The Bat Segundo Show #34


Author: Tom Tomorrow

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Explaining his recent arrest for littering.

Subjects Discussed: The relationship between text and image, Moebius strips, clip art, working in digital, color vs. black and white, blogging as help, Warren Ellis, Tom the Dancing Bug, New Yorker cartoons and captions, fonts, the influence of the 1950s, on becoming a political cartoonist, lettering, analog vs. digital, the crazy policies of the New Yorker art department, Teletubbies, what happened with the Mondo Minishow version of This Modern World, static comics vs. Flash, pause panels, getting pulled from U.S. News and World Report, reaching mainstream audiences, on not getting booked on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, preaching to the choir, the origin of Sparky and the Bearded Liberal, and finding humor immediately after the 2004 election.

Latest Reading Meme

Continuing the meme (apparently originated by Patricia):

Look at the list of books below. Bold the ones you’ve read, italicize the ones you might read, cross out the ones you won’t, underline the ones on your book shelf, and place parentheses around the ones you’ve never even heard of.

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling
The Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story – George Orwell
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
1984 – George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J. K. Rowling
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Shadow of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Dune – Frank Herbert
Sula by Toni Morrison
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Also, what titles would you add to this list? (Well, let’s mix it up then!)

John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead
Great Expectations by Kathy Acker
Gain by Richard Powers
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino
Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber
Brick Lane by Monica Ali

The Ambitious Charge: Keeping the Literary Rabble in Line?

Powell’s interview with Jonathan Safran Foer:

Dave: Something I want to ask: Your Wikipedia entry notes that detractors find you overly ambitious. I’m always puzzled when I hear that criticism, whether it’s aimed at a writer or a musician or whomever. I would guess you’ve drawn inspiration from others who may have faced that same complaint. Who comes to mind?

Foer: The term is so dumb that it’s hard to even think about. I guess I would hope they say that about every author I like.

Charles Webb: the Jerry Siegel of 1960s Fiction?

BBC: “The author behind the film The Graduate faces eviction from his home in East Sussex because of rent arrears. Novelist Charles Webb, 66, and his partner have only days to pay two months’ overdue rent, totalling nearly £1,600, on their flat in Hove….The Californian author accepted a one-off payment of £14,000 for the novel, while the film made £60m….The theatrical adaptation of the classic movie took another £10m in its recent West End stage run.”

More Like a NAMBLA Fantasy

The origin of He-Man: “[Mattel president] Ray Wagner had passed on Star Wars because the license property apparently required $750,000 upfront. At the time, for an unproven property, that was a highly exorbitant sum. So Wagner had Mattel’s Prelimary Design Department – of which I was a member – Come up with viable male action figure concepts. I had been real impressed by Frank Frazetta paintings and I [submitted an idea] that I called monster fantasy. But it was actually a barbarian fantasy.”

Crace’s New Novel a Bit of a Pest

The other day, Publisher’s Lunch reported the following deal:

Whitbread and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novelist Jim Crace’s THE PESTHOUSE, to Nan Talese at Nan A. Talese, for publication in May 2007, plus two more novels, by David Godwin at David Godwin Associates.

Being a bit of a Crace fan, I did a bit of digging and learned the following. First off, Crace recently jumped ship to Picador. Shortly after this move, the Guardian suggested, without quoting anybody specific, that Picador may have a plan to give Crace the sales to match his cult audience. Certainly, keeping Crace secure for three books is a step in the right direction. And I’m hoping that it works out for Crace in a way that it didn’t quite work out for Eric Kraft, when Picador had obtained all of Kraft’s Peter Leroy novels.

In a Bookmunch interview, Crace called The Pesthouse “a false historical travel narrative set in the United States about two hundred years from now. The country has fragmented. The machines have stopped. The novel provides America not with a science fiction future but a future which mirrors something that many of its citizens have always wanted and lacked – a medieval “past”, an ancient European experience. How it will turn out is anybody’s guess.”

On his website, Crace himself describes it as “a long, picaresque novel,” suggesting also that The Pesthouse will provide America with “a medieval past.” The book’s first line: “This used to be America.”

The novel, which will be Crace’s first since 2003’s Six, has taken considerable time for Crace to write.

So Should I Make My Thoughts Known on “Joe Vs. the Volcano” So That Abe Vigoda Can Collect a Small Residual for His Pension?

The Guardian: “Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a ‘disproportionately large influence’ on society, according to a report by a technology research company. Its study suggests that although “active” web users make up only a small proportion of Europe’s online population, they are increasingly dominating public conversations and creating business trends.” (via Speedy Snail)

Scott McClellan Fired by Bush; Told He Wasn’t Enough of a Slimy Liar; Replaced by Unemployed Sock Puppet


RELATED: Vanity Fair profile: “In McClellan’s case, almost all of his sentences are dead on arrival. Even the pre-written sentences (most every briefing begins with a statement about the president’s schedule or the plausibly positive developments at hand—we’ve turned the corner in Iraq, etc.) are so bald and flat-footed that they become a kind of insult—he doesn’t disguise the bull.”

Barely Awake Roundup

Almost finished podcast last night but collapsed circa 1:30, woke up this morning later (much later) than expected, somehow slept through a scheduled phone call (rectified, thankfully), received several crazed voicemails, people freaking out, called them back and placated them, one email account cleared (more or less) with responses to all nice people, one more ridiculous backlog to go. In other words, things are more or less back to normal, but there’s still far too much on the plate. Which means….

…another roundup in lieu of actual content!

Birnbaum Alert

Robert Birnbaum talks with Richard Reeves. Some interesting views on the Edmund Morris Reagan bio, Bob Woodward and this interesting quote:

But America, going back to something we said before, America is whatever we say it is. We have no sense of history, we live in the present, totally different and I am not against that. We are not fighting wars, like in Kosovo, for something that happened in the 11th century. And because of that, the way we developed, or at least I would argue American exceptionalism has to do with the fact that, forgetting that we killed the Indians, that there was this land here and we came from everywhere and we could keep moving on. That’s what I think of American exceptionalism and I believe it’s true, for better and for worse. He believed the same thing. But he believed God wanted it to be that way. The “shining city on the hill” stuff, and “last best hope of mankind,” and that was his American exceptionalism, that we were simply better than other people. And he said that over and over again. I am old enough now that I like us—America is a great place—we are different, we are not better. We are a different kind of people and I prefer being an American to being anything else. But I don’t think God had much to do with it. God doesn’t check passports.



quake1.jpgThe 1906 earthquake centennial was a boorish affair — an exercise in gaudy gaucherie where the media was placed first and the people figured in last. Perhaps my feelings are tainted a bit by my recent run-in with San Francisco’s finest. But the facts don’t lie.

Several large LCDs were placed just outside the main congregation point, as if to suggest to the people that they may as well stay home and watch the event on television. Within the actual corner of Kearny and Geary Streets, where Lotta’s Fountain resides, if you were one of the lucky two hundred who somehow made it past the elevated island designed to convey passengers onto the F Market train, then you had a view as clear as Gavin Newsom’s complexion.

Of course, given that about 7,000 people (possibly more) showed, one couldn’t help but contemplate plutocratic metaphors.

I arrived later than expected, in large part because I walked about thirty blocks when there was no sign of the promised buses that MUNI had planned to provide around 4 AM. Fortunately, providence was on my side. And when I hit Market and Van Ness, I managed to board a bus, arriving within minutes of the 5:12 AM moment of silence. An audio report of these adventures will soon follow.

quake2.jpgI worked my way behind the elevated island, which was occupied by all manner of media people. If this was truly an event for the people, the media pool might have been placed somewhere else. I had a better view of a personal assistant spraying goop into a reporter’s hyperconditioned hair than any portion of the stage.

Indeed it seemed that we were there more for B-roll. An expensive-looking camera on a computer-operated jib rose up and down capturing the hurried crowd.

It wasn’t a good place to be if you were claustrophobic.

There were bright floodlights designed to limn attractive and well coiffed reporters. I hadn’t had a single cup of coffee yet and this did not augur well for visibility, much less coherence on my part.

quake8.jpgI caught a sliver of Gavin, dressed in a gray suit and spouting off all manner of treacle. He resembled a dubious faith healer more than an elder statesmen.

It was Our Mayor who came up with the rather cruel idea that all bells and sirens in the City should go off at 5:14 AM, meaning that those who didn’t want to take part in this celebration were doomed to remember the day anyway.

And this was the thing that troubled me. A hundred years ago, more than 3,000 people died. 225,000 were left homeless. $400 million in property was lost. (All of these numbers by the way come straight from my noggin, without Googling. I have a slight obsession with disasters and apocalypses.)

And there were more deaths, many of these shootings unnecessary, from the fascistic emergency order issued by the police designed to enforce a tight curfew.

quake7.jpgIn other words, here we were at an event that was more designed as an ostentatious expose for San Francisco media. Before any of the survivors came forward to speak, the podium was given to the fire chief and the police chief. When a charming old gentleman did in fact get his time, it was more Gavin’s moment than his. I felt like I was watching some surreal talk show as Gavin asked him awkward question about what he does today (apparently, working two days a week). This was hardly a memorial for the people whose lives were lost, whose very existences were displaced, and who later fell victim to the excessive martial zeal of then-Mayor Schmit, General Funston and the military.

quake6.jpgThe great irony is that, being so jam-packed in the crowd, locked into place by a crowd control situation that was rather anarchic, if an earthquake were to occur at that moment and the buildings and traffic lights were to come crashing down, I’m almost positive we would have been killed.

I did my best to record audio of the proceedings and to take pictures. But I was repeatedly pushed and shoved. And when I was elbowed in the face by a capacious and bulbous gentleman who clearly didn’t understand the Cavalieri principle, I decided to go home.

This was not a ceremony for the people. This was not a ceremony for the historians or for anyone who loves San Francisco as much as I do. In fact, it really wasn’t much fun at all. It was an event which felt, from start to finish, entirely manufactured. Which was another great irony, considering that it was the spontaneous actions of people that got my city rebuilt and, most recently, got this nation through 9/11 and Katrina.

quake9.jpgBut I cheered up immensely when I hit Powell Street Station and headed home. For a gentleman with a guitar was singing the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” with great ardor. Considerably off-key, but he sung with more passion than Heather Fong or Gavin Newsom could muster in their speeches.

I smiled and gave him a dollar and knew that this guy, playing to no audience, was the San Francisco I loved and knew.


Not as many people dressed up as I thought.


How much did this clock cost the City?

Jesus, They REALLY Want San Franciscans to Go to This

The SFist: “We’re just trying to spare you some panic tomorrow morning, folks — if you hear bells and sirens at 5:12 a.m., no need to wonder about the cosmic coincidence of an earthquake striking exactly 100 years after the big one of 1906 — it’s just Gavin Newsom, who’s ordered that all fire stations and churches ring their bells and sirens after the moment of silence at Lotta’s Fountain that traditionally commemorates the 1906 quake.”

What the hell?

Pulitzer Winners Announced

The 2006 Pulitzer winners have been announced:

FICTION: Geraldine Brooks, March
DRAMA: Declined to give award.
HISTORY: David M. Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story
GENERAL NONFICTION: Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya
BIOGRAPHY: Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus
POETRY: Claudia Emerson, Late Wife
MUSIC: Yehudi Wyner, “Chiavi in Mano.”

The LBC Lives

The Litblog Co-Op has revealed its Spring 2006 choice. Like the last round, there will also be five special podcasts provided courtesy of the Bat Segundo show devoted to all of the nominees (three are in the can), as well as brief interviews with the nominators. In fact, it was Mr. Sarvas himself who was the first to be recorded on one of our new audio toys and who put up with our rather geeky fixation on just how utterly sexy he sounded. Thankfully, none of our enthusiastic asides were preserved in audio form.

Death! Destruction! Earthquake! Fire! Time to Celebrate!

Tomorrow at approximately 5:12 AM is the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. Your correspondent won’t be going all out like Frances, but being something of a city history junkie, your correspondent will be getting his ass up before dawn and heading down to Lotta’s Fountain. If you’ll be around, look for the guy with the headphones and the digital camera. Your correspondent hopes that a Lotta Crabtree type or two will perform.

More Author Interviews

I stumbled across Charlie Ruas, a guy who’s talked with David Shipler, Dave King, Lily Tuck, A.S. Byatt and many others. Unfortunately, Ruas is a bit of a frightening interviewer. He speaks in a slow and booming baritone that must be heard to be believed, e-nunc-ee-a-ting each word as if about to take the pulpit. An idle thought: must all literary interviewers be so intense (perhaps the word humorless applies) about literature? Writers are, by their very craft, playful folks. Shouldn’t they be entitled to a bit of playful banter every now and then?

Working Theory

Your advocate, who has spent his Saturday night finalizing his taxes, isn’t so much in a joyous mood (sadly, he has to pay), but is greatly relieved that it’s all over (a pox upon you: Schedule CA (540)!) and is, as a result, unusually jocose.

I put forth the following quandry to the prosecution: Have the critics savaged Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt because The Intuitionist and John Henry Days are both damn good novels and quite possibly, at least in this advocate’s opinion, exceptionally brilliant? Is it because Apex does not live up to these two shining beacons of virtuousity?

Corollary: To what degree can a lesser work by a great novelist be forgiven? Did the critics go after Faulkner because The Hamlet didn’t measure up to The Sound and the Fury? Did they not understand that setting down Snopes in early form might have been a way to get to Intruder in the Dust or the next two (better) books in the Snopes trilogy? And even if some of you in the jury might be snobbish enough to think that everything Faulkner put out after 1940 (a lot of it mysteries) isn’t really worth contemplating, to what extent does the literary community and this court by proxy have to consider good (but not great) works from its authors with less alacrity than the norm? I do not suggest handicaps. I suggest context or a more rigorous study of an artist’s work, if charges are to be leveled against my client. How can the vast divide between the masterpieces which an author puts out early in his career be corraled with the “good but lesser” works he puts out later? How can an author maintain any sense of ambition or evolution when the later works don’t live up to critical and scholarly expectations?

It’s a disingenuous charge that the prosecution puts out, your honor. They want to nail these “early bloomers” to the wall. They’ve gone after Dave Sim for his muddled politics in the latter part of Cerebus, failing to consider the accomplishment of his artwork. They’ve gone after Jane Campion because her most recent films don’t live up to An Angel at My Table or The Piano, even when the later films contain clear flashes of brilliance (such as the vibrant reds and greens of In the Cut and the daring sexual politics of Holy Smoke). And they declare Apex as “technical artistry [which] is in the service of unremarkable themes and ideas,” a book that involves “watching Whitehead sketch out a minor character’s essence with one stroke, while breathtaking, makes one wish the same treatment was afforded the people who ostensibly inhabit the novel’s complex ideas,” and dismiss the plaintiff’s work as “admirable ambition.”

But are these really charges with which to castigate the plaintiff? Does it allow for a proper exegesis? Even if the prosecution wishes to condemn the artist, does it not make sense to give the accused some benefit of the doubt in light of honorable standing and past accomplishments?

I do not wish to curtail rigorous and often vicious criticism, your honor. I merely wish to point out that sometimes a book is more than just a disappointment. And it is worth understanding why a book has failed within the context of previous offerings rather resorting to the altogether too easy approach of casual dismissal.

Cool as Hell, Pinky’s Doing Swell

Michael Rice, who stunned listeners earlier this week with his dramatic departure into Masterpiece Theatre territory (without so much as a set of Retarded Ass Questions!), talks with his first repeat guest, Ms. Liebe (“I’m not really a director. I’m just an object choreographer”) Wetzel, she of Lunatique Fantastique. The real question now is whether Cool as Hell Theatre or Bat Segundo will hit Show #50 first. My money’s on Michael.

And in other news, it looks like Pinky’s hit the big time, with appearances on NPR and Theory Radio.