Return of the Big Cultural Log 2010

A column article by: Park Cooper

Well, it didn’t quite happen by Christmas, so Happy New Year to all our readers, from all two of us at The Park and Barb Show.

Recently, Comics Bulletin EIC Jason Sacks suggested I do a new Christmas Newsletter like I did a couple of years ago. I was planning on doing a certain something anyway, and there was no reason I couldn’t do it in the form of a Christmas Newsletter. (Well, there was one reason: Christmas got in the way.)

In a recent commentary, Jason wrote these two sentences: “Here on Comics Bulletin we focus pretty much exclusively on comics, and I'm very proud of our narrow focus. We know and love comics, and we've decided to focus on that passion here on this site.”

Hi, I’m “pretty much.”

To use the first comics metaphor that comes to mind, I was reminded a bit of how DC Comics character Adam Strange must feel sometimes. “We will fight this invasion with everything we have! All of us, proud men and women of Rann! ...And, you know, this guy over here from Earth who helps us out, too!”

See, I had quite a tight little focus on comics for years here at Comics Bulletin, back before it was called Comics Bulletin... but you do something for a long time, and it’d better have a lot to do with your life, because otherwise you’re doing double duty. And my life, my fandom, dealt with a lot more things than comic books, and I kept wishing to deal with that in my column. Because that’s true for almost all comic book fans, too. I’ll bet that 95% or more of comic book readers don’t have comic books as the only geeky thing in their lives. There’s geek movies (some of which are not based on comics), geek books (some of which are not based on comics), geek TV shows (most of which are not based on comics)... and video games and tabletop role-playing games and heck even board games... and don’t get me started on manga.

So somehow, at some point, I started getting away with talking about all that stuff, too. This year, I’ve pretty much focused on gamers, as in tabletop games.

But I feel that it’s important to represent this stuff on CB sometimes, because, get this:

Comics do not happen in a geek vacuum.

Just as some writers of comics (including me) have pointed out that you can’t CREATE good comics IF ALL YOU’VE EVER READ ARE COMICS, it is ALSO true that you can also enjoy comics better if you experience more in your cultural consumption than just comics.

If all you’ve ever read are comics, you’re less likely to get it when Peter David introduces, as he did in an issue of The Incredible Hulk, Marlo Chandler’s brothers, Keith and Ray.

Those of you who take in more about the world than just comics are more likely to see what he did there, or at least to see it faster...

Are we really all about comics? Or are we also somewhat about the comics lifestyle? Because that comprises various things, as looking around at any San Diego Con will demonstrate.

And it’s changing.

No, not just San Diego Con, I mean geeky (or otherwise!) cultural consumption itself. And that’s why...'s time to bring back the Big Cultural Log.

Perhaps I have previously mentioned my worst, darkest, dirtiest secret, but if so, here it is again: I crack myself up.

The Big Cultural Log was always a joke, a reference to the Punisher's War Journal. How exactly you were supposed to get that, other than the way I narrated it, I dunno. But part of the joke, then, is the irony-- the title of the Big Cultural Log is itself a cultural reference...

Recently I bought, used, from the library, a Dan Slott Mighty Avengers trade. "It's Dan Slott. He did the (other) funny She-Hulk, and Great Lakes Avengers," my brain told me. "How bad could this be?" Well, it was in fact okay enough. But then I went online and looked up some stuff about what happened next, and about other recent Avengers-related continuity stuff (Wasp, Jocasta, Loki)... and it made my wittle head hurt. I turned my face to the wall, and looked at recent Marvel continuity no more. (P.S. okay, then I went back again, and looked up someone named “Valeria Richards.” Then I turned my face to the wall, and looked at recent Marvel continuity no more for a second time.)

So what cultural stuff am I/we consuming at all? Oh, lots. (Really? You mean there's more elsewhere? Yes, that's what I mean.)

I've been writing my own prose novels-- we do that now, you know, so if you're a literary agent, or know one, please get in touch; we're looking.

I've also been slightly more active than I used to be in the world of gaming. Well, tabletop RPGs and video gaming, because for my birthday, both a PS3 and then shortly thereafter an XBox 360 were acquired.

I've recently met some comics people I respect on Facebook though; more on them later.

But the best way for me to chronicle the Big Cultural Log is digitally, because it'll allow me to... well, look.
My public library, I recently discovered, allows one to save a list of favorite things I’ve checked out. And there’s a setting that allows one to make anything checked out to be put automatically on that list. And apparently I set that list to the right setting, giving me a sort of collage of what exactly I’ve been checking out (without actually TELLING me what I’ve checked out. More on this later.
Want music? Or video clips? They’re on YouTube. I’m also finding online clips for my 1302 short story classes I teach... like this:

Speaking of using movies to teach analysis, look at this! (Today's breakfast conversation: Children and Horror. Let the Right One In. Curse of the Cat People. Dorm.)

We have Sirius/XM satellite radio in the car, too.

Also, we have Netflix. With its amazing new insta-watch feature (as I call it), many, many movies can be watched on your computer. Or your PS3. Or your Xbox 360 (if you subscribe to Xbox Gold). Also, I have an iPhone and and iPod—and each of them can use insta-watch, too. The days when the size of one’s screen mattered for viewing things are over.

Also, there’s FaceBook, as I mentioned... friends on Facebook help point out all sorts of culture to consume, too. Just now my cousin told me about a couple of horror and a couple of action movies he saw recently at Austin’s Fantastic Fest (all foreign, yay!).

There’s just no POINT in tracking cultural consumption by medium anymore instead of genre. If there was, then Green Lantern fans wouldn’t be confused at a white guy playing Green Lantern in the upcoming movie. Because, you see, the mainstream world kind of knows who Green Lantern is. And they think he is an African-American fellow. Because that’s the version they know from the animated Justice League show on the TV.

Really, Politics also counts as a genre of cultural consumption. Barb and I were really into it for a while there. Then we got sick of it. But I mention it now because it does help demonstrate how the genre of Politics in cultural consumption does cross many media—TV news, Cable TV commentary, TV shows that make fun of politics, YouTube videos that make fun of politics, Facebook areas that talk about and/or make fun of politics...

Then there’s gaming. Of all sorts. I recently bought the card game Munchkin because a bunch of them were on sale at Half Price Books. But let me tell you another story.

I was looking for new bargains in GameStop and was talking to a guy about how some games are great, but you never need to play them again when you’re done because... some of that stuff was really hard, and you aren’t about to start it all over again (oh, say, Final Fantasy VIII, just for the first one that comes to mind).

A guy down the counter turned around. “Oh, have you played Fallout 3?” I replied that I had not. He HANDED IT TO ME. “Here you go, merry Christmas.” Seriously? Giving it to me instead of selling it back to the store, as he had clearly meant to do, along with a few other games? “Sure man, you should play it. It’s cool.”

This, then, was my geeky Christmas miracle (aside from Netflix’s insta-watch): PCs on Earth, and good will towards geeks.

But am I a geek anymore? I wonder. I certainly don’t think I’m just a comic-book geek. I think I’m more of a global geek, consuming all that comes to me from near or far—and now, it’s arriving from farther than ever, faster than ever, cheaper than ever, more conveniently than ever. 2010 was about getting new culture to consume—Barb had nothing to read, so we went to Amazon and looked at what was recommended for her, looked online to see if any of it was in the public library system, if it wasn’t, there was always InterLibrary Loan, if not that then back to Amazon, or maybe EBay. Ta da, Barb quickly had four different books on Asian Horror movies to read. And now Half Price Books is searchable online, too.

Everything is like that. Everything is all interconnected. Let the Right One In the movie leads to a media studies textbook
leads to Asian Horror
leads to the concept of what is and isn’t gothic
leads to Ambrose Bierce
leads to my 1302 class
leads to the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”
leads to the short story “Markheim”
leads to the movie Jacob’s Ladder
leads back to Ambrose Bierce
leads to naming the John Constantine look-a-lot-alike Ambrose Bierce in Phil Foglio’s Stanley and his Monster
leads to him and Kaja Foglio’s webcomic Girl Genius
leads to steampunk
leads to “gaslamp fantasy”
leads to Dracula
leads to Let the Right One In.

And yet sometimes none of it is connected except via the system that allows us to consume all of it. One day I’m explaining that I’m disappointed in the fantasy novel Split Heirs because instead of being playful postmodern fantasy, it’s a parody of fantasy, the next I’m using YouTube to reminisce about Animaniacs (and posting a short clip on Facebook), the next I’m looking up issues of Spider-Man 2099 on EBay to see if they’re worth anything (they aren’t, really, at least not individually).

And that’s kinda what this column is about.

Next time: A review of the anime series Darker Than Black that I just finished watching on Netflix, plus much, much more.


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