Sunday, September 25, 2005

Les Canadiens sont la, encore (finalement)


Last night's exhibition game between the Canadiens and Leafs (won by the Canadiens 3-2) made it real. The NHL really is back. There really will be hockey again all this fall winter and spring.

It's a good feeling.

More than that, the Canadiens right now are faced with an interesting puzzle: they've got a lot of young kids coming up, most at forward, and how do you fit them all into the line-up? Just trying to work out a 23-man roster, never mind figuring out your starters, becomes tough when you balance open roster spots versus waiver vulnerability versus who's outplaying who. It's like one of those Chinese finger-traps; a fun game, except sooner or later you've got to get your damn fingers free, and whichever way you pull you can't figure out how to make it work.

For the record, my guess for the moment is that Alex Perezhogin gets sent down to Hamilton, Guillaume Latendresse returns to junior, and in a couple months we see somebody like Pierre Dagenais traded. I also suspect we'll see one or more of the forward prospects (Perezhogin, Tomas Plekanec, Marcel Hossa, and Chris Higgins) dealt for a defenceman around the time of the trading deadline. If Josef Balej and a draft pick got the Habs Kovalev, maybe one of the aforementioned players can get some much-needed help on the blue line.

In the long run, with even more players likely to come up and fight their way onto the roster at forward over the next two to four years, more moves will likely be made. It's shaping up like a Darwinian battle for positions over the next little while, and it's anybody's guess at this point what kind of a beast will result. All the players mentioned in the paragraph above impressed me. All of them look like they can play in the NHL right now. The Canadiens have some interesting decisions to make as a team about how they intend to develop themselves going forward, and what strengths they want to develop.

(And one other thing about the forwards I really want to say: after a fashion, the player who most impressed me was Jonathan Ferland. His play wasn't at the level of the other four, but he didn't look like he was that far away from the NHL. I remember when the kid was drafted, and the quick summary was 'good size, could be a power forward, can't skate, will likely never make it'. But he's developed himself well, constantly moved forward, and it's not impossible now that he could fight his way onto a fourth line spot in a year or two. More power to him.)

Meanwhile, watching the game last night I found it impossible to make up my mind whether I preferred Ron Hainsey or Mark Streit as a 6th or 7th defenceman. So many penalties are being called it's become very clear that the NHL is trying to really change the way the game is played. More specifically, they're trying to change the way defence is played, and not just by defencemen. If this keeps up, every player in the league is going to have to be re-evaluated with respect to their defensive ability. Some players formerly regarded as solid players may not have the careers they used to (people are already looking nervously at Philadelphia's defence corps, especially Derian Hatcher and Chris Therrien). In the meanwhile, I don't really know how you evaluate defence prospects. This will be an interesting battle to watch.

Anyway, we know the Canadiens will be good. Aragorn hath decreed it.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Quote of the Day

"So long as you can read good books in the languages they effect, that's enough for education: but it adds greatly to your pleasure if you have memory enough to remember the why and wherefore of the waxing and waning of peoples, and to trace the slow washing up and down of event upon event. In that way I think history is the only knowledge of the easy man."

— T.E. Lawrence

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Media and communication

This could be interesting: Brian Mulroney's upset because Peter Newman's written a tell-all book revealing some conversations Newman and Mulroney once had. It's not terribly surprising that Mulroney dislikes Trudeau, but hearing him trash-talk Kim Campbell, if not surprising, at least should be somewhat revealing. So are Mulroney's thoughts on his place in history; he compares himself to Sin John A. MacDonald. Now, in the sense of 'corrupt drunkard', there's probably some truth to that. Otherwise — no.

Meanwhile, Bono continues to win more flies with honey than with vinegar, reassuring Canadians that Paul Martin listens to us and calling him a "great leader for Canada" who can "lead the world out of poverty". According to the CBC. This continues the trend noticeable before the Live 8 event, when Bono and company consciously tried not to offend the politicians who lead the wealthy countries of the world. I can see their logic; confrontation hasn't really worked, maybe praise will. If you make them aware of their power, and phrase the eradication of poverty as a challenge to that power, maybe they'll take action.

The link between these two stories is simply the handling of the media. And the need for an awareness of how to communicate through the media in order to succeed in politics. The need to watch one's words in a forum even slightly public.

Um, not entirely unlike blogs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Mainstream drying up


There's an interesting interview here with Devin Grayson about the mainstream comics industry. It's a solid run-down of what toiling in the trenches is like. In other words, horrifying. Control over your story is, of course, impossible. Basic rights given to writers in all other fields are routinely denied comics writers (even the right to pull your name from a script you didn't write is taken away from you).

But what's really interesting about the piece, to me, is the way it calls up memories of debates from the late 80s. The way I recall it, there used to be an argument that the mainstream comics companies — Marvel and DC — could be 'reformed', with respect to their publishing practices, and become viable venues for a wide range of artistically-ambitious material. The more extreme versions of this theory held that the super-hero genre would evolve to accomodate this sort of work, but most sane thinkers felt that the companies could or would move away from a strict super-hero focus, branch out into other genres, and perhaps even begin publishing 'literary' fiction on the order of Maus or Love & Rockets. All of this, of course, could only happen when creators in the mainstream won greater rights from the big publishers. A Creator's Bill of Rights was drafted. Work-for-hire was denounced.

As I recall, and I may only be projecting my perceptions of the time on to the comics field in general, 1986 and the years after were key. Maus showed the sophistication comics were capable of, not only in technique, but in intellectual approach. Watchmen showed that even a superhero comic was capable of great structural complexity and formal daring. But: did it represent a new way forward, or the far limit of what could be done? Alan Moore left DC not long afterwards, faced with the same creative restriction Grayson lists. Other creators, like Frank Miller, went as well.

But a new wave of writers, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison prominent among them, created a range of titles which ultimately went on to be grouped in its own imprint, Vertigo, distantly related to the mainstream DC universe yet tengential to it; it was where the superhero books went to grow up. People tend to forget now that many of the original Vertigo books were based on old DC concepts — Doom Patrol, Kid Eternity, Shade the Changing Man, even Sandman started out as a reworking of the DC character and featured other DC heroes and villains in its first issues. Some of these creators became highly acclaimed, leading to them winning new rights from DC. The fights for creators' rights that Moore and Miller could resolve only be leaving what they felt to be a corrupt system looked like it might be winnable after all.

Now, what happened to change all this, in my view, was the rise of star artists at Marvel which in turn led to the phenomenon of the early Image Comics. Art was all. Stories became simplistic. The ideal of more complex stories told within the mainstream began to dwindle, as Vertigo moved further away from what was considered 'mainstream', and got lost in the collectors' frenzy. Speculation led to an emphasis on the comic as consumer item: on the simple, the easily graspable. This book was worth money because of x artist working on y character.

The mainstream, in other words, gave up the ghost. Rather than reform itself, the mainstream industry took the easy way out — as it usually does. Creators' rights in the mainstream industry faded as a topic for general debate, and never quite returned. There have been some flash-point incidents in the years since, but no movement, no general call for the formation of a union. There have been fine comics coming out of the mainstream — 1994's Marvels being a case in point — but none have had the artistic cachet or daring of Watchmen or even Sandman. Vertigo has had its horizons narrowed; it published sf, crime fiction, fantasy, decent genre stuff but nothing earthbreaking even in these fields. Alternative comics ended up carrying the banner for what comics could be, and so the graphic novels making it into libraries and the New York Times book reviews are all published by Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, and the usual suspects. In retrospect it all seems inevitable.

But I sometimes wonder ...