G A N Z E E R . T O D A Y


It occurs to me that what Neil Gaiman did with Silas in THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, in that he describes everything around and about the character for us to conclude that he's a vampire without ever once actually telling us he's a vampire is the literary equivalent of what Sergio Toppi does visually with his negative-space silhouettes.

I love this a great deal and would love to work it more into my practice (both in my writing as well as my visuals).

#journal #reads

There was one day in London I had designated as the comicbook day, whereby I'd get a crew together and we'd do a bit of pub and comicshop hopping. Due to scheduling difficulties, the crew however was narrowed down to Ahmed Raafat, James Harvey, and Isteshhad and the day became a couple hours. Nevertheless, it was still a highlight!

Got one pub in and two comix joints; Notting Hill Comics Exchange and Gosh!. Also made a little trade with James Harvey and got his latest, LUIGI MODE, which—judging by the first issue—is so very good in true James Harvey fashion. Nobody makes comix likes James, not visually, in tone, story, or anything. Such a unique, masterful, and most of all odd voice he is.

Only other thing I managed to read is one of those SPEAKEASYs, a British rag about the comicbook industry from the 80's and one that I'd never heard of before. The one I read, dated June 88, is evidently an important one! It reports the formation of the Eisner and Harvey awards after the dissolution of the Kirby Awards, the establishment of Alan Moore's Mad Love publishing outfit, and even newcomer Rob Liefeld's HAWK & DOVE debut (Rob Liefeld who within less than 10 years would be paying Alan Moore $10k a script for his stellar yet seldomly talked about work on SUPREME and others). The way history unfolds will never cease to amaze me.

Plenty of other gems in the issue, including an interview with even then obnoxious Howard Chaykin and a review of Bryan Talbot's ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT which I haven't seen in a good 20 years and probably need to restock on and reread but I have too many books as it is and need to remedy the situation by either unloading books first or moving into a bigger space but I'll be damned if I move anywhere else ever again goddammit.

#journal #reads

Just arrived. My first order from directly from Fantagraphics who produce some of the finest made books in existence. They've certainly come a long way since publishing their very first comic in 1982: LOVE AND ROCKETS #1 by the Hernandez brothers. Certainly the best and—dare I say it—least likely success story in comix and independent book publishing in general.

I'm a great admirer of Barry Windsor-Smith's artistry and storytelling and have forever been saddened that his STORYTELLER magazine was so short lived. I have all those issues except two (#4 and #7).

Excited to sink my teeth in this beautiful tome, although... I won't really get a chance to do so until June when I return from my travels.

Just about finished penciling a page of THE SOLAR GRID, but will have to end there because today I am half dead and delirious.

#Journal #Reads

Reading the original SPIDER-MAN run by Steve Ditko in black and white, a few things stand out to me:

  1. It's astonishing how you can really see the influences Ditko would later have on Frank Miller, something that isn't so so obvious on the outset, especially if you read Ditko in color, which obscures Ditko's play with light and shadow and some of his graphic solutions (stark patterns, etc.).

  2. Block out Stan Lee's copy, and the comix “read” infinitely better! The flow is smoother, and SPIDER-MAN suddenly becomes a far more “adult” comicbook.

  3. Peter Parker is so unlikeable. In a funny kind of way, it's almost as if his character is an amalgamation of the most unlikeable aspects of his creators; Lee and Ditko themselves.

  4. The tone of it is so different to Kirby's FANTASTIC FOUR, so much that it's beyond obvious that Lee's only involvement was slapping copy on stories (and characters) he had little involvement in creating. Not very good copy at that. I mean, if there is one atrocious and terribly outdated thing about any of these comix, it's the dialogue and captions.

  5. Calling these “comix” is pretty accurate. They are so weird and off-beat in comparison to the far more sterile output of DC around the the same time, which at that point had already taken on a far more corporate approach to its output. Rewind 20 years earlier, and you find that at its onset, DC's comix had weird and oddball written all over them (when the actual creators of the characters were making the comix), sharing qualities with what we'd later identify with zines and very indy comix.

  6. All corporate comix today are essentially fanfiction. Not only that, but it's fanfiction at its worst: assembly-line productions, overseen by editors and catered to fit company policy.

#journal #reads

Finally got my copy of Amy Austin Holmes' handsome looking COUPS AND REVOLUTIONS, for which a photograph of one of my works from Cairo circa 2011 was used. I also had the pleasure of consulting on the type treatment and overall design of the dust jacket, which the team at Oxford University Press handled superbly.

Looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one together with Elizabeth Nugent's AFTER REPRESSION, which I've been slow-reading, contemplating, and digesting.

As I often discuss with my peers (10 years after the, ahem, inciting incident), fervor alone is not enough. It's high time we educated ourselves, which backed with our experience(s) should serve us well if we're ever to move past the place of melancholy and defeat.

Things to look forward to.

(The piece of street-art featured on the cover, by the way, is one of the works I'll be discussing in WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?, a live discussion with Bassem Yousri and Lara Baladi on March 27 at 3pm EST)

#work #reads

Orson Welles: Egyptian art and culture dominated the aesthetics of the First [French] Empire.

Henry Jaglom: I didn't know that.

Orson Welles: Study the interior decoration. It's full of Egyptian elements, just as the Deuxieme Empire of Louis Napoleon drew on Arabic and Algerian sources for exoticism. Just as the English used India for exoticism. Paris is full of imitation Arabic places left over from the Second Empire.

A rather trivial passage from MY LUNCHES WITH ORSON which sent me down a rabbit hole of Egyptian revivalism, finally narrowed down to a few books I'd like to probe, namely:

The question is, of course, how on Earth I'm ever going to find the time to read all those. And... it's clearly time I got myself a local library card.

#Journal #Research #Reads

“After a long residence in Egypt and intimate association with all classes of the people, from the dwellers in palaces to those who inhabit mud huts or wander over the desert, my conviction is strong that—whether Copt, Christian, or Mahometan—the people of Egypt largely derive their religious beliefs and their customs from the superstitions of the ancient Egyptians,” says William Loring in his A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER IN EGYPT. Although not widely known by the everyday Egyptian, this is something acknowledged by most Egyptian Egyptologists.

One of Loring's most interesting observations is his witness to Moulid El-Sayyed El Badawi in Tanta sometime in the late 19th century, a twice-a-year affair (not entirely sure why) wherein the birth of a Muslim “saint” is celebrated (twice a year though?) where he is buried. Every town in Egypt celebrates one or more such “saint”, attributed to “Sufism” practices (otherwise described as “Islamic Mysticism”) which tends to be viewed as rather heretic by more orthodox Islam (wherein only God and the Prophet are to be venerated, and even then only in the abstract). Things like elaborate tombs and shrines are seen to be a carry over from the ancient practices of the polytheism of old. Festivities entail a full week of religious song, dance, poetry, storytelling, and drugs. Essentially, an older, more culturally ingrained religious Burning Man of sorts. In ancient times, each town in Egypt was typically associated with a particular deity, and it is thought that not so dissimilar celebrations took place back then as well, probably around the same times of year, but in reverence of the deities of old instead of these newer figures associated with their current belief system. Personally, I've never attended any of these. Organized religion and I don't do well together. What it says about history and culture though I find quite interesting. I have a few self-identifying Sufi friends who have described some of these wild festivities to me, but nothing I've heard of in contemporary times comes close to what Loring describes to have witnessed in the late 19th Century Tanta:

“Not only Egypt, but all Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia send religious votaries and merchants with silks, satins, embroideries, and every kind of merchandise to tempt the Eastern buyer. Amid the throngs who come with merchandise come also those who bring daintier wares in human form—beautiful houris, virgins sent forth by their Circassian or Georgian mothers to find an asylum in the land of the Nile. These maidens have been carefully nurtured to be made marketable, and are happy if they succeed in becoming the property —wife or slave, as the case may be—of some rich Bey or Pacha. It is still the custom—though now slightly veiled —to fix a price upon these young women, the sum varying with the beauty of the merchandise. The girl whose marriage in this market is pecuniarily successful is happy in the thought that she has done well for herself and her parents, and her success induces her young kinswomen to follow her from their bleak homes in the Caucasus to the sunnier climate of Egypt. Her sisters look forward to marrying in the same way, while her brothers are, by her favor, educated in the military schools for employment in the army or the civil service. She thus provides for the future of her kinsmen by her marriage, often raising the sons of an obscure family to positions of profit and honor. Tanta has of late years become a considerable mart for European commerce. The remarkable growth of cotton and sugar culture in the rich valleys around the city has greatly increased the value of the land and the attractiveness of the region.

“The Syrian, Turk, Ethiopian, Algerian, Tunisian, European, Greek, Persian, American, and Jew, with many other strange people, pass in review, the head-dress being the distinguishing mark of faith and nationality. Men of all races make up this varied and extraordinary scene. Tired of wandering through this sea of humanity, and suffocated with the myriads of smells, one gladly leaves these material things to seek an asylum near the shrine of the renowned saint, who brings so many thousands of other saints and sinners to do honor to his tomb, many of whom seek the aid of his miraculous power.”

And, perhaps more interestingly:

“Tanta during the fair is a scene of joyous mirth, and the women—usually caged birds, but now let loose—enter gayly into the festivities. In thorough disguise, they are lost to sight in the vast multitude. At the end of eight days, the time allotted for prayer and for the intercession of the saint, they return home in the full belief that their devotions have been blessed. I am sorry to write that the picturesque scene is too often marred by the licentiousness so common among Orientals, and Tanta yearly witnesses orgies only comparable with those of the ancient city of Busiris, which was situated a few miles distant in this valley. It was there the fête of Isis was celebrated by all Egypt, and truth makes it necessary to say that the modern city, in following the traditions of centuries, rivals her ancient sister in those scenes which made the modest Father of History blush when writing the amazing story of the worship of that famous goddess.”

There are descriptions of loosely veiled women who separate from their husbands to indulge in these week long festivities only to be united with them when it's all over, which brings to mind echoes of the masquerade carnivals of 16th century Venice, themselves carrying echoes of the ancient festivities of Dionysia and Bacchanal.

One of the “powers” associated with this Islamic mystic saint who, born in Fez (Morocco) some 2500 miles from his resting place in Egypt's Tanta is—like the ancient goddess Isis, and Greece's Dionysus as well as Rome's Bacchus—the power of fertility.

When all it really is is the power of uninhibited orgies; the accumulation of as wide a variety of male sperm as humanly possible over the course of 8 wildly intoxicated days.

(Above left picture is Tanta circa 1932, sourced from Masr30.blogspot.com, above right shows two Egyptian “peasants” sometime in the early 1900s, sourced from Grand-bazaar.tumblr.com)

#Journal #Reads #LG

“Just below Aboukir there was a massive dike, erected by the ancients to separate the sea from the shore, and in the course of centuries a large tract of land was reclaimed. The splendid engineering skill of the English opened this obstruction, created the present vast expanse of waste, and covered it with destructive salt water, in the merciful attempt to drown the French out of Egypt, when these most Christian nations were so intent upon annihilating each other. No less than sixty villages were submerged by the ocean and their teeming population driven from their homes to starve. The waters still cover the once fertile fields. How much more magnanimous it would have been if England in our own time, instead of driving Ismail from his home and battling against Arabi Pacha, who fought for the liberties of his race, had paid into the Egyptian treasury the value of the great property and territory thus destroyed.”

From W.W. Loring's A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER IN EGYPT which I started looking at for research for a [far] future thing, but couldn't stop reading.

#Journal #Reads

Finally cracked open a copy of KALILA & DIMNA the wife scored for me on one of her many pre-COVID travels. Needed to get on a good reading kick before diving into this one, which MEN OF TOMORROW and MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY successfully supplied.

Before KALILA & DIMNA though, I'd initiated a read of THE PULPS by Tony Goodstone, deeming it a kind of unofficial prequel to both MEN OF TOMORROW and the MARVEL COMICS book; after all, America's two largest publishers of comicbooks did get their start as publishers of pulp magazines. After reading a couple of idiotically racist stories though, I had to put THE PULPS aside, with the resolve to read it intermittently rather in one continuous go. And thus my start on KALILA & DIMNA began.

KALILA & DIMNA is a collection of fables written sometime between 750-1250 AD. Actually, that's a lie. It precedes that, having been in the Persian cultural conscious for however long after having made its way there from India. The Arabic collection I now hold in my hands was adapted by Ibn Al Mokafaa', largely considered to be one of the most important Arabic authors in history despite his Persian origins—and as such, Arabic not being his mother tongue. The book comes with an extensive intro on Ibn Al Mokafaa', citing the importance of his contributions which can more or less be summarized in two points:

  • Introducing new uses and wordplay into the Arabic language inspired by his Farsi mother tongue.
  • Translating multiple books from Farsi into Arabic, including numerous books that were originally translated from other languages into Farsi, such as Indian and Greek; essentially introducing Arabic readers (and by proxy, speakers at large) to a wide array of knowledge from other cultures.

It also helps that Ibn Al Mokafaa' was by most accounts what you might call a, um, an infidel (possibly the reason behind his assassination); essentially injecting progressive thought into an otherwise conservative society. Then again, there was a lot of that happening at the time what with the Abbasid empire's rapid expansion and its embrace of a great many cultures in the process, one of the main reasons it is perversely (and ironically) pointed to as an “Islamic” golden age. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

This actually relates quite closely to a few things the MEN OF TOMORROW book got me thinking about, namely that you can probably relate any culture's “golden age” to an influx of immigrants or its exposure to and/or absorption of other cultures. Picture America without the contribution of its Jews, Mexicans, Greeks, Africans, Italians, Arabs, Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans... and what you're left with is awfully bland, isn't it?

#Journal #Reads

Because I got asked in regards to my previous post, the shelf above the desk is for “immediate books”. Either my current to-read selection, or previously read things that I feel the need to revisit and/or reference.

It easily changes every week or two.

Here's a closer look at what's currently sat on it:

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