DINO DREAM - NEW STORY

A dream I had last night:

I am in the old house in Mt. Vernon where I spent most of my childhood. It's me, my brother, and an unknown character played by Seth Rogen. Suddenly and for no reason, we find that the whole city is infested by dinosaurs. We are trapped on this hill, cut off from the rest of humanity by the throngs of carnivorous dinos that hang out at the bottom of the hill. We stay here for a while, and Seth Rogen rigs some kind of a fishing mechanism that can catch fish out of the river from way up in our back yard. The smaller, harmless dinosaurs that frolic in the yard bump into this device and knock it off the cliff into the river. At this point we are mostly holed up in the house because dangerous dinos have been roaming through the yard occasionally. (One of those dome-headed ones rams the kitchen window with his bone head trying to get in, but the glass doesn't break.) The back door doesn't latch securely so I have to stand there at all times to hold it shut.

Things go wrong when Seth Rogen decides we're going to starve without that fishing machine, and goes outside to retrieve it. My brother goes after him to stop him. As they stand on the back yard deck arguing, I see a velociraptor ambling around the side of the house. I scream at them, "Guys! Get inside!", they run for the door but it's too late. Oddly, the raptor focuses all it's attention on me, ramming and clawing at the door instead of attacking Rogen and my brother, who are ALSO clawing at the door trying to get in. After a few minutes of this the raptor does finally turn on them and starts clawing my brother, and I realize I have no choice. I open the door suddenly and all three of them topple inside. It's the four of us---me, my brother, Seth Rogen, and the velociraptor--facing off in the kitchen.

I recognize that we're probably all going to die but I desperately yell, "Ok let's kill this fucker!" and tackle the raptor, grabbing it by the neck and trying to choke it or snap it's neck. The raptor catches my arm in it's teeth and as it bites me I hear a calm British nature-show voiceover saying, The velociraptor's sharp teeth cause third degree lacerations, severing his ligaments and rendering his hands useless.

I realize it's all over, and before I can experience the unique sensation of being mauled and eaten by a dinosaur, I pull the plug on the dream and wake up.

Oh and also, I wrote a new flash story.

"WILL HE...?"



Oh and also...the script is finished and we're in pre-production for SUNROOF.







Hold on to your seatbelts.







This is one option you're gonna wish didn't come standard....






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What Happens When You Leave Town for a Couple of Weeks

An update, which is all I can manage:

I am back in Burlington, and back at my desk, but most of my comics stuff is still packed up in cardboard boxes. I may have a post in me about comics encountered in my travels, but it's not going to rival any of Mike's recent reports from the field.

While I was gone, however, it turns out that my voice appeared briefly on All Things Considered.

The interview was recorded when Dupuy and Berberian were in Soho, and I certainly wasn't expecting any of it to wind up on the air. But there you go: three or four more seconds out of my fifteen minutes.

Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~ Romans 15:13


For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11


I have been thinking about these two passages a lot lately. These past couple of weeks, I have started to wonder where my hope has gone. I tend to be a positive and optimistic person, trying to see the bright side of things and finding the silver lining. Lately, though, it has been hard to see past the muddled mess of what's in front of me... the countless contradictions of who God is and will always be, and the circumstances we're currently facing.

Recently, Spencer and I were talking about how this time last year, we felt like we finally had been given a reprieve of the "hard stuff." We had finished our 2 1/2 year "get out of debt" plan, had moved into a great house into a great neighborhood, had the opportunity to travel overseas for two weeks with family, see my sister get married... life was good. Just a few short months later, though, it all started to come crashing down. We were facing one thing after another... my miscarrige, my mother-in-law's cancer, and now what we're facing with Isaac. Towards the end of the conversation, I got trapped into the thinking of, "Well maybe for us, it's just supposed to always be hard."

The following day, Spencer and I went out to go rent a movie. In the sky was one of the most glorious rainbows I had ever seen. There weren't a lot of trees or buildings obstructing my view, and it just seemed to stretch so high and wide... and the colors were vibrant. I was immediately reminded of Noah, and how God sent him a rainbow after the flood. I just about lost it (which isn't hard for me these days), feeling as if the Lord was just speaking to me saying, "Stacy... I am faithful. Life WILL feel good again... I WILL turn your mourning to laughter and weeping to singing... you CAN trust Me. I have GOOD plans for you." There's a trite little saying that goes something like, "It takes both sun and rain to make a rainbow." I guess we're just in the midst of the thick rains; but God reminded me that day that the sun WILL shine again.

I really wish Isaac could have seen the rainbow, too.

As you continue to pray for us, would you please pray that Spencer and I would hold on to the truths in these scriptures? That God would fill us with joy, and peace, and hope as we continue to trust in His ways, even though we don't understand them and they are extremely painful? And would you pray that God would contiue to use Isaac's life to draw people closer to Him?

Saturday Morning




For most of my adult life Saturdays have always been a day of work. The tasks included final preparations for the weekend worship services, weddings, appointments, etc. Now I approach each Saturday as a gift and opportunity to discover the relaxed pace of this day. On most Saturdays during the spring and summer, John and I head to the Saratoga Farmer's Market to pick up produce and enjoy the sights and sounds. We are members of a local CSA farm along with daughter Suzi and we split a weekly share of homegrown vegetables with them. The bountiful harvest of flowers, fruits, breads, jams, honey, and vegetables on display there are a feast for the eyes. Here are some pics I took this morning.

As I strolled through the market, the hymn "Praise and Thanksgiving" was the sound track playing in my head.

Praise and thanksgiving, God we would offer

for all things living you have made good:

harvest of sown fields, fruits of the orchard,

hay from the mown fields, blossom and wood.

Today's Ultrasound

We had one of our "routine" ultrasounds today at the Maternal-Fetal Medicine group. The ultrasound tech was sweet, and when we went in, I asked her if she could get some good pictures for us. Here are a few, and I have no idea what that thing sticking out on the first one is...








And the ever famous thumbs up shot again...this time with an open hand.



We didn't get a chance to speak with the doctor because she was called out of the office for an emergency at the hospital, but I was able to later speak with her on the phone. She was able to address many of my questions, and was able to put my mind at ease a bit with regard to Isaac's omphalocele adhereing to the uterine wall. I explained my (unwarrented?) fear of needing an emergency hysterectomy, and she said that she didn't think that the fact that it was adhered would affect my body at all. This definitely came as a relief, though for some reason I still feel a little worried about it.

That's about it... not much else to report, but it was nice to get a chance to see Isaac today. Particularly those 4-D pictures!

La Bande Dessinée à Rennes, part deux

I have a few last comics-related items to report from my time in Rennes last week. Comics actually got name-checked during one of the plenary lectures of the Arthurian conference, along with adaptations of Arthurian literature into other media. And at the big Arthurian exhibit at a museum in town, there was a copy of a bonus volume that accompanied a nine-part BD rendering of the Arthurian saga in a highly Celticized version (e.g., the character known to English speakers as "Gawain" appears as "Gwalchmei," while "Merlin" is known as "Myrddin"--whence Matt Wagner's Mirth from Mage, incidentally).

The conference organizers also gave us little touristy books about Rennes which featured a few items about the city's local comics connections, including some heavyweight French comics. The artist Franquin, creator of Spirou and Gaston Lagaffe and recipient of the first Grand Prix at Angoulême, passed on the production of the Spirou strip to Jean-Claude Fournier, a Breton cartoonist who ran a studio in Rennes. Astérix and Latraviata, a recent volume in the venerable series about antique Gallic antics, includes scenes set in the ancient Roman site that later developed into the city; the volume was appropriately launched in Rennes, with co-creator Uderzo contributing this drawing for the event:

And a few volumes of Tintin have been released by a Rennes-based publisher as translated into Gallo, a Romance language spoken in upper Brittany, including Rennes, and unrelated to neighboring Celtic Breton. Observe the similarity of Gallo to French in this cover to The Secret of the Unicorn (Le Secret de la Licorne in French):

That's all well and good for BD proper. But I was also delighted to see some revolutionary appropriation of good ol' American comics by King Kirby himself, in a poster promoting a socialist organization. Here's the poster as I found it pasted to what looks suspiciously like a refrigerator by the side of the road:

"Dare to change everything--it's now or never" it proclaims: Oser tout changer; c'est maintenant ou jamais.
And here are some details of panels with their newly revolutionary dialogue! When anger bellows...

...a wind of panic blows...bankers go mad...

...the cops get agitated...

...Good people grow worried...

...and [illegible] question...



I have to say, while Kirby may have caught some flack for the square appearance of some of his characters back in the late 60s/early 70s--especially all the men wearing hats out of doors--I think the energy and drama of his cartooning work great to convey a sense of revolutionary urgency here in a diverse group of persons old and young, male and female, black and white. And suffice it to say that I could not imagine panels by Curt Swan or Wayne Boring being convincingly repurposed in this way. Vive la révolution!

Faithful Communities

The version of Christianity that appears in the media often embarrasses me: it's narrow, sectarian, exclusive and sometimes mean-spirited. So it was a joy to find in the May 26 New Yorker an article by novelist Ian Frazier about a church being a church in the best sense. So begins John M. Buchanan in an article titled, Something Christlike, in the July 29 issue of Christian Century. It is the story of a small Episcopal Church in New York City, The Church of the Holy Apostles, that had dwindled in membership and was contemplating closing its' doors. Frazier writes that, A new rector suggested that "if Holy Apostles is going out of business, it might as well do some good before it does."So in 1982 the church launched a free-lunch program. Thirty five people showed up and now the congregation is serving 1200 meals a day. Buchanan concludes the article, Maybe the world would find churches more interesting and compelling if they showed something of the love of Jesus in their lives and practices. Maybe there is no more important and life-giving strategy for every church than finding something Christlike to do. You can read the Frazier article by clicking here.
Many congregations around the country are sharing Jesus' love in similar ways and the general public never hears about them. I am blessed at the present time to be ministering part time with a very small and struggling Lutheran congregation, Grace in Schenectady, NY. They are not sure what the future holds for them as a faith community yet they continue to reach out to those in need. Last Wednesday morning I stopped by the church to find three women making 300 sandwiches to be shared at Bethesda House in Schenectady, NY. Bethesda is a neighborhood settlement house, which under its director Margaret Anderton, has been providing some 130 free meals a day, clothing, and social services to the poor and needy, many of whom are disabled by alcohol and drug addiction and/or mental illness. There are thousands of stories like these two but we rarely see them in print. This day I give thanks for the many faith communities, large and small, who truly "walk the talk" of our faith by feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and working for justice.

Moses

There are two women whose blogs I frequent regularly. Both of these women recently carried babies to term, or close to it, who they knew had a slim chance of survival, barring a miracle. Like me, their doctors may have discussed termination with them numerous times. Like me, their prenatal sheets may have also read "unviable fetus." That phrase bothers me... don't those doctors know that they're talking about my son? My Isaac? That's besides the point, here, though.

Both of these women recently wrote about Moses on their blogs. I admit, I don't usually spend a lot of time in the Old Testament. Particularly in times of trial. If I do, it's usually in Psalms. This past weekend, however, I did read through most of Job. After seeing what they had written, I decided to take a look at these passages about Moses in Exodus... passages I have read before, but haven't revisited in quite a while. Specifically, I was captivated by Exodus 3 and 4.

You may be familiar with the "Sunday School" story of Moses and the burning bush. God appears to Moses and calls to him. I was struck by what I read in chapter 3 verse 6, which says, Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." This might seem ordinary, unless you have a son named Isaac. I was so glad to remember that God isn't just God of the universe, but that He's my God... and He's Isaac's God.

As the passage continues, God tells Moses that He wants him to go to Pharoah and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. This is obviously no small task, and one for which Moses feels very ill-equipped. He makes that clear by the numerous questions he then asks God...

"Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

"Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?"

"O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."


Each time Moses protests, God answers him.

Eventually, Moses just plainly beckons God and says, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."

I found that so refreshing. Moses, who is given as an example of one who had great faith... even he felt that God's call was more than he would be able to bear and asked for someone to go in his place.

The path that God has called Spencer and me to feels like more than I can bear. I feel so much like Moses, with so many questions and so many reasons why I am not capable of carrying a cross this heavy.

In response to Moses, God tells him that his brother, Aaron, is already on his way. God has gone before Moses and prepared a way for him by sending his brother Aaron.

I know that the same is true for Spencer and I. God has gone before us in this. In some ways, I see that very clearly already. In other ways, I know I have yet to see it unfold, but am hoping to have the eyes and heart to recognize it when I do.

This Friday we have another ultrasound. It was supposed to be next week, but for various reasons I moved it up. Would you please pray that we would be able to enjoy our time "visiting" with Isaac and getting to see him? Those moments can be very bittersweet. Would you please pray that the doctors would find nothing else wrong? At my last ultrasound, there was mention that the omphalocele (the abdominal hernia) may have started to attach itself to my body. The perinatologist didn't seem overly concerned, but since nothing would surprise me at this point, I very much was. Would you please continue to seek God with us an asking Him for a miracle? And lastly, would you please pray that God would continue to strengthen our hearts, help us to not lose hope of one day having a healthy child, and that He would make His perfect peace very real to us?

Restroom Scenario

A scenario:

You're in a small, one-stall public restroom. Someone comes in and goes to the stall. They shut the door and immediately let forth an Orcish symphony of farts, squirts, plops, and grunts. You freeze, wondering should you be quiet and pretend you've left? Or should you make as much noise as possible to try to mask this excretory opus so they can believe you can't hear them? You decide on the latter. You aim your pee stream into the urinal bowl for maximum water noise. The flush buys you some time. You wash your hands with the faucets on all the way. You dispense paper towels with excessive force, you dry your hands violently, you slam the towel into the garbage and make your escape, shutting the door firmly behind you. You feel like you need to wipe your eardrums.

A Full Moon

I am not superstitious. However, I did notice that Friday night there was a full moon, and the way my last two days have been, I start to wonder...

Friday's appointment was good in the sense that my doctor spent a lot of time with us answering questions and and processing things with us. What was frustrating was that I was told that I would most likely need to have a classic c-section. Once you've had a classic c-section, you are no longer a candidate for a regular birth. Additionally, there tends to be the risk of there being more scar tissue because the incision is larger. This is not what I had wanted to hear.

We left a few hours later for our trip to upstate New York to celebrate my father-in-law's 60th birthday. About 4 1/2 hours into the trip, the electrical parts of the car starting acting funny... lights on the dash started blinking, and as they did, the headlines would dim in and out. We pulled of the exit and into a gas station, and turned the car off. Upon trying to restart it, it was dead. So, we're in some rural part of New York, still 2 hours from our destination, getting a tow to a random mechanic at 10:00 at night. Thankfully, Spencer's sisters were able to come pick us up. We were also told that the problem was the battery, and the mechanic was able to fix the car that evening. For a situation that could have been a lot worse, it went as smoothly as it could. I was surprised at how calm both Spencer and I were able to remain!

Today I found out that a close friend of mine is pregnant. So are two other ladies in my department at my new school. It is so hard for me to hear news like this because I don't know how to respond. Of course I am happy, but it hurts my heart that our sweet Isaac isn't going to make it... that a healthy baby isn't our story. It's so hard to not feel so incredibly jealous and so incredibly frustrated... and to be honest, our situation sometimes makes me downright angry. That jealousy is something I am still having a hard time learning how to manage.

Like I said... there was a full moon on Friday. And no, I am still not superstitious... :)

I just feel like it has been one thing after another these last few days, and I am growing a bit weary in being strong. I seriously feel like I am just entrenched in this Job season... and I feel like I have just had enough. I could really use your prayers in figuring out how to manage my jealousy and how to guard my heart against that. Life just feels so heavy right now, and I miss the days where I felt more care-free and joy came so simply. I know that season will return, but walking through the valley can be so hard. Thanks for praying and for your continued encouragement.

I'M MAKING A MOVIE!

Since literature is dead, I'm adapting to the times and making a movie! I'm writing the screenplay right now, but here is the pitch, in case there are any movie executives reading this. Let the bidding wars begin!

Film treatment for "SUNROOF" by Isaac Marion and Erin Thompson

JACK MCQUEEN is an ex cop with a drinking, smoking, and dead-wife-whose-death-he-blames-himself-for problem. After a string of brutal murders rocks his hometown of Los Angeles, California, he is called out of retirement to catch the killer because a bunch of detectives are taking vacations and the LAPD is shorthanded.

The killer is nicknamed "THE SUNROOF KILLER" because he kills his victims by reaching down through their open sunroofs and grabbing their heads with a modified car waxer with a claw instead of a waxing sponge. He grabs their heads with the claw then turns on the waxer, which spins their heads right off.

The story cuts between Jack and the Sunroof Killer, and we see in FLASHBACKS that the killer used to work in a car detailing shop, until one day he was working with a waxer and a car full of SEXY TEENAGE GIRLS drove by, two of them popped out of the SUNROOF and flashed him, and he got so distracted that he dropped the waxer in his lap and it TWISTED OFF HIS PENIS. Now he hates all sexy teenage girls, and plans to murder ALL OF THEM one by one for vengeance.

Jack eventually does enough ASKING AROUND IN SCARY NEIGHBORHOODS that he figures out who the killer's next victim will be---JACK'S OWN TEENAGE DAUGHTER, CANDY. At the time he figures this out, Candy is already on her way to a SEXY TEENAGER PARTY with some of her friends. Jack races to warn her, but he isn't too worried because he knows that Candy's car doesn't have a sunroof. What he doesn't realize is that Candy is riding in her FRIEND'S CAR, which HAS A SUNROOF.

While they are driving, a hand suddenly comes down through the sunroof. They have all heard about the Sunroof Killer on the news so they all scream, but then Jack's head pops in, and they realize it's not the SUNROOF KILLER—it's Candy's dad, Jack.

Jack climbs inside and tells all the girls that the killer is after them and they have to get to the police station right away. Suddenly they hear a thump on the roof, and realize this must be the SUNROOF KILLER. Jack has an idea, and orders Candy to close the sunroof so the Sunroof Killer can't get in. But the Sunroof Killer has INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF SUNROOF MECHANISMS from all his years working as a car detailer, so he knows how to tap into the car's computer and STOP THE SUNROOF FROM CLOSING. He reaches down through the still open sunroof and grabs one of Candy's friends' head with his modified claw waxer hand, and PULLS THE GIRL'S HEAD OFF.

As the killer is reaching through the sunroof again to grab Candy's head, Jack grabs the killer's arm and pulls him inside. The killer's face is obscured by a car-painter's ventilation mask, but Jack pulls it off, revealing that the killer is---JACK'S DEAD WIFE.

It turns out that all the backstory flashbacks were FAKE, and that the killer was actually Jack's dead wife all along. In NEW FLASHBACKS we see that Jack's wife was always very into Voodoo and Magik, so when she got shot by a CRIMINAL THAT ESCAPED FROM JACK's PRECINCT and fell into the lake but didn't actually die, she was so angry at Jack for ignoring her interests in Voodoo and Magik and not trying to find her body and resurrect her, that she decided to go into hiding for years, and then kill their teenage daughter for revenge. Jack weeps and promises he will take more of an interest in Voodoo and Magik, and his wife forgives him. Jack, his wife, and Candy all hug. We see them later all eating breakfast at home, and Jack reveals that he has quit drinking and smoking.

Fade to end credits.


"SUNROOF is a genre-bending mix of thriller, crime thriller, and suspense thriller, it's I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER meets I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER."


Casting suggestions: DJ Qualls (Jack McQueen) Zhang Ziyi (Candy McQueen) Ron Perlman / Catherine O'Hara (Sunroof Killer / Jack's
Wife)


Tagline: "DOES YOUR CAR HAVE A SUNROOF...?"

Tagline #2: "YOU'RE GOING TO WISH YOUR CAR DIDN'T HAVE A SUNROOF..."

Tagline #3: "SUNROOF!"

Potential sequel: SUNROOF 2: THIS TIME HIS OTHER HAND IS COMING IN THROUGH THE REAR DRIVER SIDE WINDOW

Potential Sequel alternate title: SUNROOF 2: SONROOF





Also, I have two new short-shorts up, just one paragraph each for your convenience.

STREET PUKE

and

AWWW...



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This Week

Admittedly, this has been a really hard week for me. It definitely started on Sunday morning with my little breakdown at church, and I've really felt about the same since. Someone commented to me recently that this blog seems upbeat and extremely positive, almost as if I don't really have hard days.

The truth is, I do, and I want you to know that. I am heartbroken over this, and I would give anything for this to be different... for Isaac to be a healthy baby, developing and growing just as he should. Here's a little secret... I cry. Often. Daily, in fact. Not for hours, but just a few minutes here or there. Usually it is because of a song I am hearing (why does music always seem to do that to me?), other times it's because of things I start to think about. I was listening to the song Angie sent me that she at Todd wrote for their daughter, Audrey. I would be lieing if I said that there was this one line that really touched me, because truthfully, all of them do. But this one part of the song came to mind recently...

People say that I am brave but I'm not
Truth is I'm barely hanging on.
But there's a greater story written long before me
Because He loves you like this.


That's me some days... barely hanging on. The only reason I am is because I know that God never lets me go, and I can hold to the hope and the truth that He has written Isaac's life into a story greater than the one that I can see. That doesn't make this easy; but it makes it bareable. And in a seemingly hopeless situation, it brings us hope.

On Friday we have a "routine" prenatal appointment with my OB. I have a lot of questions for her regarding my c-section and follow-up testing and evaluation. I also hope that we will be able to discuss the radiologist's findings from our visit to Children's on June 17. I have a few more questions about that which I am hoping to have answered. These appointments tend to be very uneventful, so I am not too sure about what to ask you to pray for. Please pray that my mind would be put at ease by her responses, because I am petrified of a c-section even though I haven't had the energy to even begin to worry about that. Would you please also continue to pray for God to intervene and heal Isaac? And lastly, would you please pray for ongoing comfort and peace for Spencer and I as we continue to navigate these deep and unknown waters?

Thank you for continuing to walk this road and bear this burden with us.

La Bande Dessinée à Rennes

Yesterday I celebrated Bastille Day in the beautiful city of Rennes in Brittany. I had come for an academic conference on Arthuriana, but it didn't start until today, so I spent le quatorze juillet on a stroll around the city with my camera at the ready. Its half-timbered houses are kind of intense:



The concierge at the youth hostel had kindly marked some noteworthy sites on a map for me, so I knew to look out for streets like this one, whose dense crowding, as much as its use of timber, attests to its age:



But—and this I swear—I was not deliberately looking out for this window display, just across the street from the church of St-Sauveur:



Apparently, my comics-store-locating fu is still very much active. Luckily for my wallet and my suitcases, the store was closed for the holiday, though I was tempted by this item:



I was less tempted by these items for sale at a specialty art boutique, although I do enjoy les aventures de Tintin:



The figures in the next window of the store, both Smurfs and Tintin-related, were even less appealing, though I do still own a few Smurfs from my childhood days. But then, my wee plastic Smurfs didn’t cost hundreds of euros:



More appealing—and a hell of a lot more affordable—were the Tintin items available at M’Enfin Librairie, a BD-specific bookstore (which was also, thankfully, shuttered). I’d consider paying 9 euros for a stuffed Milou/Snowy doll:



And I kind of wish the store had been open so I could have sent Isaac one of these Tintin postcards (buddy, you’re getting a card with touristy scenes of Rennes; deal with it):



Of course, if I had managed to get into the store, could I have stopped myself from buying some of these mini-comics, gloriously displayed on a spinner rack?



Among the store’s more expensive merchandise, I was most impressed by this diorama based on the cover to Coke en Stock (The Red Sea Sharks):



Compared with the 250-euro Smurfs, that Tintin set’s a bargain at 49.95 euros. Here’s the original cover (photographed from the postcard), for the sake of comparison:



Another (closed) bookstore showed some of the advantages of buying comics in France as opposed to the States. Not only do they have fresh works by Dupuy & Berberian…



… but they’ve got a jump of several months on us Americans when it comes to Art Spiegelman’s reissued version of Breakdowns (which I’d previously seen in Paris as far back as Purim):



Believe it or not, I passed still another BD-specific bookstore, the aptly named Album/la référence BD:



Here it was the Studio Ghibli merch that tempted me, but again I was spared by the store’s being closed. That also protected me from this intriguing mix of my medieval-literature and modern-comics interests, a BD series based on the Roman de Renart (the medieval “beast epic” whose vulpine protagonist gave his name to the modern French word for fox, renard, replacing the Old French goupil):



(I also included the neighboring comic based on the work of Raymond Queneau, given the influence of his oulipo movement on the oubapo movement that has enriched French comics—of which more in a later post).

At this point, I was quite prepared to see no further evidence of comics in Rennes. But there were to be three more sightings in my first twenty-four hours here. At the restaurant where I ate dinner, one of the dishes on the menu was a fish tartine called “Le Capitaine Haddock” (I didn’t have my camera with me, but take my word for it). And earlier I passed by a gaming store that caters to the D&D crowd but which also had some comics- and horror-nerd items for sale. I thought this pairing of world-destroyers from Lovecraft and Marvel Comics was quite fitting, really:



Incidentally, my sightings today weren’t all comics-related, as I kept my eye out for Arthurian sites and objects, as well; but these little comics-related statues of Tintin and Galactus do remind me of one of the many Arthurian items I spotted—for even the windows of antique stores cater to the doll-collecting nerd, albeit of the Round Table variety:



The most delightful Arthurian and comics-related sightings, however, had to be those toward the end of the afternoon in the rose garden of the enormous Parc du Thabor (which apparently features over 900 types of rose in just one small corner of its grounds). Among the many rose varietals I saw were flowers named for King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Courtoisie. But there was also this flower, which definitely crowns the BD-related features of Rennes:



And with that delightful tribute to the co-creator of Astérix, I bid you adieu for now!

A New Normal

Over the last few days I have had the opportunity to meet up with several friends, some of whom I see pretty regularly, and others I haven't seen in a while. I love being able to touch base and talk about life.

Obviously, during these conversations, Isaac came up a lot. I love the questions that I am asked by people because it not only shows that you care, but also helps me to reflect. One conclusion I have come to this past week is that Spencer and I are learning to adjust to what I call our "new normal."

This "new normal" is all about figuring out how to do life well in the meantime... figuring out how to have joy in our days, while still staying connected to the reality of what we're facing. It's a delicate balance, and one that is constantly shifting. There are mornings where I can wake up and feel great, go for a walk with Spencer, make a nice breakfast before church, and then fall apart at the words of a seemingly upbeat worship song in church.

That's what happened yesterday. I was really looking forward to going to church, but for some reason, "Blessed be the Name of the Lord," one of my favorite songs we sing, just brought me to hysterical tears. I managed to hold it together through "Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering. Though there's pain in the offering, blessed be Your name. I fell apart at "You give and take away, You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name.

I realized that I have been having a hard time that the Lord would give us a son, only to take him away soon thereafter. I often don't understand why God would do that, when the desire to have children is an honorable and holy one.

And so this is our "new normal." Allowing those moments to happen, but knowing that God is near to us in the midst of them. Allowing ourselves to find joy in the midst of heartache, and being glad to rest there even for just a little bit. Figuring out how to do life well in the meantime.

Thank you for continuing to pray with us and for us, and for your continued encouragement.

NEW STUFF!

Hey kids....
NEW! STUFF!

First off, I've posted three new short-short stories.

"FOUR FAMILIES"

"DOTTED LINES"

"A SMALL WEDDING"


These can all be found on the totally new STORIES page, which has been totally revamped for easier and more visually stimulating navigation.

And thirdly, my graphic novel, Anna, is now available for pre-ordering, and features a sample teaser including the first 16 pages of the book.




Keep in mind I am only printing 50 copies of this book and I will NOT be printing another batch when these sell out. This is all there is, unless/until it gets picked up by Fantagraphics, so if you want one, now's the time to make the world a better place by supporting indie lit/art.

That's all. Enjoy.



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Christoph Niemann's "Abstract City" and the Taxonomy Thing

On July 1, the illustrator Christoph Niemann posted an "opinion art blog" entry to the New York Times website about his sons' enthusiasm for the New York City subway system (an enthusiasm that borders on fandom, given the way the MTA has shaped their encounters with the world around them). If you haven't seen it yet, click here to scroll through it; it's really quite delightful.

As soon as I saw it, I emailed it to some of my friends, and Isaac wrote back thus:

"That's awesome. Is it a comic? Who cares. It's fun."

I heartily concur with Isaac about the awesomeness and fun of Niemann's piece, which I described in my email as "a series of pictures and captions" without noting that a number of the pictures employ word balloons. But I found myself brooding a little about his immediately-disavowed question: "Is it a comic?"

I think Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is largely to blame for the ontological angst that hovers around works on the margins of what seems to be incontrovertibly comics. As useful as McCloud's work on comics has been, his taxonomical tendencies can be a mite pernicious in throwing up borders between what is/are comics and what is/are not (and I'm deliberately waffling on the number of the verb here because McCloud makes an issue out of it in a dogmatic way). Mind you, the borders themselves are less pernicious than the effort expended on policing them. There is value in reflecting on the different ways a single-panel drawing and a multi-panel strip create meaning, or on how a pantomime comic differs from a verbose visual-verbal blend, but I find myself bristling at the shibboleths of either sequentiality or word+image as the sine qua nons of comics, as pronounced by McCloud and R. C. Harvey, respectively.

I do think that the question that McCloud and Harvey raise is important--namely, what is/are "comics"?--and the question is important largely because precision of vocabulary can clarify discussion and yield finer distinctions. But I also think their answers to the question delimit their subject by limiting it too much. The problem, at least as I see it right now, is that both of them are looking to define comics too much in terms of positive attributes. In approaching the subject of comics, positing less might mean granting more in terms of the semantic reach and syntactic play of the form; and by using these linguistic metaphors I have just tipped my hand.

In short, I am very much persuaded by the Saussurean approach that Thierry Groensteen takes in his Système de la bande dessinée/System of Comics. Saussure's fundamental General Course in Linguistics announces as its goal a definition of the object of inquiry for linguistics, only to conclude that the object of inquiry is language itself. This conclusion might seem banal to the point of tautology were it not for the fact that his definition of language (or, better, his approach to language) is so trenchant and consequential. Rather than attempt to define language as, say, a collection of words and rules to be tabulated (as one might define comics as "a sequence of pictures" or "a verbal-visual blend"), Saussure describes it as a differential system of making meaning, where meaning lies precisely in the difference between signs rather than in any inherent, absolute meaning possessed by an individual sign (a meaning that does not, in fact, exist)--and Saussure suggests that the sign as linguistic unit need not necessarily be verbal (despite his understandable reliance on more formally linguistic evidence from speech and writing).

With that in mind, Thierry Groensteen’s Saussurean approach to comics as another kind of linguistic system may help to clear the air somewhat. Groensteen avoids a kind of grammatical taxonomy that looks for ever-smaller discrete units of meaning, pointing out the folly of an approach that would try to create a morpheme out of a brushstroke, say. What matters is the articulation of relationships (what Groensteen calls arthrology) across the space of a comic (where space is understood, in good Einsteinian fashion, to have temporal consequences that are never absolute in themselves).

So it doesn’t matter, ontologically, if a comic uses words or not: words are just another possible meaning-making element that relies on difference. In the case of comics, the difference between the verbal plane and the visual plane may indeed bear meaningful consequence beyond the words or the visuals themselves considered separately--though how or whether to separate words that are embedded in the visual field within the graphic device of a balloon is another matter. As Isaac put it in his guest stint on the Thought Balloonists blog, "Can the two aspects of innovation or expression really be disentangled that way? If so, why not separate storytelling from drawing style, to make a third graphed dimension? Where does the hair-splitting stop?"

Taking that as my cue not to gas on too much longer, I would just suggest that another great virtue in a linguistics-derived approach to comics is that it might free up the subject to enjoy as much variety as language enjoys. To be sure, some linguists have occasionally failed to attend to the nonstandard uses of language found in, say, poetry; nevertheless, poetry exists (eppur si muove!). Likewise, Niemann's piece may not fully satisfy either McCloud or Harvey as to its status as a comic (Is it "sequential enough"? Do the panels without words or letters reduce to "mere" drawings? How do the captions function alongside the images?)--but I would prefer to think that it is extending the resources of comics, as poetry extends the resources of language, rather than somehow failing to attain to some orthodox formal standard. Besides which: it's fun. And that's mostly what I cared to share in this post.

SPARK 24

Reflections

No real updates to share. My next doctor's appointment isn't until Friday, July 18. So for today, just a few reflections.

I have been overwhelmed by the e-mails and comments I have received from you, and
I wanted to share a couple of thoughts in response to the kind and encouraging words you all have left for me. First, in the ten years that I was as a Young Life leader, we frequently reflected on 1 Thessalonians 2:8 in leadership meetings, or at camp. This verse reads, We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.


In some ways it has been very theraputic for me to share this aspect of my life with you. Moreso, however, it is my hope that when you stop and linger here, you are able to see a greater glimpse of our Father... not because I have written eloquently (or not!), but because His presence is real. And so I hope that in some small way, this blog is a testament to 1 Thessalonians 2:8... that what you find here is not only my life, but the gospel of God.

Another thought I wanted to share stemmed from an e-mail I received from a dear friend who shared with me some encouragement from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31... Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.

I know that in some ways it may seem "foolish" to continue a pregnancy with a poor prognosis and the likelihood of a very grim outcome. Logic would say, why bother? This, though, isn't God's wisdom. God is bigger than all of this. I truly believe that at any time He could intervene and restore Isaac's health, just like He did for Abraham when he provided the ram in the thicket, when He healed the leper, when He made the lame man walk, and when He healed the bleeding woman. That's His choice and His perogative... not mine. All of Isaac's days have already been ordained, and I know that my job is simply to love him fully while he is with us.

You see, as I wrote in my letter to sweet Isaac this morning, he is already having an impact. His life matters... it has significance, both in the present, and eternally. To intervene with that would be foolish. Rather, I have the joy of getting to feel his little kicks and wiggles, and getting to see my son's life impact the lives of others. As a mother, there is no greater gift. I am so proud of him.

Lastly, many of you have commented on how you've been inspired by my faith. This is the part where verse 31 comes in... Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. My faith can only be as genuine as to the degree that God is real, and that He is who He says He is. So I would encourage you, that if you've somehow been inspired by what you've read here, then be compelled to get to know Him more.

I also wanted to say that in no way is every day an easy day. In fact, most days are hard. It's hard to feel "normal." It's hard to see other young moms with their little ones at the pool, receive comments from strangers asking if this is my first baby, and every time I feel Isaac move and kick to know that unless God changes things, I will be asked to give him back. It's hard to love your baby so much, and know that you're going to have to give him away. So please don't think that there isn't grief and there isn't pain; there is. It's deep, and it's real. I would never want my faith to come across as a facade that masks any of that. Rather, God meets me in the midst of it. He provides just enough grace for each day... each moment, and shows me His peace. He has graciously allowed Isaac's story to impact the lives of others, and for that He is good.

I can't thank you enough for continuing to walk this road with us, for praying for us, and for your words of encouragement. They continue to be a source of strength.

The Elijah Lunettes of Walton Well Road


In the neighborhood of Oxford known as Jericho, on Walton Well Road, there is a series of townhouses whose doors are surmounted by sculptural lunettes featuring scenes from the life of the prophet Elijah. I figured this out mostly thanks to the last lunette in the series: that whole chariot of fire deal is pretty memorable. But most of the other scenes were unfamiliar to me, owing to the gap since my last attentive reading of the books of Kings, so I appreciated the excuse to revisit 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2 in order to figure out what exactly was going on.

Our story begins with Elijah being fed by ravens (one of which seems to have lost its head in this first lunette; and if you ask me, those ravens look rather eagle-like):


Next Elijah reassures the widow of Zarephath that she won't starve if she shares her food with him:


Continuing with the theme of Elijah's meals, the third lunette shows an angel providing Elijah with a jug of wine and a loaf of bread (but no Rubaiyat, apparently):



Later, Elijah speaks with God while hiding out in a cave. At least, that's what the biblical text describes; the sculptor here has personified God in the figure of an angel (a license sanctioned by Genesis, where God appears to Abraham in the figure of three angels):



Here's Elijah recruiting Elisha to be his attendant by throwing his mantle over him:


And here's Elijah confronting wicked king Ahab at the vineyard of Naboth, for possession of which Ahab has had Naboth murdered:



Elijah later gives Ahab's son Ahaziah the bad news that he will die in the sickbed where he is attempting to convalesce from a fall (nice potted plants, here):


Shortly before Elijah's departure from this world, he uses his mantle to split a stream, Moses-like, in company with Elisha:



And there goes Elijah, in a ride suitable for Parliament-Funkadelic (though he fails to adopt the gangster lean):


I like these lunettes for their charming understatement. Some highly dramatic scenes from Elijah's career are overlooked in favor of quiet moments of sleep, hunger, and concealment. Even the miraculous departure of the fiery chariot is strangely static, given the erect verticals of the human figures (as well as of Elijah's mantle, which stands in a tall bundle below the chariot, ready for Elisha to take it up). This quality, along with the oddly stunted proportions of the characters and the oversized foliage, reminds me very much of medieval manuscript illustration.

Mind you, I'm a little sorry that there's no tenth lunette to show the sequel to Elijah's career, where Elisha, still finding his voice (as it were) in the role of Elijah's successor, curses some children who mock his baldness, thereby summoning up a pair of she-bears who maul forty-two of the brats. To paraphrase the words of Christian rocker Bill Mallonee, "You might say they learned some healthy respect." (But please note that I do not endorse the mauling of anybody, by bears or otherwise.)