretty young blonde girl... On the other hand are the inferior people: natives, primitives, savages, "ape men," Negroes, Jews, Indians, Italians, Slavs, Chinese and Japanese, immigrants of every description, people with irregular features, swarthy skins, physical deformities [or] Oriental features."

Seduction caused a storm of controversy, and resulted in Congressional hearings on the links between comics and "juvenile delinquency." Wertham changed the social climate for comics, and in doing so he necessitated a drastic change in content. In order to avoid external legislation, the comics industry introduced a self imposed set of regulations known as the Comics Code.

3. Full text of The Comics Code

All comics were to abide by the Code and display its stamp on their cover - without this, they were unlikely to be stocked by retailers. The regulations are very interesting to read through. Especially considering contemporary issues involving censorship and the internet. The Code was changed in 1971, acknowledging the logic that one must be able to show the evils of the adult world in order to condemn them.

4. The Moore Collection of Underground Comix

During the 1960s, the deliberately inflammatory underground Comix movement emerged in America and Britain in direct opposition to the Code's restrictions: including titles such as Gay, Middle Class Fantasies, Black Laughter, Cocaine Comix and Abortion Eve. This is a pretty good collection of titles, although they are not to everyone's taste.

I have found all of these links really useful.

Have you heard of Motion Comics? They are the new thing.

Very pretty, although I'm not totally sold on the difference between this and regular animation.

Back to work...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Medusa and the City

Remember the Medusa from my Ray Harryhausen post? Well I took the day off and went shopping today. Amidst the storm of bags and money that followed, I saw this:

Just goes to show that you cannot escape the grotesque, even when you try. She is Lady Vashj from World of Warcraft. I don't play WOW, but the characters are amazing to look at. I really want this, by the way. I might have to go back and buy it. For research... you know.

It seems like Medusa is back in vogue these days; although I can't say I approve of the disrespect shown her in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief:

How rude. Casting an informal look over the movies that have featured her recently, it seems the Medusa has been interpreted as a comedic figure more than once. Take the synopsis of Medusa: First Date (2004):

"Things aren’t looking too promising when Medusa goes out on a first date with mild mannered physicist Eric. Everyone’s naturally a little nervous (what with the snakes for hair) and it’s only when Medusa is invited up for coffee that things take a turn for the better, that is until she introduces herself to his parrot…"

Or Medusa (2003):

"It's hard for a well-meaning Gorgon to find love in the big city, When Medusa decides to seek a partner using a video dating service, it can only end in stony tragedy. Aided by her close friend Cupid, she embarks on a series of romantic adventures, but none of her suitors had counted on the jealousy of those snakes."

Honestly. I really feel that the Medusa would be far too busy annihilating people to worry about her lack of heterosexual union. It should be taken as a given that all monsters, male and female, are romantically challenged. Even if she did want a mate, surely Medusa would prefer another powerful monster rather than a human. She is not Carrie from Sex and the City. If she was, Big would have been turned to stone in the first episode. Come to think of it, so would Miranda and all of the other characters. So the rest of the season would just be Medusa writing her column about how much she hates puny humans and wants to kill them.

Actually... I've changed my mind. That would be a pretty good show.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


So, I'm writing about Batman, race, performativity and the grotesque right now. Nearing the end of chapter four (now chapter one) and feeling pretty positive.

And then people have to go and make a Batman porno.

Yes, it is real, and no, I'm not linking you to the site where you can watch it. Pervert. Here is a nice safe trailer:

Please. Am I supposed to believe that Batman would be 'having relations' with anybody other than Robin?

"January 7, 2010-Holy porn parody, Batman! Vivid Entertainment Group today officially unveiled a teaser for Axel Braun's long-anticipated "BATMAN XXX" at the AEE show in Las Vegas. Featuring the top names in the adult entertainment world, and a production that spared no expenses in faithfully recreating the look and feel of the original, "BATMAN XXX" is a sexy spoof of the 60's Adam West/Burt Ward TV show. Coming soon on DVD and Blu-ray."

Well, at least they put some money into it. It had better be camp-to-the-max to justify its existence. Now it would be great if they could just stop talking about it until after I have presented my Batman paper next month.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The 7th Voyage of Blog

I was recently surprised to find this video dedicated to animator Ray Harryhausen. Who knew he was behind so many classic beasts? And so many Sinbad movies?

Harryhausen's biography, on his official website, is a really interesting read, as it shows how his career developed from a childhood spent monster making in his parent's garage. I'm not ashamed to admit that I love monster models, and it is pretty awesome to see how stop-animation can bring them to life. It also helps that many of them have hybrid bodies.

I'm not sure if this is the same creature as above, but she definitely has style. This is from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad:

The cyclops is also good:

But I think my favourite might be the skeleton:

Those special effects are impressive, especially when you consider the film was released in 1958. According to the biography:

"There was to have been five more sequences in the film but they were dropped. (1) Sinbad and the Princess Parisa are chased by giant rats conjured up by the evil Sokurah but because Charles didn’t like rats, nor snakes, it was taken out.(2) Sinbad and his men are attacked by bat-devils.(3) A fight between two Cyclops.(4) Sirens with mermaid tails.(5) A giant serpent attacks sailors in a tree. This again was dropped because Charles objected.

Charles had Ray’s hands insured for a million dollars."

This Charles sounds like a real party pooper.

But it's fine, because there were to be more skeletons!

I love how they move; so spry, falling over and jumping about. In their movements they actually seem more 'real' than some of the CGI beasts served up in contemporary films.

So many videos. I think I have a problem.

If YouTube died this blog would be 70% gone...

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Saw the trailer for this movie the other day.

My first impression is that this is two stories stuffed into one film: 1) a story about a freakshow and all the interesting people who work in it; and 2) a story about a boy who becomes a vampire. Even the title - Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - reflects this division! Of the two, the former is infinitely more interesting to me than the later. I've seen enough vampire movies to last me well into my thirties. I haven't seen a 'freak' film since... well, since Freaks.

I did a great deal of 'freak theory' reading for my first chapter on celebrity grotesques. The term 'freak' is often discussed in relation to disability studies, as physical difference is key to the visual display of the freakshow. Racial 'Others' also made frequent appearances - although many were simply African American locals dressed up as 'cannibals' or 'savages' to titillate the white audience.

Theory frames the freakshow as a spectacular display of otherness that serves to reinstate the boundaries of the 'normal.' Rosemarie Garland Thomson's Freakery: cultural spectacles of the extraordinary body is a great read for anyone interested in the topic. One of the most interesting parts, for me at least, is her discussion of 'enfreakment.' This term encompasses the myriad of elements that contribute to the construction of an individual as a 'freak':

"Enfreakment emerges from cultural rituals that stylize, silence, differentiate, and distance the persons whose bodies the freak-hunters or showmen colonize and commercialize. Paradoxically, however, at the same time that enfreakment elaborately foregrounds specific bodily eccentricities, it also collapses all those differences into a 'freakery,' a single amorphous category of corporeal otherness. By constituting the freak as an icon of generalized embodied deviance, the exhibitions also simultaneously reinscribed gender, race, sexual aberrance, ethnicity, and disability as inextricable yet particular exclusionary systems legitimated by bodily variation - all represented by the single multivalent figure of the freak. Thus, what we assume to be a freak of nature was instead a freak of culture" (p10).

I like this because it shows that 'freak' is not an innate status, but an entirely contextual category into which certain individuals are placed by virtue of the technologies of representation that surround them.

Rachel Adams' Sideshow U.S.A: freaks and the American cultural imagination is another good book on the topic, while Mary Russo's The Female Grotesque has a chapter on Tod Browning's Freaks (which you can watch in full on YouTube).

Of course, identifying as a 'freak' is also a way of announcing one's alternative lifestyle and/or total groovyness these days.

And then there's this:

"I've never seen myself with a beard before."

That's what they all say.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Eyes Up

Have you ever had the experience of being in the middle of an interesting discussion with someone, perhaps about Roland Barthes or the 19th century novel, only to look up and find them staring at your chest?

If you answered no; you are probably a man.

Female scholars of the world must surely rejoice at this new invention:

All jokes aside, Marion makes a fair point. It is difficult to have a serious conversation with someone when you feel as though their attention is elsewhere. Not only is it irritating, but it makes you doubt their level of commitment to the topic at hand. Luckily the gentlemen I have the good fortune of engaging with are vastly superior on this front (no pun intended).

When it comes to making a statement about sexism, misogyny and the female body, I have to say it is a close race between the forehead breasts and the bra below:

In the "Look at them then, you pig" stakes this is quite impressive. Nothing like wearable taxidermy to keep 'the gaze' at bay.

Perhaps I should reconsider my wardrobe for the next conference paper. Can't be too subtle, you know.

[Via Crappy Taxidermy (thanks Tammy) and Jezebel]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday's Darkplace

Up to my neck in words today. Chapter four (which is now chapter one, meaning I have written my whole PhD in reverse) needs to be finished by last week.

Yes, it's Saturday night. No, that makes no practical difference to my life at all.

Happily, my Dame Sally phase seems to have passed over and I'm now feeling more like Garth Marenghi. Did you know he invented the internet back in 1976?

Dream-weaver. Visionary.

(If you haven't watched Garth Marenghi's Darkplace you are missing out.)

I also have a conference paper to write. This is good, because it involves a different style of writing to that of the chapter, so acts as a 'break' of sorts. Of course, I will have to present this in-person, to other actual humans, so there is that minor stress involved. Nothing like delivering your best line, only to be greeted with this:

No, a conference presentation is not a stand-up routine. But I strongly believe it should be enjoyable, as well as academically stimulating. Also, I don't want anyone to fall asleep. Perhaps a musical number...

Maybe not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Poo Shoe

I vaguely remember promising more grossness on this blog.

How about heels made from elephant dung?

These lovely items, designed by Insa, have resulted in the inevitable flurry of 'crappy shoe' jokes. I like to think they were intended to operate as an ironic commentary on consumerism and the fashion industry's exploitation of workers in developing countries.

Apparently these shitty heels are part of an exhibition called Bring The Noise which runs at the Tate Britain from March 14th to March 21st. If you live in London, you should definitely go check them out. Maybe wear a nose peg or something.

Perth has its benefits, but I'm really wishing I lived in London right now.

[Via InventorSpot and Trendhunter]

Monday, March 8, 2010

Grotesque Les Conscience

Here is another exhibition I would go to if I could: La publicité au secours des grandes causes, which is being held at Les Arts Décoratifs in France until the 9th of May. This exhibition showcases explicitly political art that has been created for French associations and institutions in order to "strike the conscience." The works are divided into six themes: human rights, the humanitarian, ecology, health, exclusion and social security, education and good citizenship.

I was struck straight away by how many of these images make use of hybrid bodies, the human/plant/animal/object blends characteristic of the traditional grotesque. These posters are an excellent example of the political potential of so called 'grotesque' images. Click to have a closer look.

The little foot/tree below really gets to me. It is reminiscent of the elephant/fly, but infinitely sadder.

You can see more of these poster here, or visit the exhibition page here. Warning: some of these images are very disturbing. That is their intention.

[Via Street Anatomy and le Blog de Bango]

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Go See

The excellent Kate MacDowell, who I have posted about on this blog before, is having some exhibitions this year. Just in case anyone is lucky enough to be able to go, here is where her work will be on show:

At the Earth Matters exhibit at the Galleries of Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, from March 10 until April 10.

At the Summer Workshop Preview Exhibition, Santa Fe Clay, Santa Fe, New Mexico, from March 5 until April 17.

At the Corporeal Manifestations special exhibit at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, from February 2 until August 2. This whole exhibit looks particularly interesting.

MacDowell is also teaching a ceramics workshop called "Transforming the Natural World" this August 16th to 20th at Santa Fe Clay. If I actually lived in America, you better believe I'd be there. I've used play dough. How hard can it be?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hoow Many Pages?

Feeling a bit like Little Britain's Dame Sally Markham today.

Perhaps I'm not quite so bad, but you get the idea.

Did you know Dame Sally is modeled on prolific romance novelist Dame Barbara Cartland?

Despite her views on women who work, Cartland wrote 664 novels in her lifetime. Sounds like a pretty solid career to me. Perhaps putting on something pink will boost my productivity...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Grotesque: Heroes Hunted

I have dedicated a chapter of my thesis to 'grotesque games' or, more accurately, 'games that make use of notions of grotesqueness during gameplay.' For this reason I was pretty excited to discover that there is an actual game called Grotesque in the making.

In what way do the developers understand their game to be grotesque, I wondered. Will it be in terms of gross/disgusting? Full of turds and/or blood and gore? Or will the game be about human/animal/plant beasts? I can think of a number of existing games that concern themselves with such content, but they do not call themselves 'grotesque.'

It turns out that Grotesque: Heroes Hunted is a German role playing game intended to operate as a parody of other role playing games. Stay with me.

You play as Roger Sun:

"an everyday hero from the present, who is neither particularly strong nor particularly honourable. He is the guitarist in a heavy metal band, loves animals and is a huge fan of role-play games and adventures."

The game narrative begins as follows:

"Through the mystical force of an antique mirror he has recently bought [Roger] is sucked into another world and lands, complete with his lounge furnishings, right in the midst of a conflict between a kingly character and some grass-like creatures. It seems as though the eternal battle between light and dark in the game, which has been going on for years, suddenly become reality. However, Roger had never imagined that a hero’s life, as a prospective chosen-one, would be anything like this. The forces of the light that Roger urgently needs as co-combatants and friends, emerge mainly as arrogant, egotistical and to some extent even inter-fighting."

Apart from being a bit confusing, what the heck is grotesque about all this?

"When the vampires, Dawnclaude & Solithaire appear, and with sadistic fiendishness hunt down everything human, it becomes quite clear that they are merely the forerunners of a very angry and very murky power, a power that would not remain hidden to the sudden appearance of Roger Sun... Now it’s up to you to blend into the world of Grotesque – this is not the ultimate quest of any hero; it is the one of your own life!"

So, it turns out that Grotesque is the name of the world; a noun as opposed to an adjective.

The emphasis upon parody indicates that the notion of grotesqueness in use here is bound up with humour. There is a whole body of grotesque theory that argues that 'the grotesque' is a species of the comic, so this is not revolutionary. To rudely simplify a lot of interesting theory, the primary argument tends to be that 'the grotesque' occurs at the intersection of the comic and the horrific. So is Grotesque: Heroes Hunted both comic and horrific? You can judge for yourself, if you so wish...

"Mandy, don't get jealous."

The female characters are large breasted and whiny, but the chicken things are funny, right?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Grotesk Sérénade

Who says the grotesque must always be gross? Sérénade grotesque, composed by Maurice Ravel in the 1900s, is a more subtle creation than the other kinds of 'grotesque music' I have posted about.

Where does the 'grotesqueness' of this piece lie? According to one source:

"Composed about 1893, Sérénade grotesque was originally entitled just Sérénade in the autograph. Ravel admitted the influence of Chabrier's Bourée fantasque, written two years earlier, returning himself to the spirit later and in a more suggestive manner in Scarbo. There is also an association with Alborada del gracioso (Miroirs), where the Spanish idiom is likewise suggested by guitar-like strumming in the opening measures, marked pizzicatissimo."

Here is Emmanuel Alexis Chabrier's Bourrée fantasque for comparison:

While I am far from an expert in this area, it is clearly a subject of some depth. Jessie Fillerup's entire thesis, Purloined Poetics: The Grotesque in the Music of Maurice Ravel, examines this composer and his relationship with the grotesque.

His thesis abstract is very interesting:

"Since Ravel's death, both critics and scholars have questioned why a composer with his gifts would cling to convention--conservative forms, tertian harmonies--in an era of musical revolution. The grotesque, an aesthetic phenomenon characterized by unity among disjunction, engages this strand of criticism in three specific ways: 1) it provides an aesthetic framework for interpreting Ravel's diverse musical styles; 2) it offers a new context for his long-standing appreciation of Poe; and 3) it unveils transgressive elements within conventional musical structures. To differentiate the French grotesque from other varieties, I examine discourses by Hugo, Gautier, Baudelaire, and Berlioz before turning to the tales and criticism of Poe--a juncture where Ravel and the French grotesque meet. Four Ravel works--Sérénade grotesque, L'Heure espagnole, Daphnis et Chloé, and La Valse--manifest disjunctive relationships between music, text, rhythm and meter, gesture; these, combined with the works' reception histories, evoke the grotesque."

I am curious about how 'the grotesque' as a literary or artistic theory is translated into a principle understood to be communicable through sound. I am particularly intrigued by the suggestion that a 'grotesque' reading of certain music "unveils transgressive elements within conventional musical structures." This seems to echo feminist narratives in which 'the grotesque' is understood as a transgressive or emancipatory phenomenon that can be detected in particular representations of women.

Of course, there are some musical works that seem to defy theory. Like this 'ode' to Akzidenz Grotesk font.

This is giving me flashbacks to Grotext. There is something a little odd about these font-lovers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Completing a PhD is a pretty intensive activity. You spend a lot of time reading, writing and talking about your project. There is a portion of time-pie left over for sleeping, eating, and watching B-movies, but much of this is also spent thinking/obsessing about your thesis.

In this situation it is easy to forget about the body, or, at least, to discount its importance in the scheme of things. My foot cannot write a chapter, ergo, my foot is useless! This reminds me of René Descartes' famous comment "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). If you factor into this equation the almost constant use of the computer, one can begin to feel rather like a disembodied brain on a stick.

Or in a tray...

All concepts of mind/body dualism, however, depend upon the continuing health of the body concerned. At least, this is what I came to realise after waking up vomiting wretchedly this morning. As I hung my head over the latrine, I contemplated how one can only believe one's body is secondary when it is working properly. Rather like power, which is most noticeable to those who perceive they do not possess it, physical health is largely invisible to those who have it.

In reality, the absence of body equals death. Which is why it might be nice to live in this movie:

Ah, just think of it. What freedom!

Of course, you would be stuck in a tray.

In her essay "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?" Allucquère Rosanne Stone comments that:

"no matter how virtual the subject may become, there is always a body attached. It may be off somewhere else - and that 'somewhere else' may be a privileged point of view - but consciousness remains firmly rooted in the physical" (p.93 of Cybersexualities).


"It is important to remember that virtual community originates in, and must return to, the physical. No refigured virtual body, no matter how beautiful, will slow the death of a cyberpunk with AIDS. Even in the age of the technosocial subject, life is lived through bodies... forgetting the body is an old Cartesian trick, one that has unpleasant consequences for those bodies whose speech is silenced by the act of our forgetting;that is to say, those upon whose labor the act of forgetting the body is founded - usually women and minorities" (p.94).

Before we celebrate our imagined transcendence of the physical, we should ask ourselves where we think our bodies have gone. And would you really want to do without your body? I would just like to thank my stomach for reminding me of these important issues.