Category Archives: Art

Turn Off The Spiderman Musical

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

With a history of sending spandex-clad stunt doubles hurtling towards earth and terrible buzz, there was little suspense about how the nation’s top theater critics would review Julie Taymor’s latest musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. On Monday night, they posted their reviews, breaking an embargo that was supposed to last until the show opens on March 15, and it became clear that the true contest was to see which critic could craft the most withering put-down.

Patrick Healy at NYT:

“Spider-Man” has not even officially opened yet. The date has been delayed five times to fix myriad problems, with Sunday afternoon being preview performance No. 66 and the opening planned for Monday night being pushed back five more weeks to March 15. But this $65 million musical has become a national object of pop culture fascination — more so, perhaps, than any show in Broadway history.

Starting with Conan O’Brien’s spoof of Spider-Man warbling in rhyme on Nov. 30, two nights after the musical’s problem-plagued first preview, the show has been lampooned on every major late-night comedy show and by The Onion, which portrayed the producers as still being optimistic about the show despite a nuclear bomb’s detonating during a preview. Recently, Steve Martin slyly referred to it in a series of tweets about watching the “Spider-Man” movies at home.

“Settling in to watch Spiderman 3 on deluxe edition DVD, but I fell from hanging cables in screening room. 2 hour delay,” he wrote.

Media celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Glenn Beck and the hosts of “Morning Joe” have all raved about the musical, especially Mr. Beck, who said in an interview on Friday that he had seen it four times.

Mr. Beck has framed its appeal on his radio broadcast as a face-off between regular Americans and cultural snobs (i.e., liberals). In the interview, however, he was more fanboy than fire breather, rattling off plot points and design elements with the practiced eye of a Sardi’s regular.

“The story line is right on the money for today, which is to be your better self, that you can spiral into darkness or — ” here he quoted one of the show’s anthemic songs — “you can rise above,” said Mr. Beck, who estimated that he sees a dozen shows a year. “In fact, I just wrote an e-mail to Julie” — Ms. Taymor — “about how much I loved the new ending.”

Last month, “Spider-Man” became the first Broadway show since “The Producers” to land on the cover of The New Yorker; the cartoon, by Barry Blitt, who also did “The Producers” cover in 2001, showed several injured Spider-Men in a hospital ward.

“For our cover we always ask ourselves, would our one million readers know what we were making reference to?” said Francoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker. “But in no time at all, ‘Spider-Man’ has gotten enough notoriety that we knew the cover would make people laugh. Even the show’s producers laughed; they’ve been hounding us to buy copies of the artwork.”

Nina Shen Rastogi at Slate:

Reading through the reviews this morning, it became clear that the main character in this drama isn’t Peter Parker—it’s Julie Taymor. Theater directors rarely receive the kind of mainstream attention that their Hollywood brethren do. (Do you know who Daniel Sullivan is?) But in this case, the specter of steely, uncompromising Taymor looms large over the critical discussion.

There’s a reason for this: Spider-Man is very clearly Taymor’s production, stamped with her trademark mix of spectacle and folklore. (She first gained widespread fame for her shadow-puppets-on-the-savannah production of The Lion King.) And she seems to have created a proxy for herself with Arachne, Spider-Man‘s ancient, eight-legged antagonist.

Scott Brown at New York Magazine:

Some of my colleagues have wondered aloud whether Spider-man will ever be finished — whether it is, in fact, finishable. I think they’re onto something: I saw the show on Saturday night, and found it predictably unfinished, but unpredictably entertaining, perhaps on account of this very quality of Death Star–under–construction inchoateness. Conceptually speaking, it’s closer to a theme-park stunt spectacular than “circus art,” closer to a comic than a musical, closer to The Cremaster Cycle than a rock concert. But “closer” implies proximity to some fixed point, and Spider-man is faaaar out, man. It’s by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar.

But never, ever boring. The 2-D comic art doesn’t really go with Julie Taymor’s foamy, tactile puppetry, just as U2’s textural atmo-rock score doesn’t really go with the episodic Act One storytelling. Yet even in the depths of Spider-man‘s certifiably insane second act, I was riveted. Riveted, yes, by what was visible onstage: the inverted Fritz Lang cityscapes, the rag doll fly-assisted choreography, the acid-Skittle color scheme and Ditko-era comic-art backdrops. But often I was equally transfixed by the palpable offstage imagination willing it all into existence. See, Spider-man isn’t really about Spider-man. It’s about an artist locked in a death grapple with her subject, a tumultuous relationship between a talented, tormented older woman and a callow young stud. Strip out the $70 million in robotic guywires, Vari-lites, and latex mummery, and you’re basically looking at a Tennessee Williams play.

Kamelia Angelova at Business Insider:

We loved the show, and here is why we think people will see it:

• Flying is awesome.

There are aerial acrobatics; airborne fight scenes; the actors fly up and land among the audience. The wires are visible but don’t obstruct any of the view or movements of the actors.

• The story is familiar, yet fresh.

It is based on the classic comic books, and the movie, so the audience knows what to expect — nerdy Peter Parker gets bit by a mutating spider and acquires superpowers. After his uncle is killed, he becomes a crusader against crime. And, of course, Peter is in love aspiring actress Mary Jane who is in love with Spiderman.

Spiderman faces off with a bunch of villains, most notably the Green Goblin.

There are only two new story elements that the writers have introduced: the Geek Chorus — four teenagers that are obviously creating/narrating the story of Spiderman that unfolds before our eyes; and a new villain — Arachne, a character from Greek mythology, that tempts Spiderman to give in to his powers and cross over to some abstract dimension to become her boyfriend.

These new elements make Spiderman: The Musical fresh and different that the usual Spiderman adaptation. And who is to complain about an old-fashion love triangle plot?

• The sets are creative.

Unfolding backdrops, huge video screens; most of the set invokes the theme that this is a comic book story. The sets move surprisingly quickly, given how massive and detailed they are.

• The music is by Bono and The Edge.

The songs are very U2 and very rock at times, and it’s loud. As it should be.

• The cast

My favorite were the villains — the Green Goblin and Arachne.

• The choreography

Cool slow motion sequences.

• It’s the most expensive show ever.

With a price tag of $65 million, this is indeed the most expensive Broadway show ever produced — which is another reason why tourists and locals alike would flock to see it and judge it for themselves.

The show needs to make about $1 million a week to break even, and should run about 2-3 years to be profitable. Since the start of the previews in December 2010, Spiderman’s weekly gross earning have been about $1.2 million on average.

So if there are no more injuries, and the production irons out the technical glitches that do occur and are tolerable during previews but will be unacceptable once the show opens, Spiderman should pull through for its investors (who include theater veterans like James Nederlander and Terry Allan Kramer, as well as Disney via its acquisition of Marvel, the franchise for the Spiderman comics.)

Sorry, esteemed Broadway critics, but we are with Glenn Beck on this one.

Brian Clark at Movieline:

And so, while we usually reserve our “Most Scathing Reviews” feature for movies, we’ll make an exception for this Broadway production that seems to wish it was a movie.9. “Never mind turning off the dark. I spent much of this dreadful new musical muttering Please, Lord, make it stop.” — Charles Spencer, The Telegraph

8. “For without a book with consistent rules that a mainstream audience can follow and track, without characters in whom one can invest emotionally, without a sense of the empowering optimism that should come from time spent in the presence of a good, kind man who can walk up buildings and save our lousy world from evil, it is all just clatter and chatter.” — Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune

7. “Spider-Man is chaotic, dull and a little silly. And there’s nothing here half as catchy as the 1967 ABC cartoon theme tune.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

6. “More dispiriting is the music… [Bono and the Edge] transformed their sound into stock Broadway schlock pop—sentimental wailing from the early Andrew Lloyd Webber playbook, winceable lyrics and the kind of thumpa-thumpa music that passes for suspense in action flicks.” — Linda Winer, Newsday

5. “Or wait, maybe the bottom of the barrel is a weird on-the-runway sequence, in which a cadre of second-tier villains with names like Swiss Miss and Carnage do a bit of high-fashion sashaying. In the running, too, is a bizarre military number, as well as the first-act closer, a rip-off of a Rodgers and Hart song. The latter is sung by – get out your score cards – the other main-event evildoer, the Green Goblin, a former scientist played by the talented classical actor Patrick Page.” — Peter Marks, The Washington Post

4. “Who exactly is “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” for anyway? The only answer I can come up with is an audience of Julie Taymor types who care only about panoramic sensibility— a bit of slow-mo choreography here, a smattering of diabolical mask work there. Much as I enjoyed the clever shifts in perspective during the skyscraper scenes, it was hard for me to picture adults or young people yearning for a second visit, never mind critics who may feel obliged to check back in with the production when (or should I say if?) it officially opens. Nothing cures the curiosity about “Spider-Man” quite like seeing it.” — Charles McNulty, The LA Times

3. “After all this expenditure of talent and money, “Spider- Man” is probably unfixable because too much has gone into making humans fly, which is not what they are good at. It imitates poorly what the “Spider-Man” movies do brilliantly with computer graphics — and without putting live actors in jeopardy.” — Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg

2. “This production should play up regularly and resonantly the promise that things could go wrong. Because only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right — if, by right, one means entertaining. So keep the fear factor an active part of the show, guys, and stock the Foxwoods gift shops with souvenir crash helmets and T-shirts that say “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and lived.” Otherwise, a more appropriate slogan would be “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and slept.” — Ben Brantley, New York Times

1. “It’s by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar…At this point, I honestly hope they never fix the (non-injurious) glitches: They puncture the show’s pretense and furnish meta-theatrical opportunities that can’t be staged. We’ve had Epic Theater, we’ve had Poor Theater — is this the dawn of Broken Theater?” — Scott Brown, From his review in New York Magazine, which is actually neither negative, positive or even neutral, but seems to sum up the irrationality of the whole enterprise better than any other.

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And He Was Installing The Alarm System, Too…

Melissa Bell at WaPo:

One oft-told tale of Pablo Picasso is that when presented with a bill at a bar, he’d whip off a sketch on a napkin, sign and date it, and the bill would be considered paid. The artist produced some 20,000 pieces of work in his long life, the Metropolitan Museum of Art told the Associated Press. And 271 of those pieces have just been discovered in a trunk at a retired French electrician’s home.

Jeff Neumann at Gawker:

A retired French electrician, Pierre Le Guennecsays he has “hundreds” of Picasso paintings, notebooks, lithographs and a watercolor believed to be worth around 60 million euros, which he claims Picasso gave him as a gift. Picasso’s son disagrees.

Tyler Cowen

Kate Deimling at Art Info:

Including lithographs, paintings, drawings, and a Blue Period watercolor — none of which appears in the inventory of Picasso’s estate — the trove is valued at €60 million ($79 million), according to French paper Libération, which broke the story. Experts estimate the nine Cubist collages alone to be worth €40 million ($53 million). The 71-year-old electrician managed to have the works authenticated by the artist’s estate in September, but the estate subsequently sued for possession of stolen goods and the works were seized last month by the Office Central de Lutte contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels, the French art-trafficking squad.

Jonathan Turley:

The very notion of 271 new Picasso paintings is amazing. The man worked for Picasso in the 1970s and this could create a fascinating contest over credibility if has no written record. The absence of any prior disclosure certainly makes the claim somewhat suspicious. Such cases can become the ultimate jury question — with members looking at the practices of the artist. It is quite common for many artists to give away their works, even as payment for services. This number of paintings, however, would represent a lot of work or a lot of friendship. It is also striking that the paintings were not previously known to be missing.

Picasso died a few years later and was already an international superstar in the art field. This was not some starving painter trading paintings for baguettes. Moreover, it is hard to see how much of a friendship could have developed over the course of the installation of a security system. Of course, there is always the possibility that Picasso was simply eccentric and a bit daffy in his final years. Anyway it goes, it should make for an interesting tort or criminal case or both.

Jen Doll at Village Voice:

Aspiring screenwriters, take note. This is a plot goldmine.

Let the art ownership battle begin.

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Piss Christ, Part II: Antz

Penny Starr at Newsbusters:

The federally funded National Portrait Gallery, one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, is currently showing an exhibition that features images of an ant-covered Jesus, male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show’s catalog as “homoerotic.”

The exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” opened on Oct. 30 and will run throughout the Christmas Season, closing on Feb. 13.

“This is an exhibition that displays masterpieces of American portraiture and we wanted to illustrate how questions of biography and identity went into the making of images that are canonical,” David C. Ward, a National Portrait Gallery (NGP) historian who is also co-curator of the exhibit, told CNSNews.com.

crucifix 3  npg

A plaque fixed to the wall at the entrance to the exhibit says that the National Portrait Gallery is “committed to showing how a major theme in American history has been the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America’s promise of equality, inclusion, and social dignity. As America’s museum of national biography, the NPG is also vitally interested in the art of portrayal and how portraiture reflects our ideas about ourselves and others.

crucifix 4

An ant-covered Jesus/crucifix in “A Fire in My Belly” video, part of the ‘Hide/Seek’ exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

Victor Davis Hanson at Pajamas Media:

Its title is coyly encrypted in postmodern bipolarity: “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” And the exhibition apparently is full of Mapplethorpe-inspired gay-related imagery and offers us an image of Jesus being swarmed over by ants. Clever, brave, bold, shocking. Or in the words of the overseers of the federally-subsidized National Portrait Gallery, such artistic courage proves how the gallery is now “committed to showing how a major theme in American history has been the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America’s promise of equality, inclusion, and social dignity.”

But once more all that verbiage turns out to be just Sixties-ish lingo for about the same old, same old:

  1. Abject cowardice—since if a theme were really religious intolerance, why not portray Mohammed in lieu of Christ, inasmuch as contemporary Islam is far more intolerant of gays and liberated women than the so-called Christian West. Such a video might better exhibit just how “committed” these federal artistic bureaucrats were to “equality, inclusion, and social justice.”
  2. Mediocrity—dressing up talentless soft-core pornographic expression with federal catch-phrases and subsidies ensures a venue for junk art that most otherwise would neither pay to see nor ever exhibit.
  3. Politics—all this is supposedly sort of revolutionary, full of neat phrases like “committed”, “struggle for justice”, “full inheritance”, “equality”, “inclusion”, and “social dignity”, and all the empty vocabulary that mostly upscale white nerds like a Bill Ayers employ when they want to tweak and embarrass the gullible liberals who support and pay for their nonsense.

The Jawa Report:

If these “artists” really wanted to be daring and controversial, they’d create an ant-covered Quran exhibit. But the cowards take the path of least resistance and then applaud their own courage in the face of minuscule risk.

Don Suber

Ann Althouse:

“If they’ve got money to squander like this – of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing…”

“… then I think we should look at their budget,” said Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, scaring the Smithsonian Institution into taking down the ants-on-Jesus video. Cowed, the Institution nevertheless defended the artist, whose “intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim.” The museum assures us it had no “intention to offend.”

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

Another turn in this story, again via CNS News, and in my opinion a hollow threat from John Boehner and Eric Cantor:

House Speaker-to-be John Boehner (R-Ohio) is telling the Smithsonian Institution to pull an exhibit that features images of an ant-covered Jesus or else face tough scrutiny when the new Republican majority takes control of the House in January. House Majority Leader-to-be Eric Cantor (R.-Va.), meanwhile, is calling on the Smithsonian to pull the exhibit and warning the federally funded institution that it will face serious questions when Congress considers the next budget.

CNSNews.com had asked both congressional leaders if the exhibit should continue or be cancelled and both indicated it should be cancelled. …

“Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington,” Smith said.

When asked to clarify what exactly Boehner meant by calling on the Smithsonian to “correct” their mistake with the exhibit, Smith said Boehner wanted the exhibit “cancelled.”

Cantor, meanwhile, said the exhibit should be “pulled.”

I’m sure some on the Left will scream censorship, but this is what happens when an institution takes money from the government, or anyone else. If the Smithsonian depended on big private donors to fund this junk, those big private donors would likely demand a say in what their money’s used for. Same with Congress, and not just in the arts. Whether you’re on welfare or a big corporation receiving subsidies, all taxpayer money comes with certain conditions.

The problem is that there’s no teeth behind this threat. The time to end the grossly immoral practice of funding the arts (and PBS) in every shape, manner and form was sometime between 2002 and 2006 when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. Pardon my cynicism, but if the Republicans didn’t have the sand to do it then, they sure don’t now with even less power; so you can bet the Smithsonian isn’t exactly shaking in their boots.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

Update:

That didn’t take too long. The ant-covered Jesus is now gone. From TBD.com:

The National Portrait Gallery has removed a work of art from a GLBT-themed exhibition after it attracted conservative and religious ire for its images of homosexuality and Christianity. Director Martin Sullivan announced the removal of A Fire in My Belly by artist David Wojnarowicz after conservative news service CNS wrote yesterday that the “Christmas-season exhibit,” which opened in October, used taxpayer money to indirectly fund an exhibition that includes imagery of genitalia, homoerotic situations, and Christ covered in ants.

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Captain America, Flag Or No Flag, Fights Fred Phelps

Geoff Boucher at LA Times:

The director of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the 2011 summer blockbuster that will coincide with the character’s 70th anniversary, says the screen version of the hero will be true to his roots — up to a certain point.

“We’re sort of putting a slightly different spin on Steve Rogers,” said Joe Johnston, whose past directing credits include Jurassic Park III and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” He’s a guy that wants to serve his country, but he’s not a flag-waver. We’re reinterpreting, sort of, what the comic book version of Steve Rogers was.”

None of that is surprising, of course — Christopher Nolan pared away significant parts of the Batman mythology (such as Robin the Boy Wonder and any super-powered villains) that didn’t fit his grim take on Gotham City, while Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. manufactured a version of Iron Man that is hard-wired for far more humor than the old-school Marvel Comics character.

Still, Captain America, with his name and history, is a sensitive case. A red-white-and-blue character that dates back to the Franklin Roosevelt era stirs up plenty of civic emotion — just take a look at the dust-up over the recent change to Wonder Woman’s costume. “Wonder Woman” comics are hardly a publishing-world  sensation these days but still, for a day or two, the whole world seemed to notice that she put on some pants.

Allah Pundit:

The movie’s set during World War II, so obviously we don’t want any jingoistic demonizing of the enemy happening. Question: If you want to make a superhero movie but you don’t want to be troubled with the hair-raising spectacle of out-and-proud patriotism, why the hell would you choose Captain America? Choose Aquaman instead and have him deliver the requisite lecture about fearing “The Other.” Granted, CA’s a symbolic character whom lefties would like to appropriate, but they’ve already been there and done that. Remember when Marvel was waging its anti-Bush crusade and had ol’ Cap martyred by a sniper’s bullet for championing civil liberties? Or how about earlier this year when they had him take on the greatest threat of our time, Al Qaeda Red China the tea-party movement? If Johnston’s hot to do some radical reinterpretation of Captain America, making him the flag-waving Nazi-smiter he started off as is about as radical at this point as you can get.

Weasel Zippers:

Only the liberals in Hollywood would change a classic comic book hero who (gasp) is patriotic and turn him into a character who “makes the rest of the world great”…

James Joyner:

If Johnson were re-imagining the character with an origin in 2010, on the other hand, the change would be perfectly natural.   American soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, very much think they’re the good guys.  But cynicism and ambiguity about the mission are part and parcel of their culture.

But a WWII Cap?  It doesn’t make sense.

Bob Calhoun at Salon:

If Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church had his way, God would be sending biblical plagues down upon the San Diego Convention Center right about now and turning hundreds of nerds dressed in Batman costumes into pillars of salt.

It’s the first full day of the San Diego Comic-Con. I was in front of the convention center, trying to cross the street against an unending tide of convention-goers carrying oversized bags stuffed with assorted plastic figurines and video games. As I made it to the crosswalk, I saw a man in a checkered shirt on the side of the road holding up a lime-green Day-Glo sign that read “GOD HATES KITTENS” with a picture of a cat pasted to it. I chuckled and snapped a couple of pictures of him. I’m taking a lot of pics at Comic-Con this year. Next to the man with the sign expressing the Lord’s hatred of baby felines was a person dressed like Bender, the robot from “Futurama,” holding up a sign that read “KILL ALL HUMANS!” I took some more pictures of the beginnings of a picket line bathed in satire.

I then saw a line of cops behind Bender the robot, and beyond them were the God Hates Fags people. Fred Phelps and his congregation from the Westboro Baptist Church took some time away from protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers to spend a little time waving their hateful placards in the general direction of Comic-Con and its annual mega-gathering of movie stars, geeks, nerds, Klingons, stormtroopers and multitudes of gals dressed in Princess Leia slave-girl outfits.

Moe Lane:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley…

“…of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for the Dark Knight is by my side.”

I normally would at least wag a finger there – it’s not unreasonable to find that at least a little rude – but it was in response to the Fred Phelps freaks showing up at a comic book convention, which means that context is going to come into play here.  Given that I’ve heard ordinary, decent Christians happily endorse the idea that a good curbstomping would be an excellent way to respond to the Phelps clan’s habit of protesting soldiers’ funerals, I think that we can forgive invoking the geek community’s invocation of Batman.

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America Has A Little Less Splendor Today

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up. Hudson:

Acclaimed comic-book author Harvey Pekar died Monday at the age of 70. He’s best known for his autobiographical comic series American Splendor, which was made into a 2003 film starring Paul Giamatti. In 1999, James Hynes described him as “thoughtful, articulate and, above all, angry, a rare and precious attribute in his age of yappie nihilism.”

Mel Valentin at Cinematical:

In sad, but not entirely unexpected news, Harvey Pekar, best known for his long-running American Splendor underground/indie comic book series, passed away early this morning at his home in Ohio. Pekar had been suffering from multiple illnesses, including prostrate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, and depression. He was 70.

Pekar began American Splendor in 1976 to document non-superheroic, everyday life, including his own, in his native hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, often with a caustic, acerbic, self-deprecatory wit. Pekar’s work attracted some of the most-respected and well-known names in underground and mainstream comics, including Robert Crumb, Alison Bechdel, Chester Brown, Greg Budgett, David Collier, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, Eddie Campbell, Gilbert Hernandez, and Ty Templeton. American Splendor’s last issue appeared in 2008.

Outside of underground comics, Pekar was best known for a recurring stint on the David Letterman show in the late 1980s. NBC eventually banned Pekar from appearing on the show due to a combination of Pekar’s open, combative style and repeated criticisms of NBC’s parent company, General Electric.

Popeater:

Pekar’s third wife is writer Joyce Brabner, with whom he collaborated on ‘Our Cancer Year,’ a graphic novel autobiography of his struggle with lymphoma. He lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with Brabner and their foster daughter, Danielle.

Pekar’s ‘American Splendor’ comics, which he began publishing in 1976, chronicle his grousing about work, money and the monotony of life. A wide range of illustrators contributed to its pages, most famously R. Crumb, who first met Pekar in Cleveland in the 1960s and encouraged him to turn the stories he gathered on his travels through the city into comics.

The books gained a cult following, ultimately helping change the way comic books were perceived. They were adapted into the 2003 film ‘American Splendor,’ starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar.

Kevin Fallon at The Atlantic

Kate Ward at Entertainment Weekly:

Following the sad passing of famed writer Harvey Pekar, friends have begun issuing statements mourning the beloved author of the American Splendor series, who passed away at age 70.

Paul Giamatti, who played Pekar in 2003′s American Splendor: “Harvey was one of the most compassionate and empathetic human beings I’ve ever met. He had a huge brain and an even bigger soul. And he was hilarious. He was a great artist, a true American poet, and there is no one to replace him.”

Jonathan Vankin, an editor at Vertigo who oversaw American Splendor and The Quitter: “I am terribly sad today. Working with Harvey Pekar was one of my first experiences at Vertigo and it’s still one of my best, not only in comics but in my life. Underneath the well-known gruff exterior, Harvey was a deeply compassionate person and of course, a brilliant mind. He created, almost single-handedly, an entirely new kind of comics and his commitment to what he did was absolute and uncompromising. We’ve all suffered a huge loss today, in comics of course, but also in American culture.”

Robert Pulcini, co-director of American Splendor: “Harvey Pekar was one of the few originals I’ve met in my life. He deserves to be remembered as the patron saint of Cleveland.”

Shari Springer Berman, co-director of American Splendor: “I am so sad. There will never be another Harvey Pekar. I hope he is in a place where there is a great jazz soundtrack, lots of good books, and he can make plenty of money.”

SEK at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Harvey Pekar wasn’t included on the list of people I’m officially allowed to mourn, but that doesn’t mean I won’t mourn his passing anyway. I first came to American Splendor too early—when I started reading Love and Rockets and Cerebus in 1993—and then too late—after the release of the film American Splendor in 2003—so while I understood it, I never truly “got” his appeal. I appreciated his ear for language, but as a teenager thought what it captured unworthy of print, and as a literary scholar had encountered many similarly talented ears and was, therefore, less impressed by it than I should have been. But when I read the news of his passing earlier today, I realized something:

I knew Harvey Pekar.

I didn’t know him know him, but like all of his readers, I knew him as well as you know me. Pekar was a proto-blogger, if you will, because he turned his life into something worthy of public consumption. Our Cancer Year is a grueling read not because all cancer entails struggle, but because the patient stricken with it is someone whose failed dreams, stunted career, and intimate thoughts are familiar to us. We may not have known Harvey Pekar, but we knew “Harvey Pekar,” and unlike artists for whom the distance between characters and self is meticulously kept, in this case it really is just a matter of quotation marks.

Rest in peace, Harvey. Lord knows you deserve some.

Brian Doherty at Reason:

He was a great and original jazz critic, an entertaining movie inspiration and “star,” the smartest and sharpest of David Letterman’s 1980s gang of real-world curiosities, and the prime original creative force and inspiration for one of the most important (though its dominance is sometimes overstated) trends in modern literary comics, the quotidian autobiography.

He was Harvey Pekar, and he died very early this morning at his Cleveland home.

Pekar was one of the few writers of whom I can say I can and do read everything he writes with great pleasure, whether it’s about the music of Sonny Stitt, the writings of I.J. Singer, or his trip to the market to buy bread.

I reviewed Pekar’s graphic biography of libertarian troublemaker Michael Malice at Reason Online.

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Spidey Sense Knows No Color

Marc Bernardin at Io9:

We just ran down the five bland white guys that are, reportedly, in the running to play Peter Parker in Sony’s Spider-Man reboot. Yawn. In this day and age, why does Spidey have to be a white guy?

Yes, I know: “Because that’s how Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created him.” There is no worse argument for anything than, “because that’s the way it’s always been.” Lee and Ditko created a wonderfully strong character, one full of complexity and depth, who happens to be white. In no way is Peter Parker defined by his whiteness in the same way that too many black characters are defined by their blackness. He’s defined by the people he cares for, by his career, by his identity as a New Yorker (incidentally, one of the most diverse cities in the world) — as too many good people died to prove, a man is defined by his choices, not by the color of his skin.

So why couldn’t Peter Parker be played by a black or a Hispanic actor? How does that invalidate who Peter Parker is? I’m not saying that the producers need to force the issue; that they need to cast a minority just for the sake of it — but in the face of such underwhelming options like Billy Elliot and the kid who played young Voldemort, why not broaden the search? It’s not like any of these blokes are lighting the world on fire like a young Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio.

And don’t tell me it’s because an actor of color would hurt the box office: Not only is Spider-Man one of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet, and managed to do just fine with Tobey “Snoozeville” Maguire playing him, whoever they cast WILL BE IN A MASK FOR HALF THE DAMNED MOVIE. AND ON THE POSTER.

Jamelle at PostBourgie:

Bernardin is right on target; most superheroes aren’t defined by their race or ethnicity (indeed, as he points out, the only exceptions are black heroes), and you wouldn’t lose anything by mixing up the racial background of a character. Indeed, changing the racial background of a character isn’t exactly new; in the 1970s, DC passed the Green Lantern’s power-ring to John Stewart, an African-American architect and Marine veteran. And in 2002, Marvel introduced “Ultimate” Nick Fury, a black version of their long-standing character modeled after Samuel L. Jackson. And as Bernardin points out, Marvel went even further with the limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, which told the story of Isaiah Bradley, the sole survivor of a group of black soldiers forced to act as test subjects for the super-soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.

You could easily pen a non-white Peter Parker that retains essence of the character while reflecting the fact that he is African-American. Black Peter Parker, for instance, might not have grown up in Forest Hills or attended Empire State University, but he would still be a struggling photographer with a good head for science, and a huge crush on Mary Jane Watson. I would welcome the director who cast a non-white Peter Parker, in lieu of another twenty-something white guy. And if there’s anything I’d worry about, it’s that screenwriters might try to add non-white “signifiers” to this hypothetical Peter Parker, with horrible results.

Caroline Stanley at Flavorwire:

Community’s Donald Glover wants to be the next Spider-Man. And he’s hoping a Facebook petition (Donald Glover 4 Spiderman!!) and Twitter campaign (#donald4spiderman) will at least get his foot in the door. “Some people are mistaken,” he has said. “I don’t want to just be given the role. I want to be able to audition. I truly love Spider-Man.”

As io9 notes, there’s nothing about Peter Parker’s history that requires him to be played by a white actor — other than tradition. We love Glover in Community, and from what we’ve heard about his performance in Mystery Team, he has the chops to carry a big-screen part. And he’s certainly more interesting to us than any of the other actors currently in talks for the role (sorry, Billy Elliot and young Voldemort).

Stephanie at Informavore:

I once read an interview with one of the DC Comics executives where they discussed interpretations, legacy characters, and the immutable elements of their mythologies.  He argued there are three elements in defining the way a character is represented: 1) the absolutes; 2) the negotiables; and 3) the things up for grabs.

[…]

As such, I feel it’s best to refer back to our three-tier system for understanding the mythology.

1.  The Absolutes
Teenage Peter Parker is raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben after the death of his parents.  On a field trip, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains superpowers.   To make money, he participates in underground wrestling matches.  When the owner cheats him, he lets a robber get away.  That robber later murders Uncle Ben.  Feeling responsible for his uncle’s death, he realizes “with great power comes great responsibility.”   Red and blue suit (though sometimes black), New York City, Daily Bugle, Mary Jane Watson, J. Jonah, Jameson, etc. are all part of the mythology.  You can’t replace these parts of the story.
Though Peter Parker has always been represented as white in the comics, I think it is fully reasonable to change the character’s ethnicity without destroying the core elements of the mythos.  Here’s why:
Peter grows up in the outer borough of New York City and becomes from an economically-disadvantaged background.  Family is an important part of his upbringing.  He works hard in school and hopes for a better life.  Due to short-sightedness, he takes the easy way out and makes the quick buck.  He suffers great loss due to senseless urban violence.  He deals with the mistrust of society because of his identity (Spider-Man, vigilante, masked hero).  Each of these elements are plausible within the context of an African-American character.  They are also plausible for a white or Latino character as well.   Superman might not work in the same way due to the Jewish overtropes and middle-America upbringing that are a part of the character’s creation.   Spider-Man could easily be an African-American teen.
For too long, comic scholars–both professional and casual–have lamented the white, homogeneous make-up of our superheroes.   Storm, Black Panther, Steel, and Green Lantern (Jon Stewart) are some of the most recognized heroes of color.  I was encouraged when WB decided to use Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes as a central character in the Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon series.  For every Great Ten, Super Young Team, and Global Guardians that comics produces, you have the senseless killing of Ryan Choi (The Atom) in order to return Ray Palmer to the spotlight.
Could Spider-Man be black?  Sure.  Why not.  There’s lot of great discourse that come from it.  Is Donald Glover the right person to take up the mantle?  Maybe.  I’m a big fan of his comedic talents on Community.  He plays a character that is confident, cocky, goofy, and at ease with himself.  I think those are important things that fall under The Negotiables label.  Race, in turn, could very well be Up for Grabs.

Erin Polgreen at Spencer Ackerman’s place:

As of last night, the campaign #donald4spiderman was a trending topic on Twitter, and a slew of comics bigwigs and other industry luminaries are hopping on board.

I think it’s a good thing. More diversity in casting of stories from the comic book canon means more interpretations and layers to the character. Look at what Brian Michael Bendis did for Nick Fury in Marvel’s Ultimates line. Samuel L. Jackson plays the historically white character in Marvel’s Iron Man franchise.

Jeff Sneider at The Wrap:

Meanwhile, Brooklyn resident Michelle Vargas has created a Facebook group, “Donald Glover 4 Spiderman!!,” which has amassed 5,060 fans at last count.

And another Twitter attack is planned for Tuesday night — this time orchestrated by Glover himself, who plans to have his fans tweet the hashtag at 6:30 p.m. The plan is to make himself a trending topic again, since retweeting doesn’t count for trending.

Said Glover in a tweet over the weekend about the campaign: “Some people are mistaken. I don’t want to just be given the role. I want to be able to audition. I truly love Spider-Man.” Neither Glover’s represenatives nor Sony would agree to comment for TheWrap.

Talk show host Craig Ferguson (who, keep in mind, works for a rival network) endorsed the potential casting by retweeting Glover.

So who is Glover, other than Troy on NBC’s “Community”?

The 26 year-old, NYU-educated comedian won an Emmy as a writer on NBC’s “30 Rock,” and his comedy troupe, Derrick Comedy, recently released its first feature, “Mystery Team,” on DVD and On Demand. More crucially, his comedy videos have become a YouTube sensation, amassing millions of views.

While it’s unlikely that Sony and director Marc Webb would take such a huge creative risk by reinventing the beloved character since they each have a lot riding on this 3D reboot, Glover does have a devoted fanbase that’s roughly the same age as the audience that Sony wants to attract with this teen-centric project.

And Peter Parker is from the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Queens, New York. In fact, there’s nothing in Marvel’s “Spider-Man” comics that dictates that the character must be white.

Indeed, if Facebook earned Betty White a gig hosting “Saturday Night Live” and Twitter made Justin Bieber a household name, why couldn’t their combined powers help Glover land an audition for Sony execs?

It couldn’t be worse than Brandon Routh as Superman.

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Once Is Happenstance, Twice Is Coincidence…

Heather Horn at The Atlantic

Edward Cody at The Washington Post:

In a brazen display of stealth, cunning and cool nerves, a thief using a sharp cutting tool opened a gated window and sneaked into the Paris Museum of Modern Art.

Three security guards were on duty at the time, but the thief — or perhaps thieves — detached five major cubist and post-impressionist paintings from their frames without being detected and slid back into the night with a rolled-up treasure worth well over $100 million.

The embarrassing heist — of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Fernand Léger — was discovered just before 7 a.m. Thursday, Paris officials said, probably long after the celebrated canvases had disappeared.

Stephen Spruiell at The Corner:

Art lovers, be not afraid: The blackguards are sure to return the priceless works once they get wind of this major scolding from Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr, director of a neighboring museum:

“You cannot do anything with these paintings. All countries in the world are aware, and no collector is stupid enough to buy a painting that, one, he can’t show to other collectors, and two, risks sending him to prison,” he said on LCI television. “In general, you find thesepaintings,” he said. “These five paintings are un-sellable, so thieves, sirs, you are imbeciles, now return them.”

The possibility de Saint-Cyr appears to be overlooking: The theft was commissioned by a private collector, and the thieves won’t have to worry about selling thepaintings.

Nick Obourn:

Works stolen include Picasso’s Le pigeon aux petits-pois, and works by Georges Braque, Matisse, and Modigliani. More news on this will surely emerge in the next few hours, but safe to say this is one of the biggest art heists pulled off in recent memory. The works stolen are landmark paintings that once gone off museum walls go underground quickly.

The Guardian reports that the thief was caught on camera taking the paintings.

The burglary was discovered just before 7am. A single masked intruder was caught on a CCTV camera taking the paintings away, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. A window had been broken and the padlock of a grille giving access to the museum was smashed. The paintings appeared to have been carefully removed from their frames, rather than sliced out.”

Update: Bloomberg is reporting that the $600 million dollar figure affixed to these paintings is incorrect and inflated.

The paintings are together worth about 100 million euros ($123 million,) Christophe Girard, the Paris city official responsible for culture said as he visited the scene of the crime today. He dismissed earlier reports putting the value as high as 500 million euros. The heist was ‘well organized,’ Girard said.”

The Economist:

In a paper called “The Underworld of Art”, published in 2008 in the journal Crime, Law and Social Change, R.T. Naylor argued that art insiders are often involved in these illegal operations, as they “alone have the technical knowledge and circle of intimates necessary to link an illicit supply with a demand”. The criminal underworld he depicts—an illicit mirror image of the legal art world, with all works running through similar channels—is also an intriguing one. But it seems more likely that underpaid museum employees are involved in such thefts, and that the stolen works are either traded for other illegal goods and services, or used as legal bargaining chips by criminals with even greater black marks on their record.

The explosion of the art market as a hotbed of speculation has naturally accelerated the market for art theft. Interpol counts such theft as the fourth-largest type of crime that it tracks worldwide, after drugs, money laundering and arms sales. If these works are recovered, such a high-profile theft would probably increase their value. But stolen works rarely resurface—only 12% to 15% do, according to the London-based Art Loss Register (ALR), which also counts Picasso as the world’s most stolen artist. (The organisation counts more than 500 missing works of his, including two that were stolen in 2007 from the home of Diana Widmaier, the artist’s granddaughter, across the Seine from the museum.) The ALR put the total number of stolen items worldwide at 203,734 in January 2009, up nearly 50% from five years earlier.

So, what should the Paris Museum of Modern Art do? Some say that offering a reward (with help from an insurer, who is otherwise caught out) is the most effective way to recover stolen art, as this allows individuals and institutions to operate without the bureaucracy of law enforcement. But as with kidnapping people, this also creates an incentive for informants to speak up and private investigators to get involved. In the event the thief demands a ransom, whether or not to pay out is somewhat controversial. Some art-industry observers suggest this merely fuels more art crime, and makes the aggrieved institution a bigger target. (For this reason, most museums—such as the Tate, which recovered two stolen Turner paintings in 2002 for £3.1m—keep quiet on whether they pay out.)

Regardless, it is grim to know these paintings—in particular “Dove with Green Peas”—are gone from public view. But if all publicity is essentially good publicity (as the Metropolitan Museum of Art learned in January, when a visitor accidentally tore one of its Picasso paintings), perhaps this heist will now send greater numbers to Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, if only to see the many other works that once accompanied the five that are now gone.

TPM has the photo gallery

Ravi Somaiya at Gawker:

On Thursday art thieves broke into the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and stole $123m of paintings, including a Matisse and a Picasso. Yesterday two men got into the home of a collector in Marseille and stole five works.

The collector, a man in his 60s, was beaten up during the robbery. The value of the stolen works has not been released, but the BBC report that a Picasso lithograph was among them. It is not yet known whether the thefts is connected with the Paris robbery earlier in the week, during which the painting above — Pastoral, by Henri Matisse — was taken. But be vigilant with your masterpieces, people.

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