I don’t know what she just bought, but Cayla’s jeans magically manifest on her body between panels one and three. Maybe they slithered up her legs in panel two. Maybe that’s why she looks so shocked.
Anyway, she better run out and get dark sunglasses, wide brimmed hats, and old-timey high collared coats, because she’s going to have to wade through a picket line to get into the Chateau.
Once again, Batiuk writing a year in advance shoots him in the foot. Last September The Hollywood Reporterput out an in depth investigative hit piece on the hotel. After nearly all the staff was laid off due to the pandemic, many were willing to speak out against the hotel for discrimination, harassment, and general mismanagement. The allegations went all the way to the very top, with owner, André Balazs, accused of using the hotel as his own private playground, snorting cocaine, getting drunk, and groping workers.
Since then there’s been regular protests outside the hotel, as well as calls to boycott the business. A movie cancelled a planned film shoot there. Celebrities like Jane Fonda, Alfonso Cuaron, and Lena Headey have all supported the boycott. And when Cersei Lannister is ringing the bell and calling ‘Shame!’ you know it’s gotta be bad.
Not that the controversy has completely killed business, the place looks pretty booked up through the end of September. Sometimes, to my folksy midwestern eye, the entire SoCal area looks like a hyper-charged game of social activism whack-a-mole being played by a manic-depressive. Quixotically clutching their pearls in moral outrage over the living conditions of livestock while snorting cocaine off a dinner plate at a hedonism fueled wrap party.
Shame poor Cayla’s excitement had to be marred by this controversy. I wonder if Batiuk is hoping it will fly under the radar of his normal readers. Then again I wouldn’t be surprised if the last news story Batiuk remembers hearing from the Chateau Marmont is John Belushi’s death.
As it was foretold in the comments section, today we get a commissioned sideways comic cover. And whadda ya know? The Subterranean looks like if you ripped the spikes off of Doomsday. Or dipped The Hulk in concrete. Or shaved Solomon Grundy and had him running around nude.
Past comments by numerous commenters have been harsh on the Atomik Komix lineup.
There’s not a single AK title that would have sparked my interest back when I was reading comic books. Not a thing. Back then they would have bored me just as much as they do now.
“No new comics to read? Just these Atomix Komix things? Sheesh, I think I’ll go home and do schoolwork.”
And I would agree. Though I thought the concept and first cover of Stardusters did show some promise with a cast of differentiated characters, a Star Wars-esque grungy space look, and an action heavy tableau. So props to Rick Burchett and Rob Ro on that tip of the Funky Felttip.
But for the rest, all we have is a dumb name, a dumb costume, and maybe a gimmick or a gimmicky backstory. They have to be terrible, right?
Well, yes; because they’re being written by Funky Winkerbean characters, who–in turn–were written by Tom Batiuk. A man who seems stuck in the era of “Why is Superman Forcing Jimmy Olsen to Marry a Gorilla! Twice!”
But if we’re just going off the names, the gimmicks, and facts, the covers…
As we exit this weirdly awful comics arc, and brace ourselves for the blandly awful Les arc that will follow, let me tell you a little story.
Two of my best friends were at a local comic shop picking up Batman, Nightwing, and Transformers comics, when one of my friends saw this.
And I mean LOOK at this! Some kind of smarmy, cocky, swaggering douchebro with a giant star on his chest and a MONEY SIGN in his name.
My friend said. “Who the f**k is Booster Gold?!” And became very offended, (mostly facetiously,) that a character like this: some kind of boring-looking, stupid character, would be worthy of his own DC omnibus collection.
So it was a running joke for us for months that Booster Gold was our friend’s arch nemesis. And to further the joke, I bought her a copy of the first issue of the 2007 relaunch of Booster Gold’s solo title for her birthday.
And we read it. And then the next. And then the series. And you know what? It was great.
Written by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, and drawn by Dan Jurgens, it told the story of a time travelling superhero who wasn’t respected by other superheroes. Because for most of his career he’d tried to use his super-heroics to accumulate fame and fortune . But Booster Gold now was a superhero who had recently gone through the most traumatic experience of his life. An experience that spurred growth in him. The death of his best friend, Blue Beetle.
The first major arc involved Booster Gold going back in time to try to prevent his friend’s murder, only for the new future they create to be a terrible dystopia. Eventually Ted Kord (Blue Beetle) decides that the only way to put things right is to go back in time to die again.
Look at Blue Beetle, that’s a weird looking costume if I’d ever seen one! And the thing was packed with a million references to old nonsense that we hardly understood, and a dozen weird characters with wacky gimmicks. But that didn’t matter, because the book was funny, the characters were crisp and distinct, and the story was heartfelt, and we ate it up. And then we went back, and read Booster Gold and Blue Beetle’s old adventures in the Justice League International. We started reading ANYTHING with these two. Because their friendship was one of the best things ever in a universe that included BATMAN. One of my friends and I went to a convention dressed as them.
And all because my friend thought that a cover looked stupid.
What I’m saying is that, in the right hands, ANYTHING can work, any name, any costume, any gimmick, any backstory. That fact is born out in comics history again and again and again. Some of the most critically acclaimed books were made up of D-list characters cobbled together from the Scrappy Doo heap. The New Suicide Squad movie is hoping to make a billion dollars on this premise.
But in the wrong hands the tearful reunion of two elderly men and former friends after literal decades apart can be as emotionally thrilling and meaningful as watching paint dry.
Those of you who DIDN’T guess that Phil and Flash would be asked to take The Subterranean to Atomik Komix, please report to the front desk for your free brain scan.
And really, Phil Holt is accusing Flash of grandstanding? Isn’t Phil the man who loudly crashed a ComicCon panel to come back from the dead, then stormed the stage to have a reunion with his former partner that ended with both of them in tears.
Since when have we ever seen Flash Freeman grandstanding? We’ve all been treating Mr. Freeman as the stand-in for Stan Lee, but he’s even less like Stan Lee than Phil Holt is like Jack Kirby.
Visually, Flash is drawn as an old guy with a weirdly long face and a receding hairline, kinda like an elderly Stan Lee. And on the surface they’ve done similar things: being a head writer, giving the writers and artists in their employ pet nick names, making up behind the scenes stories, and being blamed for stealing credit from others.
Chester’s wailing about the ‘Batty Batom Bullpen Boasts’ is an obvious reference to things Stan Lee did to drum up enthusiasm and company loyalty in kidsoomers. Things like the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins and the Merry Marvel Marching Society, which put out a record that has been BURNED INTO MY MIND.
But in personality? Flash Freeman has been presented as an affable, laid-back guy. Down to earth, level-headed, and even reserved. He’s usually drawn with a slight smile and relaxed face, like he’s bemused about everything around him.
That is not Stan Lee.
Stan Lee was a man who treated every conversation as a performance. A man who only stopped flashing his toothy grin when he was posing or playacting a ‘serious’ moment. A man who rearranged his life into entertaining stories, and if he had to sacrifice the facts to do it, so be it. This is not Flash getting wrong the street address of a diner he last visited 60 years ago. Lee was a man who told a story to a convention about how he’d gotten hired, then called a former coworker who could expose the fib, and tried to convince him to go along with the ‘enhanced version’ of the truth.
Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of that coworker’s panel at ComicCon in 1998.
Stan Lee; is Stan here? No? (laughter) Stan Lee called me about two or three years ago, and says, “Joe, I opened my convention with the story that I answered an ad in the newspaper to get my job. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job in comic books and then I went. You hired me and I was walking in the hall and I ran into Martin.” Well, I knew Martin was his uncle; well, his relative. Actually it was Stan’s mother’s cousin, something like that.
[Stan continues:] “So, Martin said to me, “Stan, what are you doing here?” And I said, ‘I work here.’ And Martin says, “Is that right? I didn’t know.””
I said, “Stan, that story can’t be true. We only had three offices and a bunch of relatives in the building. We didn’t even have a hall.” (laughter) So Stan says, “Is that right? My memory is going.” (laughter) I thought it was a pretty good story. (laughter) I figured at that time, he’d stop doing it. He’s still doing it. A month later I read the same story in Newsday. But, God bless Stan, he’s got a good story and he’s sticking with it. (laughter) He did a wonderful job. He did a miraculous job. I’m proud of him.
Who was that coworker? Why Joe Simon, the man who hired Stan Lee. The first editor of Timely (later Marvel) comics. And Jack Kirby’s creative partner for the first 15 years of his career. Theirs was truly a partnership where credit can’t be sorted. They both wrote, they both drew, and scripted, and inked. There are covers and pages with both their names on them, where not even experts can parse out who did what.
They first met working for Fox Features Syndicate, an early comics publisher run by Victor Fox who Joe Simon characterized more clearly than any Act III Funky Winkerbean character could hope to be:
It was at Fox Comics. I guess you all know about Victor Fox. He was a little chubby guy. He was an accountant for DC Comics. He was doing the sales figures and he liked what he saw. So, he moved downstairs and started his own company called Fox Comics, Fox Publications, Fox Features Syndicate, Fox Radio, Fox this, Fox that… He was a very strange character. He had kind of a British accent; he was like 5’2″–told us he was a former ballroom dancer. He was very loud, menacing, and really a scary little guy. (laughter) He used to say, “I’m the King of the Comics. I’m the King of the Comics. I’m the King of the Comics.” (laughter) We couldn’t stop him. So that’s the task I had when I went in to start that job.
When Joe Simon left Fox comics for Timely, he took Jack Kirby with him, and there they created Captain America. Then when they felt they were getting the short stick by Timely, Joe began negotiations for both of them to move on to National Comics (now DC.) There they wrote Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion, both very popular at the time, even if they’re mostly forgotten now.
After the War, they worked freelance, basically creating the Romance Comic genre. All the while, they were living across the street from each other with their young families.
Their partnership more or less ended in the mid-fifties, after comics hit a huge slump. The self-imposed censorship and moral panic in the wake of The Seduction of the Innocent and the Senate hearings made it an uncertain financial field. So Jack and Joe parted ways amiably. Jack stuck it out with comics, and Joe moved on to advertising and magazine publishing; though he would occasionally dip his toes back into the comics business. In 1974 he and Kirby worked together on a relaunch of ‘The Sandman’ for DC. They remained on friendly terms for the rest of their lives.
I’ll say this for Jack–Jack went back to Marvel, he switched to Marvel from DC. We got together a couple of times in-between. But every time I called Jack I’d say, “Jack, I’ve got a project to do; come do it with me.” He was there the next day–and in those days, we were always together when we had to be, when we wanted to be. He always came back to me. I never paid him the way I’d pay the other artists; I always split with him, everything we had. We had kind of a nice relationship.
Is Flash Freeman a poorly written Stan Lee? Or is he intentionally tempered with the soul of Joe Simon?
The prosecution presents the following evidence.
Now we needed a villain for inside the comic, too. … Even sitting at lunch, I was always thinking about heroes and villains, with all sorts of ideas swimming around in my head. Next thing I know, I had a hot fudge sundae sitting in front of me, with the vanilla ice cream, and the hot fudge is running down the side. It was intriguing.
The hot fudge looked like limbs—legs, feet, and hands—and I’m thinking to myself.
Gee, this’d make an interesting villain, I mused. We’ll call him Hot Fudge … Just put a face on him, and have him ooze all over the place.
You have to be stupid to be in this business. Nevertheless, I did some sketches, right then and there. And I Iooked at them.
Nah, I thought. Who would believe anything like that?
But I looked again at the sundae, and I saw the big cherry on top. The cherry looked like a skull.
“Wow,” I said to myself. “Red Skull … that sounds good.” And it made a lot more sense.
I thought Phil said he needed someone to ‘write it to life’, but apparently he already has dialogue written for this story. So he’s not really looking for a writer but an editor.
And whooo boy, that is some old timey sexism there. It’s so bad that all the background men have disappeared. Mindy looks grumpy! Which is nice to see, because she’s done nothing else but smile blandly for an entire month.
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt though. Maybe Phil meant that line as a really weird homage to the Rankin-Bass Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer special.
I can think of plenty of contexts where that line would still be acceptable. Maybe the speaker is an anviliciously sexist villain or otherwise flawed character that needs to be punished and educated. I mean, comics today seem to be nothing but virtue signaling and navel gazing. The twelve people that still read modern superhero stuff would love to see puff-pieces on The Mary Sue about how brave Phil Holt is for burning his past self in effigy. The Subterranean is obviously a monstrous stand-in for the basement dwelling creatures, fueled by misogyny, destroying comics by complaining online about ‘the feminist agenda’.
To be sure, the old Marvel comics Kirby and Lee created back in the day were laughably sexist. But you know who was writing the dialogue? Stan Lee. So why is the Stan Lee stand in correcting Kirby?
And you know who Jack Kirby created? Big Barda, the wife of Mr. Miracle. A character where literally the gimmick is she is stronger, more prone to violence, and more physically imposing than her husband. Apparently the interplay between them was inspired by his relationship with his wife, Roz.
Maybe if Phil Holt wasn’t a cantankerous hermit with only a single friend he would be better at writing women. It’s funny how that works, knowing other people helps you understand other people. And understanding other people helps you understand yourself. Cutting yourself off from engaging with other perspectives, even ones you fundamentally disagree with, can take you to some pretty strange places.
I said yesterday that I thought Phil Holt was too antisocial and reclusive to be pure Jack Kirby cariacature. If I wanted to give Batiuk credit, I would say that he intentionally infused his Kirby Clone with a bit of essence of Steve Ditko. (Like 90’s Superboy having a bit of Lex Luthor DNA in him, gahIamsuchanerdgah.)
Ditko was the artist and co-creator of, among others, Spider Man, Dr. Strange, The Question, and The Creeper. Like Jack Kirby he had a falling out with Stan Lee over author credits and creative direction, and left Marvel to freelance for Charlton and DC. But unlike Jack Kirby, Ditko was an intensely private man, who didn’t give interviews, or go to conventions, or converse with fans.
Some of you more comics savy may be thinking, “Oooh, The Question! That’s who Alan Moore based Rorschach on!” And you would be mostly right, except that The Question was really a watered down version of another character that Ditko created. While Ditko made his living doing freelance work, he also created superhero comics with smaller indie publishers. Like Mr. A.
Yup. Ditko was a Randian Objectivist that would make Andrew Ryan blush. His principles, combined with his anxious and shy nature, made it easy for him to alienate everyone around him. In many cases it seemed he wanted to. He never married. He broke off friendships. He surrounded himself with the few he thought he could trust not to betray or challenge his ideals. To quote Flash Freeman, “He spent most of his time at war with the world and everyone in it.”
I read two informative articles, and watched one fascinating documentary about this weird, weird, strangely admirable and slightly pitiable guy.
This Vulture article was the most negative, but also the most psychologically insightful. Vulture writers are a bunch of liberal pantywaist hippies who hear the word ‘objectivist’ and rear back like Dracula at a Crucifix, (sorry, channeling the spirit of poor Steve for a moment) but lots of good facts there.
This article was a little more even-handed, very focused on his work output, and covered the characters he continued to create for Marvel and DC into the 90’s.
And finally, this charming BBC4 documentary was probably the most sympathetic to Steve Ditko. Several comics creators, including Alan Moore, weigh in on his art, philosophy, and legacy.
Let me see if I’ve got this straight, Phil. You faked your own death so you could work without being bothered, and in the literal years since you’ve managed to draw and layout a single issue? Seriously? GRRM works faster than you! I swear to Galactus, if there isn’t Berserk levels of detail to every single panel of this book…
Jack Kirby would be ashamed! You know, the guy you’re supposed to be based on? Jack Kirby was a legend for his output and work ethic. He could complete multiple pages a DAY. The man was a machine. If Jack Kirby faked his death to work on a project for four years, the final output would rival Henry Darger.
But how close are you really to Jack Kirby? I took the time this week to watch a few documentaries, read a few articles and interviews. Let’s see how close Phil Holt stacks up to The King. The glorious co-creator of Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Mr. Miracle, The New Gods and so many more.
First of all, the physical resemblance is as close an approximation as the art style allows, especially in the earliest appearances. The poofy, swept back hair, the cigar, the squarish head and round face, all look like a caricature of Kirby. Even more, they look close to how Kirby depicted himself in comic form. The strip even goes out of it’s way to show that Phil is shorter, just like Kirby who was 5’6″.
The only difference is the glasses, and even then, the glasses seem to serve the function of giving him the boxed off square brow and deep set eyes he had naturally.
But does Phil resemble Jack in personality?
Not really. Phil is prickly, he snips and snaps at everyone. He might have depths of generosity, and hidden warmth, but twice he is described as someone whose resting state was antagonistic.
The Jack Kirby described by others, and I saw in interviews was not this person. Yeah, he was a pugnacious guy, who could hold a wicked grudge against people who he thought slighted him. He even lashed out at people he was frustrated with by creating comic villains to RESEMBLE those people.
But to anyone else, he was warm and welcoming. He had a wide circle of friends. People liked working with him. The documentary I watched talked about how random people would show up at his house and he would let them in, show them his studio, and his wife would feed them sandwiches.
Did you know he had a wife? And kids too! People he was financially supporting. Relationships that drove him to look for work and and fight for contracts that paid him his fair share of the profits he was creating, and get rights to royalties that would allow him to continue to provide for his family in the future.
And Jack Kirby never disavowed comics. Sure, in the 80’s he moved on to animation for Hanna-Barbara, but he created comics intermittently through the 80’s and early 90’s. He continued attending conventions and meeting with fans right up until the year he died. He was proud of his work, and went through a legal slugfest with Marvel trying to get his artwork back.
I might think it was petty to draw a sniveling caricature of poor Roy Thomas, and print it in the pages of DC; but I’ll give Jack Kirby this, he didn’t stomp out of an entire industry in a huff and never work again. Jack Kirby worked hard his entire life. He fought hard for his credit, and switched comics companies multiple times, because he wanted that hard work to be recognized. Not just for himself, but for his wife and kids.
Is Phil Holt meant to be Jack Kirby? Probably. But he’s a Jack Kirby that existed in a world where he had nothing to fight for but his own ego.
This was my favorite of the documentaries I watched. It’s probably more hagiography than strict history, but peeling back the veneer of eulogy you can still see that the truth of the man beneath. If you’ve got the time, and the inclination, I’d recommend.
DID YOU KNOW? Despite being drawn 24 times, Mindy has only been allowed to speak twice this entire month?
Pete, stop. The fish that clean other fish by eating algae out of gill slits are less pathetic and parasitical. By spouting out constant, enthusiastic, purposeless praise you’ve basically become the annoying junior sidekick that you said you despise.
So, the year was 2015. I was trying on used pants in the cluttered dressing room of a Goodwill, when my phone lit up. It was a friend of mine sending me a text.
Did u c the news?
Harrison Ford crashed his plane.
My heart immediately froze then sank. I sat down on on the bench, pants around my ankles, and frantically typed back.
Yeah, sounds like he’s ok tho.
And then, I could breathe again.
Understand, I don’t think Harrison Ford is a especially admirable person. I mean, he seems decent enough. He’s a Hollywood movie star. I imagine he’s a little egotistical, an ounce more hedonistic and self-serving than I generally like to see, but just a normal guy otherwise. A man I have never met, and will likely never meet, and if I ever did meet him it would just be a cool story for me, and a completely forgettable moment for him.
When he dies, (given our ages, odds are that it’ll be before me,) it really won’t affect my life. He’s not my dad, my grandpa, my friend, or even that one crazy old guy who used to come into the gas station to buy Mr Pibb and lottery tickets and always had a sassy word.
But when he dies, I’ll still be sad. Not devastated, but sad.
Because somewhere in a box of old school things, there’s a fifth grade note book where I drew hearts around a sticker of Han Solo and wrote, “My favorite actor, Harrisen Ford.” And beneath it, in the same box, is the 1998 People magazine when he was ‘Sexiest Man Alive’. I took that thing to school to keep in my desk. A very weirded out Mr. Dunlap asked me if I knew that Harrison Ford was older than he was. I didn’t care.
Harrison Ford was my first crush that wasn’t 2-D cell shaded, and no matter how much my adult brain understands that he isn’t really a part of my life, the lovesick girl in my heart still remembers. You can think of that as good, bad, or neutral; it is still a fact. His existence impacted mine. It’s the reason we mourn famous people. I don’t think it was unhealthy when I had a moment’s pause and pang of sadness at the passing of Christopher Lee, Johnny Cash, Carrie Fisher, or Hank Aaron. It’s natural to be sad when someone who played a part in your own life experiences passes away. When the world loses a little piece of itself that helped to shape it, it’s okay for all of us to notice.
So say Alan Rickman springs up from the audience of Ellen one day, explaining he really just needed some time away from Potterheads lusting over Snape. Or Terry Pratchett shows up at Dragoncon to accost Neil Gaiman, shouting that he knew he would ruin the legacy of Good Omens and just had to see for himself how he would do it. Or Robin Williams heckles Jerry Seinfeld off the stage and does an impromptu set of impressions of how everyone reacted to his pseudocide.
I wouldn’t be overjoyed they’re still alive.
I would be enraged.
They’d be alive, sure. But they’d be dead to me. The person I hoped they were torn away to reveal a callous, selfish monster who was content, even happy, to cause grief in the millions of people who thought of them fondly. Someone so narcissistic as to be oblivious to everyone elses’ feelings, and to come sauntering back into the spotlight expecting to resume their career and fame.
And if I learned that I, somehow, was the instigator of this decision in the famous person; the catalyst sparking all that grief, and now anger.
Well, if I never did anything else in my life, that would probably be the worst thing I’d ever caused.
Apparently, as long as you aren’t lying to or defrauding the government, or intending to defraud others, or committing some other crime in the process thereof, faking your death to others isn’t illegal.
But that doesn’t mean it’s victimless.
(BTW: Thanks to everyone who enjoyed yesterday’s metaphysical musings. It made digging through all the Les/Lisa ghost porn worth it. )
Comic Book Harriet, back in action. Ready to dig through the comic muck of this Inedible Pulp to, hopefully, stab at the heart of this horrifying nonsense.
First of all, I want to thank Spaceman Spiff for easing us through the shock and awe of the first ‘back from the dead’ soap opera moment I think we’ve had since Wally Winkerbean came home.
While some of you have been frustrated and angry at just how baffling the decision to retcon Phil Holt’s death is, I’ve actually been relishing the absolute stupidity of this arc. Unlike Batiuk’s biffing of Bull’s Suicide, the morally dubious resolution of the Adeela ICE arc, or the callous insensitivity of the LA Fires, the crazy on display here has no offensive real-world victims unless you find it libelous to Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, or Joe Simon.
And today, I finally get the answer to the most pressing question raised by Phil Holt’s ‘resurrection’: did he fake his death, or have a near death experience? Hanging on this question, was the interpretation of this strip from three years ago.
With the retcon, and the knowledge that Phil was completely fine at the time, there is only one explanation for these ghosts. Darin was imagining Phil and Lisa’s spirits having this conversation as they looked on approvingly at the auction. It was a fantasy that he concocted for his own gratification.
Furthermore, this suggests that every time we see ‘ghosts’ in strip it’s just the daydreaming of a living character, comforting themselves with a lie, roleplaying a no longer possible conversation, or expressing an internal anxiety, sometimes all at the same time.
Like when Lillian was visited by ‘Lucy’ coming back from the grave to lead her on a guilt purging journey of taking an undelivered letter to a demolished building, where Lucy and her old boyfriend Eugene could finally spiritually be together (even though Eugene was still alive at the time.)
Les of course is the worst offender of this. Lisa constantly pops up around him, encouraging him, praising him, agreeing with him, and smiling while watching him make out with his hot new wife.
But even Les seems to realize that this is just him projecting what he imagines Lisa would say. And that Lisa only lives on inside his mind as a fractured reflection of his memory. She sleeps forever, in the oblivion of death.
If I could ask Batiuk a personal question, I would ask if he believes in an afterlife. Because I don’t think he really does. I think he wishes there was something after death, but has been convinced that the only immortality we actually get is the lingering echoes we leave in the hearts and minds of others.
And, in time, those people will pass away, and so then passes even memory. Life has meaning, but only temporarily.
And so all metaphysical experience is really just human consciousness and awareness fractured and reflected back on itself. When we try to conceive of or reach out to God, or dead loved ones, or eternity, the only thing that can reach back is a part of yourself.
Dead St. Lisa was only a part of imagination. She’s no more or less real than that heatstroke robot Funky imagined when running, or Jeff’s Inner Child avatar, or Les’ depression cat.
But, then again, apparently the depression cat is real and crazy old film producers can see it.
And Dead Lisa did call into an airport and talk to customer service, then Les, then called in a phony bomb threat…
Last week faithful and valued commenters William Thompson and Maxine of Arc got on the subject of church mice, specifically questioning why they would be quiet or poor. I promised them an explanation, so today here it is.
Why are church mice quiet?
Church mice are quiet because in the 20th century two idioms got smashed together. “Quiet as a mouse.” Which has been around since the 16th century, and “Poor/hungry as a church mouse.” which has been around since the 17th century.
The quietness of rodents is pretty self explanatory. But why are church mice poorer and hungrier than other mice?
For any of you who didn’t have to sit through three years of confirmation or multiple years of religious history in college, transubstantiation is the Catholic belief that communion bread and wine become, in reality, the actual body and blood of Christ. Not a remembrance or a symbol or even just inhabited by the the spirit or essence of the body, (Lutheran consubstantiation.) The substance has been transformed into actual Godflesh.
So Catholics take a lot of care that any excess communion bread left over after a Mass is protected; and the place they put the extra, either a tabernacle or an ambry, often has kneeling rails for private devotions or eucharistic adoration.
Even before transubstantiation became a set idea, early Christians didn’t want little mice gnawing on communion wafers.
“Let all take care that no unbaptized person taste of the Eucharist nor a mouse or other animal, and that none of it at all fall and be lost. For it is the Body of Christ to be eaten by them that believe and not to be thought of lightly.”(Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition III:32:2 235 AD.)
But what would happen if a mouse DID eat communion bread? Medieval theologians were fascinated with the idea, and used the question ‘Quid Mus Sumit?‘ ‘What does the mouse eat?’ as a thought experiment to explore the idea of The Eucharist. What is it? What does it do? What would it do to someone who ate it without knowing what it was? At what point does it stop being body and blood?
“Even though a mouse or a dog were to eat the consecrated host, the substance of Christ’s body would not cease to be under the species, so long as those species remain, and that is, so long as the substance of bread would have remained; just as if it were to be cast into the mire. Nor does this turn to any indignity regarding Christ’s body, since He willed to be crucified by sinners without detracting from His dignity; especially since the mouse or dog does not touch Christ’s body in its proper species, but only as to its sacramental species. Some, however, have said that Christ’s body would cease to be there, directly it were touched by a mouse or a dog; but this again detracts from the truth of the sacrament, as stated above. None the less it must not be said that the irrational animal eats the body of Christ sacramentally; since it is incapable of using it as a sacrament. Hence it eats Christ’s body “accidentally,” and not sacramentally, just as if anyone not knowing a host to be consecrated were to consume it. And since no genus is divided by an accidental difference, therefore this manner of eating Christ’s body is not set down as a third way besides sacramental and spiritual eating.”
Of course all this Catholic rodent obsession was eventually used by Protestants during the Reformation as a big old ‘gotcha’ when lambasting Catholic ‘idolatry’ of the communion. Some of it got downright vicious and definitely disingenuous. And it’s from about this time that ‘hungry as a church mouse’ became an idiom.
So there you have it. Church mice are poor because they can’t get any communion bread, and we joke about it because of leftover anti-Catholic sentiment.
Many apologies to anyone who came to this blog today expecting comics criticism instead of a theological deep dive, but I wanted to end my shift talking about something I actually find compelling, rather than dance the Dinklepolka.
It’s been an interesting couple weeks. I mean in terms of the straws I grasped at to try and find something to say. Those straws were kinda fun to braid together. The strip was boring as mud. Actually, I take that back. Mud is much more interesting. I think I’ll research that next.
Join me again in a couple months as I regale you all about INTERESTING MUD. For example. Did you know all baseballs used in MLB are rubbed with special mud harvested, prepped, and packaged by a single man from New Jersey who gathers it in a secret location every year along the Delaware River?
Until next time then. TF Hackett is taking over tomorrow. Good luck good sir. You have my sympathies.
When I first saw this week’s strips I was skeptical of the feasibility of a cat living in a church. I know that businesses, nursing homes, and libraries have kept cats in the past; I’ve seen the same puff pieces in the lifestyles section as everyone else.
But with roughly 20 percent of people having some level of allergic reaction to cats, I had a hard time believing that any church would risk annoying congregants and turning away potential parishioners by letting a feline frolic through the foyer. On the other hand, Tom steals more story ideas than Shakespeare, there was a good chance he’d come across some fluffy choir cat story on the news. So I went on a quest to find church cats.
After cutting out the results for the undead monster cat from Pet Semetary, I found, among others, the following adorable moggy muffins curling up between the pews. And really, aren’t cat pictures better than trying to find something to say about Lillian talking to Dinkle about vermin?
Canterbury Cathedral has several cats, and a few made the news this past year for sneaking into the live streams of The Dean of Canterbury’s prayers.
Sadly, back in 2013 the cathedral mourned the loss of one of their sweet sneaky boys. His name? Laptop.
The knowing smirks exchanged by the characters today signaled to me that there was supposed to be a joke somewhere in here, even though I didn’t see it on first glance.
After hours of careful study and research, I’ve decided the joke was that the cat is actually named Bingo because St. Spires, like many churches, supports itself with organized charitable gambling.
Which lends weight to St Spires being Catholic. Church Bingo tends to be a Catholic exercise, though in big cities, it might be Jewish. Back in the heyday, Protestant ministers would lambast Bingo as a vile and immoral game of chance, really no better than the indulgences that had once funded the papacy. Even today, some churches struggle with the morality of making their money from hosting gambling, often by people outside their congregation.
But back in the Great Depression, Bingo kept many parishes from shutting their doors. Edwin Lowe, the man who first sold the game under the name BINGO, claimed he was approached by a Catholic Priest only months after he first started selling Bingo. It was because of the concerns of this priest that Lowe contacted Columbia University math professor, Carl Leffler, to create thousands of unique Bingo cards, so there would be less repeated winners. According to legend, the math professor subsequently went insane.
Of course, Lowe only improved and named an already existing game. The first attestations of a bingo-like game date all the way back to Italy in the 16th century. And the word ‘Bingo’ also predates association with the game by centuries. Lowe claimed that he chose the name after a player of ‘Beano’, the game’s precursor, shouted ‘Bingo!’ when she won. In the 1920’s, the word ‘bingo’ had become an expression of surprise and success.
The semi-nonsensical word had been circulating for a long time. Before most of us have ever played a game of Bingo, we are taught the nursery song about a farmer’s dog. And that song is older than the US Constitution. The earliest printed version of the song with a dog named Bingo was listed in The Humming Bird songbook in 1785.
“The farmer’s dog leapt over the stile, his name was little Bingo, the farmer’s dog leapt over the stile, his name was little Bingo.”
But WHY was the dog named Bingo? Well, the answer may be in the forgotten second verse.
“The farmer loved a cup of good ale, he called it rare good stingo, the farmer loved a cup of good ale, he called it rare good stingo.”