Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

[sheepman] Blogging about blogging - venial division

In a RL conversation about blogging and this blog in particular, some questions were raised as the the relative opaqueness of some of the category titles I use. One one wag said, "I know four-color ma means comics, but I have no idea why." Here, then, is a bit of an explication that maybe reveals more about my sensibilities and idiosyncrasies than it illuminates the blog itself.

Plainclothes Monk: I think I made the monk part of this title pretty clear in the introduction post, but the plainclothes part might be more obscure. I was trying to get across the sense of my not being a formal adherent to any particular organized practice or, for that matter, not even a very strong practitioner of an individual system - a civilian, if you will, with, at most, some monkish leanings. Truth to tell, I am not perfectly satisfied with this title; I was looking for a dactyl (three syllables with the first accented) to place before monk, to get the euphony of Bulletproof Monk, but could not find a word that matched both the mood and the form.

Four-color Ma: Four-color has often been used as a shorthand for comics; it refers to the old-school coloring process for comic books. Back in the day, comics were printed with four plates, one for each CMYK ink (roughly blue, red, yellow, and black). In the old days, the only variable was how many dots of each ink would be applied, and the degrees of variation were only in 25% chunks. So a 75% blue and 25% yellow would get a green, and a 75% red and 25% yellow would get an orange. You can start tinkering around with the math and see how few colors they actually had to work with; this goes along way toward explaining the universally perceived sensibility of comics, so easily parodied in pop art.

The ma part is a little harder to explain. Ma is a Japanese word that means something like space or gap or distance or emptiness; used in discussing art, the closest equivalent might be negative space, but it's not exactly that. Ma is the sense that a house is not its walls, but the space enclosed by its walls; that a pitcher is not the clay, but the volume that the clay surrounds. It is an important concept in the minimalist/formalist Japanese arts such as ikebana, kabuki, and calligraphy. It resonated with me as an important concept regarding comics, which were called by Scott McCloud "The Invisible Art." McCloud expressed in Understanding Comics that much of the art of comics happens in the gutters - that space between the panels that hold the drawings and the words. It is in that gap, that emptiness, that space, that the reader's imagination completes the art begun by the cartoonist. To me, that sounds a lot like ma.

Disclaimer: As Lou said to Bud, I don't even know what I'm talking about. After I do more (and more significant) research, I may have a whole post just on ma.

Rhythmic Gymnastics with Apparatus: This is a shout-out to my favorite event of the summer Olympics; I am using it here as the avatar for all cool and quirky pop culture. Wikipedia says that this is "a sport in which single competitors or pairs, trios or even more (generally five) manipulate one or two apparatus: rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon. Rhythmic Gymnastics [...] combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, theatrical dance, and apparatus manipulation." What this really means is that you can watch some girl take a hula hoop, throw it in the air with all her might, do a tumbling routine across the floor, and then spring up and extend her arm, without looking, just in time for the hoop to fall right into it, like she was Captain America recovering his mighty shield. There's nothing cooler or quirkier than that.

Men in Skirts: I deliberately chose a title for this category that was provocative in regards to gender constructs, since that is where discussions of kilt-wearing often lead. I wish I could say that it was my invention, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a special exhibition some years ago called Bravehearts: Men in Skirts. The museum addressed more than just Utilikilts in their show, but it was also focused on "skirts as a means of injecting novelty into male fashion, as a means of transgressing moral and social codes, and as a means of redefining an ideal masculinity." It seems to fit, and it gets me a lot of hits.

Blockhead Rhetoric: This is the name of my "business" of grant writing, editing, and private writing instruction. It seemed important to be to develop this enterprise when I was an adjunct teacher, but I soon was teaching almost more classes than I could handle, so it fell by the wayside. Now, on the tenure-track, I don't have the time or energy to restart it, but in a year or so, who knows? The name itself comes from a quotation of Samuel Johnson, the legendary writer, literary critic, and originator of the first English language dictionary: No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for the money. I thought it captured my relationship to writing on several different levels: the sense that I am a task- and audience-oriented writer, rather than a creative writer; the connection between writing and commerce (including grants there); and a little bit of self-deprecation (I hope). I don't know if it's the best business name, but then I have never been a very good entrepreneur anyway.

Jet City: Did you know that way back when, in the previous century, the Boeing Company, a Chicago aerospace firm, actually had its corporate headquarters in Seattle? It's true! In fact, before computers, coffee, and microbrews, Seattle was an aviation town through-and-through, a city whose economic and cultural fortunes were tied to the rise and fall of the aeronautics industry. Really! Ask some old folks, they'll tell you.

The Sheepman: This category title is pure pun, the lowest form of humor: idle thinking is woolgathering right, so sheep, wool, sheepman -- get it? Yeah, I know. But it's also a shout-out to one of my favorite movies, The Sheepman, starring Glenn Ford and Shirley McClaine. It's a whimsical little film, with Ford as a reluctant sheepherder and McClaine as the woman of dubious virtue who becomes his ally in a sheep-cow conflict, but it's less about plot and more about character, with fun lines like this exchange between McClaine and Ford:
--Was he very bad?
--Well, let's just say that he wasn't in any danger of getting a headache from the weight of all the gold stars on his crown.

Well, I like it. And its lightweight nature makes it a perfect label for lightweight posts.

Like this one.