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.
"As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture," a Times spokesman said in a statement. "When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves."
That's totally, mind-meltingly insane, right? Just an abject capitulation of any possible concept of journalistic ethics to outright barbarism, right? Like we're living in some awful nightmare? It's not just me? (Via Andrew Sullivan.)
* If there's one thing Hollywood cinema has taught us over the past several years, it's that collectively it's better at making trailers than it is at making actual films. So this is meaningless as a gauge of whether or not the movie will be any good, but yes, the trailer for Let Me In, the remake of Let the Right One In by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves, is pretty good. (Via Jason Adams.)
* The RZA filtering his favorite old kung-fu movies through scratchy old soul samples, Marvel Comics, the drug trade, and inside jokes involving his Staten Island neighborhood to create a new sound for hip hop? An artistic triumph. The RZA paying tribute to his favorite old kung-fu movies by shooting a straightforward tribute to them in what looks like a bunch of people's backyards? Maybe, maybe not. Still and all, here's the trailer for Wu-Tang vs. the Golden Phoenix. (Via Topless Robot.)
* The best thing about anything that puts Tim and Eric content in front of doctrinaire nerds, like Rich Shivener's list of 8 Great Cinco Products for Topless Robot, is the ensuing comment-thread ragegasm. Well, that and the excuse to watch "It's Not Jackie Chan" again.
* I probably should have mentioned this before, but Bowie Loves Beyonce is a going concern again.
* This very prog cover for Kanye West's latest single, which samples King Crimson's "20th Century Schizoid Man," is officially the first Kanye West anything I care about. (Via Mike Barthel.)
* Over the past couple of days the entire Internet posted this compilation of The 100 Greatest Movie Insults of All Time and it made me laugh really, really hard. "I don't give a tuppenny fuck about your moral conundrum, you meatheaded shitsack." (Via the Missus.)
* If I could make something sound like Sloane made "Money City Maniacs" sound, I'm not sure I'd ever stop making things sound like that. (Via Nate Patrin.)
This is the kind of comic that makes me excited to be into comics. The eighth installment of the Baltimore-based CCC's flagship anthology resembles nothing so much as a great early Wu-Tang Clan posse cut, with all eleven (!) members contributing powerfully cartooned, hungry-feeling work that's alternately funny, frightening, and fearless. Me being me, I was particularly struck by the issue's sometimes dueling, sometimes intertwining apparent themes of horror and sex. In that regard the standout piece was by Conor Stechschulte, who turns in an absolutely brutal story of a circle-jerk gone horribly awry, augmented by his pitch-perfect evocation of a shadow-soaked suburbia. But on the flipside I laughed hard at the dirty jokes from Zach Hazard and Chris Day, the bathroom humor from Hazard and Andrew Neyer, and the monster-comic goofs of Lane Milburn (impeccably, muscularly drawn as always). Noel Freibert serves up maybe his most left-field EC Comics-inspired story to date, with some genuinely unpleasant and painful imagery; its rawness, ugliness, and reliance on bare, ropey line is like some sort of cross-artist call-and-response to the esoteric, almost mystical loveliness of the images concocted by Erin Womack, or the strange...I wanna say floral body-horror of Molly O'Connell. Eric Stiner channels Tom Gauld, Ryan Cecil Smith channels Brian Ralph channeling Tatsuo Yoshida, Mollie Goldstrom comes across like a maximalist John Hankiewicz, and Pete Razon submits some funny scribbles to round out the package. 80 pages, eight bucks, renewed faith.
* This week I was struck by how two of the best single-issue superhero comics of the year a) came out on the same day, and b) were about their ostensible hero's arch-enemies. Douglas Wolk takes a look at them, or the writing at least: Action Comics #890 by Paul Cornell and Pete Woods, starring Lex Luthor, and Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 by Matt Fraction and Carmine DiGiandomenico, starring the Mandarin.
* Which point is germane to comics thusly: Lately I've talked a bit about how I'm bummed there isn't more discussion of alternative comics online. Should I really be all that baffled? Perhaps whoever coined the very term was right, and the reason these things are called "alternative comics" is because they represent an alternative to mainstream/popular taste. The bookstore boom, the sudden explosion of coverage of graphic novels in the mainstream press, the manga boom, the webcomics boom, and the parallel rise in critical fortunes of massively popular hip-hop and pop in the music-crit field has, I think, given the impression that quality and popularity automatically overlap more than they do. Fringe culture is exactly that.
You have to be a real expert in Jason-character physiognomy to even be able to tell that the lonely expat main character in Werewolves of Montpellier is sometimes wearing a werewolf mask. After all, the guy's an anthropomorphized dog at the best of times. In the end, that ends up being the gag. You're not some uniquely unlovable monster, you're just a guy with problems, like anyone else--like the woman you love, for example, who cultivates a studied air of Audrey Hepburn cool yet still can't prevent her girlfriend from cheating on and then leaving her. The problem with the book's titular antagonists, it seems, is that they've dedicated their entire lives to their big problem, and are willing to kill and die for it. The violence that results is as random and awful as it always is in Jason comics, but the overall message about how to handle it--get over it and move on--is delivered with uncharacteristic humorous bluntness. There's no percentage in making yourself more alone than you have to be.
* Today on Robot 6: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as potential action-movie gamechanger. I love the word "gamechanger." Gamechanger gamechanger gamechanger. If everyone stopped saying "throw under the bus" and started saying "gamechanger" I'd be so much happier. And it's a shame, because "throw under the bus" is such an effective turn of phrase. I guess that's why everyone says it. Wow, this has nothing to do with Scott Pilgrim and action movies anymore, does it.
* The ever more blog-prolific Josh Simmons has started a new blog for The White Rhinoceros, "a racially-oriented psychedelic fantasy comic currently being serialized in Mome." Well, this should prove to be not at all troubling in any way!
* Jesse Moynihan is deploys his trademark blend of heady mysticism, two-fisted combat, and take-this-job-and-shove-it dialogue in "New Age Fights," a new strip for Vice, which under the watchful mustache of Nick Gazin has definitely become a keep-your-eye-on-it destination for comics.
* Semi-Real Life Horror: I like cryptozoology, I like Flash artist Francis Manapul, so I see little reason I wouldn't like Beast Legends, a Canadian cryptozoology TV show that utilizes Manapul to illustrate mythological and cryptozoological creatures. (That's Manapul on the left.)
* Zak Smith has the best ideas. If you have ideas, you should compare them to Zak Smith's first to make sure they're worth extracting from your own brain.
* I recently watched Ken Burns's The Civil War and started reading a bit more about the conflict, and one of the things that struck me hard and immediately is that Ulysses S. Grant is a fucking monster of a general, a fine writer, and a person to be studied and celebrated. That simplifies it, of course, but it's certainly closer to the truth as we can understand it than the narrative even a Yankee like me was fed, where Grant was a drunk fuck-up who lucked into beating a reluctant warrior-poet who was in every way save his eventual defeat Grant's moral and tactical superior. Moreover, it seems pretty clear to me that the "Lee > Grant" bubbe meise is the product of a concerted century-long effort to delegitimize both the cause and effect of the War, the ramifications of which are still at work in fairly obvious ways today. With all that in mind I'm happy to see Grant moving up in the rankings of the best and worst presidents. His presidency was a mess in a lot of ways, but I think the opprobrium directed toward him was never commensurate with his administration's sins and had more to do with psychological payback.
* Meanwhile, the godawful atrocious comment thread at the aforelinked Matthew Yglesias post on Grant reminds me to point you to this brief, interesting discussion of comment-thread culture. I've never had a lot of comments here, but I've tended to really enjoy them; this reached its apex during the Lost discussions of this past final season. I'm super-proud to have in some way inspired the level of discourse in those threads. I'm not sure what exactly I did to shape it here, but back when I was a mod on the Wizard board--which wasn't the ADDTF comments, to be sure, but was hella civil compared to comparable outlets--we rained hard on troublemakers and dickheads, with the result that the community quickly became self-policing. That's an approach I'd love to see replicated pretty much everywhere.
I didn't give a lot of thought to comic art or illustration as a kid. Which in many ways means "mission accomplished" for the comics artists and illustrators I came across, I suppose. For readers that age, you want form to follow function--an exciting comic should look exciting, a funny comic should look funny. It wasn't until I was much older that I was able to appreciate the books that had lodged in my head because their art did something more. The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, illustrated by Stephen Gammell, was one example. Those pictures looked like the evil they depicted somehow leaked into the real world and corrupted the art itself.
The other big one, for me, was Where's Waldo?, particularly this third volume in the series, which when I was a kid was called The Great Waldo Search. This is the one where Waldo travels through "the realms of fantasy," as the slipcase of the six-volume set of Waldo books I bought for Christmas puts it, so that naturally put it more in my wheelhouse than the other two volumes that were available at the time I first came across it. And obviously Martin Handford's loose, goofy character designs and slapstick sense of humor aren't a world apart from the majority of cartoon art kids are offered. But what I found--and continue to find--so mesmerizing about this one is the way Handford conveys, in these eye-meltingly dense two-page spreads, a sense of permanent chaos. Each scene is a virtual (and in one case literal!) sea of jostling, arguing, fighting, laughing, playing, sleeping, eating, jumping, falling, flying, running, sliding, shouting, bodies. Streams of water, billows of smoke, rivers of fire defy gravity and snake around and through half a page. A single action causes a domino effect that brings dozens of warriors low. People celebrate a victory over the characters to their left, completely oblivious to the damage about to be inflicted on them by the characters to their right. Massive schemes to defeat rivals are always just on the verge of coming to fruition or heading for disaster. More than any other artist I can think of, Handford conveys a world of action, decision, coincidence and consequence within each image. You get the feeling that the conflagrations you're seeing on each spread could last forever, an endless flow of action and reaction. In fact, the only other artist I know of who's experimented with this sort of thing is Brian Chippendale.
And might there be a message in here, too? Fully half of The Fantastic Journey's twelve scenes involve armed conflict between rival groups. You can get lost in the maniacal detail and humorous quasi-violence of their battles for minutes on end, but an even larger part of their visual appeal is that the combatants are basically color-coded: Blue monks of water vs. red monks of fire, ferocious red dwarves vs. vaguely Asian knights who look like a weaponzied deck of Uno cards, evil black knights vs. green-skinned forest women, two enormous armies of dueling pastel knights, a posse of blue-uniformed monster hunters stalking their prey underground. The one exception pits villagers in rainbow-colored clothes against equally gaudy giants. A seventh spread involves four teams of ballplayers--blue, green, peach, and red--whose sport is just about as violent as any of the the actual battles. A state of obviously absurd conflict based on completely arbitrary distinctions? Come for the devilishly difficult puzzle aspect, stay for the impeccable visual satire.
I had an experience when I was in my 20s. Someone read the I Ching for me. No one had ever done that for me before, and I didn't know anything about the I Ching. I still don't very much. But at this one reading, the couplet was, "Dragons wrestle in a meadow / Their blood is black and yellow." That and the explanation that accompanied it made me realize something about a conflict that had been raging inside me ever since the age of reason. I had never, ever identified it before, or had it identified for me. I'd never seen it before. All of a sudden I realized there were these two aspects of myself that were completely unintegrated, and that that was the source of virtually all of my trouble. It was a huge, eye-opening experience for me. That interests me a lot, the question of people being at war with themselves.
As far as real book designers go, I've only met a few, but they strike me as thoughtful, well turned-out, and desperately cutthroat people. What surprises me the most is how shamelessly art directors rip each other off; a clever cover will sometimes be imitated as quickly as two or three months after originally appearing. Book designers, you should know, have to be ready to create something new, exciting, and original almost every day in order to eat, and a certain degree of burnout smokes out the weaker specimens; I can't imagine coming up with cover after cover without at some point resorting to an out-of-breath take, intentional or not, on someone else's great idea. This urge toward ever-freshness brings the profession perilously close to that of fashion, and the worst examples of such greet us at the grocery store checkout among the tabloids, gum, and ring pops.
MTV had this weird, late-night pseudo-telenovela/soap/anthology series called Undressed once. Each episode would feature segments from three separate stories--one was about high schoolers, one was about college kids, one was about young twentysomethings, and all of them were about fucking. You'd follow each story for, I don't know what it was, half a dozen episodes? And the attractive young actors would have endearingly awkward shenanigans about whether or not to be fisted by their partner or losing their virginity or having a threesome or some such. It was cute and earnest and hot and addictive, and even though it could get pretty explicit it was also really sweet. That's how I'd describe FCHS, too.
Operating out of the Batcave that is NYC retail mecca Jim Hanely's Universe, writer Delsante and artist Freire have crafted an adorable, believable high-school soap set circa 1990. It's got a couple of major things going for it. The first is Delsante's scripting, a sort of easy-going casual banter that tends toward the economical as most comics writing must but never comes across like the presentation of an array of reactions designed to move the plot from point A to point B. Sex is on the mind of these kids all the time--which is perfectly accurate!. And while they discuss it with realistic cussing and matter-of-factness--and are even occasionally shown nude in the service of the material--it's neither some porno smutfest nor a depiction of teen sex as some soul-crushing vortex of sordid desire. It's something young people really like doing--just like playing in a band or playing football or jackassing around or eating tacos. Hooray for that! Indeed, that lighthearted tone carries over into the book's very pacing: Delsante will skip right past relatively momentous events you'd expect a teen drama to hit hard, content to study the characters as they anticipate them and then react to the fallout instead. I wasn't sure that would work, but it does.
The second selling point is undoubtedly Freire. The reason I compared the book to that weird MTV sex show is because, as was the case there, I could easily see myself casually watching these characters for months on end. Her kids are cute as buttons, sexy when they need to be and childlike when they need to be. Folks have compared it to the Archie house style, and rightly so, but while it's just as easy to read and makes its characters just as easy to keep track of, it's far less strident and played to the cheap seats. If Tim Hensley tweaked '60s teen comics toward angry angularity in Wally Gropius, Freire dials it down to a sort of lush, gently stoned laid-back wave.
No, it's not some Black Hole/The Diary of a Teenage Girl-style tear-down-the-sky cri de coeur on adolescence. I can understand how it might feel slight to some people, and I can understand how the laconic pace might make some folks shrug. But by the end I really wanted to see the rest of these characters' senior year play out. Hopefully I'll get the chance.
Geoff Grogan, Kevin Mutch, Alex Rader, editors
Sara Edward-Corbett, Kevin Mutch, Fintan Taite, Tobias Tak, Lance Hanson, Henrik Rehr, Adam McGovern, Paolo Leandri, Mark Sunshine, Bishakh Som, Andres Vera Martinez, Chris Capuozzo, Hans Rickheit, Jim Rugg, Brian Maruca, Connor Willumsen, Geoff Grogan, Joe Infurnari, writers/artists
Big If, April 2010
16 big giant newsprint pages
$4 Buy it from Blurred Books
Simply existing is pood's greatest victory. It's one thing for Alvin Buenaventura or Dave Eggers to provide the alternative and art-comics canon a Little Nemo-sized canvas on which to play; it's quite another for this idiosyncratic, even weird, group to get a shot. (Why, only three contributors have been published by Fantagraphics!) And as I've said in the past, I happily rescind my initial doubts about the newsprint/broadsheet format: It's the only way the project would make economic sense, first of all, and second of all it ends up holding line and color rather impressively--I'm not sure Sara Edward-Corbett's work has ever looked better on the page, for example, and Tobias Tak and Geoff Grogan sure do turn in some lush purples.
Beyond that? The victories are harder to come by, I think. I mean, I'm generally perfectly happy with the main throughline of artcomix today, so on that level, folks who follow their bliss in other, perhaps more underground-y directions are gonna have a harder time fitting in with me, too? A handful of stories make use of the giant page to tell impressive little done-in-one morality plays--there are not one but two Western-vengeance stories, a muscular black-and-white firecracker by Andres Vera Martinez and a delicate, sinister color piece by Connor Willumsen, and I think they're the highlights of the collection, while Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri's Kirby-indebted slice-of-lifer lingers as well. And I'm a sucker for the "gigantic environment with cutaway spotlight panels" approach to telling a story on a page this size, as utilized by Tobias Tak and Bisakh Som, even if I'm not over the moon for the stories they're telling with that technique. Finally, Mark Sunshine's strip--really it looks like a book's worth of strips smushed into one page--and its world of cartoon characters who believe their very existence could usher some change into the world they inhabit, Heisenberg-style, is baffling to me in a way that suggests it will linger as well. But much of this material is either goofier (Edward-Corbett, Grogan, Rugg & Maruca, Taite, Capuozzo) or surface-uglier (Mutch, Sunshine) than I'm able to get into, undercutting the potential power of making giant-ass comics. Even a couple of personal favorites, Henrik Rehr and Hans Rickheit, offer contributions that are pretty much just what they normally do, only bigger. It reminds me a bit of the early days of Mome, when I would go on about how the uneven quality of the contributions was actually a plus because you could do apples-to-apples comparisons of work that worked with work that didn't--only here, nothing is quite rising to the level of "there, that's how it's done." Still, pood #2 is on the way, and at that price it's a no-brainer to take a flyer on coming back to see if the crew fulfills the promise of the format.
Carnival of souls: Special "RIP Harvey Pekar" edition
* When my wife told me this morning that Harvey Pekar died I gasped out loud. I think the reason Pekar was so beloved by comics people--aside from the fact that many of his comics were very good--is that he worked a dayjob all his life, didn't hit homeruns all the time in life or in art, but kept doing it, mostly by himself, year after year after year. So far my favorite eulogies come from Tom Devlin, Roy Edroso, Tom Spurgeon's twitter account, and, especially, a heartbreaking post by my friend Chris Ward.
* Rich Juzwiak is shocked, shocked to discover that the fans of a pop star who preaches individuality and self-expression react in large part by trying to act and sound just like her. I'm really disappointed by this review because he's normally so astute. I mean, busting Lady Gaga's chops because hyping up your audience constitutes barking orders? That's really weak tea.
* I wrote this Shadowland parody for Marvel's What The--?! video series, pretty much, based on an idea by Ben Morse, who has the full story. It's surprisingly easy to write urban-vigilante interior monologues.
* Tom Spurgeon's Harvey Pekar obituary is masterful. Neil Gaiman, Seth, Denis Kitchen, Alison Bechdel, Phoebe Gloeckner, Dean Haspiel, Diana Schutz, Frank Santoro, R. Fiore, Tim Hodler, Larry Marder, Gerry Shamray, and more all contribute.
* I also liked Eric Reynolds's piece on Pekar's importance to alternative comics and to his role in them personally.
* At the risk of once again summoning a grumpy Tim Hodler, Beetljuice-style, I will link to an Alan Moore interview, but only to say this: If you're going to take the to-my-mind unimaginative and untenable standpoint that there's something inherently ethically gross about superhero fiction, I actually think that Moore's concept that they embody the American un-value of Peace Through Superior Firepower is a lot more convincing than the usual accusations of fascism. Moreover, if you ascribe to the viewpoint that Moore's status as an artist should trump any concerns about whether his stabs at criticism in interviews are or aren't cockamamie, then I also think it's pretty easy to see how the way he describes superhero comics here dovetails both with his work in Lost Girls, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and even From Hell--all of them tales of the moral superiority of fucking to fighting--and how a pacifist artist would have experienced the past nine years of real life. So that's nice. Actually, I think Moore comes off better here than he has in many an interview. The most groan-inducing bits, like a part where it's argued that comics haven't produced any work as sophisticated as Watchmen since that book's release, fairly obviously stem from not necessarily thought-through in-the-moment word choices in the process of a conversation. You'd have to be a TCJ.com contributor (or, y'know, me circa 2003-2004) to wanna make mountains out of those molehills.
* What happened when Glenn Danzig finally heard about Henry & Glenn Forever? This.
* Ready to lose a couple hours? Complex has teamed up with DJ Cipha Sounds to present The 75 Greatest Tunnel Bangers, the hip-hop tracks that went over biggest at the hugely influential late-'90s NYC club night "Mecca" at the Tunnel. I've got a a very weird love-hate relationship with a lot of this music. The late '90s were the period in my life when I listened to more hip-hop than any time before or since, but most of it was emphatically not from the Bad Boy/Ruff Ryders/Roc-a-Fella trifecta that ruled the Tunnel and my local hip-hop station Hot 97 via those outlets' mutual mastermind Funkmaster Flex. But with the remove of time it's much easier to appreciate this stuff, particularly the ear-pummeling hugeness and savagery of the beats constructed by Swizz Beatz, the Hitmen, and so on. It's an entire subgenre based on BIGNESS--like if late-'90s alternative music consisted of dozens and dozens of awesome songs that sounded like "Army of Me." The relentless lyrical focus on status, money, and (for lack of a better word) hardness can grate, but in the moment, this stuff's a lot of fun. (Via Tom Breihan.)
The Troll King
Kolbeinn Karlsson, writer/artist
Top Shelf, April 2010
$14.95 Buy it from Top Shelf
Like the work of some kind of less violent altcomix Clive Barker, Kolbeinn Karlsson's The Troll King is a defiant, love-it-or-shove it celebration of monstrousness, queerness, and the dreamlike Venn diagram overlap between the two. The burly beasts who inhabit the forest just beyond the glow of the city lights in this suite of interconnected stories have, through "hard work" and because society is "not worthy of [their] presence," created a world for themselves, a world of their own, a world where their "bodies" and their "pleasure" are their "first priorities." In this place, the creatures are stocky, broadly designed, miraculously self-perpetuating species, evoked with a wavy, almost furry line and bright, flat colors for an overall effect that wouldn't look out of place in a Kramers Ergot tribute to Super Mario Bros. 2. Appropriately, events proceed with demented video-game (or dream or drug-trip--both adjectives made literal at points during the book) logic--a man they rescue from the river, for example, is transformed via sexual congress with the titular monarch into a "noble steed" upon which the Troll King flies to the Moon. I'm not saying there's no horror or loss in this world, because there's plenty of both: Our two main characters have twins, whose coming-of-age story involves coming to terms with death, yearning for something they can't get with their cozy family inside the forest's borders, and eventually turning on the parents who love them so much; there's also a batshit violent "Wild West" interlude/shamanic vision that demonstrates the way community can break down and tease out the worst aspects of humanity (however broadly construed) as a counterpoint to the way the forest creatures' world seems to bring out their best. But (and again like Barker) Kolbeinn is giving his gay utopia an edge: It embraces the lived experience warts and all. Freedom, like the panel where the Troll King and his noble steed fly to the moon (itself part of perhaps the most affecting sequence of comics I've read all year), is overwhelming and scary, which is part of what makes it so wonderful in the first place.
Goldfrapp are forever associated in my mind with the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City soundtrack albums; Head First sounds like it could be one. Though I'd heard of the group during their downtempo Felt Mountain phase--anyone who was ever compared to Portishead was bound to bleep across my radar screen, however fleetingly--the first time they truly entered my consciousness was the spring of 2003, courtesy of their abrupt left turn into electro-glam on Black Cherry. At the time, I was now two and a half years deep into a Velvet Goldmine/David Bowie/Roxy Music-inspired, electroclash-abetted binge on all sorts of music I'd previously rejected as BULLSHIT, from disco to Depeche Mode. I was simultaneously playing the bejesus out of Vice City in both videogame and CD box-set form, to the point where the Pointer Sisters' "Automatic" was my '03 summer jam. Enter Goldfrapp's publicist, who offered me an all expenses paid trip to London to spend several days hanging out with and attending gigs by the band as the basis for a feature in A&F Quarterly, lacrosse-player/Chelsea-Boy clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's "lifestyle publication" (i.e. catalog/magazine/softcore-porn hybrid) and my gig at the time. (Don't laugh. See those interviews with Clive Barker, Frank Miller, Underworld, the Dandy Warhols, Chuck Palahniuk, and Betty friggin' Page in my sidebar? Brought to you by the creators of Hollister!)
Now, because we'd already planned interviews with Goldfrapp's fellow Gorgeous Ladies Of Electro Miss Kittin, Peaches, and Shirley Manson, and because I am very stupid, I turned the offer down. It wasn't until the 2006 release of Supernature that I finally cottoned to Goldfrapp's pitch-perfect blend of like a million things I really love--for pete's sake, they're basically an Age of Apocalypse version of the Glitter Band fronted by a beautiful woman who make sexy horror-tinged videos that raise uncomfortable animal rights issues. But no matter how heavily I got into the high glam of "Ooh La La" or the underrated Sunday-morning-coming-down follow-up album Seventh Tree, for me Goldfrapp are still connected most closely with the months I spent passing up potentially life-changing British bacchanalias and fake-murdering people to the strains of "Self Control" by Laura Branigan.
That connection is likely why I'm not buying the notion that Head First represents a relatively easy and shallow retreat to the Totally '80s for a group who'd previous crafted a more groundbreaking fusion of glamorous pop traditions. Sure, we've had a decade's worth of artists reclaiming and/or rehashing New Wave, post-punk, electro, synthpop and the like. These days, La Roux can become an inescapable New York City radio staple and Christina Aguilera can transform herself into Goldfrapp 2: Electric Boogaloo and hardly anyone bats an eyelash. But on Head First, Goldfrapp proper are mining far less surface-cool, and therefore far less shopworn, source material. They're not making James Murphy's proverbial Yaz record, they're recruiting synth (and emotional) tones from "Jump" and "Jump (For My Love)," from "Physical," from "We Built This City"--such stuff as Vice City's FM radio stations are made of. And they're not cloaking it or commenting on it with the alternately ironic and melancholy haze of chillwave any more than they're falling back on their previous disco-dominatrix poses to make it palatable. No, Head First is utterly naked in its attempt to make bright, happy, confident music from the brightest, happiest, most confident constituent parts it can.
"Rocket," the album's kiss-off kick-off track and lead single, makes the case clearly. Over keyboard stabs so perky and insistent you can all but hear Marconi playing "La Bamba" in the background, Alison Goldfrapp bids farewell to a failed affair by lyrically blasting it into space. "You're never coming back!" she sings, the exclamation point pretty much audible. Even this slight tinge of regret is eschewed entirely by the subsequent two tracks. "I'm a Believer" has a rhythm made for legwarmers to rapidly stomp up and down to, while "Alive" could have been written for "Xanadu"-era Olivia Newton-John. In both cases, the repetitive choruses say everything you need to know: "I'm a believer, I'm a believer, I'm a believer in you now!" "I'm feelin' alive again! Alive again!"
Head First is a short record, and not everything clicks as hard. I tend to find Goldfrapp's slower, more minor-key songs toward the bottom of my iTunes anytime I sort by play count, and "Dreaming" and "Hunt" aren't gonna break that particular curve. Another pair of tracks bucks the record's concept, if you can call it that, in favor of harkening back to past glories: "Shiny and Warm," as you can maybe tell from the title, is a shimmeringly staccato cabaret number in the vein of Supernature's "Satin Chic," while the album's jaunty, piano-driven title track wouldn't have felt out of place with the pastoral Paul-isms of Seventh Tree. (Yes, alas, "Head First" isn't the double entendre that memories of lines like "put your dirty angel face between my legs and knicker lace" from "Twist" had led me to hope for.)
But by album's end the Top 40 transcendentalism is back with a vengeance, and Goldfrapp seems to hunger for a feeling of joy even more intense. There's a bracing desperation in penultimate track "I Wanna Life" and its chanted plea for liberation in the face of "the longest night I've ever known." When the song's melody flips upward in the chorus, something really clicks for me--a sense of the rawness, the yearning for a bigger, brighter, better life, that to me has always lurked beneath the '80s and their neon Nagel-print stereotypes. Put on gaudy enough clothes, consume the things you love conspiculously enough, listen to shiny enough music and perhaps you can usher that life into being through sheer force of will, you know? That's a beautiful notion, I've long thought--beautiful when Bowie and Bolan and Ferry and Eno did it with costumery and three-minute songs for teenagers to neck to, beautiful when everyone from Barry White to Giorgio Moroder wanted people to get dressed up and go out and dance like earthbound angels, beautiful even when drenched in hair spray and shoulder pads and asymmetrical blouses. Indeed, Head First ends with "Voicething," a wordless, pulsing composition constructed from Goldfrapp's unearthly vocals that sounds like what you might hear if you were ever able to poke your head above the skyline and smog of Blade Runner. In other words, it sounds like the album cover looks. The message is clear: That life of beauty beyond this one, that Vice City of the soul, is out there, and if you want it badly enough, it's yours.
* Speaking of the PictureBox empire, this is pretty funny: The site's now hosting King Chubbo, that extremely filthy webcomic by Ken Sohn about him and his wife's gross sex/fantasy life.
* Hey, look, Paul Chadwick has a blog. He says he's working on a DC series with Harlan Ellison, a Dark Horse graphic novel with Mike Richardson, some Concrete short stories, a Concrete miniseries, a Concrete prose novel, and a kids' series. (Via Michael May.)
I have no brief with Drake. I'm led to understand he's like Bizarro Lady Gaga: Like hers, his first album Thank Me Later (ha!) was recorded under the largely fictional conceit that he was already a huge star, but the Bizarro element is that in his case his reaction was to complain about fame's dark side and downside rather than dress and act like a post-millennial Ziggy Stardust. That sounds funny to me, but I'm not sure if I'm laughing with him, if you know what I mean. As for his music, Thank Me Later's firsttwo singles rely on dreary but relentless vocal hooks of the sort you hear without trying, without even wanting to. In today's pop climate, that's wisdom: If you want people to remember your music from the 10-second snippet they hear flipping around the radio or playing on someone's cellphone, making it annoying is at least as effective as making it catchy. (He does get off one of the better lines in the wonderfully goofy "BedRock," however. "I thought I recognized her...")
But here's the thing: "Karaoke" is the main reason I know any of that stuff. After discovering it through the mighty Fluxblog--well, it's the sort of song that makes you hit up the artist's wikipedia page. Drake performs this paean to a relationship that ended when his incipient stardom became too much for his beloved to bear against a loping drum beat and gently cooing synths (courtesy of Francis Starlite), his sung vocals echoing around and through them, his rap bouncing insistently up and down on the beat. The overall effect is to carve out a vulnerable, twilit space for his autobiographically direct lyrics. It could have seemed like the sociopathic emotional exhibitionism of reality TV or the dull narcissism of a bad autobio comic (to swipe Fluxblog's comparisons), but instead it comes across like a quiet late-night conversation, when you're too tired to be anything but totally honest.
In fact it reminds me of nothing so much as late-'90s Everything But the Girl, who pretty much perfected that blend of cool electronica and frank small-hours desire and regret. Listen to a track like "Good Cop Bad Cop" or "Before Today": What's striking is the exhausted need in Tracey Thorn's voice, buttressed by blue Ben Watt production that sends the subliminal message "It's okay, you can say this, I can hear this." What I got from EBTG is what I get from "Karaoke," right down to Drake's Thorn-ian use of evocative everyday imagery ("You put the tea in the kettle and light it / Put your hand on the metal and feel it / But do you even feel it?") and the way his description of his plight can be interpreted as a defense of and an attack on both involved parties ("I was only trying to get ahead, but the spotlight made you nervous"). My best guess is that the side of Drake that will become inescapable this year won't be this side, but I'm happy to have found it at all.
Vol. 17: Winter 2010
Kaela Graham, Rick Froberg, Paul Hornschemeier, Tom Kaczynski, Dash Shaw, Laura Park, Olivier Schrauwen, Michael Jada, Derek Van Gieson, Sara Edward-Corbett, Renee French, Ted Stearn, Kurt Wolfgang, T. Edward Bak, Josh Simmons, writers/artists Vol. 18: Spring 2010
Kaela Graham, Nate Neal, Lilli Carre, Dave Cooper, Gavin McInnes, Ben Jones, Frank Santoro, Jon Vermilyea, Ivan Brun, Joe Daly, Ted Stearn, Nicolas Mahler, Tim Lane, Conor O'Keefe, Michael Jada, Derek Van Gieson, T. Edward Bak, Renee French, Jon Adams, writers/artists Vol. 19: Summer 2010
Kaela Graham, The Partridge in the Pear Tree, Josh Simmons, Olivier Schrauwen, Gilbert Hernandez, D.J. Bryant, Tim Lane, Conor O'Keefe, Robert Goodin, T. Edward Bak, writers/artists
Eric Reynolds, Gary Groth, editors
Vol. 17: 120 pages
Vols. 18-19: 128 pages each
$14.99 Each Buy them from Fantagraphics Buy them from Amazon.com
Now that's more like it!
Last time I checked in with Fantagraphics' flagship anthology series--well, you could say one of two things about it: 1) That it lacked focus, or 2) that what it was focusing on just wasn't remotely my cup of tea. Overly familiar underground schtick, humor pieces that didn't make me laugh, whimsical work that lacked urgency and oomph, an overall identity crisis caused at least in part by high turnover among an ever-expanding line-up...Whatever it was, it bummed me out as someone who's read the book from the get-go (and submitted to it a couple times!), and often forcefully advocated for it as the best buy in alternative comics not despite but in part because of the varying quality of the contributions, which enables you to directly observe the difference between what works and what doesn't.
Now, though? It's back in business. You can mostly credit the newer crop of contributors, a rough and tumble bunch who are bringing some fierce and hard-edged work to the table. Jon Vermilyea's guest-artist turn in BJ and Frank Santoro's Cold Heat-verse is brining out the funny, monstrous, horny, creepy side of that franchise more than ever before. Tim Lane's nasty, Burnsian blend of noir and slice-of-life harkens back to the altcomix material that first made you uncomfortable when you first drifted over to the wrong side of the comics shop a decade and a half ago. Michael Jada is harnessing Derek Van Gieson's sooty, watery black-and-white images to a tough-as-nails World War II story, of all things. Olivier Schrauwen has submitted his two best contributions thus far: a journey into the colonialist heart of darkness, and a C.F.-evoking tearjerker about the fantasy life of a man in a waking coma. Gilbert freaking Hernandez guest stars with a Roy story that's good at everything Beto's ever good at: character designs, dark skies, body language. Josh Simmons continues making a name for himself as one of the best in the biz with the start of "White Rhinoceros," a cringingly funny cross between Alice in Wonderland and a Mel Gibson phonecall, with some of the best coloring this side of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Robert Goodin returns with an impeccably drawn story of Carl Jung's religious awakening, complete with giant god-shit falling from the sky and crushing a cathedral. Newcomer D.J. Bryant submits a story of a crumbling marriage that's nasty in more ways than when--it's straight-up porn, and good porn at that. And thanks to some perfectly evoked body language in an illo from Rick Froberg, Bryant's story isn't even the first memorable depiction of cunnilingus in these three issues!
I'm not on board with everything, of course. Paul Hornschemeier's "Life with Mr. Dangerous" concludes as uneventfully as it's continued; I'm an admirer of Hornschemeier's work and it's always lovely to look at, so I'm gonna reserve judgment for the eventual collection, but having that story wrap up feels like a welcome farewell to what Mome used to be. T. Edward Bak's historical comic about the naturalist Georg Steller showed promise at first, but I'm thrown by the awkward way he breaks sentences mid-phrase from panel to panel or even page to page, and a story like this needs all the smooth-storytelling help it can get. Conor O'Keefe's work is gently gorgeous to an almost ridiculous degree, but I've got no "in" to his whimsical world of boy-men in nightgowns. Nicolas Mahler's amusing autobiographical anecdotes are the very definition of "nice, nice, not thrilling, but nice." Much as I love seeing comics from Dave Cooper, his Pip & Norton stuff with Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes has always been his weakest. I'm equally cold on another comic duo, Ted Stearn's Fuzz and Pluck. And the less said about Nate Neal here, the better--his two-page takedown of "hipsters," for Christ's sake, presents itself as though thousands and thousands of people haven't spent the last decade doing exactly that (did you know they are pretentious? did you know they buy ugly clothes at vintage stores? did you know they live in Williamsburg? good lord) and is easily the most embarrassing thing that's ever made its way into a Mome. (Which reminds me--it's an anti-hipster piece in an alternative-comics literary journal. I feel like Elaine Benes shouting at toupee-wearing George Costanza when he refuses to date a balding woman: "You're bald!")
But the balance is definitely in favor of the strong stuff, because it is strong stuff--well drawn in a variety of styles, and potentially troubling without cloaking itself in shopworn tropes. Even the work that's sort of middle-of-the-road in terms of the reaction it got from me has its moments, from the physical mechanics of the swamp creature Sara Edward-Corbett draws to the doll-like character designs and dramatic angles of Ivan Brun's rather on-the-nose story of gun violence Jon Adams's weird mash-up of Chris Ware fanfic and Stephen King short story. Once again, you're getting your bang for your buck.
In addition to doing straight-up spoofs of specific songs, like "Eat It" or "Like a Surgeon," "Weird Al" Yankovic does stuff he calls "style parodies." These don't sound like any one particular song from a given band or genre, they sound like the band or genre in general. "Dare to Be Stupid," in which Al out-Devos Devo, is a style parody--and also a damn good song. The two concepts aren't mutually exclusive at all.
"Real" bands have always known this. I could rattle off designer-imposter tracks that equal or better the work of their inspiration all the livelong day, from John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band recording the best song Bruce Springsteen never wrote in "On the Dark Side" to John Fogerty getting a run for his chooglin' money by the Hollies and "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" (or Paul McCartney and "Band on the Run," for that matter).
More recently, James Murphy took his Berlin-records fandom to newly literal lengths. On LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening he makes no effort to cloak the 1:1 correspondence between "Somebody's Calling Me" and Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing," or between "All I Want" and David Bowie's "'Heroes'." Which is fine--heck, Bowie did it to himself on "Teenage Wildlife," simply subbing in King Crimson's Adrian Belew for King Crimson's Robert Fripp. But for my money it's the "style parody" style of "I Can Change" that works best. Here there's no apples-to-apples comparison to distract or detract from Murphy's work. Sure, you can hear unmistakable echoes of New Wave classics--the rhythmical bounce of "Fashion," the rinkydink keyboard bleeps of "(Keep Feeling) Fascination," the lyrical paranoia of "Are 'Friends' Electric?", the two-chord trot of "Messages," et cetera et cetera. You're supposed to hear them, in fact; it's more than just referencing a sound a la Goldfrapp, it makes you think "Man, what song does this sound like? It's on the tip of my tongue..." But ultimately it's not any one thing, it's its own new thing, sturdily constructed from the blueprints of old things. It's easy to sound like the stuff you like; it's harder, and much more rewarding, to feel like it.
That's what I'm getting from Disconnect from Desire, the new album from School of Seven Bells. The key here is that the sound that Benjamin Curtis and the Sisters Deheza are working with is one of the most returned to, sought after, downright hungered for sounds around: the danceable dreamscape of My Bloody Valentine's "Soon." I mean, people talk about looking for stuff that lives up to Loveless like junkies looking for a fix or ufologists desperate for a close encounter; if I myself had a nickel for every time I got stuck in a "cathedrals of sound" k-hole with "Vapour Trail" on repeat for eight hours, I'd have at least fifty, fifty-five cents. The problem, though, is that a sound as distinct as Kevin Shields's or the 4AD catalog's is so easy to mimic that you can coast on that mimicry. You hit everything on your swirly/sexy/shoegazey checklist and call it a day.
School of Seven Bells, on the other hand, does things differently enough to be able to afford, and make the most of, those stylistic similarities. For starters, these aren't the murmured coos of Bilinda Butcher or the private languages of Liz Frazer--Alejandra and Claudia Deheza's vocal harmonies are crisp, clear, and foregrounded, rhythmically emphasizing individual words and syllables. It's an approach built to match the lyrics, which are equally economical and direct. "I want you / To know that / I loved you" goes the simple, sad chorus of "I L U"--three phrases, three words per phrase, all delivered clean and cool. In "Camarilla," the vocal melody descends downward over the phrase "Life is luck of the draw then a battle of...wits"--the "of" sustained over several notes, then a pause, then "wits" delivered with a brief flash of harmony. You'd lose not just the wordplay if you drenched everything in reverb, you'd lose SVIIB's unique juxtaposition of the grand romanticism of their sound with the relatable observations of their lyrics and the simplicity of their delivery.
Then there's the sound itself. It too is dialed way down from the cacophonous guitar layers of Loveless. There are certainly big warm drones and sudden peals and notes that seem to echo out into some giant cavern, but it's brought to life with beats more often than not. "Dust Devils" could strut comfortably alongside a poppy early '90s rave act, "Heart Is Strange" pounds, "Babelonia" careens (at one point coming as close as anything on the album to referencing a specific song, Wire's "Ahead"), "Bye Bye Bye" has a hook that's practically freestyle. It's as much synthpop as shoegaze, and it doesn't just complement the pretty voices, it opens up the reference point to a whole time frame. This is the sound of, oh let's say 1987 to 1991, pulling in mostly lost alt-pop sounds from Lush to Shakespear's Sister to Sunscreem.
This all makes it sound like a clinical process of addition and subtraction, but the result is more alchemy than algebra. It makes me hungry for not just this sound in general but School of Seven Bells' particular use of it. Cranking the "Be My Baby" beat of their "Joviann" makes me want to hear "Love's Easy Tears," yes, but mostly it makes me want to hear "Joviann" again and again. I want to feel that pounding, hear that guitar twinkle on up into the ionosphere, soak in the romantic mystery of that soaring, knowing refrain of "I used to know, I used to love...." I couldn't do that if this were the Creation Records equivalent of "White & Nerdy." They had to change things enough to successfully access that same space.
Recently I accidentally deleted at least two perfectly legit comments that I know of, and possibly more that I don't. What's going on is that the blog has been absolutely inundated by spam, and the creaky interface has made it difficult to impossible to prevent, which means I end up deleting literally dozens of spam comments in big purges throughout the day. I've accidentally caught a couple of for-real comments in these purges. I apologize to their authors, and to anyone who's tried to or actually commented around here lately. I promise it was an accident--I've never deleted a single comment on this blog for content reasons.
Grant Morrison, writer
Tony S. Daniel, Lee Garbett, artists
$14.99 Buy it from Amazon.com
Here's a quick list of fun things found in this immensely enjoyable comic:
* Opening a story called Batman R.I.P. with a splash page which reads "YOU'RE WRONG! BATMAN AND ROBIN WILL NEVER DIE!"
* A bunch of weird supervillains from around the world sweeping into Gotham City to take it over as a joint venture
* Batman coming home from a long night of crimebusting to bang his gorgeous model/aristocrat girlfriend
* Robin thinking that's kinda weird
* The Joker drawn as a nightmarish cross between the Thin White Duke, a Cenobite, and bell hooks
* Bruce Wayne's girlfriend methodically explaining away the majority of the Bat-mythos as signs of debilitating mental illness
* Graffiti shutting down Batman's brain
* A hunchback and a bunch of guys dressed like gargoyles pounding the snot out of Alfred with clubs
* Batman embedding within himself a back-up personality just in case his regular personality is in some way compromised
* Said back-up personality making a multi-colored costume for itself out of garbage and then running around braining villains with a baseball bat
* The central clue/metaphor being revealed as a pun on the femme fatale's skin tone and hair color
* Said femme fatale's leering facial expression when her villainy is revealed
* An impeccably choreographed martial-arts battle between Robin and a killer mime from France
* Villains who are all drawn look like they're having the time of their lives until the precise moment Batman and his friends arrive to kick their asses, which they in turn are drawn to look like they were born to do
* Doctor Hurt repeatedly referring to himself as Doctor Thomas Wayne and no one believing him
* Jezebel Jet saying "What's that sound?"--cut to a silent panel of her plane being swarmed by an army of Man-Bats
* Ending with a two-issue Lynchian psychogenic fugue induced by New Gods from Apokalips that simultaneously reincorporates the goofy old Batman adventures from the Silver Age and presents a bunch of shoulda-woulda-coulda alternative realities and ends when a chainsmoking orange person shoots a giant psychic lump of clay repeatedly because Batman has proven too awesome to psychically pirate and clone
Ta-Dah, the Scissor Sisters' second album, was the easy way out. Following the success of their self-titled debut and its inventive, irreverent pastiche of various and sundry '70s pop and rock sounds--from mid-period Roxy Music luxe balladry to Elton John boogie to its masterstroke, a disco-fied Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bee Gees-referencing cover of Pink Floyd's sacrosanct "Comfortably Numb"--the group...churned out another album based on various and sundry '70s pop and rock sounds. Only this time, gone was much of the inventiveness and irreverence. While the previous outing danced merrily along that fine line between subversion and celebration that powered the first four or five Roxy records, Ta-Dah was pretty much straightforward Eltonisms all the way. The attempts to juxtapose the happy and sad sides of the bacchanalian life they were chronicling felt obvious and forced: I don't care if they got a huge smash out of it in England, doing a song about not wanting to dance, calling it "I Don't Feel Like Dancing," and basing it on an extremely danceable riff on Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancin'" is cheap-seat stuff. By album's end, the would-be anthem "Everybody Wants the Same Thing," the lyrics felt like a Rent outtake. There was still stuff to enjoy--the bass strut and huge middle-eight of "Paul McCartney" and the touching and tender love confession of "Might Tell You Tonight" taking top honors--but in the main this was dictionary-definition diminishing returns.
Well, I had a moment. I was at a sex party in Mannheim, I was on the dancefloor. It was six o'clock in the morning. I was wearing a little rubber wrestling singlet. I was having a great time. There was a cloud in the room, this cloud of man sweat, cigarettes, spilled booze, shit because people were getting fisted, and poppers. And piss! It was disgusting... The most vile place I've ever been. And I was dancing, and the DJs put on 'Walk The Night' by the Skatt Brothers. It's one of my favourites. It was one of those revelatory moments for me when I realised what I wanted the album to sound like and how I wanted it to make me feel. Am I rambling? But that was the defining moment. My vision! My vision happened very clearly in that moment.
Sold! With that core concept in mind, Night Work is the sound of a reinvigorated band with balls to spare. Literally, at that: This is the sort of record I haven't heard in a long, long time in that almost every song is a sort of double entendre where maybe it's maybe not really about fucking but probably yeah, it probably is. There's a song called "Harder You Get" that includes the lyric "Don't point that thing at me unless you plan to shoot." There's a song called "Skin This Cat," sung by Ana Matronic about the million ways she would like a gentleman friend to do so, in a tone that suggests she's not talking about her Tonkinese. There's a song called "Whole New Way" about finding a whole new way to love you that involves not being able to see your eyes and sneaking up from behind--and it bleeps and squelches sassily along like "Monkey" by George Michael to boot. I'd say "Do I need to draw you a picture here?", but thanks to the album cover, it's extra unnecessary.
To me, though, the '80s-style wink-wink nudge-nudge smut is a lot of fun, but where the album really clicks is on the level of urgency. Its opening, title track barrels out of the gate with pulsing strings, strutting electric guitar, a relentless bam-bam-bam-bam beat and chirping high-pitched vocals that practically kick your face in with their manic intensity by the time the chorus comes around: "NIGHT! WORK! GOTTA DO THE NIGHT WORK! WEEKDAY NINE TO FIVE SHIFT IS OVER!" "Harder You Get" and "Running Out" provide a similar one-two punch pummeling later in the album, the former with a head-banging riff/chanted chorus combo and the latter with a breathless, jagged pace reminiscent of Devo at their tightest. There's an overall willingness to go for it here that was sorely lacking on their last album, whether that means recruiting Sir Ian McKellen for a Vincent Price-style spoken-word monologue about "sexual gladiators" or bucking the wishes of both the label and the majority of the band itself to put a photo of a dude's ass on the album cover.
Which leads to an important note: Both of the men involved in that picture--photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and dancer Peter Reed--died of AIDS. The menace lurking beneath the surface of Night Work is far less facile than, say, putting the words "we were born to die" on top of a jaunty Tin Pan Alley tune in Ta-Dah's "Intermission"--it's more a subtle but repeated admonition that the bad comes with the good. "Remember this is what you asked for," Shears warns on "Night Work"; "Stop crying like a child / You got what you want," he says, repeating the sentiment, in "Harder You Get"; there's a song called "Sex and Violence" that makes pretty much the same case Jane's Addiction made on "Ted, Just Admit It...". But the difference is that Shears and company ultimately come down on the side that it's all worth it. The album ends with a quartet of very straightforward synth-heavy dance tunes, all four of which are tributes to love and a high-life so intense as to be transformative. You need a little danger to get there, and that's reflected on Night Work from top to...well, you know.
* Man it's bizarre that they're putting a crucial epilogue for Lost into the DVD release instead of into the finale as it aired. Spoilers at the link.
* It didn't occur to me until I read this Graeme McMillan post on Will Smith's upcoming vampire movie that Smith by rights should already have had a vampire movie under his belt, I Am Legend, and had that film stuck to its source material it would have anticipated the zeitgeist rather than felt like a belated jump aboard the zombie-apocalypse train.
* Remember that bit in The Fellowship of the Ring in the Mines of Moria, after they defeat the cave troll, where they run into the big hall and they get totally surrounded by like hundreds and hundreds of goblins, but then the Balrog roars all the way at the other end of the hall, and the goblins freak out and run away because they don't wanna be anywhere near that place anymore, and Gimli laughs all cocky and brash because he thinks they were scared of him? Yeah, metoo.
Boom-BAP boom-BAP boom-BAP boom-SSSLAP --man, I'm really into this beat, how they drag out and delay that fourth clap. It makes it sound tangible and physical and stretchy, giving the song's bouncy pace a real push and pull. And this is one of the song-iest dance tracks Underworld have done in years: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, fade. The song starts by repeating the words "the rhythm" over and over! The bridge features a passionately strummed acoustic guitar and the phrase "And I don't know if I love you more than the way you used to love me"! The chorus is just the repetition of the words "Heaven" and "Can you feel it?"! Certain lyrics rhyme! Perhaps credit goes to the production team of Mark Knight and D. Ramirez, who've previously worked with the band and are among several more straightforward acts drafted to spice up the songs on Underworld's upcoming, collaboration-driven album Barking. But Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have been working together for 30 years, fully a third of which was spent in pop bands, and over the past few years the huge widescreen sound for which they've become known has increasingly incorporated their old tricks--less panoramic, a more concise structure, an emphasis on the immediate oomph of the sounds. There's still a tension between the minor-key music and the heaven-in-a-moment-lyrics, lest you think this is just pandering. But regardless, I'm just as happy to have an Underworld song with a chorus you can sing along to on the first listen as I am to have one made for staring out the window of a train and watching the world blur.
Here are some thoughts on David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. I really don't want you to read them unless you've seen the movie. Probably best if you've seen Lost Highway and Twin Peaks as well.
* I can't imagine this is a novel observation, but this movie is basically the Rosetta Stone for Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job. From the opening jitterbug sequence and its swing dancers crudely superimposed over a flat neon pink greenscreen background, to an illicit sexual romance in a huge and soulless Los Angeles mansion, to tiny little people emerging out of nowhere, to its overall positioning of uncomfortable material on the precipice between comedy and horror. Tim and Eric have talked about Lynch's influence in the past, and they've cast Ray Wise so it's not like it's some big secret, but having now seen this film specifically, I see just how direct that influence is.
* I got into this a bit with Matt Maxwell on Twitter, but this sure seems like an anti-love letter to Los Angeles, doesn't it? I know that's a facile reading. I've long defended Lynch against detractors who claim things like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks are cheap sophomoric "look, suburbia/small-town America is FUCKED UP!" posturing, so I want to make it clear that I don't think this is a similar case only it's L.A. that's eeeeevil this time. Still, in Twin Peaks in particular there is clearly much that both the characters we see as trustworthy moral arbiters, and by implication Lynch and Mark Frost, see as good and worth preserving in their small town. I don't get that at all in Mulholland Drive The only people who seem happy with Los Angeles in this movie are either naive dupes or amoral assholes, or worse, of course.
* And there are additional cues, if not clues, that there's something wrong with this place. The elderly couple who escort Betty from the airport and wish her luck are revealed almost right away as...not...right. Their glee over Betty's arrival comes across like Minnie and Roman Castevet happily welcoming Rosemary into the Bamford. And the man behind the diner^..."There's a man. In back of this place. He's the one who's doing it." Given what happens at the end of the film, he's like the black beating heart of the city, the font from which the rest of the monstrousness springs. And he's right there behind the Winkie's. Say what you will about Glastonbury Grove and the Black Lodge, but they weren't right behind the Double R.^^
* To use a favorite expression of mine, one thing that really struck me is how my experience with Lynch's past work--not to mention my own generic preoccupations--had me looking at hoofprints and thinking of zebras. Once you've seen Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Me, and Lost Highway, it's so tempting to see the elderly couple, the man behind the diner, and of course the Cowboy as agents of the supernatural, corrupting and destroying the innocent and surrounded by doppelgangers like a rock thrown into a pond is surrounded by ripples. After all, seeing Lost Highway's Mystery Man as a descendent of BOB, the Man from Another Place, the Giant, and Mrs. Tremond and her grandson, if not an actual resident of the Black Lodge appearing in an unofficial Twin Peaks sequel, is just as valid an interpretation of the events of that film as any other. So too, I thought, here.
* But! Once I did a little googling and came across the theory that the final fifth or so of Mulholland Drive is the terrible reality Diane attempted to mentally escape with the fantasy/dream that constitutes the rest of the movie, constructed Wizard of Oz^^^ style as her mind's remix of the truth, it all clicked. No need for the Lodge. Unless of course imagination is the fifth dimension, Batman R.I.P. style. ^^^^
* No need either for other elaborate theories. One that I quickly came up with and then discarded was that somehow Diane too was suffering from amnesia, and Coco and everyone else were for some reason playing along with her delusion. Another was that Betty was a performance by Diane, concocted to further torment Camilla. She is a great actress, after all.
* A couple days later, the part I can't get out of my head is how long it takes Adam and Camilla to announce their engagement in front of Diane. The pause between each phrase, the giggling, the meaningful glances...it's just unbearably awful. What a fucking scene.
* The movie's great achievement as a narrative, I would say, is in getting you to not only prefer the portion that isn't "real," but to make it feel more real to you than the reality. In discussing the film with my wife immediately afterwards, she said that compared to Lost Highway, the characters after the dividing line were far less fleshed out. And this is true, even though when you take a step back and look at it, their behavior was far more "realistic" than that of the Nancy Drew noir characters. But you end up believing the lie more than the truth. I've read some people who argue that this trick takes advantage of the simple fact that we're fondest of those we're introduced to first. The Psycho trick, in other words. It's smart filmmaking.
* The Winkie's dream sequence: As good as I'd heard. And by good I mean I reacted by saying "Ohhhhh, no, that's no good," and then rewinding it on behest of my wife to subject ourselves to it again. I remember doing that one time before: with the first subliminal flash of that face in The Exorcist.
* Also as good as I'd heard, better even: the sex scene. Lynch's sweetest and not coincidentally his hottest. Just another explosion, another sense to inundate and overload.
* Submitted: The ending of this movie would have been the only other acceptable ending for The Blair Witch Project.
* This is horror, to me. This is the horror I want. Shining black and awful and unbearable, like a crack in the world that should never have been opened. Magnificent.
^ By the way, a filthy hirsute homeless man who reappears at the end of the movie to take possession of a sinister magic box that transports the person who opens it to another plane of reality? I can't be the only person who thought of Hellraiser, can I?
^^ Speaking of which: the coffee at the Double R = "damn good"; the espresso at Ryan Entertainment = "shit." Case closed!
^^^ "Pay no attention to the man behind the diner!"
^^^^ Lynch's influence on Grant Morrison's Batman work and Final Crisis is clearer to me than ever as well. And not just in the general "it's creepy, it's weird, it doesn't make sense" way -- the specifics, the preoccupation with shifting identities and doppelgangers, the conception of evil as a corrupting hole in the world.
* Every so often the Internet collectively decides that an interview with a celebrity between whose brain and mouth, to paraphrase Hesh Rabkin, exists no interlocutor is worth your time. Once again the Internet is totally right--you really oughta read Dan Fierman's interview with Bill Murray in GQ. Did I mention it features a portrait of Murray by Daniel Clowes? (Via Tucker Stone.)
I came to The Dark Side of the Moon late. Not until I was a junior in college, if I recall correctly, did countless comparisons with OK Computer finally prompt me to pick up a copy. So I have no smoky adolescent memories of listening the record in stoned and reverent awe in someone's parents' basement. Nor in someone's dorm room, for that matter--by the time I got around to Dark Side I expect most of my running buddies had long since made their peace with the record. If you wanna talk about chemically enhanced communal journeys deep into the heart of Kool Keith's Sex Style, I'm your guy, but my experience with Pink Floyd's career-defining record has been mostly solitary, mostly sober, and mostly grown-up.
Indeed, the older I get, the more I listen to it, and the more it clicks with me. This is an album about the passage of time, the fear of failure, the drive to succeed, armchair warriors, mental illness, and death--about, in other words, my life over the past few years. And it's not just that "The Great Gig in the Sky" sounds very different when you've gone through three consecutive miscarriages, though I promise it does, it's that with age I can appreciate not just the relentlessly bleak lyrics but the intelligence of the music in which they're packaged. One of the last great flourishings of true psychedelia--not a cheesy retro formless paisley swirl, but an overwhelming, all-encompassing onslaught of aural information--The Dark Side of the Moon's sound seems inexhaustible. Layer upon layer of studio wizardry and improvisatory instrumental prowess surround (mostly) simple rhythms, almost childlike melodies, and of course the disarmingly direct lyrics, cushioning the blow and making the darkness almost comforting. It's an album to cling to, and that clings to you.
Lately I've listened a lot to a pair of Internet-based projects that run Dark Side through the prism of very of-the-moment musical...well, trends, you could call them, or gimmicks, or even parlor tricks given their inherently playful nature. Created first as a hobby and then as a birthday present, Brad Smith's MOON8 is a chiptunes cover of The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. Smith transforms the Floyd's lush, atmospheric, (ah, the hell with it) Floydian approach into the squeaky, squelchy sound of an 8-bit Nintendo-game soundtrack. This is really really easy to appreciate on a Tumblr-meme level, of course: Pink Floyd is awesome, Nintendo games are awesome, making Pink Floyd sound like a Nintendo game is a veritable double-rainbow of awesome. One level up, and (as Smith points out) it's a fun way to extrapolate the coincidental similarity between old game soundtracks and the proto-programming loops of "On the Run." One level past that, and it's a clever blend of two traditionally communal experiences: Playing video games with your friends as a kid, and listening to Dark Side in a group--in Smith's case, with his family. One level past that, and it's a juxtaposition of the nostalgia of your childhood (Nintendo) with the nostalgia of your adolescence or young adulthood (discovering Floyd), which in all likelihood was a recapitulation of your parents' adolescence or young adulthood (the original audience for Floyd).
None of that would matter, however, if the music didn't end up being so surprisingly interesting. "I like the challenge of making something large fit into a small space," Smith told Wired. "How much expression can you get from just the three oscillators of the NES?" Certainly a big part of the pleasure of MOON8 is discovering how your favorite sounds from the original album are going to be translated into the music of Mario and company, from the power-up and coin sounds that become the cash-register noises at the beginning of "Money" to the explosions and lasers (sorry, it's hard not to hear it that way) that replace the big epic backing vocals on "Us and Them." But reducing peak-of-their-powers David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright to whatever you can fit into the rudimentary tools of the FamiTracker reveals as much as it replaces. "Breathe" becomes a cheeky, bouncy pseudo-funk track halfway between the Head Hunters version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and the underground music from Super Mario Bros.; "Time" starts like a quest and ends like a losing battle. With so few distractions, the singsongy quality of Dark Side's simple melodies--as simple and timeless as "Ring Around the Rosey"--comes through, unveiling a heretofore hidden aspect of the original album's power.
"Crying for Us and Them" is in a way a similar process of addition through subtraction, coupled with addition through plain-old addition. Created by Phil RetroSpector for Mashed in Plastic, an all-mash-up David Lynch tribute album, it combines David Ari Leon's piano-only cover of "Us and Them" (from one of those countless "Piano Tribute to..." cash-in albums) with Rebekah Del Rio's gutwrenching Spanish-language a cappella cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying," "Llorando," from Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Once again, this is some wheels-within-wheels stuff: A cover that translates a song from one musical idiom to another, coupled with a cover that translates another song from one language to another, combined to create a new song, which is itself a tribute to the pivotal scene in a movie preoccupied with doubles, shifting identities, personal re-creation, and the flimsy boundary between the real and the unreal. And oh, right, there are the original lyrics to "Us and Them": "And who knows which is which and who is who?"
But here, again, beyond the conceptual hijinx, something interesting is being revealed about the music. Lyrically, "Us and Them" is a song about conflict, about the powerful fucking over the powerless, in no uncertain terms. "'Forward!' they cried from the rear, and the front rank died"--as blunt and angry a description of war as you're likely to find, especially considering that given Waters' history the war he likely had in mind was the Good War itself, World War II. But musically, isn't it romantic? That gentle groove, that crooning saxophone, that piano like an inviting breeze...the first time I heard this song, off one of my dad's LPs back in middle school, I put it on a mix for the girl I liked, thinking it'd be a great song to make out to. In that regard it's probably the clearest articulation of Dark Side's project of using warm, intoxicating music to say awful things. "Crying for Us and Them" takes advantage of Leon's bare, pretty arrangement to reinvent "Us and Them" as a love song for real, only it's now layered with the vocals of perhaps the most devastating lost love song ever recorded. A personal apocalypse on par with any of the Big Questions tackled by Dark Side--one just as tied to adult failure and regret. I was alright for a while, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
In the right hands, comics don't depict, they convey. This is the advantage they have over their cousin film. The basic stuff of film (putting aside animation and abstract filmmaking and CGI for the moment) is, on a fundamental level, the recording of things that actually happened in front of the camera recording them. Those recordings can be recordings of a fiction, and they can be used to construct a fiction, and directors and cinematographers and editors and composers and effects technicians can add their interpretive gestures, but film is nevertheless a hegemony of fact. Comics, by contrast, is all middleman. Even an autobiographical comic is by virtue of being a comic not showing you something that happened, but telling you about it, the telling coded directly into the line of the artwork. It's a gestural art form, a mime medium.
No one gets that better than John Porcellino. Most lo-fi autobio cartoonists, perhaps paradoxically, aim for maximalist effect in terms of presenting the artist's self-conception: shaky, rough-hewn lines, clumsy character designs, everything designed to get across "I'm self-effacing!" Porcellino stays out of his own way. With his smooth uniform line weight, characterized by elegant curves and semicircles, he presents information on a need-to-know basis, usually emphasizing human figures against a minimally depicted background (like a sky) or foreground (like a car window). He's not conveying a pose, he's conveying in-the-moment relationships: Between himself and his wife, between his two cats, between himself and a parking lot, between the grass and the sky. This happened, yes, but he allows you to draw the conclusion yourself--this is how it happened, this is how it felt in that moment. All that empty space allows you to place yourself between those lines. The effect is immediate, immersive, and evocative, so that when the poetic writing really hits--especially those frequently powerfully sad final lines--you can all but feel that world's weight around you.
* I have been writing a lot of reviews of all sorts of things over the past week or so and some of my posts may have slipped past you if for some reason you weren't paying rapt attention to my every move. Here's what's been going on:
Here's something I should like, right? Science fiction you can dance to! The ArchAndroid is part of an ambitious concept multi-album project inspired by Fritz Lang and involving outfits out of Klaus Nomi's wardrobe, channeled through the idiom of contemporary R&B yet looking and sounding like basically nothing on the radio, sung by a woman with enough confidence to make even her deal with Diddy sound like "I say frog, Puffy jumps." I stuck this record on expecting to celebrate my way through it.
But something happened on the way to Metropolis. Making my way through The ArchAndroid--which I've now studiously done several times, convinced I must be getting something wrong--wasn't the Ziggy Stardust Meets the Mothership dance party of my dreams, it was an endurance test. Right up front, a big part of that's Janelle Monae's voice, strident and sharp any time she goes for the big loud sound, which is often. Vocals play the same role in pop music for me that a cursory flip-through of the art alone does for comics: If my ear/eye bounces off or glazes over, then to heck with it, life's too short. That was hard to get around. So too was the lack of simple, solid melodies, hooks, or grooves. It was as if Monae didn't trust the basic stuff of pop songwriting as a sufficient demonstration of the breadth of her interests.
And that points to the big problem with The ArchAndroid: It's practically a case study for the perils of the maximalist aesthetic. Monae slides song into song, collides genre into genre, and just keeps adding adding adding adding adding in a fashion that creaks and growns with its effort to be Intelligent And Entertaining!!!, ultimately revealing her to be a jack of all trades but master of none. So I'm taking The ArchAndroid song by song below, an approach practically demanded by the sheer volume of stuff inside....
* "Suite II Overture"--A melodically inert orchestral introduction that serves no purpose other than to say "Look, it's an orchestral introduction"
* "Dance or Die"--That "BadabadabadabadabadabadaBA" emceeing wears out its welcome within the first verse; Saul Williams, who knows from overlong draggy albums, is much more flattered by the pummeling production Trent Reznor lent the first few songs on Williams's own Bowie-indebted album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! than he is by this boho dinner-party hip-hop.
* "Faster"--What if you hurried "You Can't Hurry Love"?
* "Locked Inside"--Here's where the sharp vocals really started throwing me. A perfectly pleasant chorus, and I like the MJ bridge quite a bit, but we've heard that a million times. Britney Spears did it! Meanwhile the verses' real estate is just squandered.
* "Sir Greendown"--Very mellow.
* "Cold War"--"Hey Ya"'s rhythm with "B.O.B."'s drum sound. That's definitely not a complaint. For the first time, the album conveys urgency without edging into stridency. Not a knockout, but the strongest so far.
* "Tightrope"--Very tough to argue with this one. But, well, okay. That opening "whoa!" is a little much--I'm guessing that how you feel about that will determine how you feel about the whole album. As an funkateer of some 12 years' experience I was very excited by that horn section--it's a horn section!--but calling attention to its funkiness by just straight-out calling it funky should be my job, not Monae's. And whoop, here comes more maximalism--funny voices for the backup vocals, a goddamn ukelele. Edit!
* "Neon Gumbo"--The "played backwards" portion of the album. Prince by numbers.
* "Oh, Maker"--AM-radio chamber pop with a beat and a melodically meandering chorus, fade, some synth-psychedelia at the end.
* "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)"--Sounds like an outtake from I'm Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Film 'Dick Tracy'. And not like "Vogue" or one of the Sondheim songs, either. Then there's some screaming.
* "Mushrooms & Roses"--Lenny Kravitzian psychedelic slow jam with "Hurdy Gurdy Man" vox. For people who wished The Love Below were even longer, I guess.
* "Suite III Overture"--Mostly a piano/orchestral cover of the previous song. I prefer it! Then it winds off into a Disney/exotica thing.
* "Neon Valley Street"--Is that a mellotron? I hope so. I dig the laid-back big beat and comparatively restrained vocals here. This also reminds me of Kravitz, specifically * "Sugar" from Are You Gonna Go My Way? Again, that's not a complaint. The chorus's repetition of "May this song reach your heart" leaves me kind of cold, though. I think the Andre 3000 distorted-vox rap section is fun.
* "Make the Bus"--Note salad from Of Montreal. It's goofy!!! Zany!!!
* "Wondaland"--This is cute and has a great chorus. I keep hoping she's saying "because she left her underpants." An underwater feel to it. Let's throw an Alleluia in there for no reason.
* "57821"--Parsely Sage Rosemary and Yawn. The chorus harmonies are lovely though, nice echoey production you don't normally hear on this sort of thing.
* "Say You'll Go"--1997 dinner-party music.
* "BeBopByeYa"--1961 dinner-party music.
Trust me, no one hates that this brought out the dismissive snark in me more than I do. It doesn't even really deserve it! Whatever she lacks in execution, Monae's ambition is praiseworthy, and provided she doesn't let the plaudits she's earned for this record go to her head, there's every reason to believe that an artist of her obvious ravenous intelligence will learn to write stronger melodies--learn to relax and rely on stronger melodies, that is to say, learn to get out of her own way and edit a bit. But what happened here is that her whirlwind sci-fi tour of a million pop traditions just left me trying to find 18 ways to say I'm unimpressed.
Or: Scott Will Eat Itself. The gist of this final volume in Bryan Lee O'Malley's worlds will live/worlds will die/comics will never be the same series is that it's an extraordinarily bad idea to reduce the people in your life, even the people who used to be in your life, to stock roles in the beat-'em-up videogame or shonen manga you've mentally conceived your life to be. Not only is this cruel and reductive to them, not only will it cause them trouble to the extent that you're still in their lives and forcing them into that role when you interact, it's cruel and reductive to you yourself, since it traps you in the corresponding role as well.
I mean, I guess that's the gist. I've always had a hard time connecting with Scott Pilgrim on the personal, emotional level a lot of its ardent admirers do, mostly, I think, because I'm a creep. As I put it when discussing Vol. 5:
There's no doubt that I'm speaking from my own experience with my own emotional life, which for whatever reason I don't experience as a lot of rock and roll fun with the occasional bummer mixed in, even if that is in fact a more objectively accurate view of what my life has been like. Maybe it's just a preference thing, maybe I feel like darker material more accurately reflects what is important/lasting in life/art, I don't know. I do know that I don't see my life as a rollicking adventure, or more accurately, something that might be a rollicking adventure were the occasional metaphorical robot fight thrown in.
The long and the short of it, especially in a volume such as this, which wraps up an entire series' worth of emotional arcs in the form a massive, bloody (!) swordfight, is that Scott and his friends are characters whose adventures I can enjoy even if I can't personally really understand the thought process underneath them. Like, look, O'Malley's art has never been better than it is in this volume, which is pretty much true every time--the climactic fight scene occupies about two-fifths of the book and has oomph galore, and I think O'Malley deserves some sort of special Eisner Award for the potential Envy Adams cosplay opportunities created here. And it's difficult to overstate the subspace corridor opened in my head over these past few years by his overall mix-and-match aesthetic, from its non-traditional, designy use of captions and text to tell the story, to its no-explanations mix of romance and action, to his often laugh-out-loud funny dialogue and sense of timing, to most especially his incorporation of videogame tropes--just a vast reservoir of completely underutilized visual vocabulary and storytelling potential. So if, in the end, Scott Pilgrim isn't my life, I sort of feel like the last thing Scott Pilgrim would want is for me to pretend that's the role it played.
Oh man, I love that this happened. I hit play to listen to "Nitetime Rainbows," the lead and title track for this EP (extracted from last year's pretty colossal full-length Ashes Grammar). Immediately there's this sonic...vista, I guess you'd call it. Alternating between high soaring notes and low humming notes, held and stretched via god-knows-what heavily processed instrument, creating this beautifully vast and glowing space in my head. And I think to myself, "Wow, this sounds like what the Rainbow Bridge level in Mario Kart would sound like if you were standing there on the starting line." Only then do I remember that hey, this song has the word "Rainbows" in the title.
That opening section is so strong, the portrait it paints so clear and complete, that the rest of the song still feels like the slow unraveling of potential contained within the introduction. That's the intelligence of Ben Daniels' and Josh Meakim's songwriting at work. Structurally, "Nitetime Rainbows" is a series of interlocking but still discrete sections, shifting from one to the other with each new instrument introduced--a Byrds-style guitar line; a beat that sounds like you're hearing it from several houses over; ethereal chirping wordless vocals--or each element dropped--the whole jangly schmear pretty much eliminated in favor of the distant-sounding bassline from the intro, with only an echoing whirr to accompany it--or each melodic shift up or down. At long last almost everything stops for just a beat or two, until the vocals return at their clearest yet, and an insistent dunk-dunk-dunk rhythm grounds everything in a way that feels sure and certain--to quote The House Next Door, a retrospectively inevitable destination. The finish line!
What I like about this EP is the way the rest of it reflects what's going on in the title track. "Daytime Rainbows" and its doo-doo-doing vocals and sunny guitar feels like what the title implies--a looser, freer, brighter answer to the "Nitetime" version. "So Bloody, So Tight" takes the rhythmical chiming of "Nitetime"'s guitars off into a synthier direction, which "Pianos Lessons" follows up on even more directly, its Krautrock repetition depicting what the Rainbow Bridge might be like for the drivers.
A trio of "Nitetime Rainbows" remixes closes out the EP, beginning with the Buddy System remix, which shuffles around the original's constituent parts. Benoit Pioulard's impossibly huge-sounding "Acid Wash Edit" blows out the original intro into gigantic, distorted rumblings, feeding into solar-wind gusting and whistling. Finally, Ezekiel Honing's remix strips away all the lushness and fullness, reducing it to an eerily disjointed succession of sporadic handclaps, breathing sounds, a heartbeat, a repeated two-note riff, a hum like some ancient machine, and eventually a mournful acoustic-guitar strum. It's the "Nitetime" to Pilouard's all-"Rainbows" remix--the starfield surrounding the Rainbow Bridge.
Does it all sound very Court of the Crimson King, very Roger Dean? It ought to. It's spectacle, not through prog virtuosity but through sheer sonic architecture--meaning both size and structure. It's big, big music, of the sort that invites whatever worldbuilding the psychedelic part of your brain is capable of. Since Nintendo has been my mind-alterer of choice for the past year or so, that's what I see: a ribbon of light winding its way through space. Double rainbows all the way across the sky, folks. So intense! And isn't wonderful that music can do that?
Marvel.com: How similar was the project to something like the Bizarro books that DC did a while ago?
Jody LeHeup: It's very similar, but there are some very important differences. In that book, there were no writer/artist stories for some reason. For example, I remember looking at that book-which I enjoyed very much by the way-and wondering why Jaime Hernandez, for example, didn't write the story he drew. And it was like that throughout. In STRANGE TALES the opposite is true. Most contributors are writer/artists, which I think makes for a different kind of story experience. The other difference is that there is a lot of young and new talent mixed in with the veterans of indie comics. So there's this exuberance or vitality to the STRANGE TALES stories that I'm very proud of.
* Tom Devlin ships Kristen Bell and Taylor Kitsch. "Your show gets cancelled, you do a guest spot on a show that everyone stopped watching about the time you show up and, whammo, you're gone. See ya later, Ex-Oh-Ex-Oh. Man, Jessica Alba would have a crazy crowd at this thing. Keep her away from that John Byrne. Ha. Is he even still alive?" Glorious.
I heard some complaints from fellow comics reporters that there wasn't more media coverage of comics from people at the show. I don't know, maybe this obnoxious to say out loud, but it seems to me if you're media and you don't think there's enough coverage of comics, maybe just do more coverage of comics?
* The next time you're tempted to dismiss Direct Market comics as a cultural irrelevancy because the most popular only sell like 125K copies, think of indie rock. Way more people bought Siege #1 than LCD Soundsystem's last record.
* Spurge's reports from the floor continue to be very comics-focused and very entertaining. For the second time he notes bad news for Fantagraphics, this time that they were shut out at the Eisners, which Fantagraphics does not ever deserve to be.
* Here's a trailer for the long-gestating DC MMORPG. It's a post-apocalyptic scene in which the few surviving villains, led by Lex Luthor, basically wipe the floor with the few surviving heroes, led by Superman. I understand that a six-minute vignette in which Deathstroke strings Batman up with Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth and beats him with a baseball bat until a jealous Joker blows them both up with a rocket launcher, followed by Lex Luthor stabbing Superman to death after the Man of Steel was poisoned by the kryptonite-booby-trapped corpse of Wonder Woman, isn't going to ameliorate a lot of people's concerns about where DC is today, aesthetically. That said, really impressive sense of scale, action choreography, stakes, and even lighting with this thing. If you like your superheroes hilariously grim and gritty, or just wanna see what a big giant rumble with the iconic characters might look like in a semi-realistic setting, check it out.
* The red-band trailer for Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse spinoff Machete is almost Crank-level crazy. (Via Topless Robot.)
* I am not at all sold on the Thunderbolt Ross Red Hulk as a concept even when Jeph Loeb isn't writing him, but Gabriel Hardman sure can draw the shit out of him and just about everything else (Atlas #3 was really somethin'), and I've got some faith in Jeff Parker, so I'll check out the team's newly announced Hulk run with the character.
Of course, the floor soon opened up for a lengthy fan Q&A where the first question drew out "Grant Morrison: Fiction Theorist" as a young man asked how old characters like Bruce Wayne and the various Robins were supposed to be. "It doesn't matter. You must understand these people aren't real," Morrison said to laughter. "Batman is a mythical figure. I'm being funny, but I'm not being funny. They don't live in the real world. It's like this theory I've been developing – you know what they always say about kids? That kids can't distinguish between fantasy and reality. And that's actually bullshit. When a kid's watching 'The Little Mermaid,' the kids knows that those crabs that are singing and talking aren't really like the crabs on the beach that don't talk. A kid really knows the difference.
"Then you've got an adult, and adults can not tell the difference between fantasy and reality. You bring them fantasy, and the first thing they say is 'How did he get that way? Why does he dress like that? How did that happen?' It's not real. And beyond that, when you're dealing with characters, they exist on paper. They're real in that context. I always say they're much more real than we are because they have much longer lives and more people know about them. But we get people reading superhero comics and going, 'How does that power work? And why does Scott Summers shoot those beams? And what's the size of that?' It's not real! There is no science. The science is the science of 'Anything can happen in fiction and paper' and we can do anything.
"We've already got the real world. Why would you want fiction to be like the real world? Fiction can do anything, so why do people always want to say, 'Let's ground this' or 'Let's make this realistic.' You can't make it realistic because it's not. So basically Batman is 75 years old, and Robin is 74 years old. They don't grow old because they're different from us. They're paper people."
Bam bam bam bam bam--with each turn of the page, this cheap newsprint zine hits you with a powerful image as big as the trim size will allow. The images--a quick google search for the artists' homepages reveals I'm out of my element at trying to deduce who did what based on their other work, for the most part, though I think I at least recognize DeForge when I see him--are tailored for maximum impact. Maximum awesomeosity, if you will. You've got DeForge's trademark slimy monsters, seemingly constructed out of bits of thousands of other beasts--like if Shub Niggurth were made of her 1,000 young. You've got massive, realistically drawn altars laden with occult and Egyptian kitsch. You've got a guy looking into the mirror to see a melted-faced monstrosity staring back at him; turn the page and another guy's cutting his cubist-looking face in half with a sword. Heck, the thing opens with a pretty hilarious selection of newspaper comic titles given DeForge's heavy-metal typography treatment. (My favorites are Ziggy, which uses a sword for the "i" in the style of The Legend of Zelda, and Hi and Lois, whose letters are used to form a grinning skull.) It's a delirious, this-goes-to-eleven experience, over almost as soon as it begins.
* IGN talks to Morrison about Batman Inc. It sounds like fun, which is probably something that needs to be said more often w/r/t Morrison's Bat-books. They're fun! Meanwhile, given my increasing interest in the narrative potential for the non-narrative tropes of videogames (all praises due to Scott Pilgrim), I'm obviously loving this quote:
So many comics are still inspired by Hollywood movies, (many of which are now inspired, in turn, by comics in that pop-will- eat-itself way), and by extension a kind of approach to narrative which dates back to Aristotle's Poetics and the fundamentals of Greek Drama, almost two and a half thousand years ago, in the name of our dear lords Hermes and Zeus Almighty!
It occurred to me, immersed in my 50th hour of Just Cause 2, how far beyond that silent audience, proscenium arch, here's some well-paid 'actor' pretending to be someone else experience we'd gone and how very timidly other forms of storytelling entertainment had reacted to the challenge of the beast in their midst, this ultimate choose your own adventure playground that in some cases simulates 'life' and terrain so effectively it's like actually like going on vacation (how many gamers know the geography of Silent Hill as well as their own town? Do streets and locations from Liberty City, Panau, or Saints Row, turn up in the dreams of other gamers like they do in mine? I'll lay odds they do. These amazing virtual environments appear in my memories as real as Chicago or London. Paris, Venice, New Delhi, Jogjakarta or any of the non-CGI cities I've been to.
Although many current video games are constructed on a narrative spine which follows the basic action movie hero-beats-baddie script, it's never that aspect of the player's interaction with the virtual environment that's important. I know I tend to skip the cut scenes in games without losing any awareness of the arrow of narrative progression. Batman Inc. is an attempt to do a comic influenced by the storytelling structures, images, senses of scale, movement and perspective and so on that I've absorbed from games. The experience of actually being Batman in the Arkham Asylum game was profoundly eerie and I'd love to find a way to capture that depth of involvement and identification with the character and environment. I'm not sure how much of this I'll be able to realise but this is where I'm beginning my thinking on what might make Batman Inc. different from other books.
Me and Geoff Johns sell lots of comic books at DC, and no one's ever said 'Don't do that,' because they know it sells good. There are certain segments of fandom that say that my work is difficult, but it's the best-selling stuff in the business and has been for 20 years. So I'm not going to change.
* I took a look back at my coverage of last year's Con and was interested to see which projects announced back then still haven't seen the light of day. Rafael Grampa's Furry Water and his AdHouse art book and Gerard Way's Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion and Killjoys top the list. Also, Geoff Johns's All Flash series didn't quite manifest as planned, though between Flash and Speed Force I guess we'll see all of the intended material eventually.
* As longtime readers are no doubt aware, I'm habitually skeptical of post-Comic-Con flounce posts, like this one from Videogum's Gabe Delahaye. In my experience they almost always stem either from wildly unrealistic expectations--like that the show should automatically lay itself out before you in the form best suited to your needs and that its failure to do so is a reflection of its shortcomings rather than yours--or from a professional mandate which requires immersion in the show's gaudiest/most exploitative aspects or which treats it as an opportunity for cultural anthropology on nerd culture at its worst. In reality, it's perfectly easy for a normal person, or even Eisner Award winning comics journalist Tom Spurgeon, to attend the show, even cover the show, in precisely the way they most enjoy. Yes, the show is huge, and crowded, and increasingly saturated with distasteful Hollywood types; and yes, nerd culture is an aesthetic morass in many ways these days. But whaddyagonnado? Alvin Buenaventura still had a table, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez were available for gushing over, you could buy original art from the Beguiling, you could get limited edition He-Man toys, there was a torso-sized Infinity Gauntlet on display, Liv Tyler walked around disguised as V for Vendetta, and 130,000 people were there to enjoy the products of people's imagination, even if some of that imagination has been commodified and stuck in flyer form into hotel bathroom mirrors. Ultimately, I'm with Matt Maxwell: "Yes, it's coarse and crass and unforgivable, but there’s times that you find yourself stepping into a shoe that happens to fit you perfectly." I will always self-identify as a nerd and I will always be glad that Comic-Con exists.
It's the way this song -- from Trent Reznor's new band with his wife Mariqueen Maandig and his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross -- does and doesn't sound like a pair of his previous band's songs that strikes me. Lyrically, you could do a line-for-line swap with Nine Inch Nails' "All the Love in the World" and literally not miss a beat -- that's how deeply Maandig has apparently internalized her husband's aesthetic. (Example: "Watching all the insects march along / Seem to know just right where they belong" vs. "Blinding light illuminates the scene / Try to fill the spaces in between." Try it!) And indeed the music itself is very NIN, albeit not so much the "return to rock radio" pummeling of "All the Love in the World"'s source album With Teeth as the ominous droning and knowingly tinny, clicky programming of subsequent records like Year Zero and The Slip. And all that is fine -- I am a big, big NIN fan and learned long ago that you don't switch on Reznor's latest record expecting to be surprised by a new set of thematic concerns.
But the bigness of "The Space in Between"'s final chorus -- twice as long as the first iteration, beefed up with echoey overdubbed harmonies, lifted aloft on the crest of a guitar that's suddenly gone from a drone to a roar -- reminds me of an entirely different NIN song, and one of my favorites at that, precisely because it is surprising: the title track from The Fragile. That song starts quiet and ominous, then reveals its intent with at-the-time stunningly kind and direct lyrics, then blossoms into an unexpectedly big chorus the second time around, then cuts away for a bridge and Reznor's most emotional guitar solo to date before exploding into an absolutely massive third and final chorus -- a chorus of Reznors given the full "Freddie Mercury treatment," a whole new set of lyrics screamed near the top of Reznor's range on top of the original lyrics, a shift to a major key, the works. "The Space in Between" echoes "The Fragile"'s structure but never gets to that tear-down-the-sky point, cutting off abruptly after chorus #2. The result? I listen to the song on loop, waiting and waiting for that missing final section, for a catharsis that never comes -- which is a very Reznor concept. Well played.
* Darren Aronofsky's RoboCop remake is dunzo, sunk by the same MGM financial woes that have scuppered the Daniel Craig-model James Bond franchise and delayed box-office sure-thing The Hobbit to the point where directors are leaving and stars are publicly tweeting their doubts that it'll get made.
* The trailer for Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch had me at using "The Crablouse" by Lords of Acid for background music. "The Crablouse," for crying out loud! Pure '90s trailer music, and my favorite Lords song to boot. Wait, what's that? Oh, right, the movie! Well, it looks like fun, like an amalgam of all the other moderately boundary-pushing nerd-friendly action movies of the past several years, and it's also a Zack Snyder movie, and I've enjoyed many of the former and all of the latter. I also think this trailer helps better contextualize what Watchmen ended up being. Like, if the line-up is A) Dawn of the Dead, B) 300, and D) this trailer, and Watchmen is C), then you probably have a solid idea of what Watchmen is. (Via Sean Belcher.)
* I dream of a world in which TCJ.com can do something, anything without taking pot/kettle shots at the rest of the comics blogosphere in such a way as to call further attention to its own lameness. Still, an international comics blog aggregator is an interesting enough idea...but again, given the site's track record for its domestic coverage, I'm skeptical. (Via Flog.)
* Here's a pretty solid piece by Adam Sternbergh on the rise of nerd culture, or more specifically fanboy culture. It has a lot of the stuff that sprang to my mind in the time between reading the headline and clicking the link--the internet facilitating the rise of a mass geek culture from previously isolated pockets, the rage with which dissent from the nerd consensus is greeted, and so on. To that I'd add Matthew Perpetua's critique, which is that contemporary nerd culture crudely seeks to establish its masculine bonafides at every possible occasion--the emphasis on the supposed rules of pseudoscience rather than the more fluid and feminine magical approach I talk about in that McNeil/Morrison link is a big part of that--and reacts to flattery of even the most empty and mercenary sort by preexisting cultural gatekeepers (in the immortal words of W.P. Mayhew) like an old bitch dog gettin' its belly scratched. That said, I think Matthew exaggerates the extent to which "fanboys are the new bullies." I'd be really surprised if the ratio of kids singled out for months-long campaigns of cruelty by their peers for being too smart and too attached to fantastic fiction vs. those thus singled out for not being nerdy enough were anything but absurdly lopsided. And stuff like G4 can suck as hard as the day is long, but it'll never touch the insane cultural hegemony of the National Football League.
* "Sun" by Caribou is one of my favorite songs of the year so far, and now its video is one of my favorite videos of the year. (Via Ryan Catbird.)
The Comics Section from the Panorama
(aka The San Francisco Panorama Comics Section)
Keith Knight, Jon Adams, Michael Capozzola, Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Clowes, Ivan Brunetti, Alison Bechdel, Gene Luen Yang, Art Spiegelman, Ian Huebert, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Kim Deitch, Seth, Erik Larsen, Jessica Abel, Heather Brinesh, Katrina Ortiz, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Jon Scieszka, Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Jenny Traig, Kevin Cornell, writers/artists
McSweeney's, March 2010
$10 Buy it from McSweeney's Buy it from Amazon.com
Everything's coming up newsprint! Originally included with McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #33--the "McSWEENEY'S HEART NEWSPAPERS" project The San Francisco Panorama--and now conveniently sold separately because McSweeney's knows its audience, The Comics Section hews pretty closely, intentionally or not, to its conception as a newspaper's funny pages. There's that same lack of a unifying aesthetic or visible editorial hand, that same variety in tone and quality, and that same presence a strip or two that leave you totally baffled. How does it work as an argument for the preservation of the newspaper as a format? Jimmy crack corn and I don't care. I'm not here for the Wednesday Comics-style newsprint nostalgia, I'm here for the comics. And the strong ones are strong enough that I don't mind having spent the necessary scratch.
Look, Ware and Clowes just tower over this thing, let's get that established right away. Ware's centerfold spread is a luscious thing, with those bright blue and pink colors he used for the cover of Acme #19 and an inviting assortment of strips about young-brainiac-turned-adult-divorcee Putty Gray and his enamorata Sandy Grains. You can start pretty much anywhere on the spread, flip the thing in pretty much any direction, just letting your eye go where it wants and reading accordingly, and it works. (Compare and contrast with Alison Bechdel's tribute to the game of "Life," which forces you to rotate the entire broadsheet with seemingly every panel to little discernible aesthetic effect and much upper-arm exhaustion.) As you might expect, several of the "punchline" panels here are real punches to the gut; I'll never get enough of Ware's sense of "humor," the way he just puts despair where the jokes would go. Ditto Clowes, whose provides the section's opening salvo, a nasty little science-fiction spoof called "The Christian Astronauts" with as funny and fuck-you of a final panel as anything in Wilson.
There are two other stand-out strips in the section. Kudos to Adrian Tomine for writing a strip about a superhero named Optic Nerve that's just an out-and-out autobiographical satire of how badly comment threads comparing him to Daniel Clowes get to him and how all things considered he'd probably rather be hanging out with his wife than wasting his time in this thankless field. He doesn't care if navel-gazing and superhero satire are the two things most likely to get your brand of alternative comics ridiculed on the Internet these days, you know? That's what he wants to do, and dammit, that's what he's doing. And it's funny! And kudos to the Editors for thinking to include Erik Larsen, of all people: He uses his Savage Dragon character for a light superhero satire at least as effective as Tomine's, and it's clear from inking, coloring, and choreography that he simply cares a lot about cartooning, which makes a two-page broadsheet spread arguably an even more effective showcase for what he does well than an ongoing series well into the 100s. And now that I think of it, I liked Seth's page as well. The more I see of his stuff, the more the disconnect between his in-real-life look, his ruminative pacing, and his slick cartooning intrigues me rather than puts me off.
The rest? Eh, I can take it or leave it. Mostly leave it, I suppose--I don't know why Kim Deitch laid out his story basically backwards, I don't know why Jessica Abel's adventure-strip pastiche selected a relatively inert portion of the adventure to depict, I didn't think very many of the non-full-page strips (Knight, Adams, Yang, Brunetti) were funny at all. But then, for years, I only read The Far Side.
Carnival of souls: Special "San Diego Comic-Con Post-Game" edition
* Suddenly I'm a lot more sympathetic to Con Flounce: Tom Spurgeon and Tom Neely have both written rather soul-crushing con reports that give credence to the notion that the Hollywood contingent really, truly is crushing the the comics out of Comic-Con.
* Here's your requisite on-the-other-hand: Peggy Burns's upbeat report can be summed up thusly: Drawn & Quarterly sold through all but one measly boxful of comics, and the report contains the phrase "COMIC-CON LIKES COMICS" in all caps. So, y'know, it's entirely possible for an event involving 130,000 people to result in different experiences for different people, even people keenly interested in precisely the same aspect of the show.
* But the Toms have me concerned over a couple of things. First, I'm concerned about the future of the show's comics content. Not the comics-that-are-also-movies stuff, I don't think Marvel's going anywhere and nor are all the little outfits who are happy to serve as IP farms, but the comics-that-are-comics stuff, from self-publishers like Neely to retailers whose presence used to be my favorite single section of the show. The news that in the absence of Comic Relief and with a smaller Bud Plant booth there basically wasn't a go-to comics retail area is the most disturbing single thing I've heard about the show ever. If you can't maintain a place where people at the show can go to buy pretty much any of the comics they might be interested in buying, which is how that area used to function, then that's a major structural failure for the show. And needless to say, a comics show without a vibrant small-press and alternative comics presence isn't a comics show I'm interested in.
* But that leads me to the second thing I'm concerned about, which is that due to the kind of person I am, I never paid enough attention to this all along. See, I am an all-purpose nerd. I love going to Comic-Con to talk to Jordan Crane and load up on all the Fanta and D&Q debuts and get Bowie sketches from Jaime Hernandez and all that wonderful stuff. But in all honesty, if all that were gone, I'd still enjoy the show, because I also love superheroes and hearing announcements about the future of the Batman books and catching previews of big action-fantasy blockbusters and seeing people in costume and geeking out over Lord of the Rings replicas and on and on and on. I'm not like either of the Toms in that I don't find any of that stuff infuriating and that it is, in part at least, something that excites me about art and culture.
* So I guess what I'm saying is that in retrospect, I should have stuck a big fat caveat lector atop my dismissal of the post-show pique that flares up after each year's Con. Don't get me wrong, I do think a lot of that stuff really is just pique (and pandering for hits). And in fairness to myself, whenever I talk to people who haven't been to the show, I warn them that there are lots of people who are just not constitutionally suited to that level of crowd and media and visual overload, so it's not like I'm totally head-in-the-clouds about the inhospitability of the show for some people. But I've been far too willing to ignore the fact that there are people with perfectly reasonable and even noble expectations for the show for whom those expectations are now going unmet.
* Today the five-minute trailer for Kenneth Branagh's Thor that Marvel debuted at the San Diego Comic-Con leaked onto the Internet for a few hours. (It used to be here but is no longer.) It was pretty good. Firmly in the spirit of the 21st-century Marvel approach to any and all of its properties to be sure, i.e. filtering them through military-industrial-espionage-action tropes, but it's not like I was expecting Asgard and its denizens to be done in Speed Racer style. Ang Lee scared the experimentation right out of Marvel movies, at least somewhat justifiably so. Asgard looked big and unearthly, at least, and the Destroyer--one of the all-time great villain designs, like Jack Kirby presaging the Cenobites--was great, and I look forward to seeing fight choreography that revolves around the use of a war hammer.
* Yet all that being said, I still find myself far more entertained by an entirely different comic-book movie trailer, one for a book I've never even read: Stephen Frears's adaptation of Posy Simmond's Tamara Drewe. What on earth could be drawing me to this movie? What could it possibly, possibly be?
* A great way to get a sense of fanboy conventional wisdom on any given topic is to read what the big horror sites say about it. In the process of reporting that They may hire Damon Lindelof to rewrite Ridley Scott's Alien prequel, Dread Central shits alllllll over Lindelof and the Lost finale--like, to an M. Night Shyamalan degree. So I guess that's where Nerd Culture comes down on that. NEEDS MOAR NANOTECHNOLOGY!!!
* Sean P. Belcher wasn't nuts about Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. The way he talks about it makes me think he had a hard time with aspects of it in the same way I did, namely not connecting with the supposedly knockout emotional content. And like me he feels obligated to couch this caveat in as complimentary language as possible, because the overall project was so innovative, entertaining, and endearing.
Now here's a weird one. Foals' debut album serves a very specific purpose for me: Its standout tracks echo and enhance restless, caffeinated creativity. A breakneck pace provided by tight, crisp drumming; yelped vocals from singer Yannis Philippakis; repeated, high-pitched, distortionless eighth-note guitar riffs played with such precision you feel like the band's multiple guitarists are hitting the strings with tiny glockenspiel mallets; unexpected saxophone bleats and blasts, strategically deployed...it's the perfect accompaniment to when you've got so much energy your leg is twitching and it's all you can do to to actually type instead of simply pounding on the keyboard, hoping to get your point across through sheer force of will. For me it's that nervous urgency that separates Foals from the army of angular-guitar also-rans who've occupied UK indie for the past however many years. Songs like "Cassius," "Red Socks Pugie," "Olympic Airways," and particularly "Balloons" have an originality of tone and force of execution that, for me anyway, makes them a lot more worth returning to than your average I Can't Believe It's Not Gang of Four product.
So what to make of a follow-up record where there's pretty much none of that? I suppose that given the flack the band received for a) being late to the post-punk revival party, and b) earning, through simple instrumental proficiency and clarity, the "math-rock" sobriquet and all the approbation that comes with it despite being uniformly four-four, a change in direction was all but inevitable. And I suppose that since the band's previous slow jams were more to be endured than enjoyed, there's no way I'm going to connect with this less kinetic, more groove-oriented album the way I did with its predecessor.
But here's the thing: What they're doing here is less immediately useful to me, but it's still interesting, simply because it's so weird! Do you want to hear what post-punk Go-Go might sound like? Check out "Miami"! Do you want to hear skinny Englishmen funnel lyrics cribbed from the Lemonheads' "Into Your Arms" into some weird Morris Day swing? Check out "Total Life Forever"! Do you want to hear a Discipline-era King Crimson take on Fleet Foxes? Check out "Blue Blood"! Most of the album is a fairly unremarkable attempt to create a sound as panoramic and pretty as Antidotes was mostly inward and aggressive--cf. lead single "Spanish Sahara"--but sprinkled throughout all that is such a strange set of vocal and musical approaches that I'm a bit dumbfounded. It left me feeling enough critical goodwill toward the band that they could throw in their most nakedly crowd-pleasing Bloc Party-type jam yet, "This Orient" (a big soaring chorus invoking "this Western feeling" and everything) and I end up really, really digging it instead of cringing.
I'd probably have preferred the band tighten up even further, damn the critical torpedoes and full speed ahead, emphasis on speed. And indeed this thing really could stand tightening up even if they are gonna move away from "Balloons." But there's a groovy weirdness in here I can get behind on the relatively rare occasions when it pops up, and I hope they double down on it next time around.
Comics Time: Paper Blog Update Supplemental Postcard Set Sticker Pack
Paper Blog Update Supplemental Postcard Set Sticker Pack
Anders Nilsen, writer/artist
self-published, November 2009
16 pages, 7 postcards, 1 sticker
$10.95 Buy it from Anders Nilsen
A slice of history here: This minicomic/postcard set/collection of beautiful drawings of bird heads labeled with names like "Beyonce," "Mister Peanut," and "Paul Wolfowitz" contains the very first of Nilsen's "Monloguist" strips. Monologues for the Coming Plauge, Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes, The End, and even Nilsen's blog itself wouldn't be here if it weren't for the first few strips in which blacked-out stick figures spoke dialogue jotted down during Nilsen's conversations with friends on a trip to Switzerland. ("I think it's bad, looking at the ass. I don't mean spiritually, either," says a figure I'm reasonably sure is Sammy Harkham.) It's fascinating to see how rapidly all the tics and tropes that have made this style of Nilsen's so quietly haunting develop: the blacked-out mistakes, the seemingly random distortion or deconstruction of the Monloguist, the sudden shifts from banal observations and list-making to gaze-into-the-abyss despair and back again. But the illustration work included here, including a fascinating postcard image of a deer and some boulders nestled in the strange branches of some bizarre alien-looking tree, offer ample evidence of the raw chops with which Nilsen complements his experimental zeal. I dare say that if you send any of the postcards to anyone, you're liable either to get married or never hear from them again. A fascinating little package from a serious best-of-his-generation candidate.
* The first paragraph of Douglas Wolk's Comic-Con column contains a pretty good summary of the difference between us, I think. Contemporary nerd culture's enthusiasm is a bug, not a feature, and being a nerd sure as hell was oppositional in my day. Damn you and your well-adjustedness, Douglas!