Friday, September 11

I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script

Josh Olson was cornered at a party by a young man and his girlfriend. The young man recently spent a year of his life writing a screenplay, and was about to submit it to a contest or whatever--but he wants a professional opinion. Is this any good? Who better to ask than someone who's been nominated for an Academny Award for his work on A History of Violence, right?

Olson knew he should have said no. He barely knew the guy but he knew the girlfriend, and so took the 2-page synopsis, read the crap, and tried to thoughtfully put down words on paper. The e-mail took him longer than several movie rewrites, and later, another mutual friend comes up to him. "I heard you pulled a dickmove on Whatshisface."

This is why Josh Olson--and any sane writing professional--will not read your fucking script:
Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter.
Screenwriters never really get the respect they deserve. Olson relates an anecdote about Picasso, who was approached by a guy at a party and asks Picasso to draw on a napkin and he'll pay him. Picasso does it, hands the drawing to the man and asks for a million dollars. "What, but it took you thirty seconds to do that!" Picasso shrugs, "Well, it took me fifty years to learn to do that in thirty seconds."

The anecdote underscores the fact that writers are never really perceived as professionals. Olson compares this with asking a house painter friend to paint your living room on his day off, or asking a surgeon to take out your gall bladder over coffee. Writers get paid to read someone's work and give their professional opinion on it. Nobody really just wakes up and goes to the gym, and suddenly realizes, "But, oh, I can do a triple bypass on someone right now." The same way with writers.

Elsewhere, a really bizarre internet true story by Olson: The Life and Death of Jesse James.

Thursday, September 10

Campbell's Sticky Tape Soup

Eddie Campbell with God: "I knew it! All of existence is held together with paper clips and sticky tape."

While waiting in the dentist's office last weekend, I realized I didn't bring any books with me. I snuck into the Powerbooks branch downstairs and went through their sale pile. And there, waiting for me was a copy of Eddie Campbell's The Fate of the Artist (New York: First Second Books, 2006). At 85% off and Php119--and a first edition at that--it's a steal and very much worth it. Managed to finish it over two dental visits.

The book's title page declares that this is "an autobiographical novel (1) , with typographical anomalies (2), in which the author does not appear as himself (3)."

What this means:

(1) The author has suffered a kind of "domestic apocalypse." He has disappeared, and what's left on the floor of his storage space was this scrawled picture of god as a smiley. We hear about Campbell's various neuroses through vignettes told by his daughter Halley, old Honeybee comic strips which portray the travails of a married couple from the last century, and other passages which portray the author as a hypochondriac, depressive, obssessive artist. But then again, which artist is not like that?

(2) The book is a collage of sorts. You have the aforementioned Honeybee strips, the interviews with Halley, the brief prose passages which are bookended with found objects, and sections which look into the tradition of comedy, humor and obscure artists, and even a comics dramatization of O. Henry's "Confessions of a Humorist" featuring Eddie Campbell who is not exactly played by Eddie Campbell.

(3) It's not Eddie Campbell because there's a guy named Richard Seigrist who appears as Eddie Campbell.

It's a very playful book. At 96 pages, it's a short one, but manages to give us a sustained meditation on "the lonely demands of art amid the realities of everyday life."

You can read an excerpt here.

Wednesday, September 9

The Ex-Future First Lady

This comes from the Professional Heckler and reminds me so much of the stories I heard before:

Top 10 Messages Left on Korina Sanchez’ Answering Machine

No. 10: Hello ‘nak, si Nanay Cristy Fermin mo ‘to. Isaisip mo sa tuwina, ang Poong Maykapal ay hindi nagbibigay ng pagsubok na hindi kakayanin ng Kanyang nilalang. Malalampasan mo ‘yan ‘nak. Teka lang, ‘nak, ‘yong pangako mong sobre, ‘di ko pa natatanggap.

No. 9: Hi Korina, sa ABS-CBN newsroom ‘to. We’re all here! Guys, altogether now. One… two… three! Ang saya-saya!

No. 8: Hello Korina, Cynthia Villar here. I don’t expect you to believe me but… ramdam kita. Andun ka na eh! Todo-effort ka na eh! Nag-leave ka pa nga ‘di ba? ‘Tapos, biglang uurong?! Ang sakiiiiiiit! Ang sakit-sakit! Tisyu! Penge akong tisyu!

No. 7: Hi Ma’am, si Abby po ito, secretary ni Dr. Palayan. Gusto pong malaman ni Doc kung gagamitin n’yo pa ang luma n’yong pisngi. Naiwan n’yo raw kasi sa clinic last week.

No. 6: Korina, this is Mel. Yup, Mel Tiangco. Wala lang.

No. 5: Hi Korina, si Sharon ‘to. What you said about Kiko was hurtful. You were never his partner. You are not his wife! Kaya ‘di mo siya nirerespeto. Madrasta ka lang! Madrasta!

No. 4: Hi friendsheeeeeep, this is Kris. Alam mo, I heard your interview sa radio last week and in fairness to you huh, may potential ka sa drama. Promise! Sabi ko nga kay Ms Charo, i-guest ka sa MMK eh. O sige, need to go. Nangungulet na si Josh eh. Humihingi ba naman ng one gallon of ice cream. Gosh, he’s consumed two gallons already ‘noh. Ahah-ahah-ahah! Bye sis! And give my regards to Vice President Mar.

No. 3: Korina, it’s Conrad De Quiros of Inquirer. I just realized, I might have erred in saying that Mar was power hungry. He’s not. But you are!

No. 2: Hon, alam kong nandiyan ka. Alam kong nakikinig ka. Sagutin mo naman ang tawag ko oh. Bakit ba ayaw mo ‘kong kausapin? Ilang beses na ‘kong nag-sorry sa naging decision ko ‘di ba? ‘Tsaka sabi mo sa press, okay lang sa ‘yo ang nangyari. Hon, hello? Hon? Tang-ina hon, ‘pag ako napikon si Noynoy ang papakasalan ko.

And the No. 1 message left on Korina Sanchez’ answering machine…

Hello Korina! Apologies for what happened last week at Club Filipino. Nagmamadali kasi ako kaya nabundol kita. Siyanga pala, si Karma ‘to.

And from Good Times Manila, news about the "strange guttural noises" from Korina Sanchez's house.

Thursday, September 3

Bibi on a Mission

A bunch of stories that we took up in Creative Writing 10 recently all had to do with stories of childhood and how they handle time: Snow by Julia Alvarez, Reconnaissance by Tara Sering, Forever Overhead by David Foster Wallace (no photo), and Pet Milk by Stuart Dybek (also no photo.) So the class was divided into four groups, one for each story, and they had to figure out the story's plot and timeline and present it to class.

Since the reporting happened after the long break, I didn't really expect a spectacle, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that all the groups were huddled and ready to go. There should be four pictures, one for each story, but the kids with cameras in the class managed to "accidentally" delete the photos so these are the only ones I have.

If you're part of this class and you *do* have photos, please share with the class. Thanks.

The rest of the album is here.

Tuesday, August 11

Mixed Bag

Since I opted to check out the Manila Design Week's Public Art exhibit at Bonifacio High Street on Saturday, was only able to make to MCC on Sunday. Got there early enough--not too many cosplayers were around yet. Went around the venue. There were too many stalls selling toys, and not enough stalls for comics. The stalls for comics were relegated to the very back of the hall, beside the pancakes and the siomai. And by 3 in the afternoon, the place was overran by people in costumes. Not that there's anything bad there, but my friend Carl and I were asking ourselves: If it weren't for the cosplay event, will there be as much people in attendance?

Here's my loot from the recently concluded Metro Comic Con held at the Megamall last August 8 and 9:

There were some reissues which I'd seen from the last two Bahay ng Alumni Komikons. "The Last Datu" by Trese team Budjette Tan and Ka-Jo Baldisimo was interesting. Also got me thinking: Is this somehow part of Trese's mythology? "Aswang Files" won the Best Indie back in 2006. They still haven't come up with Issue # 2, which is bad because I thought Issue # 1 was interesting. The manga influence was quite clear on that one: boy gets beaten up by bullies, a mystery in a tunnel under a bridge. Reminded me of the Inio Asano's Nijigahara Holograph and moody Korean horror movies.

Thursday, August 6

Kill the Vampire

Entertainment Weekly's Christina Amoroso asks Neil Gaiman how vampires became such a viable cultural commodity through the years, from monsters they have become anti-heroes. Gaiman thinks it has a lot to do with what vampires get to represent. Bram Stoker's vampire was more about repeated seduction in the Victorian era. The next great vampire reincarnation happened when Stephen King wanted to do a vampire story in a small town in Maine--Salem's Lot. The vampire is almost always "The Other," always about "people exiled to the fringes." This is the story of every vampire in popular culture, from Anne Rice's melancholy blood suckers to Sesame Street's The Count. "Vampires," Gaiman thinks, "should be outsiders. They should probably be sexual outsiders. They need to be charismatic. They need to be elegant. They need to be attractive in some way. But they aren’t buying nice suits and calling the shots. And if they are, the book is about something else."

Gaiman thinks that vampires in fiction arrive in waves. From the Victorians to Stephen King and Sesame Street, they have remained viable as figures in ficion because of the constantly renewed figure of the outsider. But Gaiman posits that what changed the game about vampires in fiction, and what gave them a new lease on life and death was AIDS: "You hit the early ‘80s, and suddenly you have something in the blood that is an exchange of blood that kills and is altogether fundamentally about sex. And vampirism essentially came out of the closet as a metaphor for the act of love that kills. Stephen King once said, using the Erica Jung quote, that vampirism is the ultimate zipless f—."

But now that vampires are everywhere, most notably the extreme popularity of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, Gaiman thinks that the wave reached its crest and vampires should go back and hibernate in their coffins for another 20 to 25 years. "Come out the next time as something really different, that would be cool."

The gazillions of teenage girls who find Edward Cullen cute will surely hate this, but I tend to agree with Gaiman. Someone should drive a stake on the sparkly Cullen dude with the weird hair, and come back out when he has a nice hair day. Curiously, I Googled "Kill Edward Cullen" for an image to accompany this blog post and there are 247,000 hits and 307,000 web results. So I'm not alone in this. But for the sake of diplomacy and to avoid getting flamed by the Edward & Bella fans, I opted for a classic Dracula-with-a-stake-through-the-heart pic.

Friday, July 31

How to Disappear

Frank Ahearn helps people disappear. For 20 years, he had worked as a "skip tracer," a private investigator who specialises in finding people. He later realized that he could reverse his strategies and instead of finding people, he could make them vanish without a trace.

Ahearn outlines three key steps to a successful disappearance:
First, destroy old information about yourself. Call your video store or electricity company and replace your old, correct phone number with a new, invented one. Introduce spelling mistakes into your utility bills. Create a PO Box for your mail. Don’t use your credit cards and the like. Then, create bogus information to fool private investigators who might be looking for you. Go to one city and apply for an apartment. Rent a car in another one.

The next, final step is the most important one. Move from point A to point B. Create a dummy company to pay your bills. Only use prepaid mobile phones and change them every month. It is nearly impossible to find out where you are unless you make a mistake.
The rules are easier to follow if you are self-employed, but harder if you're on a payroll, like if you're a bus driver or teacher. (Drats.) Over the years, Ahearn's clientele included witnesses to a crime, women who are stalked (for this, he works free of charge), and a lot of men in their forties or fifties who want to be free of their responsibilities and start over somewhere, as an entirely new person. Ahearn explains that "There is something romantic about the idea of starting a new life and walking away into the sunset, but for most people it’s just a daydream." Of the ten people who inquire about his services, only one will seriously pursue it. And like a doctor, Ahearn cannot get attached to any of his clients. Very few them will afford Ahearn with updates of their new lives. He gets the occasional e-mail though, and always a different e-mail each time. They have learned their lessons well.

Thursday, July 30

Sharks Playing Ball

A team of scientists attempted to measure the pain of rejection. It has been a long held belief that such pain is unquantifiable--or perhaps something that targets emotion, ego--but this time, the scientists rigged a system that included small electronic doodads and a group of people playing ball. The ones who were "outed" from the game eventually felt "rejected" and there was a corresponding hit on the gadgets attached to them.

So now there's proof that the pain of rejection is undeniably also physical--gut being wrenched out inch by inch, the bread knife stabbed into one's back and pierced the heart and turned approximately eighteen degrees to the left.

Bonnie Kozek even has an interesting aside to the scientists' findings: "'Why' does rejection hurt? Their concluding theory is that 'rejection' affects the brain because it is deeply-rooted in our DNA. Long ago, mammals relied on social bonds to survive. Broken social bonds put survival in peril. Mammals therefore feared any diminishing of these bonds. And this congenital fear is so entrenched that today’s mammals still see any form of exclusion from social connection as a direct physical threat."

It's not just a physical manifestation of pain then. Even more scary for the mammals of today is the pain of not being part of the game being played out there to celebratory shouts in the field.

Wednesday, July 29

Whose Memory Is It Anyway?

Karl Taro Greenfeld has a problem: "Had some of my earliest memories actually been implanted by reading my father's book about our family as a very young child?"

In writing his memoir about growing up with an autistic brother, Greenfeld kept comparing his own memory with that of the already published version--his father's books. He says: "Many of us have recollections that turn out to have been created or nurtured by family photos we have seen or stories we have been told. But most of us aren't writers setting down a life's story. One could argue that the more fortunate memoirist is the one who doesn't have another writer also weighing in on his childhood, who doesn't measure his own memories against those of some external, recorded source."

In a way, Greenfeld is writing his memoir with the conscious effort of not merely echoing the story that has already been told. Later on, he realizes that memory is a tricky thing: there's same game of catch and yet his father's account was similar and in other ways different. Then incident about a graduate student who spanked the very young Greenfeld when he threw a tantrum over dinner. This he remembers with clarity, but his parents cannot recall it ever happening. In the end, he resolves that "The memoirist's ultimate responsibility is to himself, his own version of his life, his truth and reality. If he does not stay faithful to that story, then why is he bothering to write it at all?"

Monday, July 27

Pomo: A Few Notes

From Megan Fox and cars to Judd Apatow's movies, it seems like anything and everything can pass for postmodern these days. Chris Daley weighs in on the abuse of the use of the term "postmodern" in mainstream media: "When the term “postmodern” is used in major international publications, does it bear any relation to its theoretical roots, or has it been hijacked as yet another hot, empty signifier, like 'iconic' or 'staycation'?"

And Daley should know what she's talking about, as she "pays hundreds of dollars a month in student loans for a degree that certifies she has studied postmodernism extensively ." Ah, the indignation of the Comparative Lit major.

Daley gives us a few things to consider about the term postmodern:

1. It was first used as early as the 1870s, but theorists Jean-François Lyotard and Frederic Jameson are generally credited with making the term "postmodern" popular.

2. When used in an academic setting, “postmodern” usually refers to a sense of style featuring “disjunction or deliberate confusion, irony, playfulness, reflexivity, a kind of cool detachment, a deliberate foregrounding of constructedness, a suspicion concerning neat or easy conclusions.”

3. Postmodernism is more concerned with process than product. This can be seen in the meta “[blank] about [blank]” construction that often identifies the “postmodern”: art about art, writing about writing, architecture about architecture, etc.
It seems like postmodern is the go-to term when you're not sure what else to say but you want to sound smart. I.e., the actress Megan Fox describes her next project, a film written by Juno's Diablo Cody, as "really dark” because Cody’s “like a postmodern feminist or whatever.” Since nobody's really sure what it means anyway, you're free to use it. Ta-dah. Instant smartness.

Elsewhere in the L.A. Times, to ensure that you know what you're talking about when you're blinding us with jargon, they've prepared a list of 61 essential postmodern reads. It comes with a cheat sheet of qualities that pomo writing has.

The list includes David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (Yep, pomo, that one) but also Shakespeare's Hamlet and Tristram Shandy, which again leads us to ask: How can a text written before the modern period ever be postmodern? (And a tangentially related question: How can anyone say that one of the things they're looking for in a date is "He must be postmodern?" But then again, maybe this is a gay guy thing.) What the hell does that mean? This is why Postmodernism (and I'm tempted to say "and everything connected with theory") is the Root of All Evil.

Sunday, July 26

Lois Lane's New Boyfriend

Jonathan Goldstein's story "Man Not Superman" gets the Post-It treatment. An interesting premise: If Lois Lane and Superman break up, what sort of relationship will she have with the regular guy she hooks up with after her Super Romance?

Told from the point of view of Lois Lane's new boyfriend, Stuart, who is forced to suffer the faith of all well meaning exes: Let us all be friends together, Super Friends included.

And, of course, something has to be said about that other odd couple--Batman and Robin:

Elsewhere, in his 1971 essay "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," Larry Niven asks the unsayable: "What turns on a Kryptonian?" In McSweeney's, "Superman's Fortress of Solitude."


Thursday, July 23

Fast Food Mafia

O dahil ang mafia ay matatagpuan kahit saan at hindi lang sa guerrang pang-Fezbuk:

Kung matagal mo nang pinag-iisipan kung ano ba talaga si Grimace, heto ang sagot: Isa siyang hitman na nasa payola ni Ron "The Don" McDonald. Isa lamang sila sa mga fast food mascots na inimagine ni Silent Sketcher sa kanyang Deviant Art portfolio. Kasama sa pamilya sina "The Colonel" Sanders ng Kentucky Fried Creatures, si Wendy, si "Little" Caesar, at ang Hari ng mga Burger.

Wednesday, July 22

Keeping Out the Joneses

Christian and Abrams posit that the development of cities--fortified, walled--was a matter of keeping out the Joneses. "[T]the first settlements – before bronze age, before iron age, even probably before the stone age – didn’t happen because folks liked each other’s company. As the old saying goes: there really is safety in numbers … and fortifications."

The city state was established as a common defense against invaders. When people stayed together in a permanent location, they brought their valuables with them--heads of cattle, goat, a barn of farmed grains. They needed to band together against marauders even if they weren't exactly fans of each other.

Or it can be the other way around. They loved each other so much that they didn't want to let anyone else in. Perhaps the Chinese had this idea first: They didn't set out and conquer the way the Europeans did. Maybe they were thinking, "Why pollute our fabulous gene pool with barbaric Mongol blood? Let's build the Great Wall!"

Meanwhile, in old Castilian Manila, the Chinese were being kept out of Intramuros. They stayed in their own Parian, prosperous though much discriminated against. Here's another point of development in urban areas: "But it wasn’t long before these separate city/states looked out from their battlements and discovered that instead of keeping themselves safe they were keeping their good neighbors out." Soon, Manila wouldn't just be Intramuros, it would expand and take in other neighborhoods, and on to the Metro Manila as we know it now. But back then, when one said Manila, it meant Intramuros. Just nuns and priests and Spanish dons. The Chinese stay in Parian.


Tuesday, July 21

Riding the Scandinavian Crime Wave

These days, it seems to me that everywhere you look (around the web, at least), people are talking about Scandinavian crime novels. In his Slate essay, Nathaniel Rich claims that the most peaceful people on earth write the greatest homicide thrillers. He offers a few reasons why the genre flourishes in the region: "The crime novel, and particularly the British crime novel, has been enormously popular in Scandinavia for decades. And the famous Nordic pragmatism is well-suited to the intricate mechanics of crime investigation plots. But the best explanation is the most mundane: Crime novels sell." Rich proceeds to list down the writers who started their careers in a more literary vein, but eventually, the poets, playwrights, novelists and translators found a bigger audience--and a bigger paycheck--in writing about crime.

If crime novels sell and the writers profit from it, there must surely be a very good reason why readers like it as well. For this, Rich points out that the allure of the Scandinavian crime novel from others is "not some element of Nordic grimness but their evocation of an almost sublime tranquility. When a crime occurs, it is shocking exactly because it disrupts a world that, at least to an American reader, seems utopian in its peacefulness, happiness, and orderliness." There something a little bit troublesome about Rich's assertion. Rich fetishizes the blood on snow image as something close to the divine.

On the other hand, Larisa Kyzer of The L Magazine looks deeper into Rich's assertion that Scandinavians write the best crime novels. Kyzer believes that there is more to it than just the inherent creepiness--or even exoticism--of having blood spreading against pristine white snow. The narrative concerns of the Scandinavian crime novel do not stray too far away from those of the established literary tradition. It still finds its roots in the police procedurals and detective stories. However, "more often than not, the gruesome goings-on in Scandinavian crime novels have their root in everyday societal tensions and shortcomings: racial/ethnic/religious prejudices, the marginalization of 'outsiders,' governmental corruption, unacknowledged domestic abuse."

The Nordic countries are peaceful because of homogeneity. If everyone is like everyone else, then it would be too hard to disagree with the public sentiment. But because each of these countries started seeing more faces different from their own in the last several decades, change started to seep in. And according to Kyzer, "more often than not, [it] created quite an existential crisis for societies which have for so long been able to claim a fundamental sameness in traditions, language, and cultural outlook." They cannot sustain their unofficial motto, "Be like everyone else. Thus, this disturbance is articulated in their fiction: the rise of neo-Nazi gangs, Swedish townspeople getting all antsy because of their Sami neighbors, arson in refugee camps, shutting down child prostitution rings.

The writers of crime fiction are holding up a mirror to the welfare states' shortcomings. If so, then the uniqueness of the genre comes from its "unflinchingly honest stock of its failures. So often, these are novels of conscience and reflection. Novels which, in their own small way, take responsibility for a social system which makes earnest promises of inclusion and protection, but continues to fail so many of its constituents."

The curious question is this: the Scandinavian countries have a social system that works, the citizens are among the world's happiest even if they perceive their governments can do better. The low crime rate pushes the writers to imagine "tawdry crimes." On the other hand, the Philippines has a government that cannot be trusted to deliver even the basic services, most of the population live in dire poverty and yet steadily confesses that they are a "happy" people, and crime is so prevalent that you only have to step out of your house and see it happen to someone you know, perhaps committed by someone you know. We have seen all manners of killing people--the usual ice pick stabbing, boys playing basketball and on the way home they get riddled with bullets, a woman's body chopped into pieces, left to be discovered in several plastic bags, or a man killed and body sealed in a drum filled with cement and dropped into the river. Sometimes there is a desperation to the crime: I am thinking of that mother who cannot afford to feed her children, and so takes them in a Jollibee in the mall and then poisons them all.

Scandinavian crime fiction functions as a critique of a society that has its ills, is only starting to feel the disturbance of having a varied society. It also offers a way of escape, a different reality from their "we're all the same, modular Ikea" existence. But crime fiction is also a very straight forward kind of narrative: here is a body, thereafter lies a solution as to who did this and in what manner. Problem, solution. All is right in the world.

However, if crime is all around you, so desperate and gruesome that you want it to be something that you merely imagined, is it even possible that you would want to write about it? Of what use is fiction then for our collective imagination? Does this explain why crime fiction isn't flourishing in the country and yet we have stories about dragons and dwarves and a strong fantasy-oriented community of writers? If we have chosen our manner of escape, it seems we have favored magic over material explanations. But we must also have a venue for critique, something that forces us to consider our ills, and even if only imagined, a way to make things right in the world again.

Saturday, July 18

July Reading Stack

Since school started, haven't really had much time left for personal reading. I got my copy of Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man around registration period, and I'm barely a third of the novel in. However, that scant reading lead me to a curiosity about the musician Leonard Cohen and how he's just goyish. The novel has this running commentary about which things/people/habits, etc are Jewish and which are goyish. Cohen stepping into a cafe placing a very green order of soy mocha latte is goyish. It's difficult to explain if you haven't read the book. The novel is also described as "postmodern." Now there's a term which people are always hardup to explain.

Last weekend, faced with the prospect of having no book to read, I ducked into a trusty Booksale branch and got a copy of Alex Garland's The Tesseract, which is set in Manila--lots of crime, dirty little hotels with naked bulbs and blood on the sheets, weather so hot that the lead guy opted to stay inside a McDonald's and watched rich little kids have their blasted kiddie parties. The first chapter reminds me so much of the opening chapter of The Beach. It also reminds me that I still have a cling-wrapped copy of The Coma somewhere in my shelves in Manila. Maybe Garland is a writer best appreciated when you're in your early 20s and with a good head trip.

Also still in its original plastic wrap is The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki. The cover is a nice brown craft paper and orange, and the back cover features a body with the parts cut into parts and meant to look like a paper doll that you can join together with staples or something. The series tag line is "Your body is their business!" According to the blurb, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is about "five young students at a Buddhist university find there's little call for their job skills in today's Tokyo...among the living, that is! But their studies give them a direct line to the dead--the dead who are still trapped in their corpses, and can't move on to their next reincarnation! Whether you died from suicide, murder, sickness, or madness, they'll carry your body anywhere it needs to go to free your soul." Given the topic, the plastic is there to warn off those with weaker stomachs and those under 18 who can't properly appreciate this odd blend of Pushing Daisies, CSI, and maybe Conan the Kid Detective. (The undead also reminds me of Pizzeria Kamikaze, an Israeli comic book wherein all the suicides end up in a world similar to ours, except everyone there died by their own hands and given another chance at, uhm, living. First followed it in Bipolar and it's been turned to a movie: The Wristcutters. Anyway.) There are 5 stories in the volume, so the episodic nature allows you to jump and enjoy one of the adventures. The pullback is that this is just Volume 1 of 9 (as of last count) and it's not exactly as cheap as the other mangas, so following the adventures will be costly.

The last and newest one on my stack is Xiaolu Guo's 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth. I read part (or most?) of it by hanging out in MPH and Borders in Kuala Lumpur last year. It's about a farm girl who tries her luck in Beijing by being a film extra. It's funny and (a lot of people will stone me for this) quite different from all the other Chinese writers I've previously read who have written about Mao era China. The book cover is rather pretty. But of course, the other attraction is that Fenfang works in the film business and that has always been interesting to me. 20 Fragments was published in Chinese eleven years ago, and only recently translated into English. Since then, Guo has written one other novel, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, which was her first try at writing in English. Also read bits of that last year, but alas, I was too poor to buy it and now it's not available in the bookstores in KL anymore. But I'm looking forward to finishing not just 20 Fragments but all these books really, really soon.

Tuesday, July 14

The Cartography of Childhood

In his essay "Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood," Michael Chabon writes about the importance of childhood adventures while growing up. Adventure is being allowed to explore the world to its limits. It means playing in neighbors' yards and vacant lots, riding your bike to visit classmates in their houses across town and knowing what flavor popsicle their mothers serve. These adventures, according to Chabon, provide a child with mental maps of their worlds which they can endlessly revise and refine. "Childhood is a branch of cartography," he says. And childhood is the first and ultimate adventure:
That's because every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape, of the interrelationship between human beings (or Hobbits, as the case may be) and topography. Every adventure story is conceivable only with reference to the particular set of geographical features that in each case sets the course, literally, of the tale. But I think there is another, deeper reason for the reliable presence of maps in the pages, or on the endpapers, of an adventure story, whether that story is imaginatively or factually true. We have this idea of armchair traveling, of the reader who seeks in the pages of a ripping yarn or a memoir of polar exploration the kind of heroism and danger, in unknown, half-legendary lands, that he or she could never hope to find in life.

This is a mistaken notion, in my view. People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map—marked here there be tygers and mean kid with air rifle—that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children.
But in the years since Chabon's growing up years, children have been increasingly forbidden to explore even the very street they live in. Many barriers were put up against adventures: Wear a helmet when riding a bike, don't ride to where your parent can't see you. Don't ride that bike or you break all your bones. The world has become too dangerous for adventuring.

In his essay "Coming of age in the years of living dangerously," Bill Briggs also looks back on this time of childhood daredeviltry with nostalgia. Kids growing up in the '50s, '60s and '70s inhaled second hand smoke from their chainsmoking parents, ate wildberries, were allowed to roam the fields and strange streets without fear. Kids were allowed to live. But now that adventuring--and effectively, living--has been outlawed in favor of a safe and monitored environment, a 47-year-old mortgage broker asks: "Who would have thought 30 years ago that it would be necessary to run public service announcements encouraging parents to get their kids outside playing?”

Choose Your Own Ong

The Institute of Creative Writing Panayam Series hosts Charlson Ong's lecture this afternoon, 2.30 PM at the Claro M. Recto Hall in Bulwagang Rizal, UP Diliman. If you're free, please go. It'll be quite interesting to see what he has to say about novel writing, Facebook, and whether he can beat Bob Ong in a karaoke match.

Monday, July 13

Harry, Neo, Kirk and Luke: Different Hero, Same Story

In class last week, we were talking about how Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and even The Matrix are actually the same movie. The journey is the same, or as Brandon Root in Spiteful Critic put it:
Once upon a time, Luke | Kirk | Neo | Harry was living a miserable life. Feeling disconnected from his friends and family, he dreams about how his life could be different. One day, he is greeted by Obi Wan | Captain Pike | Trinity | Hagrid and told that his life is not what it seems, and that due to some circumstances surrounding his birth | birth | birth | infancy he was meant for something greater.
It's not that writers and directors of the last 40 years have not had a single fresh idea since the birth of the summer blockbuster; the similarities of the heroes' journeys, as pointed out, have to do with the persistence of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth.

To illustrate, here's Say No to Crack's point-by-point play of how Harry Potter and Star Wars are really just the same story:

Another interesting read, James Parker's Atlantic Online essay "Sex and the Single Wizard," on how Rowling really doesn't have any idea how to deal with the awakening of adolescent sexuality.

On a side note, I'm a bit pissed that I have acquired "premiere" tickets to HP6 on July 17th, as I learned belatedly, a day after the movie officially opens. At Php225 a pop, I feel like I've been ripped off. I bite my thumb at you, UP Stat Soc.

Friday, July 10

Facebook: The Movie

Carson Reeves of Script Shadow gives us a glimpse of an Aaron Sorkin penned script about the kids who started social networking Facebook. The premise: "A look at the rise of Facebook and the effect it's had on its founders." It is also described as "an epic story that would capture the drama of late-night status updates, the power of the poke, who and who not to limit profile access to, and of course, the all important and always necessary "delete friend" feature. Okay, well, maybe it wouldn't be about those things per se. But it would be about computers and software and code and snobby rich kids."

It has to do with a kid who gets commissioned by a pair of rich brothers on the rowing team who want a website that's sort of like MySpace, but cooler. The kid teams up with a friend, works on the project and then comes up with something else as a dorm room experiment, TheFacebook. The friends will part ways later with the entrance of another web figure, Sean Parker, founder of Napster and the "informal adviser" who told Mark Zuckerberg to drop the "The" in TheFacebook.

Reeves insists that the Sorkin script is "a story about two friends - one a computer genius, the other a business expert - who began a website that became the fastest growing phenomenon in internet history. Three years later, one was suing the other for 600 million dollars (or 1/30th of Mark Zuckerberg's worth). It's a story about greed, about obsession, about our belief that all the money in the world can make us happy. But it's also unpredictable, funny, touching, and sad. It gives us that rare glimpse into the improbable world of mega-success."

So in the end, the kid who earned a bajillion dollars creating a web tool that connects people is ultimately disconnected with his friends and the rest of the world.

So who's throwing in the money to make "The Social Experiment" possible? Sony and producer Scott Rudin are supposedly attached on the project slated for release in 2011. Plus David Fincher is tagged as potential director. I loved most of the things that Fincher directed (Fight Club, Se7en, esp Zodiac) with the exception of Benjamin Button. If this turns out to be a good movie, then everything will be forgiven.

Thursday, July 9

Judging the Book by its Author Photo

Melanie Marquez had it wrong: Don't judge my brother, he's not a book. But what if the brother is an author whose photo appears on the dust jacket? Then he probably needs a good author photo. What's an author photo for? David Adams weighs in:
To a large degree, they satisfy the vanity of the writer; those small peephole portraits are a way for them to claim ownership, to make their long struggle at the keyboard valid (they also provide a good ID when writing a check at the bookstore). Photos are a publicity tool, of course. Something for publishers to enlarge to poster size -- depending on the author's degree of beauty -- when promoting book signings at the local bookstore (a process that would have hindered, not helped, George Eliot back in the day).
Marion Ettlinger has been taking gorgeous black and white photographs of writers since 1983, some of which were compiled into a book. My favorite is Raymond Carver's:

I have the same reaction as David Adams' when I first saw that photo of Carver's staring at me from the cover of Where I'm Calling From: "He's seated at a table, one arm slung over his chair, the other on the table, forming an L, one-half of a frame which immediately takes you up to his face. His eyes are like cigarettes burning holes in your brain. Carver stares directly at the camera --through the camera -- as if to say, 'Sit down and let me tell you a story. It may not be pretty, but it will be real.'"

But it helps to be real *and* pretty. Like this one:

where Jhumpa Lahiri is just smouldering at you from the back of cover of Interpreter of Maladies. A student of mine saw the photo and said, Wow, I didn't know Jhumpa Lahiri is hot.

If hot is impossible, then perhaps take a few serviceable ones that don't obscure your face, like this:

That's just one way to take a bad author photo. Salt Publishing offers nine other ways, none of them flattering and would never help you sell any books.

Wednesday, July 8

Dial up my asterisk

Transient Ink educates us in typography and tart cards, a British term referring to the small advertisement cards that prostitutes leave in phone booths to garner more attention for their services. Or to put it simply: If your typeface were a prostitute, what would her card look like? asked designers from all kinds of backgrounds to create these cards for their favorite fonts. The results range from subtle and coy

to kitschy, like this one by Emma Thorpe reminds me of some t-shirts that teenage boys wear, sometimes with bunnies

and on to the really risque, like the one below:

Friday, June 19

Are you there, God? It's me, Beckham

Lemondrop reacts to the attention of a Rolling Stone cover wherein a naked girl is splashed with writing from a Stephen King novel: "In our opinion, the "naked chick covered in writing" theme is getting to be as tired as the patented "startlet with her hands over her boobs" magazine cover... we decided to turn this cliché on its head by plastering some of our favorite guys with quotes from books girls like." The result is the male body as a teen girl's notebook, like David Beckham with lines from Judy Blumes' "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret."

But if you ask me, the best male body as notebook is still Ewan McGregor in Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book.

Tuesday, June 16

Movie in Three Frames

Your favorite movie distilled into three frames. What can I say, the three-act structure is basic and works really well. Also, this kind of reminds me of the "sweded" movies in Be Kind, Rewind, except these are "meticulously handdrawn" and rendered in animated .gifs.


Thursday, June 11

Zim and Co.

It's French Spring in Manila once more, and the 14th edition of the French Film Festival offers a selection of movies that gives us a glimpse of a France that's more than just croissants on the Rue Montparnasse.

Last Monday, I caught the evening screening of Zim and Co, which features Adrien Jolivet as Victor Zimbietrofsky, a twenty-something guy who gets a little high, spends the night playing a gig for the deaf, goes to the markets to help move boxes, gets paid, and early in the morning, his motorbike skids past a car driven by a middle-aged man.

There's a dent on the car but this man thinks it's a grave injustice. Our guy Zim gets called for it, and the judge looks in his record and finds a previous offence, which now makes Zim a two-time offender and sent to jail immediately. Unless, the deal goes, Zim can find a job that gives him a payslip (taxes for the government, yey) before the end of the month.

Zim isn't a lazy ass. He scours the ads and manages to find a job which requires a car and a driver's license, both of which he doesn't have. But Zim is a resourceful young man and enlists the help of his friends. There's Arthur, whose dad wants him to succeed in the trade of bodyworking cars and thus earn pension later on. There's Cheb, who wants to invent the next best thing to sliced bread, or at least find your mobile phone when it's ringing. There's Safia, a Muslim girl who works in her uncle's canteen.

All the young people in Pierre Jolivet's Paris are street-smart and willing to help each other get better, even through ingenuous means. They need to survive by their wits, as the system isn't exactly friendly to a young Africans, Muslims and Polish immigrants. Zim is the only white guy, and he slightly benefits from this system--after all, the bureau needs to meet the quota of having enough white guys driving in the streets. In a world like this, where people are out to rip you off, where your family doesn't quite understand why you'd quit a boring factory job, where a small mistake can cost you your future, friendship is really the only thing going for you. (The movie also reminds me a lot of the Cinemalaya film Endo.)

Director Pierre Jolivet has this to say: “At twenty most youngsters create distance between themselves and their family and find the substitution in their peers. It’s the beginning of fears yet a feeling of being indestructible. It is this battle of contrasts that we tried to portray”.

The French Film Festival is ongoing until June 14 at the Shangri-la Plaza Mall, Cinema 3. Entrance is free. Tickets are handed out two hours before the screening.

Wednesday, June 10

Save yourself, go online

The Independent reports of a recent debate in the UK which tried to assess social responsibility in a wired world. Helen Milner, the managing director of an organisation that works to bring technology to everyone in the UK, spoke on behalf of the 25% of people who, she claimed, have no access to the internet. The unwired class has become the new lumpen proletariat in a world where cheap goods and services can be had online. Meanwhile, the general argument is that people who have no idea how to send e-mail are "Luddite losers," said to be "doomed to analogue oblivion." Technological ignorance is a sign of failure in a Darwinian digital democracry. The digital divide has turned into a chasm, and it is up to this unwired class to get online and save themselves. The network is there: in libraries, schools and townhalls. Get online and survive in this new digital democracy. However, Milner expressed a different argument: instead of a digital democracy, what the new technology culture does is to echo and replicate the unequal hierarchies of 19th century capitalism. Who has the money will prosper was the game then, and who has access to the internet--which requires money just the same--is the game now. To avoid the duplicating the same social inequalities, the wired class actually has a responsibility to help the unwired play catch up.

I can imagine that the number of the great unwired is even bigger in the Philippines, where a lot of villages across the country don't even have decent roads, regular electricity, much less telephone lines and wireless modems. It does not make sense to adopt the Keener argument: sure, wireless mobility can be had for Php1k a month, but in the countryside, who will choose wi-fi over food and electricity? It makes more sense to follow the Milner argument that narrowing the digital chasm needs social responsibility. But how to do that in a country where a broadband deal is seen as an opportunity to deepen the pockets of a few wired men?

Thursday, June 4

Wag Pigilin

Signboard outside a barber shop, spotted while waiting for the bus. Nothing is ever free, sadly; gall stones can be avoided for Php5.

Tuesday, May 26

Tintin in Las Islas Filipinas

Woke up yesterday with the weird compulsion to get all the Tintin adventure books. There are 24 books (not counting "Tintin in Thailand" hehe ) and I've read a handful of them but now only have the moon books (Destination Moon, Explorers on the Moon).

Then I go online and the web leads me to this site that maps the travels of the boy reporter. I looked for the moon and found the Philippines. Tintin passed through the South China sea en route to Nanking and Shanghai. I wonder what sort of adventure he would have had if he landed on our shores instead.

Saturday, May 16

At the Komikon Summer Fiesta

Went to the Komikon late in the afternoon. Was planning to live tweet but mobile's battery died early. Managed to get a handful of local titles: Cadre: Amerikanong Hilaw, Baboy, The Girl Who Turned Into a Fish, and Ang Maskot. I'm liking the latter very very much. Very clean, tight panel planning, enjoyable and endearing story. Loved the set of bloopers in the end. Sushyal yung little bird. Hehehe.

Don't have time right now for a full review. But I peeked at the creator's blog and he describes the process how he made "Ang Maskot" in Adobe Illustrator. Would love to see more from this particular writer/artist.

Also picked up Wonderlost # 1 in one of the sale bins.The blurb says it's a cross between Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mean Girls. Browsed a couple of the stories already. It's all about growing up in that hazy, romantic time called the '80s, full of U2 circa Joshua Tree references. The biggest pull for me was that these are autobiographical stories. Very interesting so far. Searched Cebulski's blog and found out there's been a #2. Will be on the lookout for that one.

Then there's "I Saw It: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima" (aka "Ore wa mita") by Keiji Nakazawa. It's subtitled "A Survivor's True Story," and Last Gasp tells us that Nakazawa wrote and drew this comic book in 1972 about his own life and experience in Hiroshima before, during, and after the atomic bombing. It's a single-issue comic, but his editor encouraged him to expand it into a long form work, which is how we got Barefoot Gen. In it, he rages not only against the bomb, but also at the militarists who led Japan into war. The artwork reminds me of Simba the White Lion crossed with Voltes V. Best of all, I got it for twenty pesos. :)

It was also announced that there will be another Komikon around October, and this time in a bigger venue. That means will just have enough time to read and recover from this event. Here's hoping that will have more finds (and funds to buy the finds) later this year.

Wednesday, May 13

A Universe of Stories

Finished reading Marvel 1602, the 8-part series in which Neil Gaiman reimagines the Marvel Universe. But it's really not just a reimagining or a simple what if (think DC's Other Worlds), but something that will still fit in the current Marvel universe.

The premise: it is the last days of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The ides of March bring inclement weather, and not just the umbrella-requiring kind--lizards and fire--enough to make people think of the Apocalypse. There's threat from James VI of Scotland in the north. The Spanish Inquisition seeks "witchbreeds," people and creatures with suprapowers, and burn them at the stakes. There is a "school for the sons of gentlefolk" run by a Spaniard called Carolus Javier, who is bald, has no use of his legs, and has a page named John Grey. And oh, there's also Peter Parquah who's forever having close encounters with spiders but never bitten. It's 1602, but the Age of Heroes has started 400 years early. Something called a "Forerunner" came from the future and caused all this to happen out of sync with time and space. It has to be stopped--or returned where it came from--so that the universe will exist as it should.

I like how the story is peopled by recognizable characters from the Marvel pantheon--which Gaiman says come from no later than the 1969 catalogue, as there are many Marvel heroes. The same things happen in 1602 as they happened 400 years later. It doesn't feel too forced, and it only shows that the dilemmas felt in present times can somehow still fit in that past where science and magic live side by side.

The panel excerpt comes from issue # 7, and the witchbreeds are on their to the New World. Richard Reed was thankful for the time he spent in Otto Von Doom's dungeons. There were no "distractions" and he "was able to reduce many things to their fundamental principles." The others thought that he had discovered how to turn lead into gold. But Reed says it is the principles of stories which he had discovered, as stories give him hope. They live in a universe where they are given a chance to exist. The Flame Man contradicts him--stories end, all tales end, and it is how they will also end. But the Thing is curious about the transmutations. He wants his humanity to be restored, as he has been "a monster too long." Reed, in all his wisdom replies, that yes, a cure is possible in the natural sciences. "But the laws of story would suggest that no cure can last for very long. For in the end, alas, [you] are so much more interesting and satisfying as you are."

For me that captures the rationale for the entire series, as with the immediate sequel "1602: New World." It is possible to "treat" this monstrosity, these witchbreeds in the past and make "corrections" on the mistakes we now know as history. But then again, perhaps it won't be as interesting.

Sunday, April 26

A Moveable Feast

The title page of Ernest Hemingway's memoir about living in Paris in the 1920s opens with this quote from a letter he wrote a friend in 1950: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

In the book's preface he also tells the reader, that if she prefers, "this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact." It is clear though that Hemingway writes about People Who Really Existed, and as one turns the page and on to the new chapter, the previous one is alluded to, and there is a linear build up as far as chronology is concerned. Each chapter is self-contained, the situation builds up and ends with what seems like insight. I don't know if that was what Hemingway meant when he said that the reader "may regard this as fiction"--in that the structure is similar but the characters are People Who Really Existed. If so, Hemingway makes it obvious that there are some Nice People, like Ezra Pound, who's really a saint, but who is also friends with opium addicts/poets--the distinctions weren't very clear as to which came first. It's also obvious that there are some Pompous Asses in the cast of characters. Some are named, like Gertrude Stein, but some are too silly that they remain anonymous, like the young man who wanted to be a Great Creative Writer but didn't have what it takes so Hemingway convinced him to write criticism. Of course, later there is an aside wherein Hemingway says that it would have been great if the young man turned out to be a great critic of the ballet, books or the moving pictures, but unfortunately, even there he was not gifted enough. So okay na rin na wala siyang pangalan para di napahiya. Hehe.

In the first chapter, "A Good Cafe on the Place St.-Michel," Hemingway talks about the process of transplanting oneself, wherein simply put, "in one place youc ould write about it better than in another." It's fall in Paris and the wild, cold blowing day was the sort of day it felt right to tell the story of a boyhood incident up in Michigan, which also happened on a wild, cold, blowing day like that day in Paris in the fall.

Later in the chapter, he writes about how the weather is really bad and he was thinking of leaving Paris for a while. He thinks, "Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough. But that was how it worked out eventually..." The rain in Paris was "now only local weather and not something that changed your life."

For when Hemingway finally wrote about the incidents of his life in Paris in the years 1921-1926, it would be almost thirty plus years later, he would be in Cuba, 1957, or in Idaho, 1958 and all the way to Spain in 1959 and back to Cuba and Idaho once more. It was near the end of his life, and in two years he would be found dead in Idaho.

But in A Moveable Feast, Hem is a young man, poor and hungry but happy, and it would take forty years for him to realize that.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, Scribners Classic, 1987. Php 100 from Zeitgeist. Bought only because my Thesis Adviser kept on quoting Hemingway and I got tired of not knowing what she was talking about. Now I want to read all of Hemingway.

Jonathan Yardley reviews it for The Washington Post here, and a 1964 New York Times review by Charles Poore here.

Friday, April 24

Tunay na Lalake, Totoong Babae

It started like some kind of in-joke from the fellows of the UP Baguio Workshop: "Ang tunay na lalaki hindi natutulog;" or, "Ang tunay na lalaki laging may extra rice." They formalized their manifesto in a blog and a few days in, they now have something like 30,000+ hits.

According to their hilarious, macho shit logic, Cesar Montano is not a real man, but Chynna Ortaleza is not. The evidence:

Cesar Montano's ad for a water company. I often see this plastered on the sides of mini-trucks. Cesar in wifebeaters, gaily looking at the camera, smiling and all while he splashes the contents of a bottle of mineral water all over himself. The real men ask: Sa tingin nyo tunay na lalake ba ang umaasta nang ganito?

On the other hand, you've got former 5 & Up reporter Chynna Ortaleza. She's done everything--and really, everything--acted in commercials, starred in youth-oriented shows, sang and danced in public (something a real man would never, ever do), played a kontravida in a fantasy soap opera, posed in men's magazines. Name it, she's done it. And she never came close to real stardom. In spite of everything, Real Men know a Real Man when they see one. And so the verdict: "Pero sa ganitong sigasig at pagpupursigi sa trabaho, sigasig at pagpupursiging baka pumantay o lumampas pa kay John Lloyd, kinikilala ang status ni Chynna bilang tunay na lalake. At kung ma-demote man siya'y siguradong hahanapan niya ito ng paraan."

Kaya tunay na lalaki si Chynna Ortaleza. Yun yun eh: Ang tunay na lalaki, gagawa ng paraan.

The last time I checked, somewhere in the comments someone left a link to a counterpart blog: Ang Blog ng mga Totoong Babae. Only a handful of entries there right now. But you can see the seeds of it already: Real Women Love Housework (see: Snow White), Real Women will kill for a man (See Keka--ang girlfriend mong astig, pamatay kung umibig.) But I think mas funny yung mga tunay na lalaki.

Monday, April 20

Item # 82: Doctrina Christiana, en lengua espanola y tagala

I really should be doing something else, but via some links I found out that the World Digital Library, slated to open later this month, is already operational. I didn't really expect to find anything from the Philippines. But I saw that there were several entries from Southeast Asia, and the Doctrina Christiana was part of the list. The book is described as follows:
Published in Manila in 1593, this catechism in Spanish and Tagalog is the first book printed in the Philippines. It is also the first book printed in a Philippine language and the first, and only, 16th-century source showing an explicit and distinctly Philippine abecedarium (alphabet). The book is illustrated with a woodcut frontispiece of St. Dominic and initial letters in both Spanish and Tagalog. Part of the rare book collections of the Library of Congress, it is the only known copy in existence.
The book was donated to the Library of Congress by the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, and this is the only extant copy in the whole wide world. It has 76 pages, with illustrations and roughly 12.5 inches in height. And if you have the bandwidth, you can download a PDF copy of it, all 32 MB of it.

The other interesting finds in the Philippine section include a map detailing The Attack of Manila, October 1762, a photo of a religious parade featuring the Santa Rosa de Lima--the Patroness of the New World and the Philippines-- and a 22-second, black and white silent reel about Aguinaldo's Navy. All are downloadable.

The other item which peaked my interest was the journal of Magellan's voyage supposedly written by Antonio Pigafetta. The surviving copy is in French and unfortunately NOT downloadable. But really, I have nothing to complain about since the journal can be browsed, and perhaps it's only a matter of time before the World Digital Library will have a version of it available for downloading in one piece. If not, there's always the option of saving it per page--all 200+ pages of it. Then again, one has to be well versed in French in order to fully understand this.

Wednesday, April 1

The Great Train Wreck

Pictures for Sad Children illustrates what the vortex of negativity is capable of, or at least Murphy's Law:

Friday, March 20

Kitty Wigs

Fox News brings us a century's worth of bad inventions. For me, the top of that list should be this:

Cats are notorious enough for not wanting to be accessorized. Slapping on a kitty wig on them seems like the easy way out. But look at the claws on this one. You just know that she's not very pleased. But wait, there's more:

At least with this one, they were able to make her stay put and look a bit sultry. Unless what she's really saying is, "Just wait when you're asleep. You will then know what it really means to say, 'I have lost face.'"

Tuesday, March 10

The Smelly Dog

This T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics admits on coming down hard on poetry in the past, even dismissing it: "Poetry Bloetries." But he realizes that poetry is a very sophisticated form of communication that even antedates the written word. One must memorize lines, which is easier if it rhymes. Thus the need for "The smelly dog who pooed / Has spied me in the nude."

If you roll your mouse over the strip, the author says that he looked up "poetry bloetries" in the web. It's there alright. Some people who post poems on their blogs call their works "bloetry."

Kabog. Hehehe.

Read entire strip here.

Sunday, March 8

Cats Don't Care

Robert Sergel of Idiot Comics shows why cats are the best pets you can ever have:

Full page here.

Tuesday, March 3

Call Work

Callwork is one of the more interesting comics I saw at the Komikon last November. Hazel Manzano's blog calls the strip a "tribute to all Business Process Outsourcing workforce here in the Philippines."

In this particular installment, the imminent doom of the economic crisis is creeping onto the country's sunshine industry. Now, more than anything, people are just thankful that they have work and that it pays.

EDIT: Callwork is reviewed in the February 2009 issue of FHM, the one with three girls and some sliced fruits. Vincent Coscolluela writes: "More a series of comic strips than a comic book, Callwork gives you one of those, "Why didn't I think of this?" moments. Call centers, the industry's lifestyles and habits, are a rich source of material. Poking fun at absenteeism, overtime, payroll discrepancies--you name it--who knew you'd get such a laugh out of corporate suffering?"

The FHM review also got me curious about Edwin Estioko's Bless Our Trip, which is "as indie as it gets": photocopied and stapled bond paper. But what got me was the description of what happens. It's told in vignettes, and links together several characters who meet everyday at a jeepney stop: "A boy finds his girl, a father his son, and a thief his whore." Panalo. Does anyone know how to get a copy of this?

Friday, February 27

Change This Movie

We literally had two minutes to get inside the theater last Wednesday. I just picked a time that was convenient, 5:10PM. I figured it wouldn't be that crowded because people were still in schools and offices. But when I got to the counter almost all the seats were taken and I didn't know it was in a THX theater. That's how I ended up paying a full day's pay for the John Lloyd and Sarah movie.

The first teamup between John Lloyd Cruz and Sarah Geronimo was A Very Special Love. Plain girl Laida desires the masungit rich boy Miggy who publishes the magazine Bachelor, which is published by Flippage, one of the many business ventures owned by the Montenegro clan, whose black dressed and tuxedoed members scowl from the cover of the Society magazine's huge billboard along Guadalupe. Laida the plain girl moons over this billboard every time she passes it, and she likes Miggy so much that upon graduation, she applies to Flippage to be an Editorial Assistant. And lucky girl she was because on her job interview, she ends up offering a cup of coffee to the love of her life. They fall in love. They do weird things like dancing to stop the downpour and hire trucks so they could sing Smokey Mountain songs on them.

AVSL was a big hit when it first came out and I suspect it was because it was pure fantasy: plain girl gets rich boy. Of course, the rich boy has issues: he was an anak sa labas. He resents that his mother (Agot Isidro, in pictures) died and his father's family doesn't really like him. The good (legitimate) brother doesn't trust his capacities as publisher. Laida helps him get through all of this, even meeting his dead mother. And in the end, Miggy's father vouches for him so Rowell Santiago has no other choice but to take him in. Sarah Geronimo is a funny girl, unafraid to make a fool out of herself and the energy with which she throws herself is admirable. John Lloyd is trading on his sullen boy act, which for some reason girls find attractive. There's one scene where John Lloyd gets sick and Sarah nurses him back to health. It's the atsay and amo act all over again. So this is what the Pinay really wants is to play mommy, yaya, assistant and girlfriend all in one.

These are the issues that You Changed My Life takes on.What happens after the "happily ever after"? In fact, I was rather surprised that the movie is actually a direct sequel of A Very Special Love. Perhaps the creators thought they had a story that worked well, and decided to just pick up where they left off. We find out that Bachelor lives, and Laida takes care of their advertising load. Meanwhile, the Montenegros venture into a partnership with an airline company, and Miggy has to write a speech for his brother announcing this. The speech was horrible and he has 30 minutes to revise it. Guess who he calls to revise the bloody speech? Laida is the middle of a client presentation, but her mobile phone fills the conference room with Miggy screeching, "Bebe ko, bebe ko!" It's one thing to be in love and announce it to the world via mobile ring alerts. But I tell you, that ring tone was like a rusty nail being dragged across a blackboard. To fill the theater with that ringtone was torture. But of course, Laida is in love, she pushes aside the client presentation and ducks under the table to think of a tag line for this wonderful venture into the airline industry.

All relationships have their ups and downs, and our protagonists have more on the way. Miggy gets entrusted with the family's manufacturing gig. It's a plant in Laguna where they make jeans. It's a low profile, minimum output operation. Rowell Santiago as Miggy's older brother used to manage it. He comes to the plant ready to roll up his sleeves and iron some jeans, the workers respect him, and Manang, the assistant, simply adores him. When Miggy shows up for his first day at work there in a coat and tie, he is greeted with hesitation. Will this wimp of a boy do the job as well?

The boy wants to impress, so he ups the production quota. He targets big clients, and one of them is Mikee Cojuangco on the verge of turning matronix. She doubts the boy can deliver. But if he hands in Mikee's huge load of skinny jeans, Montenegro Manufacturing's Clean Living can have the contract. Miggy accepts amidst howls of protest from workers. He later turns the place into a 24-hour sweatshop. The workers take arms, call his dad and kuya, and Miggy is shamed once again. "Hindi mo na naman pinag-isipan ito," Rowell tells him.

The Montenegros are forced to renege on their word and tell the clients they are sorry. Mikee and Rowell Santiago exchange memories of their old courtship. Rowell would call Mikee complaining about his sore back, that he needs Salonpas, and poor Mikee gallops to Laguna bearing Oil of Wintergreen or something. The scene affords us the opportunity for Rowell to shed the Evil Kuya role--he went through everything Miggy is being subjected to, even more. He had to let go of the girl he loved so he could be the good son. But this is also a little nice throwback to the '90s: Rowell and Mikee make for a nice looking couple, a director and model tandem for Swatch advertisements, or a loveteam showcasing the travails of boy and girl love in the dinosaur age before the Internets. It would have been a really nice cameo for Mikee Cojuangco, who had to abandon her movie career to be wife and mother. It really would have helped if they gave her a really nice wardrobe--not the mumu-esque black monstrosity they made her wear. And somebody smudge that eyeshadow!

Meanwhile, in Laida land, Sarah reconnects with her best friend from high school. Makoy also reneged on a promise: he and Laida were supposed to study in the same college, but he took off without warning and left Laida hanging. He's back now, and it seems like he wants more than just play patintero outside the Montenegro building. It's the best friend drama of the century: Makoy suffers his love for Laida in silence because he is the best friend. With Miggy busy in Laguna, Laida finds herself declining invitations from colleagues to eat and go out, only to be told at the last minute (by that annoying Bebe-ko ringtone) that yet again, Miggy can't make it to their date. Laida is taken for granted. She wants to make the ultimate sacrifice: resign from Bachelor and just play Miggy's assistant in Laguna. Isn't this what being in a relationship is all about: to be at the lover's beck and call?

It's a conflict that makes me recall all those movies from the 90s onwards, like that film with Eric Quizon and Giselle Tongi as preppies (or was it advertising executive and flight attendant, whatever). Or it could be that movie where Bea was a call center agent and John Lloyd was an accountant. Or this could have been a movie directed by Joey Reyes. It has that feel. You could replace Sarah with Bea or G or another pretty face. Except that none of the prettier faces could work as well in this particular movie. But the Laida Magtalas in You Changed My Life didn't have that many funny scenes. And the most fun part in the movie was the flashback sequence from AVSL.

There's no doubt in my mind that this movie will be a hit. The theater was full. And when we went out, there was a really long line of people waiting to see the movie. And this was the first day. I didn't even know that it was the first day of showing. Which brings us to the question: What else does this movie have to offer? The John Lloyd's scowling boy and Sarah's naivete act will wear off soon. What will the third movie offer? Miggy and Laida get married; we follow Laida's misadventures as she is introduced into "society?" We can't just follow them step by step into marriage and old age. Or maybe it's best to stop here, while the kilig (like fizz in a bottle of cola) is still there, while there's a chance at a happy ending, while Miggy and Laida still work as a fantasy project.

Wednesday, February 25

Judging a Book by its Cover

Let's face it: sometimes you pick up a book off the shelf because the cover looks great. It gets you to flip to that crucial first page, see if the words can hold your interest longer than a paragraph, a page. Before you know it, you've been glued in front of that shelf and the store attendants are clearing their throats.

This is when you decide whether to drop the book or head to the counter and gladly pay for it.

Beth Carswell gives us a list of 30 novels worth buying based on the cover alone. The list is a little lopsided for me. Of coure, she's biased, because she's writing it for Abe Books. But there are some pretty interesting covers there. I like the cover David Pelham did for Clockwork Orange. Here I'm also biased--this the cover of the copy I picked up in a booksale bin long long ago, after I was wowed by the movie version.

Then there's the cover designed by for Chuck Palahniuk's Rant.

We see a network of what seems like a network of veins. Claire Broadhurst tells us a little bit more about this innovative design:
when you initially look at it the only indicating a title is the ‘R’ which is cut through window to the title which is placed on the layer beneath.

The graphics are undeniably abstract, however as you look closer it could represent any number of things. My initial thoughts were this was designed to indicate a curious yet confused scene which is constantly changing. However looking it again it could also be symbolic of a human heart, which has mutated into an abnormal form and is aggressively taking over the page.
She goes on to say that the book is ostensibly about a fictional character, Buster Casey, who "may or may not be the most efficient serial killer of our time." Reading this synopsis, one is afforded a glimpse into the character's interior life. "May or may not be," "efficient," "killer." It's a curious image, one that makes you want to pick it up and see for yourself whether or not the suggestion is true. The book cover design created by Rodrigo Corral and Jacob Magraw hit home.

Also, it somehow connects with the previous Palahniuk novel, Choke, the one that details the travails of a guy who pretends to choke in restaurants and get rescued by random people who are then grateful for being given the chance to "save" him. The Choke cover features a human body with the muscular system, the sort you find in those great big encyclopedias with the thin pages you can put one on top of the other and the human body grows from skeleton, then organs and muscles, then veins.

If you're looking for continuity or thematic unity in a writer's work as it is represented in his book covers, then this is it. I bought Choke years before. The cover was just a bonus. As for Rant, let's just say that I didn't pick it up, interesting cover not withstanding. But that's not the book designer's fault. It has more to do with being burned by a previous Palahniuk novel I picked up, Haunted. (Never finished it. After "Guts," it's all downhill there for me.)

One thing though. Carswell names Michael Collica responsible for Rant's book design and/or illustration. However, all other sources name Corral and Magraw. I normally don't trust Wikipedia and the Net 100% of the time, but if there's not a single source that names Collica as the rightful designer, then it's still Corral and Magraw for me.

Tuesday, February 24

The Trilogy Meter

Last week, found myself in close proximity to a huge paperbag that contained all The Complete Extended Edition DVDs of The Lord of the Rings. The discs are in these nice book-looking cases, in maroon, deep green and blue. If it were gold or yellow then it would have looked like a sablay. Hehehe. Each volume had maybe 4 discs in it. The film on 2 discs, with commentaries, then 2 more discs of features alone. N, who lent her the DVDs, said that the 3 movies amount to 10 hours, with the features, it's 24 hours all in all.

Guess what we've been watching since then.

Finished The Two Towers last night and so far it's been an enjoyable ride. Then I came across Dan Meth's Trilogy Meter, where he measures how most movies which come in threes (Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, Rambo). Interestingly enough, most of the movies were uneven. It's surprising that some movies have more interesting sequels than the first (Superman, Alien), and usually, the third one is never really the best of the series.

So movies which come in threes (or more) are uneven. Hah.

But the biggest surprise: The Lord of the Rings may be the only trilogy so far which can boast of an even hand in terms of storytelling. Of course it helps that the material is already there. J. R. R. Tolkien himself didn't even think of it as a trilogy--he meant it to be one big book. But the practicality of publishing turned it into a series. In the DVD feature, Tolkien hated the title the publisher gave the last volume, The Return of the King, because it told the reader everything that'll happen in the book.

Yet anyhow, it's the solid narrative that supported the film. But that wouldn't even happen without the writers and the director who shaped that really heavy doorstop of a book into the movie that we now know. So for that, Peter Jackson takes the cake for some pretty awesome movie time. Otherwise, save us from all the Underworld pre-, sequels.

Saturday, February 14

Fill my cup with burning love.

Fill my cup with burning love.
Originally uploaded by xkg
Got donuts for my graduate fiction class. Found a wall full of cut out hearts at Cello's.

Have a hot Valentine's everyone.