Monthly Archives: March 2011

Review: Black Sun by Goodrich-Clarke

Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

This is the first time two people associated with Fox Hill are writing a review of the same book, and, of course, its got to be a book about esoteric Hitler cults. We really aren’t this weird people – honest.

Charm laid out the nature of this book well in his review. It is an overview of Nazi inspired right wing lunatics of the post World War II era, covering the heavy hitters and some lesser known individuals. It is a very well researched account of world for which it is difficult to get information, but it is also dry, and skims too lightly over the biographies of these people for my taste. While I think it is important to seriously engage with lunatic ideas about Nazis in Antarctica, I don’t necessarily want to read fifty pages about it. I’d recommend it for the person deeply interested in the lunatic fringe of the right, but perhaps not for the average reader.

A thought on the substance of the book: Much of post WWIII Nazism is enraptured with a mystical religious understanding of Hitler and Nazism. There is much talk in this book about Hitler as a Hindu avatar, Hitler as an alien intelligence, Hitler as a blah blah blah.. What all of this does it put distance between the reality of Hitler as the mastermind of one of the greatest genocides in history and the “theoretical” Hitler of Julius Evola’s books. Goodrick-Clarke hints at this, but is too much of an even keel academic to say what needs to be said – by placing a mystical veneer on the man’s action, you can attempt to cloud the history and make the man more than a murder. This mysticalization of Hitler and Nazism is a dangerous trend in modern ultra right politics, and one that needs to be combated with the cold hard truth that Hitler was just a sociopath, nothing more.

– Sean

Amazon: Tops in Racist Fiction (?)

Do you remember a few months back when Amazon pulled a Kindle book called The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct? If not, refresh your memory here.

That was not the only time Amazon played content cop with the titles it sells: it’s also yanked incest and rape fiction, although the diligent fan of both can still find plenty of titles for sale.

This isn’t really a problem. Amazon is a private company, and can decide to sell what it wants, whether via traditional hard copies, the Kindle store, or its CreateSpace print-on-demand service. But when you start deciding that some books aren’t fit for public consumption, you open yourself to questions about why some books get the axe and others don’t.

In an interesting post on its Hatewatch blog, the Southern Poverty Law Center  asks why (inarguably objectionable) titles like the pedophilia guide get yanked, but novels like White Apocalypse, self-published through CreateSpace, are still sold on Amazon. Haven’t heard of White Apocalypse? Here’s the SPLC’s description:

White Apocalypse is centered on the “Solutrean Hypothesis,” a theory that has almost zero support among anthropologists but bravely insists that whites from Europe managed to cross the North Atlantic to North America 15,000 to 17,000 years ago, thus becoming the real “Native Americans.” … The book’s hero is a white man on a mission to give the hypothesis a fair hearing – but in order to do so, he must vanquish his “evil, anti-western” opponents at the Atlanta-based “Center for Diversity and Multiculturalism” —  an organization that bears a striking resemblance to the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center. It even includes characters clearly based on Mark Potok, the director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, and Heidi Beirich, its director of research. The book contains a graphic description of the Potok character’s assassination at the hands of the hero.

Sounds like quite the page-turner! There are, of course, dozens and dozens of noxious racist titles for sale on Amazon, from old standbys like The Turner Diaries and Mein Kampf to lesser known books like the demented race war fantasy novels of prolific author Harold Covington. So why are pedophiles barred from peddling their screeds, but not the night garden of anti-Semites, esoteric Hitlerists, and would-be ethnic cleansers highlighted by the SPLC post?

This is no call for Amazon to pull those books from sale. I don’t really care what the literary-minded neofascist is using to stock his bunker this spring, and I don’t think books do more damage than other forms of media. But the SPLC raises an interesting point that should give pause to other companies that aim to draw a line in the dirt: if you’re willing to start down that road, be prepared to explain why you decide to halt.

(V. Charm)

Where’s Chris Onstad? (UPDATED with answer)

On March 16, the administrator of a Facebook fan community called “Achewood: A Momentary Distraction on the Road to the Grave,” posted a terse update, the first time in over a month anything had been written on the page: “The hiatus is hella lame!” A few dozen people chimed in to agree, with comments like “In limbo, thinking about the back of a van” and “oh uh yeah.” To an outsider, the whole thing would have been incomprehensible, which only added to the tragedy: the best humorist in the country has been essentially AWOL for months, and no one has noticed except Internet people.

When Chris Onstad began the online comic strip “Achewood” in the fall of 2001, it was little more than a hastily illustrated collection of private jokes and surreal punch lines, more a project to share with friends and family than something with the potential to become one of the best works of American fiction since the end of the Cold War. Yet that’s exactly what it became over 10 years, as Onstad’s cast of anthropomorphic, frequently drunk animals evolved into characters so rich and dynamic they’d be the envy of any of the New Yorker’s “20 under 40” crowd.

Webcomics have a signal-to-noise ratio roughly equivalent to their in-print cousins: a handful of greats, a significant percentage of perfectly good stuff that you forget about immediately after reading it, and a huge amount of work so bad it routinely makes you regret that the hippies smuggled the First Amendment into the Constitution. This was even truer when “Achewood” began, a time when roughly 80 percent of all webcomics were about elves having sex with each other.

Continue reading

No One Will Think About the Beauty of a Kindle in 100 Years

From a 1910 issue of the Mystic Light Library Bulletin of NY. Leave it to occultists to treat books and their book collections with this much respect.

-The Filled Slip

Comic Strip Tropes: The Silent Penultimate Panel

There are few chunks of media real estate more imperiled than space in the print edition of your local newspaper. For over two decades now, the actual physical paper has been shrinking both in page size and number of pages as advertisements and circulation figures drop. As a result, that space has become more precious than ever: fewer stories, fewer photos, fewer graphics mean everyone has to redouble their efforts to justify what they propose to put in between the tire ads. Knowing that, what would you do with a slot in hundreds of newspapers every week? Would you try to cram as much as you can into the shrinking space you occupy, hoping to maximize your limited resource? Or would you regularly devote between a third and a quarter of your alloted space to wordless filler? If you’re like a startling number of American newspaper cartoonists, you already know the answer to this. Behold, the Silent Penultimate Panel:

This phenomenon was first drawn to my attention years ago by a blog, now sadly defunct, dedicated to chronicling its startlingly regular appearance in the comics section of America.

Essentially, the silent penultimate panel functions as a comedic pause for effect in the dialogue of the strip, to further set up a punch line. In a four-panel strip, it works like this: premise, setup, silent panel, punch line. This is done by hack cartoonists and by great ones.

In theory, this is a perfectly valid comedic device, but its sheer regularity suggests a less happy conclusion: the silent penultimate panel is nothing but padding by artists who can’t figure out how to fill even the limited space they’re allotted.

That’s because the silent penultimate panel is often identical, in art, to the panels that surround it, except devoid of any dialogue or narration. It’s the printed version of dead air. In an age of newspaper austerity, it is the ultimate extravagant gesture: “I could put in more words or different art here,” it says, “but instead, I just cut and pasted the image from panel two and took out the dialogue box.”

The silent penultimate panel is an indicator of badly paced jokes. I say “jokes” because the silent penultimate panel never appears in the soap opera strips; because those strips have to advance a narrative (at what is often a glacial-seeming pace, especially in the tedious world of Rex Morgan, M.D.), they can’t afford to waste space on a blank panel that contains no new information.

Gag-a-day strips, though, lean on the silent penultimate panel all the time. The essential structure of a gag-a-day strip is simple: setup followed by punchline. This is so simple that, incredibly, sometimes artists can’t even figure out a way to stretch it to three panels.

There are structural ways to overcome this problem without regular recourse to the silent penultimate panel: “Shoe” has become a two-panel strip, with the setup appearing in the first panel and the punch line following in the second panel. “Mallard Fillmore,” a strip I loathe, has nevertheless accommodated its paucity of narrative direction by becoming a one-panel strip that contains a word balloon or two along with a credibly-executed drawing of a duck watching television. Take a look at the three examples above: all would work just as well with two panels, but for some reason (pride? habit?) they were stretched out to three.

I’m not suggesting some kind of “rule” against the silent penultimate panel. Used sparingly, it’s fine as a placeholder in a larger storyline, and there are times when it can even advance the story or provide information without dialogue in an effective way. A good recent example of this comes to us, not surprisingly, from the bleak mind of Tom Batiuk, who used a silent penultimate panel in “Crankshaft” (the “funny” strip in the “Funky Winkerbean” universe) to establish the “humorous” premise of a week’s worth of strips: an old woman falls on some ice and waits vainly for anyone to rescue her. That Batiuk always cracks me up!

Once you’ve thought about the silent penultimate panel, you start noticing it everywhere. The comics in this entry were taken from a two-week period, and I could have included more. There are, although it may be hard to believe, artists all over the country bursting at the seams with ideas for comic strips, who would vomit in a bag and mail it to their grandparents for a chance at the exposure most of these comics have. It must be profoundly irritating for them to open the paper in the morning and see the haves of the newspaper comic world phone it in so frequently.

(V. Charm)

Remaindered: If You Were Enlightened, You Wouldn’t Find My Books Weird

I look to GoogleBooks and the advanced search feature of for running keyword searches and finding the research equivalent to a needle in a haystack. Did anyone in the 60s or 70s mention this one specific author or word? In a few seconds, you can find out. Unfortunately, between the two sites there are some big gaps: cheap paperbacks being one, and books that are too old to have been written in a digital format but too young to be in the public domain are another. In an attempt to cheaply bridge that gap for some research I was doing on yoga in the late 60s and early 70s, I started buying up cheap lots of books on yoga off of eBay and scanning through their indexes. I got some great hits for the research, but also scored some amazing, weird books.

I don’t know if Archie Bahm could have imagined that four decades later the world would be flooded by similar images.

As funky as the cover of the next book is, I still find it gorgeous.

You’re not getting dizzy, you’re getting enlightened.

And by “beauty” we mean “your ass.”

Namaste, nerds.

-The Filled Slip

Better World, Same Grumpy and Cheap Me

I recently cashed in both a Barnes & Noble gift certificate and a recent Barnes & Noble Groupon. There was a short stack of books on the history of stage magic and memoirs of former cult members that I had wanted to get for a while, but didn’t have that burning “drive to the bookstore 40 minutes away to get a copy of it NOW” urge. I bought a total of six books from the vendor Better World Books, only to discover at the very end of the labyrinth-like checkout process that I had to pay shipping for each and every book coming from that one vendor. The books were $1 each, and the shipping was closer to $3 each.

Now for hardcover books only a year or two old, $4-5 a title is a great price to pay at a used bookstore, but for some reason the lack of combined shipping bothered me especially when all six titles showed up at my doorstep today in one damn box.

According to their website, Better World Books has recycled about 50 million used books and raised about $9 million for libraries and literacy programs. Maybe I should just shut up and consider it money well spent.

-The Filled Slip

Review: Richard III

Richard the Third, William Shakespeare, Folger Edition

Richard the III is one of the most quoted of all Shakespeare’s plays (“My kingdom for a horse!), it is a title role all serious Shakespearean actors wish to play, and it is a huge step forward in the Bard’s writing from the Henry VI trilogy. This is the fourth play by the Bard I have read, and the first one I can say I actually enjoyed.

What is it about RIII that makes it so popular and so much better than the Bards earlier works? Some of the reasons are simple technical improvements in the construction. The HVI plays have enormous casts of characters and plots (such as they are) that wind this way and that r, major events happen suddenly and with little flourish, and long periods of time are spent on subplots and diversions. The HVI plays have too many battle scenes and too few insights into the motivations of the characters. RIII is slimmed down to a smaller cast, and more linear plot centered, like most of the best Shakespeare plays, on a single character. Start to finish this is the story of one thing – Richard and his rise to power.

The smaller cast and more focused plot give this play better definition, but what makes it a classic is Richard. Richard III, as created by Shakespeare, is such a captivating character that he has already overtaken my review of Henry VI Part III. As I mentioned there, the historical Richard almost surely wasn’t the maniacal, murdering, evil genius of Shakespeare’s play, but that doesn’t matter. The true nature of the historical Richard is lost to history. What we are left with is the Richard of the play, a man of almost pure evil. He seduces a widow while she accompanies the body of her dead husband, he kills children, all in the pursuit of power which he holds for a very short time.

Richard is a nasty, nasty man, and we love him for it. Or rather we love watching him behave so wickedly. In his plotting for power Richard is the Id gone wild. Richard is an exemplification of our desires for power above all else. It is disgusting and horrific and we cannot stop talking about it. My reaction to him reminds me of my reaction to Charlie Sheen. I hate him, think he is loathsome, and cannot turn away.

While audiences love seeing Richard’s rise to power through wickedness, vicariously living through a man willing to do anything to get what he wants, we love watching him met his violent end. Because while we may enjoy watching Richard be nasty or Sheen behaving like a sex crazed madman, we wouldn’t like the story unless it ended badly for the protagonist.

If I Smoked, I Would Have A Cigarette After Doing This

The pleasure of taking out the books, dusting the shelves, organizing the titles and then lining them all up in flush, straight lines.


Nerdsdropping: Overread in DC

I spend a good portion of my day schlepping from Maryland to Northern Virginia on the DC Metro, which gives me nearly two hours a day to read and nap while pretending to read.

The Metro is also a good place to do some nerdsdropping on my fellow readers. Having lived in America’s most highly educated metropolis for over a year now, I thought I would take nourishment from the vibrant intellectual capital that surrounds me and see what my fellow DC nerds are reading.

So what are all these uptight smart-looking, bifocaled Beltway types around me reading? Turns out to mostly be reports on really boring topics like emergency preparedness and Stieg Larsson. Almost dangerous quantities of Stieg Larsson.

During my week of creepy book-leering, I have discovered that the taste of the average DC reader is–how do I put this?–bad. For instance, the title of a book like The Art of Racing In the Rain actually sounds kind of poetic–until you look it up and discover it’s a blatant Marley and Me cute doggie ripoff.  Scratch that off my “possible read” list.

I did like that a punked out kid with a shirt that read vegan and tattoos up and down his face–including a conspicuous lotus flower on his chin–was reading the A Year of Living Biblically. Meanwhile his slightly less punked out boyfriend sat next to him reading trash about vampires. I suspect it’s just a matter of time before these two go from totally straight edge to handing out Chick pamphlets on the street.

Of all the books whose titles I was able to see, only Updike’s Rabbit is Rich and Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, a nonfiction account of the devastation of the Dust Bowl, struck me as potential books to track down.

I think I can now go back to ignoring my fellow passengers in peace.