A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘popular literature

[LINK] Abraham Riesman in the Vulture on the Success of Harley Quinn

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“The Hidden Story of Harley Quinn and How She Became the Superhero World’s Most Successful Woman” describes how, from humble origins as an intended throw-away character on the Batman animated series of the early 1990s, Harley Quinn has become one of the biggest characters in the world of American comics.

Writer Paul Dini is credited as the creator of Harley, and that’s technically true. He came up with the character while he was writing for the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series in the early ’90s. But the true origins of Harley Quinn lie years earlier, in the mind of the actress who voiced her on the cartoon: Arleen Sorkin.

In 1987, Sorkin was a regular on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, playing the show’s comic relief: the ditzy, leggy, Noo Yawk–accented Calliope Jones. But unlike her flighty character, Sorkin was a skilled and experienced comedy writer. “I could never just come in and run my lines,” she told Vulture. “I was forever suggesting stuff, probably out of boredom!” So when she went to a screening of the faux-medieval The Princess Bride, an idea struck her: Why not do a fairy-tale dream sequence on Days? The producers were into it and aired an episode in which Calliope acts as a court jester, roller-skating into a throne room and doing some hackneyed borscht belt gags for a royal family.

Dini and Sorkin were college friends, and one day, she gave him a VHS tape of her favorite Days moments — including her jester bit. The tape sat idle for years. But in mid 1991, Dini was sick as a dog and popped the tape into his VCR. He was a budding television writer at the time, cranking out freelance scripts for the as-yet-unaired Batman: The Animated Series. He’d been struggling to come up with a female character to use as a one-off in an episode about Batman’s archnemesis, the Joker.

“I thought, Maybe there should be a girl there,” he said. “And I thought, Should the girl be like a tough street thug? Or like a hench-person or something? And then suddenly the idea of someone funny kind of struck me.” When he saw Sorkin in clown makeup, the pieces fell into place, and he came up with a silly little sidekick. He gave her the comic-book-y name of Harley Quinn, sketched out an idea for her look, and brought the sketch to the cartoon’s lead artist, Bruce Timm.

“He did do a rough design for her, which was, frankly, not very good,” Timm recalled. “It had a weird ’60s kind of vibe to it. It was just odd. Charming, but odd. I thought we could improve on that. So I immediately started researching traditional harlequin gear and did kind of a simplified super-villain version of that. It was always intended to be just a one-off.” Nevertheless, Timm was — and is — a perfectionist and labored to give this cameo character a distinctive look: a red-and-black full-body jumpsuit adorned with playing-card diamonds, ruffled cuffs, and a dual-pronged jester’s cap.

It’s a long read, and a good one.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 2, 2015 at 10:26 pm

[PHOTO] On the TTC, Lindsay Kelk, and the stock photography both use

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Take the TTC 192 Airport Rocket bus to Pearson.

I saw the above ad advertising the TTC’s 192 Airport Rocket bus and was struck by its familiarity. Where had I seen this image before?

That TTC ad was stock photo for the cover of a fun 2011 Lindsay Kelk novel.

It was the image on the cover of a trade paperback edition of British author Lindsay Kelk‘s 2011 novel The Single Girl’s To-Do List, that’s what.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2015 at 7:00 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes that Yorkville’s Lettieri is shutting down.
  • Crooked Timber starts a debate as to who won the latest Greece/Eurozone confrontation.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting a new way to analyze carbon-rich exoplanet atmospheres.
  • The Dragon’s Tales observes that India is hoping to build its next aircraft carrier quickly.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig announces that people can now apply for her online Stanford course.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that antibiotics are of underestimated value.
  • Spacing reviews an interesting-sounding book, The Language of Space.
  • Towleroad notes an anonymous college lacrosse player who has just published a book of love poems to his boyfriend.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russia wants to weaken Baltic faith in NATO and suggests that everyone, detractors and supporters alike, overestimate Putin.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog notes that apparently Russia was unhappy with being ignored, so explaining in part why it went into Ukraine.

[LINK] On Mizae Mizumura and The Fall of Language in the Age of English

A recent Slate article by Katy Waldmann pointed me towards Minae Mizumura‘s 2008 book The Fall of Language in the Age of English. She seems to make some interesting arguments about the position of the English language and the potential threat to the position of non-English languages.

Languages have materiality, Mizumura insists, and her personal essay-cum-allegory lets the landscape of English letters hover like a mirage above physical America. In Iowa “the view was not particularly beautiful. There was none of the poetry one sees in scenes of the countryside in American films.” Yet “turning to Chris [the program director], I roused myself and said exactly what an American might say at such a moment: ‘Beautiful day!’ ” Such are the dangers of a universal language: Being in America, speaking “American,” Mizumura can utter only “what an American might say,” even if that means lying about the blighted prospect around her. In contrast, here is the author’s memory of touching down in France: “Once I set foot in Paris, I was greeted with boulevards shimmering with new leaves and skies gloriously liberated from the dark of winter.”

I mention France because the French language—all liberté and illumination—is one of Mizumura’s sanctuaries, a spiritual alternative to English. (It is also a scholarly alternative: Though she doesn’t mention him outright, Mizumura, who studied French literature at Yale during its Structuralist heyday, is clearly indebted to Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the first to propose that meaning arises from closed linguistic systems. Saussure wrote in French.) Her family moved from Japan to New York when she was 12, and she “stubbornly resisted getting along either with the United States or the English language,” instead soaking in French audiobooks on repeat in her room. What draws Mizumura to the lingua franca of the Enlightenment is its beauty, but also its predicament: Once the embodiment of the “soul of Europe,” a standard-bearer for the humanities, the expressive Play-Doh for writers like Voltaire and Diderot is now in the same lamentable position as Japanese. Which is to say, French and Japanese speakers are confined to the particular, while English speakers live in the universal.

A writer writing in English can count on her words reaching people all over the world, whether in translation or the original, but there’s no guarantee English-speaking readers will ever encounter experiences first framed in Japanese. Nor can bilingual writers just switch to English: Even if the West does not seem “too far, psychologically as well as geographically,” a sense of romance surrounds novels written in the novelist’s mother tongue, making fiction formulated from a second language less palatable. So, Mizumura concludes, non-English speakers “can only participate passively in the universal temporality … they cannot make their own voices heard.” Discouraged by the deafness of the world—even as Internet fans sing about our increasing connectedness—they might decide to stop writing altogether.

When writers stop writing in a language, that language decays. People lose faith in its ability to bear the burden of their fine feeling and entrust their most important thoughts elsewhere. Raging against the decline of “lesser” lexicons, Mizumura is stressing more than the loss of cultural artifacts, or the value of diversity for its own sake. Non-dominant tongues must live on, she warns, because “those of us … living in asymmetry are the only ones condemned to perpetually reflect upon language, the only ones forced to know that the English language cannot dictate ‘truths’ and that there are other ‘truths’ in this world.” Buried in that argument is an oddly touching one about the nature of literature: “The writer must see the language not as a transparent medium for self-expression or the representation of reality, but as a medium one must struggle with to make it do one’s bidding.”

She says some interesting things. Going by this sympathetic review in The Japan Times, it seems as if her argument is based at least as much on a need for better education in non-English languages. Is fluency in Japanese incompatible with fluenct in English?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 24, 2015 at 4:59 am

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • The Big Picture has photos of the winter snowtowns in New England.
  • blogTO has old photos of various Toronto intersections.
  • Centauri Dreams notes how atmospheres can break the tidal locks of close-orbiting planets.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze suggests Fomalhaut b is a false positive, speculates on the evaporation time of hot Jupiters, and wonders if planetoids impacting on white dwarfs can trigger Type Ia supernovas.
  • The Dragon’s Tales considers the status of the Brazilian navy, notes the Egyptian purchase of 24 Rafale fighters from France, and observes that Russia no longer has early-warning satellites.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog looks at the sociology of the red carpet.
  • Far Outliers assesses the achievements and problems of Chiang Kai-shek.
  • A Fistful of Euros notes intra-European negotiations over Greece.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the progress of a same-sex marriage bill in Slovenia.
  • Languages of the World argues that of all of the minority languages of Russia, Tuvan is the least endangered.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the Confederate diaspora in Brazil.
  • Marginal Revolution suggests that the larger the American state the more likely it is to be unequal, notes that South Korean wages have exceeded Japanese wages for the first time, and looks at anti-Valentine’s Day men in Japan.
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  • Out of Ambit’s Diane Duane notes how a German translator of her Star Trek novels put subtle advertisements for soup in.
  • The Planetary Society Blog shares photos from Rosetta of its target comet.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer is skeptical about the Nicaragua Canal, wonders about Greece in the Eurozone, looks at instability in Venezuela, and suggests an inverse relationship between social networking platforms–mass media, even–and social capital.
  • Spacing Toronto wonders if the Scarborough subway will survive.
  • Towleroad notes popular American-born Russian actor Odin Biron’s coming out and observes that Antonin Scalia doesn’t want people to call him anti-gay.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little looks at the forces which lead to the split of communtiies.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that the non-Russian republics of Russia will survive, argues that Putin’s Russia is already fascist, and notes that Russians overwhelmingly support non-traditional families.

[LINK] “Black Wedding: The Re-emergence of Lenie Clarke.”

Canadian science-fiction writer Peter Watts notes that two Polish fans of his latest, Maelstrom, have cosplayed a character. Cosplaying dark dystopic SF universes can be interesting. (Peter Watts fan, here.)

Today’s headline, though, hails from Poland, where Adam Rotter took a gorgeous-yet-macabre turn from his usual day job as a wedding photographer to cast his partner, Karolina Cisowska, as Lenie Clarke.

Together they’ve done a 16-shot spread[1] inspired by specific passages from Maelstrom. It’s over on facebook under the project heading “Syrena” (which I assume translates as “Siren” and not the more biological interpretation involving manatees). But I have, with Adam’s permission, posted the pics here at rifters.com, together with the associated inspirational snippets o’prose, over in the Rifters Gallery. View. Enjoy.

And my profound thanks to Adam and Karolina. From the in-your-face black rotting skull right down the telescoping shockprod in Lenie’s hand, these are just gorgeous.

Photos are available here

Written by Randy McDonald

February 11, 2015 at 10:50 pm

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • blogTO notes plans for building a new condo complex at Front and Spadina.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper simulating the emission spectra of super-Earths.
  • The Dragon’s Tales suggests that the emergence of continents was crucial for the Great Oxidation Event and claims Mars took longer to lose its atmosphere than many people think.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that the Archbishop of San Francisco is, among other things, strongly anti-masturbation.
  • Language Log notes the death of feminist, linguist and science fiction writer Suzette Haden Elgin.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money makes a case somewhat in defense of Brian Williams.
  • Spacing Toronto makes the case that lovers should buy Valentine’s Day gifts at its store.
  • The Tin Man considers his complicated relationship with the musical Falsettos.
  • Torontoist looks at the evolution of CAMH over the years.
  • Towleroad notes the active support of Pope Francis for an anti-gay referendum in Slovakia.
  • Transit Toronto notes the steady expansion of the TTC’s WiFi network throughout the subway system.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers the challenges facing a Lohan family lawsuit against Fox News.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that Ukraine can’t accept Russian demands because they’ll keep coming, argues that Russians are noticing domestic incompetence, and notes internal border changes in Russia.

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