Out and about

Panels & Pixels conducts a long interview with Marjane Satrapi, the cartoonist behind Persepolis and Embroideries. After a two-part memoir and a nonfiction work, I think—anybody know for sure?—that her new comic, Chicken with Plums, is her first foray into fiction. Her family circumstances, however, certainly plays a role in its creation. Here she is on form:

I also wanted to talk about the notion of pleasure, the pleasure of smoking, the pleasure of making love, to be in love. The pleasure of eating. For me really, the whole procedure of dying starts from the second that this man cannot eat anymore. Even the thing that he likes the most in his life, the last instinct, the last pleasure that we lose is the pleasure of eating.

I really wanted the book to look like eight days of life. I made all these very small drawings. … I could make them bigger and the book was going to be much thicker. But that was not the purpose really. What I wanted was that the book would look like eight days of life. Eight days of life is really short and at the same time very dense. That’s why I put everything extremely narrow, very close to each other. Because I wanted just by the format of the book that you would have the feeling of this very short and very dense period of time.

Sequential Tart covers a New Yorker talk with cartoonist Roz Chast, led by Steve Martin. It’s an informative overview of Chast’s career and the evolution of her oddball humor and shaky line.

Matt Zoller Seitz asks, “When did you first realize movies were directed?,” and then answers the question with a beautiful response to one of my favorite movies ever. Before he answers, he writes a good summation of the power of movies:

But even then I didn’t understand the full scope of a director’s duties. I didn’t understand that he (or rarely, she) was responsible for more than making sure the actors memorized their lines and stood in the right spot while reciting them; that he or she was, in fact, in charge of everything—most importantly composition, lighting, camera movement and the decision of when to cut from one angle to the next, and that all these responsibilities added up to something called a Vision; all of which meant, quite simply, that movies were more than stories that happened to be told in pictures; that they were opportunities to enter the imagination, feel the feelings, even inhabit the personality, of other people, and dream their dreams.

In a dissenting take on Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of anime’s sacred cows, Wax Banks rather wishes he hadn’t entered the dreamlife of Hideaki Anno:

…the first ten episodes contain—and I’ve said this before—no psychology whatsoever. That is to say, no one behaves believably, complexly, necessarily: everything is heroic gestures or villainous gestures or comedic gestures, and the quiet moments, those ostensibly devoted to deepening character, are paper-thin, or else substitute for meaningful dialogue the kind of theatrical gestures that serve as “characterization” on shows like Lost.

(I’ve posted comments in Evangelion’s defense here and here. In any case, read what he’s got to say.)

You say writers don’t drink like they used to? Well, you haven’t been around Gary Shteyngart lately. Modern Drunkard Magazine has a long interview in which the reporter and Shteyngart discuss vodka, beer, wine, getting plastered and fightin’, and more vodka. If his books were as funny as his interviews, I’d consider him the comic genius that everyone else thinks he is:

MDM: How do you feel about beer?

Shteyngart: I like beer. I went to college in Ohio. It was in a dry county. The local beer wasn’t even Schlitz, it was Schlopps or something. It was the beginning of the Ice Cube era, or the end of NWA era, everything was about malt liquor. When you have a population of 96% white kids, you’re going to have a lot of malt liquor. Before I went there, I thought it was going be a real party kind of place. But hell no.

MDM: And there you were, in a dry county.

GS: I would drink more than anyone. Those kids weren’t up to par. My body was really up to handling it.

MDM: Well, you’re Russian.

I rarely link or cite approvingly anything from National Review—my last mention of it was to swipe at its latest pop-culture folly—but John Derbyshire writes on something close to my heart. He’s lost his faith. For about a decade, I’ve been fighting a losing battle to hang on to it. It’s National Review, so I had to roll my eyes at his unironic reference to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II as the “Holy Political Trinity of the 1980s,” and there’s some silliness about capitalism arising naturally from human nature (and thus being a naturally better system than socialism, communism, etc.), but it’s a thoughtful, deeply personal, and provoking piece. It’s even structured as a sort of catechism, which is a neat trick. A few choice quotes:

I can report that the Creationists are absolutely correct to hate and fear modern biology. Learning this stuff works against your faith. To take a single point at random: The idea that we are made in God’s image implies we are a finished product. We are not, though. It is now indisputable that natural selection has been going on not just through human prehistory, but through recorded history too, and is still going on today, and will go on into the future, presumably to speciation, either natural or artificial. So which human being was made in God’s image: the one of 100,000 years ago? 10,000 years ago? 1,000 years ago? The one of today? The species that will descend from us? All of those future post-human species, or just some of them? And so on. The genomes are all different. They are not the same creature. And if they are all made in God’s image somehow, then presumably so are all the other species, and there’s nothing special about us at all.

Now of course there are ways to finesse that point—intellectuals can cook up an argument for anything, and religious intellectuals, who cut their teeth on justifying some wildly improbable stuff, are especially ingenious—but the cumulative effect of dozens of factlets like this is devastating to the notion that human beings are a special creation. And without that notion, traditional religious belief is holed below the water line.

[…]

You can point to people who were improved by faith, but you can also see people made worse by it. Anyone want to argue that, say, Mohammed Atta was made a better person by his faith? All right, when Americans say “religion” they mean Christianity 99 percent of the time. So: Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just going to inflame that conviction. Again, I know cases, and I’m sure you do too. The exhortations to humility that you find in all religions seem to be the most difficult teaching for people to take on board.

That is all.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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