The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: March 2009

A Wright Awards Run-Down

Last week the nominations were announced for the 2009 Doug Wright Awards, which celebrate excellence in Canadian cartooning. By no means are the DWAs the only Canadian comics awards, but they are certainly the awards whose nominees are easiest to review. Finalists for the more mainstream/genre-friendly Joe Shuster Awards are named next week, but these awards go to individuals rather than books, making capsule reviews a smidge difficult. Nominations for the Prix Bédéis Causa came out this week, but I have been a bad Canadian and an unlettered anglo and haven’t tracked down any of the nominated works. Enough with excusing my laziness, though—let’s start off by delving into the titles nominated for the Doug Wright Awards’ Best Book. (more…)

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Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  No Comments

All Hail the Great Satan

Bill Gates, though I hate to admit it, is slowly moving towards a place in my personal pantheon of heroes

Long have I hated Microsoft. Back when I was but a larval software engineer, they were the Great Satan of the tech world, universally feared and reviled. It wasn’t just that they were the world-eating Galactus of the industry; it was that their own products were so relentlessly mediocre. If there’s one thing hackers love above all else, it’s elegance. Apple is elegant. Firefox is elegant. Linux is elegant. Microsoft products are about as elegant as an arthritic three-legged elephant trying to ice dance.

Worse yet, their evil empire was built on intellectual theft. Windows? A ripoff of Apple’s user interface. Internet Explorer? Copied first from Netscape Navigator and then from Firefox. Word and Excel? Built on the ashes of WordPerfect and Lotus. Even Microsoft’s first big break – the MS-DOS operating system they provided for the IBM PC in 1980 – was built on somebody else’s product (QDOS) which in turn was a clone of somebody else’s (CP/M). Sure, the courts have decreed that legally speaking none of these were theft…but us techies knew better. All Microsoft did was market crappy copies of other people’s ideas with the serial numbers filed off. How we hated and feared them, and how we despised Bill Gates.

And how times change. Nowadays the industry’s fear of Microsoft has been replaced by a general uneasiness about Google, and Bill Gates, though I hate to admit it, is slowly moving towards a place in my personal pantheon of heroes. (more…)

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Posted in World Fast Forward  •  1 Comment

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

My whole life is online. Pictures of me. My obsessions and disasters. It hasn’t happened overnight. Over the past 17 years I have emerged piecemeal online. Beginning with intimate stories published when I was in high school, my life online began as a genuflection to a medium I was in awe of and erratically evolved into what it is today: home.

Just last week a friend bemoaned the unfortunate condition of me living my life online. The concern was that I was afforded no privacy about various details of my life. Between my blog, Twitter and the butterfly effect as my life is linked and retweeted, I could not dispute the facts of his concern.

But my so-called unfortunate condition only appears unfortunate because I am that rarefied elite known as the vanguard. According to Neilsen’s Twitter had a 1382% growth rate in February 2009. According to me, the way I live my life online is merely trendsetting and not exactly unfortunate. Each passing month a new army of people are broadening their contexts for communication and evolving too by tweeting their ideas, photos and pithy commentary. Soon, sadly, I will be nothing more than another average person with only this blog to evidence my past vanguardism. All I will be left with are my fantastic cutting-edge blouses. (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  4 Comments

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad March

PARIS—If this was America, Congress would be up in arms. No way you could get away with calling a nation-wide “day of action” on the third Thursday of March and giving millions of workers the day off. Too fishy. Obviously there’s a hidden motive there, beyond the earnest value of worker solidarity. Heck, enough people are skipping out of work today, regardless.

A union movement? Really, that’s your story? You must be joking.

But scheduling a strike in France on the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament – March Madness, or les Folies de Mars, the pet name I’ve just invented and am suddenly sort of sweet on – isn’t fishy at all, because the entire country isn’t huddled around a television watching Western Kentucky upset the University of Illinois. Nobody gives a merde. (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  No Comments

Fear(s) of the Dark

Blutch's leering dogwalker.

Hard to believe, but there was in fact another comics-related movie that opened in Toronto this past weekend. Fear(s) of the Dark, a French animated film, enlists the styles and sensibilities of six international alt-comics stars and “auteurs graphiques” in the service of exploring notions of, well, fears and darkness (or, in French, the more unequivocal noir). Each of the artists contributes either a narrative short or a framing sequence, playing formally with the notion of darkness versus light, illustrated either in sharp black and white or greasy scratchy shades of grey, while the stories they tell delve into what scares us, with varying degrees of success. Now, the horror anthology film is always a beyond-dodgy enterprise—most horror films miss the mark with just one try, so anthologising horror often only multiplies chances for failure. While this particular attempt never really succeeds in being scary, it does sustain a certain creepiness, and rarely ever comes off dumb—no slight accomplishments, in this genre.

First off, credit Blutch’s framing story with maintaining that creepy air. (more…)

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Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  No Comments

Q&A: Mark Kingwell

(Detail of photograph by Larry Towell, appearing in our April issue.)

When we asked Mark Kingwell to write an essay about leadership related to Obama, we weren’t entirely sure what we’d get, but none of us expected the brave, challenging, and completely original piece of writing that resulted. It’s not that we didn’t expect Mark’s writing to be those things—it characteristically is—but that we didn’t expect it to be so in the form in which it exists, an unusual, second-person monologue that allows him, as he tells me below, to be both about Obama not about Obama. I asked Mark a few questions about the new essay, the new president, and the idea of self-awareness.

* * * * *

I imagine that in writing the piece, you had to do a lot of anticipating, imagining how Obama would conceive of certain things, react to certain phenomena. Now that we’ve been able to observe him in action for a few months, have you rethought your understanding of him?

I wanted the essay to be both about Obama and not about him—readers may notice that his name appears nowhere in the piece, even its headline. In that sense, the cover sell is a bit misleading, though I’m always happy to be on a magazine cover! My idea was to use the change of administration, and the election-victory and inauguration speeches as opportunities for reflection about the very idea of democratic politics. The second-person conceit is a way of doing this, imagining an interior dialogue that might be the counterpoint to all the official rhetoric being uttered by the official man in his official voice. So: back and forth thoughts, doubts, little surges of optimism, and so on. I did of course draw on some real Obama material, his stated views on taxation for example, even while putting other material—stuff from Ian McEwan, David Foster Wallace—into this ‘you’ person’s head. (more…)

Posted in The Shelf  •  No Comments

If a Tree Falls

A favorite quote among activists is Margaret Mead’s old encouragement: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

It’s a good rallying cry for the hopelessly outnumbered, which seemed a fair description of the two dozen people who gathered outside premier Gordon Campbell’s Vancouver constituency office last Saturday. The rally was scheduled to begin at noon; at ten after, organizer Ken Wu, the young and affable conservation biologist who is now director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WC2), said “let’s give it a few more minutes. Our supporters operate on dooby time.” A car honked – “is that for us?” wondered Wu, gesturing to the placards encouraging drivers-by to honk if you love old growth, “or just the usual Vancouver traffic?” (more…)

Posted in Notes From Vancouver  •  3 Comments

Length, Interrupted

Twitter has hit the tipping point, and may now even threaten Google. The search function possibilities

WARNING: This blog post is so long you won’t be able to read it all in under 96 seconds!

The 140 character communication technology Twitter has hit the tipping point. It has real-time search functions that might even threaten Google.

I blog for The Walrus. A publication committed to long-form journalism. Blogs should ideally be readable in 96 seconds or less, which is the average length of time your eyes will rest upon my page. Uh-oh. Even worse, I blog about Twitter and the bleeding edges of electronic communication technologies. The viability of which can be boiled down to one thing: being short.

Lucky for me, length isn’t what it used to be. (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  2 Comments

A Corrective to Watchmenmania

Watchmen wasn’t the first comic to deconstruct the myth of the superhero. Here’s a look at a handful of them

So I don’t know if you’ve heard but there’s this movie coming out this weekend. It looks like it’s dead serious about taking superheroes deadly seriously—an artistic strategy that the original Watchmen comics were smart enough to equivocate about. That panel up top may be moody and reflective, a key dramatic moment, but it also depicts a grown man wearing a cape, and a purple and gold cape, at that. Neither writer Alan Moore nor artist Dave Gibbons ever glosses over such facts: Watchmen the comic is a serious superhero narrative, yes, about sex and death and politics, but it is also a serious superhero narrative, about men and women who for some bizarre reason wear tights and dominos. Even before the knotty plotting and blueprint-precise artwork, the friction between two such disparate modes and moods—the serious, the frivolous—is what grants the work its awkward fascination in the first place.

Who knows what the movie will or won’t do, but it should be noted that the history of Watchmen‘s reception by its artistic followers is too often a history of wilful misunderstanding. (more…)

Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  1 Comment

Big Projects, Little Protests

“The Canadian lifestyle is an act of terrorism against the rest of the world.”

I heard this assessment of our national modus operandi unleashed by Usman Majeed, a young activist. He was one of the speakers at two conferences I attended last weekend: one on ‘Environmental Racism’ and the other titled ‘Why I oppose the 2010 Olympics.’ I went in part because 2009 marks the ten-year anniversary of the Battle in Seattle, a seminal event in the history of protest, and I can’t help but wonder where the movement’s at a decade on. The Doha Round may have collapsed, but so have most of the world’s ecosystems, and poverty’s march across the planet hasn’t much slowed. There’s a lot left to protest, in other words, and I’m interested in the wackos actually doing it. (more…)

Posted in Notes From Vancouver  •  1 Comment

A Q&A with John Porcellino

In last month’s Walrus, US cartoonist John Porcellino riffed on his adventures north of the 49th, casting himself and his travelling companions as explorers into this untamed wilderness. It’s an autobiographical strip from one of the longtime greats of the autobio genre, and it’s a hoot. For this previously undocumented exploit, Porcellino has gone back to the mid-’90s period covered in his recently released King-Cat Classix, a fat and unfussily gorgeous book compiling the best of his seminal lo-fi mini-comic King-Cat Comics and Stories.

Since 1989, King-Cat has felt like an intimate venue where Porcellino shares the goings-on in his life with a close circle of friends, whether through his minimalist black and white line-drawings, his lists of things he’s enthusing over this month, or his typed or hand-written anecdotes and reveries. His most recent book, though, is Thoreau at Walden, a quiet and generously paced adaptation of Thoreau’s writings, a project that might seem a departure if it weren’t such a perfect match for Porcellino’s sensibilities, so attuned to King-Cat‘s cadences of everyday life. I probably mistakenly thought some of Thoreau‘s two-colour work and historical flavour may have carried over into his strip for the Walrus–I asked Porcellino to straighten me out about this and a few other things by email, and he was kind enough to supply the following responses. (more…)

Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  2 Comments

Failure Is Popular

The economy is in shambles Warren Buffet says so. If you are a success you are doomed.

But there is no need to panic! Failure is totally popular.

Go ahead. Watch the Today Show, Good Morning America or any morning program. You will learn how to eat cheaply in the failing economy by eating frozen vegetables. Or how to decorate with wrapping papers to make your home seasonally appropriate while unemployed. Every story, from the Oscars to Obama’s First 100 Days is run through the rubric of economic collapse. It’s replaced the weather as topical for the lady I just rode the elevator with. In between Skittle chatter, Twitter’s chemosensitive hairs are aquiver with the triumphant popularity of economic failure. Slowly but surely the economic failure is becoming entertainment gold. Depression Chic has infiltrated everything from fashion to Ebay. (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  No Comments
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