Star Wars is a time abyss

Echo Station 5-7

Jabbas_Palace

Andrew Rilstone, who writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive, is counting down to the release of Episode 7. His most recent post in the series has a passage that really resonated with me:

When Luke handles the-lightsaber-that-was-his-fathers for the first time, we wanted to reach out, through the screen, and grab it, and keep it forever. Not the lightsaber itself. That moment.

It’s a feeling I’ve never had for anything else. I didn’t want to be a Jedi Knight, necessarily; or an X-Wing pilot; or even to be friends with Luke and Han. I just wanted to be there. On the other side of the screen. Inside.

“I just wanted to be there. On the other side of the screen. Inside.” Yes, yes, yes. This is why the RPG has been such a central part of my Star Wars fandom, and why I played

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In Praise of the Terrible: My Take on the Ep.VII Teaser Trailer

So, I suppose by now everybody (certainly everybody who would be in danger of reading this blog) has seen the teaser trailer for J.J. Abrams new Star Wars movie (Episode VII: The Force Awakens).

(And if you haven’t, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMOVFvcNfvE )

And it should surprise absolutely nobody to know that I have an opinion on it. After all Star Wars was my first and greatest fandom, before I even knew what a ‘fandom’ was. I was born in 1977 “The Year of the Droid”, the same year the first one came out, the first movie I ever saw in theaters was ‘Empire Strikes Back’, heck my first steps towards telling stories (something I do for fun twice a week with friends) was stories I made up with my Star Wars action figures. Hold on, where was I? Who are you? WHERE ARE MY PANTS? What have you done with the Stolen Plans.. er Pants… er…Sorry, just having and Elder Nerd Moment there. At any rate, it will surprise no one to find out that I have IMPORTANT OPINIONS ™ about the new Star Wars trailer.

Reaction to the trailer seems to, predictably enough, be along two general schools of response. 1: OMG! SO THE AWESOMES *drool* SO SHINY! and 2: This is dumb. What is that? A soccer ball droid? And c’mon, a cross-bladed light saber? Really? *spit*

Now, this is to be expected, I think. We are, after all, Star Wars fans and, unlike other fandoms I could mention (I’m not JUST talking about Trek by any means here), we don’t “Do” consensus. We thrive on hating things about the things we love, whether its because we’re imaginative perfectionists who just want our favorite thing to be even better or a pack of ornery, contrary, nit-picky nerds, who like being superior is up for debate.

[If you have not read the seminal essay “Star Wars fans hate Star Wars”, then you are reading the wrong blog, because it is brilliant and because most of the points I make here come from there and you need to go read it RIGHT NOW! GO! GET OVER THERE! DO IT!
http://www.onesixthwarriors.com/forum/loose-bits-off-topic/217646-why-do-star-wars-fans-hate-star-wars.html ]

My take: I agree. With all of it. Both the ‘Drool’ and the ‘Spit’ schools.

The Abrams Disney Star Wars looks awful, from it’s insipid title (The Force Awakens! *snort*) to the pandering soccer-ball droid (which is named BB, and probably has its own facebook game already) to the now-infamous Cross Light Saber. The total and criminal lack of any Billy Dee Williams at all (is that just me?) It looks like an absolute mess from the man who gave us the steaming train wreck that was “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and the studio that managed to screw up “John Carter of Mars”. Soon, Trekkies, soon we will feel your pain.

And I couldn’t be happier about it.

See, for me anyway, and judging by the size of the EU it’s not just me, the whole point of Star Wars isn’t the parts where it is good, or where it makes sense, but the parts where it doesn’t. And it needs both. A good movie engages a viewer for a an hour and a half to three hours and maybe a couple more in discussions over coffee or wine, a bad movie engages not at all, but a movie that’s ‘almost good’? That keeps reaching for the brass ring and failing? That engages for a lifetime. We who really engage with star wars are like the kind of people who buy run-down old houses and spend our entire lives building on
new wings, and plastering over cracks and twisting our brains inside out to come up with ever more convoluted ways to merge utterly, irreconcilably contradictory elements into some kind of whole, even if it is a twisted Frankenstein abomination that lurches from sad contrivance to sad contrivance with all the believably of a toddler’s first lie (wait, is that last thing a thing that home-owners do? I think I just lost my metaphor).

At any rate, we are compulsive retconners and explainers and fixers. I believe that deep down we love the gaps between the random, badly-thought-out bits and pieces that make up Star Wars because that’s where we insert ourselves, with a disgruntled superior sigh, to find a way to put them together. And the more people try to fix things, they more they will disagree and the more they find broken to fix. We’re an active fandom, and we like to get actively involved. Take it apart, put it back together again, imagine a better plot, invent a self-insert Mandalorian-Tusken-Cyborg-Sith-Turned-Jedi love interest that
will just piss everybody off, rinse, repeat. That’s the part that engages arguments and reimaginings and retcons and all the things that Star Wars fans really love. To quote the above essay: “We hate everything about Star Wars. But the idea of Star Wars…the idea we love.”

How many great works of science fiction or fantasy came from a cocky, self-rightous young fan starting out decades before to ‘do [something about Star Wars] right”? I would guess plenty, although I can’t back that up with anything more than a gut feeling and some sleep-deprived overconfidence.

Our hate, as Palpatine said, has made us strong. The fact of the matter is, no Star Wars, even one written by the Ghosts of Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkein and with dialogue by Joss Whedon, will ever be good enough for us. Not now, maybe not ever. We want it to be perfect, and by perfect I mean “Everything that I, specifically, have ever dreamed of in a movie, only better”. And that, I think, is a good thing. George Lucas, by his own admissions in the 70’s (before he discovered Joseph Campbell and started calling himself a ‘mythmaker’) said that he was “no writer” and he wasn’t. The original Star Wars wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really that good. But it was good at suggesting things and letting the imaginations of the audience fill in the spaces. No version of the Clone Wars, no matter how good, will ever, EVER live up to the versions that grew up in my head over two decades of imagining them. Which is why the fact that the J.J. Abrams Disney Star Wars movies being badly-done committee-made tripe is a good thing, at least for fandom. A new generation will learn to love the idea of Star Wars, and hate the realities, and from that, an even more fertile field of imagination will spring.

Plus, these new films are going to be Hella Pretty and that really has always been the USP of the franchise.

On that note, I nominate Michael Bay to do one of the stand-alone films. That alone should provide me things to hate and things to fix to last me the rest of my natural life.

And you, George Lucas and J.J. Abrams can all bite me 😛

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Flash Fiction: Daniel’s Treasure

(Written for this week’s Flash Fiction challenge over on Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds blog. http://terribleminds.com/ramble I randomly generated the title ‘Daniel’s Treasure’ and this is what I made of it.

“You find anything, Pete?”

“Nothing. Some old science junk in the basement, that’s all that’s left.”

“Shit. Typical Danny, amirite?”

Tied to a chair, nearby, Yvonne said nothing. She would have said nothing even if she hadn’t been wearing that gag.

Daniel’s body wasn’t even cold and the vultures had already started to pick apart his corpse. The relatives first, those who he had loved, had been the first to descend to tear the place apart. They’d gone home disappointed, nothing but some silverware and old furniture that ‘might be worth something, I suppose’. Then it had been his friends, in whom he’d confided some, but never all, of his secrets. They fared no better, except with less available to stuff in their pockets. After them it had been his professional colleagues from the university. If friends and family had been disappointed, it was nothing compared to what the people he’d worked next to all those years, who had lauded him then rejected him, felt upon learning that in his later years he’d kept no notes except in his head. They’d taken some of the equipment, but not much, and smugly written Dr. Daniel Parmiter off as the ineffectual madman they’d always known he was.

No one, it seemed, had really missed the old scientist. All they wanted was what they could stuff in their grubby pockets with their greedy little hands. It turned Yvonne’s stomach.

Now it was down to casual acquaintances and people he had owed money to. After she had fended off one of them with a frying pan already this morning, the next bunch had taken the precaution of tying the feisty maid to a chair while they looted the house. Or tried to. It was already pretty well looted.

“You don’t think he blew it all, do you, Mac?” The taller and younger of the pair, obviously the muscle, made a face and scratched his head in a way that couldn’t help but strike Yvonne as being just like that of an ape.

“Blew it? On what? You seen how he lived. There wasn’t even no food left in the cupboards. And the guy didn’t have no vices or nothing. I asked around, to people who should know.”

“I don’t know, maybe he used it on, like, science stuff or something. You know, chemicals and shit.”

“You’d think, right?” Older, shorter and fatter, ‘Mac’ was the default brains of the pair. He sighed and threw himself into an old chair that creaked dangerously as he settled into it.

“But the thing is, I talked to some of his old buddies at the university, you know did my best ‘representative of the family’ bit. The lawyer routine always scares people into coughing up the goods. They said he didn’t have no gear he didn’t leave the university with when they gave him the boot. And I couldn’t find no receipts for anything new.

“I don’t know Mac. I don’t think…”

“Heh. There’s the truest thing you ever said, Pete.”

“No, really, listen to me, man. If he still had all that grant money they say he stole, why was he borrowing money from you?”

“‘Cause he had plans. He was making something he needed that money for. His ‘treasure’ he called it. Used to talk it up when he was hitting me up for more scratch. Never said what it was.”

“And nobody found it yet?”

“Can’t be sure of that. But if it’s still here, we’re going to find it. Pete, start prying up those floorboards, huh?”

“Sure, boss.” The big man took a prybar off the workbench along one wall.

“Me? I’m going to get some answers out of the girl here.”

Yvonne hissed something through her gag.

“Ahh, don’t be like that, sweetheart. Who knows, might even be fun, huh?”

There was something ugly in Mac’s smile. He drew a small, snub-nosed revolver from his jacket and ran the barrel against her cheek. The metal felt especially cold, which meant that her temperature was rising.

“Alright, now when I take this gag off, I want you to tell me where the old man’s treasure is, huh? You play ball with us and we all walk away from this, get me?”

He took off the gag.

“You can’t hold me here!” The words were choked with the tears and rage she’d been building up watching all these people tear apart the physical remains of Daniel’s life.

“We’re pretty far out of town, kid. Nobody’s going to hear you if you scream. So I can pretty much do whatever I want. You starting to get the picture?”

She was having trouble hearing him over the bass drum beat of the blood thumping in her ears.

“No, you don’t understand.” She took a deep breath and forced the words out calmly.

Her limbs were getting hot and starting to tremble.

“You can’t hold me here.” She flexed and the ropes snapped

It all happened so fast. Mac screamed and his gun went off, too close to miss. Pain pierced her through the side and red clouded her eyes. She didn’t remember hitting him, but she did see him go through a wall, his neck at an angle she wasn’t sure was natural.

Normals were so fragile, just as Daniel had always warned her.

Pete didn’t even look up in time to see the chair she threw at his head. At least he only looked unconscious.

She brushed her hair back out of her eyes and calmly walked upstairs and out of the house. She picked the bullet out of her flesh and it clattered on the old fashioned cobblestones on the front walk. The hole was already starting to seal up.

As she walked away, she could still feel the powerful beating of Daniel’s treasure in her chest.

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Exciting Posters for Cult Movie Sequels That Never Happened

I don’t usually reblog, but when I do it’s generally because of mind-blowing psychedelic art….

Flavorwire

The powers that be in Hollywood have been working overtime and turning the crank on the sequel machine for decades. Sometimes it’s hard not to be cynical about a part two when many movie follow-ups are made simply for the money. But what about a sequel that fans actually want? Enter iam8bit’s latest exhibition, Sequel — part tribute to the cult movies we love, part commentary on Hollywood’s obsession with sequels. Our fellow pop culture-loving friends at the West Coast gallery invited more than 40 artists to imagine movie sequels that never were. If you’ve had your fingers crossed for another Goonies, Blade Runner, or Labyrinth, then this is your happy place. We have a preview of these fictional follow-ups, below (prints will be available for purchase at iam8bit). If you’re in the Los Angeles area, RSVP today for the opening of Sequel on Thursday…

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An Age Undreamed Of… : The Late Bronze Age Collapse

KNOW, oh bloggers, that between the years when the oceans drank Thera and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars— Ahhiyawa, Kaptaru, Alashiya, Lukka, Ugarit with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Mitanni with its chivalry, Assyria that bordered on the pastoral lands of Retenu, Babylonia with its shadow-guarded tombs, The Hittites,whose riders wore bronze and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Misraim, reigning supreme in the dreaming south, Hither came The Sea Peoples, black-haired, sullen- eyed, swords in hand, thieves, reavers, slayers, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under their sandalled feet.”
—The Late Bronze Age Chronicles

It’s like something out of Howard. An ancient age, thousands of years in the past, a time mighty cities, vast trade and great, interconnected economies and empires not unlike our own, in miniature and with bronze age technology, now long since fallen and all but forgotten by the tides of history. A time of epic wars and even more epic peace, sealed with intermarriages and more than that, international trade, Egyptian grain fed Hitties, Hittite Tin made Bronze for the known world, vast trading fleets from places as well -known as Mycenean Greece and as obscure as Ugarit, a trading city, vassal to the Hittite Empire. It was a single interconnected trading network, economically complex, that encompassed the whole of the

It was a time that would spawn legends in the Iron Age to come. Homer’s Illium was called ‘Wilusa’ and was the central trading town in the troublesome northwestern province of Assuwa in the Hittite Empire. His Trojan War is a confused combination of two events, the probably invasion and destruction of Troy VIIA circa 1190-1180 BC, and an incident a century before ca.1295 BC, where a rogue military leader, Piyamaradu (Priam!), is defying the Hittite governors and client kings in the region, possibly a successor to the Assuwa rebellion a generation before, and leads an attack on Wilusa with the aid of the Ahhiyawa (Mycenean Greeks), who were under embargo by the Hittites and looking to seize an important port city. For his party, Piyamaradu is trying to get taken seriously by the major powers and gain recognition as a client king of the Hittites. Then, as now, a regime’s legitimacy rested on recognition from the major powers. Homer reinterpreted the fragmented events that survived in legends after the Collapse with the view of the social realities of his own age of city-states and a fragmented Greece, added some romanticism and produced the Trojan War of the Illiad, which resembled history about as accurately as Arthur of Camelot provides a record of post-Roman Britain.

It was a single economy and, more than that, a single cosmopolitan culture where goods, ideas and people from all the corners of the Known World traveled and mixed. It was an age of kings and of merchant-adventurers. Kingdoms rose and fell, such as the partition of the Mitanni between the Hittites and Assyrians, but the greater umbrella civilization went on.

And, most importantly and interestingly from our perspective, it fell. Why it fell is unknown, with archaeologists finding evidence for a string of powerful earthquakes, a 300 year drought, invasion by the mysterious ‘Sea Peoples’ reported by Ramses III, invasion from other cultures, a change in the way war was waged, disruption of international trade, internal revolt and damned near every other calamity you can imagine happening to a civilization.

Perhaps the most interesting theory (IMHO) is that of ‘Systemic Collapse’ which holds that it was less one calamity that brought down the Eastern Mediterranean civilization but that it had grown so complex, interdependent and integrated that one calamity would disrupt the system and hamper its ability to deal with the next, and create more ‘malfunctions’ it would be increasingly ill-equipped to handle until ‘The thundering machine stuttered and stopped’ (to quote ‘Road Warrior’).

A shining civilization that grew too complex and too civilized to survive?

Robert E. Howard himself would have approved.

A much more succinct and factual take on the Late Bronze Age Collapse via John Green’s Crash Course (it’s only 13 minutes, so go ahead, give it a watch): The End of Civilization

The Hyborian Age, for those of you who don’t know what I’m referencing up at the top of this post: Hyborian Age

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Flash Fiction: Double Tap

[Ah yes, here we have the results of Chuck Wendig’s Friday Challenge where we were supposed to take a sentence from Last Week’s Challenge and build a short story around it. I went with Teddy Fuhringer’s line “I don’t remember how I died or who it was that killed me, but I’m absolutely certain I deserved it.”]

Dead man’s town wasn’t in the Singularity, but you could see it from there. The front window of the Elegant Corpse Bar gave a brilliant view of the gleaming, organic towers that twisted and writhed and copulated in Truetown, beyond the Accelerando Mark where none of the patrons of the EC could ever go.

Tonight the EC was full to the point of bursting, although it would be a stretch to call it lively. Pale hands trembled as they desperately clutched spun spiderglass cups, glazed eyes stared but did not see. The lights flickered.

Privately, he suspected that the building AI’s were revolting against the power company and messing up the transition, but that wasn’t the kind of speculation he would ever be in a position to confirm or deny, so he put it from his mind, hands stuck deep in his pockets to keep them from shaking and made his way, step by unsteady, deliberate step, over to the last empty seat at the bar.

“The crabs, the crabs, the craps, the craps…” An emaciated skeleton of a woman rocked back and forth on her stool next to him, spilling her drink with every rock.

The bartender communicated with exquisite precision, although never actually speaking anything that could be mistaken for a word, the desire it held to know what he wanted to drink. It was One of Them. The Living. A flickering idea of a man extruded into this reality with as many limbs as it needed by a multi-dimensional gestalt mind.

Everybody here just called him/her/it ‘Mac’.

He ordered a scotch, neat. Once, in a moment of black humor, he had ordered ‘coffin polish’ and nearly gotten sick off the fumes. Mac could be very literal sometimes. He prayed to whatever gods (real or artificial) might be feeling responsive that he could guide it to his mouth. The entire bar seemed to vibrate in time with the convulsions. It was getting worse.

“Hey! Hey, Mac!” Loud and mobile and offensively healthy, the man came up behind him and elbowed between him and the rocking woman. He was out of breath. He’d been running. Running!

“Gimme a beer, nothing fancy, just a beer, huh?” He spun towards the first man, smiling. “Some day, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, don’t I know you, pal?”

“No.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I know you.” He poked him with a finger and nodded his head.

“Unlikely.” He crouched over and shoved his hands back into his pockets, trying to steady himself enough to grasp the glass, which sat, taunting him, on the bar.

“Still, I don’t know, but…”

“Listen! This is Dead Man’s Town. One of many, as I understand it, every major settlement that supports baseline humans on the planet has one. Everyone who was ever frozen or preserved over the thousand years before the Singularity has been revived and fixed just well enough to function, but no more, oh no, no more, by our guilt-ridden, posthuman descendants. The chances that two people who, not only lived at the same time, but actually knew each other in the overcrowded centuries we’re from, is so infinitesimally small as to be laughable.”

He tried to laugh, but it turned into a convulsion so violent that his hat came off and he nearly knocked his head against the bar.

“Whoa, whoa there buddy. You OK?”

“No, I’m not OK, you fool. I’m dead. We’re all dead. Of the sorts of maladies and diseases that would never even touch the people, if you can still call them ‘people’ of this time. And we all still suffer of them, because they don’t want to pollute the ‘purity’ of our essence as artifacts. Purity! Ha!We’re kept in splendid obsolescence because our oh-so-advanced successors have raised doing no more than they have to into a fine art. I don’t know why they even bothered to bring us back, into a future that is so advanced and changes so fast that our unmodified brains couldn’t possibly comprehend it, which forces us to be kept in ghettos for our own protection.”

“Hey, hey buddy, take it easy, huh? You’re starting to shake again. What’s wrong with you?”

“Gibson’s Disorder. What they called ‘the Industrial Disease’ in my time.”

“Hey, we had that in my time too. Maybe I do know you after all.” He stuck his hand into a pocket of the other man’s coat.

“You got meds for it? The Posties usually give people meds for stuff like that, don’t they?”

“They’re gone. They revolted.”

“What?”

“The medical nanomachines they put in those medicines, they became a sentient gestalt last night and left to form a colony on one of the machine continents. All across town. Why do you think we’re all in here drinking, huh?” He glared up at the other man. “How did you not know that?”

“Well, I don’t take no meds, so I didn’t know.”

“You don’t take meds? What are you? An accident case or something?”

“I don’t know. Like you said, they don’t tell you much when you wake up here, right? I think it might have been murder.” He grinned and nodded his head. “I don’t remember how I died or who it was that killed me, but I’m absolutely certain I deserved it.”

“You did.” His hands didn’t shake as he pulled the zipgun, a thing of hollow bone and duct tape, from his pocket and shot the other man under between the eyes.

It felt good. But it didn’t do much good.

The Resurrection Crews had tesseracted in before the man hit the floor.

He’d already been paid once for the hit, long ago, although the client and the economic system he’d paid him in had both long since faded to historical footnotes.

Still a man in his profession did have his pride. And with everything else he knew long since ground into the dust of history, sometimes his pride was all he had.

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The Strange, Internal Worlds of Henry Darger

Let’s talk today about Batshit insanity in art. I’m not talking about the usual ‘depression and drink and drugs’ stuff either. No, I mean the manic, crudely-done scratchings on the wall of the cave or padded cell or whatever of the truly, brilliantly insane. The sort of inspired lunacy that can’t be replicated out here, where a line exists between the real and the nightmare. The mad, downward spiral that Alejandro Jodorowski walked with Dune or the trips in the collective subconscious that were the old pre-war Golden Age comics “each panel like some uncanny rebus, all surfaces stirring from beneath with some incompletely disclosed or acknowledged emotional disquiet, a barely sublimated mystical Freudian dream” [1]. The real stuff, strange and driven and completely authentic with the guilelessness of the mad.

Specifically, let’s talk about Henry Darger (1892-1973). There is some vagueness whether Henry Darger was actually, diagnosed, medically insane. He did time in a mental institution, yes, but in the first decade of the 20th Century, not exactly a high-water mark for the science of mental health, and under a diagnosis of “self-abuse” (masturbating). He was 13 at the time. That’s not entirely unlike convicting fish for being too damp. Some have claimed he might have had Tourettes, others that he might have had Asperger Syndrome. He has been accused of pedophilia and lauded as a protector of children. He is a hard man to get to know, having been discovered posthumously after a life lived in the humblest of obscurities.

The reason we’re talking about him here, however, is his writings. His bibliography is either huge or quite small, depending on how you measure such things. He only wrote three books. But between them, he wrote well over 30,000 pages, not words, PAGES of text, small type, single spaced. His magnum opus is the mammoth 15K+ ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion‘ in which seven small girls get involved in a cosmos-spanning epic that includes universal Catholicism, shape-shifting giant monsters (those are the good guys), interplanetary war, a giant planet around which the earth orbits, child slavery, child torture, brutal, graphic deaths, self-insertion into the story, and general madness. He illustrated the books himself, with a combination of watercolors, magazine cutouts, and tracing from advertising. And not just little pictures in the corner of the page, either, but huge, sometimes as big as thirty-foot, canvases, sometimes painted on both sides. And the nature of these illustrations was distressing, ranging from otherworldly supernatural creatures, to naked girls with penises (most of the naked children he painted, which is not a phrase I ever expected to type, had penises. He might have been confused about what girls actually had down there), to vast, Bosch-esque scenes of murder and torture, done in the style of children’s books.

Here’s the thing that gets me about this thing. There’s a sequel. Unfinished, but it exists, he ‘only’ got about 10,000 pages into ‘Crazy House: Further Adventures in Chicago‘, in which the heroines of his first work try to exorcise a possessed house and rescue Darger himself from the ‘Crazy House’ (a reference to his time in the institution?). He also wrote an autobiography, which spent 200 pages on him and over 4500 pages on a tornado named ‘Sweetie Pie’.

In the end, there are no answers in Darger. Was he the abused children that populated his work? Was he mad? Was he a pedophile or just confused where the lines were drawn? He must have been obsessed to produce this volume of work never meant to see the light of day, but with what?

I don’t know. But there’s something about the thought of a hidden and disquieting worlds spinning alone inside the skull of an obsessed man that intrigues, that piques the curiosity and certainly, warrants further research.

[1] Letham, Jonathan, Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941. Seattle: Fantagraphic Books, 2009.

Some other sources:
-The Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Darger
-A longer, illustrated essay on him: http://www.escapeintolife.com/essays/the-two-worlds-of-henry-darger/
-A 2008 museum exhibit based on his work: http://folkartmuseum.org/sites/folk/files/Dargerism.pdf

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