Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why write about it?

As anybody who browses through my blog can quickly realize, I tend to write a lot about religion in general and my atheism in particular. Sure, I sometimes write about comics, beer, gay marriage, movies and other various thoughts, but that's the one that seems to come up the most. One comment that I, and other, atheists receive goes along the lines of questioning why we would take the time to write about our lack of belief. After all, if we don't believe in God, why write about it?

It's a good question, but I can easily come up with a few answers. One time when I heard this particular objection was from right-wing nutjob Dinesh D'Souza when he was debating an atheist (either Christopher Hitchens or Dan Barker, I can't remember). He was being critical of all of the atheists like Hitchens, Dawkins, etcetera who are very outspoken. He argued that he didn't believe in unicorns, but he doesn't feel the need to write a book called The Unicorn Delusion. Personally, I find this whole line of reasoning hilarious. Not only does he put religious belief in the category where it rightfully belongs - alongside the existence of unicorns, but he misses out on one critical difference: that is, the majority of the population doesn't believe in unicorns. Why write about how they don't exist? Nobody's claiming that they do!

Perhaps if I lived in a far more secular society like Sweden, I wouldn't feel the need to write about it as much as I do. The fact is though that unless you crawl into a cave, religious expression is all over the place, and I can't help but want to react to it. Sure, there are some people who just let it go, but that's not the way my brain works. Honestly, I think that if I had a blog back when I was a believer, I'd write about it just as much as I write about my lack of belief. What can I say? It's a topic that I've always found to be quite interesting - no matter what side of the argument I was on. (Those who've known me the longest might remember that much of my writing when I was in middle school and high school had a religious bent to it.)

A lot of these comments though are along the lines of how I should just have my lack of a belief and shut up about it. After all, how dare I express myself? I mean, I suppose it's fine for believers to have songs, holidays, buildings, artwork, etcetera expressing their opinion. Also, I don't think that anybody comments on a Christian's blog and says, "Hey, why can't you just believe what you believe and shut up about it?" Nobody questions why there are books like The Purpose Filled LIfe out there.

Personally, I think that the problem is that people with religious beliefs don't like them to be challenged. After all, critical thought is the enemy of magical thinking, and so many people have an emotional investment in their beliefs that they see an attack on their beliefs as a personal attack on them.

What about me though? I do tend to get a bit bent out of shape of some of the anti-atheism arguments of guys like Ray Comfort and Lee Strobel. For me though, what's troubling isn't so much that they're attacking my point of view but the fact that they can't seem to attack it without misrepresenting what my point of view even is in the first place. As far as I know, I've never once misrepresented a religious belief, and I'd hope that an informed believer would call me out on it if I did.

I think that the big difference between most atheists and most believers is that we atheists don't feel as though we have anything to lose. Honestly, if there was a good, logical reason for believing in a god, then I'd want to hear it. I'd abandon my atheism right now if I could only hear an argument that I hadn't already mulled over time and time again back when I was a believer, only to ultimately reject it. I mean, if there is a God, then I want to know about it! What could possibly be more profound, more significant to our understanding of the universe than to be able to prove the existence of such a being?

I wonder if your average believer could honestly say the same thing. Personally, I know that when I used to believe, it didn't matter what argument was thrown my way - I "knew" that I was right. I "knew" that God existed. Wherever the conversation went, that's where I'd have to come to a conclusion. It wasn't until I entertained the possibility that I might be wrong that I eventually just continued down that path.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Scattered thoughts

I usually have a lot of thoughts floating around in my head, many of them gestate for days, weeks, or even months before I get around to writing an entire blog entry on them. Here's what I've got floating around. Some of these might get revisited and developed into a full entry:

1. There are a lot of Christians out there (not all of them, I know - please save your "not me!" comments) who make the claim that as far as God is concerned, no sin is greater than another. In other words, telling a lie is just as bad as committing murder. I want to say one thing about that - that's stupid. If God is real, and he doesn't distinguish a difference between "sins", then he is either incredibly cruel or amazingly moronic. After all, God is supposed to be smarter than us, right? What good is he if he has less of a sense of nuance than Sean Hannity?

2. Speaking of God, I really wonder what the average person means when they say that they believe in God. I get the feeling that many of them aren't even necessarily referring to the Christian God; instead, they're just referring to some sort of nebulous force out there, not even realizing that the term "God" is merely a noun that describes a particular kind of entity. After all, when Sophocles had his Chorus in Oedipus Rex refer to "God", he wasn't referring to DA JEEBUS, now was he? My wife tells me that people really just don't spend time thinking about that sort of a thing, which is strange to me.

3. One last religious thought - it's hard to explain to believers exactly the process that many of us atheists go when we lose our faith. For me, it was relatively easy, as I wasn't a church-goer and I didn't have a network of friends and family that were entrenched in the religious community. Others have a harder time with this. However, there definitely was a struggle. I round it off to about five years where I probably was an atheist before I finally admitted to myself that I was one. I remember telling myself things like how I probably just wasn't understanding things correctly, or that maybe when I got older I'd finally find the answers to my seemingly unanswered questions. It's tough to let go of religious faith - many of us didn't want to even do it, but eventually we had to stop lying to ourselves.

4. There's a part of me (not the best part of me) that wants to laugh at homophobic men who are secretly living gay lifestyles (like Larry Craig, etcetera). However, my better nature has me feeling more sorry for them. If only we had a society that was accepting of homosexuals, there wouldn't be so many people who were living a lie. I consider myself lucky that I'm attracted to women, as that's one less thing I've had to worry aobut in my life. Others aren't so lucky, but at least some of them are lucky enough to have families and friends who love and accept them for who they are.

5. My dog, Argos, seems to be getting winded a little bit quicker than he used to. I noticed that he looks a bit on the chunky side, so I've been cutting his meal portion a bit. Still, while he's not old, he's no longer a puppy. He really is my best friend though, so I tend to worry about him sometimes. No slight to my other dog, Willy, or my cat, Oliver, it's just that Argos is the only one who had shown a demonstratably different behavior when I was in pain. When I had a problem with my sciatica in the middle of a walk with him, he suddenly knew that it was time to slow down, and he'd stop, turn around, and look at me whenever I stopped moving.

6. I'm finding myself at the same point with those who would defend torture as I became with those who supported Proposition 8. I find their point of view so evil that I don't think that I can discuss the issue rationally with them.

7. I just read all 11 issues of Echo in a row, and I think that Terry Moore may be topping Strangers in Paradise. I was skeptical to see him trying his hand at something sci-fi and more "comic booky", but it still has the rich characterizations (through both the writing and the artwork) of his former work. Also, I'm glad that he's still doing it in black and white.

8. I'm going to bottle my second shot at a lager in a couple of weeks. It's my Oktoberfest - here's hoping it's good.

9. I can't think of anybody who's interesting enough for me to want to subscribe to their Twitter tweats, or whatever the hell you call them.

10. My writing goal for this summer is to finally write the Eagle-Man origin story. I got started on it last summer, and I think that I finally have something good to go with here. The second part of my goal is to start looking into getting it published. I also hope to do a second-draft of the big novel that I wrote last summer, as I'm pretty proud of it - at least the general plot, character arc and resolution.

11. Okay, one more religious thing. The video's kinda long, but it's brilliant:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Would you punch a baby?

If I held a baby up to you and asked you to punch him, would you? Of course you wouldn't. (And if you would, please find a cliff and keep walking.) What if I told you that by punching that baby, you'd save lives?

Quite the conundrum, isn't it? Of course, I'm thinking of this whole torture issue that's making the rounds right now. I'm honestly not too sure if I have anything all that original to say about it, but let's give it a go anyway.

I would hope that it's obvious as to why we shouldn't employ the use of torture. After all, if we are to claim any sort of moral highground in the world, we have to hold ourselves to the highest standards. After all, and I realize this isn't an original observation, we held all sorts of enemies accountable for THEIR use of torture. And if we want our people to not be tortured, it's a lot harder to make the case when we have no such problem doing it ourselves.

Of course, the conservative hive-mind is rushing to defend the former President's administration's use of torture. They're quick to point out the vague wording that states that supposedly some of the information we received that prevented further attacks was the result of some of these torture tactics. Now, you can have an intelligent debate about this. After all, we're definitely stepping into a morally ambiguous area here. Still, what bothers me so much is just how QUICK these conservatives are to defend the use of torture. After all, this is hardly conclusive evidence that torture was the only way that this evidence could have been procured. Are there other methods that could have worked just as well? Do these conservatives even want to ask this question?

To me, the bottom line is we need to wonder where we draw the line. I mean, if waterboarding works, then what about thumb screws? A hill of fire ants? An iron maiden? The rack? A Michael Bolton video marathon? After all, if we're willing to do whatever we can, then why not those things? What if the guy has a baby boy, and we get a hold of that baby and the psychological evaluations show that the only thing that will get him to talk is if we punch his baby right in front of him? Do we punch the baby?

Yeah, that scenario is absurd, but if we don't have a line, then we'll stop at nothing, and then there will be little to distinguish us from our enemies. For me, I think that torture is exactly what the line should be. The fact of the matter is that we'll never be able to stop every single act of terrorism, and we shouldn't allow ourselves to become terrorists while trying.

My adventures in the conservative echo chamber

Every now and then I find myself caught up in some form of online debate. Personally, I think that I handle myself pretty well, as I have somewhat of a knack for writing, and I'm pretty good at presenting my arguments not only logically but supported with facts. Not only that, but I think that my greatest strengths are that I tend to avoid arguing about subjects in which I know little about, and I'm not above being corrected. On a couple of occasions, I have modified my opinions based on what other people have written. (Shoot, I once used to argue FOR the existence of God, so don't accuse me of not being able to change my mind!)

While I've written some time ago that I refuse to label myself as a "liberal", and how that word has little meaning for me, I do like to sometimes see what the so-called conservatives are saying every now and then. And while I hate to say it, I usually find that it wasn't worth the effort. Now I'm not saying that there aren't conservatives out there with something valuable to say, and I'm definitely not saying that any given conservative is unable to sometimes say something of value. However, those instances seem to be pretty few and far between.

Some of my earliest experiences were on's discussion board. That didn't last long because basically if you disagreed with what the Bush administration was doing, you were automatically branded an America-hater. Sure, there were a couple of right-wingers where I was able to converse with a bit on a rational level, but for the most part it was just a bunch of knee-jerk rhetoric that was pretty much repeated verbatim from the likes of Savage, Coulter, Limbaugh, etcetera. I also lost interest because despite the fact that there were hundreds of posts per day, all the regulars there expected all newcomers to pretty much read every single post on the forum before making comments, lest the same ground be covered more than once. That felt too much like a homework assignment, so I quickly moved on from there.

Anyway, I've spent the past couple of years reading and commenting on a certain conservative's blog. I sometimes checked out some of the others (mostly that were linked to the site) but I found that they were all pretty much saying the same thing, or they were on the cartoonish level of conservatism (you know, people who always had to use Obama's middle name every time they mentioned him). Sometimes the discussion would be constructive, but it started to devolve into the absurd.

The craziness started over global warming, where some conservative commenter thought the issue could be debunked by the fact that there's a part of the country that had a particularly cold winter. I commented that this showed a lack of understanding as to what the issue even is, but the arguments that kept coming back at me had more to do with things like how there were all sorts of scientists who didn't accept that humans are having a major contribution on global warming. Despite the fact that I kept insisting that my point wasn't to argue about the issue's validity one way or another, the point was totally lost on the conservatives. It even got so ridiculous that the blogger admitted to not even having done any research on the issue whatsoever despite making several strongly worded assertions on the topic. Call me crazy, but I think that if you're going to have a strong opinion on something, you should have some idea as to what you're talking about.

Things got even crazier more recently when one of the commenters (the same one who thought that cold winters debunked climate change) made the claim that "all" Muslim groups "cheered" on 9/11. I pointed out that this was ridiculous, and then I got accused of all sorts of absurdities from refusing to criticize Islam to condemning our veterans. Then the statement was amended to say that it was more like 98% of Muslim groups that cheered 9/11. Whatever, I could go on and on, but how do you even talk to somebody who's this far gone?

So, I gave up. Maybe there's a more reasoned, rational conservative blogger out there where I can engage in some spirited and constructive debate. As of right now though, the stereotypes that I have of conservatives only seem to be confirmed.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Speciesism and puddy tats

I've had cats nearly all my life. I've written about my current cat, Oliver, on this blog before - mainly about getting him and trying to get him to play nicely with the dog. I haven't written about him too much since then because...well, what really is there to write? He does the usual cat stuff along with a few idiosyncrasies that are unique to him but hardly special enough to blog about. Besides, I don't want to be like one of those people who writes about any of his pets as though they're people. I'm fully aware that neither my cat nor my dogs think that they're human. The dogs think I'm a dog and the cat doesn't care one way or another so long as I feed him and provide a warm lap for him to sit on.

So, this isn't a blog about him, but it's a blog about cats. Actually, it's more about the irrational hatred of cats that some people have. Generally speaking, it seems to be men who'll say that they hate them, but I've known a few women who have as well. To me, that's just strange. Now, I once hated a particular cat. That one was my aunt's, and the bastard would attack me as I went by - not a playful attack, mind you, but a claws-out, hiss and growl assault. So, I can understand people not liking certain cats, but the entire species?

I guess the first part that's hard for me to work around is due to the fact that I pretty much like all animals in general. If I had the time, money, and space, I'd probably have a virtual Noah's Ark of animals at my place with everything from dogs and cats to chickens, snakes, tortoises, fish, rabbits, you name it. The second part is that I think of all the cats that I've had. Some of them have been more personable than others, but I can't imagine how any of their behaviors would elicit a person's HATRED. My current cat, Oliver, greets people at the door and likes to hang out in the living room when we have company. Sometimes he will jump up, uninvited, into a person's lap, but he does it out of affection. I guess I can see a person not preferring that (especially if they're allergic) but HATING it? As for the cats of my friends, most of them just stay away while I'm over at their places. Some of them come out for a bit for a short meet and greet, but none of them do anything even remotely objectionable.

Don't get me wrong. I can understand it when a person says that he or she is "not a cat person". I'm not really a horse person myself. (They're too big and I don't really trust them to give me a ride.) Not all animals are for everyone. Of course, I can also understand somebody simply preferring dogs or some other animal to cats. Shoot, my wife fits both of those categories, but she's been pretty attached to both of our cats.

I'm not going to go on and on about a cat's good qualities. I'll just say that Oliver is as good of a companion to me as either of my dogs are. He's always there to greet me in the morning and when I come home from work, and he's always keeping me company when I watch television (or playing video games). Both he and Willy, my indoor dog, are lying down on the floor in the room where I'm writing this very entry. I'm just pointing this out because some people point to a cat's independent nature as a reason for not liking them, but in my experience they've always quickly bonded and become part of the family.

Personally, I think that in the case of a lot of men, their cat hatred is just one more of those macho B.S. things that I never could understand. I once even had somebody assume that Tyson, my last cat, was my wife's and that us having a cat must have been somehow against my wishes. (Tyson was mine from when I was a kid, and we took her in when we got our first house.) Honestly though, this is doubly strange, as I know plenty of men who like cats just fine. Shoot, when we adopted Oliver, there was a big, burly guy in front of us in line who was adopting a little kitten. The way he was cuddling her, it was pretty obvious that he wasn't just doing a favor for the women in his life.

Am I trying to say that everybody should love cats? That everybody should own one? Of course not. I'm just trying to say that it's weird to hate a species of animal. They don't conspire, plot, or deceive. They just do what they do. Besides, if another plague ever hits that's spread by fleas who ride on rats and mice, kitties are suddenly going to get even more popular.

One last note though - I will say that I sympathize with people who get annoyed with their neighbor's cats who poop in their gardens, etcetera. I keep my cat indoors, and I personally think that it's wrong to let ANY pet to have free reign of the neighborhood.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Silent Night - a threat to our children!

In today's paper, I read this article about how a parent is trying to get the San Leandro school district to ban the song "Silent Night". Basically, her argument is that it amounts to religious indoctrination, and therefore it has no place in the public school system. (To be fair, she made allowances for it being part of a religious-studies program.)

I'm with her purely on a logical level, but I really can't find myself siding with her for a number of reasons. Is it a religious song? Yes. Is it promoting a particular religious point of view? Absolutely. Should kids be subjected to that sort of a thing? No, they shouldn't.

Should we make sure that this song gets banned from the public schools? Ahhh...why bother? All this is going to do is add to the martyr-complex that so many fundamentalist and evangelical types already have. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if pundidiots like Bill O'Reilly have already jumped all over this one.

The bottom line is - of what is this parent so afraid? Granted, I'm not a parent yet, but I'm really not too worried about my son or daughter being exposed to a little religious indoctrination - especially something as inocuous as that. Religious feeling is a very real thing in this world, and how will my kids understand it unless they get some exposure to it? I want my kids to be critical thinkers, and I want them to avoid magical thinking by engaging in their own thinking process. If they convert into fundamentalists because somebody sang "Silent Night" to them, then I've done something pretty wrong.

Another thing is that people just aren't ready for this sort of a thing. This is like trying to get a child to stop sucking on his pacifier by simply grabbing it out of his mouth and running away with it. All you've accomplished is upsetting the kid.

Besides, if you find a harmless little song like "Silent Night" to be such a threat, then perhaps you need to challenge your worldview a little bit more.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When exactly was God protecting us?

While waiting to get my oil changed today, I was flipping through a "news" magazine called The Trumpet. Apparently, it's a magazine that offers free subscriptions, and I'm hoping that somebody signed up my mechanic for it rather than it being his subscription. (Actually, I don't really care so long as he keeps doing a good job on my car.) See, the deal with this magazine is that it offers a look at the news from a Biblical perspective. Oh boy. Personally, I'd like to see a news magazine that offers an Iliadical perspective, but that's just me.

A few things struck me! One was that the editors apparently encourage a lot of exclamation points! This is how you know that they're serious about what they're talking about! Other than that, content-wise it had such absurdities like how the Hubbel Telescope helps to prove that DA JEEBUS created the Universe rather than evolution. (Interesting, I always thought that evolution had nothing to do with the cosmos in the first place. Well, it's not like Christians ever fail to do their research.) Another amusing bit was how apparently what's going on with China, Russia, and Japan is all foretold by Biblical prophecy, which is interesting since the Bible writers probably knew very little, if anything, about any of those places.

The one that really got my head spinning was the one about all the wildfires and whatnot that are happening in Australia. The writer went on to quote Ann Graham, daughter of Billy Graham, from something that she said shortly after the attacks on 9/11. She was asked how God could possibly let things like this happen, and her response was as follows:

"I believe that God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe that He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand that He leave us alone?"

The thing is, I remember getting an email with her quote shortly after 9/11. It described her thoughts as being "profound" and "insightful". I guess that the definitions of those words have changed, as I prefer to think of her thoughts as "ignorant" and "asinine". I mean, I guess it makes a lot of sense if you were in a coma before 9/11 (or the wildfires, if you're Australian) and never bothered to read about anything that's ever happened before then.

I seem to be unaware of a time when God offered his blessing and protection. I'm assuming that Graham was talking about DA JEEBUS and not Chronus, who ruled The Earth during The Golden Age. Perhaps she meant that day or two before Adam and Eve were convinced by a talking snake to eat some fruit. Because other than that, I've got nothing.

I mean, to when is she referring? The Great Depression? World War I? The Black Plague? Has there ever been a generation that hasn't seen its fair share of suffering and strife? I mean, for Pete's sake, 9/11 pales in comparison to the loss of lives that came as a result of the Civil War. Were we not Godly enough back then too?

Another article went into the usual mental backflips that one needs to go through in order to justify why a loving God watches little children starve. Apparently, God is allowing all of these things to happen so we can learn that we can't live withouth his divine guidance. I honestly don't know why this makes believers feel better. It kind of makes God look like a petulant child. "Oh yeah? If you're not gonna play my way, then I'm going to take my omnipotence and omnibenevolence and go home!" Furthermore, how much more does he need to let happen until we finally get the point? I don't know about you, but if God came down tomorrow and said, "See? See how bad you guys suck at taking care of this world without me?" I'd immediately cry "uncle" and say that He's right. I mean, weren't the decades of the Holocaust, The Purges, and the Cultural Revolution enough to get the point across? God needs to see a few more genocides before he finally decides, "Well, I guess I've made my point."

Of course, he can't do anything until all of the vague prophecies are fulfilled, and we get Armageddon laser light show complete with a dragon and giant roaches with scorpion tails. I mean, if you believe in all of this stuff, then that's pretty much what you have to accept.

It's amazing how much easier (and freeing) it is to just accept the fact that we're responsible for our own lives and no magic sky-fairy is ever going to make things better.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Comics rule - but why do they rule?

While writing the last entry, I came across this quote from Terry Moore (whose creator-owned series, Echo, just keeps getting better and better).

"It's amazing how powerful the comic book format can be because it incorporates the best of both film and prose. Novels and movies or television are creative vehicles that rely on something moving in order for you to experience them. The film has to roll, your eyes have to run across the page to get the experience … whereas in a graphic novel, you're looking at the scene. It stays there on the page all day, and you experience the moment for as long as you want to experience it. It's just an amazingly powerful medium."

That's what I've been struggling to get across over the past several comics-related blogs. In fact, I've been struggling with it since I started reading the comic book adaptation of The Odyssey. As much as I love the original epic (Okay, I've never read the original GREEK.) I kept thinking to myself how happy I was that this was finally done as a comic book. For one, I can read the story much faster than I can when I read my huge Robert Fagles' translation. Secondly though, I teach this every year, and it'll be much easier to refresh my memory by scanning through the comic than scanning through all that epic poetry.

Most importantly though, and this gets to the heart of what Moore said, comics are great because it's so easy to relive the experience. If I want to re-experience Odysseus getting past Scylla and Charybdis, it's so easy to flip to the right page. And then I can sit and absorb the work for as long as I want. This is something that you just don't get with either a novel or a movie - as much as I like both of those genres.

Yeah, comics are awesome.

Comics rule - What goes into a comic

I got into a long Facebook conversation/disagreement/debate/battle to the death recently with Andrew "Poo in the Pants" Nolan. It was about the relative merits of sports versus comics fandom, as I personally think that obsessive sports fans are just as void of meaningful lives as obsessive comics fans are. While I don't want to rehash the entire debate, mostly out of fear that I'll misrepresent Nolan's points, it did get me to thinking about an aspect of comics fandom that eludes people. (And for some strange reason, I couldn't seem to spell "eludes" correctly.) Basically, Nolan was saying that push comes to shove, sports are real things done by real people, whereas comics are works of fiction where fictional people do fictional things.

This is true, of course. However, that's not all there is to comics. In my last entry, I wrote about a couple of favorite creators. While these people are creating works of fiction, the very act of creation is as real as anything gets. In other words, the craft of creating comics is worthy of note.

When I started reading comics as a kid, I think that I only took a quick glance at the credits. Within a few years though, I started to pay attention, and by the time I got to my teen years, I was following certain writers and artists, just as I do to this day. I imagine though that most non-fans probably think very little about the people who actually produce a comic, and they probably don't even realize what goes into it. Well, for the uninitiated, here's the breakdown:

1. The writer - This person creates the story, obviously. While there are several different ways to go about this, most of them write what's called a "full-script" where they indicate how many panels should be on the page and what exactly should be going on in each page.

2. The penciler - This person takes the script and draws it. While this seems like a no-brainer, the penciler is just as much a storyteller as the writer. With some writer/artist collaborations, the penciler will have a bit more input into the story, but even when drawing from the script, they are still responsible for subtle, but important, things like facial expressions. Most importantly, a good artist knows how to arrange the artwork in such a way that the eye easily flows from one panel to the next. Ever look at a comic and be confused as to which direction you should read? Chances are good, you don't have a very good storyteller. While there might be some pencilers who are wonderful artists, that doesn't necessarily mean that they know how to tell a clear story. Likewise, there are some pencilers who don't draw so well, but their work is always easy to follow.

3. The inker - There's a whole bit in Chasing Amy about how inkers are simply "tracers," and while I don't want to get into that whole thing, let's just say that I've been reading enough comics to know that a good inker can make all the difference. I've seen different inkers work with different pencilers, and it can make all the difference in the world. The reason for all of this is that most pencil work simply doesn't show up well when reproduced - at least, they didn't when comics started to be published in the 30s. Nowadays, there are some pencilers whose work is so detailed that an inker isn't even necessary.

4. The colorist - With today's computer technology, colorists have a lot more power over the final product than ever before. A good colorist can make mediocre work look passable, and a bad one can ruin something that's brilliant. For me, I tend to prefer colorists with a "less is more" attitude. There once was a time when comics were limited to three colors (and combinations of those four) and a lot of colorists really made that work well. A lot of the new stuff can be simply distracting as the finished product gets muddied in Photoshop effects.

5. The letterer - This is the guy who physically writes out all the captions and word balloons. Most of this is done by computer nowadays, but once upon a time it was all done by hand. I once heard it said that a good letterer is like a good movie editor - if they're doing their job well, you don't notice them.

6. The editor - This job depends a lot on what kind of comic that you're reading. If you're reading something that's creator-owned, then the editor is probably just proofreading and making suggestions. With mainstream superheroes, an editor has a lot more influence and can be a major driving force in the direction that the books is taking.

I need to point out that a lot of people do two or more of these jobs. Guys like Frank Miller and Terry Moore handle the writing, pencils and inks of their books.

So, to continue with the sports comparisons, a creative team is like a good sports team. One talented guy is hardly enough to create magic, but when they're all working together and you have a pool of talent, the (to use a cliche) total is worth more than the sum of its parts.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Comics rule - favorite creators

I've written before about the frustrations of being a comics fan. What I wrote about before was that one of the most frustrating things is that comics fans are few and far between. For instance, I'm really pumped about what's happening in Green Lantern right now, but there aren't many people with whom I can talk about it.

Another thing that's frustrating is that a lot of people simply don't get what the hobby is all about. First off, you have people who simply don't read in general, and they can't understand the concept of anybody reading anything for any reason at all. Those are the kinds of people who get fixated on how much the comics are worth, and no matter how much I tell them that most comics won't be worth much of anything, they keep asking those kinds of questions.

Other people don't seem to realize that one of the things that interests fans is not so much which characters are in a comic but who's doing it. For instance, I get people asking me inane questions about what superhero could beat up whom. While there are some obvious no-contest scenarios (Superman versus almost anybody), I usually tell them "It depends on who's writing it." Honestly, I'd rather discuss that than who can beat up whom. I lost interest in that sort of thing when I was a teenager, and now that I'm in my thirties, I care even less.

I would say that more than half of my comics purchases are based on who's doing the series. I suppose that the writer is the most important to me and then the artist, but a really crappy artist can ruin a good story and a really great artist can make me more interested in a mediocre story than I would have been otherwise. From there, I make my purchases on what looks interesting, and then there are a few characters whom I tend to follow almost no matter who's doing the book (Spider-Man and Batman are the only ones that spring to mind though).

So, who are some of my current and/or all-time favorites? I'll start with the writers:

Geoff Johns - He's currently writing Green Lantern and he's also working on a lot of Superman stuff. I had gone nearly 20 years without picking up a regular series with either one of those characters, but I've been pretty hooked lately - mainly due to the stuff that Johns is doing. The Superman stuff is good mainly because even though it's difficult to give somebody as powerful as Superman a real challenge, the comics have been pulling that off quite well lately. Currently, there's a "New Krypton" where thousands of displaced Kryptonians are orbiting a planet that's on the opposite side of the sun as our own, and many of them do not possess Superman's altruism. Superman has had to leave Metropolis behind in order to make sure that these Kryptonians don't pose a threat to his adopted homeworld, and that means working with General Zod. (That's right - Zod, as in, "Kneel before Zod".)

Green Lantern I won't even attempt to explain, but let's just say that Johns managed to tie up years of continuity and create a very compelling story with an interesting character. Basically, whenever comics stories attempt to "fix" previous storylines by telling a "what you thought happened didn't actually happen" story, it's usually only interesting to long-time fans. Well, as I've stated before, I never picked up a monthly Green Lantern comic until Johns started writing it, and I've been hooked ever since.

I just realized that I could probably devote a series of blogs just to this, so let me write about just one more, and I'll pick a writer/artist this time: Alan Davis.

I first discovered his work on an X-Men Annual back when I was in middle school. From there, he started drawing Excalibur (which was an X-Men spinoff, not a King Arthur one). It's difficult to explain exactly what's so great about his work without copying and pasting entire pages, but let's just say that it was a combination of his clean linework, his expressive characters, and his solid storytelling skills that caused me to go back and reread his work again and again. (By storytelling, I'm referring to the fact that it was always clear what was going on from one panel to the next - something that not all comic artists can do.) Another thing that I also loved was the fact that his characters all had very distinctive features - especially his females. A lot of lesser artists know how to draw an attractive female, but when they have to draw another one, all they really do is give her different hair. Not so with Alan Davis - they all had distinctive noses, cheekbones, chins, etcetera.

Years later, he came back to Excalibur, only this time he was writing it as well. I won't attempt to explain the entire storyline, but let's just say that it was complex without being confusing, and it managed to have a healthy mix of action and humor. The really nice thing is that I recently re-read it, and it's just as good as I remembered it to be. That's not something that we can say often now is it?

The storm of the gay agenda

I'm really worried, as I just saw this ad about the threats to our liberty posed by dudes who want to marry other dudes and chicks who want to marry other chicks:

Ominous, isn't it? Well, this advertisement barely scratches the surface, as I have recently gained access to some secret documents that reveal the very truth behind the gay agenda. Oh sure, it's bad enough with its lies about how people don't choose to be gay. I mean, I don't know about you, but every morning I have to look in the mirror and make the conscious decision to be attracted to women. Of course, I have to make sure that I am only attracted to my wife, because according to Da Jeebus, if I look at any other woman lustfully, then I'm pretty much an adulterer.

Anyway, it's worse than you thought, as this agenda also covers the following insidious plans:

  • Getting rid of strawberry-flavored Starburst
  • Forcing all balding men to get a buzz-cut (They already claimed me on this one!)
  • Making a third Scooby Doo movie that introduces Scrappy Doo
  • Putting a dress on the Lincoln Memorial
  • legislating that all sprinklers must be in the shape of naked men
  • changing the end of the Pledge of Allegiance to say "FAAAABulous!"
  • Raising the price of tacos
  • promoting Barbara Streisand to Empress of the Universe, where her iron will shall be enforced by the Village People
Frightening, isn't it? Is this what you want, America? Well, as though that list isn't enough, that video has subtly revealed something even more disconcerting. Apparently, a storm is coming and that can only mean one of two things:

1. The gays have recruited Thor to their side. Now, it's possible that maybe they recruited Zeus or some other storm-god. More likely, they have ALL of the pagan storm gods on their side now! Figures that the gay agenda would stoop so low in order to destroy the one, true religion: Taoism. No, wait, I mean Christianity.

2. The gays have joined up with COBRA and now have use of Destro's Weather Dominator! This, my fellow Americans, must not stand!

So there you have it. The gay agenda is far more insidious than you could possibly imagine, and their recruitment drives have potentially reached pagan pantheons and/or COBRA (the ruthless terrorist organization that GI JOE fights. You want to be on GI JOE's side, don't you?)

Oh, and then there's this crap that I found:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

All apologies

I got into a debate (with perhaps a bit of overzealousness on my part) online recently regarding a certain Christian apologist named Lee Strobel. This got me to thinking about Christian (and any religious, for that matter) apologetics.

The thing is, and this particular statement isn't very original on my part: if Christianity was so true, then why would it even need apologetics in the first place? Now, I realize that the word is somewhat misleading, as it sounds like these people are apologizing for their religion, and to be fair, I should have to point out that's not what it means. The word's original Greek origins mean more along the lines of "to defend".

Still, if it's so truthful and obvious, why must they spend so much time coming up with a defense? Could it possibly be because there are so many things about the religion that simply don't make any sense? Now, we're not talking about the kind of defense that one would have to do with something like evolution. In that case, those who defend the teaching of evolution are making an effort to make sure that evolution is being understood in the first place, as those who attack it tend to not even really understand what it even is. Evolution defenders are making an effort to show that all the facts are actually known, and any honest defender would be willing to seriously consider some real evidence that would disprove it. In the case of Christian apologetics, it's all about trying to make sense of the nonsensical.

My personal favorite deals with the simple question of why a loving God would allow for so much suffering in the world. I'm familiar with the defense, as I used to say it myself until I finally admitted to myself that my reasoning was more of an act of trying to rationalize the nonsensical than me having had found a logical explanation. Anyway, the argument goes something along these lines: God wants us to have free will, and as a result of this, we have to pay the consequences. Since we have chosen to turn our backs from God, he allows for bad things to happen.

This still makes crap-all of sense though. I suppose that if you stop your thought process right there and don't allow yourself to keep thinking about it, then it's a perfectly acceptable explanation. The bottom line, however, is that this loving God watches children in third world countries die of diseases like malaria. And why? Because of free will? Where is their free will? They suffer because people like me turn away from God? Where did they even get the chance? What kind of a just system allows for people to suffer because of the actions of others?

Then of course comes the "Well, God's ways are not our ways. We can't understand his plan." Now, why this is a satisfactory answer I'll never understand. Sure, that's possible, I suppose, but why should I even be willing to go there? Isn't the notion that a loving God simply doesn't exist a simpler answer? That makes sense at least. Why should I accept an answer that requires me to be okay with the fact that something doesn't make sense?

Because the bottom line is that this "loving God", if he's omnipotent and omniscient, watches little children die on a daily basis. He hears their cries and he feels their agony. He can do something, but he doesn't want to. Apparently, he's got some kind of a point as to how we all can't live without him. Of course, he can't prove that point any other way, can he? Why can't he just show us all a movie of what would happen without his interference?

So back to this Lee Strobel guy. He's a pair of clown shoes if there ever was one. What I find dispicable about him is that he makes this pretense of doing some kind of genuine investigative journalistic approach to learning about Jesus and finding out whether the Bible is historically accurate or not. I could go on and on about him, but I remember seeing him on a show one time when he said that the thing that made him convert over from atheism was the empty tomb.

You know, the empty tomb. The one that was supposed to have Jesus in it but didn't because it was, like, empty. That's what convinced him. I'll wait until you pick your jaw up off the floor.

Excuse me, but how the hell is this proof of ANYTHING? Isn't that kinda like saying that the Trojan Horse is proof of the historical accuracy of The Odyssey? Isn't it kinda like saying that Obi Want's empty robe is proof of the accuracy of Star Wars? What the hell is wrong with these people? That's just part of a story! There's no proof that there ever was an empty tomb in the first place. And even if there was, why does miraculous resurrection get to be the only possible answer? Ever hear of, oh, I don't know, A FRIKKEN' GRAVE ROBBER???? (And let's never mind the fact that it's highly unlikely that a man like Jesus would have ever been buried in the first place. Part of the punishment of crucifixion included that your body wasn't give a proper funeral/burial. I can't imagine the Roman soldiers allowing Jesus' followers to take him off the cross.)

So, when people hear the word "apologetics", what they think is "apology". When apologists use it, they mean "defense". When I hear it, I think "massive cop-out".

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wherefore marriage - part 2

While I was walking my dog this morning, I realized that I never really made a clear definition of what I thought that marriage was in my last post. I suppose that this is because I just don't seem to have one.

The definition of marriage depends on those who are married. For my wife and I, it means a monogamous relationship where we hope to spend the rest of our lives together and eventually have a family. There are some people out there with "open" relationships, and while that sort of a thing doesn't really appeal to me (when I really think about it) who am I to tell them that it's wrong? So long as everything is out there and in the open, and nobody is being deceived, then more power to them.

So maybe the definition of marriage is that it's a trust between two people. From there, that's up to them.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wherefore marriage?

Back when I was writing all sorts of prop-8 related posts, somebody asked me to write about what I think the purpose of marriage is in the first place. No doubt that person (assuming you're still out there) probably thought that I either forgot all about it or was deliberately avoiding the question. Truth is, I was thinking about it, and I didn't want to write on it until I felt like I was ready. In all honesty, I still don't feel completely ready, but since my wife has been out of town all week, I've had the subject on my mind. Oh, and recent events in Iowa also brought the issue to my mind.

I guess one of the reasons why I put off writing on this is because I can only write about what marriage means to me. And the one thing that I really want to avoid is making it sound like what it means to me should be the same for everybody. So, if I start to sound like I'm defining marriage for everyone, please realize that's not my intent, as I can only answer for myself.

This May, I will have been married for seven years. I was living with my wife for a few years before that, and I had been in a relationship with her for a few more years before we moved in together. Obviously, moving in together created a different dynamic. However, I had heard it said that when you live together and then get married, things will be different. Honestly, I don't remember who the hell ever said that, but for some reason it sticks in my mind. Did things change? Not really, as far as I can tell. I didn't suddenly feel like some new rules were thrust upon me. It's not like before I felt like cheating on her was an option but once we got married that went completely out the window. I honestly don't feel any more committed now than I was before.

There was a bit of trepidation on my part about getting married. It wasn't severe though, as it didn't actually bring me to the point of reconsidering the idea of getting married. It was more of a nervous thought that would come to mind. The reason why is that around the time I got married, my parents got a divorce and my sister divorced her first husband. My other sister had been divorced not too long before that. So, my family track record wasn't exactly great in that regard. I'd be lying if I said that didn't spring to mind. Still, I've often been an exception to the rule, and I don't like to make decisions based on what other people have done. I have to do what's right for me.

But why did I want to do it? I'm not really a person who's big into symbols and ceremony. I'm also not a fan of doing things simply because they're traditional. Why go through the whole thing then? I was perfectly happy with my wife before the ceremony, so what's the point?

This is going to sound bad, but bear with me here. A big reason is that I got married because that's what Kirsti wanted. Okay, that sounds awful. It sounds like I was somehow coerced into doing it, or just as bad, I did it just to pacify her or something. That's not what I mean. What I mean is that I love her, and it was important to her, and she's worth it. So, her wanting to do it made me want to do it.

Does this mean that I didn't have any desire of my own to get married? Of course not. I wanted it too, but I probably would have gone a longer time before getting around to making it happen if it wasn't for Kirsti wanting it as much as she did. I always pictured myself as a married man some day. Why? I don't know. I guess that I'm just the kind of guy who wants to be with one woman for the rest of his life. The thought of growing old with somebody always appealed to me. I guess it just makes sense with the type of person that I am, as I value long-lasting, deeper relationships than brief and superficial ones.

The third reason is that the wedding was a celebration of our love for each other - as corny as that sounds. It was a chance for all of our friends and relatives to be there with us and be a part of what we've built together.

There are no doubt other reasons that aren't occuring to me right now, but what does marriage mean to me then? For me, it's having somebody to be there for you so you don't have to go through this life all alone. My wife is my friend, and I feel good when she's around. I hope to have a family some day, and I can't think of anybody else with whom to have one. My marriage is a promise to be there for her when she needs me. Also, my marriage is a "thank you" to her for being able to put up with me and all my issues.

The bottom line is though that she's been on vacation for more than a week, and I haven't felt normal since she's been gone. Notice that I haven't written any blogs since then? Dammit, I just don't feel like I'm functioning properly.