Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
There's really no reason a Scott Pilgrim fan shouldn't get this. Colorful, fun, and well designed, it's like a Scott Pilgrim T-shirt in comic book form. It consists of various (mostly) color SP comics, pin-ups, promotional pieces, and assorted ephemera--a good place to track down things like the Free Comic Book Day prequel to Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, that awesome Super Mario Bros. 3 ad pastiche, the Kim Pine comic strip, and (reproduced at too small a size for my pervy tastes, to be perfectly frank) sexy colored sketches of Ramona and Kim in their bathing suits. O'Malley's snappy dialogue and "video-game realism" are as on as ever, his paint palette is surprisingly gentle rather than poppy, and you know what? I've heard enough people say that SP Vol. 1 isn't the greatest introduction to the series (which has gotten funnier, more ambitious, more insightful, and more delightfully complicated as it's gone on) that I wonder if this colorful, less expensive, more immediately appealing book isn't a better one. I recommend someone give it a try.
* Because I am now an old man, I pussied out on the midnight screening of Ryuhei Kitamura's Clive Barker adaptation Midnight Meat Train during Comic-Con. Obviously this was a huge mistake, because Lionsgate is finishing off its thorough rogering of this film with the donkey punch of releasing it only in dollar theaters. This way they can keep within the letter of their agreement to release the movie theatrically while being maximally insulting to filmmakers and filmgoers alike. I'll tell you, I am privy to some behind-the-scenes gossip about the goings-on at Lionsgate under its new-ish boss Joe Drake, and the joint sounds like an absolute nightmare. This is just ugly no matter how you slice it.
* Heidi MacDonald posts her even-tempered post-Con wrap-up. She directly addresses how the show's egalitarianism is frequently its own biggest problem, while admirably avoiding advocating policies that would reward her comparatively privileged place in the hierarchy. She does call for a press day, though, something I've now heard from a couple of disparate quarters. (As I mentioned in my report, I just can't imagine how that makes financial sense for retailers and publishers who retail, but I guess it's a thing that is done at some shows.)
* Does the fact that Ronald Reagan did not, in fact, ignite a nuclear holocaust adversely affect art made with the underlying assumption that this was a real possibility, like Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons's Watchmen? Matthew Yglesias has some thoughts.
This handsome new book-sized version of Los Bros' hallowed series continues both Fantagraphics' TPB hot streak - Mome and the Love & Rockets digests are also doozies of an argument for this format - and the Brothers' almost absurd mastery of the art form.
Jaime's contribution is your proverbial superhero epic, in which Maggie's friend Angel joins forces with several different teams of female superheroes to help subdue Penny Century, who's gone and pulled a Parallax (nerd points!) after her fulfilling her long-standing dream of gaining super-powers proves disastrous. It's fun to see Jaime shift this seamlessly back into the sort of revisionist-genre storytelling he practiced in L&R's earliest issues. The trick to it is delivering everything you want in a superhero story - action, suspense, tight costumes - while maintaining his characters' neuroses and having the events of the tale spring directly from them just like they would in a normal "Locas" story. Also, I don't know if you've heard about this, but he's pretty okay at drawing women, spotting blacks, and pacing panel transitions. I know, I hope you were sitting down.
For me, though, it's Gilbert who's killing the game here. Sandwiched between his brothers' two superhero installments, Gilbert's comics are mostly short, largely abstract, and completely devastating. Two subtly interlocking strips set in completely different milieux , "Papa" and "Victory Dance," muse on love and restlessness, using disease and solitary travel to nail that feeling of wanting to drop it all and go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it's somewhere else. Another strip flips this idea around, recasting Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as jovial space barbarians who slaughter their way back together across a hostile world after their duo has been forcibly disbanded by aliens. Both "Victory Dance" and "?" showcase Beto's skill at "choreographing" the images in each panel into a rhythm, the former literally through depiction of a dance, the latter with Woodring-esque surrealism. "Never Say Never" is also on the surreal side, invoking Freud and Dali with slightly blue gags about sex and money among funny animals. "Chiro El Indio," written by Mario, reads like an out-of-continuity "Palomar" excerpt. "The Funny Papers" serves up three newspaper-size strips, any one of which would be the best strip I read all year. This is a guy who makes you want to push away from your table and give up.
I heard plenty of press complaints about press passes not doing much and noted this in my show report; even then, fresh from the show, I was chalking up at least 50% of this to press narcissism. Now I'm leaning even further in that direction, because it seems to me that many of the complaints we're hearing and seeing stem from people wanting to do what is no more or less than a job on more or less entirely their own terms, which strikes me as unreasonable.
This was the first show I've "worked," and in order to do that properly I voluntarily made sacrifices. I did less socializing, both during and after show hours. I went to fewer "wish-list" panels, things I wanted but didn't need to attend. I did less eating--regrettable, and I don't recommend it, but I managed. I saved time that could have been spent schlepping to the press room or back to the hotel boat by simly popping a squat on the floor next to an outlet someplace in the Convention Center and filing half a dozen stories that way. I got to my assigned panels and events in advance, and had at least three other people scope out my main wish-list panel (Watchmen) so that I could combine working and waiting in the most efficient way possible. (I even filed a story while sitting in Hall H waiting for the presentation to start.)
And I was but a cog in the massive machine that was Comic Book Resources' presence at the show. CBR honcho Jonah Weiland treated the thing like a small military operation, with a staff of about two dozen people; redundancies and failsafes in terms of panel coverage, personnel, and equipment; rigorously planned schedules and deadlines; prioritization of panels and events; a swing-man (me) to pick up things that fell through the cracks and chase news; off-site reporters and editorial support staff, etc. Lo and behold, he's posted around 175 stories, plus however many blog entries and liveblog entries, with what has to be another 50 or so stories backlogged, and his traffic has now surpassed his main competitor's.
In other words, both myself on a micro level and Jonah on a macro level made choices we deemed necessary to properly cover the Con. Had I instead attended the biggest pop-culture convention in North America--with an attendance level of 125,000 including over 3,000 members of the press--with the expectation of waltzing in and out and around more or less as I pleased, going to everything I felt like going to, filing coverage at the time, place, pace, and level of my choosing, having a full dance card of social events every night and at mealtimes, and planning to cover 400 official programming hours plus however many exhibitors and guests and unofficial tie-ins and parties and whatnot with a skeleton crew, I would undoubtedly be complaining now too.
Moreover, I did what I did with the help of CCI's accessible and accurate panel and event schedule and floor map, and while repeatedly conducting 15-20 minute phone conversations with the organization's spokesman, who literally every time we talked apologized for not being even more accessible. Could the Con have had a better advertised, better located, and (from what I hear) better appointed press room? Sure. Did the lack of one, or any other CCI-based snafu, affect my ability to cover the show at all? No. As much fun as it would have been to relive my salad days of flying in on the corporate account, living it up in my in-room Jacuzzi, cruising from booth to booth and panel to panel on a whim, and gallivanting around the city while half in the bag, I had to do things differently to get my job done this time around, and that's fine. I don't expect the CCI organization, or almost any organization that isn't an all-inclusive vacation resort, to simply hand me my ideal experience, particularly when that ideal is an increasingly unrealistic one.
Meanwhile, I don't know how you look at a show that had spotlight panels for Jim Woodring and Lynda Barry, a show where Drawn & Quarterly and Buenaventura Press made a good go of things, a show where a 22-year-old superhero comic AND an anthology based on the songs of the woman who sang "Silent All These Years" AND new work by the most important pure-comics/altcomix practitioners ever completely sold out, and kvetch that it's in danger of losing its comics bona-fides.
Nor do I see why parties being too crowded is a problem for anyone other than the people hosting those parties and you, the person trying to get in.
Nor do I see any line of demarcation between shows and movies and swag that really have nothing to do with comics of old--like Lost, which during the year it premiered at San Diego had zero comics connections and was relying solely on the nerd-cred of J.J. Abrams and Dominic Monaghan; or the Lord of the Rings movies or gaming, because no matter how many adaptations or tie-ins there have been, these things were there in and of themselves not because of some tangential, tendentious relationship to comics--and the shows and movies and swag that really have nothing to do with comics of today--like The Office or Harold and Kumar, which have at least as much nerd appeal as Wanted if my friends are any indication. Once that door's open, open it wide, I say!
Nor do I think we should even be talking about the comparatively minor issue of the CCI press-pass situation when there's a far more pressing issue regarding the other 122,000 attendees: the sell-outs, and whether the need to be aware enough of the show to buy your tickets weeks or months in advance keeps out the kind of impulse/casual/mainstream attendee who in theory at least represent the future health of this art form.
When it comes down to it I love going to the San Diego Comic-Con; working or not, there's nothing else like it. And I have to admit I find it distasteful to watch paid media professionals insinuate that the most egalitarian, something-for-everynerd art-to-fans showcase in the country undergo a radical restructuring because there's a lot of stuff going on they're not interested in or that doesn't flatter their personal conception of what the Con is for--or worse, saying the whole affair has jumped the shark because they had a hard time getting into panels they just kinda thought it would be neat to see, and then maybe if they felt like it blog a bit about how cute Matthew Goode/Carla Gugino looked afterwards. I'm by no means saying that's the full extent of the complaints, or whether there are other complaints that are much more valid, but this is mostly the read I'm getting based on what I know to have been possible in terms of press coverage of this show, and I am very uncomfortable with slamming the Con based on a wholly imaginary alternative.
Someday I'm going to have to sit down with someone who was there and have them explain to me the precise pop-cultural-historical moment during which it became feasible for a man and his band to dress up like Revolutionary War pirate Scarlet Pimpernels and sing glam-rock songs about the value of being handsome and thereby become massively popular. I do not understand this moment but wish it were eternal.
So, Sean, what did you think of the Watchmen movie panel?
Well, I liked it. It was cute that since none of the actors had read the book before being cast in the movie, they work overtime to impress upon the fans just how seriously and reverently they're treating it now that they have read it. Actually, Patrick Wilson said some interesting things about how working with a comic as source material enables you to physically see the authors' vision of a character's physicality in a way that normal scripts or book adaptations can't, which gave him more insight into what Dan Dreiberg's personality is really like. Matthew Goode, who I liked a lot as the cuckold in Match Point (spoiler alert! a cuckold in a Woody Allen movie!), was silent until moderator and crazed Lost theorizer/time-waster Jeff Jensen specifically turned to him, and then he let loose this five-minute monologue about finding Ozymandias's accent that was pretty much your dream of what talking to an English actor would be like--at varying times he did the accents of an American good ol' boy and a mincing British homo-secks-sewell, and he cursed up a blue streak. People were just sort of ambiently laughing out loud by the end of it. Crudup was consistently funny too.
Snyder is not his own greatest spokesman but I think he handled things pretty well. It was interesting to hear him say in person something I've heard other people mention he's said, which was that he deliberately made the Dark Knight-attached trailer a creature of the modern superhero genre, song from the Batman & Robin soundtrack and all, as a sort of commentary.
I liked the footage, but then, I like Snyder in general. Still, some of my friends who were skeptical about the original trailer liked this a lot better. It was basically a trailer on steroids--no dialogue, just a lot of snippets and images edited together. So you couldn't get a sense of whether it was going to be acted like Sarah Polley in Dawn of the Dead or Gerard Butler in 300, but you did get a look at all the characters in costume and in action, sets and locales and scenes from across the breadth of the story. They all looked good, inhabited and intimidating. Tons of slow motion, as is his perhaps regrettable wont. When Dr. Manhattan blows people up they explode in showers of gore. As I think I mentioned, watching him and the Comedian run amok in Vietnam is going to get a lot of the politically based critics of 300 and Dawn of the Dead gunning for this movie too.
Maybe the best part, though, were the audience questioners, who were like a parade of High Comic-Con Ridiculousness. The second guy was dressed as Batman, the third like a refugee from the "Sabotage" video, there was a Rorschach, and there was a pair of identical twins who finished each other's sentences and even had a stock comeback for when Snyder jokingly asked if they were related ("we're roommates!"). The funny thing is that the room is so big that you had no idea who was up next until their faces/masks showed up on the jumbotrons. Best of all, except for this one douche in a Strangers in Paradise t-shirt who was way too impressed with himself for making crude innuendo about Carla Gugino's breasts, all of them just got up, did their thing, and split without trying to hog the spotlight.
Goddammit this is a funny comic book. In the time it took me to pick it up from one corner of Buenaventura Press's table at the San Diego Comic-Con and walk it over to the end where I could pay for it, I honestly think I'd laughed out loud four times, and we're talking maybe six feet total. As gleefully stupid as Bluto Blutarsky yelling "Food fight!" or Ogre Palowakski yelling "Nerds!" or Matthew McConaghey's line in "Dazed & Confused" about high school girls, it's a pitch-perfect encapsulation of college-age male idiocy. Furie's quartet of monster dudes run roughshod over decorum like the Four Horseman of Rad Dumbness: Andy's the prankster, Brett's the dancin' fool, Pepe's the chowhound, and Landwolf's the party animal. Into their mouths Furie stuffs the catchphrase detritus of a million public service campaigns, Oxy commercials, and NBC sitcoms: "Let's do this," "fierce," "awkward," "any questions?", "that's what I'm talkin' about," and my favorite one-two punch of the book, "and I care because?..." and "that would be a yes." Gags about sharts, peeing with your pants pulled down, and crawling hungover into a shower with your socks still on are all too real, and really just funny as shit. I like it even better than the first issue. Everyone who ever laughed at a Judd Apatow or National Lampoon movie needs to be issued this comic in the mail, courtesy of Uncle Sam. It's go time!
* As happy as I'll be when disco is officially reclaimed as cool (and we're already well on our way), I'm also going to be grumpy about it, because the pleasure of reading the liner notes to a Barry White best-of collection in 1997 and suddenly "getting" the genre and loving it for years all on my lonesome is undeniable.
* The end is not the end: Edward James Olmos will be directing a two-hour Battlestar Galactica movie about the Cylons' doings in the immediate aftermath of their apocalyptic attack on the Colonies, to air after the series finale. (Via AICN.)
* Matt Maxwell notes that in moving to San Francisco, the X-Men franchise isn't really saying anything it hasn't said before. The funny thing is that I think it's saying even less than it used to. When House of M got rid of all the everyday run-of-the-mill mutants, leaving us pretty much just with the ones who fight each other for a living, I remember Joe Quesada saying he did this because the existence of millions of mutants took us away from the concept's central persecuted-minority metaphor. This, of course, only makes sense if there are just 198 gay people or black people or Jewish people or geeks in the world. One of the many great things about Grant Morrison's New X-Men was that the book was finally acknowledging the way minority culture could quickly become majority culture, and how maligned subcultures can indeed force the world at large to chance. Now, instead of having a franchise mapped to the explosive rise of hip-hop culture or the increasing prominence of homosexuals, there's a couple hundred of them cowering in San Francisco.
* Writing for Topless Robot, Patrick Cooper runs down The 8 Worst Things in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I think you could probably do eighty before needing to rope in the really pretty rad Ewok TV movies. (The Gorax, yo!) A strict swap with Prince Xizor would be acceptable.
If God didn't hate us all, we'd live in a world where there'd be some way for Michael Kupperman, Johnny Ryan, and Matt Furie to do a world tour in every way the humor comics equivalent of that Guns n' Roses/Metallica/Faith No More tour my parents wouldn't let me go to back in '91--selling out stadiums, inspiring bootleg T-shirts sold in parking lots filled with drunk drivers, and causing riots when Ryan gets in a fistfight with Stephanie Seymour and blows off a show in Toronto out of frustration. But here we are, and the best we can do is get a new issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle and laugh ourselves stupid.
I think the key to Kupperman's humor, aside from the mechanical precision of his artwork (watching him contribute to my Bowie sketchbook was fairly astonishing in how painstaking the process was), is how his jokes don't so much wander as trail off into platonic simplicity. My guess is that his non sequitur structuring puts a lot of people in mind of Monty Python, but Python tended to go from one full-fledged idea into another, even if that other was totally random and disconnected from the original. Kupperman, by contrast, kind of whittles away at his opening gambits until they reveal purer and purer strands of nonsense. The best example here is a parody of an old educational filmstrip about harbors--the set-up goes after how boring filmstrips are, the first set of gags riffs on the kinds of information presented in filmstrips through exaggeration, the second set spoofs the Statue of Liberty through absurdity, the third set entails physical impossibilities, and by the end he's just repeating the word "Harbors!" over and over and over eight times in a row. It's a can-you-top-this game pitting Kupperman against logic in a battle to the death. Kupperman wins.
That incredibly boring explanation of comedy will hopefully not discourage you from buying a comic that features...
* Indian Spirit Chewing Gum - Haunted with Dead Indian Flavor ("The tribes of my people used to cover the land, as numberless as the buffalo. Now we are dead and inside your sticks of chewing gum." - Big Chief Running Commentary)
* Loose-cannon TV-show cops Mark Twain and Albert Einstein (Twain: "Sometimes I get fed up with these Fourth-Amendment punks and their 'rights'!" Einstein: "Scum disgusts me")
* N'Sync in "Pirate Scum Are We" ("Pirate scum are we / Sailing o'er the sea / We'll die with our mates / For pieces of eight / Baby I love youuu...")
* Pottie's - For the best of today's toilet comedians ("Don't you hate it when it won't go down?" - Larry Ronco, February 11th)
* "Hell Is for Monkees" ("'Buried alive!' Mike Nesmith whispered softly. The words had a terrible finality.")
I don't know what it is about actually funny humor comics that turns me into such a bald-faced salesman, but for real, I urge you to purchase this comic book.
I've probably listened to this song 40 or 50 times over the past few days.
When I graduated college and started working in Manhattan, electroclash was pretty big, and I loved it because around that time David Bowie had really softened me up both for the post-punk/New Wave heirs to his sound specifically and theatricality and "posing" generally. I still love it and don't go in for the backlash, because to me it was never about a scene, it was about sounds and ideas, but one criticism I did take to heart was from someone who said that the electroclash people missed the BIGNESS of early '80s electronic pop music, particularly in terms of the vocals. I'd take that a step further and say that the big vocals wouldn't work in electroclash because of the ironic distance that material took from the '80s originals. Which is fine, but what you lacked is the cavernous, glistening, unabashed emotion of great '80s pop music. There was no distance--these people were putting it all on the line all the time, investing this enormous sense of drama into pop songs that you really didn't see with the quiet earnestness of '70s acoustically driven pop music. It's impossible for me to listen to songs like "Let Me Go" or "Smalltown Boy" or "West End Girls" or "Head Over Heels" without picturing some actual young human being someplace during that decade listening to these songs, feeling every note and every word, crying or swooning about what's going on in their own lives and how it's reflected in the music.
So anyway, that's what I get from this song, too. Afternoon light and good memories that hit so hard they make you want to vomit, like the past is tangible and its intrusion is disorienting you. I wish the video didn't stick quotes around the sentiment, but the beginning and end of the clip get it to a certain extent, I think. It almost doesn't matter because you'll see your own video in your head. It's a good song.
Like half the nerds in America, I recently re-read this graphic novel, inspired to do so by the trailer for Zack Snyder's upcoming movie adaptation. I feel much older than I did when I first read the book during my sophomore year in college, and much of what I appreciated about it then fails to impress me now...or perhaps "fails to impress itself upon me" is the better way to put it. Moore's scripting, for example, seemed wildly sophisticated compared to the house-style comics of the '90s with which I could then compare it, but comes across shopworn, even hokey to me now. All those panel transitions where what someone is saying in one place is placed in a dramatically/ironically appropriate caption box over something unrelated yet thematically linked in some other place! There's one groanworthy bit in the Owlcave where Nite Owl says something about a reflection while we're shown his reflection, and I liked the failed sex scene juxtaposed against the commentary for Ozymandias's gymnastics routine better when it was Phil Rizzuto doing play-by-play for Meat Loaf in "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." I mean, maybe it's just that I'm sick of the fact that people like J. Michael Straczynski are still doing stuff like this 20-odd years later, maybe it was a total revelation then, but to me, this sort of neat thematic coincidence requires far more suspension of disbelief than just having guys run around in costumes. It feels emotionally artificial, which of course is the problem I tend to have the most with Moore's rigorously, ostentatiously authored work.
Instead, what strikes me hardest here, what I don't think I ever thought about all that much before, is how much power the story draws from its uniformly engaging sad-sack main characters. I think it's here that Dave Gibbons's contribution is at its most valuable, with his all but countless shots of heroes and do-gooders worrying, frowning, furrowing their brows, being uncertain. It must be noted that this is worlds away from the Identity Crisis-style vogue for angst and selfish over-emoting. All the characters in those "you'll believe a man can cry"-type supercomics are just as 100% sure of their emotional experience as their relentlessly upbeat Silver Age counterparts used to be. Not so in Watchmen, where the primary mode of emotional interaction with the world is confused dismay. The mileage Moore can get out of this is almost inexhaustible. These aren't emo Batmen, they're Tony Sopranos and Seth Bullocks, idiosyncratic and troubling portraits of great physical strength and moral violence juxtaposed against tremendous emotional and psychological weakness. Their failures--and they spend pretty much the whole book failing--are hard to stomach, especially giving the truly impressive air of impending doom Moore creates out of snippets of current-events and vox-pop cutaways; we hope for their success even though the art and the script both do everything they can to show us without coming out and saying it that their failure is inevitable. I'll tell you, reading the book this time around, when Rorschach takes off his mask at the end and yells "Do it!" at Dr. Manhattan, tears streaming down his face, I nearly started to cry. To me now, it's almost as devastating as that line "I did it thirty-five minutes ago" and the subsequent reaction shot were 11 years ago.
I noticed a lot more than that this time around, too. For example, everyone remembers the symmetrical Rorschach issue and the Dr. Manhattan flashback/flashforward issue, but the rest of the individual chapters were all quite structurally different from one another as well. Issue #1 is a pretty straightforward superhero whodunnit. Issue #2 does the classic-flashback thing that the creators of Lost borrowed so effectively. Issue #3 is moved along by those transitions I mentioned earlier. The penultimate issue is driven at least as much by the "normal" characters as the superheroes, and the final issue is as straightforward as the first one. It's a restlessly creative book, uncomfortable with being this thing or that thing exclusively.
It's also much funnier than I gave it credit for, especially early on, before the final failures. Rorschach, for example, is kind of a scream, constantly making mental notes to investigate whether this or that character is gay or a Communist or having an affair, obliviously wondering why so many superheroes have personality disorders. There's also the running rivalry between the left-leaning Nova Express and the right-leaning New Frontiersman. I always thought Moore rather stacked the deck against the more or less nakedly racist and anti-Semitic conservative publication, compared to the smooth Rolling Stone-isms of the magazine that (one assumes) more closely aligned with Moore's own outlook. This time, however, it suddenly jumped out that while their culprits (Russian and Chinese Reds) were off, pretty much everything the New Frontiersman alleged about what was going on in the world was accurate, while Nova Express was literally a bought and paid dupe of crazy old Ozymandias. That's pretty funny, actually. So is the fact that at least four of the main characters are crazier than shithouse rats and, if one wants to be literal about it, serial killers. And the more I think about the ending, the more convinced I become that it's perfect as-is and the kvetchers should zip it. I mean, if you stick with the Comedian/sick joke leitmotif, this very serious book about nuclear war, sociopathy, sexual dysfunction, the intractability of human suffering and so on needed a punchline in the worst way; if you run with Ozymandias and slicing the Gordian knot, this rigorously realistic take on superheroes needed an outside-the-box climax; and for either one, how can you top teleporting a brain-squid-thing into a metal concert at Madison Square Garden?
The ending, and the book overall, are more problematic when viewed as a serious hypothetical response to real-world political problems. Moore's diegetic voice-of-reason when it comes to geopolitics, Dr. Milton Glass's "Super Powers and the Super-Powers" prose piece, posits a Soviet Union every bit as undeterrable and ultimately suicidal as the current neoconservative conception of Iran; granted, Moore/Glass's policy prescription for what do do in the face of such an opponent is 180 degrees away from your Podhoretzes and Kagans, but clearly the validity of the underlying viewpoint was not borne out by events. In that light, there's something faintly ridiculous about watching Ozymandias go through all this trouble to end the Cold War when boring old military expenditures, international negotiations, and internal politics pretty much took care of it here in the real world. Moreover, I can't be the only person soured enough by recent years on the idea of the ends justifying the means to completely, 100% side with Rorschach's doomed decision to reveal Ozymandias's malfeasance to the rest of the world, right? A faint over-willingness to forgive bad shit done in the name of Moore-ish beliefs can be detected in Moore's work from V for Vendetta to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and while it's perhaps fainter here than ever, it's there, and to the extent that it is there it rankles.
But that's fine. Great art should encompass enough ideas that you can find at least one that makes you a little uncomfortable. And Watchmen encompasses tons and tons and tons of ideas--the clockwork clues, the extensive Tolkien-style barely-glimpsed backstories, the alternate history, the intricate panel layouts, the emotional texturing, the Charlton riffery, and everything else I just ran down. It's simply full of ideas, which makes it rich and exciting and thrilling and fun. It's not someone's movie pitch or someone's attempt to write comics like a summer blockbuster, or like anything else, for that matter. It's a great comic book.
As I imagine is the case with many people my age, I first discovered Isaac Hayes through the music of people who sampled him--Tricky, Portishead, Hooverphonic, DJ Muggs, Public Enemy. If I'd been a few years younger my first exposure to him might have been Chef, and I'm glad it wasn't. He was not a punchline. Like Barry White, he was a visionary musician who took one of the key emotional components of R&B--in Barry's case lust, in Ike's case desperation--and gave it the orchestra, operatic musical shape its lyrical content always implied. The last few minutes of his version of "Walk On By" sound like someone choosing to enjoy feeling the worst he's ever felt because not doing so would be courting absolute emotional collapse. I'm really sad he's gone.
Normally saying something like "his art is varyingly reminiscent of Geof Darrow, Al Columbia, John Kricfalusi, and Dave Cooper" would be hyperbolic to the point of absurdity or even insanity, but hoo boy, Rafael Grampa. Visually he may be the most accomplished new cartoonist of the past two or three years. Best of all, he's no slouch as a storyteller, either. I don't mean in terms of legibility, because there are plenty of talented illustrators whose beautiful comics are easy to follow. I mean in terms of having a story worth telling, a spectacle but not an empty spectacle. On the surface it's just a gorgeous, ultraviolent fight comic, the kind of thing you see plenty of anymore, but it's different. For one thing, it's creepy and uncomfortable, as much so as the similar opening sequence in Natural Born Killers. It's as raw and blackly humorous and confrontational, and at times edgily sexual, a work of gore as Darrow and Frank Miller's Hard Boiled. It subverts expecations, creating a "hey look at that big guy, I bet he's usually pretty calm until you rile him at which point he's invincible and badass" brick-type figure and then flipping your premature belief in his competence on its ear. It contains out-of-nowhere visual flourishes: A smartly laid-out "commercial break," a slavering devil lurking underground like something out of a medieval engraving. The lettering--Rafa Coutinho gets this credit, though sometimes the words are so integral to a particular panel that it's tough to see how someone other than Grampa did it--addresses music and whimpering with inventive, tactile flair. The colors, selected by Grampa and deployed by Marcus Penna, somehow take that green/brown Vertigo palette and makes it gooey rather than acidic. Everything looks dirty. The narrative flashes back unexpectedly and intelligently. The English-language dialogue, provided by Ivan Brandon, is tight. ("Be very discreet." "When have I not been?" "No time I know of, but I'm in charge and if I don't tell you how things are, I have nothing else to do.") This is some comic book.
* Matthew also flags something I talked to him about regarding Watchmen that I neglected to put in my recent review of the book: Dave Gibbons's portrayal of Laurie Juspeczyk. Basically, Gibbons draws Laurie as attractive but not a knockout (aside from what I think we're supposed to see as a pretty slammin' body). The way she looks and the way the guy heroes interact with her remind me of the hottest girl in your school or office or subculture. She may not have anything over some famous sexy movie-star person, but there's something in the way she wears that Ministry T-shirt or sips her coffee during meetings, you know? You sort of see this play out in the way Dan Dreiberg reacts when he sees Laurie changing into her Silk Spectre costume. It's not one of those movie-style "everything stops as the camera slowly pans up her body from toe to head and the guy stands there slackjawed" deals--it's more like that mix of awkwardness and eroticism, that sudden and unexpected intimacy, when you see a woman you know and normally see fully clothed in a revealing bathing suit or underwear. It's another of Gibbons's great contributions to the book.
* While we're on the subject, I don't have much to say about the following thought beyond simply articulating it, but the way Rorschach and his "crimefighting" jaunts are portrayed are not unlike the masked killers of then-contemporary slasher movies, are they? His blank-slate mask wouldn't look out of place alongside Michael Myers's and Jason Voorhees's.
* Speaking of Grant Morrison (we were, a few items ago), I don't get the mentality that says ignoring bad comics makes your comic bad.
It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out!
A door slammed. The maid screamed.
Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!
While millions of people were starving, the king lived in
luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was
A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the
tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day.
At that very moment, a young intern at City Hospital
was making an important discovery. The mysterious patient
in Room 213 had finally awakened. She moaned softly.
Could it be that she was the sister of the boy in Kansas
who loved the girl with the tattered shawl who was the
daughter of the maid who had escaped from the pirates?
The intern frowned.
"Stampede!" the foreman shouted, and forty thousand
head of cattle thundered down on the tiny camp. The two
men rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous
hooves. A left and a right. A left. Another left and right.
An uppercut to the jaw. The fight was over. And so the
ranch was saved.
The young intern sat by himself in one corner of the
coffee shop. he had learned about medicine, but more
importantly, he had learned something about life.
Comics Time: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Alan Moore, writer
Kevin O'Neill, artist
DC/WildStorm/America's Best Comics, 2007
208 pages, hardcover
$29.99 Buy it from Amazon.com
It occurred to me when reading this latest installment of Moore and O'Neill's journey through the literature of the fantastic that it's basically Moore's version of Earth X. Like that Jim Krueger/Alex Ross exercise in continuity farming, Moore's overarching narrative scheme is to find a way to connect nearly every character in the history of genre storytelling, from Jehovah to James Bond.
This volume goes further than ever in that direction, revealing that all of the world's extraordinary gentlemen, supernatural creatures, and so one can trace their origin back to two warring (and occasionally miscegenating) tribes of godlike beings: the Bible's "Elohim," which either directly or through their offspring account for the Judeo-Christian God, his ancient pagan counterparts, and the pantheons of Greece, Egypt, and Germany/Scandinavia; and (basically) Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, whose descendants include pretty much every monster known to man.
The "good" gods have made two notable attempts to bridge the gap between mortal and deity. The first was the Greek Age of Heroes, an experiment in interbreeding that the Gods aborted at Troy when it became apparent that these powerful people were pretty much all sociopathic killing machines. The second, as it turns out, was the creation of the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in Shakespeare's time; here, the Elizabethan Age has been recast as the reign of Gloriana, England's Fairie Queen, whose assemblage of folks like Prospero and Orlando to "guard the Realm" was really just a cover for forming a group that could successfully liaise between the natural and supernatural worlds. (At least I'm pretty sure that's the gist.) Meanwhile your friend and mine Cthulhu and his chums keep trying to pop in and devour our souls, the prevention of which - along with thwarting mad scientists, guarding against invasions by rival species, and fucking - has been one of the various Leagues' primary occupations ever since.
All of this information is contained in the titular dossier. The story takes place in the 1950s, where Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain are harried by elements of the rump Party dictatorship (yep, from 1984, though here the regime doesn't seem to have lasted much longer than 1954) as they attempt to transport this stolen file to a person or persons unknown for reasons unknown. Both the prime mover and his motive turn out to be McGuffins of a sort, though; the main trick of the story is that all this business of constructing a Grand Unifying Theory of Genre Lit is presented in a series of pointedly dis-unified comics and prose pastiches, including faux-Shakespeare, a Beat novel by Sal Paradyse, a Tijuana Bible, a Jeeves vs. Cthulhu story (maybe my favorite), Crowleyana, boys' adventure comics, and so on. I think it's one of Moore's cleverest conceits in ages, and gives O'Neill, letterer Todd Klein at all a chance to go absolutely buckwild. It's fourth-wall-breaking fun.
It's also completely impenetrable from time to time unless you come in with the requisite encyclopedic knowledge of Moore's sources. I'm not saying that it's impossible to get anything out of the book without recognizing every last reference - the moral of the story, and the reason why our heroes are cool and their enemies are bogus, are all quite clear whether you know who Raffles the Gentleman Thief is or not. But Moore is having just as much fun making connections, hiding Easter Eggs, and crafting hardcore continuity porn as any superhero writer, just with a different set of toys, and it'd be foolish to deny that. I did pretty well anytime Yog Sothoth or Conan or Dr. Caligari were on the scene, but at other times I could literally go for pages without catching a single reference. I don't even necessarily think that Moore should care about this, since I doubt there's anyone who did catch every reference whose name doesn't rhyme with "Schmalan Schmoore" and he's writing this story for maximum mind-blowage rather than optimal legibility. Moreover, the stuff that I got was an absolute hoot, and since I don't believe that continuity-based storytelling is automatically shallow, I'm not going to make that argument any more here than I would when discussing The Sinestro Corps War. I suppose my point is that the two are more similar than you might think, and that maybe it's that that makes LoEG books as entertaining as they are, and let's be up front about it.
* Russia's military adventure in Georgia put me in mind of the USSR's conduct in Watchmen pretty quickly given that I'd just finished re-reading the book when the fighting broke out, but it took this facetious Matt Yglesias post wondering if Warner Bros. was somehow behind the hostilities to make me realize that if the current climate of Cold Warmongering among America's conservatives keeps up, Zack Snyder's movie version of Watchmen might be interpreted as anti-Russian propaganda just as his 300 was viewed as anti-Iran.
* I can't decide how I feel about He-Man screenwriter Justin Marks's contention that any movie version of the beloved-by-me action-figure franchise needs to persuasively explain where its cockamamie mix of science-fiction and fantasy originated in a world-building sense. One the one hand it seems really silly to worry about realism with characters like Ram-Man and Stinkor. On the other hand, trying to construct a believable rationale for such characters might be even wilder and weirder and more wonderful than just leaving them alone. (Via Topless Robot, who also post this awesome painting.)
An admirable lack of ambition characterizes this impressive work of fantasy from European Disney-animator-turned-graphic-novelist Cyril Pedrosa. He's not interested in building a sprawling, intricately ordered alternate world, he's not aiming to wow us with the scope of his imagination, he's not serving up a Hero, he's not attempting to harness his childhood fantasies into coherence. He's simply, loosely using the genre to tell a story about fear and pain. One of the best aspects of that story is how his surface-beautiful line--a miraculously curvy, ropy thing he can refine or sketchify on cue--never overwhelms with its loveliness the aspects of the plot that count on horror. On the contrary, somehow, seeing the titular entities as they loom like a cross between the Ringwraiths and the Shining sisters on a faraway hill for the first time, and seeing the reaction of the loving nuclear family at the heart of the story to them, are made creepier and more disconcerting by their lush surroundings. Similarly, each time the story does branch out in a more expansive direction (usually, but with one major exception, brought about by the family's travels), the lack of preexisting expository world-building makes the world seem more mysterious and immense with each new glimpse of a new environment. Ultimately this is a story about the mortality of children in the face of a capriciously cruel world, and the crazed despair this can bring on in their parents. It's a bitter topic, and makes for one of those rare cases where the adjective "bittersweet" is truly applicable.
It does not take a lot of imagination to see the new Batman movie that is setting box office records, The Dark Knight, as something of a commentary on the war on terror.
You said it! Takes no imagination at all.
But it's not simply an exercise in kicking around the Dana Stevens/Wall Street Journal "genre film as current events report" school of thought. It's just a masterful look at everything from the changing nature of the star system and what constitutes "good acting" to advances in special effects to the rise and fall of disreputable genres to the relationship between superhero films and the comics from which they are adapted to the shortcomings of Christopher Nolan's use of cinematography and editing and on and on and on, with insightful criticism of Iron Man, The Dark Knight and many other specific films besides. If you read one article about superhero movies this year, make it this one.
* Meanwhile, if you avoid one ill-informed, aesthetically barren post and comment thread about art comics, make it this one about Kramers Ergot 7. I'm with Chris Butcher on this one, man. How is this even a topic for heated debate in the first place? 1) Page count is deceiving when you consider both the size of the pages (16" x 21"!) and the quality of the many, many, many contributors 2) It's priced comparably to big art books 3) I can't imagine an outfit like Buenaventura Press trying to rook people 4) if you can't afford it, don't buy it--the end!
* Bruce Baugh discusses of how he values the formation and maintenance of communities based on shared values in RPGs. It reminds me a lot of how appealing I find fiction in which the characters privilege cooperation, competence, and creativity.
So I read today that wildly entertaining, shamelessly pandering bubble-glam musician and child-molesting creep Gary Glitter was released from prison in Vietnam today. (Via Whitney Matheson.) I have a hard time expressing how difficult it is for me to deal with Gaz being a predatory bastard because his music, and this song in particular, played a big role in me becoming the person I am--not as big as Bowie or Roxy or Iggy or Eno, certainly, but more than any of the other bubbleglam people. I just think there's something really...accurate about the way the lyrics of this song intertwine with that relentless, often-imitated beat-clap and that fat, vaguely sinister guitar noise to verbally and musically convey HORNY in all-caps. Like, when you've felt that way, isn't this the way you felt? But the best part is the end, when the Glitter Band shifts the notes around atop the main riff--like that, it goes from desperate to confident, from "oh god I hope it happens I need it to happen please please please" to "oh god it's gonna happen it's happening yes yes yes!"
Invincible Iron Man #1-4
Matt Fraction, writer
Salvador Larroca, artist
Marvel, May-August 2008
32 pages each
The problem with Iron Man in the wildly popular, not good Marvel event series Civil War wasn't that he was wrong, but simply that he was written wrong. You may recall that the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America was driven by Iron Man's desire to see all superheroes register with the government, an eminently sensible approach to human weapons of mass destruction no more outlandish than requiring official sanction for police departments and the Marines (or hell, student drivers and barbers). Unfortunately, it fell to the character to bear the metaphorical weight of warantless wiretapping, the abolition of habeas corpus, secret prisons, torture, and all the other actual excesses of the War on Terror. And so the writers of the event, particularly the main series' Mark Millar and Amazing Spider-Man's J. Michael Straczynski, turned the character into an unlikeable, smarmy fascist bastard.
You'll hear some people say this is perfectly appropriate for a character whose secret(ish) identity was a munitions expert who built his first suit of armor in order to kill his way out of an NVA prison--that he's the military-industrial complex personified. Me? While I read Civil War in disbelief I was listening to Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele and thinking "there's another way, dammit!" The most consistently enjoyable member of the Wu-Tang Clan, you see, adopted the alternate personality of "Tony Starks," basically the smoothest operator ever--going so far as to call his solo debut Ironman and lace Supreme Clientele with samples from the old Iron Man cartoon (including the "cool exec with the heart of steel" bit from the theme song). For Ghostface, it's not Stark's armor that makes him invincible, but his raw swagger and hustle, qualities that beat the shit out of having his defining characteristic be proclaiming "I'm a futurist," then sending jackbooted SHIELD troops to rough up your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. As for his war-profiteer aspects, I can't imagine they're any harder to get away from than, say, the entire Silver Age has been for most heroes. In short, if your Iron Man comic was not made in the spirit of "Nutmeg" or "Apollo Kids," you failed.
From the moment I heard that Ghostface had a cameo in Jon Favreau's Robert Downey Jr.-starring Iron Man film I had a hunch that the filmmakers "got it," and sure enough, they did. The movie showed it was possible to tell the story of a cocky boozed-swilling genius weapons manufacturer-slash-renowned cocksman who dresses up in armor and blows things up and have him be cool and fun. Imagine that! The whole thing was a vindication and I very much hoped that the writers and editors responsible for the character's direction in the comics over the past few years were roundly shamed.
Matt Fraction's Invincible Iron Man was clearly created with the same remit as the movie in mind, and so far it succeeds. It does so in large part by simply choosing to ignore elements that get in the way. Character-wise, Fraction jettisons both Iron Man's recent-vintage neoconservative-bugbear characterization and former writer Warren Ellis's Web 2.0-triumphalist technophilia. It's impossible to gloss over the fact that Stark is now Director of SHIELD and therefore Big Brother for the world, but that's dealt with minimally here, essentially just providing him with another set of toys to play with.
Plotwise the story could, with minimal tweaking, be a direct sequel to the movie, pitting Stark against the nutbag son of his vanquished rival Obadiah Stane. The younger Stane, Ezekiel, is entertainingly sociopathic in the literal sense--a callously murderous guy who's seemingly incapable of experiencing empathy. The clever bit is giving him these personality traits in the same way your average douchebag Real World contestant has them--making him a sleazy "moral moron" who, instead of cheating on his girlfriend and drinking to violent, misogynistic excess, blows up buildings full of people. Other cinematic strands are also picked up, particularly Stark's chemistry with his girl friday Pepper Potts. A running subplot in which Stark saves her from wounds incurred during a suicide bombing by implanting one of those magnetic-disc things in her chest and then teaching her how to use it to fly is an intelligent way to keep that wonderfully weird, oddly romantic, freakily Freudian scene from the movie where Gwyneth Paltrow sticks her hand in Downey's gooey open wound in mind throughout the story's duration.
Now, it's not a great comic--some of the nods in the direction of Iron Man As Supercool Cool Guy, like a bit involving a bevy of babes in issue #1, feel a bit pro forma, and nothing we've seen so far is wild and transcendent and unpredictable like the best superhero stories, the ones that stick with you, tend to be. (Ones like Fraction's collaboration with Ed Brubaker, The Immortal Iron Fist, with which Invincible Iron Man has in common a billionaire-crimefighter protagonist and an adjectivally alliterative title.) Larocca's work is slick and candy coated and avoids his distracting habit of photo-referenced stunt-casting (except for a scene in issue #4 where Stark slips some Iron Man tech onto the black market by giving it to Danny DeVito and Paris Hilton); it's kind of perfect for the project, but limited in its affect. Zeke Stane lacks the memorable visual design that makes any great villain click. But in terms of making the Iron Man concept readable again. and offering a version of the character who wouldn't make people who enjoyed his film incarnation run screaming in the opposite direction, so far so good.
* First up, some Sean T. Collins In The News updates. I have a piece on Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Mike Perkins's Marvel Comics adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand in the new issue of Maxim, the one with Anna Kournikova on the cover. The stuff I've done for this magazine is by far the stuff that my family members and the friends and co-workers thereof are most likely to notice.
* Meanwhile, there's a shout-out for my comics anthology Murder in the latest issue of ToyFare, to which I remain a regular contributor. They liked it, and before you say "well, that's because you work for them," remember they could just as easily reacted with complete disgust and slowly phased me out of my freelance work over there. Why not follow their suggestion, then, and buy a copy for yourself?
* I'm told a couple more of my one-liners showed up in the crawl at the bottom of the video pieces over at the Onion News Network. So if you enjoyed gags about the military deploying killer robots in "Operation What Could Possibly Go Wrong" or the discovery that Taco Bell Express is just a regular-speed Taco Bell with fewer seats and menu items, you know who to thank.
* Like Matthias Wievel, I too have found it strange that the superheroes in Secret Invasion all seem pretty okay with killing every Skrull they can get their hands on. I know the idea is that it's a war, and that's fine, it actually makes more sense that they'd act this way than how these things are normally depicted, but you'd think that maybe they'd have taken some casualties on their own side before launching straight for the jugular simply given the traditional superhero discomfort with lethal sanction. What's weird is that I don't guess that this was ever even a point of discussion among the creative team. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)
* Courtesy of Rob Bricken at Topless Robot comes one of the strangest, most delightful things I've come across in quite a while: ELA. A wondrous mix of live action and crude digital animation, it seems to be an all-in-one homage to She-Ra, He-Man, Heavy Metal, Space Invaders, Tron, The Neverending Story, Monty Python, classic arcade games, the Italian and American B-movie fantasies of the '70s and '80s...but not in the same way that Doomsday riffs on that era's action, horror, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi films. There's something more, I don't know, poetic in nature about what this little film does with its constituent parts, where the emphasis isn't on eliciting "hey, that was awesome!" recognition with various bits of action but on conjuring a similar sense of wonder, glamour, spectacle, danger, excitement, occasionally eroticism, and all-pervasive weirdness to that which these rough-around-the-edges entertainments provided due to their own magpie nature and make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach to genre. It's undeniably trippy and "arty," but it doesn't deny the simple pleasure of imaginary landscapes or epic sountrack-synth-rock or a woman with a lovely tush. And the ending is bracingly unpleasant. In comics terms it'd be part Powr Mastrs, part Scott Pilgrim, part Goddess of War. Take a look:
I do a lot of reading on a crowded Long Island Rail Road train into and out of New York City. Since I am still a polite, people-pleasing elementary school kid at heart, this made it impossible for me to sit back and enjoy the section of this book that reproduced Cunt Comics #1, you know? So what I ended up doing is skipping that stuff and reading everything else, saving the Cunt material for a time when it wouldn't be inflicted on unsuspecting commuters. Stripped of that almost indescribably vulgar middle section, the work of the live-fast-die-young underground comix legend Rory Hayes as collected in Where Demented Wented comes across less like that of a knowing, Crumb-style provocateur--or a novelty-act modern primitive, for that matter--and more like that of a wild-eyed innocent who's seen far too much. I guarantee you I'm the only person who's going to make this comparison, but do you remember the scene from Stephen King's science-fiction short story "The Jaunt" where (SPOILER WARNING FOR ANYONE WHO FALLS INTO THE PART OF THE VENN DIAGRAM WHERE "RORY HAYES READERS" AND "READERS INTERESTED IN THE SHORT STORIES OF STEPHEN KING BUT WHO HAVEN'T YET READ THEM" OVERLAP) the kid holds his breath when they dose him with anesthetic prior to teleportation, so he comes through the other side having been driven bugfuck insane by the infinity of time and space his mind experienced during his instantaneous travels? Sort of like that.
It doesn't necessarily start that way. In the first, comparatively crudely drawn stories from Hayes's Bogeyman Comics #1, Hayes crafts surprisingly deft and tightly paced homages to the macabre twist-ending horror stories of EC Comics. In addition to those '50s classics, Hayes's emphasis on decay recalls the weird work of Lovecraft and Bierce, while his inventive staging and attention to environment anticipates work by far more surface-sophisticated genre artists, from Josh Simmons's House and Jessica Farm to Clive Barker's "The Midnight Meat Train." While the mood here is certainly one of impending doom, it is at least a doom that suggests through contrast the possibility of making it out alive. I can't decide whether Hayes's trademark teddy-bear protagonists--whose incongruity and iconicity serve to instantaneously (and rather amusingly) anchor even his most outlandish and savage stories to a dimly remembered time of childhood playfulness--make things seem more hopeful (innocence exists!) or less (innocence is destroyed!).
It seems as though when Hayes's drug use became dominant enough to start finding its way into his work on an explicit level shortly thereafter, however, a switch flipped. Skip past the Cunt Comics interregnum as I did and all of a sudden you find a Hayes whose work is far more artistically refined--with an almost Drew Friedman-slick stippling effect at times--while his conceptual framework has expanded outward almost infinitely, to far more threatening effect. In between cynical semi-autobiographical accounts of tweaked-out excess and gross-out humor-ish strips with a bitter Country Joe "Whoopee! We're all gonna die!" tone, Hayes's protagonists are now more at risk from contact with eternity or the destruction of the entire world than they are from creatures locked behind cellar doors. Perhaps the most memorable of these later strips involves one of the teddy bears traveling to a dead world filled with abandoned towers and forgotten artifacts, its sole surviving inhabitant scrawling the enigmatic, haunting phrase "WE TRIED" on the ground, reducing the doomed explorer to tears. Seen in the light of material this powerful, Cunt's onslaught of castration, bodily fluids, and vaginas drawn as though the artist had hardly even a passing familiarity with the form seems like a necessary mental enema, a way of throwing off almost any kind of restraint self or society could impose so as to better access the frightening truth, if that's what it is.
Towards the end of the book, during an essay of remembrance written by Rory's brother Geoffrey, a short, early comic by Rory called "Lost at Sea" is discussed and reprinted at a reduced size. Based on an 8mm film Rory made, it features a teddy bear in a tiny boat, adrift in an enormous and storm-tossed sea. Finally, after a particularly frightening tempest, the bear finds himself and his boat safe on the sandy shore. The final image is simply of the bear's footprints, leading away from the water back home. In a way, this collection is that trail of footprints.
I have no idea if this is an active reference point for him at all, but I can't read Frank Santoro comics without thinking of the swirly, sensual, romantic rapture of a good shoegaze song. Both are (generally) more concerned with mood than with any kind of narrative--knowing, perhaps, that emotions can be stories in and of themselves. This particular comic reads a little like a dress rehearsal for the more rhapsodic moments of Santoro and Ben Jones's teenage-riot series-cum-OGN Cold Heat. Joining his usual minimal line to an equally minimal layout (one or two panels per page), complemented by unbroken fields of blue, orange, and white color, Santoro "tells" the "story" of an emotionally epic romance in the language of metaphor--wild horses, mysterious combat, vampiric antagonists, deserts and mountains, blazing suns, parents that just don't understand, desperate embraces, taking off a shirt, hands on bodies. Each of these sort of dissolves into the next in a fashion that enables you to make it all the way through the comic in under a minute, or flip back and forth and re-re-re-read like putting "Vapor Trail" on repeat. It's slight, and not for everyone, but lovely for me. I want to connect with the emotions he's conveying even though feeling them has become a distant memory for me.
* You heard it here last: Warner Bros. is revamping the whole way it does the superhero-movie business, both by nuking Bryan Singer's Superman Returns would-be franchise launch and starting the Man of Steel from scratch and by developing its multitude of characters with an eye toward bringing them together down the line in a Justice League movie rather than the other way around--in other words, doing it Marvel Studios/Avengers style. I think there are both good things and bad things about this news. "Good" includes the sense that they're going to try to make a good movie out of Justice League rather than doing it on a comparative shoestring with a bunch of pretty nobodies. "Good" also includes scrapping Singer's Superman Returns continuity, what with its bastard super-children and complete lack of punching. "Bad" is some dopey suit saying "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it," thus ignoring the lessons the past 20-plus years of superhero comics have taught us about the wisdom of going dark with everyone and acting like the success of superhero movies begins and ends with The Dark Knight (and Watchmen, one supposes) while ignoring Spider-Man, Iron Man and so forth. "Bad" is also the taste left in my mouth anytime I read Hollywood executives talking about how best to make millions of dollars off the hard work and creativity of people who have died and will die in relative penury.
* Speaking of execs in need of defenestration: Clive Barker tears Lionsgate head Joe Drake a new one over his mishandling--deliberate, Barker once again alleges--of Midnight Meat Train, which Barker says was buried a long with several other films in order to keep the spotlight on the Drake-shepherded genre effort The Strangers. (Via Dread Central.)
* Quote of the day:
Vertigo's typically indifferent colors don't help, of course: strap in for the color brown, everybody! Do they get a discount on brown? Is that how they keep the costs down? Seriously, dead seriously: What is with these people, and the color brown? Does anyone even know? This is an open invitation to any Vertigo colorist willing to do an interview about the color brown. Please explain.
--Abhay Khosla, in a review of Air that's ever so slightly less unreadably schticky than normal. This has long been a point of bafflement with me, too.
* Joe McCulloch reviews the inaugural entry in Rick Geary's Treasury of XXth Century Murder, The Lindbergh Child. How kickass would a Treasury of Victorian Murder Omnibus be?
* I've had two dreams about the lost fourth season of Deadwood in the past week. They've been violent and awesome.
* I enjoy many current superhero comics by several different superhero comics creators, some of which are good, some of which are very good, some of which are even great, but it occurred to me the other day that really the only guy working at a level comparable to the best or even the very very good alternative comics creators right now is Grant Morrison, and when I read writing that fails to keep this sort of thing in perspective by treating random aspects of current superhero culture like it's the most important and innovative and forward-looking comics material on Earth, I get very irritated.
Your Disease Spread Quick
Tom Neely, writer/artist
characters and dialogue inspired by the album (A) Senile Animal by the Melvins
Robotic Boot, Summer 2008
$6 Visit Neely's website
You don't need to listen to the Melvins to appreciate Your Disease Spread Work as further evidence, as if any were needed after The Blot, that Tom Neely is working the most fruitful vein of horror-slash-artcomics since Al Columbia. Like Columbia, Neely's work borrows stylistic elements from masterful old black-and-white kids' cartoonists like Otto Mesmer and Floyd Gottfredson, then harnesses it to a unique vocabulary of monstrousness and murder. While Columbia tends toward intimate horror in the work of his I've seen, Neely's best stuff is characterized by a tendency to scale upward and outward at breakneck speed, with threats suddenly emerging as colossal if not outright apocalyptic.
YDSQ addresses that tendency head-on, beginning and ending with words of woe from a doomsday prophesier with the head of a horse. In between we encounter decapitations, an infernal saloon populated with infamous tyrants, Neely's trademark black-ink blots, a sequence reminiscent of that old 7-Up mascot Spot crossed with H.P. Lovecraft, the Big Bad Wolf, a ghoul, a thunderbird, a Fritz Lang-style robot bride, a mummified Baby Herman type, scenes of everyday depravity, and more. At no point does any of this arrive from a predictable direction or feel anything less than profoundly discomfiting. It adds up to a portrait of great unease with the direction of society, coupled with a gallows humor about it all (there's a Hostess ad parody on the back cover to cleanse the palate). What it has to do with the Melvins I may never know, but it works as both an ad for the band and a statement completely independent of them.
The first hip-hop song I ever loved, "Fight the Power" is arguably the greatest hip-hop song ever, but part of me thinks Spike Lee's video for it is even better. Every time I see it I find myself astonished that such a thing ever even happened, let alone was filmed. The most powerful aspect of its rally format is exactly what people are rallying around. With the exception of the song's title there is literally no sloganeering to be found on any of the signs and placards--each is simply emblazoned with a proper noun or a person's photograph, as though merely asserting the presence of "BROOKLYN," "FLAVOR FLAV," or Malcolm X is enough of a statement in and of itself, which at the time it was. It's what I've called an "image of triumph-through-simply-existing" and it wows me every time.
Rick Altergott, Gabrielle Bell, Jonathan Bennett, Blanquet, Blex Bolex, Conrad Botes, Shary Boyle, Mat Brinkman, John Brodowski, Ivan Brunetti, C.F., Chris Cilla, Jacob Ciocci, Dan Clowes, Martin Cendreda, Joe Daly, Kim Deitch, Matt Furie, Tom Gauld, Leif Goldberg, Matt Groening, John Hankiewicz, Sammy Harkham, Eric Haven, David Heatley, Tim Hensley, Jaime Hernandez, Walt Holcombe, Kevin Huizenga, J. Bradley Johnson, Ben Jones, Ben Katchor, Ted May, Geoff McFetridge, Jesse McManus, James McShane, Jerry Moriarty, Anders Nilsen, John Pham, Pshaw, Aapo Rapi, Ron Rege Jr., Xavier Robel, Helge Reumann, Ruppert & Mulot, Johnny Ryan, Richard Sala, Souther Salazar, Frank Santoro, Seth, Shoboshobo, Josh Simmons, Anna Sommer, Will Sweeney, Matthew Thurber, Adrian Tomine, C. Tyler, Chris Ware, and Dan Zettwoch.
Stupid Publisher Tricks: Too Many Awesome Anthology Contributors
* Speaking of absurdly stuffed packages of comicsy delights, Grant Morrison has a lengthy interview up with IGN's Dan Phillips, and it's as good as you've come to expect from the guy. It's more or less equally split between Morrison's trademark close reading of superhero tropes and metacommentary on the making of a modern superhero story, but I thought there were a couple of points particularly worth pointing out. First, here's a bone that many hardcore DC fans will be glad to have been thrown:
IGN Comics: I don't want to spend too much time on this topic, because you've addressed it elsewhere, but there have obviously been some discrepancies between parts of FinalCcrisis - mainly, the death of Orion - and Countdown and Death of the New Gods. At what point did you realize this would become an issue, and do you think it will affect any other aspects of your story?
Morrison: There were a couple of discrepancies which affected the early issues of Final Crisis and which came about because of the way the two books were being written out of order and to different deadlines.
Ultimately, it comes down to me as the last guy in the chain to fix it all, which is what I'm going to do. I'm actually going to make all the discrepancies work and tie in, and I've got a plan to fix it. To me, it was just like, "Oh guys, don't worry about it." Sometimes human error just creeps into the system. But I also realize that a lot of readers have a genuine emotional investment in the strict coherence of these patchwork fictional universes, so it seemed only fair that I should use the Crisis to clean up any lingering problems.
IGN Comics: That's interesting, because Crises have always sort of been used to clean up continuity problems.
Morrison: Yeah, they always did that sort of thing with Crises, didn't they? And I didn't want to make this any kind of continuity reboot, which it's not. But I did realize, well, why not set time and space right ? I can easily provide a reason for why things played out differently in different books.
That soon leads into this:
Remember also that, despite my inexplicable reputation among certain fans as a 'difficult' writer, I'm actually one of the most successful people in the comics business and have been for a long time. I wrote what's still the highest-selling original graphic novel ever, I wrote DC's biggest selling book for years with JLA, I wrote Marvel's most popular X-title.
It is easy to forget that for all of Morrison's well-deserved rep as being one of superherodom's most idiosyncratic and artful writers, his stories tend to be rigorously titled to whatever he sees as being the demands of the zeitgeist. His lengthy pitches almost always include an explanation of why his ideas, besides being strong on the merits, will sell like the Dickens. Anyway, the whole interview is juicy like this. Give yourself half an hour before Obama's speech tonight and dig in. (Via Kevin Melrose.)
* I've often thought that furries are an underserved demographic in the soft-drink market, haven't you? (Via Andrew Sullivan.)
* Finally, Tom Spurgeon gives you a present in the form of this incredible gallery of art as we all wish a very happy 91st birthday to the late Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. Here is my favorite thing he ever drew.
Tom Neely, writer/artist
I Will Destroy You, July 2008
$5 Visit Neely's website
They can't all be winners, but this collection of "19 comic strip poems" originally published on Tom Neely's blog boasts some very strong work, including among them some of my favorite comics of the year. Constructed by juxtaposing a simple sentence against a four-panel strip's worth of largely abstract imagery, these comics are a veritable catalogue of Neely's visual preoccupations: Tall houses with crooked chimneys, Gottfredson-style white gloves, deep-black, viscous blots of ink, lone trees, holes, the severing of heads or hands. At times they're used to strike a harrowing tone of confusion and despair--"Seething Rage" is a memorable portrait of a literally beaten man, while "House of Cards" plays off one of my personal favorite tropes for utter senselessness, roadkill. Given my own predilections it's probably no surprise that the book's more hopeful moments--"New," touting the power of hope in the form of a newborn; "R.R.I.P.", a declaration of ars gratia artis inspired by painter Robert Rauschenberg--leave me cold, leaning a little further toward the mushiness that is an occupational hazard of "comic poetry." Still, "O.K.," a full-color strip that overwhelms with the beauty of its palm-trees-at-sunset vista while the text celebrates the acceptance of a proposal, proves that Neely has the illustrative chops to give even his most (understandably!) sentimental inclinations real punch.
Since Tom mentioned it: I realized the other day that Dan Nadel's Art Out of Time anthology of idiosyncratic comics might be the most influential book of the latter half of this decade*. Since it came out, we've seen the release or impending release of collections of Fletcher Hanks (two! the first of which was a runaway hit and Eisner winner), Herbie, Rory Hayes, Ogden Whitney, Boody Rogers, additional early superhero stuff in Supermen!...all of these were featured in Art Out of Time and all of these projects have been rapturously received. That book spawned a cottage industry, and the way it's reclaimed forgotten areas of comics' past is unprecedented, at least as long as I've been paying attention to these things.