Monday, January 12, 2015

Comics Are Magick: Intruders in the Skies

As you get older, it's all too easy to get lost in routine, to anesthetize yourself with ritual and television. It's why creative work is so often the province of the young. 

It's also why David Lynch is such a firebrand for Transcendental Meditation; he knows how easy it is to lose that spark and how hard you have to work to keep hold of it.

Speaking of Lynch, it's interesting to see the massive disconnect when you look at the consumers and producers of a certain kind of pop culture. If Lynch didn't make Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. he'd be loathed by his hipster fans as a New Age flake, a ditzy woo-woo weirdo. 

Philip K. Dick has legions of fans who don't know quite what to make of his beliefs of an omnipotent orbital intelligence and homoplasmates from the Sirius star system. You can only imagine their reaction if they knew he had become a follower of Benjamin Creme before his death, as Tau Allen Greenfield has claimed.

One of the principles I'm working under is that it's pointless to argue about the paranormal. It's an experiential phenomenon and the issue at hand is transmission. Close Encounters of the Third Kind did more for the UFO cause than 30 years of UFOlogy combined because it transmitted an experience. It was fiction and UFOlogists grumbled about the details, but no one could argue with the experience onscreen.

I read Dick's Exegesis work before I read Valis, so I was fully aware that what he was writing was an autobiography, not science fiction. There were fictionalized elements (he didn't hang out with Bowie and Eno in real life, he was just enraptured by their music) but he was writing about his life. And of course, Valis is miles ahead of The Exegesis, certainly as far as recall. The novel imprinted his experiences via transmission, something a lecture could never do.

I recently tried rereading Budd Hopkins' Intruders, but gave up halfway through. Reading abductee accounts is like being trapped in a room with a coworker who wants to tell you about their dreams. Every day. In exhaustive detail. 

Stymied, I tried rewatching the TV movie. The first quarter was great; the Air Force situation room, the scene with the abductees' experiences. Then it became one crushingly dull hypnosis scene after another. The transmission had ended. It became entirely subjective and interior. It doesn't surprise me that the public lost interest in the topic.

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I began musing on all of this when the gorgeous new Alex Toth book came in the mail and I was reminded that the comics and animation genius was yet another "UFO nut." 

Toth was not only the mastermind behind so many of the legendary Hanna-Barbera action cartoons of the 1960s, he also was an aviation buff (and a car buff as well, having created a host of cartoons for Big Daddy Roth), and not the kind of starry-eyed dreamer you might normally associate with the UFO topic.

He was also curmudgeon of some great repute (one comics legend had him dangling an editor out a window who was late with a payment) and suffered fools not at all. So it's no surprise that he unleashed a salvo against UFO skeptics in comics form in the 1980s entitled 'UFO: Perts vs Experts'.

But the issue of transmission is germane here since Toth's trademark confrontational style is in full display. As Toth did so often, the story draws a line in the sand and that's the end of that. Toth's anger became more pronounced as he got older, especially after the death of his wife. It's a shame because it extinguished the tremendous joy and energy his work could fill the reader with.

When it comes to transmission, what is more compelling: 'Perts vs Experts' or Toth's deliriously hypnotic visual tone poem about a pilot's close encounter, 'Tibor Miko'? What can touch the magic of 'Daddy and the Pie', the sublime story of a farming family's relationship with a stranded alien? Which of these make the reader want to believe, to borrow a phrase?

The pundits declared 2014 the year of the death of the UFO, but already 2015 is proving those predictions premature. I've seen this all happen before. 

We're also seeing a situation in which trust between the public and its social institutions is at its lowest ebb. How this affects our culture and our pop culture remains to be seen, but there is no love lost between the public and its cultural institutions either- consumption of all types of media continues to splinter and fall. There isn't a newspaper or magazine in America that is truly financially secure, and even television is tottering.

These are the times when paradigms shift.